Five adventurers sitting around a fire in some broken ruins. The moon is full above, breaking through the tree cover, and two owls fly overhead.
In older editions of D&D, traveling from one place to another was an activity governed by a lot of rules, but not governed by a lot of active input by the player characters. Depending on what books your DM was using, you would find out how many days it would take to get from one location to another, as well as how many rations you would need to bring along. The DM may want to roll on various weather tables found in different supplements, and, perhaps most important, the DM would roll for random encounters. The one thing player characters usually rolled for, outside of those random encounters, was to see if the party got lost. Oh, if you had a ranger in their favored terrain in the D&D 2014 rules, you actually didn’t even have to roll for that.

Many adventures had started telling the DM to handwave travel times or to narratively describe getting from here to there, because it wasn’t where the heart of the game lies. However, after cribbing some notes from The One Ring to make the 5e SRD Adventures in Middle-earth, Cubicle 7 created Uncharted Journeys, an expanded resource for traveling from one location to another, which engaged PC skills more actively, and created notable events that went beyond weather and wandering monsters.

In some ways, Cubicle 7 is doing something similar to A Life Well Lived. One aspect of The One Ring is the Fellowship Phase, an assumed period where the heroes aren’t actually adventuring, and they have time to remember what they care about most. A Life Well Lived feels like some of its rules, such as downtime, touch on similar themes. Does A Life Well Lived manage to freshen up “not adventuring,” the way Uncharted Journeys livened up overland travel? Let’s dive in and find out.


I purchased my own copy of A Life Well Lived for this review. I haven’t had the opportunity to use the rules in A Life Well Lived in a game. I am, however, very familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and a DM. And I have spent so much time, so much, thinking about topics like downtime rules and incremental task resolution.

 A Life Well Lived

Writing and Design: Emmet Byrne, Alex Cahill, Josh Corcoran, Hannah-Lital Goldfinch, Eleanor Hingley, Dominic McDowall, Pádraig Murphy, Ross Parkinson, Samuel Poots, Ryan Wheeldon
Editing: Alex Cahill, Alexandra Iciek
Production and Development: Alex Cahill
Cover: Antonio De Luca
Illustration: Oleksii Chernik, Runesael Flynn, Daria Klushina, Dániel Kovács, Elsa Kroese, Andrew Lowry, Sam Manley, Tumo Mere, Clara-Marie Morin, Brendan Murphy, JG O’Donoghue, George Patsouras, Ilya Royz, Gareth Sleightholme, Matias Trabold Rehren
Graphic Design: Diana Grigorescu, Laura Jane Phelan
Layout: Diana Grigorescu
Proofreading: Calum Collins

Cuddling Up with a New Book

This review is based on the PDF version of the product. The PDF is 144 pages long. That includes a credits page, a table of contents, a three-page index, and four pages of Kickstarter backers. There is also a two page A Life Well Lived character sheet, a patron tracking sheet, and a sheet for detailing the character’s home base.

The book is broken up into the following chapters:

  • Lifepath
  • Campcraft
  • Downtime
  • A Place to Call Home
  • Who Pulls the Strings
  • Hanging Up Your Sword

The book has a very clear and readable two-page layout, with many easily referenced tables. The artwork that appears in the book focuses on adventurers between moments of action, enjoying a drink at a tavern, telling stories around a campfire, and other similar scenes.

A woman in a frill necked dress, with a formal hairdo with braids, inspects two younger people, one that appears to be part elf, and one that is a halfling, both dressed in fancy clothes with gloves and a wide brimmed hat. One of the younger people looks very uncomfortable, while the other is smiling.Let’s Make an Adventurer

The first section of the book is the Lifepath system. This isn’t the first lifepath system in RPGs. The most well-known, maybe infamous, is the lifepath system in the original Traveller game. Many modern games have incorporated a version of the lifepath, such as the Star Trek Adventures game.

This isn’t even D&D 5e’s first lifepath system. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything included the section This is Your Life, touching on origins, personal decisions, life events, and supplemental tables with further details. The Heroic Chronicle in Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount is a very intense lifepath/backstory generator that has a lot of mechanical weight, generating very specific numbers of contacts and rivals, and providing extra magic items, skills, or feats in the Fateful Moments section.

A Life Well Lived probably sits pretty firmly between the two. There are mechanical connections to various aspects of the Lifepath, but A Life Well Lived redistributes the other places where D&D 5e assigns ability scores and skills. A Life Well Lived moves ability scores away from race/lineage (which, to be fair, D&D 5e has as well), and has moved skills away from Backgrounds. There are no backgrounds in this system, or rather, background is distributed more granularly across various life events.

