Sunday, September 8, 2019

Downtime Activities: Splendid Items

In my last post I discussed my rules for non-magical research. I also mentioned that the rules would work best if there were tradeoffs with other downtime activities in a kind of system. So I thought I would take a crack at assembling and expanding what house rules I have into something resembling a system. So this will be an ongoing series. Let's start with preliminaries.

Downtime: the Very Idea

In the sense that this post is concerned with, downtime is time between adventures, when characters are still acting but not on an adventure. This immediately raises the question what it means "to be on an adventure".

This concept is clear in games that have rules about where the adventure is. For example, in a West Marches style game, the adventure always begins when the party leaves town. Downtime, in a West Marches game, is time in town. Similarly, in the brief phase when every session of my game involved a new trip through Ultan's door, beginning and ending in the waking world, downtime was simply time spent in the waking world.

Adventures are not to be had here.

In some games, instead of events that happen in certain a place, all adventures are a certain sort of activity. For example, in Blades in the Dark, adventures are always (criminal) scores, so downtime is what happens between scores.

Things are more complicated when adventure is to be had, potentially, in any locale, and in a variety of different kinds of activity. Which is how I assume most of us play most of the time. For games like this, we need to move to a less rigid conception of an adventure.

Adventuring here means something looser like entering interesting situations of hazard and peril where small scale decision-making and roleplaying are important. Downtime occurs when the characters are in a safe place for an extended period of time, say, one week or more. During this time they're live whatever passes for ordinary life amongst adventuring types, or engaging in sorts of activity that we're happy to abstract.

The Rules

If the characters are in a safe place for an extended period of time then they may perform one downtime action. The length of time required for downtime protocols to be triggered depends on the rhythm of your game. The whole thrust of "downtime actions" is to abstract calendar keeping and turn it into a mini-game. So it rejects Gary's (in)famous injunction that the foundation of any campaign is the keeping of proper time records. Instead we think in terms of abstract downtime actions.

Characters are not limited to downtime actions. They may choose to perform no downtime actions. They may also choose to perform any other actions they wish, provided the DM rules that they have the time and opportunity to do so. But they may perform at most one downtime action from the following list each downtime. Last time I discussed non-magical Research. This time I want to talk about commissioning the production of splendid items.

Splendid Items

A splendid item is not just an expensive or fancy version of the item: it is a thing of rare wonder. To have a splendid item made for you, you must first find a master artisan who is willing to make it for youTo this artisan, you must bring remarkable materials to be incorporated into the item. You must also pay the artisan a fee whichever is higher: 1000 GP or 200 times the normal cost of the item.

Locating a master artisan can be a campaign goal in itself. It's an opportunity for the DM to introduce a memorable NPC for the players to interact with. The point here is to simultaneously world-build and invest the players in the setting of a dynamic sandbox by tying it to things that players are likely to want.

It might involve traveling to a remote location, or convincing a Hattori Hanzo figure to break his vow and come out of retirement, or rescuing a former master artisan from the depths of squalor and criminal entanglements. Or perhaps the artisan will only perform services from those who somehow prove themselves worthy of receiving the products of their rare talents. "What master artisans are there in a your setting and under what conditions will they work?" Is a good candidate for inclusion of Jeff Rients' 10 questions about your setting.

The requirement for remarkable materials ties the splendid item to the memorable achievements of the party. Some examples of remarkable materials might be a star opal pried from a mummy's crown to set into the pommel of a dagger, or dragon scales to make armor, or bolts of cloud silk from the floating manse of a spirit of the air for the purposes of making glorious evening wear. Each of these items is a part of their history and is imbued with the relish of their exploits.

As for the process of fashioning the splendid itemit must be made to suite the personality of the owner, and so they must be intimately involved in its production. (Hence the use of an entire downtime action.) Upon completion, the player must describe the item to the group and name it. Others will notice the item and speak about it. It will become an object of envy, desire, and respect. Strangers may recognize the artisan's work.

Any splendid item must be cared for each downtime following an adventure in which it is used for 1/10 its cost in order to keep its advantage. The stewardship of such an item is a heavy burden.

Although it has special properties, a splendid item is not magical. However, only such an item may receive further enchantments, so all magical items are also splendid items. (In a later post I will present a system for turning splendid items into magical items that ties them still further to the exploits of the party.)

Here are some advantages a splendid item might accrue, although the DM can be open to other suggestions. (Be careful not to break the game here.)
  • Splendid melee or thrown weapons either are plus one to hit or plus one to damage
  • Splendid missile weapons are either plus one to hit or add 20% to each range category
  • Splendid armor is either one better AC or one class lighter
  • Splendid shields are one AC lower or incorporate another item such as a lantern or flintlock pistol
  • 2000 GP worth of splendid clothes increase the CHA of the wearer by 1 point
  • Splendid holy symbols increase the HD of undead one can turn by 1
  • Splendid thieves tools grant +10% to lock picking and find/remove traps
  • Splendid assassin's disguises grant +10% to rolls or allow one to pull off implausible disguises
  • Other splendid items will have a special advantage agreed upon by the player and DM before purchase. Try not to get silly with this: there are no splendid wineskins or flints, but there certainly could be splendid lanterns, or books, etc. 


