This is part 8 of 18 of the series: Hacking New Rules

Hitting the Rest Button

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Lately, I’ve been f$&%ing exhausted. There’s been a lot of bulls$&% going on. I’m adjusting to a new work schedule that involves some ludicrously early mornings. Life seems to have an endless supply of minor and major stresses. And, some preexisting health conditions have been leaving me more fatigued than usual. The end result is that resting has been on my mind a lot lately.

And then, too, I’ve also been running a lot of D&D lately. I’ve currently got two separate D&D 5E campaigns going. And, of course, I’ve been reconstructing all of the work I’d done for my Megadungeon project that was lost after an external hard drive containing the data was taken from my apartment. And because that project is heavily built around the adventuring day structure that is central to how D&D 5E creates challenge through attrition, I’ve had to pay close attention to it.

So, I was in the perfect mindset to deal with a strange question that floated across my Twitter feed not too long ago about short rests in 5E. Well, except for the fact that I’ve been extremely grumpy and not really in the mood for stupid questions. But it wasn’t a stupid question. Nor was the one that followed it. Nor several of the others that grew out of those. But there was, in the end, one stupid question about rests that did very nearly drive me into a f$&%ing rage.

All in all, I want to address three questions about the rest mechanics in 5E and discuss how to modify the rest mechanics in a couple of ways. Two of the questions are good questions. One makes me want to beat someone over the head with a copy of Principles and Practices of Sleep Medicine until language stops coming out of them.

Good Question Number 1: “Why is a short rest 1 hour long?”
Good Question Number 2: “How would you modify the rest system to change the structure of the game?”
Stupid Question Number 1: “Would you allow a player to retroactively convert an interrupted long rest into a short rest?”

So, let’s talk about resting.

Where the Rest Mechanic Came From

First and foremost, let’s talk about the rest mechanic. What lots of people don’t seem to realize is that rest mechanics are a recent mechanic. Resting didn’t technically exist in earlier editions of D&D. At least, prior to 4E, it didn’t. I mean, it did. But there was a subtle difference to the mechanics. And that subtle difference appeared in 3E. 3E started a weird shift from one Natural Healing to Resting. Let me spell it out.

In the old days, there was no such thing as taking a rest. There were no long rests. There were no short rests. Instead, there was a rule called ‘Natural Healing.’ In AD&D, you recovered hit points naturally at the rate of 1 HP per day spent resting and recovering. Basically, if you spent an entire day not doing anything, you got a hit point back. That was it (mostly). AD&D 2E added a little more detail. First of all, it defined what it meant to be resting. Basically, it said you couldn’t do anything more strenuous than traveling around, by foot or by horse. If you spend a day doing nothing more difficult than hiking or riding, you recovered HP at the rate of 1 per day. But, if you were willing to spend an entire day in bed resting, you recovered 3 HP. And if you spent an entire week in bed, you also got to add a slight bonus over the 21 HP you’d normally recover based on your Constitution.

At first glance, 3E seemed to build on this. But there was a subtle change in language that helped shift the structure of the game. In 3E, if you got 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, you would heal 1 HP per character level and also recover 1 point to any damaged Ability Scores, but the less said about that bulls$&%, the better. If you spent 24 hours in bed, you would recover twice as many HP. And if you were under the care of someone with ranks in the Healing skill, they could accelerate your healing even more.

That might not SEEM different, but there is actually a structural change there. Previously, you either spent a day resting OR adventuring. You were either on an adventure or having downtime. You had to choose. If you wanted to recover from your adventures, you had to stop adventuring. And, while you can argue that travel in 2E could count as adventure, remember that any sort of encounter on the road would f$&% up your recovery. So, no, you really couldn’t have adventure travel.

3E was the first time that recovering hit points was considered to be a part of the daily adventure routine. You adventures all day, slept through the night, and recovered a fraction of your HP. Now, the healing rate wasn’t fast in 3E. 1 HP per level is not much. But it was still something that happened every day, whether you adventured or not. And still, there was the vestige of the old system of natural healing. If you rest, you recover HP at the rate of X HP per day. And Pathfinder basically runs off a carbon copy of the same system.

Thing is though that, in 3E, most groups didn’t even notice that nightly bit of healing. Why? Because magical healing became very plentiful in 3E. More classes than ever had access to healing magic; magic items were easier to come by, construct, or purchase; and so most groups made it a habit to rely on magical healing. Usually, you’d have the party cleric, bard, paladin, or whatever burn any healing magic they had left before the party went to sleep for the night. And you’d crank a few charges out of your trust wand of cure light wounds as well.

At the same time, in 3E, the game became more and more focussed on the structure of a fixed number of dangerous encounters that were each supposed to burn through the party’s resources. I’m not saying earlier editions didn’t also function that way, but there was a much greater focus on avoiding combat or winning encounters outright with clever plans that kept the party from taking too much damage. And every combat in those older editions was potentially deadly. There was no sense of “burning a fraction of the party resources” built into the system. Balancing encounters was actually referred to as an optional rule and it was pretty unreliable.

