Sunday, November 8, 2020

Downtime Activities at Underworld Adventurer: Carousing and Finding the Right Buyer

At the blog Underworld Adventurer, Nick K. has been doing some really interesting things using my framework of downtime activities. I wanted to highlight two of their posts and take it as an opportunity to talk about designing downtime activities.

Finding the Right Buyer

The way Nick handles treasure is that the more obviously liquid items like jewelry or gold bars can simply be converted to their GP value upon returning to town. But what about those valuable but more speciality items, like a gorgeously carved chair, or alchemical gear like alembics and retorts? Nick decided to create a downtime action to handle this, which you can read here

Here's how it works. The character spends a downtime action to look for a buyer and the player rolls 2d6. On a 6- they roll on a table of complications, which has entries like selling the item for less than it's worth, or attracting the attention of the thieves guild. On a 7-9 the sale goes through and the player receives the GP value. On a 10+ the player rolls on a "Noteworthy Success" table with results like selling it for more than it's worth, or finding an abiding patron. 

Nick's rationale for having a 6- be the complication was that to have a 6- be a failure to find a buyer would disincentivize the use of this downtime action, which essentially attaches a downtime cost to what in many games would be handled with a wave of the hand. In cases like this, I think Nick handles this the right way, replacing failure with an automatic success plus a complication. Keep in mind that you're pretty likely to get a complication (~40%) and pretty unlikely to get a noteworthy success (~10%). This represents the riskiness of trying to set up possible illicit sales of looted goods.

The two separate tables is also simple and direct. I would use this downtime action pretty much as written, maybe expanding the tables a bit to build in some more emerging adventure possibilities. 

Carousing at Underworld Adventurer

Carousing rules are a staple of retro-game downtime play. In fact they're the one part of downtime that has gotten sustained and broad attention. On the standard-average model proposed originally here, the player spends 1d6x100gp (or more in a big city) on a wild binge, drinking away their fortune like Conan would, and gets that many experience points. The player makes a saving throw against poison. If they fail they have to roll on a big chart of mishaps, with results like a wicked hangover, venereal disease, or ending up hitched to someone you don't remember marrying. 

There are more complicated variants out there, like Gus' pleasing approach that gives you a bonus to the roll on the consequences chart if you roll well on your save, with positive consequences at the high end like winning at gambling or becoming famous as the life of the party.  

I've been pondering how to incorporate carousing with my system of downtime actions. Well, Nick went and put together a splendid version for elves or "hobs" who can carouse in the "Twilight Shores", a sort of Lyonesse-inspired elfin hinterland. It's flavor is delicious. 

Mechanically, the way Nick made it work is this. The player rolls 1d4 and spends the result x 100 GP on the carouse, getting that much XP. They make a poison save as usual. If they pass then they add the first roll (the 1d4 roll) to their consequences roll, and if they fail they subtract the first roll. The idea, I guess, is that if you spend big that could go either really well or really badly. 

The consequences roll is the typical 2d6 downtime roll with the chart extended to 16 at the top (good results) and -2 on the bottom (bad results), sometimes with results differentiated by whether they passed or failed the save. The chart has glorious results: at the low end you can end up with an asses head, or an appointment to duel by riddle with an elf lord, and at the high end you can receive favors from elfin potentates or benefit from various temporary glamours. I like this a lot. 

But it's a little fiddly in terms of how many rolls and modifiers there are, and also breaks with system by using the 2d6 roll for the table of random results. For my own version, I'd like to keep parity with the rest of my system by whittling it down to a single 2d6 roll with bad/mixed/good results, and a single followup roll on a table. I'm interested in trying out the model Nick used for finding the right buyer here too. Here's what I came up with.

Carousing in Mazirian's Garden

Carousing is a downtime action. You go on a wild bender and spend 1d6 x 100 gp (or as much of that as you have). The character receives as many xp as gp spent for the use of the downtime action and rolls 2d6. On a 6- the player rolls on the carousing mishaps table. On a 7-9 they have a swell bender with no ill effects. On a 10+ they roll on the carousing boons table. Once again, this gives you a fairly high chance (40%) of having a mishap--a fair risk for a hefty XP reward. But there is also a small chance (10%) that something good will have come of your intemperance.

