Downtime in Dark Earth

According to the Players Handbook, downtime is a “period of activity between adventures” that can cover all sorts of options – See: PHB p.187, DMG p.128-131, Unearthed Arcana: Downtime for examples. What they do suggest in the DMG that is very important concept: downtime can be used as a tool to pull character investment towards your plots. This is the bulk of downtime activity in Dark Earth. It fulfills two important purposes: Engagement, and Time Management.

We diverge from those core options all the time, however, the most significant is that the cost for Learning a Language or Tool Proficiency is only 125 downtime, not 250. This is simply to adjust for the scale of time used in the rewards.

Engagement (For DM’s)

Engagement is where you leverage downtime activities to expand upon plot elements that either didn’t get attention at the table, or may telegraph important information for future parts of your story. Some examples of plot centric downtime across the various seasons:

  • Research the language found on an ancient map and who made it.
  • Visit a remote shrine mentioned in prayer scrolls found on victim.
  • Restore an old fortification to defend-able state.
  • Trace the origin of an artifact that was destroyed in an adventure.
  • Research the background of a senator you suspect is corrupt.

Each of the above cost varying amounts of downtime (in increments of 5), sometimes gold, but all allowed for the exposition of plot elements that would otherwise be unexplored the table. The biggest component of downtime activities used for this sort of engagement is that it gives individual players an additional way to contribute to the story. They get a chance to work the downtime effort, then report/summarize to their allies the results. The players are telling part of the story that they know. This is also an excellent way to sow misinformation. Not all sources of research or effort are truthful after all.

Time Management (For Players)

This is a much larger component of downtime in an organized play setting than in a home game. The time and episodic constraints for sessions limit how much individuals can work to their own agendas at the table. While in a home game, you can sidetrack an adventure to go negotiating with stronghold contractors to build a tower, in O.P. that wastes the time of the other customers at the table. With downtime activities, you can manage all those efforts off-screen and out-of-session so the adventure proceeds apace. Some examples from prior seasons:

  • Research New Spells at the Library of Alexandria.
  • Build an expansion to a fishing town to house refugees.
  • Recruit a new garrison.
  • Employ traders to establish a caravan route between two new towns.
  • Obtain rare materials for a ritual.
  • Craft a number of items.


As a Player – When asking to work on any of the downtime missions or activities from the core rules, discuss with the table or regional DM responsible for it to get any Wealth requirements. This is the biggest change from the core rules regarding downtime as Gold isn’t tracked in-campaign.

Be creative. If there are elements of a story or region that interest you, and the DM hasn’t offered downtime missions related to it, ask, Not only are you likely to get an interesting mission out of it, but the DM gets a chance to potentially explore part of their story they hadn’t thought of. It’s a win all-around.

As a DM – Get in the habit of sketching downtime ideas into the epilogues of your mods. Think about mods that are coming soon and whether or not opportunities exist to gain any insight on those mods with some effort and research. Take the time to prepare handouts with the results, if the downtime is plot-related. Let each mission or activity you design be a gateway to further missions by seeding plot hooks into the results or adding follow up missions.

The scale for downtime activities is vast, but if you think in terms of 5 days is a week of work, it’s easier to handle. So it might take two weeks (10 days) to travel to Alexandria, set up meetings with enough scholars of the Ahkenaten Dynasty, go through rolls of parchment, and talk to the only surviving member of an expedition – all to identify the origin of a particular statue of the god Aten you found in a weird cult’s hideout in Syria. Also, it takes 120 days to grow a clone, and 125 days to master a new language. So those are your top-end efforts.

© 2015-2017 Dark Earth Publishing, Ltd. Open Gaming License for Dark Earth


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