The 5-Minute Work Day: Blame the Players

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 7, 2010

Do you want to know why the 5-minute work day is such a big problem in 4e D&D? The players. That’s right, I said it. The players are to blame. DMs are constantly looking for ways to fix this problem and I’m saying that it’s not their responsibility to fix it. Players are to blame and players need to shoulder the burden of fixing this problem.

There’s been a lot of recent discussion on the blogs about how to eliminate the 5-minute work day, referred to by some as the bed problem. In short, the problem is that players want to take extended rests as often as possible and DMs are finding it difficult to come up with good reasons to say no.

Discussion began (this time) at Blog of Holding in Paul’s article The Bed Problem. The thread was picked up by HenchBlog in their article D&D: Solving the Bed Problem. The Red Box Blog was next to get involved when The Red DM posted 3 Rules Based Solutions to the 5 Minute Day. Today Dungeon’s Master is weighing in on this discussion, and our take may ruffle a few feathers.

So far all of the solutions I’ve seen focus on motivating the players to keep going. The DMs are looking for ways to reward players for doing more between extended rests. This is certainly a good start, but therein lies part of the problem. The game is designed and intended for the PCs to take on an average of four encounters between extended rests. Any adventurer that takes an extended rest before he’s used all of his daily powers and expended most or all of his healing surges isn’t pushing himself hard enough. And any PC that meets these criteria (consistently) after just one or two encounters is clearly doing something wrong.

I will admit that there are times when something completely unexpected happens. Players are taxed beyond their normal limits after just one or two encounters and they absolutely need an extended rest. This should be the very rare exception to the rule and not the party’s typical behaviour.

The real problem, as I see it, is squarely on the shoulders of the players. It’s easy to be awesome when you’re at your best. What truly separates the men from the boys is how you face danger when the chips are down. Anyone can defeat a balanced encounter if they choose to use all of their daily powers during the first fight, but what do you do during the next three fights when all you’ve got left are encounter powers?

Players need to push themselves harder. Players need to want to push themselves harder. If all the solutions we are discussing just give the players more toys then players are not really pushing themselves harder by continuing. As DMs we need to instill a sense of pride in the players. Something that too many of the D&D players I’ve gamed with are lacking.

D&D is based on fantasy literature where the heroes face overwhelming odds and still emerge victorious. It’s difficult and there are losses along the way, but in the end the victory is that much sweeter because the task was so difficult. This is what more D&D games need to emulate. The players need to experience this kind of awesome victory frequently. The PCs are the best of the best in your campaign. They already possess powers and abilities far beyond anyone else in the adventure. Now it’s time to put them to the test.

Have you ever played in a campaign where there is no such thing as a 5-minute work day? Players build their PCs differently. The most importance difference is that everyone is much more aware of how many healing surges they have (usually because they keep running out). Suddenly a higher initial Constitution becomes more important because you need the extra hit points and healing surges. Feats like Durability and Toughness become staples.

My experience with this situation is that the players quickly learn the importance of teamwork in D&D. There are fewer instances where one guy hogs the spotlight and acts without thinking. The group realizes that they’re only as strong as their weakest member and do what they can to address party weaknesses. Players understand that actions have consequences and blowing all of their daily powers early will only mean additional hardship in subsequent encounters. Overall communication improves among the group and everyone really pays attention to what’s going on and what the other party members are capable of doing on their turn.

The 5-minute work day is indeed a problem in D&D, but it’s not up to the DM alone to resolve the problem – the players have to shoulder their share of the burden (which is considerable). Players need to push their characters to the limits. They need to know what they can do when the chips are down.

By eliminating the option of a 5-minute work day players become more creative and imaginative. They can’t afford to just stand there and soak up damage during the first encounter of the day because they’ll end up going into the fourth encounter without any healing surges left.

If DMs choose to provide additional incentives to players after subsequent encounters, thereby enticing them to go on, I have no objections. In fact I have a few ideas on that subject which I’ll be sharing in the follow-up article, The 5-Minute Work Day: Solutions. But until then, I again call out the players for creating this problem and demand that they take responsibility for fixing it.

