In downtime, you can sum up the important events of a whole day with just one roll. Use this mode when the characters return home or otherwise aren’t adventuring.
Usually, downtime is a few minutes at the start of a session or a break between major chapters of an adventure.
As with exploration, you might punctuate downtime with roleplaying or encounters when it’s natural to do so.
This section describes ways to handle downtime and details several activities and considerations specific to downtime, such as cost of living, buying and selling goods, long-term rest, and retraining. Most other downtime activities are skill actions; a number of these common downtime activities and their associated skills are listed below. See the relevant skills in Chapter 4 for details.
- Craft (Crafting)
- Earn Income (Crafting, Lore, Performance)
- Treat Disease (Medicine)
- Create Forgery (Society)
- Subsist (Society, Survival)
Stakes: None to low. Downtime is the counterpart to adventuring and covers low-risk activities.
Time Scale: Downtime can last days, weeks, months, or years in the game world in a few minutes of real time.
Actions and Reactions: If you need to use actions and reactions, switch to exploration or encounter mode.
A creature that can’t act is unable to perform most downtime activities, but it can take long-term rest.
Playing Out a Downtime Day
At the start of a given day of downtime, have all the players declare what their characters are trying to accomplish that day. You can then resolve one character’s efforts at a time (or group some characters together, if they are cooperating on a single project). Some activities, such as Earning Income, require only a simple roll and some embellishment from you and the player. Other activities are more involved, incorporating encounters or exploration. You can call on the players to play out their downtime activities in any order, though it’s often best to do the simplest ones first.
Players who aren’t part of a more involved activity might have time to take a break from the table while the more complex activities are played out.
Characters can undertake their daily preparations if they want, just as they would on a day of exploration.
Ask players to establish a standard set of preparations, and you can assume the characters go through the same routine every day unless their players say otherwise.
Multiple characters can cooperate on the same downtime task. If it’s a simple task that requires just one check, such as a party Subsisting as they await rescue on a desert island, one character rolls the necessary check while everyone else Aids that character. If it’s a complex task, assume all of them are working on different parts of it at one time, so all their efforts count toward its completion.
For example, a party might collaborate to build a theater, with one character drawing up architectural plans, one doing manual labor, and one talking to local politicians and guilds.
Some downtime activities require rolls, typically skill checks. Because these rolls represent the culmination of a series of tasks over a long period, players can’t use most abilities or spells that manipulate die rolls, such as activating a magic item to gain a bonus or casting a fortune spell to roll twice. Constant benefits still apply, though, so someone might invest a magic item that gives them a bonus without requiring activation. You might make specific exceptions to this rule. If something could apply constantly, or so often that it might as well be constant, it’s more likely to be used for downtime checks.
Longer Periods of Downtime
Running downtime during a long time off—like several weeks, months, or even years—can be more challenging.
However, it’s also an opportunity for the characters to progress toward long-term plans rather than worrying about day-to-day activities. Because so much time is involved, characters don’t roll a check for each day.
Instead, they deal with a few special events, average out the rest of the downtime, and pay for their cost of living.
After the characters state what they want to achieve in their downtime, select a few standout events for each of them— usually one event for a period of a week or a month, or four events for a year or longer. These events should be tailored to each character and their goals, and they can serve as hooks for adventures or plot development.
Though the following examples of downtime events all involve Earning Income, you can use them to spark ideas for other activities. A character using Performance to Earn Income could produce a commanding performance of a new play for visiting nobility. Someone using Crafting might get a lucrative commission to craft a special item.
A character with Lore might have to research a difficult problem that needs a quick response.
PCs who want to do things that don’t correspond to a specific downtime activity should still experience downtime events; you just choose the relevant skill and DC. For example, if a character intends to build their own library to house their books on magic, you might decide setting the foundation and organizing the library once construction is finished are major events. The first could be a Crafting check, and the second an Arcana or Library Lore check.
For long periods of downtime, you might not want to roll for every week, or even every month. Instead, set the level for one task using the lowest level the character can reliably find in the place where they spend their downtime (see Difficulty Classes for more on setting task levels). If the character fails this check, you might allow them to try again after a week (or a month, if you’re dealing with years of downtime). Don’t allow them to roll again if they succeeded but want to try for a critical success, unless they do something in the story of the game that you think makes it reasonable to allow a new roll.
