Finding the right balance between downtime and dungeon delves took me a while. At first, I tried sticking to the “keep town boring” adage and skipped over it entirely. But the book does have a nicely outlined home base, Tours-en-Savoy, which hooks into the castle in various ways. However, my players were not inclined to “go exploring” to see what was there. I had to figure out a way to make the town gameable for them without overshadowing the dungeon delves by taking up too much time at the table. Following is what I ultimately landed on. Briefly, it comes down to this:
- A strict one-delve-per-session regime
- A fixed amount of in-game time that passes between sessions
- Player downtime actions resolved as much as possible between sessions, using chat
- Automating much of the probabilities in the book’s town section and pushing them to the players over chat before each session
- Similarly, automating and posting the availability of retainers and specific retainer stats
- A menu of town actions that is used as a player aid at the start of each session
More details on each of these elements are below.
We play once a week online, and each time a couple of players from a modest pool show up. I insisted on a relatively strict one-delve-per-session regime to make this easy to manage. I then further figured in-game time between expeditions would also pass at a predictable rate. The book states getting to the castle from town is a two-day trip. So two days to get there, a couple of in-game hours to make a foray, and two days to travel back means five in-game days for each expedition. Make it a week. Then another week of downtime passes between those expeditions. So each session, the game calendar advances two weeks unless players decide to do something that eats up additional time, like magical research. In which case, we simply increase the calendar further.
Speaking of the calendar, I used a real-world calendar of Switzerland generated on . We began to play in 1525, which I picked for its political climate and technology level. Early reformation, Italian Wars, it all felt right. I learned from correspondence with Melan that he had a late sixteenth-century timeframe in mind while writing the module. But that’s nitpicking.
For each session, I would just mark off the date of the expedition. That made it easy to determine when upkeep was due. We use the rule in the original game: 1% of XP in gold each in-game month. Since all characters live in Google Sheets, it was trivial for me to create an auto-updating tally of XP for the entire stable of characters. Upkeep is just paid as a lump sum for the whole company.
Tours-en-Savoy has quite a few events that trigger on an n-in-6 chance. The thing is, I want players’ encountering these to be independent of them actively stating their visit to a particular location. Instead, I assume they make the rounds during the week or more between expeditions and encounter anything prompted by those probabilities.
To streamline it all and move most of it into the time between sessions, I created a Google Sheet that does all the die rolls in one go. It spits out a copy-paste-able bit of text I can massage ever so slightly where needed and post in our Discord server’s #downtime channel.
To make this work, I copied over the random curios table from the book, the treasury, and the rumor mill. For potions, I went with the Swords & Wizardry Core list and adjusted the costs based on the price of a healing potion in Castle Xyntillan. I also add in the available retainers (see below).
After posting the week’s downtime update, players can act on things over chat in Discord or wait until the next session. We handle things in the first 20-30 minutes of the session before moving on to the dungeon delve proper.
Castle Xyntillan contains an ingenious rules module for retainers published initially in Beyond Fomalhaut #1, called “Morale & Men.” However, the procedure for determining the availability of retainers is quite involved, requiring many die rolls. Dreading the idea of doing this at the table, I once again converted it into a Google Sheet that produces a bit of copy-paste-able text. As a bonus, I also created a generator for the specific retainers’ names, loyalty scores, and quirk (which uses the table taken from the book). For names, I went with some pseudo-Swiss names pulled from .
I simply re-roll availability for each session. The only wrinkle I added was to roll with “disadvantage” if retainers had been killed in the previous expedition to reflect the bad reputation the company had acquired. Retainers who had been hired on the last outing and did survive would be automatically available again for the next one.
To make the town more gameable, I created a one-page summary I screen share with players as a kind of menu at the beginning of each session. This removes the need to go through an involved sequence of roleplaying every session.
It includes buying equipment, hiring retainers, carousing, healing, and getting rumors. It also covers the identification and purchasing of potions and magic items in more detail.
This succinct overview enables players to be more proactive in resolving some of the usual things they want to do between expeditions. In some cases, they can handle it without me having to mediate as a ref.
So, putting the above all together, here is the procedure I would follow for downtime:
- Generate downtime events
- Generate retainer availability
- Combine, edit, and post to Discord
- Resolve any player-requested downtime actions in Discord
During a session, before the expedition:
- If applicable, charge the company for their upkeep
- Resolve any remaining player downtime actions
During a session, after the expedition:
- Tally XP from treasure (we did not do monster XP), and let players divide as they see fit among PC expedition members
- If desired, resolve carousing
- As shortly as possible after having played, outline a play report, mostly from memory
- Write out the play report as a blog post, publish, and share
- Update records with the fallout from an expedition where necessary
Rinse, and repeat!