Reflections on downtime

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Sword of Solkan
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Joined: Mon Jan 07, 2019 1:35 pm

The PCs in my 4th edition Border Princes game recently took their first downtime. I thought I’d share our experiences with the downtime rules, and my reflections on what worked for us and what didn’t.

My players asked to take a 3 week downtime. I had originally offered them a 1 week downtime, before various events were going to catch up with them in play, but allowed myself to be talked round to the full 3 weeks to more fully playtest to Endeavour rules.

Interestingly, the game mechanics provide no reason for the players to ever take anything less than a 3 week downtime. The “cost” they pay in terms of the “Money to Burn” rules and risking a roll on the random events table is the same however long a downtime they take, and 3 weeks maximises the benefit they receive in terms of Endeavours.

I’ve got 4 players, and they each rolled for random events.This resulted in a “Local Crop Failure” (doubling good prices in the area for the duration of the next adventure), a “Bolt from the Blue” (which could have resulted in a PC losing his horse, only he didn’t have one), a “Crime Crackdown” (which would have prevented Rogue characters taking the Income Endeavour, if we had any Rogues in the party) and an “Uneventful” (nothing happens).

Personally, I found the idea of a local crop failure the most interesting, but the random events otherwise seemed pretty sparse pickings for planning future adventures. Especially as two of the four events were basically “nothing happens, twice”.

These random events also triggered a bit of discussion over what the “duration of the next adventure” means. I took a common sense approach to this: if the crops have failed the odds are food prices will realistically be higher for at least a season.

The PCs each spent their leftover money on equipment, to avoid losing it under the “Money To Burn” rules. Again, the way the downtime rules are set up means there’s no reason not to do this.

We then moved on to Endeavours:

- Everyone took a free change of career, to save 100 XP. Fair enough.

- One of the PCs is an Agitator and spent his remaining two Endeavours to “Foment Dissent”. The town the PCs are staying in is holding a referendum over whether to join with one of the neighbouring Border Princes (“The Marquise”). Fortunately for the PC, he rolled Astounding Success (6SLs) on his Charm Test to incite public opinion against her. I asked the player how he wanted to interpret this, and we decided that the PC had secretly forged letters implicating the Marquise in various plots against the town. Personally, I found this by far the most interesting consequence of the downtime, especially in the context of the election plotline I’d already set up. I’m running a sandbox campaign, and I liked the influence it gave the PC in shaping events. It also gave me a lot to work with in planning future adventures. It’s a shame none of the other PCs had the option of similarly dynamic downtime activities: although this is something I might well house-rule if we were to use the downtime rules again.

- Everyone else just spent their remaining two Endeavours on Income, rolling their status to generate some extra money. Again, fair enough. It didn’t really give me much to work with in terms of generating plot hooks, beyond introducing a few NPCs as employers and co-workers, but the downtime rules didn’t really give them an incentive to do much else.

So, to summarise, the mechanical impact of the downtime was that everyone gained a bonus 100 XP and a load of free money with the downside that food prices will be doubled in the area for the foreseeable future. I’ve got a few things I can use as plothooks for future adventures, but (with the exception of the Foment Dissent downtime) there’s nothing there I couldn’t have easily come up with on my own. I’ve got to say that, much as I like the idea of downtime rules, the execution seemed a bit lacking.

I suppose my main gripe with the downtime rules, beyond missed opportunities to generate additional plothooks, is the potential for PCs to use downtimes to generate a lot of money easily, and without any risk to themselves.

I’ve been working reasonably hard to keep my PCs low on funds, since the desire to “keep the wolf from the door” is often one of the main spurs to adventure in WFRP, and one that can often present PCs with difficult choices to make about whether to accept dangerous or otherwise unsavoury offers of employment. In this case, I’m running a sandbox game and the party have had offers of lucrative employment from some of the Border Princes, but have always taken the high road and refused to compromise their independence or morals. In my opinion, providing a free and risk-free source of money diminishes those sorts of dilemmas by offering an easy way out.

To summarise, I’d have liked to have seen more opportunities for PCs to engage with and shape the campaign world, I’d have liked to have seen more things that I could have mined for plothooks, and I’m not keen on PCs being able to earn money in downtime (at least without some sort of risk or cost to themselves). I’d therefore be inclined to scrap (or at least limit) the Income and Banking Endeavours, and introduce some new Endeavours to allow PCs more opportunities to interact with NPC groups in interesting ways.

