The 5-Minute Rest as a Skill Challenge

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on July 6, 2010

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.

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1 Swordgleam July 6, 2010 at 10:59 am

That’s a cool idea, but I’m not sure how moving around heavy stuff to form a barricade is useful. My players sort of assumed (and I agreed) that a short rest meant you stood around in a watchful way and did nothing more strenuous than loot bodies.

It is very good to sometimes remind the PCs that short rests aren’t guaranteed. It’s something I had trouble with in my last campaign since the world was so desolate it was unlikely any monsters would be in five minutes’ hearing distance of any other.

2 Swordgleam July 6, 2010 at 11:00 am

Wow, that’s what I get for trying to comment first thing in the morning. that sentence should read “but I’m not sure how moving around heavy stuff to form a barricade is RESTFUL. ” =P

3 Ameron July 6, 2010 at 11:47 am

Let me begin by saying that I agree with your comment. If the characters exerted themselves too much they wouldn’t really be resting. When I say “worked” in the two sentences below I mean they did what they could without too much physical exertion. They weren’t lifting heavy boxes as much as just pushing stuff around (which shouldn’t require too much force if you’ve got a 20+ Strength). Securing the hatches was no more than sliding a bolt into place and jamming something into the mechanism.

“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.”

We also wanted to keep to the spirit of “resting” while taking our 5-minute rest so the players were careful not to be too active in-character as I mentioned.

“The players didn’t try to do anything that would exert the PCs and blow the benefits of resting.”

In the end I felt this was the best way to give them the rest they desperately needed while keeping the scenario interesting and exciting.

4 Lahrs July 6, 2010 at 12:36 pm

Never thought about it before, but a 5 minute rest for a hero probably can include more movement and work than an average Joe like me, so your thoughts on someone with a 20+ strength sounds fair to me.

I too would have given them the benefits of rest because the role playing was great. I think your idea of making it a skill challenge due to the situation was brilliant, and it sounds like your group had fun balancing rest and preparing for battle.

How did you handle the XP, and how difficult did you set the DC?

5 mbeacom July 6, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Great idea. I love when people use the 4E rules as a guide and tailor it to suit the situation within the spirit of the rules, rather than concern themselves with strict adherence to the letter.

I will DEFINITELY be thinking of ways to incorporate this into my dungeon design, as it’s sooo easy (and brainless) to simply build in rest periods.

6 Liam Gallagher July 7, 2010 at 8:55 pm

This idea that you came up with, the idea of turning a skill challenge into a fight for a short rest was one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time. When we were playing I didn’t even realize exactly that this is what you had done. You pulled it off very gracefully.

7 Mike D. April 6, 2011 at 1:03 am

I stumbled across this post because I have decided to turn all of my parties’ extended rests into skill challenges, and am looking for a template. Has anyone ever tried something like that?

I’m thinking something like this. Each PC will take a turn on look out while the others rest. That PC will make a perception check and if there are monsters lurking, it will have to beat their stealth. If so, they know they are spotted and they move on. If the PC fails, then they attack with a surprise round, and the extended rest is thwarted.

This would only apply in hostile territory. One of my pet peeves is the party just hunkering down in the middle of a deadly dungeon to regain all their powers just because they say so.

I might also create a “partial extended rest,” where each success in the challenge grants a benefit to a PC – restores some surges, brings back daily power, whatever. This of course would be in cases where the party did not completely win the challenge, but did win a few checks.

Any thoughts?


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