Let The PCs Plan The Next Party Vacation

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on August 26, 2011

What do PCs do after they reach the climatic ending of their latest adventure? Simple, they go on vacation. At least that’s what I assume a lot of PCs do. After all, even an adventurer needs a vacation every now and then.

We rarely play out the parts of the adventurers’ lives when they’re not adventuring. And why would we, it’s probably boring and dull, but that doesn’t have to be the case; especially if the adventurers stay together during their down time. Depending on what the party has accomplished, and the positive or negative reputation they’ve acquired because of it, they may find it beneficial to remain in each other’s company between adventures. After all, if they’ve made powerful enemies then letting everyone go their separate ways with the intent of dropping their guard and relaxing for a few days could be the last thing they ever do. By sticking together the party can afford to let their guard down and relax because they know that if things get ugly for any reason the rest of their crew is nearby to help them out.

Now assuming that your party is made up of adventures of different races, classes, and form different geographic regions, how do they all agree on a place to go when they’re not working? Easy, they take turns deciding. Leaving this kind of choice in the hands of the players could present an excellent opportunity to turn a vacation into an interesting adventure.

I’d suggest that the DM advise the players that they are responsible for planning the next “family” vacation. The players must decide which PC or PCs get to choose what the party does between adventures. The player lucky enough to make this decision then works out the details with the DM.

The most likely scenario is that the party will travel to an appealing destination for some well earned R&R. This might be something as simple as a quiet, sandy beach, but I suspect that the most common destination will be wherever the PC calls home. Chances are that none of the PCs have been home since they began their adventuring career. Each PC may decide that when it’s his turn to plan the vacation he wants to travel to his homeland and visit relatives, especially if he’s left a wife and kids behind. This could be a fun mini adventure as the PCs are thrust into a culture they’ve never experienced before.

There’s a good chance that your PCs, like everyone else’s, are a bunch of adrenalin junkies. If that’s the case then a week on a beach will amount to torture. Perhaps they seek thrills even when they’re relaxing. Competing in or watching organized sporting event could satisfy that thrill itch. Other thrill seekers might want to dive for sunken treasure, climb a mountain, or participate in a high stakes gambling tournament. See the article What Do PCs Do For Fun? for more suggestions.

By actually playing out some vacations, the DM gets a break from creating the adventure on his own. When the player tells the DM where he’d like the party to go and what he’d like the party to do between adventures the two of them can work out the details together. Let the player create some of the NPCs and create some of the maps. This makes perfect sense if the party is going to visit that PC’s home town. The DM can add some adventure to the visit, otherwise it would be a really boring evening of gaming. Just remember that the kind of conflict the PCs face while on vacation are not likely to be the same as those they encounter when actively looking for trouble.

Playing out the stuff that happens between the adventures reminds the players that their PCs have lives outside of adventuring. It’s a chance for them to work on character development and draw on their back-story. If the PCs have an idea of what they see themselves doing after retirement then this is the perfect opportunity to begin laying the groundwork. Most heroes didn’t start their lives as adventurers and this down time may be a good opportunity for them to get back to their roots. In the article Get a Real Job we explored this very notion of what the PCs might have done before they became adventurers.

Remember that PCs may earn enough XP to level multiple times during a longer adventure, but in the game world time needs to pass in order for them to practice the skills and powers that improved by leveling (something that many players an DMs forget to account for in their campaigns). Making the vacations part of the gaming experience reminds players of the passage of Time in D&D. DMs may even want to implement a new house rule that PCs can’t actually “spend” XP they’ve earned to level up until they’ve taken some time off. Watch how fast the players get behind in-game vacations in this eventuality.

Playing out the stuff that happens in between adventures is certainly not something that will appeal to every gaming group, especially the hack and slash players. But for players looking for more chances to role-play their character and develop actual characteristics that don’t involve swinging a sword, this kind of side trek may the perfect avenue for doing so. I don’t see any vacation lasting more than one gaming session, but it could represent months or years in-game. I’d suggest groups try a vacation adventure and see how it works. If you hate it then keep playing the game as you’ve done all along. But if your group enjoys the change of pace then perhaps, as in real life, the PCs should take a vacation a few times a year.

