I run a D&D 3.5 game. Some of the characters have various crafting abilities, ranging from things like Alchemy, Scribe Scroll, Woodworking, Craft Wondrous Items, to Legendary Weapon Rituals, etc... The mechanics of which require days (and some weeks, or more) of prep time. How do I put that into a game?

It doesn't make sense to put the party (or the game) on hold and just say "one month later". What about the "big picture" the world is alive, things are happening... but at the same time I do not want to leave one character behind while the others play on...

This dilemma is troubling because I do not want to empower the characters too much by speeding up their actions, but at the same time I want them to be able to use them... They need to be able to use them, its part of the game. But slowing down, or stopping in a city to "prepare" for more than a few days makes no sense.

Without getting into a repetitive loop that always comes down to the same question, since I assume most here know what I am talking about... What are ways you have dealt with this, or would deal with this? Any hot tips? House rules? Hidden gems of secret lore?


6 Answers 6


I think this shouldn't be a dilemma for you, the GM. It should be a dilemma for the players.

If a player can craft a super-secret Alchemy Stone which will single-handedly turn the tide of battle against the forces of evil, then they will want to craft it. However, if it takes two months of intensive work to create, then the forces of evil are still moving against them in the meantime. This causes an interesting issue for the players to solve in-game. Do they take the time to build the super-secret Alchemy Stone? Do the forces of evil know that they are attempting this and try to stop them? Perhaps that would be an interesting session idea; the one character is trying to craft the MacGuffin, while the others defend his efforts from the adversary.

If it's less plot-related or dramatic crafting (like just a decent potion or other "nice-to-haves" for the characters), then you can consider simply allowing the following understanding: every night before bed, the character spends an hour performing whatever their craft is. You don't have to play this out every time. Then, after an agreed upon number of in-game days, they get whatever their trinket is. Even this is somewhat of a stretch, though, since for most crafts it would take at least an hour just to set up their equipment properly.

With that said, this is the very reason that crafting skills generally don't mix very well with an adventuring party if you're attempting to be realistic about the time frames. That's why every fantasy video game simply glosses over the crafting with a blacksmithing sound ("clang-clang-clang") and perhaps a very short timer. The amount of effort it takes simply to smith a sword is enormous, never mind whatever complex things your PCs are likely attempting. So you can either compromise your realism slightly in order to maintain the fun of the game, or you can let it be an interesting in-game dilemma.

To address the specific issue mentioned in the comments below: If you want your Wizard to be able to scribe spells into his spellbook faster but don't want to directly manipulate the rules-as-written (RAW), let them go on a quest for a magic quill which allows faster scribing or something. This would be a (hopefully) interesting in-game solution to a problem that the characters face.

You seem to be looking for an out-of-game, sort of meta-game solution to what is ultimately an in-game problem. And it's in-game problems which make games interesting. No amount of meta-game shenanigans will change the fact that in the real world it takes a week to simply forge a sword, so you will need to either bend reality, change the rules, or trust your players to handle it. For me personally as a GM, I would never force my Wizard to spend an entire day putting a new spell in his spellbook, because it's my opinion that the RAW are not the most important thing. My job as a GM is to remove obstacles that are in the way of everyone having fun.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ So, basically, your answer is to not address the problem at all? This doesn't work for the group I am playing with.. I have players whose characters need this time for things, even if it is just the wizard who needs time to copy new spells to his spell book, it is part of the game mechanics that it takes a day per spell... I can't ignore that and just let him copy whole books into his spell book, but also It makes no sense for him to sit down and copy a spell all day... yet while he doesn't the other non-casters get stronger and stronger... unbalancing the game... \$\endgroup\$
    – Inbar Rose
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 14:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @InbarRose My answer isn't to not address it. It's to work it directly into the game if you want to keep the time frames realistic. Or, in the case you describe, I would simply waive the restriction. A Wizard copying spells into his book may be a game mechanic, but that doesn't mean you're bound to follow it. If taking a day per spell is unrealistic, then either don't make your players do it (get rid of or modify the rule to your liking), or make your players choose in-game and decide the pros and cons. There's not really another option. \$\endgroup\$
    – asteri
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 14:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @InbarRose In your specific example, if you want your Wizard to be able to scribe spells into his spellbook faster but don't want to directly manipulate the rules-as-written, let them go on a quest for a magic quill which allows faster scribing or something. My point is basically that you're asking for an out-of-game, sort of meta-game solution to what is ultimately an in-game problem. And it's in-game problems which make games interesting. No amount of meta-game shenanigans will change the fact that in the real world it takes a week to simply forge a sword. \$\endgroup\$
    – asteri
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 14:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ At first I was not swayed by your initial words, but you have won me over with the support of other answers and comments. It does indeed make sense to remove the dilemma from me, and instead, to show it as an opportunity, and a choice for the players, thank you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Inbar Rose
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 15:58