In the version for Zyan, I'd certainly follow Chris Kutalik's lead for Fever Dreaming Marlinko and have a different table of mishaps and boons for each different neighborhood. (This is another way to give a local feel and texture to the place, allowing characters to build attachments to particular parts of the city.) But for starters, here's are some tables written with Rastingdrung in mind, a city whose sole recognized religion is the Temple of Ulim, a pleasure cult dedicated to plumbing the depth of hedonism. I've drawn freely on the carousing posts I linked to earlier for inspiration, but I've tried to expand the tables in directions that will generate interesting adventure hooks or complications. 

Carousing Mishap 1d20

  1. Hangover – A soft, nauseous stomach, painful pressure behind the eyes, you’re hung over and roll at -1 on all physical actions next session.
  2. You got caught up in a tavern brawl, start the next session 1d4 HP down (min. 1) with a huge black eye or other visible wound. 
  3. You make a fool of yourself in public: you decide how. You have gained reputation as a lout. -1 on all reaction rolls and attempts to cultivate relationships in the city until you can improve your reputation somehow.
  4. You promised you'd do something for someone that you really wish you hadn't promised. Decide what it is: the promise should either be humiliating or a pain to fulfill.
  5. You vandalized property of a rival if you have one, or someone your character would disapprove of if you don't. It dawns on you that the victim will likely find out its you if they just ask around.
  6. Eating street food from that filthy cart seemed like a good idea at the end of a long night. Roll a save vs. poison to avoid having acquired a parasite. 
  7. In the euphoria of the evening, you let slip something crucial you shouldn’t have, like the location of a dungeon, or your possession of a magical weapon. This will come back to haunt you. 
  8. You lost something. Dice randomly to see which item from your character sheet you lost. 
  9. You have gotten yourself in an awkward romantic situation. You either have led on someone of consequence (a hireling, a rival, a potentate) whose feelings you do not reciprocate, or you have find yourself in an unpleasant romantic triangle. If your character would not romance, then it's the same thing but with someone who thinks they're your new best friend.
  10. While under the influence, you insulted someone  inadvertently acquiring a rival or perhaps a new frenemy. 
  11. That divine concoction, you simply must have more! You’ve matured, and you deserve the best! You have acquired expensive tastes. Your high end tastes now require double investment on your future carousing rolls. The effect of carousing is unchanged, and the extra money wasted.
  12. The Scarlet Censors raided an establishment while you were present and you were fined an additional 1d6X50 gp. If you cannot pay, you are in debtors prison in the White Halls until someone can bail you out or you can arrange an escape.
  13. You have acquired an addiction to one of the many rare substances available for consumption at the Temple of Ulim: 1d4: 1. Black Lotus 2. Opium 3. Virdian Powder 4. Hashish. Anytime you return to town you must acquire and indulge in your vice (spending 50 GP x Level) on intoxicants.  The inability to obtain sufficient intoxicants results in a -2 on all rolls during the next session.
  14. It all came down to that last roll of the dice, or that last hand of cards, and you failed, busted, rolled out, got cheated.  Either way you lose your level x 1d4 x 50 additional GP. If you cannot pay, you now have a debt to organized crime.
  15. You went on a drunken spending spree and bought something expensive that you really don't need or want 1d4 x 100 gp. (Decide what it is.) If you cannot pay, you stole the thing or promised to pay for it later.
  16. You invited someone on the next adventure who the party has reason not to want to come along, like a rash noble boy whose parents will be furious if he is harmed, or a rival, or someone who is obviously a shady character.  
  17. You did something you profoundly regret, offending a friend (lose one tick on a relationship clock). If you do not have any ticks on a relationship clock, then you spoil another party members relationship to someone (they lose a tick on the relationship clock). If no one in your party has any relationship clocks, then you ended up the night drinking alone and start the session feeling bleak (-4 on saving throws for the session). 
  18. You behaved in a contemptuous way, or otherwise caused offense, to a hireling. (Decide how.) You now have a bad reputation among the pool of available hirelings, who will only serve for double fees until you somehow make it right, say by saving the life of a hireling or displaying real generosity.
  19. You have commit a blasphemy against the Temple of Ulim that has attracted the attention of the Scarlet Censors. There is a warrant for your arrest and you will likely be subject to unpleasant consequences in the White Halls if captured. 
  20. You have no memory of the bender, but you have a feeling that something went very wrong. Likely you committed some crime, or saw something you really shouldn't have seen. You may be in trouble with criminal enterprises or the law. The DM will consult with you to see what things are not comfortable with your character having done, but otherwise will decide what you did and keep it a secret until it comes up in game.

