The 5-Minute Work Day: Solutions

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 8, 2010

What can you do when the 5-minute work day is killing your campaign? The PCs are a bunch of narcoleptics who need to take a nap as soon as they finish a fight. They can’t believe that you really expect them to keep adventuring after they’ve completed one whole encounter? They’ve already used some (or all) of their daily powers and expended a few healing surges. In their eyes you’re a terrible DM to place these unrealistic expectations on them.

Don’t worry; we’re going to help you. Yesterday we addressed the fact that you should Blame the Players for the 5-Minute Work Day. But if they’re not having any of that and still insist that it’s your problem then we have some ideas to help smooth things out.

If the players insist on taking an extended rest as soon as they’re even just a little bit below full power then here’s what you do to convince them to keep moving forward with the game – you bribe them. Give them something they want in order for you to get what you want, namely a game that isn’t just the stuff that happens between the slumber parties.

Since this topic reared its ugly head again on the blogsphere last week there have been plenty of great suggestions for how to keep the players motivated to keep going. Check out theses articles, as well as the comments below each one, for a lot of great suggestions.

Building on the ideas these blogs covered we’re going to provide a few bribes that you can offer the players to keep going and make the work day longer than just 5 minutes.


Modify Milestones

One bribe that keeps coming up is to reward players with actions points after every encounter. This is basically a suggestion to make each encounter count as a milestone and I think this is a fantastic idea. My only caveat is that if you going to go this route, which I encourage, PCs only earn milestones (and all the benefits that accompany that accomplishment) for completing combat encounters. Skill challenges no longer factor into milestones.

Introducing Milestone Rewards

When you achieve a milestone (the newly modified milestone discussed above) you choose one of two different milestone rewards. The reward only lasts until the end of the next encounter, at which time you’ll get another one. You can only ever have one milestone reward at a time.

  • The milestone reroll– This one is pretty self explanatory. Once during the next combat encounter you can reroll any d20 roll except a daily attack power. Alternatively it can also be used to reroll all damage dice for a single attack. You must take the new total.
  • The milestone bonus – the bonus equals half your level. Once during the next combat encounter you can add the milestone bonus to any d20 roll except a daily attack power. You must declare that you are using the bonus before you roll the d20.

Daily Power Regeneration

After hitting two milestones roll a d20 at the beginning of every subsequent combat encounter. If you roll 10 or higher you regain the use of a daily power you’ve already expended. If you’re completely out of daily powers you get +1 to the roll. For every encounter that you fail this check you get a cumulative +1 to your roll at the beginning of the next encounter.

The Ultimate Solution

Some DMs, me included, believe that rewarding players in this way just encourages the problems that already exist. Players will keep blowing their powers too quickly and have no concept of long-term consequences. For anyone who subscribes to this school of thought I have the ultimate solution: say no. Don’t let players take an extended rest until you deem it appropriate.

I’m a big believer that the PCs should only rest when it makes sense for the story. If they’re racing to get to the village and warn them about the Gnolls who will be attacking at nightfall then they can’t afford to stop and rest for 6 hours. They need to keep going despite their current situation. This breaks the say yes rule that dominates 4e D&D, but I think this is one problem that is easily solved by breaking the rule and saying no.

No matter what solution you choose to implore, don’t forget this important rule about resting. PCs don’t get benefits of an extended rest unless 12 hours have passed since they woke up from their last extended rest. So the next time the PCs decide it’s nap time, figure out how long they’ve been awake today. If it’s less than 12 hours then their work day isn’t over yet. Thanks to Kenneth McNay for bringing this rule to my attention.

What other solutions have you used to counter the 5-minute work day at your gaming table? What’s the worst thing you’ve seen happen to a PC in need of a rest who wasn’t able to get one? If the PCs survived, did he ever find himself in that kind of predicament again?