Handling Downtime

You're in luck. Paizo Publishing just came out with a hardback called "Ultimate Campaigns" which has detailed downtime rules designed to accommodate all the usual downtime activities and avoid all the usual downfalls.

And since they're cool like that, the rules are also available for free on d20PFSRD. The system codifies what you can do in a day of downtime and provides a lot of opportunities for other characters to do stuff while the wizard's crafting - earning money, retraining, building a business, recruiting goons, and whatnot.

Allowing For Downtime

You've clarified that the problem is more that the PCs are on some kind of race against time with evil. That is fine, in moderation (please don't make the mistake of having all campaign, every campaign be like that, it gets wearisome with overuse). But you don't win WWII by just telling everyone to run out there and kill without respite. You have to do research and build things and get resources and gather intel and recruit allies and take enough R&R that you are combat effective.

Now, time pressure does make them have to make hard decisions about whether they spend a given week crafting and recruiting et al. or running off to smite something. That's good, it's an interesting tension and it builds wisdom. They don't have time to do everything - yay realism. But they should be able to make choices - "Delaying this week will make us like 10% more effective when we return to the fight, so we should do it..."

During Downtime

This does put the onus on you to have events unfold realistically while they take downtime (if you claim "race against time" but just have set events unfold right as the PCs get there no matter what, then yes, they're going to figure that out and abuse downtime...).

  • \$\begingroup\$ That is really great, thanks for that. But this doesn't solve the problem I asked. This gives me a rule system to work with, yes, but I want to be able to keep the game flowing, (with virtually no downtime) and still be able to cater to the players who took abilities/skills/feats which require time. \$\endgroup\$
    – Inbar Rose
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 13:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just because "the world is alive and things are happening" doesn't mean that the PCs always have to be traveling to smite something every week of their lives. This system is abstracted enough that it can work through a week of downtime quickly, let everyone feel like they had something valuable to do, and then get back on the adventure trail all synced up. But it also allows for time to do some story continuity, it's "working an 8 hour day" so the PCs can wander about town and make inquiries and roleplay and stuff. "No downtime ever" is unrealistic and a questionable goal. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 13:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well... this is true, I guess I am overlooking a few things, but specifically right now the group is in a race with time to accomplish something before some evil event happens, And while I would like them to have the ability to use their skills... it doesn't make sense to stop and craft a sword for a few days when you are on a deadline to save the universe \$\endgroup\$
    – Inbar Rose
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 13:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @InbarRose: But it does make sense if they need that sword to save the universe! Or if they have extra time. If they get to the ritual location or whatever ahead of time, perhaps they can set up there and prepare while waiting for the stars to align and the rest of the cultists to arrive. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zan Lynx
    Commented Jul 15, 2013 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Inbar Rose I've been avoiding "race against the clock" adventures ever since I realized one of the PCs in my campaign raised 7 levels in the course of just a few months of campaign time. Events in my campaign now unfold slowly, giving ample opportunities for downtime. There are plenty of other ways to create tension besides continually rushing around before the dark lord destroys the world. \$\endgroup\$
    – E L
    Commented Dec 25, 2013 at 21:49

Do you really need the constant time pressure?

But slowing down, or stopping in a city to "prepare" for more than a few days makes no sense.

Is this statement an accurate reflection of just how acute the time pressure is in your game?

I'm not saying I don't believe you. I do. But stop for a second and figure out whether time pressure is a critical part of the structure of the campaign or a dial you can adjust easily as the GM.

Oftentimes, as modern people living in a world of awesome infrastructure, we forget how long stuff takes. Getting food, going places, acquiring goods. Historical armies, for example, move overland very slowly — and it could take months to gather your banners and arrange the necessary provisions and support for any kind of significant offensive move.