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1 froth December 7, 2010 at 10:17 am

i dont have a prob with this, the only times i will consider an extended rest when i did not already plan for it to happen is if someone is out of surges and even then i try to introduce surgeless healing or healing bonuses to stretch them as far as i can. the max they have done is 6 in a row. on occaision i will run two very hard encounters and allow a rest

2 Liam Gallagher December 7, 2010 at 11:28 am

Agreed! Stop doing this players, your narcoleptic characters are boring.

Though I will say the DM should start, with great prejudice, ganking players who show this type of behaviour. “You want to pitch your tent in the middle of the bad guy’s castle? Lets see if you ever wake up.”

3 Cthulhu December 7, 2010 at 11:43 am

I’d give the party XP penalties or even loss for cowardice.

4 Kenneth McNay December 7, 2010 at 11:51 am

i find it interesting that the blogs referenced (as well as here) the existing rule that a PC cannot gain the benefits of an extended rest within 12 hours of hte previous extended rest was not addressed. I can accept the times when my players ask to head back to town in search of an extended rest, or to find a place to hole up for an extended rest; however, that means they have to make the trip to somewhere appropriately safe (in which they may encounter more combat), wait an appropriate amount of time (in which they may find themselves ambushed), and remain resting for an approporiate amount of time to fully recover (in which time they may find themselves ambushed again, or that the quest has altered dramatically as the opposing forces have adapted).

I can’t say that those considerations are a bad way of responding to the lazy PC. I see this in the perspective of the negative consequences of shirking the hardships of adventuring too early in the day, rather than finding the amazing bonuses of heavy adventuring all day long.

5 Gaptooth December 7, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I disagree that this is a personal failing of the players. This is another aspect where the game itself encourages a behavior that shows little concern for the fiction, and rational players will choose the path of greatest effectiveness. I agree with most of Kenneth’s suggestions above: in order to incentivize urgency, the GM needs to create natural consequences in the fiction. If you’ve taken an extended rest, the bad guys had more time to reinforce their position, and/or set up booby traps and ambushes, and/or get away with the McGuffin, etc. Whenever the players aren’t giving up something strategically in order to rest, it seems germane to treat it as a vanity nap instead of an extended rest.

6 Joseph December 7, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I DM and I honestly think DMs are a bit to soft on players , if you choose to take an extended rest in the middle of a dungeon, you are taking a big risk in my game, You may get ambushed or some large spider might take a chance at a free meal and bahamut help you if the watchmen fails their perception check.

If you try to leave and rest to return later, the places you already cleared may be occupied again, this time with more or more powerful forces then before. An extended rest during a dungeon raid should be a strategical decision executed very carefully. If its not then you pay the piper.

7 Gaptooth December 7, 2010 at 1:15 pm

> If you choose to take an extended rest in the middle of a dungeon, you are taking a big risk…

+1 for wandering monsters. Travel and camping in dangerous areas should be perilous. The frequency varies from area to area, depending on how desolate the place is: In monster habitats, dungeons and lairs, I usually check for a wandering monster every 10 minutes of game time. In the wild, I usually check once for every four hours. A roll of 1 on d6 means the delvers encounter something, and I roll on a table to see how nasty.

8 Toldain December 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

My group is goal focused. You know, find the boss, defeat him and get the widget that we need to free the princess.

So it’s pretty easy to get them to stop taking rests if those rests appear to put them farther from their goal rather than closer.

I wouldn’t murder players in their sleep. But I would, and have, made them do a skill challenge, and not get all of their surges back if they fail, along with throwing wandering monsters at them, making them slow down even more. The point is to make the consequences seem natural and germane to the situation.

So, after doing that once, they decided to 1) bypass one area, through a combination of luck and good strategy and 2) press on to defeat the boss without another rest. Which made the combat with the boss very tough, but very satisfying.

That said, we don’t always get through four encounters per session. They are somewhat cautious and slow to play. And I hate leaving the characters’ state “unclean” between sessions. So I’ve been known to let them take a long rest between sessions even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, story-wise.

9 Ameron December 7, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Wow, six encounters in a row. Good on those players.

@Liam Gallagher
Oh man, did I laugh when I read this comment. Now whenever I’m in a group that wants to take an extended rest after only one or two encounters I’m going to start calling them the narcoleptics. Priceless.

In previous editions of D&D I’d take a similar approach, but 4e is all about saying yes and not using negatives or penalties. Maybe I should reward PCs who want to go on but get voted down by the narcoleptics in the party.