The Lifepath is broken into the following steps:

  • Lineage
  • Origins (Ability Score Bonus)
  • Early Childhood (Ability Score Bonus)
  • Adolescence (Skill)
  • Life Lesson (Ability Score Bonus)
  • Pivotal Moment
  • Occupations (Tool Proficiency, Skill)
  • Quirks
  • Class (Ability Score Bonus)
  • Call to Adventure
  • Starting Funds
  • The Lies We Tell Ourselves
  • Skeletons in the Closet
  • Connections
  • Goals

The steps in the Lifepath that don’t provide mechanical benefits usually stand in for the Trait, Ideal, Bond, and Flaw normally derived from Background. These are meant to be your Inspiration triggers if you play into them. The suggested Standard Array in this book is 14, 14, 12, 12, 10, and 8, versus the standard array in the Player’s Handbook of 15, 14, 12, 12, 10, and 8. Essentially it just adjusts for the additional step that provides another ability score bonus.

The Lineages presented include Dragonborn, Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling, Human, and Tiefling. The lineages that previously had sub-races have been redesigned to remove that choice, and like more recent Lineages from WotC, these don’t assign skills or proficiencies based on culture, they just provide abilities. If you are using more recent Lineages with this system, it shouldn’t be too difficult, and if you’ve wanted a version of the Dwarf, Elf, or Gnome that is designed without sub-races, and you don’t want to wait until the summer, you have options.

Characters pick a Long-Term and a Short-Term goal. These goals act as XP triggers, including a chart showing how much XP a character should gain each time they meet one of their goals, based on level.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves and Skeletons in the Closet are interesting additions to the Lifepath, as they add a little bit of darkness, sadness, or tragedy to the character. There is plenty of that in the various other aspects of the Lifepath system, but if you have had a happy life up to this point, into every Lifepath a little rain must fall. The Lies We Tell Ourselves, in many cases, are like the Flaws from backgrounds, introducing something that drives a character, which is either unrealistic or drives them to selfish ends. Skeletons in the Closet give your character a secret, including the possibility that one of your previous Lifepath entries is the nice version of what really happened, because you don’t want to go into the real details.

I really like this Lifepath system. It doesn’t get quite as wild and potentially generous as the Heroic Chronicle, and adding mechanical weight to the various steps makes it feel more satisfying than This is Your Life. I could see having a whole session of players generating their characters, adding details, and connecting the characters, before the group even gets to deciding what kind of campaign they wanted to play. But that cuts both ways. I know some people want a backstory, but not as much as this chapter produces. Thankfully, each section of A Life Well Lived is modular, with most elements being able to be engaged without using the full book.

A druid in yellow and blue robes, holding a staff, sits under a tree with red leaves. He is surrounded by bears, rabbits, and a fox.Campcraft and Downtime

While these are two separate chapters, they are very similar in the mechanics that they introduce. I had assumed Campcraft was going to be very focused on short trips, the kind you wouldn’t break out Uncharted Journeys to model. While that’s partially true, the real difference between Campcraft and Downtime is that Campcraft activities can be completed during a single day, often while PCs are doing something else, while Downtime activities assume around a week of free time to complete.

Many of these activities rely on a new resolution mechanic for modeling long-term tasks. “Long-term” meaning that these are activities that are, most often, not resolved with a single ability check. These tasks usually allow the character to make three different checks before the end of the time period (the end of the day, or the end of the week). There is a DC assigned to various tasks, but there is also a goal, a number that must be met to complete the task.

How does this work? Well, if you exceed the DC of the task, each point by which you exceed the task is added to the number that you are measuring against the goal. You can lose progress on your Extended Tests if you roll lower than the DC. Depending on the specific activity, what happens if you fail varies. Sometimes it means you just don’t complete the task. Sometimes it means the next time you attempt the same Extended Test, you do so with advantage on the rolls.

Quick Tasks

Campcraft can make gear that can provide very specific benefits in certain circumstances, create a limited subset of potions, or gather additional rations. Most of these have well defined mechanical benefits, but there are a lot of things to track if you start to prepare temporarily boosted weapons, make some special boots, and have a few extra potions floating around. All of this may sound like what you do sitting around the fire, but there are some items under Campcraft that are a way to adjudicate something your characters may want to do while they are also engaged with other things. For example, PCs can use Campcraft tasks to find a good place to buy gear at a discounted price, perform for a crowd, or lay a dead companion to rest.

