Continuous Play, or Breaks?

When you run a campaign, do you hold that the action in the game is happening more or less continuously, or do you build in breaks during which the characters are deemed to be off doing their “day jobs”, training for their next level, carousing, etc.?

In the last campaign I ran, for instance, things seemed to proceed at a breakneck speed because the party would go into the dungeon, come out, rest just long enough to heal themselves and recover spells, and go right back into the dungeon. This led to a situation where time in-game passed at a much faster rate than time outside the game, so the whole campaign only took a few months of game time even though it lasted nearly two years in real time.

I’ve been thinking that building in some sort of down time might not be the worst idea. Even if it’s just “winter”, giving the PCs some time off to rest and acculturate to all the changes that have happened in their lives. Something like the “winter phase” in Pendragon.

Anyone ever done anything like this in D&D?

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Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

14 thoughts on “Continuous Play, or Breaks?

  1. I liked the idea that everyone would retreat out of the dungeon when the session was over. Too many times in years past, I would run into a situation where a player could not make a session or a new one wanted to join and it was difficult to figure out how to get them into the game or an absent character out of the game.
    Also, in today's world, a lot of banter happens in email in-between sessions. With the group always in town in-between sessions, it was fun to do off time conversations about training, visiting the inn for rumours, and other odds and ends through email to keep the spirit of the campaign alive.

  2. If you track time, limit resources, and avoid the new-PC plot-copter delivery device, then Isle of Dread will have long breaks… perhaps even years of time between trips to the Island as survivors head back to the mainland to get replacement adventurers. This contradicts everything people seem to think they want in D&D, but I like how it impacts the flavor of the game. You don't 15 minute workday the island… and it puts additional tension on the push-your-luck angle because leaving the island will make everything you know about it out of date.

  3. I use "down time."

    My players return to town — or whatever — where they can buy and sell, create potions and scrolls, or other magic items if they are of sufficient level and yes, train.

    We determine before hand what everyone wants to accomplish and then decide if a couple of days, or even a couple of weeks, go by.

    That's the point at which we return. Of course, some of the dungeon will be repopulated by then, so . . .

  4. I really, really dig the winter phase in Pendragon! I love the idea of games incorporating different phases to do different "levels" of action (so, in Pendragon, you go gallivanting around doing norm heroic RPG stuff most of the time, then winter phase is manor management, aging, advancing, and other big picture stuff).

    Sadly, I've never incorporated it into D&D, but I think it would be a lot of fun. I wouldn't necessarily say everyone has a manor, but regularly scheduled maintenance time makes sense and allows things in the game world to happen around the players (seasons pass, people age, kings die, et cetera).

    Sorry I don't have more useful suggestions for how to implement this idea, but it's something I'm thinking about. Worst case scenario, you can use the rule from Underworld & Wilderness Adventures of one week real time = one week game time in between adventures.

  5. The dungeoncrawl I'm currently running requires PCs leave in order to get XP and level up. Going back in then is an indefinite amount of time later, but yes there is side stuff that crops up as we go along.

  6. Torchbearer (the newest game from the Burning Wheel folks) – think Mouse Guard advanced – has a winter phase as well and is looking pretty cool.

  7. I keep a pretty strict calendar of time. A week in the game may take four sessions to play. On the other hand, when they do "rest up" wait to regain spells. Or travel back to town for supplies, all of that time adds up. And they might kill three months in the game with a two minute dash of "book keeping" in real life.

    Then again, I am heartless and cruel because I also require training for different classes to reach certain levels or they will plateau and have their experience points capped until they do get trained. It's different for each class, but for example, the party that wants a wizard with them knows that they are going to have to travel to the big city to have him seek the training.

    This can provide for some entertainment, too. Antsy adventurers in cities and towns create awesome opportunities for conflict resolution.

  8. ACKS has a mortal wounds table that you roll on whenever a character falls to 0 or less hp. Most of the results force weeks of bedrest, so that in turn creates plenty of downtime.

  9. Ars Magica used the Winter season as downtime also; so the wizards could gather up their resources throughout the year, and work on projects in seclusion. After running Curse of the Crimson Throne for my friends, I found that they loved the "down time" because it gave them time to get their characters invested in the area. It's amazing how much smarter you play when PC death is not a rare occurrence. Throw in the fact that a lot of players hate trying to shoe horn a new guy into an established party, and you learn to take advantage of that time off. Make some local contacts, join a Guild, etc, anything to have a extra bit of help when it's really needed. I never really liked the "instant leveling" aspect, and plan to employ a "down time" system in the next game I run, I just like the idea of setting investment, and that seems to get everyone involved.

  10. I run an old-school troupe-style campaign. When a character levels, they take downtime for training and the player brings in another character to play in the interim.

  11. I'm playing a home-brewed/ Dragon Warriors campaign, where we can only get together a few times a year. We've had the characters for a fair while now, and the PCs take year or more long gaps between adventures – mine is apparently married with two kids and another has just got married, but we'll be venturing into the southern swamps soon, I think.

    It's a feature now to discuss the characters 'off-screen' time these days…

  12. We play pretty much every week and a week passes in the game world between sessions. This is the least confusing option for us because not everyone makes every session. 90% of the time we get the party out of the dungeon/wilderness/dreamworld to make sure there are not continuity problems. This is sometimes violated when we run long and don't quite finish an encounter, and that sometimes causes problems…

    keeping game and real wime in synch also saves me from having to make up weather, holidays, etc. If it is halloween IRL then there is a festival of the dead in-game, etc.

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