The Haven Turn

Romans relaxing during their haven turnI don’t really follow D&D anymore.

I don’t see the point. “Dungeons & Dragons” is just a name. Intellectual property owned by Hasbro Incorporated. Fifth edition seems to have come out mostly fine, but why would I ever settle for ‘mostly fine’ when the OSR is putting out phenomenal work faster than I can keep up with?

As such, everything I know about D&D’s recently released downtime rules is from reading what Courtney wrote about them. And not even all of that. Some of the options are so boring that I couldn’t even read through a description of them written by an interesting writer. Why would anybody even bother writing something if it wasn’t going to be interesting to play?

In my games, players lust after their next opportunity to take downtime actions. I would even venture to say that time has become the most coveted reward in ORWA, more than money or magic items. So lets talk about the Haven Turn.

If you’re a regular reader of Papers & Pencils, the term should be familiar to you. I mention it pretty frequently, but have never actually taken the time to discuss the concept in depth. After all, it’s not really my idea. Most of my experience with it comes from being a player in Courtney Campbell‘s and John Bell‘s games, and the term was originated by Brendan Strejcek. But, as with many things, after using it for years I’ve tinkered with it to the point that seems worth expressing the idea in my own terms.

Haven turns are part of the action economy. There are:

  • 6 second Rounds for combat.
  • 10 minute Turns for exploration
  • 2 hour Watches for wilderness travel
  • 1 month Haven Turns for downtime actions.

Haven turns occur anytime the players return to some secure home-base after an adventure, usually a town, or player-owned citadel. The turns don’t actually last one month, they just sorta “round out” the month to some unspecified degree. So, if the players adventure in May, then return home for a haven turn, their next game will take place in June, regardless of whether the previous adventure lasted an hour, or a week.

Sometimes, if an adventure runs long, players may be able to take more than one haven turn at a time. Particularly trying expeditions, after all, will require more than the average amount of rest to recover from. For every 2 sessions that an adventure lasts, (rounded up), the players may take 1 haven turn without adverse consequences.

So, if the party takes 1 or 2 sessions to complete an adventure, they only get 1 haven turn–and that’s the median I usually aim for. But, if it takes 3 or 4 sessions, they get 2 haven turns. If it takes 5 or 6 they get 3, and so on. This allows me to occasionally throw big, epic, 10-session adventures at my players, without making them feel frustrated about all their delayed haven-turn plans.

Generally speaking, I’d prefer if players didn’t take more than the prescribed number of Haven Turns. After all, downtime action may be fun, but it’s not really the point of the game.

That being said, my players have agency. If they want to do a thing, they can do it, and as far as I’m concerned I have no right to try and stop them. However, taking more than the prescribed number of haven turns means that person is stepping back from the world for a bit. They’re focusing on their own stuff, and letting events pass them by. The world is going to move on without them.

If players take more than the prescribed number of haven turns, then when they get back, they’re going to discover that things have changed to their detriment. The referee has free reign in this, but the situation should be more severe the longer the players have been absent.

Perhaps some of the player’s contacts have died, or moved away. Maybe the players will discover that something they wanted to do has been done by someone else. In more severe cases, the whole campaign could be upset, with the player’s ultimate goals having become more difficult, or even impossible to achieve.

So that’s when haven turns happen, but what can you do with them? What is their purpose?

Like most other units of time in the action economy, two things happen each haven turn. First, the players choose how they want to use the time. Second, an encounter die is rolled.

Haven Turn Actions

Like any combat round, exploration turn, or watch, players can choose to do anything they want with a haven turn, and I will try to resolve it to the best of my ability. My players have used their haven turns to do things like build up their relationships with NPCs, or investigate mysteries they’re curious about.

In these cases, we assume the player spends the whole haven turn pursuing that goal. While planning for the next session, I come up with some appropriate results for their effort. When we meet to play again, I’ll tell the player what happened, and perhaps ask them to make any decisions or rolls I deemed appropriate. This is a helpful time for players to pursue any deeply personal goals that the rest of the party doesn’t want to deal with.

But, also similar to the other denominations of the action economy, there are codified actions which require a haven turn to complete. The most notable of these is Training, which by itself makes the haven turn one of the more beloved parts of my game. I’ve written a whole post on the concept, but I cannot overemphasize how useful training is.

It gives the players two disassociated tracks for advancement. On the one hand they have their class; a simple niche that they lock themselves into at first level. Class advances at a slow, steady pace, and requires a minimal amount of decision making, while also providing the lion’s share of the player’s options in play.

On the other hand, there’s training, a completely optional second track. Training has to be weighed against other uses of your money and your time. When players do pursue training, they make short term commitments in exchange for a little something extra, that their class might not normally get.

You’ve got the fun of character customization, and the satisfaction of earning something. But you free the player from a single advancement track, and in the process, avoid the nightmare of the over-complicated level up procedure. Plus, the choices to train is more interesting this way, because it is incomparable. You’re not choosing which skills to put skill points into; you’re choosing between raising a skill, raising an ability score, or saving that money for the next curio shop you randomly encounter.

Other codified haven turn actions include:

  • Carousing, where players can earn extra experience points by throwing their money down the drain.
  • Magic Users can create a new spell, or discovering a new magic word, using the Magic Words system.
  • Magic Users can seek out a new magic wand.
  • Clerics can pray for a new spell using the Glory from God system.
  • Fighters can spend time drilling with their armies.
  • Characters with the Alchemy skill can make potions.
  • Characters with the Technology skill can repair broken tech.
  • Characters with the Engineering skill can construct vehicles, siege equipment, etc,
  • Players can recover from debilitating injuries such as broken legs. (I always have players return to max HP over a Haven Turn, but if they had a particularly severe injury, like a broken leg, they must spend their whole turn convalescing.)
  • Come back from the dead as a cyborg.

