Friday, June 24, 2011

Off-Season Player Activities

One of the greatest advantages of throwing open your design process to all you DIY rapscallions out there is that your feedback without fail tends to fire off the sagging neurons in my brain and goad me into delving deeper and deeper into the subject on hand. 

Sadly for my ever-stretching personal deadlines, one of the greatest disadvantages is that your feedback fires off my imagination and goads me to delve...

Looking at many of your comments from this week, it became increasingly apparent that I would have to start getting into the nitty gritty of off-season activities in “Pendragon D&D”--really I need a better working title at this point--before getting much farther in detailing the other methods.

Some rough guidelines for running the 6-10 month period that characters aren't actively adventuring:

Cultural Limitations. Very few societies in well thought out campaign settings will allow a character free reign in all activities. Depending on the political, economic, cultural, and religious contours of the character's home area, some activities will be limited or banned altogether. It's important for the GM to think about these limitations and convey them to the player before she plans her off-season activity.

In many cases hurdles can be overcome with the right application of “juice”, bribes, political favors, and/or other influences (weighted CHA checks).

A high medieval European-like setting, for instance, is likely to have a rigid guild structure that forbids a character from being taught a craft or profession. The character may have to grease a few palms of guild master to get a dispensation to be taught—or seek and find an errant journeyman willing to break the heavy hand of the guild.

Compensation. Each activity reaps benefits:

Gold. Money produced per activity.

Experience Points. Modest exp awards per activity.

In Kind” Compensation. Goods produced in an activity: magic items, weapons, hides, furs, food, etc.

Social Benefits. Advancement in a political, religious, cultural, professional hierarchy. Children, relationships, etc.

Skills. All labor is divided into four categories based on training in a trade: unskilled, semi-skilled, craft and expert. These four areas correspond to the Hirelings list found here.

Time requirements for activities. Here's the carrot that some of you mentioned. A character can engage in a range of activities in the months of the off-season, but each has a time requirement.

Many tasks can be completed indirectly by hiring or compelling free or unfree labor. No experience points are awarded from the secondary activity, but the character is allowed to forgo the time requirement (did I really need to spell that out?). Wage and/or upkeep costs apply.

Training in new areas will give a character a rudimentary working knowledge of the subject—speaking a new language at a grade-school level or being able to work metal crudely, for example. Further applications of training will progressively hone the skill level at the discretion of the GM. (Keeping with the core spirit of D&D interpretation of skills are wholly non-mechanical and rulings-based.)

Brief (1 month)
Swords & Sorcery-style Debauch/Carouse/Paint Town Red
Bribe/Use Influence
Work/Practice Trade
Run a Business
Join Guild, Order, or Other Association
Conduct Religious Acts (Penance, Absolution, Sacrifice etc)
Travel, Civilized Lands
Craft Potion, Scroll
Build a Structure (varies)
Commission Expedition
Buy/Sell Stolen Goods or Other Illegal Activity

Seasonal (3 months)
Courtship (includes trying to have children)
Read and Write Native Language
Learn a Semi-Skilled Trade
Train with Weapons
Embark on Pilgrimage, Short
Conduct Spell Research
Conduct Scholarly Research
Craft Minor Magic Item
Class-Appropriate Training(thieving, tracking, kung-fu, etc.)
Train an Animal
Use Ritual Magic

Quarterly (4 months)
Learn to Speak Easy Foreign Language
Learn to Read and Write Easy Foreign Language
Create a Work of Art (statue, epic poem, piece of music, etc)
Lead a Caravan, Civilized Area
Captain a Merchant Craft

Half-Year (6 months)
Learn a Craft 
Farm, Short Harvest Crop
Embark on Pilgrimage, Long
Learn to Speak Difficult Foreign Language
Read and Write Difficult Foreign Language

Long (9 months)
Switch Class
Farm, Long Harvest Crop
Found Settlement

Double-Season (18 months)
Learn an Expert Trade


  1. Is this a roleplaying game or wargame? It seems best suited for the latter.

  2. Mutant hybrid, Brad, the overall project is porting (back in, if you trace the thread back to Arneson and the early years of Blackmoor) in a wider stage of wargaming campaign-like activity into D&D.

  3. Well, to be perfectly honest, considering how long it takes per the rules to heal up and stuff, my guess is "adventuring" was really meant to be a rather infrequent activity within the context of the game. Maybe a week or two long expedition every couple months max, closer to 2 weeks once a year..? Considering the source material for D&D, this makes a lot of sense. Stories about Conan gloss over his 18 months at sea and get to the one day he encounters a demon.

    In your opinion, at what point did dungeoncrawling overtake mundanity as the default activity in an rpg? I notice none of the newer versions of D&D have references to dominions granted to high level fighters...

  4. Yeah I'm liking this much better now. This is precariously balancing between the wargame and the RPG, but done right there is no reason why a RPG cannot have these rules added in. It makes it fit in line more with the epic fantasy we read. 3/4ths of the story is just that, a story. That last quarter is the action. No sense why out RPGs can't follow suit.

    I like it.

  5. Not surprisingly, I'm enjoying this too. I see the value in it as an optional expansion, and as a foundation for groups wanting to move in this direction. I love the exploration of potential it represents.