Revisiting mechanics – Skill challenges in 5e downtime

Readers may remember my recent post about missing mechanics in 5e – specifically those covering social interactions and exploration. I had several ideas built for the post, then scrapped them in favour of a general outline.
This post takes a good bit of what I’d already written for downtime and skill challenges, and changes a few things around too.

Downtime is everything happening between adventures. It can involves errands, relaxing, running businesses, building new relationships, and so on.
Some of the activities use a straight dice roll, with more time or money invested to gain a bonus on the check.
Some, such as Pitfighting, require a series of different abilities to beat a score – the basis for a skill challenge (and so not one I’ going to be messing with just yet).
And some (looking at you relaxation) involve no dice rolls at all but might give a bonus for various conditions and ailments.

The downtime activities listed in the Player’s Handbook are Crafting, Practicing a Profession, Recuperating, Researching and Training.
The downtime activities listed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide are Building a Stronghold, Carousing, Crafting a Magic Item, Gaining Renown, Performing Sacred Rites, Running a business, Selling Magic Items, Sowing Rumours, and the variant rule for Training to Gain Levels.
The downtime activities listed in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything are Buying a Magic Item, Carousing, Crafting an Item, Crime, Gambling, Pit Fighting, Relaxation, Religious Service, Research, Scribing a Spell Scroll, Selling a Magic Item, Training and Work.
(And the downtime activities listed in Acquisitons Incorporated, which I’ll get to near the end, are Explore Territory, Franchise Restructuring, Headquarters Modification, Marketeering, Philanthropic Enterprise, Running a Franchise, Scrutineering, Shady Business Practice, Schmoozing and Team Building.)

Wow that’s a lot of downtime options for doing stuff outside of adventures! Did you know there were that many? Because I did not know there were that many!

Now, we’re focussing on things to do between adventures that could be easily changed (for now), and that feel like more could be done with them.

First of all, relaxation/recuperation. This downtime gives advantage on dice rolls to recover from conditions affecting a character, and after a week one can be automatically ended. But what if there’s nothing wrong with us, and we don’t have anything to do? Well we’ll consider an option of handing over Inspiration, since it’s a handy limited resource, or else just give advantage on the first roll after the relaxation ends.

Next, what’s ripe for skill challenge changes? Let’s take a look at Crime, Gambling and Pit Fighting from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything for inspiration.
Each of these activities uses three separate rolls using different abilities to complete the activity. There’s even options for replacing rolls with different options.
Here’s Crime : “To attempt a crime, the character makes three checks: Dexterity (Stealth), Dexterity using thieves’ tools, and the player’s choice of Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Perception), or Charisma (Deception).”

Which other activities should we focus on? Well let’s stick with Xanathar’s first and see where that gets us – we could try applying the same three check idea to Carousing, Selling a Magic Item, and Work.

Carousing in Xanathar’s : “After a workweek of carousing, a character stands to make contacts within the selected social class. The character makes a Charisma (Persuasion) check using the Carousing table.”
The new version : After a workweek of carousing, a character stands to make contacts within the selected social class. The character makes three checks: Wisdom (Insight), Charisma (Persuasion), and the player’s choice of Intelligence, Wisdom or Charisma.

Selling a Magic Item in Xanathar’s : “A character who wants to sell an item must make a Charisma (Persuasion) check to determine what kind of offer comes in. The character can always opt not to sell, instead forfeiting the workweek of effort and trying again later.”
The new version : A character who wants to sell an item must make a series of three checks: Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Insight), and the player’s choice of Charisma (Deception), Charisma (Intimidation) or Charisma (Persuasion).

Work in Xanathar’s : “To determine how much money a character earns, the character makes an ability check: Strength (Athletics), Dexterity (Acrobatics), Intelligence using a set of tools, Charisma (Performance), or Charisma using a musical instrument.”
The new version : To determine how much money a character earns, the character makes three different ability checks from the following options: Strength (Athletics), Dexterity (Acrobatics), Intelligence using a set of tools, Charisma (Performance), Wisdom (Animal Handling), or Charisma using a musical instrument.

That gives us some different options on how to pursue the activities with different characters, but doesn’t necessarily leave the activities feeling like a complete chore. But how does it apply to different activity sources?

Performing Sacred Rites in the Dungeon Master’s Guide : There is no resolution mechanic! It’s just done over the course of ten days for 2d6 days of Inspiration.
The new version : A character who wants to perform sacred rites must make a series of three checks: Intelligence (Religion), Wisdom (Insight), and Charisma (Performance).

I’m aware that a lot of these could be more nuanced. There’d no reason a nature domain cleric wouldn’t use an Intelligence (Nature) roll as part of their sacred rites, or that a barbarian or fighter might us Strength for their set of tools during work. The published material handily forgets these things, so I’m going to as well.

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