Basically, haven turns are where the players can do anything they should be able to do, but which I don’t want them to do mid-session.

Haven Turn Encounters

As I’ve said before, D&D is a game about limited resources, and how the players choose to use them. Time is probably the single most important resource. Players must understand that whenever they use a unit of time, it’s possible for something bad to happen. And so, they will not become frivolous with the actions they choose to take.

For each Haven Turn, roll 1d6:

  1. Complication
  2. Complication & Petitioner
  3. Petitioner
  4. Alleviation
  5. Gun Auction
  6. Gun Auction

Gun Auctions are something for my ORWA game. Rolling this indicates that someone has put up a gun for sale, and the players have a chance to buy it. If they don’t, then it’ll be purchased by someone else, and probably be lost to them forever.

I’ve got a little table of gun ideas that I roll on whenever this comes up. Then I write up stats for the new gun, and present it (along with a price) at the start of the next game session.

Alleviation: Some complications are ongoing issues, which only end when an Alleviation is rolled.

If there are multiple issues requiring Alleviation, only one can be resolved at a time. Which one is taken care of should be randomly determined.

Of course, anything which calls for an Alleviation can also be ended by direct player action, if the players choose to pursue it.

Petitioners are something I recently added, since my players have established themselves as a regional power. It makes sense that people are going to start showing up to ask for help.

For each petitioner, I roll on a weighted table that determines which faction they’re from. Then I roll on the table below to get a general idea of why they approached the players. From there, I use my referee powers to whip up an NPC with more specific needs.

  1. An individual, seeking sanctuary from a bad situation.
  2. An individual, seeking aide in overcoming a bad situation.
  3. An individual, bringing the party information in hopes of a reward.
  4. An official of some small group, seeking sanctuary.
  5. An official of some small group, seeking the aide in overcoming a bad situation.
  6. An official of some large group, looking to hire the party

The petitioner will appear at the start of the next session, and the party is free to respond however they choose. Many times the issue can be solved trivially: “sure, you can live here.” In other cases, the petitioner may spark the party’s interest, and they may become deeply involved.

Complications are shifts in the world around the players, and may include threats to the player’s holdings or interests.

The first 10 of these are all localized issues. For each, I would roll on my weighted table of factions to determine where the issue occurred.

The specifics of each complication are left intentionally vague. A natural disaster may be a minor thing, or it may be a cataclysmic event. It all depends on what the referee thinks would be interesting.

  1. A natural disaster strikes. Randomly determine, or choose a disaster as appropriate: Fire, Earthquake, Tornado, Flood, Landslide, Sinkhole, Volcano, Blizzard, Tsunami, Hurricane, Meteor.
  2. A famine or drought begins. It lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  3. A plague breaks out, the particulars of which are left to the referee. It lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  4. A major figure is assassinated.
  5. A whole series of murders take place. They last until an alleviation is rolled.
  6. War breaks out between a faction, and one of its neighbors. Each month until an alleviation is rolled, both sides roll a d6. Whichever side rolls higher took some of their neighbor’s territory, commensurate with the difference in the size of the rolls. (So if a 1 and a 6 are rolled, the gains would be large. If a 1 and a 2 are rolled, the gains would be small).
  7. An insurrection erupts, making a territory unstable, and threatening to overthrow the existing power structure. This lasts until an alleviation is rolled. If it is not alleviated within 1 year, the insurrection will be successful.
  8. A monster begins to terrorize the area, and cannot be stopped. This lasts until an alleviation is rolled.
  9. Two factions announce an alliance with one another.
  10. News of a major scandal breaks.
  11. Reroll, using a d10. That complication is so widespread, it affects every territory in the dome.
  12. A major religious event occurs for a randomly determined religion.
  13. A new faction emerges, and carves out a small space for itself on the map. It may be a group the players have interacted with before, something entirely new, or even something which has technically existed for awhile but which was secret up until now.
  14. A major discovery is made, and becomes widely known: perhaps a new technology is developed, perhaps a new race is encountered, or a conspiracy is uncovered.
  15. A prophecy begins making its way around around. Nobody is quite sure how to interpret it, but everyone is certain that it’s important.
  16. Reroll, using a d10. That complication occurs within the player’s own domain. (Which is too small to be included on the general list)
  17. Randomly determine one of the player’s investments. It suffers a major setback, requiring it either to be abandoned, or rescued with an influx of funds.
  18. Legal claims are brought against the player characters.
  19. The player characters are publicly slandered.
  20. An ally of player characters dies.

Was that totally the best post about D&D you’ve ever read? Probably. If so, maybe you should drop a dollar in my Patreon box! That would be an appropriate way to pay me deference for _totally blowing your mind_ the way I just did.

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5 thoughts on “The Haven Turn”

  1. Woo! I’ve been hoping you would put up your haven turn rules. I’ve been wanting a way to do downtime activities on that scale and just from context of you mentioning it in other posts it sounded like you had a pretty nice handle on it.

    1. I’m glad this was useful to you! Feel free to let me know in the future if there’s something you want me to talk about.

      1. That is very strange. It should be black text on a white background. The books should only show up if your monitor is wide.

        Thanks for letting me know. Hopefully that was just a one-time misload problem. I’ll keep an eye out for anyone else who has that issue.

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