Carousing Boon 1d20

  1. After a magical night, you feel like you're still walking on water. Take +4 on saving throws for the next session.
  2. Some substance you consumed (intentionally or unintentionally) last night has you pumped with a first time high you'll never recapture. For this session, you have 1d4 extra hp. These are not permanent, but when they fade they will leave you with a minimum of 1 hp.
  3. This one's on the house! The drinks were freeing flowing over the course of the night, and many of your expenses were covered by a drinking companion, whether a dissolute noble or the owner of a drinking establishment. Retain half the gp you spent on carousing, but take the full xp reward.
  4. The night was extraordinary and you will never forget it. If you want to you can share with the group one memory or image or scene from the evening that you will carry with you forever. Acquire an additional 50% experience from your carousing expenditure.
  5. You shared some special times with an old friend or made a new one. Increase your relationship tracker by one step with this person. You pick the NPC, or if it's a new friend make a proposal to the DM. 
  6. You begin an exciting new romantic relationship. Propose a known NPC or make one up. If you character would not engage in romance, then treat this as the prior result.
  7. You befriended an animal during the night--a playful monkey, a hungry dog with soulful eyes, a devious parrot--you decide. The animal will stay with you if you let it, and can be trained to do useful tricks.
  8. You did something to improve your relationship with hirelings, perhaps standing up for a hireling or drinking with guild members. You decide. You now have a good reputation among the pool of available hirelings, who will work for you (alone) for 50% the normal cost. 
  9. During your revels, you find yourself with a unique opportunity to set back the interests of a rival. Collaborate with the DM to decide what this means. If you have no rival, you acquire a piece of information that gives you leverage on some NPC.
  10. While under the influence, someone else lets slip a secret of some significance. The DM should say who spilled the beans, and provide you with real actionable intelligence or, at the least something very amusing (and potentially compromising) about a known NPC.
  11. It was legendary night and you did something amazing: ate a dozen ghost peppers, pulled down the pants of the hated executioner and got away with it, outdrank a minotaur--you decide. What you did is now the talk of the town: receive +1 on all reaction rolls in the city until your reputation changes.
  12. At some drinking establishment you found something valuable, a purse of coins, a ring, a scroll case, a treasure map, a weapon. The DM will roll on a treasure table to see what you found. It may present adventuring opportunities, and it is always possible that the person who has lost the item will come looking for it.
  13. It all came down to that last roll of the dice, or that last hand of cards, and it was your night to win! You receive Level x 1d4 x 50 gp.
  14. Over the course of the bender, someone offered to sell you something you desire for a greatly reduced price. Decide what the object of your desire is. The DM will price it and then cut that cost in half. 
  15. During the night, a unique business opportunity presents itself in the form of an offer from one of your co-revelers. In the cold light of day, it all checks out. Collaborate with the DM to decide what the opportunity is. You may invest up to 250 gp and roll 2d6 at the next downtime when the investment matures: 6- you made 50% on your investment 7-9 double your investment 10+ triple it.  
  16. During your debauch you met someone--perhaps a retired adventurer with grizzled beard and pain behind his eyes, or the garrulous apprentice of a great sorcerer--and learn from them about a lucrative adventuring opportunity. The DM will tell you what it is; it may or may not be time sensitive. 
  17. During your revels you party at some out of the way spots and end up discovering a new secret location, a secret drinking club, an illegal gaming house, perhaps even the locations of the thieves guild.
  18. As a result of your hedonistic experiments in drug use, your body's capacity to contain and tolerate toxic substances evolves. Lower your poison save by 1 permanently.   
  19. Your revels were watched closely by a Voluptuary in disguise, who travels amongst the people to look for those touched by the spirit of Ulim. Your excesses that night received favor with him or her, and the Temple wishes to reward you for your holy profligacy. Decide what you did to attract this religious admiration. Whatever it was, the result is that you get a rare invitation to one of the "Gaming chambers", the secret subterranean pleasure dens of the Temple of Ulim. On another downtime, you may throw a party there with access to all the pleasure enhancing equipment of the temple. Everyone who attends gets double XP for the money they spend on carousing. 
  20. As you penetrate deeper into the revels, you realize that something profound is happening: a hedonistic spiritual awakening, a vision quest, an enlightenment through excess. Decide what the spiritual journey you have embarked on is, creating a tracker for a new spiritual exercise in collaboration with the DM. Mark off one tick on the tracker for the progress. Who knows what enlightenment lies at the end of this journey? Perhaps a permanent increase in your wisdom score, or a vision that will reveal something of great value to the party, or the single use of a spell you otherwise wouldn't be able to cast. (Remember that the more potent the result, the longer the tracker should be.) If this is only the first of many spiritual exercises, perhaps you are on your way to becoming an Ulimite saint!


