Running the Kingdom: Downtime Actions for D&D Leaders

In D&D, Roleplayby PaulLeave a Comment

You've vanquished the Big Bad Evil Guy bringing peace back to the realm. Doves of peace are busy fluttering hither and tither, farmers can raise their crops in relative peace, and the living finally outnumber the unliving.

And just last Tuesday you were wet behind the ears apprentices and squires at Castle Nowhere.

As a result of all that effort (over the weekend too!) you're now individually more powerful than pretty much everyone in the Realm, and now... Well, now what?

You can retire the characters and start from scratch again. Find an EVEN bigger BBEG. Head to the Planes to fight BBEG's out-there, or take that tract of wilderness that the King is offering you and go raise your own domain...

Which is where I headed after my player characters vanquished Acererak in the Tomb of Annihilation. When they went to Chult they were junior members of their factions, and they came out the other-side as relative Olympians.

Their factions needed to harness these new found celebrities, as well as make sure they earned their organisational-leadership spurs somewhere it wouldn't cause too much of a problem.

Hence the Titles and Troubles campaign, for which these rules were created. I present them here for wider consumption and comment. I hope that they add a new dimension to your game, as well as allowing you to follow what the players are doing in our game.

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General Principles

The key principles for these rules are:

  1. Domain Management remains abstracted and dealt with as downtime actions that are specifically focused at the domain level.Whilst elements of the roleplay may be influenced by the outcomes of the domain management, the actions of managing the domain are not good story fodder. As such they should remain at the abstraction of a downtime action.
  2. Domain Management has some form of action economy. That is if the players choose action A, they are also choosing to NOT do actions B, C and D.
  3. Domain downtime actions are expected to be undertaken by the PC’s subordinates and will be resolved by their stats where relevant. These subordinates use their own stats in the downtime rolls, though do not get to add time for the days committed to the action in the same way that may be allowed by a PC. Instead they may receive a static bonus for particular downtime actions to represent their expertise.
  4. The suite of downtime actions available to characters is influenced by the story.As the characters develop their domains, the suite of options available to them becomes wider if they choose to cultivate those choices. This kind of activity will usually be the result of completing objectives in game (let’s call them ‘quest rewards’) or consistently pursuing and succeeding in downtime actions.
  5. Player Characters can always choose to resolve particular opportunities through roleplay rather than downtime, either at the ‘table’ or in the forum.If an outcome is important enough, or interesting enough, for the players to want to have greater control over the outcome they can opt to play this out in the forum or at the table. When pursuing these activities the characters cannot themselves be undertaking downtime activities, but they can have delegated activities to their subordinates.
  6. Downtime activities may not be resolved in single rolls, and may include forum or table play and decisions.For some activities it may be dramatically appropriate or compelling to play the outcome out over multiple decision points, for instance Ox’s ability to try to influence the actions that the Dragonborn took in reclaiming Tzinder’s treasure from the pirates.
  7. Dice will be rolled by the players who “control” the subordinates.Whilst the player characters may not be directly involved, and the mechanic will resolve using the NPCs stats I will ask players to roll the dice as these keeps a feeling of player involvement and agency to the abstracted endeavour. And who doesn’t like to roll dice!
  8. Complications that arise from downtime actions get dealt with by the NPC undertaking the downtime, for better or worse.This is entirely at DM fiat, though I am very willing to listen to player suggestions. That is, both the complication and the NPC’s response to the complication will be assessed by me; when those consequences become obvious to the PCs is when I’ll narrate their impact.

Let’s consider some worked examples of these principles.

Diego has the County of Surkazar to “run”. Part of this is ensuring he has sufficient money in the coffers to meet his outgoings; pay his staff, have food on the table, do the street repairs, host the delegation from the neighbouring County etc.

This sounds very much like the “running a business” downtime action, but frankly Diego has better things to do with his life than get involved in all the minutiae of this. So, he delegates it to his Exchequer, a certain Danalo Darkblade.

Ben would still roll a d20 every season to see how the County’s finances fare, but it would be Danilo’s skills that would actually pay the bills. We’d still see if a complication arose, but it would be Danilo that would choose how to deal with that complication. Diego might set some ground rules, “please Uncle, don’t mess the relationship with the Queen up any further” and Danilo’s established character, as interpreted by me, would mean he’d adhere to the instruction fully, partly or not at all.

I’d narrate whatever outcome was apparent to Diego and we’d move on.

