What comes to mind when you talk about ‘downtime’ as it relates to tabletop RPG’s? For most folks, downtime is the time in between game sessions, and some games make good use of that time by encouraging players to submit downtime actions or write up (or play out) scenes that happen ‘in between’ the end of one session and the beginning of another. And that’s great! But it’s not the kind of downtime I’m talking about here. For our purposes, I’m talking about ‘in character downtime’, that is, those moments when the PC’s make camp, or return to their home base, or take shelter for the night before the zombies/dragons/robots return in the morning.
Such moments are important for the characters from a purely mechanical standpoint, of course, because it lets them rest, recover (either completely or at least partially), and continue their adventures refreshed. But I believe they offer a much greater opportunity than just regaining a few hit points and spell slots. It gives everyone an opportunity to really sink their teeth into the meat of the story or adventure they’re a part of, while allowing the players to prepare to confront the challenges ahead.
When characters have downtime in the game, they can afford to let their guards down and look at the situation they’re in without the constant rush of adrenaline and the danger of imminent death distracting them. This is a perfect opportunity for some quality role-play, and I view it as an invaluable resource both for the players and for the GM.
As a player, this is your chance to delve deep into your character’s history, thoughts, and motivations. How does your character feel about what they just went through? Do they feel guilty for slaughtering a village of kobolds? Are they proud of protecting or saving someone else? Did one of the other party members save or help them during the most recent battle or challenge? Have them approach one or more of the other characters and discuss their thoughts and feelings. Something as simple as that can lead to some of the most memorable and affecting scenes in the whole game.
As a storyteller or GM, scenes like this can serve a dual purpose: it allows you as the storyteller to take a bit of a break while your players do the heavy lifting of interacting with one another and discussing their thoughts, of course. But it can also provide you with all kinds of ideas and insight into what your players and their characters are seeing vs. what you are presenting. If you were trying to put out a lighthearted romp and your characters are talking about how afraid or angry they are, maybe something went wrong- or at least in a direction you didn’t expect.
Or maybe they discuss their next plans and their ideas and thoughts about what’s coming next, and any GM worth their salt will tell you it’s great to listen to players discuss future possibilities. Sometimes they come up with even better or more interesting ideas than you, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with stealing a few of them to use later. It gives players a great ‘I was right all along!’ feeling, while still making life a little easier for you.
Either way, it’s a win all around, for both players and GM’s. So, on your next game, make sure the characters have a moment to catch their breath- you might be surprised at just how much a little bit of downtime can do for your game.
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