Mechanics Monday: Downtime in 5e

Welcome to this week’s Mechanics Monday where we take a look at a specific mechanic in the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, compare it to the 2nd Edition and see which version works best for the setting of Greyhawk.

If the 5e version is suboptimal we try to homebrew a better version for our campaign.

Today’s Mechanic:

Today we talk about Downtime. After we lengthened the time between adventures with our homebrewes Rest system, we need to figure what the player characters can do in their non-adventuring time.

Mechanic in 5th Edition

The Downtime system in 5e is simple. The players can use the time to craft an item, recuperate from injury, to research, practice a profession or train. Training means finding a tutor to gain a tool proficiency or learn a language over time.
While the system exists it doesn’t get used in most campaigns as especially the 5th Edition prewritten modules all have a sense of urgency. There is simply no time in the story to do any downtime.

How it’s used to be in 2nd Edition

There are no downtime rules per se, but there exists a really interesting optional training rule. In the rule player can’t advance instantly when gaining experience. They have to pay a tutor and then succeed on Wisdom or Intelligence checks every week to determine if they advance.

While the idea is nice, in my opinion the necessity of a tutor and the randomness how long a training takes, makes it flawed.

What is better

While the systems are quite similar they have one major difference. Experience points have to be earned over time in 2nd edition while in 5th you practically get them immediately. It goes so far that when you oblige the standard encounter rate in 5th edition, you would reach level 20 after 37 days.

In my opinion, this obliterates verisimilitude and needs to be adressed. People in Greyhawk see Mordenkainen as the strongest mage in the world, a one in a million human being. Our players shouldn’t become this strong in half a year, yet alone 37 days.

Now let’s see what we can do for 5th edition to improve it for our campaign.

How we tweak it

I would like to reintroduce training to convert your experience points back to 5th Edition. In order to level up a character shouldn’t just kill enemies and immediately become stronger. They need to reassess what they have learnt in battle. Compare it to anything in life.

A body builder won’t become stronger the moment he lifts weights. His body needs time to build up the strength he gained from training.

So how do we introduce a mechanic that serves our purpose and keeps the DM from unnecessary bookkeeping? Let’s do the following:

The amount of time a character has to train is proportional to the level he tries to gain. For example, getting from level 4 to 5 takes five weeks of training.

The character should do an activity that promotes his field of expertise at least two hours per day. A fighter trains combat, a bard plays his instrument, a monk meditates and a warlock contacts his patron.

The experience points have to be gained before but adventuring days count as training days.

Let’s play out an example:

Kevin is a level 1 fighter. He needs 300 XP to reach level 2. Divided by two weeks Kevin can convert 21 XP per day. On his adventuring day he killed two goblins and frees a princess. He escorts her to the village and delivers her safely after three days. The DM gives Kevin 100 XP for the goblins and another 100 XP for saving the princess. On the fourth day he delivers the princess and gets another 100 XP. This is his mapped out experience conversion:

  • Day 1: 200 XP gained, full conversion (approx. 21 XP)
  • Day 2: full conversion
  • Day 3: full conversion
  • Day 4: 100 XP gained, full conversion

The next ten days Kevin celebrates the rescue of the princess in town, while training 2 hours per day to convert his experience points. After Day 14 he reaches level 2.
Interestingly enough the player can also roleplay in which direction he wants his character to go in the downtime. Maybe Kevin’s player wants Kevin to be a Battle Master so he gets trained by a retired veteran on court who shows him his first maneauvres.

With this system it would take a player character to advance from 1st to 20th level in minimum of 1.463 days, little more tha 4 in-game years.

The rest of the downtime activities can be used as written in the 5th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. Just don’t forget this important paradigm: Adventuring should always be more profitable then downtime.

I hope you liked today’s episode of Mechanics Monday. If you have any feedback or own idea how to tackle this mechanic, comment down below.

For the next episode we will look at the Potion of Longevity.

See you in the Green Dragon Inn,


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