@Kenneth McNay
You know how they say you learn something every day? Well, this is what I learned thanks to your comment.

Extended Rest
Once per Day: After you finish an extended rest, you have to wait 12 hours before you can begin another one. PHB pg#263

This certainly makes things more interesting. Is it that DMs don’t know about this rule or choose not to follow it? Either way it makes some of the other comments about dangers while waiting for the rest to end a lot more pertinent. Thank you.

@Gaptooth and Joseph
I agree that PCs who insist on taking an extended rest should have to face tougher consequences down the road. So it’s fight on even though you’re down some resources or rest and get powered up only to face a much tougher battle. It seems like the end result will be the same either way. And if that’s the case, I’d sooner face the original conflict down a few pegs. As I said in the article, a come from behind victory is pretty sweet.

I try to instill a sense of urgency in my campaigns to encourage the go, go, go mentality. Sometimes it’s just not practical to rush the players and it’s in these circumstances that I find they’re more likely to say “let’s just take and extended rest” even though they’ve only completed one encounter. As the DM I try to build the extended rests into the story. If you haven’t completed task X or reached location Z then you can’t find a safe place to rest regardless of your current circumstances.

10 Grokkit December 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm

I also have run into this situation in my games. Gaptooth’s comment is the simplest way to deal with the issue. If you rest in certain areas, your rest is interrupted by a surprise ambush or some such situation; and you potentially lose the benefit of the rest.

Another way I dealt with the issue is to penalize the players for taking an extended rest. Specifically, the players were in the Shadowfell and to simulate the draining effects of the realm they received a cumulative -1 Healing Surge for each day they took a rest. So on the first extended rest they were -1 Healing Surge from their maximum; -2 Surges on the second rest, etc..

This created a very visceral reaction with the players who now had to weigh the benefits of resting to regain powers vs. the danger of running out of healing surges. When the players reached 0 healing surges, they took the equivelant in Hit Point damage after the rest. It worked quite well and wil definitely use it again in other perilous environs.

11 Sunyaku December 7, 2010 at 7:49 pm

As a player, this caused a big argument in a session not too long ago. The party had just killed what they thought was the boss of a dungeon, only to learn that the bad bosses’ armies were already in the process of invading the city we were trying to help out.

Half the party wanted to sleep in the cave fortress, half wanted to immediately portal back to town with only a short rest. The conversation went something like this:

Sleep: “Let’s take an extended rest here, I don’t have any daily’s left”

Continue on: “Seriously? Sleep HERE? We’re in the middle of a dungeon that enemy forces are constantly moving in and out of!?!?”

Sleep: “It’s OK, we can cast a shelter ritual that will keep us safe.”

Continue on: “But what about the enemies that might be here when we come out of the shelter?? We should go back to town, they’re under siege and they need our help. There might not be anything left if we delay for 6-8 hours.”

Sleep: “That’s fine, if everyone dies we can pick up their stuff without having to fight anything.”

Continue on: “You don’t think the INVADERS would thoroughly loot the place? If we go straight there we can kill the enemies, and collect a reward from the townsfolk. Besides, if the townsfolk die, we won’t get a reward for all the other crap we just killed.”

Sleep: “We could take an extended rest, and then kill whatever is left of the invaders AND the townsfolk, and take everything for ourselves.”

Continue on: “Seriously? C’mon now, that’s not realistic. The DM wouldn’t allow us to pillage the city like that. We’ll probably arrive to a town of ash with no one there any more.

Sleep: “(Begrudgingly) I suppose we should go straight back to town…”

Ultimately, only the prospect of lost loot was able to sway the argument. (>.>)

12 froth December 8, 2010 at 7:15 am

yes the time they did 6 was in thunderspire. the encounters were not high level but there were many of them. but they did in fact do 6

13 R Redlund January 13, 2011 at 9:43 pm

When I DM, I always try to make a string of encounters where the players are unable to take an extended rest.

A collapsing tower, where they have to make it out and there are encounters along the way. An epic battle where there are legions of another army attacking (waves of monsters/villains). Etc.

Then there is no time for an extended rest, unless they wish to fail the mission or die in the collapsing rubble of the tower.

14 Daniel September 29, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Got to disagree with you there. The objective of the players is to win. To win, you’ve got to stay alive. The 5-minute workday is an optimum strategy. Just like in real life, they’re going to take it if they can get it.

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