The events you include during a long stretch of downtime should typically feature higher-level tasks than the baseline. For instance, a character Earning Income with Sailing Lore for 4 months might work at a port doing 1st-level tasks most of the time, but have 1 week of 3rd-level tasks to account for busy periods. You’ll normally have the player roll once for the time they spent at 1st-level tasks and once for the week of 3rd-level tasks.
Cost of Living
For short periods of downtime, characters are usually just passing through a settlement or spending a bit of time there. They can use the prices for inn stays and meals. For long stretches of downtime, use the values on Table 6–16: Cost of Living on the same page. Deduct these costs from a character’s funds after they gain any money from their other downtime activities.
A character can live off the land instead, but each day they do, they typically use the Subsist activity to the exclusion of any other downtime activity.
Buying and Selling
After an adventure yields a windfall, the characters might have a number of items they want to sell. Likewise, when they’re flush with currency, they might want to stock up on gear. It usually takes 1 day of downtime to sell off a few goods or shop around to buy a couple items. It can take longer to sell off a large number of goods, expensive items, or items that aren’t in high demand.
This assumes the characters are at a settlement of decent size during their downtime. In some cases, they might spend time traveling for days to reach bigger cities.
As always, you have final say over what sort of shops and items are available.
An item can usually be purchased at its full Price and sold for half its Price. Supply and demand adjusts these numbers, but only occasionally.
Each full 24-hour period a character spends resting during downtime allows them to recover double what they would for an 8-hour rest.
They must spend this time resting in a comfortable and secure location, typically in bed.
If they spend significantly longer in bed rest—usually from a few days to a week of downtime—they recover from all damage and most nonpermanent conditions.
Characters affected by diseases, long-lasting poisons, or similar afflictions might need to continue attempting saves during downtime. Some curses, permanent injuries, and other situations that require magic or special care to remove don’t end automatically during long-term rest.
The retraining rules allow a player to change some character choices, but they rely on you to decide whether the retraining requires a teacher, how long it takes, if it has any associated costs, and if the ability can be retrained at all. It’s reasonable for a character to retrain most choices, and you should allow them. Only choices that are truly intrinsic to the character, like a sorcerer’s bloodline, should be off limits without extraordinary circumstances.
Try to make retraining into a story. Use NPCs the character already knows as teachers, have a character undertake intense research in a mysterious old library, or ground the retraining in the game’s narrative by making it the consequence of something that happened to the character in a previous session.
Retraining a feat or skill increase typically takes a week. Class features that require a choice can also be retrained but take longer: at least a month, and possibly more. Retraining might take even longer if it would be especially physically demanding or require travel, lengthy experimentation, or in-depth research, but usually you won’t want to require more than a month for a feat or skill, or 4 months for a class feature.
A character might need to retrain several options at once. For instance, retraining a skill increase might mean they have skill feats they can no longer use, and so they’ll need to retrain those as well. You can add all this retraining time together, then reduce the total a bit to represent the cohesive nature of the retraining.
Instruction and Costs
The rules abstract the process of learning new things as you level up—you’re learning on the job—but retraining suggests that the character works with a teacher or undergoes specific practice to retrain. If you want, you can entirely ignore this aspect of retraining, but it does give an opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) NPCs and further the game’s story. You can even have one player character mentor another, particularly when it comes to retraining skills.
Any costs to retraining should be pretty minor—about as much as a PC could gain by Earning Income over the same period of time. The costs are mostly there to make the training feel appropriate within the context of the story, not to consume significant amounts of the character’s earnings. A teacher might volunteer to work without pay as a reward for something the character has already done, or simply ask for a favor in return.
While some character options can’t normally be retrained, you can invent ways for a character to retrain even these— special rituals, incredible quests, or the perfect tutor. For example, ability scores can’t normally be retrained, as that can unbalance the game. But not all players necessarily want to exploit the system—maybe a player simply wants to swap an ability boost between two low stats. In situations like this, you could let them spend a few months working out or studying to reassign an ability boost.