  1. I've also been thinking about downtime lately. I guess it's something in zeitgeist.

    A couple thoughts I've had -

    No really cares how "long" it takes to do something, they only care how many downtime "turns" it takes. Any system that tells you "it takes 3 weeks to craft this and 3 months to craft that" isn't really helpful, because for all we know, those are both still one downtime "turn".

    The simplest way to handle things is to say each player gets one "downtime turn" between adventures, and in general, most actions take one "downtime turn" to complete.

    There are probably plenty of ways to complicate that if you want to, to allow more actions in exchange for either some other resource or a risk of some kind of negative consequences.

    1. I agree with this whole heartedly. That’s the direction I’m going in. It’s not so much about hours and days but about which game mode you’re dropping into.

    2. Amen! I have always found crafting rules to be useless without Downtime Turns.

    3. If the players are attentive to time and world events are progressing in ways that meaningful to them, varying amounts of time can matter.

      But yes, "it takes 2 downtime turns which is two months" is probably better than "it takes two months."

  2. Tying this into some sort of cost-of-living metric should do the trick. Every downtime turn the PCs have to pay X amount for room & board, their tab at the alehouse, etc. I have no idea how to calculate such a thing but for one of his games, Jeff Rients had it as 1% of a character's XP total, I think.

    1. Robert Parker had excellent rules for this in his Savage World of Krull that tie your living condition to hit dice rolled for hp each session. Those influenced Gathox vertical slum. Gus L is working on similar rules for the city thing he's working on.

    2. That rule is from OD&D Vol. III p24.

  3. This would work excellently with my ongoing stonehell game, as the party is forced to leave the dungeon for their valley encampment after every delve, where they get one week of downtime. I've tended towards the system you describe where each PC gets one action per downtime. One of the first things the party did after we started was to save enough money to hire a chemist on retainer to make "weird potions" for them during downtime.

  4. I love the idea of splendid items, especially in a setting where magical items are rare or absent.

    As an aside, I'm never sure how to work with downtime, as I find as a DM I forget to include it. One adventure seems to lead to another! I like the idea (from Blades in the Dark or another PBTA game?) of clocks representing stuff going on off-screen and slowly progressing.

    1. I’m going to do a post explaining how I keep downtime a part of the game without breaking the flow. I too like clocks for this *a lot* as will become even more apparent as this series progresses.

  5. I feel like our recent adventures have stimulated this thought process and I'm proud. The thing I'm interested in is that the item is not immediately magical. I feel like I'd have a hard time justifying to my players to go on a great long quest with their only reward being a slightly better version of a weapon. Plus a lot of thee wondrous ingredients sure sound like they would be inherently magical.

  6. I was thinking about how my players might find these rare master craftsmen, and how I could place them in my game world. How to determine what *kind* of craftsman is where? Seems like a random table is in order, but where to start? Maybe the 'secondary skills' chart from 2nd edition:

    Armorer (make, repair & evaluate armor and weapons)
    Bowyer/Fletcher (make, repair, & evaluate bows and arrows)
    Farmer (basic agriculture)
    Fisher (swimming, nets, and small boat handling)
    Forester (basic wood lore, lumbering)
    Gambler (knowledge of gambling games)
    Groom (animal handling)
    Hunter (basic wood lore, butchering, basic tracking)
    Jeweler (appraisal of gems and jewelry)
    Leather worker (skinning, tanning)
    Limner/Painter (map making, appraisal of art objects)
    Mason (stone-cutting)
    Miner (stone-cutting, assaying)
    Navigator (astronomy, sailing, swimming, navigation)
    Sailor (sailing, swimming)50-51
    Scribe (reading, writing, basic math)
    Shipwright (sailing, carpentry)
    Tailor/Weaver (weaving, sewing, embroidery)
    Teamster/Freighter (animal handling, wagon-repair)
    Trader/Barterer (appraisal of common goods)
    Trapper/Furrier (basic wood lore, skinning)
    Weaponsmith (make, repair, & evaluate weapons)
    Woodworker/Carpenter (carpentry, carving)
    Roll twice (reroll any result of 86-00)

    We can subtract a few unnecessary things (like teamster, heh) and consolidate others, and we are left with a decent d10 list:

    1 - Armourer
    2 - Bowyer/Fletcher
    3 - Jeweler
    4 - Leather worker/Furrier
    5 - Limner/Painter
    6 - Mason/Miner
    7 - Scribe
    8 - Tailor/Weaver
    9 - Weaponsmith
    10 - Woodworker/Carpenter

    Of course this is based on guessing what types of craftsmen PCs will want - realistically, we could probably make it "50% - weaponsmith" and move on!