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1 Liam Gallagher December 8, 2010 at 10:18 am

One solution is to remind the players that the rest of the world doesn’t rest when they do. I DMed an LFR game where the party had to save an NPC who was being sacrificed as the party deliberating taking a rest, and then proceeded to take two 5 short rests. Suffice to say that the NPC was well carved up by the time the party arrived and the bad guys successful in their ritual. Game over.

2 froth December 8, 2010 at 10:39 am

i think its too sweet on the players to let them recharge their dailys. i do however play by mearls suggested updated parcel system rules, meaning they can only use one item slot daily per day but as many magic item dailies as they want with no restrictions. so they dont have to hit a milestone in order to use another magic item daily. overall this serves to make them a little more powerful so the fights dont get boring and repetitive. i still only give one ap per two encounters. to be really honest, in games i play in and dm we dont really have the problem of them or us wanting to rest after ever fight. like i said in your other blog post, it really comes down to when they are out of surges and not so much when they have used other resources. and i have no prob running an encounter if someone only has one surge left. they will need a leader to trigger it to get a bonus and to be careful.

3 callin December 8, 2010 at 10:50 am

In my personal games (running 2 4E games with different players) I have not had a problem. I tend to keep the players in a constant state of “hurry up or you will lose out”.
In one campaign the heroes are taking a “shortcut” to try and save a person being taken to the headquarters of their enemy. There is also an enemy army slowly taking over the region. Any delay is seen as one more day they fall further behind both of these situations. Before this they were chasing an enemy and didn’t want him to get away.
The second group is in a sandbox, exploring. They get extra rewards (xp and gold) for each “hex” (25 square miles) they explore. However, there are a couple of NPC adventuring groups doing the same thing, so they hurry along so they don’t miss out on opportunities.
So, I guess, instead of giving out-of-game benefits (or along with doing so), you can also give in-game incentives to not nap. Instill and maintain a sense of urgency and I have found the situation resolves itself.
Also, you need to keep in mind that you can only take 1 extended per 24 hours, so each extended is really a full day wasted. So, if the party takes an extended rest 10 minutes after their last one, they are in fact resting/sleeping for 6 hours and then sitting around for another 18 “as they fully recover”. I know my players don’t like wasting a whole day.

4 Natha December 8, 2010 at 11:22 am

“I’m a big believer that the PCs should only rest when it makes sense for the story. ”

Since, as a DM, I don’t do extensive dungeon crawls and less encounters per level than what is expected by the rules, I’ve decided that the extended rests (that I call “real rests” now) can only be taken when I decide it.
Therefore, a night of sleep, even if 12 hours have passed, is not automatically an extended rest.
If the players are exploring a dangerous place, even if they found a “safe” room inside it, is not “relaxing” enough to permit a full regain of all powers and HPs. The same applies if they are in a hurry, or at least “stressed”, by a travel, pursuit, potential danger, investigation …
I create (or modify published) adventures in order to generate these situations as logically as possible.
My players accept this situation because they know me enough to trust that I’m not here to kill their characters and to satisfy sadistic instincts but to offer challenges and fun.

Ruling, not rules 😉

5 Kenneth McNay December 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm

It is possible that some DMs will ignore the 12 hour rule. Even I do sometimes.

However, I’m also starting to require more than 6 hours of recovery time. At level 1 perhaps a good night of rest was enough, but one of my tables has now entered paragon tier. I’ve been narrating their rests as weeks and months of downtime in stead of just a good night’s rest. They are seeing huge changes in the setting occur and are often included in the stories of new notable merchants and dignitaries.

I’m enjoying is the D&D encounters. The story is written with the extended rests only available at certain chapter breaks. (he he, the group wanted to hole up in the recent tomb for an extended rest before returning with treasure to Benwick; guess what happens when you hang out in the tomb of restless dead?)

In my home game, I will often listen to the players asking for an extended rest and see where that fits into the story best. That means they can sometimes get their rests sooner rather than later. Most of the time it ends with, “okay, we’ll see. Next week we’ll get that covered.”