Keeping Busy

Downtime activities are like these Campcraft activities, but writ large. If you combine the downtime activities in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and subtract the downtime activities that weren’t new, but were updated versions of the previous versions, you have about 18 Downtime activities. There are about 57 Downtime activities detailed in this section.

Downtime in D&D 5e is usually broken up into workweeks, meaning that for each 5 days that a character can dedicate to a task, they can attempt to resolve the downtime to see if the character gains the benefits of that downtime. Some activities take longer to resolve, so once you determine how many days the downtime takes, you subtract the days you put toward that goal and track your progress based on days.

Downtime in A Life Well Lived is broadly “about a week,” but it can stand in for an abstract period from a week to a month or so. It’s a relatively short break between adventures. Each character gets to attempt three downtime activities when they have downtime. Many of these activities provide a specific benefit for the character and utilize the Extended Test mechanics. Between the fact that characters have three downtime activities they can attempt per downtime, and the fact that most activities are resolved during a single downtime, it seems like characters are advancing on a lot more vectors than a character using the DMG or Xanathar’s. Some of that is true.

Getting Our Hands Dirty

For example, when it comes to learning tools or languages, characters often learn how to use something temporarily, and lose the progress they made if they don’t lock in their training by dedicating their next downtime to the same activity. I like this, because it means someone could learn a language very fast, from a narrative standpoint. If you learn a few words to get by, and don’t revisit that language anytime soon, you forget what you learned, which feels right. In other words, if you look at this abstractly, and don’t get too hung up on what the literal amount of time the downtime represents, the rhythm of learning a language or an instrument feels more natural than “I need to spend 5X days to learn this, and I managed to spend 1X days, so I only need 4X more downtime days to finish learning.”

The other thing that mitigates the number of downtime activities that the PCs get is that some downtime activities aren’t about the PCs gaining a benefit, they are a means of tracking what the PC values and what they want to add to their story. There are downtime activities like Appease a Patron, Find Companionship, or Rock Bottom. You may need to make nice with your boss, want to have someone to welcome you home after adventuring, or represent your downturn after running into a rough patch.

Why include downtime activities that are essentially just narratively saying you are doing a thing, and removing a “resource” by not performing a downtime activity that gives a direct benefit? This is going to be anecdotal, but I like representing downtime between adventures in my current ongoing D&D campaign. There are times that my players just can’t come up with something they want to do. Either their best options utilize stats that the PCs doesn’t have as their highest, or they just don’t have a good idea of what they want to start tracking. I’m almost certain that if I present my players with some of these narrative downtime activities, I’m going to know what they were doing between adventures, even if it wasn’t learning a language or a tool.

While some of these options can get heavy, especially when you are juggling three per player character, I also think it’s worth mentioning that tasks like starting a business are so much more logical and manageable than the rules presented in the DMG. I like a lot of these options, but it’s very much drinking from the firehose. The most manageable way I can think of to handle the sheer number of options in these chapters is to either have players that are willing to engage with the rules and internalize them, or for the DM to ask in broad terms what the PCs want to do, and then find a downtime that matches that description.

One important thing to note is that for all of the downtime activities introduced in this book, there are no downtime activities for creating magic items. Cubicle 7 has just recently finished a Kickstarter for two new books on crafting, focused on consumable items and permanent magic items. I don’t blame them for not trying to fit that into this book, as that’s a fertile space to rework and examine how the 5e SRD can be used.

A Word on NPCs

Some of the existing D&D downtime directs you to give the PCs contacts based on how the downtime resolves. But what do contacts do? Contacts are defined with a little more detail in this book. There are 18 types of contacts defined in the book. Each of these entries has the following sections:

  • Suggested Stat Block
  • As an Ally
  • As a Rival

As an Ally determines how the contact is helpful if the PC is on good terms with them. This may be granting them advantage on certain tasks if the ally is present, or it may be that they can automatically provide certain requirements needed for campcraft of downtime activities. As a Rival determines what the character can do to make the PC’s life a mess.

Two people are forehead to forehead, surrounded by purple shadows, with a light showing between their held hands.A Place to Call Home

The next section of the book presents rules for the characters’ home base. This section is abstract where I want it to be abstract, and specifically defined where I want as well. What I mean by that is, it’s not too worried about the exact dimensions of the base. Base size tells you how many rooms the base can have, how much it costs to buy, and how much you pay each downtime for upkeep.

That means if your PCs want to have a large building as their home base, it’s going to cost them 5,000 gp to start, and it will cost them 120 gp to maintain each downtime period. They will be able to add 12 rooms to that building. Each room you build provides a different resource or benefit. If you fail to pay your upkeep, you don’t get access to your rooms’ benefits.