Perhaps Diego, Darion and Ox lead a summer’s work of plugging the holes in the border through which untaxed trade goods leak through. This action would give the downtime action a bonus if they successfully achieved this.

Another example: Ox wants to develop the land that the Dragonborn have been granted by Diego. The Building a Stronghold downtime action from the DMG seems relevant here. The main challenges are construction cost and construction time. In the days that Ox is not overseeing the construction it takes 3 days more.

Ox doesn’t have time for this gold dragon rubbish; he appoints the most appropriate members of his enlarged tribe to lead on it. An expert in this field, so it negates the downtime days penalty. Furthermore his craftsmen are building a labour of love not a commercial endeavour. They construction can be done at a lowered cost than that listed in the DMG.

However, building the stronghold that Ox has in mind is more than a single seasons work, so Ox has to commit his resources to this endeavour across multiple seasons, meaning that he can’t commit to other Domain Downtime actions.

A further example, Darion is determined to find out more about the history of the Castle of Iltkazar, there’s got to be some secret passages surely? This is the Research downtime, but Darion’s got the Zhentarim to shut down, so can’t be doing this by himself. He assigns one of his staff to doing a thorough survey of the castle as well as trying to sort it.

That staff member has a budget that Darion has assigned and gets to make the role from their intelligence with whatever bonus there would be. Fortune favours Darion, and his friend Ox decides to assign one of his trained building surveyors to the job and because of that individual’s experience he can add a +4 to the roll (reflecting his proficiency in this activity).

Unfortunately, for the Order of the Gauntlet, this survey hits a complication: the castle walls are not in very good repair in certain, out of the way areas. This isn’t something the surveyor can do much about, so she dutifully reports to Darion the outcome at the end of the season leaving Darion with a choice of what to do next to address this.

Domain vs Personal Downtime Actions

In working through this set of rules, it has occurred to me that players will need to know:

  1. How many downtime actions they can initiate
  2. When they can initiate them
  3. How they will be able to track them as they execute
  4. Undertake their own, personal downtime actions (e.g. create a magic item)

As such, I’ve decided that we will have both Personal Downtime and Domain Downtime actions, which I hope are self-evident titles. This document is adding Domain Downtime actions. Any of the Domain Downtime actions may well be resolved by the players at the table rather than as a Domain Downtime if they want to have greater influence over the outcome or think it is narratively interesting.

Domain Downtime actions will be triggered four times a year, and there will be a separate Domain Resource that will be used to pay for any costs associated with these Domain Downtimes.

Personal Downtime activities can be undertaken as per the usual rules and use personal resources.

Structuring Domain Downtime: Seasons of the Year

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For the purposes of forum play, and Domain Downtime actions in particular, I’m going to structure the game around the four seasons of the year, with a story arc taking place each season. At the end of the season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) characters can initiate Domain Downtime actions that will then play out through the upcoming season.

Each player will have a set of Domain Resources, which are abstractions of the income their domains generate. The Domain Resources will “refresh” at the end of each Season and can be increased or decreased by certain of the downtime actions.

In particular, each season a player or their subordinate, will need to complete the Running a Business downtime action to see whether they increase or decrease the Domain Resources available to them. This can be completed by the player character, or delegated to an NPC as described in the previous examples.

PC actions in the season may provide a bonus to either Domain Resources or to the rolls for the Downtime depending upon what makes the most narrative sense.

So, at the end of each Season the following steps will be followed:

  1. I will narrate the outcomes of any Domain Downtime actions commissioned the prior season, including any complications that arose and how they were resolved
  2. I will confirm the Domain Resources they have available to spend in the upcoming Season
  3. Each Player will decide what Domain Downtime actions they want to undertake in the upcoming Season
  4. Roll the dice for that Downtime action, and deduct Domain Resources spent (this will give the PCs some idea of whether this will be successful or not, but bear in mind that other factions may be working against you so these may well be opposed rolls)

I can see a number of limitations with this system and a number of ways to improve on it; however, I want to try this out to see it in action before I start to refine it in ways that may make it more complex at the table than I intend.

Domain Resources

Domain Resources are an abstraction of the gold, influence and person effort available to each player to run their domain.

At this stage of the rules, I am going to say that each player generates two Domain Resources per seasons, +/- 1 depending upon how successful their Running a Business roll is. I’m also going to say that each Domain Downtime costs 1 Domain Resource to invoke. This is clearly a basic approach and I will intend to refine this as we see these rules in action.

I do have some thoughts on how to develop this, but they make it more complicated and I want to try something straight forward first.

Downtime Actions Available

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