Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Unearthed Arcana (Downtime for Tier 2)

Hey Game Fans, we’re back with another look at an Unearthed Arcana article from our mystical overlords at Wizards of the Coast.  The Dungeons and Dragons game is built on the idea that adventurers spend their days digging through ancient temples, or rescuing people from disasters, or are general men and women of action.  There aren’t a lot of adventures that focus on the scenes that happen around the adventures, but there are some rules for what adventurers do on their downtime.  

The Wonder Wizards (of the Coast) have given us a look at a potential system for how mid level (5-10) adventurers spend their days when they’re not out looking for trouble or looting rooms.  Let’s take a look at the suggestions offered and how we might be able to integrate them into our home games.  

Downtime Activities

So the basic structure of how this works is as follows.  The DM presents the players with a list of potential activities they can pursue.  This list can change from week to week depending on where the characters are at the time, and what resources and options they have available.  The document itself goes on to suggest that this is an activity that can be pursued away from the table, and can be handled by text message, e-mail, or a host of other applications and digital platforms.  

Once the players have selected a downtime activity, it’s up to the DM to track the amount of time in days, weeks or months the activity takes.  It’s assumed that 8 free hours of time each day are required to make any meaningful progress, so without that amount of free time, the activity doesn’t get closer to completion.  Once the time has been put, the player is ready to resolve the activity (as described in the activity’s description).  Costs must be paid, and consequences dealt with.  

Among the potential consequences for a downtime activity are a complication.  Complications have a variety of potential interactions that can turn a downtime activity into a full blown adventure, or introduce a plot element, or bring new NPCs into the party’s life.  The most important of these new NPCs are foils.


A Foil is basically a person who has taken a direct interest in one or more party members and has determined that they either need to be closely watched or actively opposed.  Foils CAN be a combat encounter, but they are often more effective as a social encounter/complication.  It becomes much harder to be a master criminal about town when the Guildmaster of the local thieves guild is making your life a living hell.  Perhaps the local patriarch of the church of Pelor serves a different branch of the church, and his teachings vary wildly from what’s considered the core tenets of the faith.  

Foils can cause a lot of problems for a character (and by extension, their companions) and have to handled differently than you would a typical dungeon crawl or wilderness trek.  The Foil often has significant assets or associations that make them untouchable in a typical situation.  You can’t walk up and murder the Crown Princess because she’s blackmailing you into doing things in most circumstances.  Foils add new complications and situations for characters to manage alongside their regular adventuring activities.


Remember, these rules are completely optional and up to the DM and the Players to decide what level of integration they are working with these rules.  Some of these options aren’t going to work for every situation and every game, but there are options that cover a lot of situations a player may look for.  Check through these options and see what you like.  

I like the idea of what these rules add to the game, because they give players access to resources and options that aren’t normally covered by the game.  I think the situation that may cause trouble would be a situation where 1 or 2 players are actively using downtime and the rest aren’t.  This could cause imbalances within the group, and dedicated players could find ways to exploit this system.  

I like the system, so far, and while it’s optimal for characters between levels 1-10, higher level characters can find some inspiration for how to make this system work.  I would like to think that it works well with adventurer’s league since it hands out downtime days as a resource, but i think that the UA version is a little too wide in its scope of how to spend this time.  I think that there is room to tighten this up, and to give ideas and inspirations for new players and DMs alike.  

Those are our thoughts on the new UA, and we’ll catch up with you later Game Fans, Game On.  

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