On Downtime

It’s not often that I have the opportunity to defend something in 5E, but the downtime system merits special attention. It’s the first mechanic I’ve seen where the startlingly supportive comments are approaching or beyond 50% dissent. This surprises me.

Of all the complaints I’ve heard about D&D in the years I’ve played it, the most common is that it’s too focused on combat, especially miniatures-based combat, at the expense of non-combat mechanics. Classes are balanced around fighting first and everything else second. 4E was especially heinous in this regard, with all classes turned into slightly-different versions of each other and all narrative elements left fully up to the players, and the fanbase revolted. So when Wizards designs a system to deal with the explicitly non-combat downtime in a way that fits with the standard D&D rules, why it is so strongly decried?

Why are there shouts of “This shouldn’t be reduced to rolling or skills!”, and where were these people when players were clamoring for rules for adjudicating non-adventuring roleplay?

Why are there shouts of “This will ruin the narrative!”, and where were these people when D&D was lambasted for forcing players to form their own narrative?

Why are there shouts of “This should be the DM’s job!”, and where were these people when the official message boards were full of players complaining about DMs who couldn’t handle non-combat situations and DMs, especially new DMs, who were looking for guidance?

If you’re going to bash D&D for being combat-focused, then bash D&D for focusing on something other than combat, maybe you’re the unpleaseable fanbase that prompts such changes in the first place.

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3 Responses to On Downtime

  1. Dave says:

    Totally with you on this.

    Adding a downtime system is an acknowledgement that there was a hole the game needed to fill. There are natural gaps in the narrative that you don’t necessarily want to have to RP through; it’s fine for things to happen off-screen.

    All they’re doing is giving you a mechanism within the rules to do this. And your game world will be richer for it, with less effort on your part. There is nothing but win here.

    Really, there was nothing but win in most of 4E, even if nobody acknowledged it at first. People just hate change.

    • MssngrDeath says:

      I still think that 4E had huge holes, especially in things like this. 4E was a combat system with a half-baked, rapidly-and-officially-retconned mechanic for skill challenges and no support for anything else. But that’s fine, because it wasn’t a system for world-building or storytelling; it was for combat and it did combat very well. It wasn’t for people like us, and when we acknowledged its limitations we gained the ability to experiment with them and fill in the gaps on our own.

      People keep forgetting that 5E is explicitly designed to be modular. Don’t like downtime? Don’t use it. Don’t like feats? Don’t use them. There’s a long and good argument to be had about design resources spent on things we know we won’t use, but I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

      Heck, that’s the sales pitch for GURPS.

      • Dave says:

        I sort of want to give 4E a little more credit. It brought in a number of modern game design principles that had not been reflected in earlier editions. Skill challenges, for all their mechanical faults, were a really good idea.

        I personally dislike modular systems. I prefer a much more focused design aesthetic. But there are people who love GURPS, so whatever.

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