Jim and Phil and I had some vague idea that a player’s career could be used to make a living between adventures, if we ever got around to designing a downtime metagame; Bushido had a downtime system that intrigued me. In the end, of course, we never got a chance to work on such a thing.
Graeme Davis, comment on Facebook and Awesome Lies
I have never played Bushido, but I find the concept of a downtime system an interesting one. It enables campaigns to be constructed from a combination of episodes played out in detail (uptime) and linking periods dealt with abstractly (downtime). The GM and players can therefore construct a narrative by selecting whatever type of storytelling they prefer in the context.
Moreover, downtime provides an opportunity to address some of the issues of WFRP‘s career system. It is an environment where players can practise their trade or profession, learn skills, advance characteristics and change careers.
Since the original design team never had the opportunity to address downtime, I thought I would make an attempt, and have set out some of my ideas below. They are designed for my preferred edition of the game, WFRP1, but could be adapted to other editions. They regrettably do not so far amount to a full system, but are a general framework in need of further development.
IDEAS AND OBJECTIVES
Since Graeme Davis specifically mentioned Bushido, that seemed a good place to start for ideas for a WFRP downtime system. In Bushido downtime activities encompass employment, magical research, religious contemplation, the creation of works of art, family life and travel.
Downtime in Bushido
Not all of these activities will be relevant for WFRP. WFRP‘s style of play does not lend itself to characters enjoying family lives, for example. Also some additions need to be made. WFRP‘s experience system means that training and advancement need to be included in downtime activities. The possibility of outside events affecting the PCs should also be considered.
Many of these areas are already touched upon in WFRP1: employment (pp64, 297), the cost of living (pp293-297), training (White Dwarf 89, reprinted in The Restless Dead, pp81-85, and Apocrypha Now, pp10-14) and magical research (Realms of Sorcery, pp147-151, 154-158). The material needs some development, but it can provide a basis for some of the main elements.
Downtime comprises any period of time where the PCs are not engaged in adventures. Usually downtime will be a period of rest in a settlement, but it could also encompass other situations. For example, a river journey where the PCs are passengers could be downtime. The exact circumstances of the downtime will determine what can and cannot be done. In the case of the river journey, a blacksmith would, for example, be unable to practise his trade.
Downtime is measured in basic units of weeks. Periods of less than one week are disregarded. Weeks are each assumed to be eight days long, in line with the Imperial convention. Characters are assumed to have 10 hours available to them per day, or 80 hours per week, to engage in various activities.
As mentioned above, downtime can be used to address activities relating to careers. These are often difficult to incorporate into uptime. In downtime, however, PCs can more easily seek work, study, practice and train. It is suggested, therefore, that all aspects of careers are usually reserved for downtime. These include: earning a living, receiving and giving tuition, learning skills, advancing characteristics and changing careers.
For the purposes of this framework careers are categorised into different types:
- Career groups. These resemble career classes and reflect the nature of work and social status. The groups are Servant, Labourer, Rogue, Ranger, Entertainer, Trader, Artisan, Academic, Wizard, Priest, Military and Noble.
- Career ranks. These reflect ranks within careers. They are Basic, Intermediate and Advanced. Basic corresponds with the normal WFRP1 definition of the term. Advanced careers as normally defined are split between Intermediate and Advanced ranks.
I have not provided a full breakdown of careers into types, but GMs should be able to allocate careers into the framework without great difficulty. For example, Mercenary would be Military/Basic, Mercenary Sergeant Military/Intermediate and Mercenary Captain Military/Advanced. Artisan’s Apprentice would be Artisan/Basic, and the Artisan advanced career would be divided between Artisan/Intermediate and Artisan/Advanced based on how far the character had advanced; a journeyman would be Intermediate and a master artisan would be Advanced. Wizards would be split as follows: Apprentice Wizard/Basic, Levels 1 and 2 Wizard/Intermediate and Levels 3 and 4 Wizard/Advanced.
It should be noted that ranks reflect status within a career group. They are not comparable across different groups. A Level 2 Wizard is likely to be far more experienced than a journeyman Artisan. This is reflected in the mechanics below.
Nobles are a special case in WFRP1. It is here assumed that Noble characters have in some way turned their backs on their privileged life. They preserve some of the advantages and disadvantages of nobility, but are not fully engaged in their former aristocratic life. Therefore, the notes on Nobles below are partial and will need to be adapted to the precise circumstance of the PC Noble.
In this framework downtime activities are broken down into four categories:
This comprises meeting the character’s needs, be they physical, social or spiritual.
Physical needs are food, clothing and accommodation. This can be dealt with by means of a daily cost of living, which will depend on the character’s social station.
Accommodation. WFRP1 (p297) details the prices to purchase various dwellings. Based on data for mediaeval England, I have expanded the list and added weekly rental costs.
Using this data the following table of weekly accommodation costs can be drawn up:
Food. WFRP1 (p293) describes daily food costs. Based on this and some extrapolation, the following weekly food costs can be put together:
Staff. In some cases characters could be expected to keep servants or retainers. These would add the following additional costs.
In aggregate these components lead to the following total costs of living:
These costs can also be summarised in terms of the lifestyle they imply:
A failure to meet the required cost of living can lead to a loss of social standing, hunger and homelessness. These hazards can also be caused by bad luck. For example, a character could be evicted after a dispute with a landlord. Such hazards can be determined randomly.