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1 iserith August 26, 2011 at 11:51 am

I’ve done this before in an pulp fiction style episodic game I was running when 4e Eberron came out. Each session/adventure was one level and took place in a different country. Around 9th-level, I decided the PCs needed a vacation and let the players choose the place. They had never been to Zilargo and I described Trolanport as being like Naples with casinos, so they decided to go there.

A week later, I had a complete James Bond-esque adventure called “Gnomefinger” in which the PCs uncover the dastardly plot of the uberwealthy and eccentric Auric Gnomefinger who was creating a doomsday device from within his exotic caviar canning plant (chuul eggs, yuck). The opening scene was of the PCs enjoying downtime in a casino – yes, the baccarat scene with the PCs playing against Gnoemfinger and his dead sexy companion, Honey Rider (a lamia!) – when some action broke out that distracted the PCs. Gnomefinger kidnapped the characters’ NPC ally and member of the King’s Dark Lanterns, Roxana Hardplace, and escaped in his mini-sub before the PCs knew what was going on. That set up an awesome investigation and chase that led to a final encounter between Gnomefinger, one of his magical constructs that could shrink the PCs to the size of mice, and Gnomefinger’s fluffy white cat named Mister Fifi.

We had a lot of laughs. “We’re supposed to be on vacation!” was a common saying throughout the night. The thought of being on vacation puts the players at more ease and they don’t take things very seriously as a result. So if you do run a “vacation” adventure, make it light-hearted and fun. It’s supposed to be a break after all!

2 DungeonMaster Johnny (on Facebook) August 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

hmmm,this is a nice idea. I may use this,but not play it out. At the end of a adventure I will allow them to pick a vacation destination, charge them according to where they want to go,and just leave it at that. If they say Im not wasting my money on that, then fine, but those that go on vacation will be granted boons (feeling renewed) next adventure.

3 Vance August 26, 2011 at 1:14 pm

iserith, that sounds hilarious AND awesome!

4 Sunyaku August 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Lol, that sounds awesome Iserith! I especially enjoyed the shrinking and combat vs the cat. Since we have two cats, it’s not uncommon that one of them tries to assail the table during a gaming session.

5 Chris August 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Great idea! My current group of players is obsessed with the in depth roleplaying of their characters and I daresay they’d love something like this.

6 Diogo Nogueira August 29, 2011 at 7:54 am

That is very similar to the concept of fellowship phase on the new “The One Ring” RPG and really makes a lot of sense. I haven’t thought about using this on D&D, but now that you mentioned it, I might give it a try.

7 Ameron August 30, 2011 at 11:43 am

That adventure sound like a lot of fun. I’ll bet it gets talked about more than the events that preceded it. It’s these kind of fun, player-driven side treks that are often the most fun and rewarding, quite often because it’s a lot of unscripted flying by the seat of your pants role-playing. Thanks so much for sharing this tale of fun and frivolity.

@DungeonMaster Johnny
Any acknowledgement of what the PCs do during their down time is worth while. I agree that playing every single vacation during the PCs’ down time would get incredibly boring. However, if the players give you an idea of how they spend their time and money between adventures it will likely provide you as the DM with some ideas for how to incorporate their off screen antics into the main campaign.

I truly see this kind of side trek as a role-players dream. Allowing the players to create some of the NPCs themselves, especially if they are the PC’s friends or relatives, takes the burden off of you and lets the payers really flesh out interesting NPCs. Whenever I’ve done this the rewards were phenomenal and the adventures were loads of fun (although usually light on the combat side of things).

@Diogo Nogueira
I never thought about it in the “Fellowship” context but that is a great analogy. In fact the side trek adventure might not even be related to the destination but the journey to get there. After all, a road trip to visit family is often more fun then the family gathering when you reach your destination.

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