Vitamin D is for Downtime

From the dictionary of fearless gaming

I’m a fan of having downtime in long, multi-session games. Time to breathe, sit with the hot events and reincorporate it all.

In the Mouse Guard RPG, it is called the player’s turn. Here they drive the actions and spend game currency ‘checks’ to accomplish things they care about or heal and repair. Blades in the Dark also has this phase of play — but really you can drop it in anywhere, any game.

I took a road trip back in November. I rented an RV, scooped up the family and pets, and hit the road to the expansive southwest. Just to get out of the mundane rut of all the 2020 things grating on us. We saw new cities, camped at truck-stops, stayed in RV parks, met new NPCs, many without quests just chilling with no rumors of dangers or evil liches. We laughed at old family memories and actually ate meals together.

I know, I know, PCs aren’t really real, they feel what we want them too. I just think if there’s a deliberate period of downtime injected into your games, you will have this reflection moment — and you will pass it on to your characters.

It’s a way to add fresh new thoughts and energy into play and to solidify what has come before. From the GM side of things, I look for ‘pauses’ in the action, in the events unfolding. I try to not let two HOT moments occur without a downtime pause for games that do not have a downtime phase. It is as easy as asking where do you go? what do you all do next? — winding down the scene and the action.

You can hard cut to a location known for safe discussions in-game and everyone is there. Then as GM, stop talking. I find especially after HOT events of play the players will keep the dialogue going. About what they believe just happened, reasons, and who to take revenge on next! Let it happen, take notes — I’ve changed my plans based on a better thought a player said during downtime. Often during downtime characters will want to take actions that require dice rolls or engaging the mechanics. Use your rules. I try to say yes, but I will also use the rules where they exist.

Sometimes these downtimes will close themselves, sometimes the GM will have to begin asking action-driven questions to return to normal play. I will usually signal with a “So we’re all good?” before transitioning out of downtime. Games like Blades in the Dark have mechanics for these transitions.

We made it out as far as New Mexico from Kansas City on the RV trip. We learned a bit more about ourselves as a family and as pet owners and new things about the world of RVers. Once back home the mundane didn’t seem so hum-drum. Things seemed to refocus around new trips or things we saw during our downtime. I’ve seen this happen in games during downtime scenes. Sometimes a moment of downtime can dramatically alter a game’s direction.

Play Fearless!