In Dungeons & Dragons, our time around the table tends to focus on activities that are the most obviously engaging. Things like exploring an ancient dungeon or battling a horde of vicious monsters. You know, the stuff that you’d expect to see on the resume of a fantasy adventurer.
However, these characters can’t be out adventuring every second of their lives. They need time to relax, recover from their wounds, and possibly indulge in non-adventuring activities.
The characters need a little break from their dangerous careers, and Downtime Activities are the perfect way to achieve this.
For the purposes of this post, Downtime Activities will be any activity that doesn’t involve the typical elements of a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. No dungeon-delving, no world-saving, etc. Downtime Activities would be stuff like crafting items, carousing around the village, running a business, etc.
These kind of activities are usually handled away from the table, outside of the actual sessions of the campaign. This is a practice that I’m actually fine with, mostly because Downtime Activities can sometimes slow down the pacing of a session, and players sometimes just want to get into the thick of things without worrying about everything else.
That being said, I dislike boiling them down to a dice roll here or there between sessions. Downtime Activities can be a great way for the players to engage with the setting and maybe give them an interesting new lens to look at future adventures with, such as a character who also happens to be a smith going on a quest to explore a lost mine because she’s heard rumors that it’s home to a rare metal, or an adventuring barkeep traveling to a nearby town to set up a supply agreement while also taking out a goblin uprising in the surrounding hinterlands. Furthermore, the DM can also mine these for future events for the campaign or help breathe life into the surrounding world.
The best way to start getting your players to think about what their characters might be doing between adventures is to simply ask. Go ahead and tell them how much time will pass between each session within the setting and ask them to come up with what each character is doing during that period. Don’t push them, just let them get used to thinking about this kind of thing.
Once they seem to be comfortable with the idea, with some getting into it, you can take the next step. When they start asking you about doing certain things, offer to run them through a short scene, giving their actions a bit of flavor, making it more than just a couple of dice rolls. The key is to keep these short, but interesting.
Eventually, you can slowly start incorporating these elements into the actual sessions. Maybe the base of operations for the party is the tavern owned by the party’s bard. The session could kick off with a small brawl with a local gang of thugs the rogue pissed off a couple of nights ago while partying. Maybe a local noble approaches the party’s artificer, wanting to hire them to make a particular item because they’ve gotten word about their skills, but the materials they wish the item to be made of will require the party to go on a quest to find them.
Downtime Activities might not seem as engaging as your typical dungeon-delving adventure, but they can be just as important. Let them enhance your campaign and the characters within.