CDG, Downtime, and Elements of the Personal

I just re-released my rules light game of conspiracy horror, Cthulhu Deep Green, with an all around improved presentation. CDG is a rules set based on Cthulhu Dark meant for playing out short conspiracy horror investigations ala X-Files or Delta Green.

But the element I’m most proud of is one I’d like to discuss: roleplaying mechanics that touch upon elements of the personal. What games do you think do this particularly well?

Blades in the Dark has Downtime Scenes.
Red Markets has scenes with Dependents.
CDG has At Home Scenes in which players struggle with work-life balance.

What other games take meaningful breaks from the action to recuperate, re-supply, or establish touching character narratives?


Uncharted Worlds has Cramped Quarters to determine if a long trip has gotten the crew frustrated with each other.

Lady Blackbird has Refresh scenes -
“You can refresh your pool back to 7 dice by having a refreshment scene
with another character. You may also remove a condition or regain the
use of a Secret, depending on the details of the scene.” Lady Blackbird rpg


Games that make Camp scenes special are a favorite of mine!


Next week’s episode of Fear of a Black Dragon podcast is about this topic!


Chubbo’s can give you another perspective on “downtime”. Notably because it’s not seen as “not the thing we’re here for”.


Why does “touching character narratives” have to take a break from the action? Is that the only thing you’re after in this thread, or is it purely “roleplaying mechanics that touch upon elements of the personal” because then all games with flags and bombs are included, or games that are purely based around the group of people and the interactions between them.


I’m actually specifically interested in mechanics that step away from the “action” to accomplish this.

I think it says something within a game to delineate modes of play. There are a lot of games that are ABOUT quiet moments with loved ones and similar themes. While I like those games, I’m less interested in exploring that at the moment and they require a different mindset to design.


Freebooters on the Frontier has Keep Company (which, if I remember correctly, was originally inspired by Uncharted World’s Close Quarters move):

And both Stonetop and Homebrew World include a move by the same name, which is much less mechanical and more of a conversational procedure:

Also, Stonetop doesn’t have a specific single mechanic for it, the whole structure of the game, and the way the GM is instructed to frame adventures, revolves around starting and returning to your home town, and seeing how the town is affected by the adventures.

  • An adventure typically starts with “day in the life” vignettes
  • Then the adventure hook intrudes on daily life
  • We explore everyone’s reactions and the PCs decide what to do (and we see some of the NPCs’ reactions to that, too).
  • Then there’s the expedition itself, with the PCs returning in triumph or defeat or somewhere in between.
  • We see how they are greeted on their return, see what’s changed in their absence.
  • Maybe we loop back to resolve or explore some of the lingering conflicts at home, or try to finish up old projects.
  • Do a bit of a time skip, generate new threats or opportunities, repeat.

The game I am working on has a move (“Share a Moment”) sortof related to Keep Company above, but the problem I’ve run into is, in a game about adventures, it doesn’t entirely seem like just making a move for “Hey, if you happen to have some quiet downtime” is enough to…well, REMIND people that there should be some quiet downtime.

How do people suggest going about encouraging these sorts of moments beyond “Hey, if you happen to do this there’s a move” and without going to full “The GM says ‘okay guys, it sounds like there is a quiet moment here, what do you do?’”?

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My gut instinct would be a exhaustion/morale/sanity meter that can only be reduced by downtime. That way you have a built in comraderie building as in order to keep your character from losing their cool they are mechanically required to share and bond with their teammates.


So one way to encourage these moments is precisely by having modes of play that characters must travel between. Downtime in blades for example.

Another is by tying resources to these scenes as suggested above. Cthulhu Deep Green does this.

But another is to simply have a GM prompt the players. I’ve done this with dungeon world, for instance, essentially requiring an At Camp scene anytime the party rests.


The Ur-exmple is Pendragon.

Not sure I agree; Pendragon has the very mechanical Winter Phase, but it doesn’t really have anything that encourages roleplaying during it, as far as I can tell? Winter Phase feels more like a bookkeeping phase than a roleplaying phase.


