Downtime and Special Guest Heroes [Notion]

Yesterday, I had an idea about how one could model a magic-user taking time off from adventuring to research spells or make magic items. It occurred to me that the mechanic could also be used to balance adventurers belonging to organizations. Here’s the idea in a nutshell:

Magic-users should be able to get a palpable advantage from researching spells and making magic items. In the “real world”, we have to make trade offs in terms of time – you can study to become a doctor, or to become a lawyer, for example, but probably not at the same time. If you choose one pursuit, you miss out on another.

“You’ll have to slay the dragon without me, I’m busy.”

In games, this can be tricky. You can declare that the spell research will take a month of time, which is a month the magic-user cannot spend adventuring … but so what. The group merely schedules their next adventure for one month from now (in game time) and they go on their merry way.

Of course, this can be an obstacle in the course of some games, when the group has a limited amount of time to crack a code or stop an invasion. More often, it’s no obstacle at all – perhaps some money that must be spent for room and board, and nothing else.

Here’s an idea for how you can model this without entirely disrupting the game.

Downtime for Research and Development

Say our resident magic-user, Merlyn, wants to research the invisibility spell. The GM can decide that this will take Merlyn away from adventuring for, say, two game sessions. That means two meetings of the players to play the game. No XP or treasure for Merlyn while he’s busy hunched over dusty tomes learning how to become invisible.

In the meantime, the party hosts a special guest hero, an NPC magic-user one level lower than Merlyn controlled by Merlyn’s player. This guest wizard does not earn XP, but does get a normal share of the treasure. Each time Merlyn needs to take a break, the guest wizard can step in, always one level lower than Merlyn.

We have now to come up with a schedule for downtime required for various magical operations. Maybe something like:

Researching 1st to 4th level spells – 1 session
Researching 5th to 7th level spells – 2 sessions
Researching 8th to 9th level spells – 3 sessions

Scribing up to three scrolls or brewing up to 5 potions – 1 session
Making most magical items, including armor – 2 sessions
Making magic weapons – 3 sessions

You can use whatever schedule you think is correct.

Other classes that need to train might use a similar schedule. You could allow a fighter or monk, for example, to sit out for a couple sessions so they can learn some new special maneuver.

Downtime for Organizations

This brings up another time commitment – organizations. Clerics are supposed, in some campaigns, to belong to large temple organizations from which they should draw some advantages. The temple should provide some healing, maybe needed equipment or information, etc. To keep this from being an extra ability of clerics that other characters do not enjoy, it can be balanced by the cleric having to take time off from adventuring to serve the temple in other matters. Depending on how useful the organization is, a PC might have to take one of every ten sessions off or one of every six sessions off or whatever off to meet their obligations. The PC gets a benefit, and pays for it by missing a session now and again.

Downtime for Rest and Recuperation

The same mechanic can also be used to model recuperation time, say from a nasty disease or if you are using old AD&D healing rules from damage sustained in combat. The PC misses a session to heal up while a guest steps in to substitute for them.

Fringe Benefit

The fringe benefit from using this mechanic is that you develop ready NPC characters who can step in to become PCs when an existing PC dies. If Pauline the Wizardess has subbed for Merlyn several times, she can become the party’s new magic-user when Merlyn is eaten by a dragon.

Eurafrika Attacks!

Around about 1929, a German architect by the name of Herman Sörgel came with an idea he called Atlantropa. The idea was simple (no, not really) – he was going to create a new utopian continent out of Europe and Africa by building hydroelectric dams in the Strait of Gibraltar and Dardanelles and the mouth of the River Congo. This would allow the lowering of the level of the Mediterranean Sea, to create more habitable (and farmable) land, the irrigation of the Sahara Desert, and the generation of all the electricity the new continent of Atlantropa or Eurafrika could ever need. The idea was based on his desire for a massive, peaceful project that could bring the warring European nations together and which would improve the lives of millions.

Strangely enough, the idea was not pursued seriously other than by Sörgel and a handful of others. Perhaps the idea can be used to fuel a modern “fantasy” campaign, though.

Eurafrika Attacks

The Eurafrika Attacks campaign is going to take Herman’s idea and mess with it a bit. First, we’re going to move the idea back to the dark days of the First World War, and give Europe a running start at the project. For our purposes, by 1927 or so the project is complete and Europe is seriously deep in debt. Weimer Republic-style deep in debt. This facilitates the rise of a pseudo-fascist dictator called Hynkel, who now has the power of Europe and Africa at his disposal and uses it to start the Second World War in 1930.

Eurafrikan forces quickly move into the Middle East and Ukraine, and soon they convince a China desirous of revenge against colonial powers to join them. Thus, we get a WW2 with an axis composed of Eurafrika and China against the allied powers of the United Kingdom (who never quite joined the Eurafrikan cause, though a faction of the country is heavily invested in the project and desires Hynkel’s success), the Soviet Union and Japan, with the United States practicing semi-neutrality until submarine attacks on its shipping draw it into the war in 1934.

The Hook

So what’s the point of this campaign, other than novelty. Well, novelty is probably the main point – a sort of mixed up WW2 that occurs years before it is supposed to and without some of the more disturbing elements of that war.

The real hook, of course, is the use of a bunch of interesting military equipment from the “interwar” period in a hot war. Between the Spad and Spitfires in the 1920s and early 1930s there were all sorts of interesting aircraft, ships and land vehicles designed and constructed, but never really used. Now some of these vehicles have a chance to show what they were made of, and at the same time a few anachronisms might make their way into this WW2, especially cavalry.

A campaign could be organized around a particular military unit and its march into Eurafrikan territory, modeled on the film The Big Red One (1980) starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill, which followed a group of soldiers in the U.S. 1st Infantry Division from North Africa to Sicily to Normandy and eventually to the liberation of a concentration camp. A fictional campaign might move through Baghdad to the Balkans and Carpathians and finally into the heart of Europe.

There is also room for espionage in London, Paris, New York and Cairo, jungle fighting in the Congo basin, the Soviet couteroffensive against re-invigorated China in Mongolia, resistance movements in Europe, anti-colonial movements in Africa, or the defense of Japan against a new wave of seaborne invasions from China (will the “divine wind” protect the island nation again?). You can also play on the new geography of the Mediterranean and Sahara, tying in with notions of Atlantis buried beneath the sands of the Sahara being rediscovered, or pre-human settlements that were hidden under the Mediterranean being revealed.

The campaign offers many opportunities for realistic and supernatural gameplay in a period often forgotten due to its being sandwiched betwen the Roaring 20’s and the Second World War.

A trio of Siskins patrol southern England for French bombers