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The Importance of Downtime

Gwenevere Rothwell

Jul 7, 2023

Downtime in Pathfinder 2nd Edition can feel like a small and unimportant step in the grand scheme of things. There’s no action, no combat, very little that is relevant to the quest or story at hand, so why do it?

Image by Kiwihug

Downtime in Pathfinder 2nd Edition can feel like a small and unimportant step in the grand scheme of things. There’s no action, no combat, very little that is relevant to the quest or story at hand, so why do it? Rules for Downtime can be found on pages 481, and 500-502 of the Core Rulebook and page 22 of the Gamemastery Guide.

Regroup and Refocus

There are several mechanics tied to downtime, but before we dive into that, let’s talk about what it can mean to both our players and their characters outside of that context. 

Downtime can be a time to sit down, breathe, eat some snacks, drink some pop, and come together to think what it is you have to do next. There’s no worry of threats, you’re (usually) not pressed for time, and it’s also a good moment for players to interact with one another in character. It can be a time for the quiet players to be comfortably engaged by the more talkative players, it can be a time for characters to get to know one another, and it can be a good time for the GM to sit back and relax. Downtime can take as little or as much time as your players want.

Downtime Actions

There are a number of downtime actions that players can perform, but they can generally only do one of these actions per day of downtime. Some downtime activities take longer than just one day, such as crafting, but don’t have to be done over consecutive days.

The available actions are:

  • Crafting: Players take the time to craft something that they have the formula of. There are a number of crafting feats that further expand this option in terms of what you can craft, but at a base it takes 4 days to craft an item for its base price, and then you spend additional days decreasing the cost.

    • In my humble opinion, Crafting could use a lot of work in this edition and I’m excited for when Treasure Vault comes out as it should fix a lot of the issues.

  • Earn Income: You can earn some gold on the side while not adventuring. The amount you earn is not based on your level, but instead on the task level that you choose. By RAW the coin you earn isn’t anywhere near as lucrative as adventuring is, but it can add up if your group decides to spend a long time doing downtime or there’s a timeskip.

  • Treat Disease: If you’re trained in Medicine you can attempt to treat (but not cure) a disease. This gives a bonus to the character’s check the next time they roll a saving throw against the disease.

  • Create Forgery: A situational but rather fun action, Create Forgery requires the use of the Society skill. With it, your GM rolls a secret Society check against a DC of 20, gaining additional bonuses depending on how much backup information you have on the forgery, up to a +4 circumstance bonus. If you succeed, then only those who properly inspect your fake document will need to roll against your Society DC.

  • Subsist: If you’re not looking to stay at an Inn to save some money, or if you’re a druid trying to stay unreliant on modern society, then Subsist lets you find food and shelter where there otherwise wouldn’t be. Subsist is linked to two skills: Society and Survival. Society is for when you’re in the city and are looking for shelter and food off the streets, and Survival is for when you’re out in the wilderness and need to forage for food and make your own shelter.

Additional Activities

There are a number of additional activities that players can do that aren’t necessarily tied to skills.

  • Buying and Selling: This is left open for interpretation for the GM on how long this takes, but generally it takes about a day. It could take longer or shorter depending on how in demand the items the players are selling are in. Players can sell just about anything they’ve found—or at least attempt to—but what they can buy is largely up to the GM. As a base, items are bought at their full listed price by a player and sold by a player at half the listed price, but depending on the demand of the town or if the GM allows haggling, these prices could go up or down.

  • Long-Term Rest: Instead of resting for 8 hours, a player can decide to rest for 24 hours or even longer. They generally have to be in a place of comfort and security to do this and they recover double what they would from an 8 hour rest. If players would like, they can rest for upwards of a week to cure themselves of poisons, diseases, and so on, but serious injuries, curses, and other magical debilitations that don’t have a duration won’t be cured this way.

  • Retraining: The rules for retraining are largely up in the air for the GM to decide, with the Core Rulebook giving some example times and explaining that the cost of retraining should be relatively minor. This is from a “fun” perspective because remember, if a player is retraining from one thing to another it’s usually because they’re not having fun with that ability after putting it into practice. There are also a few things that players can’t retrain (or shouldn’t in normal circumstances). This includes their ancestry, heritage, and even class features like Bloodlines. If a player retrains from a Sorcerer to another class, have them make a note of what Bloodline they had, as that Bloodline is still in the Sorcerer’s DNA, even if they never touch Sorcerer again, their Bloodline could come up in the game again, even though they no longer mechanically have access to it.

Longer Periods of Downtime

Sometimes downtime can go on longer than you’d otherwise expect. Maybe the group is recuperating, maybe they’re waiting for some big event, or maybe they just want a bit of a break from adventuring after a truly daring dungeon. In these instances, there are rules you can work with to make the experience and where they’re staying feel more alive.