Even in a highly-magical context, where real-life constraints like how long it takes to march from one city to another are irrelevant, bad guys can have plans that take years to come to fruition. They may include prominent stages where the PCs just have to wait as well — to see what their enemy's next move, to wait for some event that both the heroes and villains are going to need to try to exploit for their benefit. Removing logistical realism doesn't mean the game has to plunge ahead at a breakneck pace; it just means time can move at "the speed of plot."

Do the system-imposed time constraints actually matter?

Serious limitations on what you can do with your time can be a key part of the system's overall resource model. It's important to understand these before you modify them.

In your particular case, D&D 3rd Edition does try to use time as a resource constraint, but mostly on the scale of combat turns or "per day" resources; the system really doesn't care whether days or weeks or months pass between the individual adventures.

Also, I would argue that D&D 3rd Edition really doesn't take "realistic" time constraints particularly seriously. This is a game where any injury, up to and including death, only sets characters back about a day, and where travel becomes instantaneous at higher levels!

The crafting times for skill use are an entirely different part of D&D3, designed to approximate economic activity that's largely irrelevant to the adventures the characters are having in play. If the PCs want to use their skills to sit around and make money, then bring up the crafting times. But if they're trying to use their normally-time-consuming skills to help themselves out of a tight spot during their doomsday-racing magical adventures, then accept that they're doing extraordinary things and throw out time requirements designed for "downtime" color rather than drama.

Replace time-based restrictions with a different kind of obstacle!

Sometimes, time-based restrictions or complications can be part of the challenge. "Can we accomplish this before something else happens?" is good for dramatic tension, especially since it's an easy way to create challenges that "fail forward" — transforming into a new situation rather than a frustrating roadblock if the protagonists don't actually succeed at their task.

Time-based restrictions on most tasks seem to be a poor fit for your particular campaign. Because they amount to just outright saying "No." In the context of the game you're playing, "Should I skip the next three adventures so that I can learn my new spells?" is not an interesting or meaningful choice. So, take those kinds of tasks and turn them into a different kind of challenge.

Honestly, if it isn't an interesting challenge (either in the narrative sense or the strategic sense) at all, just give it to them. If you do want the activity to represent overcoming a real impediment, make it one that can be overcome within the context of this particular story.

Example applications

  • An in-the-moment adventure obstacle: For activities that represent overcoming the obstacles in front of you, like making a crude raft to help you cross the river or using your research skill to find a map to the next dungeon, most systems have you as the GM are setting the timetable for tests anyway. So just pick a duration that doesn't mess up the flow of the narrative. If it means that a task that normally takes 2d4 days takes 2 hours, who cares?
  • Abilities with built-in time-wasters: For stuff that's supposed to just force a bit of downtime, like wizards learning spells, you can have it happen automatically between each adventure. If you don't want to waive the limitations completely, you can modify the rules to count days but not require characters to spend all their time devoted to the task. Maybe it still takes two days to learn that new spell, for example, but you can count "active time" against that — they still have to manage their time but it doesn't force a hard stop on their other activities.
  • Consumables: If PCs are using crafting to refill their basic consumables, it's reasonable to allow them the equivalent of a single test between each adventure "for free," just kinda folded into the basic recovery downtime in the game. If the outcome of the test is interesting, you can make a small skill challenge out of it: if they succeed, they get to restock their resources; if they fail, they're going in with depleted supplies. The price they have to pay is that they can't use this process to stockpile stuff — if they already have a full supply, they don't get to make surplus stuff without rolling a more "normal" (time-sensitive) check. This is essentially crafting "at the speed of plot."
  • Significant long-term effects: An action that has lasting effects on the game, like crafting a powerful magic item, can involve a "side quest" to procure rare and special magical materials instead of the normal lengthy downtime. This still takes up some time but it's "active" time and everybody can participate.

It doesn't make sense to put the party (or the game) on hold and just say "one month later". What about the "big picture" the world is alive, things are happening... but at the same time I do not want to leave one character behind while the others play on...

It can absolutely make sense, depending on what's going on in your game world. Not every setting is a Jet Li movie. If the wizard wants group downtime to make something that will likely help the entire party in the long run, it's in their interest to make it happen.

Absolutely have events proceed while they take some downtime. Give them tradeoffs that they need to think about. Downtime is also an excellent roleplaying opportunity for characters who aren't busy: visit their family, petition the king, work a long con, perhaps a quick solo mission, rededicate themselves to their church, work on new adventure leads, etc.


