Roleplaying Downtime Outside the Game

What are players up to between missions?

The adventurers in tabletop roleplaying games are often extremely busy. There are always dungeons to delve, citizens to save, monsters to slay, and devils to make deals with. In amongst all the heroics – or villainy – that characters get up to in games like Dungeons and Dragons, there are bound to be some moments where things naturally slow down. That’s not to say there has to be, you could design a campaign to be absolutely flat out 100% of the time. That’s not terribly realistic, but you could do it if you wanted to. Normally, downtime will naturally happen. Character downtime in an opportunity to step away from the busy day-to-day life of an adventurer and focus on character interests and inter-character relationships. Remember, characters are more than a set of stats on a page, the most engrossing (and believable) characters are three dimensional.

For short periods of downtime, it is easy to roleplay it out with your players at the table. Perhaps they’ve decided to do a day of shopping in a busy city, or spend an evening relaxing around the campfire. These are great opportunities for the characters to simply interact with one another or complete other roleplaying tasks. However, longer periods of downtime may require an out of game approach. Especially if your players are particularly interested in the roleplaying aspect of the game.

The party in Chrono Trigger enjoying a moment of rest.

Character downtime as an out of game experience

In my ongoing campaign, The Halls of Gathering, the players have reached a long deserved point of respite (coming shortly after the fancy recorded recap). Much of the story up to this point has required the party to continuously press onward. After freeing the town of Shanom from a variety of perils, they finally found themselves some time to rest. The Collected are now travelling via floating ship across the desert, a trip expected to take several weeks. During this time the players have an opportunity to improve their characters via a level and a feat (or some optional training with their hosts), and interact with one another.

As this was the end of a chapter and a prolonged rest period, I decided to run this downtime outside of our regular game sessions. My wife and I periodically swap out DMing duties, so we have a bit of time away from the campaign anyway. Now my players have an opportunity to really think about what their character is doing during this period.

So initially I gave my players a written narration with instructions about leveling and training. The narration provided them with details about their current surroundings, the tribe whose ship they travel on, and a prisoner kept in the brig. From here I began to interact with the players individually (a process that is currently ongoing) to determine what their intentions were for the journey. For my part I have kept a document detailing the players’ choices and any important undertakings.

My Experience So Far

So far, most of the players have embraced this form of interaction. They message me about what they would like to do with their time and interactions they would like to have with the non-player characters or other player characters. The roleplaying of these events takes place through text chats (Facebook messenger primarily) and allows detailed interactions to take place without the requisite time in game. For many of the characters this time is quite personal and doesn’t involve more than one or two of the other player characters. By hosting this outside of game, players don’t feel pressure to shorten or cut off their activities to get on with gameplay.

This is the second time that I’ve subjected my players to roleplaying outside of game. I’ve found it to be a valuable and worthwhile experience. In many cases, it has allowed for character interactions and development that may not take place if we simply just continued in game. Whether it is due to time constraints, or player comfort, these out of game experiences have given opportunities for my players, and the game world, to have some extra life.

What are your thoughts/experience with running scenes outside of your regular sessions?

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