For example, if you have an armory, each downtime, you can count on it being stocked with standard weapons and having a certain amount of ammunition for various types of ranged weapons. If you broke a spear that you picked up from the armory last time, or you want to restock your quiver, every downtime you can count on new supplies as part of your upkeep. Some rooms may let you start with an extra hit die, or resist certain saving throws, as long as you spent some time in those rooms between adventures.

While all of the sections of this book are modular, this is another example of how the different sections of the book can interact, if you want. Once you have a home base, you start rolling for local events that can affect your property, and some of those events require you to spend downtime to deal with emergent problems.


Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything introduced the concept of patrons to D&D 5e. I mean, I’m sure people know that they can have their PCs work for someone else, but Tasha’s gives some examples of patrons that might want adventurers as agents, and some motivations based on who that patron is.

The patrons section of A Life Well Lived expands this concept. There are twelve types of patrons listed, twelve motivations, twelve boons, and twelve liabilities. These can all be mixed and matched to create a unique patron, and once you assemble all of that, there are ten different example demeanors so you know how your PCs will interact with their boss.

In addition to the details that you can add to a patron to make them unique, this section also tackles salaries for those PCs that aren’t just donating their time. There are also Patron Events, to add in some events where the patron takes center stage, instead of providing the backdrop and the inertia for the PCs’ adventures.

Can You Retire

Ah, retirement, that thing that’s already a vanishingly rare concept for my Gen X rear end, and is even rarer for those generations following in our wake. But this is a fantasy game, and we get to pretend that eventually you can stop working.

I’ve rarely seen anything that addresses the end of a character’s career in a lifepath system. Part of this is probably because a lot of adventurers are lucky to reach their advancing age. There are several tables to help inspire the end of your story:

  • What Made You Retire
  • Showing Support (how do you still help your adventuring friends)
  • Quiet Years (what happened in the last year when you aren’t adventuring)
  • What Brought You Back (reasons you might come out of retirement)
  • How Have You Changed (ability score modifications and new abilities to reflect your time away)
  • Old Friends (how your relationships with your friends may have changed)
  • New Faces (how you feel about the new members of your old adventuring party)

While most of us that feel the specter of not being able to retire can attest, we don’t stay as strong or as dexterous as time wears on. I can, in no way, play Castlevania the way I did in high school. But it can be tricky to say, “anyone past this age has these specific ability score modifications.” A Life Well Lived addresses this by making any modifications voluntary, and also adding in some additional abilities for PCs to pick up, as well as having different arrays for how a character’s stats might change that aren’t all the same.

Reading through the tables in this section, I felt the inspiration to start a campaign at tier 3, with a party of adventurers that have all been retired for 10 years, coming back together for “one last job,” that of course stretches out long enough to get a campaign out of it, and using several of these tables to reverse engineer the history of the adventuring company.

Happily Ever After
 Like Uncharted Journeys, A Life Well Lived stakes out a position in 5e SRD fantasy that hasn’t been definitively claimed by anyone else working in the space. 

A Life Well Lived isn’t trying to reinvent D&D 5e, but like Uncharted Journeys, it’s playing in the spaces that D&D is willing to leave in the shadows. It does a great job of fleshing out those aspects of the game. There are other products that attempt similar goals, and while enjoyable, they often err on the side of being too light and narrative, or playing with mechanics that don’t mirror the rest of the 5e experience well. A Life Well Lived knows the 5e fantasy feel it wants to create, and it projects that knowledge in a direction not often broached.

Endings Are Hard

A Life Well Lived covers a lot of territory, and in keeping the rules well integrated into the 5e SRD experience, it occasionally pushes up against the limitations of the game engine. Too many doubled proficiency bonuses start to break the expected difficulty range of bounded accuracy. PCs often have a lot of ways to gain advantage on their actions, making some benefits lose their luster. In some ways, A Life Well Lived is hindered by doing what it does too well. A group that embraces this system is probably going to have a lot of fun and tell some well detailed stories, but some groups may look at all of the options and not know where to start.

Recommended–If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

Like Uncharted Journeys, A Life Well Lived stakes out a position in 5e SRD fantasy that hasn’t been definitively claimed by anyone else working in the space. If you love details, or enjoy seeing clever implementation of rules, this will be an exciting acquisition. On the other hand, if your game rarely strays from active adventuring, or your players aren’t as likely to engage in details beyond the heroic, this isn’t going to deliver as much for your game.