Edit: Looks as though someone’s already come up with some house rules for downtimes that are a lot closer to what I’m looking for: ... s.html?m=1
Chaos was the law of nature; Order was the dream of man.
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Orin J.
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Joined: Wed Feb 06, 2019 10:39 pm

my general view of endeavours (haven't USED them, just looked 'em over) is they were designed with the approach of "how can we make things the players don't want to do easier" which they do without asking the question "does this help or hurt the GM's ability to move the story forward in a natural fashion". the best approach i can see for it is for the GM to be incredibly stingy with downtime they can use endeavours ON and to simply refuse the players the rest of the time "no, nobody is looking for day laborers/part timers right now" and so on.

i've always handled this abstractly as a GM in my games anyways, so really 4th having a codified system is meaningless for my games anyways (aside from possibly leading to players getting into a debate over it with me, i guess)
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Events -

It's best to look on the events table as a bunch of options and inspiration for the GM, not just a simple table to roll on.
Adjust things to suit your campaign, and some leads interesting leads in other directions, ignore events that sound boring, embrace events that present new challenges to the PC's.

Endeavours -

I agree with Orin on Endeavours.
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All that was something our group liked not at all, contributing to us only lasted a month or two with the system.

The events reminded me of 80's wandering monsters tables - or Warhammer Quest which had similar events, where they tried to ram some narrative into the space between the silly dungeon bashes.

The endeavours felt weirdly unnecessary too. Archaic,. like some railroady, overly powerful NPC from crusty old Dragon Warriors or D&D that took a dump on player agency.
That bit in the earning endeavour that had a character lose all the money they already had first, bugger that. The idea of doing something career based felt good, rather than just the career title float on a line on a character sheet without ever performing anything to do with it. The mechanical upshot of making a character go shopping or banking so as not to lose their previous money to theft or gambling without an opportunity to resist the financial assault or insinuation they were a daft gambler, didn't sit so well with us. Player agency has become more of a thing in the decades since our hobby began, this came across as a step back.
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If the Event doesn't apply, I would always re-roll it or make it so it does apply. E.g., if the PC doesn't have a horse, maybe they let their boss' horse run away, and now they have to track it down?

Or maybe they were drunk and left a gate open, so the local farmer's horses ran away, and the PC is landed with the bill.

You could always mix in the 'I Need a Job' tables (or other random tables from the GMs Screen) to add spice.
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Toby Pilling
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Joined: Wed May 15, 2019 5:14 am

I very much like the idea of downtime as an option in the WFRP game - the rules themselves are more open to debate. Many campaigns have the PCs following one lead after another, during which relatively little game time can pass, but the PCs can become very experienced - you could technically have 19 year olds on a par, experience wise, with fifty year olds. I'm a player in Sword of Solkan's game and I think periods of downtime fit the style of the campaign well.

I ran one campaign set in Bretonnia where I tried to insert seasonal pauses here and there, though I had no rule mechanism to follow and just asked the PCs if they had anything they wanted to undertake during the period. Income wasn't a factor in that game, so most of their activities tended to be story based. I think these 4th edition downtime rules would have come in very handy in a campaign I ran ages ago, where all the PCs were young apprentice types growing up in Kreutzhofen. However, I think I'd have adapted the random event table where appropriate, as most of them are negative and some are catastrophic - particularly 'Suspicion of Heresy'.

I can see the logic of limiting the number of income endeavours, but I actually like the way that they reward progress in a profitable career - after all, if one is not using the 'Effects of Status' rules on p50-51, it often makes more sense to have a low status career, because it costs so much less to maintain oneself each day. With an income endeavour, however, it finally pays off to have made the move into higher earning careers.

As an aside, I know that James Wallis in the Hogshead years wrote a polemical piece about how miserable and skint every Warhammer PC should be, and that if they weren't scratching in the mud for a few copper pieces, you were playing it wrong. I'm afraid I'm a bit more of an old-school grognard - I bought and was playing and GMing WFRP in 1986 when it first came out, and the aim certainly wasn't to secure the PCs in penury. The 'Money to Burn' part of the downtime rules seems to assume that PCs are accruing Conan-like levels of gold and treasure that need to be explained away or got rid of, for the campaign to re-set. I fear instead that all that occurs is that PCs will never be able to afford a crossbow, horse or breastplate. Thanks heavens the 'Trappings' part of careers are only a guide!
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