6 DarkTouch December 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm

A lot of people seem to have a problem with 4e’s disconnecting the system from the reality and I think that this is a symptom of that. That’s not to say that this wasn’t a problem in earlier editions. People complained about it then for 3.5 as well. I do however think the problem was less pronounced in earlier editions when the rewards for sleeping the night weren’t so great. I mean a 5th level fighter who rests the night was getting back 5HP. That same 5th level fighter in 4e is getting back all of his hit points as well as his daily attacks.

My personal preference would be to create consequences for an extended rest outside of certain parameters. I mean can you take an extended rest in a dungeon without getting attacked?

7 Alton December 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I decided to wait and see what the second article was about before I commented.

I think the first step is to identify the problem. I think that both the DM and the Players have a responsibility to make sure the 5 minute work day does not occur.

The only responsibility for a DM is to balance the encounters. Create a couple of hard and a couple of easy and a couple of just right encounters. You would be surprised what your party of seasoned adventurers can accomplish. Our group currently completed 7 encounters (1 skill challenge, and 6 combat encounters) before having to rest. Unfortunately, we also (even being experienced) encountered DM ‘GODHOOD’ with and encounter that took 2 sessions to complete, 6 levels higher than the party level. Our party Warden managed to absorb 375 worth of damage, using all his dailies, 11 healing surges, and 3 daily magic items, etc… By the end only 2 party members standing. We are currently doing P2 and an encounter like this should not have happened. The DM thought the encounter looked too easy and added monsters to make a 17th level encounter a 22 level encounter.

The players however, have a greater responsibility than the DM. All the above are mentionned in the above articles so I won’t go into those anymore. The one we seemed to miss thought is the experience of the players at the table. I have played D&D for years, and all the players we play with are experienced and we 98% of the time follow the 12 hour rule. D&D Encounters however, changes the dynamic at the playing table. How many of you have gone to encounters and sat at a table with a NEWB player? Unless this person has past experience, they will do stupid things and screw up the resting for the rest of the party. I have new players at my school tables who used their dailies (and they have since learned to conserve it for appropriate time) because they thought it was cool looking and just wanted to try it. I also have the players who will use healing surges like they were going out of style.

If you have a group of players who are not regulars, it can screw things up also. Player dynamics and cooperation sometimes goes down the tube. That is what makes D&D Encounters so difficult (Just read Ameron’s recaps of Encoutners every week).

I think that time and experience moves the players and the DM away from the problem of ‘narcolepsy’ and allows them to adjust to each other and the situation to allow them to adventure longer and with less need for rest.

The solution presented are pretty much all sensible, but once again, it depends who you are playing with, players that know what you are talking about and players that don’t.

8 Ameron December 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm

@Liam Gallagher
This explains why they don’t ask you to DM for LFR anymore. As heartless as this might seem to players, I can’t fault you for having the villain take advantage of the hero’s absence.

I agree that recharging dailies is probably too powerful, but if that’s what it takes to get some groups to keep going past one or two encounters it shouldn’t be ruled out. I doubt I’d ever use this option, but I know a lot of DMs who are already doing something like this.

Like you, I let players use as many daily item powers as they want, as long as they’re from different slots. So a Wizard can’t swap out his 12 wands and use each of their daily powers every day.

I try to introduce a time element into my games, but it doesn’t always work and it doesn’t always make sense. It’s during those exceptions that I find the 5-minute work day becomes a real issue.

Very few players I’ve met (especially when playing at my FLGS in public games) have any issue wasting a full day of in-game time to rest, regardless of the consequences.

I think you’ve found the perfect balance. Just because they can sleep for 6, 12, or 24 hours without interruption or combat doesn’t mean that the PCs will get the full benefit of an extended rest. I see the one solution that solves everything stemming from some variation on this idea.

