Greatest Hits 2010: The 5-Minute Rest as a Skill Challenge

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 31, 2010

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2010. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Between my home games, LFR and D&D Encounters I’ve easily DMed over 100 hours of D&D during the past year. Of all the ideas I had as the DM during 2010, this was one of the ideas that stands out in my mind as a solid bull’s-eye.

Turning a 5-minute rest into a skill challenge seemed like such a simple concept. I wasn’t sure how well it would be executed in a real game scenario, but it turned out better than I’d hoped. It was one of those times when I didn’t feel bound or restricted by the rules. I used the existing materials as a guideline and adapted them to the situation at my gaming table. The result was an extremely memorable encounter.

Everything clicked. The players realized the importance and necessity of taking the rest at that point in the adventure and they were willing to role-play the scenario. Even though they’d typically just say they were taking the rest, this time they wanted to play it out. They understood the objective (to rest without being attacked) and knew the limitations they faced as “resting” character.

As one of the players commented in the original article, he felt the skill challenge part of the 5-minute rest was worked into the encounter so gracefully that he didn’t even realize a skill challenge was going on. When running a skill challenge, this is the highest compliment I think any DM can get from his players.

On the surface, I encourage you to use this idea in your next game and have the 5-minute rest become a skill challenge in itself. However, the more important lesson I hope you take away from this article is that the rules are there to provide direction. Ultimately it’s you – the DM – that drives the game. Feel free to bend and even break the rules from time-to-time if doing so will make the game better.

From July 6, 2010, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: The 5-Minute Rest as a Skill Challenge

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 Brian January 1, 2011 at 12:13 am

What a great idea! I think I’ll try something like this in my game. Quick question though: what is the “Mark of Making” that the wizard has? Is that a house rule, or something I’ve overlooked in the rule books?

2 Ameron January 1, 2011 at 1:57 am

The Mark of Making is a Dragonmark from the Eberron setting. There are 12 Dragonmarsk and each represent magical superiority in an aspect of industry. The engineers have the Mark of Making, the prospectors have the Mark of Finding, the healers have the Mark of Healing, the transporters have the Mark of Passage and so on.

3 Bigwill January 1, 2011 at 8:09 am

Mark of making is sweet and it was easy to know he was talking about Eberron, for the notice of House Lyrander. But then if you’re not familiar with the setting you would not know.

This idea sounds great I have been thinking of using a Short rest as Skill Challenge to uncover knowledge that they might picked up sometime during the years in school, or travels.

4 Marko January 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Ive been using this in my games for a long time. Ive stopped thinking about extended and short rests as “rests”. I just called them extended and short TIME…that way, the PCs can accomplish other things aside from just resting…

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