If a character should suffer these hazards, he or she may be required to make a mandatory career change to reflect the situation, for example to Labourer or Beggar. Membership of a guild or other organisation can provide a safety net against such problems, in the form of a stipend or provision of accommodation.
Social needs include friendship, love, marriage, children, divorce, etc. Since WFRP‘s style of play does not lend itself to characters enjoying family lives, this is probably best dealt with in minimal terms. Characters that marry and settle down would effectively be retired. If mechanics are required for social life, Bushido‘s system provides some pointers.
Aspects of religious life could also be covered, such as prayer, attendance at ceremonies, pilgrimages, sacrifices, donations and tithes. I have, however, not done so here.
Travel could form part of downtime. Again I don’t intend to address it here, but the movement rates in The Enemy Within (p6) might be useful if the PCs are engaging in travel.
Work involves characters earning an income from the provision of services. This is based on the character’s career.
If characters have substantial capital investments, they can earn their income from asset management, instead of work. However, that is inconsistent with WFRP‘s general style of play, so it is here assumed characters do not have such investments. If characters do own, for example, an estate or a fleet of merchant vessels, the GM will need to construct a more elaborate resource management game.
Work is dealt with in three steps:
- Availability of work
- Duration of work
Availability of work. This combines both the economy’s needs for services and the character’s suitability for providing those services. The availability of suitable work can be determined randomly with reference to a number of factors:
- Size of the local economy, as measured by the settlement’s size and wealth ratings
- Skills of the character, reflected by the character’s career
- Guild membership, as guilds allocate work among members
- Reputation of the character, using a mechanism like Maelstrom‘s Renown or Skill (op cit pp178-180).
WFRP1‘s Employment test (p64) reflects several of these factors. I have expanded this as follows:
The following modifiers can also be applied:
Duration of work. Work broadly falls into two categories: ongoing work and individual contracts or commissions. The former is typically of indeterminate length, the latter of a specific duration. The normal duration of work will vary widely largely based on career. Many professional careers will usually only offer long-term employment. Shorter-term work tends to be of a more manual nature. The exact duration and nature of work is at the GM’s discretion.
Earnings. Earnings are work income less work expenses. There is no need to consider income and expenses separately; they can be calculated on a net basis.
WFRP1 (pp64, 297) contains guidelines for rates of pay. However, these rates are not consistent with the cost of living information. For example, weekly food costs are 56/- (p293), but income is only 30/- for an entertainer, 42/- for a labourer and 60/- for an artisan. These imply crushing levels of poverty in the Old World that are quite unrealistic. Therefore, net earnings have been recalculated as follows:
(For entertainers, see also this post on the economics of busking.)
These rates of pay, combined with the above costs of living entail the following levels of disposable income:
All rates of pay are calculated on the basis that PCs spend 60 hours each week engaged in work.
Learning activities comprise practice, training and research.
TRAINING AND PRACTICE
Training and practice are addressed in the article Practice Makes Perfect in White Dwarf 89, reprinted in The Restless Dead (pp83-84) and Apocrypha Now (pp12-13). The article addresses the time and expense of learning non-career skills. It is here suggested that the mechanism is expanded to be used for all aspects of advancement.
Learning skills. Practice Makes Perfect implies the following costs and time commitments for learning different types of skills:
Learning spells. Learning a spell is the same as learning an intellectual skill that requires practice, except that the time periods are doubled for spells above Petty Magic.
Characteristic advances. Characteristic advances can be handled in a similar way to skills, but without any obligation for tuition. They just require study or practice for 16 hours a week. The number of weeks spent in these activities should be determined according to the characteristic. Advances to M, WS, BS, S, T, W, I, A and Dex should be treated in the same way as practical skills (ie requiring 3D6 weeks), those to Int, Cl and WP as intellectual (6+2D6 weeks) and those to Ld and Fel as personal (100-Fel days).
Career changes. A career change requires the PC to make a successful Employment test, as above.
Finding mentors. Mentors are an important part of much of the advancement process. Employed characters may often be deemed to have a mentor, but this will depend on the nature of the work. Otherwise, characters will have to find a suitable mentor. The base chance of finding a mentor is as detailed in the expanded Employment test, above, but with a different set of modifiers:
Magical research can also be conducted in downtime. It includes spell creation, ingredient search and the creation of magical artefacts. It is covered in Realms of Sorcery (pp147-151, 154-158).
During downtime PCs can also be affected by events beyond their control. They can be determined randomly. Some ideas follow:
- Gang war
- Press gang
- Festival, fair or tournament
- Love affair
- Gambling gain or loss
- Reward or prize
Downtime is also a good time for players to pick up information, via weekly Gossip tests (WFRP1, p69).
AREAS FOR DEVELOPMENT
As I explained at the start of this post, the framework above is far from complete. For example:
- Further work is required on the numerical aspects, eg refining incomes and expenses and adding more detail.
- Interaction with organisations such as guilds, cults, criminal gangs, etc should form an important element of downtime and has not been addressed.
- The information above has focused mainly on mechanics. More important, in my opinion, is the narrative side of downtime: details of organisations, mentors, pupils, events, etc.
- More work is required on events.
I hope, though, that this might provide a base for others to work with, or at least a source of some ideas.
The discussion of downtime is continued here.