  1. The sales mechanic is nice, I really enjoy haven activities that are little mini-games, quick to resolve, interesting and add complexity. One doesn't really want to play out the events as each PC is likely up to something different and one usually wants to retain focus on the adventure.

    I'd also point out that I modified my carousing table/procedure since 2013 - simplifying and expanding the table. For HMS Apollyon I used this:
    The key changes are that A) There's always an XP gain, but it's level capped B) There's always a complication - good or bad C) The player gets a choice of what broad category (Debauchery, Lust, or Violence) draws the PC's interest with unique tables -- though for a less compressed town I think neighborhood carousing based on expenditure might be a worthy substitute.

    It's so good to see these ideas on haven/downtime play, an underappreciated part of dungeon crawl/classic games that can be surprisingly tricky really. I suspect that Ultan's Door 4 may be about haven play/urban life?

  2. Thanks, Gus! I think the sales rules are one of my favorite things I've made for the campaign.

    I looked at all of those different carousing rules when I made mine. Those three tables are great! I choose to keep mine a little simpler because I am constantly experimenting with unique carousing rules for festivals, holidays, and funeral receptions.

    1. Oh simpler is good - I suspect when I right up a Carousing table for Crystal Frontier I'll end doing something much smaller - because opportunities for carousing are less in a single dusty frontier town, but I bet that's the key, using carousing and haven actions generally to build setting and encourage engagement. One really wants to do a specific one for anywhere that needs a bit of life.

      Festivals, feast days and such seem especially important for big urban centers, so yeah that's a good move.

  3. Is carousing in Mazirian's Garden the only way to get this amount of XP during the downtime?

    1. It's the only way to double dip on experience. Originally I had tithing to a church and so on, but now I've subsumed that under spiritual exercises and building an institution. Looking at it again, without the 1d6 roll, it's a bit extravagant. Let me amend it a bit.

    2. I am asking because I tend to play characters who don't carouse as a matter of personality but if this is the only way to get a substantial amount of XP, such method would leave such characters in a disadvantage in regards of class prowess.

    3. I hear you. My experience is, though, that players rarely use carousing if they have other options. They're too into pursuing their idiosyncratic projects, responding to pressing game opportunities, and so on, to care enough about spending a downtime action on an XP bump. Mainly when players do it is when their character is within a stone's throw of going up a level. But I'll think about what an alternative downtime action would be that would allow XP acquisition through other means. It's fun to think about these things!

  4. What does everyone thing about the advantages of a thieves guild or blackmarket is vs. finding a buyer?

    I've always had any sort of fence be good for doing something: Quietly, Quickly, or Max Value

    Pick 1 or 2 depending on the size of the cut the fence takes. Would this be better moved to the blackmarket?

    1. My instinct is that it depends on how much of a mini-game you want selling off goods to be. If you want it to be a small mini-game, then Nick's single approach probably work. If you want it to be a larger part of what players think about, then having a separate table for blackmarket/thieves guild would work well. Anyway, it sounds like a fun direction to take things!

    2. Good point! I am wary as well of making the base town too interesting and which tempts the players to hangout there as opposed to going back to Castle Xyantillan