If more players just trusted that the DM isn’t out to kill their characters I think we’d have more buy-in for the DM telling the PCs when they can rest instead of the PCs always trying to rest whenever they want to.

@Kenneth McNay
I ignore the 12 hour rule simply because I didn’t know about it. I’ll let PCs rest when they want if it makes sense for the story, they have a safe place to sleep, and they genuinely need it. Otherwise I try to discourage it, especially if their abusing the rule.

D&D 4e was designed to stop the existing 5-minute work day problems from previous editions. By allowing PCs to power up with a 5 minute rest they solved the old problems, but unfortunately created a whole new set of problems. I doubt we’ll ever get a solution that will work for everyone all the time. We just need to ensure that DMs interject some common sense when players try to abuse the resting rules.

Great comment. I absolutely agree that experienced players are a lot less likely to intentionally abuse the 5-minute work day. It’s tough for new players to get their head around the idea not blowing everything right away because you might need it later. After all, the daily powers are pretty cool so you want to use them and be awesome. They just have to understand the consequences of doing so early in the day.

9 CRS December 8, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I have another solution: Instead of giving the players bonuses for staying awake, make sleeping dangerous.

By increasing the party’s chances of being attacked overnight, increasing the difficulty of the encounters when they are attacked, or some combination of the two, you force the players to reconsider the merits of using up all their powers and then sleeping. Of course it is the DM’s responsibility to ensure that safe resting places do exist. If the players trust and fear the DM in just the right proportions, they will hold out.

It makes me think about tracking time in general, over both a short and long time frame. I must admit my group does not do much of it at all, but I always feel funny about it.

Do you use time persistently in your games? I am going to try it at my table.

I think there are advantages to keeping an accurate game clock. It both anchors and adds a great deal of depth to the game world. Here are some springboard ideas from the top of my head:

If the players are in an encounter just before sunset, a ranged attack facing west may have a penalty imposed.

Certain roads are harder, or impossible, to travel in certain times of year – encouraging the players to stay a while in the towns that we spend so much time crafting.

Do owlbears hibernate in the winter?

A watch is a pretty expensive object; what methods will the players use to keep time?

A watch with magical powers sounds awesome. What kind of magic would someone put in a watch?

10 Zrog September 18, 2012 at 4:57 pm

I personally try to make frequent, extended rests boring, or extremely hazardous.

Boring Approach: The players can’t extended rest (sleep) more than once in 12 hours, SO… ask the players what they are doing with the rest of their time until they can rest again. Once you figure they would have done whatever they told you for long enough to get bored/tired of it, tell them that their character is getting bored, and ask “what next”. By dragging out these extended rests in real time, you do two things. First, you cut down on the amount of “fun gaming” that actually takes place (negative incentive for players), and two, you actually simulate the boredom the CHARACTER would face, and if the character is being RP’ed at all correctly, you’ll notice a tendency for SOME characters to start wanting to push on. Another pleasant side effect is that some inter-character RP can also take place (practical jokes, pranks, disagreements).

The Hazardous Approach: Don’t let the PC’s rests actually give them that many net resources back. Instead, “waste” their time and resources with lots of random encounters that give no loot. Play these out. You can also fudge the XP if you need to, so they don’t get full benefits for the encounter (since it’s not part of the main plot). I often do this just by having the bad guys flee so that they aren’t “defeated”, and they can just come back later and be annoying. Even if the PCs use something to keep their campsite “safe” (even an extradimensional space), they can be ambushed while coming out, or the item can malfunction occasionally so that more time passes in the game world than in their safe-space. Eventually, the players themselves decide that they’ve had quite enough of this place, and would really like to move on and do something else… and their decision to take rests (or not) will reflect that.

You can also use food, and encumbrance, to ensure that the characters CAN’T actually rest that often unless they carry a ton of supplies to feed themselves for the whole time. Food costs money, too – a nice way to burn PC cash. Having to use rituals to feed yourself also burns gold and reagents.

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