This week’s Unearthed Arcana brings a bunch of downtime activities that DMs can insert into their campaigns. For those who are unfamiliar with downtime activities, these are ways that DMs can push forward the passage of time in the D&D game universe, between adventures.
Even if you are a full-time adventurer, you are going to take some R&R to spend all of your new found wealth, before the call to adventure becomes too much and you head back out into the world. According to Mike Mearls, Senior Manager for Dungeons & Dragons, “We wanted to make a system…that is hopefully a lot easier for DMs to handle and also adds some more storytelling to the game.” (From the video above).
Both the Player’s Handbook & the Dungeon Master’s Guide contain rules for downtime activities but the options listed here can be used instead of the previously printed ones or as a jumping off point for DMs to create their own. The article contains a whole host of different activities, designed so that something should appeal to every gamer, regardless of their background. After all; my scholarly Wizard wouldn’t be caught dead in a dock side gambling hall, but our party’s Rogue would feel right at home there.
These downtime activities are designed for short duration periods of downtime, such as 7 – 10 days (for the most part, there are a couple exceptions) but can easily be carried forward for longer stretches between campaigns. The list of activities is not that much more exhaustive than those available in the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide, but there are a couple of really cool elements that are new that I’m going to talk about.
The possibility of complications exists in every activity your character chooses to take part in. Complications are meant to add flavor, depth, and drama to the campaign and there is generally only a 10% chance of a complication arising. Of course, that percentage changes based on the activity. Choosing to keep your head down and relax? You shouldn’t have a thing to ever worry about. Unlike your Thief friend who decided to “Ocean’s 11” a rich and powerful noble who is both paranoid and vindictive. Definitely more than a 10% chance of that turning into complications in the future.
This leads to the other cool element of these downtime activities; foils. Foils are NPCs who actively oppose the characters. These foils have their own agenda that changes over time. As the characters take downtime between adventures, their foils rarely rest, continuing to spin plots and work against the characters. If you don’t have a party member, like the aforementioned Thief, who is choosing to do something that will undoubtedly create a foil, there is a D20 table with example characters already pre-populated.
My favorite? A tax collector who is convinced the characters are dodging fees. Tax evasion is serious business and this dogged collector will now be a permanent thorn in your side until he proves you are dodging fees and has you thrown in jail. Or will he? The foil rules are designed so that the DM creates the foil with their own developed goals and motivations. As this character interacts with your party, over time these motivations and points of view can be shifted. Full cooperation with the tax collector could earn his respect when he finds out (after a careful inventory of your belongings and accounts) that you have been on the level and he could even become useful when pointed at our paranoid, rich and powerful noble.
What kind of foil will chase your group around? Let us know in the comments!