Generally the definition of what constitutes an encounter is not something that is up for debate. During an encounter the PCs engage a bunch of monsters, perform a skill challenge, or some combination of the two. When the encounter is over the PCs have the opportunity to take a short, 5-minute rest after which they regain encounter powers, heal wounds by expending healing surges and move one step closer to achieving a milestone.
In a recent game we ran into a situation where this standard definition of encounter was questioned. As the DM I choose to make a few calls on the fly to keep the action moving. Afterwards the group spent a lot of time discussing whether or not we handled the situation correctly. The intent was not to critique the DM or the calls made at the time; rather we wanted to lay some groundwork just in case we ever found ourselves in a similar situation again.
After describing the situation to a few other DMs, I learned that our situation was not as unique as we thought and a lot of other groups had experienced similar circumstances themselves. As it turned out, no one was sure what the correct course of action was. Knowing that this situation might occur again at our table and that it may happen at your table (if it hasn’t already) I’m putting this conundrum to you, our readers. I’ll explain what happened and how we handled the situation. I’m looking for you input and feedback on our rulings.
The PCs were facing a series of encounters in which they had to fight and destroy four greater elemental forces. Battling each elemental was in itself a balanced encounter for the party. During the first battle the party used daily powers, encounter powers and other resources that provided a huge edge (mostly in the form of various resistances). With some lucky rolls and solid tactics they defeated the first elemental creature easily, taking minimal damage and expending almost no healing magic.
Rather than rest, they choose to move on and battle the next elemental creature immediately. They were willing to forgo the benefits of a short rest since they didn’t need healing and used so few encounter powers. Many of the characters had beneficial powers that lasted until the end of the encounter. The players felt that if they moved on right away, without resting, the powers should continue to last into the next fight. If they didn’t rest, they believed that the encounter wasn’t over.
The question I faced as the DM was whether or not to allow the powers in effect to carry forward into the next fight. If their powers that were currently activated didn’t specifically state that it expired after a certain time limit they believed it should remain active until they took a short rest. The debate got even more complicated when some powers stated they lasted until the end of the encounter while others required a minor action to sustain.
My feeling as the DM was that if the PCs wanted to continue on without resting that was totally up to them. I agreed that by forgoing the short rest and foregoing the benefits that entailed the least I could do was let them keep their effects in place (as long as they continued to maintain them as the powers required).
So the next combat began only a few rounds later. The party again defeated the elemental creature with far less difficulty than I expected (especially since it was a balanced encounter). The daily powers still in effect made a huge difference and continued providing the PCs with a big edge. After two consecutive fights without a rest they were still in pretty good shape. So good in fact that they wanted to push on and fight the next creature without taking a rest.
Since I’d already allowed them to do this once and receive the benefits of the ongoing effects I didn’t have any reason to disallow it now. So into the third fight they went. During this battle one of the players asked if they’d achieved a milestone and therefore another action point. Good question.
They had indeed defeated two combat encounters in a row, so normally I’d say yes. But because they didn’t rest and because they were still taking advantage of powers and abilities that clearly said they should only last until the end of the encounter, I wasn’t sure if I could rightfully say they’d hit a milestone.
Considering how much fun we were all having and how cool it was that the party had now gone into their third fight without any rest I decided that they had indeed hit the milestone and earned the action point. Afterwards I found a section in the DMG about Milestones (pg #123) that states “If the characters complete multiple encounters without resting, they reach milestones.” So it turns out this was indeed the correct ruling.
By the end of the third battle the party finally decided that the need for rest (and healing) outweighed any benefits of proceeding immediately. They let everything active dissipate and took at short rest. They regained their encounter powers and healed their wounds.
When they finally went up against the last elemental creature it was a lot more difficult than each of the previous three fights. The absence of their ongoing beneficial effects (most of which provided resistances) they found this battle was tough. They still emerged victorious but they expended a lot of resources in the process.
The discussion that followed the game focused mainly on whether or not they should have been allowed to carryover effects from one fight to the next. In this case the decision to use a couple of key daily powers early made all the difference. By having them carryover it was like getting to use these daily powers three times in one day. The players felt that this made their PCs considerably more powerful then characters of their level normally are (and they were right).
The more I thought about it as the DM the more I think I made the right call in letting them carry forward their active effects. The whole session was just a fortunate series of circumstances for the PC. It was the combination of all of these factors that made them seem so powerful: a) the PCs actually had powers that would end up being that beneficial, b) they chose to use them in the fight against the first opponent, c) they took so little damage during the first and second fights, and d) they had the flash of insight to move on without resting.
The likelihood of such a prefect set of circumstances happening again is extremely unlikely. In this case the PCs had the opportunity to demonstrate their superiority and feel truly heroic. As the DM I said yes and they result was an awesome night of D&D.
Since this battle we’ve had a few other opportunities to continue on without resting and we’ve taken them. However, none of these circumstances have led to anything as great as that one night. In fact, the benefits of carry on with powers in effect from the first fight have not tipped the scales since then. The party ended up having a very difficult time defeating the second consecutive encounter in all subsequent scenarios.
In one case we actually fled or else we would have lost PCs. Had we rested before the second fight we would have had a reasonable shot at victory. Our arrogance and greed almost lead to our deaths.
So the question still remains as to whether or not this was the correct call. Is an encounter over when the combat is over, regardless of whether or not the PCs choose to rest? Or are benefits that last until the end of an encounter in effect until the PCs rest – regardless of how many combat situations they take on before resting?
Considering how rarely the PCs will want to go into the next fight without resting and the limited number of powers that could reasonably still be in effect during subsequent fights, I’m sticking with my original ruling. I believe that the encounter isn’t over until the PCs rest for purposes of determining when powers stop working.
Do you agree with me or not? Have you ever faced this situation? How did the DM in your game rule it? If they ruled like I did, how did the subsequent encounter go? Did the powers still in effect give the PCs an edge that made the subsequent encounter too easy? I invite you to join the discussion in the comments below.
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