Foregoing a Short Rest

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on April 12, 2011

How important is resting in D&D? The rules allow for characters to rest between encounter in order to heal and regain the use of encounter powers, but just because the rules state that characters can rest does that mean that character should rest?

At low levels DMs always try to find ways to keep the party moving forward. Without a compelling motive, many games end up suffering from a bad case of the 5-minute work day. The players don’t want their characters to die so they’re always looking for an excuse to rest and regain the use of their best powers.

However, I’ve realized from my own recent gaming experiences that as characters get tougher the players are a lot more willing to keep their PC’s adventuring without resting between every single encounter.

When PCs reach paragon tier they enter a new arena. Their actions are more far-reaching and they face foes immensely more powerful than those they faced in the heroic tier. The goal of the adventure will often impact more than just a small village or a tribe of wandering barbarians. The party’s victory or failure will have significant and lasting ramification on the world in which the game is played. For this reason, the players seem more willing to do what makes sense for the overall story and forgo benefits (like taking a short rest between encounters). Achieving the story goals becomes more important than exploiting every gaming mechanic.

Assuming the character aren’t stupid enough to just forget to take a short rest, there are three possible scenarios in which the might have to continue into a second fight without resting between encounters.

Scenario 1 – The Mean DM

Every once and a while a DM may intentionally throw another quick encounter at the party without allowing them to rest. This is not something I’d encourage DMs to do very often. Denying the PCs a rest in this way is, in effect, breaking the rules. However, it can serve as a good way to remind overly confident players that they aren’t as tough as they think they are. Low level character will suffer the most (and face a real possibility of death) if forced into multiple encounter without gaining the benefit of a short rest in between. For higher level character this isn’t as likely to kill them, but players will likely be annoyed.

Scenario 2 – The Power Gamers

The PCs have active powers in effect and want to rush quickly into the next fight in order to gain additional the benefit from them. When the PCs choose to take this course of action they knowingly continue onward after weighing the pros and cons (as we recently discussed in the article Blurring the Lines Between Encounters). What’s important to note in this scenario is that the player have every opportunity to rest, as the rules dictate, but they choose not to because they feel there’s an advantage to pressing on without it.

Scenario 3 – The Power of Plot

The story demands that the PCs continue. Although many DMs will build a sense of urgency into their game, few DMs will do so in such a way as to deny the PCs a short rest between encounters. However, players don’t always realize that and they will act accordingly.

During our last campaign there were two separate instances when the PCs decided to continue without taking a 5-minute rest. We choose to advance without resting because it made sense for the story.

The first time, the PCs suspected that another encounter may be imminent, but we decided to risk it. We knew that any battle would be difficult, especially since three of the five PCs were completely out of healing surges and already bloodied. But in the greater context of the story, the urgency of our quest outweighed the need to rest for 5 minutes. We did survive the resulting encounter, but it was a nail-biter.

The second time, the PCs knew full well that we were heading into the climax of our latest adventure arc. At the most basic level the encounter was accentuated by a ticking bomb. The heroes knew it could explode any second and that resting for 5 minutes before proceeding didn’t make sense.

Afterward the DM told us that the bomb was counting down at the speed of story. When we entered the room with the bomb the PCs had six rounds to disarm it. This would have been was case whether we’d rested or not.

When Resting Becomes Unnecessary

When PCs reach a certain level (I’m estimating mid-paragon) they possess enough magic items and have access to so many different powers that they can easily take on more than one fight without resting between every one. In fact, after playing at level 17 and 18 for the past few months I found I enjoyed the challenge of going into subsequent encounters down some resources. In all cases it wasn’t obvious that this was how things would play out so it wasn’t like I could plan which powers to use during the first encounter and which ones to use during the second encounter. I just use what seemed most appropriate during encounter one and then managed with whatever I had left during encounter two.

Throwing the PCs a Bone

During a game that I ran about a year ago the PCs were in a similar situation where the circumstances of the story didn’t really allow for a 5-minute rest. I knew that if the PCs were going to have any chance of success they needed to heal up and regain the use of their best powers. Although the players were willing to advance without the rest I didn’t fell that tweaking the encounter to account for depleted recourses was the right way to go. I used the opportunity to turn the 5-minute rest into a skill challenge. This was my compromise and it worked really well.

