While we cannot possibly provide a full accounting of exactly how the refs will respond to an given downtime, these are the guiding principles we will apply.
1) Avoid saying “no”.
Responding with “your attempt fails” is not fun for anyone. While it is possible to submit a downtime where a character simply cannot succeed, either because the action is outside the scope of reasonably possibility, and/or the outcome simply wouldn’t be fun for the rest of the players (“My character attempts to destroy the entire estate by setting off a nuclear bomb” would be an example of both things being true at once), will generally attempt to have characters succeed, at least partially, if at all reasonable.
If we can’t say anything but “no” we will endeavour to explain what steps the player can take to get to “yes”, so far as possible. (In the example above, the player might be met with “well, first you have to get the parts for the bomb, then the skill to assemble it, then plant it somewhere”, each of which are tasks that could be done separately, and might have consequences of their own, and provide opportunities for other character to realise what they’re up to, and stop them.)
2) “Yes, but…” is the best response
Broadly, we will look for ways to say “Yes” to downtime responses, but the outcome may not be entirely what the player might predict. Ultimately, the purposes of downtimes is to generate activity that forms part of the uptime session. Accordingly, a response that is roughly “Your character achieves exactly what they were after, with no complications” can often be as “boring” (in the sense of not generating further uptime action) as “Your character can’t do that.”. We, as refs, will look for ways to complicate the character’s lives as often as we reasonably can.
3) Complicated actions take time and effort
Where a character is attempting to do something that requires significant effort, then a response like “you start to do this, but it’s going to take more time – you need to accumulate X number more actions toward this to get the outcome you want” is very acceptable. Continuing the example above “It will take you 20 actions to get all the parts required make a nuclear device” might be a reasonable response.
These multi-stage actions can be competitive, as well – consider an election where one PC is lending their actions to secure one outcome, while another PC prefers a different candidate. It might be the case the outcome will depend on which PC can secure the most downtime actions for their candidate by a specific deadline.
4) Vampires are more effective against mortals
As a general rule, the powers that are carefully balanced and restricted when applied against other players will apply more cinematically when applied against mortals in downtime.
While the various uptime powers listed represent what Vampires can do to each other, or other supernatural entities, it can be assumed that they are significantly more effective against (most) mortals. Any vampire with skill in Dominate or Majesty can be assumed to be able to make your average mortal do what they want, given enough time. Any vampire with Auspex or Obfuscate can probably ferret out any mortal’s secrets, with patience. Any vampire can be assumed to be able to best all but the most dangerous mortals in a physical conflict, and a vampire with combat powers has nothing to fear from any mortal who hasn’t trained specifically to fight vampires.
There will be exceptions, for the most significant mortals on the estate, but that is the general principle.
5) Characters cannot die in downtime.
NPCs and other ref controlled plot elements will never cause character death in downtime. We ask that players similarly refrain from attempting to execute one another in downtime. Of course it is “unrealistic” that when a character wants to kill another, they wait until what it possibly the riskiest time – when their target has allies around them, and there’s a customary prohibition against violence in effect, however we simply ask all players to accept that “entertaining game” is often at odds with “realism”.