Here's the problem: you're looking for a solution that simply doesn't exist. If your characters are on a tight schedule, and creating an item takes more time than they have, then they can't create it. They don't have enough time to perform that task. If the encounter requires an item they don't have, they'll either have to do without, or you'll need to find some way of giving it to them. As you said in one of your comments, it doesn't make sense to stop for a few days to craft a sword when you're on a deadline to save the universe.

If you want to work long crafting times into a game, then fast-forward it, or give the other characters something to do.

  • If creating an item that takes months requires every waking moment of a character's attention, fast-forward. It's going to suck to take a PC out of action for months of in-game time.

  • If it requires a few days of work, give the other characters some bandits to roust, or a castle intrigue / spy adventure. If the crafting doesn't take up the character's full attention, they could even help, provided they stay in the area.

  • If your characters are on a deadline to stop bad things from happening, and what they want to make takes more time than they have, they can't make the item before the bad thing happens. It may make their future jobs harder, but hey, they have that awesome sword now!

The final rule of thumb is, if it's going to derail your storyline when a party doesn't have a specific item, you NEED to give them enough time to create it, or give them a way to get that item. The DM/GM/whatever-you-want-to-call-it's job is to create challenging, but attainable goals for their PCs (unless you like killing off characters by giving them impossible tasks - not recommended).


Come up with a lot of things they need to do that will take time and make them choose which to do. For example:

  • Several characters may have crafting they want to do. That's a few items. Benefits include getting whatever crafted items or cash for crafted items are created.
  • Somebody may need to go into town and effectively be PR for the team -- do some light charity, break up some bar fights, that sort of thing -- otherwise the locals might get wary of having these armed adventurers in town. Benefits to include easier access to information (bonus to some social dice rolls), more work, maybe even gifts from townsfolk depending on time/skill invested.
  • Any hirelings you have may need to be trained to keep their meager skills up to par with the party. Failure to do this results in penalties to combat rolls for hirelings, or the party will have to pay for somebody to come in and train them.
  • Structures owned by the party may require upkeep. If the party doesn't invest time (or, again, pay for an NPC to do the work) some amount of their private stash may be raided by the thieves' guild.
  • Regular monster cleanup duty. Those rodents of unusual size didn't stop invading cellars just because the party outleveled them. Somebody has to keep them in check otherwise stronger and stronger monsters will start to harass the party and/or townsfolk and they become a real threat.

The point, in general, is just to make it so there are MANY of these day/week/month type tasks that need to be undertaken. Find things that fit your campaign, and solicit ideas from your players. "Okay, the wizard needs to spend some amount of time researching the artifact, what do the rest of you want to do while he does that?" The tasks don't have to be gone into in any real detail, just a couple dice rolls maybe to determine HOW successful the character was at the task (either how well they did the job or how quickly) and move on to the next task.

Then, summarize the events of the last month for the players: blah blah magical artifact, blah blah warrior spent the time crafting artisan benches but he's having a hard time selling them because the townspeople spent all their money hiring mercenaries to chase wolves away from the livestock, your priest has been leading services at the local temple and has a lot of connections with the devout community, that sort of thing. Adding details (names of townsfolk, a few specific events that show the overall trend) can help the world feel more alive.

You do have to plan your campaign somewhat to allow this sort of thing, but at least for me this is something you can be open about with the group -- "The bridge is out and it won't be able to be repaired until the winter lets up. You're going to be holed up in and around Dunsborough for a few weeks at the least, but you know your adversaries are trapped in their winter camps for the time being as well. You will be mobile before they will. For now, you should probably take care of some of the things adventurers must do between adventures. You guys can check out those artifacts, do some crafting, work for the townspeople, or anything else you can think of. What will each of your characters work on for the next month or so?" Give them an idea of how long things will take, what sort of benefits they can expect, etc. Also give a few maintenance tasks that they have to do or incur penalties. This lets them do some decision making to pick which benefits/penalties they will come out with, and every player should be able to find something that their character would do in the situation.

This can just become a normal thing -- obviously you don't stop in the middle of a chase to start an herb garden for alchemical ingredients, but I've found it useful to have regular intervals planned in a campaign when that sort of thing can naturally happen. It also helps make the power growth of characters seem more natural (slime molds to dragons in just eight days of adventuring, wow!) and makes plot pacing a little easier as well.


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