  • Events: The Core Rulebook states that events should be generally tied to a character’s method of earning income, but I don’t entirely think that’s necessary, especially if not everyone is partaking in earning income. Events in this instance are small civilian activities such as plays, celebrations, festivals, celebrity visits, and so on. You don’t have to be earning income to participate in these though. It could be a lot of fun for your players to dress up for a huge festival and it gives GMs a chance to put on their lore caps and flesh out the story of the city or town the players are staying at.

  • Average Progress: If your players are spending weeks or months or even years in downtime, it could obviously become a pain for players to roll for each and every day that they’re earning income. Instead, the Core Rulebook suggests breaking it up into weeks or months and using the lowest level task that the character can reliably find in that location. You could then up the level of the task by one or two every few weeks or months depending on how long their Earn Income goes on for, to represent busy times.

  • Cost of Living: The Core Rulebook also provides prices for paying for services, but this is from the perspective of one or two nights at the inn, not weeks or months. For this, the Core Rulebook breaks this down into weeks, months, or years, and between Subsistence (scrounging around, and you can attempt to do this for free using a Society roll instead), comfortable, fine, and extravagant. The prices listed are for each player, so keep that in mind. The idea is you only want to go for a price of living that fits what you can make with Earning Income, unless you’re sitting on a mountain of gold.

  • Investing: Investing is an option for players, but not in the sense of a stock market—investing gold to get more gold back. Instead, what the Gamemastery Guide suggests is more meaningful investments. One example it gives is investing in a museum and in doing so you might get access to possible future adventures, magical items, artefacts, and so on.

House Rules

Downtime is something that I see, more than anything, as a suggestion over solid rules in terms of their mechanics, with some aspects being left deliberately vague. This allows GMs to more easily fit Downtime into their own setting. Maybe you’re in a campaign where your players don’t necessarily need to worry about the cost of living, or maybe they do but instead of it representing them going to inns and eating there it’s instead represented by them restocking their storage with food in the case of a naval campaign.

With a campaign I’m working on that’s heavily inspired by Doctor Who, the players can rely on their equivalent of the TARDIS for a lot of their worries. Instead of a sci-fi feel I wanted to give it a fantasy feel where time is a loosey goosey abstract concept that they can manipulate with ease, at least when it comes to their own history. With this, Retraining in this campaign will not be them paying for services or finding a teacher, but instead going to their room and opening a book on their past. From here they could alter aspects of it, going across multiple books and manipulating past choices and their own history. My plan is that when we have moments like this, we delve into their past in scenes as a sort of one on one scenario with how they interact with the world and their backstory, how they’d change things, and so on. Similar to an architect working on rebuilding a grand structure.

In another game I played it was more of a mission style game using IRL time and days to determine things like downtime. Downtime then was done out of session and each of the actions you could perform with Downtime was instead turned into actions of a daily action pool—using Pathfinder 2nd Edition’s base 3 actions, where every day you would have 3 actions to perform various tasks. Tasks then either cost 1 action or 2 depending on their depth and retraining took a week and one action per day. It was definitely interesting and depending on your table it could work for you.

This one is less of a house rule and more of general advice: don’t use downtime as it is directly written, in other words, don’t use it like a checklist and then move on to the next day/week/month/year. Downtime is a grand opportunity for roleplay, for letting players engage with the setting and for letting the GM expand their setting. Downtime can turn an improvised town whose original purpose was to just serve as a resting point into a place that will stay in your players’ memories forever. I’d personally even go as far to say that you should be more loose with some specifics like how long each activity takes. Are the players really spending an entire day going around selling things? You could make a session out of it if you wanted or even take extra time to expand on the specifics of what they’re doing, how they’re finding directions, and so on. This aspect applies to all TTRPG games, as I was recently playing 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons with a group online and the first session I joined in for was essentially a shopping trip. That was it. That was the whole session. And I had a blast because I got to take the time to roleplay my character, interact with the other characters, interact with NPCs, and figure out how my character asks for help. It made something mundane turn into something fun and engaging because I got to find an answer to a simple question: how does my character do things like shopping? What are her priorities? Is she friendly? Is she shy? Is she awkward? How does she move around? It was a nice, grounded experience that felt like my Session 0 even though I had joined a pre-existing adventuring group.

Wrapping Up

Downtime is an aspect of the game that is often overlooked. It’s left vague on purpose as the GM and the players are supposed to fill in the gaps. Interact with NPCs, have fun with the low stakes of everything. Enjoy being able to just breathe and experience a relaxing time. If your players are getting worn down by tense situation after tense situation, downtime can be an excellent way of easing that tension and allowing players to relax with their characters.

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