The One Ring does this with the Fellowship phase. Overall, the books have about 70 or so Undertakings now, which are neat packets of mechanics for specific breaks tied to certain locations: Feast in the Great Clearing or Gaze upon the Glittering Caves for example. There are also more general undertakings like composing songs for the company to sing or visiting home. Characters also use the fellowship phase to make an impact on their communities and how they change over time.

Swords without Master offers the Respite Phase

• To illustrate camaraderie or rivalries.
• To socialize with the denizen of the world.
• To rest and recuperate.

Takuma Okadas Stewpot: Tales from a Fantasy Tavern turns the break into the game/games.


Oh, man… the Shadow of Yesterday had that idea of “pools” and “pool refreshment.” You had 3 pools: Vigor, Instinct, and Reason, which you could spend to boost rolls and trigger abilities. But the relevant part here is Pool Refreshment:

Whenever a pool is not at its full level, it can be refeshed, restoring it to its full level by the character performing an in-game action.

Vigor is refreshed whenever your character engages in an act of physical exertion–including physical abuse, such as drugs, drinking, staying out all night–with another character, specifically for the intent of enjoying yourself.

Instinct is refreshed whenever your character engages in an act of social pleasure (examples: a date, going to a party, playing a game of chance) with another character.

Reason is refreshed whenever your character engages in an act of intellectual stimulation (examples: a night at the opera, a philosophical debate, playing a game of skill) with another.

…with this bit of awesome advice:

Use pool refeshment like a rock star. You are more than allowed to refresh more than one pool at once. Get a sexy man or lady to pour wine down your throat, oil you down and get with the friction, and then make with the bedtime reading. You’ll be all refreshed and have a great scene.

I think the key element here was requiring a particular type of interaction with another character. That immediately gives you opportunity for a role-playing scene, or just asking questions that help flesh out the PC and their relationships.


In answer to your question - I encourage downtime by dedicating most of 1 session to Downtime after about every 4-6 Months of real life campaign activity. I offer them 2 activities each per Month of Downtime - all the usual stuff like buying a house, making a pamphlet to publish, trying to meet a partner,
trying to have a family with any existing partner, paying for upkeep on any property they own, setting up a trade deal, tracking someone for information and a range of other more nefarious activities.

Our last session of downtime took about 3 hours of game time to play out and covered 3 Months of game time in Baldurs gate. It was using DnD 5e, but I basically mashed in Dungeon World mechanics to cover the success of downtime - So they rolled a D20 to work out if a relevant skill was a success to the downtime activity, then if a success I gave them +1 on a 2D6 using DungeonWorld success/complications to confirm what then happened as a result of the activity. One funny moment was a Priest player decided to spend 2 weeks of one month of downtime helping a leper colony and sadly he rolled Snake eyes which resulted in some negative feedback for his deity in the City, along with a few deaths in the leper colony. Another player ended up in prison of 1 Month and had no money left to pay a bribe… But then when the downtime period is over things return to normal, with a few more added complications, with antagonists and protagonists added to the game. I also encourage the DW approach of letting the players suggest some of the outcomes of their activity.

I just realised I rambled away from the question. However yes I plan a full session and sometimes it might be a surprise to players, but with a long enough IRL wait between downtime sessions they typically enjoy the different style of story/narrative play that a period of downtime provides.

EDIT: There is an expectation that they know they are in a downtime period. So the roleplaying becomes lighter, with the focus on finishing each players activity choices in turn, rather than it becoming a free-form session where players do totally random stuff because it would be difficult to run. However I do let the activity stray in and out of current campaign threads.

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Just getting back to this; Running a full downtime session is interesting and doubtless effective, but to me it doesn’t really answer the essence of the question which is ‘How do we inject little moments of quiet roleplaying into our fantasy game’ – It’s more about encouraging a “chat over breakfast by the campfire” than a “when we get back to town, I need to work on my plantations”.


I think some kind of “take a breather” action that triggers at the completion of a combat or high stakes conflict could work well. Have it ask the characters to reflect on what just happened and how that impacts them in further conflicts. Something that represents those silences that emerge when the violence subsides, when the detective pulls out a cigarette, or when the party breaks out the campfire. If the players are eager to keep moving onto the next action set piece it could be as simple as uttering the action movie one-liner.

