What is downtime? In game terms this is a flexible amount of time often days to weeks where characters are expected to be in more mundane situations with minimal threat. In pathfinder this mode of play is where characters craft, train, establish themselves as part of the world.
Despite the avid efforts of designers and GMs from table to table, downtime is often glazed over in tabletop RPG groups. This habit is understandable, your friends get together to enjoy a communal experience, of sci-fi fantasy hijinks, why should the group focus on the weekly adventurer’s shopping trip or daily training sessions?
Variety, pace and stakes. That is why.
Not every game can or should be pedal to the metal every second counts action Extravaganza. That is because when you stack too many of those sessions back to back mechanics like combat, limited resources and basic player HP begin to hamper players almost exponentially. Too much of a good thing can spoil the meal.
Pace as a concept helps inform and guide when modes of play like downtime should be used. Slower paces create character breathing room, give opportunities for players to explore their roles and be their characters.
Just like non-stop action can be overdone you do not want your players to pre-plan their chores list because your next plot point is that the baker has started making less bread. While interpersonal drama can spice up any downtime session too slow a pace can force a melodrama.
Downtime shines by establishing baseline stakes for your players. How is the world effected by their exploits? Is the reason the baker has less bread because he has been staying up late at the pub where the bard has been singing for the last week? Has the sorcerer’s boyish charm wooed the fair daughter of the baker into a torrid affair that will rock the foundations of the town?
Stakes do not have to be ENDING THE WORLD but can just be explosive to a character’s world view. Downtime is a great spot to create those experiences.
I love downtime as a GM because it allows players a chance to flesh out their characters in non-stressful situations. Maybe during the regular day your character is a lovable ditz but when initiative starts they turn into a stone cold killer? Maybe your day to day stoic hunk of bruiser crumbles under pressure and panics once injured?
To have and play these moments out players need opportunities at the table to explore character personalities. Downtime can do much of that heavy lifting.
Where I think downtime gets pushed aside is in the accounting like nature of crafting and upkeep that come naturally with tabletop rules sets. Some activities a character undertakes consume large amounts of time which if played out at the table, would be hard pressed to engage their fellow players. The GM then cannot also spin a yarn that would make a player feel bad for performing party saving long term activity at the cost of some fun hijinks about town.
Downtime, like every other mode of play, is a tool for a GM to use in creating experiences players want to keep having and returning to the table for. When done well it can deepen the experience for your players and sharpen memories, they take home with them.