A lot of DMs, me included, have run into the problem known as the 5-miute work day or the bed problem. This is when some or all PCs expend all of their resources more quickly than expected and demand an extended rest to recharge, regardless of what is happening in the story. We’ve run numerous articles on this topic and even offered a few ways to overcome it. (See The 5-Minute Work Day: Blame the Players and Solutions.)
Today we’re examining this problem from a slightly different angle. In my experience the best way to avoid the 5-minute work day is to put the PCs on the clock. Set up a situation where resting is simply not an option. Tie something in the story to a ticking clock and make it clear that the zero-hour event (whatever it may be) will happen well before 8 hours are up. So if the PCs try to take an extended rest it’s essentially game over.
This kind of adventure should only be undertaken on rare occasions. After all, very few PCs lives as exciting as Jack Bauer and will only find themselves working under this kind of exceptionally tight deadline in the most unusual and rare of circumstances. When DMs decide that it’s time to put the PCs into one of these situations you want to make it memorable. The encounters shouldn’t seem overly forced in order to work. With this in mind we present 5 Adventure Hooks below that will help you put the heroes in a fight against time as well as the usual hazards and monsters.
1) Survive the night
It’s night and the undead are everywhere; specifically undead with a vulnerability or aversion to daylight (Vampires, Wraiths, Spectres, etc). The heroes find themselves in a situation where there is no way to escape and no way to possibly defeat them all. The only way to survive is to wait for sunrise and make a break for it. Until then they’ll have to defend themselves and possibly other survivors ill-equipped or unprepared to battle such creatures. If the PCs take an extended rest before dawn the undead will surely find them and destroy them.
2) Urgent delivery
The PCs are asked to deliver an important message. Life and death literally hang in the balance. If the message is a stay of execution, they heroes could be the only ones capably of stopping the unjust killing of a local hero. If he dies the masses will rebel against the local lord and throw the whole province into civil war. One man’s fate carries incredible consequences. If the message is a signed treaty it could stop a nation from invading their neighbour. The advancing army of the aggressor is on the boarder and ready to invade. Unless the Warlord in command receives the signed non-aggression pact or peace treaty he will slaughter everyone in his path as he leads his army on to the capitol. Regardless of the letter’s contents there will be powers on both sides that do not want it delivered. The heroes will face many dangers and obstacles along the way. If they rest the world will be a very different place when they wake up. See Making Boring Skill Challenges More Exciting, Skill Challenge: Protect The Caravan and Skill Challenge: On the Road.
3) Sink or swim
While crossing a large body of water the PCs’ ship is attacked. During the assault the ship is damage and starts sinking. The heroes must figure out how to save the passengers and irreplaceable cargo before the ship sinks. The attackers may still pose problems while the PCs are taking charge of the situation. The only way the PCs will get more than a short rest now is if they go down with the ship.
4) Renew the binding pact
Creatures from other planes of existence, like demons and devils, are often bound into servitude by complex arcane pacts and rituals. These agreements always specify very exact terms of service.
A powerful Wizard recently passed away. The Wizard’s apprentice only just discovered that his master had a very dangerous demon tied to a lengthy pact of servitude and that the pact will expire tomorrow. The only way to stop the demon from breaking free of his bonds and attacking the city is to renew the pact and reinforce the ritual. To do this he needs very specific components. (Alternatively the apprentice could perform a banishment ritual if that will serve the story better; either way he doesn’t have the components on hand). Only the heroes have the means to travel the distance required to collect all of the components and face the perils and dangers along the way. There will be no time to rest if the apprentice is to complete the ritual before it expires. If the demon breaks free he will unleash unimaginable destruction.
5) Don’t get caught
The only way to gain access to a secured location is to use the key. This is not a traditional key that can be replicated; the lock is not something that can be picked or bypassed with magic. The heroes need the genuine article. The Captain of the Guard possesses the only key. The heroes can “borrow” the key while the Captain sleeps, use it to open the lock, retrieve the treasures within, and return the key before the Captain awakens and realizes it’s missing. As long as the key is returned before morning the Captain will have no reason to check on the treasure and have no reason to believe it’s missing. By the time anyone realizes that it’s gone the PCs will be far away from here. It will take most of the night for the heroes to complete this task and the Captain will wake up long before they have time to complete an extended rest.