Dungeon and Dragons: DM Tips Downtime

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Hey folks, I’m back again with another D&D DM tip. This time I want to talk about the down time between sessions. What I like doing with my players and how I like to run downtime to further the story.

Now, this might not be as needed with other groups, but my D&D group only meets every other week, and sometimes we go longer between sessions. This doesn’t work all the time, but if the session ends and the party is either at a town, or even camping, I can get some downtime sessions in. By this, I mean I can get some one on one sessions with the players and seed some story arch elements, help further character development, or even have some crazy fun downtime adventures.

I love that my players are into the character development and into the story arch. If we finish in a town, or camping, or even out in the open and traveling I’ll let the group know how much time is passing between the end of the current session and the start of the next session. Then, I let the players that want to do things in that downtime let me know. From there, I’ll determine how the players will play out this down time.

When I run downtime, there are usually three types of things I’ll do with the players to guide them through this time.

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First, I’ll give them what rolls and how much time what they are seeking to do takes. This is usually the simplest of tasks. Say a player wants to look around the forest for medicinal plants or another player wants to hunt for some food. One player might just want to invent a better crossbow. In these cases, I’ll have the players make a DC check based on how difficult I think that task will be. If you’re hunting for plants in a lush forest, it’s easier than hunting for plants in a desert. After that, if they want to build or make something, I’ll have them make rolls until they meet a certain number of successes that I have preset. I use this to represent the time it takes for them to complete the task. This is the easiest type of downtime that I run. It’s pretty much auto-pilot with the players skills determining how they do and how long it takes to complete the task. The other thing I will lump into this one is working to earn money. If a player so wants to, they can decided to look for work and make some money during the game down time.

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The next type of downtime I run is a mini solo session over discord. These type of downtime sessions usually include character development or seeding the story. Sometimes it’s a repeating dream sequence that the progression will change as the character levels. These type of downtime mini sessions help me further character development or help guide the story into where I want it to go. It also helps me flush out the world so it feels more open. Since it’s over discord, I have time to look up names and write them down. It’s not as rushed as a normal session face to face, but my players respect the time it takes to respond and get to the messages. Some of these take only an hour or so. Others might take a couple of days between responding to messages. These type of mini sessions will usually only be social encounters. Sometimes I’ll have combat, but not too often. I like these as I can seed each player with different information. It helps the world feel more open, but also let’s me prepare material for where they party might be heading. Then the next session, I invite players to discuss what they’ve been up to during the down time.

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Sometimes I type fast in Discord and misspell words.

The last type of downtime session I’ve done is an open mini session. I’ll see who’s online and ready to get some game in. Then if I have more than 2 players ready, we’ll run a little encounter in the main discord channel. Open for anyone to join in on the fun. These downtime sessions will be more involved and often be player driven. I’ve had sessions where it was just traveling from one city to the next, the conversations along the way, and small encounters along the way. One sessions was several players obtaining a wind powered vehicle to speed up their travels. It involved taking it for a test drive, haggling the price down, agreeing to a delivery, and then it was two players trying out the ATW (All Terrain Wagon or a sail boat with wheels.). In that session, the characters lost their map to a gust of wind, went to chase it off the ATW, forgot to put the anchor down, and then it was chasing down the ATW. While it wasn’t necessary to play out all of that, it was fun to have a session where the players could be more comedic and no lingering consequences hang over them. Another one introduced the party to a tribe of gnomes that live on the back of a giant snail and gnome scouts ride around on mastiffs. The snail only moves when the gnomes summon a magic storm. During the storm, the snail is pretty destructive, but squads of mastiff riders scout the area and clear the path for it. This has nothing to do with my overall story at all, but adds something the characters can look for later and adds a little fun encounter that I ran over discord with about 4 players interacting with each other. While I could take it out, and the story would still play the same, it added limitations to their ATW with strong winds, how to overcome it and what to roll when they were in that situation. Then it played to the only character that could speak gnome. This helps build up the teamwork while playing, and it doesn’t take too much to run. Just an idea for a random encounter, deciding what to roll on the fly, and then if you have good players they’ll come up with different ideas and solutions.

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My current work schedule has me consistently open on Wednesdays and weekends. I open myself up for official DM business on Wednesdays and Saturdays if anyone needs or wants anything. While it adds more to my plate for running a game, I find it helps in areas that are worth it. When we end a session in town, it allows characters to shop for what they want and not take any game time away during a face to face session. As many players know, this can take forever. Every player wants to haggle and lower prices, which mean every shop they go into is a social encounter. If I get these out of the way when not everyone is present, I call that a win. The next thing I like about these down time sessions is that I get to do some major seeding for story arch. Then when playing later and that seed starts to sprout, a player might realize “Maybe the ATW wasn’t really a good deal, but we were turned into mules to deliver something bad.” or “That time I decided to steal from a merchant and got away with it, I didn’t really get away with it and now there’s a bounty on me.” It not only lets me plant seeds, but these sessions also give me some great side quest ideas or even consequences for players. Lastly, and I believe most important, it gives a chance for each player to shine. Sure, the face to face full party sessions are fun. Sometimes though, the players that don’t shine in combat, or shine in social settings, can use some encounters where they feel like they achieved something big. They completed it all on their own, and the feel like they are getting the attention their character needs. It helps the players all feel like they are contributing to the progression of the story. And when I run a game, I want everyone to feel like they contribute what they want.

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I use discord, but someone could easily just send text messages or e-mails. I only am running one campaign right now, so it doesn’t take too long for me to do this with the players. I can see if someone is running multiple campaigns it could be too much. I’d like to hear if anyone else has done something similar or does the same thing? Is that too much D&D? Is there such a thing as too much D&D?

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