Resting between encounters is a fundamental part of 4e D&D. Without a rest between fights the game changes. I strongly discourage DMs from denying the PCs a rest for any reason, but at the same time I encourage more players to push their characters to the limit. As you reach higher and higher levels of play rest as the story allows it rather than as the rules allow it. I’ve found that story rewards and the additional gaming challenge have far outweighed the inconveniences suffered from forgoing a short rest.

How often have you taken on more than one encounter without resting in between? Have you found that paragon level PCs can handle this “burden” more easily? Have you ever pushed on without resting and then regretted doing so? How many DMs intentionally push their PCs into multiple encounters without allowing them to rest in between?

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1 The Id DM April 12, 2011 at 10:36 am

Short rests between encounters do not bother that much as a DM. Although five minutes can seem like a long time in certain situations, I more or less think of it as the party taking a quick breather and then moving forward. I will likely string together encounters without a short rest moving forward so the party has less resources to work with…if the story drives the need for it.

The larger problem I run into is Extended rests during long missions. For example, I have a series of encounters coming up for my PCs. They have to battle their way to the entrance of the Boss’ tower, and then work their way up the various floors to reach the top and ultimately confront the Boss. There is a battle raging outside, and the Boss is aware the PCs are in the tower. It does not make sense from any narrative standpoint that the PCs would rest for hours to regain their surges and powers. However, the encounters before the boss will be enough to leave them completely depleted.

I’ve been toying with ideas for how to resolve this. The best I’ve come up with so far is to have one floor in the tower be a library with piles of scrolls and tomes. The party can find a Ritual that allows them to regain a few surges and the use of a Daily but one (or maybe two) of the party have to make a sacrifice – become Weakened.

The party then has to decide if they want to deal with the consequences. It gives them a choice at least.

2 Patrick April 12, 2011 at 11:03 am

I have to feel like the DM made a mistake in telling you that the bomb would have gone off no sooner if you had taken a break. When I DM, I often feel the urge to tell the players about some piece of DM magic I just worked on them, but it usually spoils it for them. If you have players willing to forgo a chance to heal and recover powers because they’re so engrossed in your game world, that’s a major accomplishment as Game Master. I wouldn’t pull back the curtain. Sounds like a cool adventure, though. What setting was it?

3 Alphastream April 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

Interestingly, I’ve now run three times a scenario for level 3 PCs where the DM has the option to throw either another fight or skill challenge at PCs without a short rest. (In this scenario, PCs don’t have a chance to die, but could be captured, so the level of brutality is ok).

I run the first fight, usually with a challenge level that leaves one PC unconscious and 2 others bloodied. No short rest, then the optional second fight. I use the exact same fight. The PCs get through without issue. Without issue! Level 3!!! The resilience of PCs is incredible. I basically stopped using the fight option because it actually felt less dangerous and less story-conducive to the PCs than what I was doing with skill challenges and draining surges.

4 iserith April 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm

You can completely break the monster closet-rest-monster closet-rest cycle by redesigning your encounters and adjusting rests. (I draw heavily from Robert Schwalb’s and Neogrognard’s ideas regarding the same.) In a nutshell, you break up encounters into encounter areas (several “rooms” as opposed to a single location) and populate that area organically with an encounter’s worth of monsters (usually EL +2 or +3). The PCs then explore the area, encountering a monster here or a monster there, sometimes more depending on triggers you’ve written in for how the monsters in a given “sector” respond.

Further, you add a wandering monster table and key checking for wanderers to specific events… such as during rests or when a big combat breaks out (usually a roll of a 6 on 1d6, but can be adjusted to higher frequency based on the story).

As for rests, introduce something called a “Rally Rest.” It takes 1 minute out of combat and the PC can either regain an encounter power that they’ve used or spend a surge. Each rally rest comes with a wandering monster check, so the more rally rests they take, the more chances they have of having their rest interrupted. If they choose to take a short rest, you roll 6d6 with any result of 6 being a wanderer – thus, short rests are an option RARELY taken by my PCs anymore. However, if a given sector has been cleared, they can short rest all they like (usually).