So to put it in clearer talk, something akin to mechanizing the scene closer.


I think downtime, when you are allowing perhaps 3 Months to pass in an
evening can be very personal. By way of example, one of the players wrote
and published a pamphlet in the Town to describe his adventures and another
player activity was a court scene where they were trying to investigate a
lead from the main campaign bu. Our Cleric established a small temple in a
run down dockyard warehouse and hired a cleaner, then through a strange
selection of activities another player raised money to repair the roof and
attempted to fix it during the rain which went badly. We roleplayed snap
shots of the different activities they selected and linked them so the
Halfling character with his personal pamphlet on his “bounce back” life
story turned up in a few of the scenes for comic affect and made for some
interesting discussion of his previous exploits around the table. I would
propose that downtime can certainly facilitate the injection of quiet
roleplaying moments and I would guess it helped that there was no real
threat for that evening of play. Some of the player conversations still
ended in failure however it was in the spirit of developing some
interaction between characters.

So downtime is one way I inject little moments of quiet roleplaying into
fantasy game.

Other stuff I might do to slow pace is to pause the action through an
appropriate stop and then use an NPC to share a struggle of theirs. An
example here is in the Strahd D&D campaign I had one follower (a shadow
elf) with a back story that his sister was the last female in the line and
he was struggling with the fact that Strahd had charmed her and it was
looking like an end to his race in the realm. So around the table during a
long rest (they were all stuck in a wine cellar), I shared a dialogue of
his fears and encouraged players to respond to the sob story which allowed
them to explore any empathy they may have. It certainly made for a
dreary cold night in the wine cellar with some shared player thoughts and
feelings during the rest.

Other things I do is to create importance in small things that are then
picked up again later. An example again - Whilst on a river barge the
players met a travelling cobbler and a mystic. They befriended cobbler who
decided to offer to make a fine pair of leather shoes on the journey for
one of the players (which took several days but only 10mins of real play
time). At the end of this quiet period of play the player tried the shoes
and they were the very finest and most comfortable shoes they had ever
owned. Sadly events of a storm that followed resulted in the shoes going
overboard and were lost. These quieter themes of play with no real threat
created moments referred to during other later scenes in the game “The best shoes I ever
wore but lost”. A sort of unobtainable game myth that is not just
another +2 sword. It was also funny at the time.

Slowing things down to allow for comic or serious dialogue for plans and
exploring character motives, is not always successful for me and does
depend on the group for me. I know I always try to throw in moments in
rest/downtime or journeys but some players don’t respond well to it and the
fight. I usually respond to that with a fight if players are really
uncomfortable with dialogue. I had an experience with a recent new group
that after a few weeks of gaming a couple of new roleplayers said to me
that they don’t enjoy the “Am-Dram”(Amatuer dramatics) of the game and we
ended up parting ways as a group.

So in summary for my DM style, I might require a group that is happy to
explore quieter roleplaying moments (no good if players are gamers in it
for the fight only), I would also then inject downtime dialogue and action
in journeys, rest moments and I would remove immediate threats from the
scene. What I don’t usually do is use any particular rule for it and
instead focus on the narrative and throw in non-threating story snippets for them to chew on over the fire.

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I was a player in a 4 year Pendragon campaign and during downtime all of the relationship stuff was covered, so loves were lost and won and political positions shifted in the court. For us it resulted in lots of 1 to 1 scenes between players that explored relationships and bonds. Its a long time ago - late 1980’s, so I can’t remember everything but I know that I felt it divided us more than brought us together with the DM sometimes doing solo sessions for players. That may have just been the DM at the times style, rather than a game mechanic but as phase of the game it was certainly quiet and presented some magical story and dialogue moments away from the knightly campaigning. It certainly supported more quiet roleplaying than bookkeeping for us.

But you are dead right in that it does not encourage roleplaying with any specific mechanics. Thats down to the DM/GM.

EDIT: We were very lucky though in terms of the DM. He was doing a masters in Arthurian literature at Bangor University in Wales(UK). So he was basically an expert on the period. Kind of helped with the story aspects :slight_smile: