Normally when combat is finished the PCs take a short, 5-minute rest. They get to rest up, heal, catch their breath, and regain the use of encounter powers. But what many players forget is that all of the benefits that come from taking a 5-minute rest come at then end of those five minutes. If the party is attacked or decides to venture onwards before the short rest is finished, they are still hurt and resource depleted.
In a recent game the PCs found themselves in a situation where they really needed a short rest, but couldn’t just drop their guard for five minutes. I decided to turn the 5-minute rest into a skill challenge. If they succeeded, then after five minutes they got all the benefits of taking the short rest (and some XP for completing the skill challenge). If they failed then at least some of the PCs would have to engage in combat to guard the others still resting. Here’s how it played out.
The PCs are on a quest for five lost magic items. One of these items was used as part of the binding ritual that keeps an air elemental bound to a House Lyrander airship. As luck would have it that very ship just arrived in the same city as the PCs. The party decided to board the ship and take the item.
Rather than use force and blast their way onto the ship (which is what I’d prepared for) they decided to play to their strengths and use bluff and stealth to gain access to the ship. This turned out to be easier than they thought. They easily secured the lower decks and started to dismantle the elemental binding in order to recover the magic item. This didn’t go unnoticed for long. The crew above deck started pouring down below to engage the party. The PCs held their position, defeating the sailors who rushed down to fight.
The party’s Wizards, an engineer bearing the Mark of Making, told the PCs that in order to remove the item they sought without blowing up the ship (and everyone inside it) he needed between five and ten minutes to work his magic and safely remove the item. So began the short rest.
Although the few remaining crewmen on deck weren’t dumb enough to follow their fallen brethren into combat with the saboteurs, they were smart enough to call for aid. The PCs clearly heard the cries and the footfalls of people running on and off the ship. The PCs may not have five minutes before they had to face reinforcements.
I asked each PCs to describe what they were doing during for each minute of the rest. After each minute they could make one check towards the skill challenge. Some worked to barricade themselves in the bowels of the ship by pushing crates around or securing hatchways. Others worked with the Wizard to suppress the magic and get the item.
One player who was absent the week before didn’t need the benefit of a short rest since he missed the last combat. He decided to act as scout and point-man. He also declared that he’d do what he could to hold off any advancement himself if need be.
The PCs were creative and completed the skill challenge with flying colours. The situation brought about some great role-playing and the players didn’t try to do anything that would exert the PCs and blow the benefits of resting.
Failing the skill challenge did pose significant risk to the party. I wasn’t going to be a complete jerk and rob them of their 5-minute rest, but for each extra minute they needed to complete their rest, more reinforcements would have arrived above deck making their escape all the more difficult.
Just because the mechanics of 4e D&D allow the PCs to recharge after each fight doesn’t mean that it should always be an automatic happenstance. By taking an already time-sensitive situation I managed to turn what is normally just a boring “You take a short rest” statement and create some tension. In a situation that was likely to be a combat-heavy night, we managed to inject some quality role-playing into our game.
So the next time you get a short rest, think about what the PCs are actually doing during those five minutes. Most of the time they’re in no immediate danger and can do as they please, but every once and a while you’ll need to catch your breath while danger looms in the nearby shadows.