Anyway, that’s the brief version. I recommend you check it out. It has totally changed our D&D game for the better.

5 brc April 12, 2011 at 2:20 pm

It’s my opinion that the numbers involved in resting and gaining levels are arbitrary and unnecessary. So, in my games, I handle levels and resting benefits in the same way – they happen totally at DM discretion. This removes the temptation for things like the 5 minute workday, seeking out random encounters for XP, and sitting down when characters would otherwise press on because there’s still three minutes and twenty-six seconds in their “short rest.” I’ve found that simply handing these benefits out when it makes sense, rather than forcing players to make a conscious choice to rest, really improves the players’ immersion in the game.

As for denying short rests, I’m not a fan. I think it makes things boring and grindy on the player side of things (8 rounds of at-wills? No thank you, we’re not level 1 any more) and needlessly complicated on the DM side, since you then have to plan for the possibility of a 50%, or 75%, or whatever% strength party when making or tweaking encounters. I think the closest I come to doing this is by framing encounters as having multiple parts or waves – ie., fighting to escape a castle and encountering different groups of guards, or trying to close an arcane gate as elementals are periodically coming through.

Overall, I’d say that taking meta-mechanics out of the hands of players should be done whenever possible, and that the resting mechanics (along with XP) should be the first to go once the DM has a good grasp of how to use them to construct challenges and dole out rewards.

6 Svafa April 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I’m not terribly strict on 5-minute rests. If there’s a definite end to one encounter and a definite beginning to the next, then I assume that a “5-minute rest” took place in between that time. From my perspective, the 5-minute rest is essentially a few minutes out of combat when they can drop their guard and reorganize.

Occasionally, I do string encounters together, or an encounter with a skill check, but I always introduce it as part of the same encounter when I do. Maybe that counts as foregoing the rest, I dunno. :/

I’m also not certain why it seems so many people have issues with players taking extended rests between every encounter (reread the 5-minute workday link and its associated links again ><). Wasn't this solved decades ago with random encounter tables, or even simply stating that an extended rest could not be taken more than once every 24 hours. The only problem I foresee is the PCs leaving the dungeon entirely in order to take an extended rest back in town. At which point, I'd likely just restock the dungeon and if they return make them run it from the start, or alternately buff up the remainder of the dungeon as they are now forewarned and have time to prepare for the invading PCs.

7 E. Walter April 12, 2011 at 10:52 pm

I agree with brc and Svafa: myself and others who DM for our group treat short rests not as a strictly measured increment, but as a DM-discretion point between combats. As long as it’s fairly logical that the group could catch its breath and refocus, it’s good enough for us, and we’re pretty liberal with it. Beyond that we can roleplay what’s happening, why it was so quick or not, etc.

And, like brc noted, starting the next combat with nothing but at-wills is just asking for a grinding battle of attrition. While it may be a way to “scare” the players out of complacency every now and then, I’d rather do that with especially difficult or unique encounters that allow them to use their interesting abilities (i.e. encounter powers).

8 Neuroglyph April 12, 2011 at 11:07 pm

I’m with Svafa, in that I don’t see an issue with the short rest – all it does is recharge encounter powers and tops off hit points – but characters wanting an extended rest every other encounter can be downright annoying.

There was an article by a WotC Dev – (I think it was Rodney?) that suggested that the short rest is arbitrarily set at 5 minutes, but can actually be as short as 30-second-breather if a DM is more comfortable with using a shorter time increment for his adventure pacing.

I agree with Alphastream about the resilience of PCs, but having them go from one combat to the next drained of encounter powers would just turn the second encounter into a dull long at-will slugfest, and increase the chance of a TPK – assuming the characters blew their encounter healing and second winds in the first encounter. Encounter powers finish fights faster, and I think PCs should use them without fear that they won’t have them in the next encounter. The occasional exception to this rule is ok, but I would never make a habit of it as a DM.

9 Alton April 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm

I think the going forward without short rests, rests entirely on the shoulders of the party member themselves. I personally have hardly been in a situation where my party did not need a short rest. No matter what, my party uses all their encounter powers to try and fell the opponents as quickly as possible. Even though we do not necessarily have to spend healing surges, 99.9% of our encounters uses up our encounter powers.

Dailies are another story.

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