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.