And 3E added something else to the mix. Or rather, brought something else to the forefront. 3E added a LOT of resources that could only be used a certain number of times in a given day. Sure, spellcasters always had that daily limit of spells and had to sleep every night to get them back. But that mechanic – sleeping to recover daily resources – had nothing to do with recovering HP. HP came back slowly via Natural Healing. So resting for the night was purely about letting your spellcasters recover their spells. But 3E had a lot more resources other than spells that were also useful a limited number of times per day. And Pathfinder added even more.

Those two factors – the idea of recovering a certain number of hit points every single night and the idea of having to recover all sorts of limited resources – are what created the basis for the idea of the Rest. Resting wasn’t a thing you did during downtime anymore. It wasn’t simply “not adventuring.” Resting became a specific action you took that had specific requirements. If you fulfilled those requirements and took the action, you got a benefit. In 3E, you had to sleep, uninterrupted, for 8 hours. Do that, you can prepare spells, recover other resources, and you get back a chunk of HP. Thus the idea of “Taking a Rest” entered the D&D lexicon.

Now, if you want to get really technical, 3E was a little bit messy. Because it didn’t REALLY tie all resource recovery to Resting. Clerics didn’t technically need to be “rested” to prepare spells. And recovering things like barbarian rage, bardic music, stunning fist, and all those other X per day things also didn’t explicitly require you to rest. But, “Taking a Rest” became the very quick and easy shorthand for recovering ALL of that crap. And that’s not surprising. Because if you really want to see where the idea of Rest as Action probably came from, you could check out many computer and video game RPGs.

Most video game RPGs – to this very day – have a button (or other action you can take in the game) to rest. Hit that button and you will recover the appropriate HP and all of your abilities will refresh and so on and so forth. The AD&D 2E CRPGs included that idea. Most console RPGs of the 8-bit and 16-bit era had inns or items you could use to rest. And so on.

It was really 4E that completed the shift from Natural Healing at a Certain Rate to Resting as an Action. 4E defined two types of Rests. An Extended Rest was at least 6 hours of uninterrupted rest or sleep. If you completed that 6 hour Rest, you recovered all of your HP and all of your various limited resources, including Healing Surges. In addition, you could also take a Short Rest. The Short Rest required you to spend five minutes to catch your breath, take a drink, bind your wounds, and stretch out. It was meant to happen after every single encounter. And the main point of it was because 4E had added a new type of resource: abilities that could be used once per encounter. The Short Rest was the mechanical means by which those abilities were recovered. If there was ever a question about when you got back your Chill Strike or Warlord’s Favor or Radiant Smite, the answer was: after a Short Rest.

In addition, the Short Rest also allowed each character to draw on a pool of healing that they had available to them. Healing Surges. At the end of a Short Rest, you could spend any number of Healing Surges and, for each one, recover one quarter of your maximum HP. And generally, most classes had enough Healing Surges to recover their full complement of HP two to three times over.

And actually, this made game balance a whole hell of a lot easier. See, the heroes were supposed to get through about three to five encounters a day. And knowing that the heroes would always have access to all of their Encounter Powers AND knowing they would almost never be below two-thirds of their HP made it much easier to balance encounters. You pretty much knew what resources the heroes were bringing to every fight. Whereas in 3E, you had to guess how tired they would be and how many resources they had left. That allowed each fight to stand on its own more than ever before. And THAT was when the “Adventuring Day” model that 3E tried to implement really became possible.

Which brings us to 5E. 5E threw away a lot of 4E’s innovations. But one of the things it kept was the idea of the Rest as Action. Once every 24 hours, you can take a Long Rest. If you spend 6 hours sleeping or resting, you get the benefit of a Long Rest. After a Long Rest, you recover all of your daily resources and all of your HP and half of your Hit Dice. You can also take a Short Rest. You spend 1 hour doing nothing and sitting still. And, when you complete the Short Rest, you recover any resources contingent on taking a Short Rest and you can also spend as many Hit Dice as you want to recover HP. By the by, a Hit Die is a die of healing you can roll to recover some HP. Every class gets a certain number of Hit Dice at every level.

Why Does a Short Rest Require One Hour?

So, now we’re prepared to answer the first question: why does a 5E Short Rest require one hour where a 4E Short Rest required only 5 minutes. And the answer is right there in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. On DMG 84, we’re told that a party generally needs about two Short Rests per day of adventuring. We’re also told, on that same page, that a day of adventuring includes 6 encounters.

The reason a Short Rest requires an hour is so that they are just inconvenient enough that the party can’t take a Short Rest after every combat. Now, you might wonder why that is? Why can’t the party just take a Short Rest after every encounter. After all, they still have a fixed number of Hit Dice per day, right? It’s not like they can abuse Short Rests to heal too much. Well, that’s true. But there ARE a number of abilities that different classes gain access to that recover based on a Short Rest. And apparently, the designers didn’t want those coming back any quicker than once every other encounter. But what’s really interesting is that there actually aren’t that many of those. And the few that exist seem to have enough uses that they are meant to be used once every encounter.

So, here’s the thing. I can say that I think it’s pretty clear that the designers made Short Rests require one hour so that the players wouldn’t feel free to take one after every combat and to allow the GM to use things like random encounters and interruptions to prevent abusing Short Rests. And I can say all of this is in aid of the idea that an adventuring day should consist of – ON AVERAGE – two encounters, Short Rest, two encounters, Short Rest, two encounters, Long Rest. But I’ll also say I’m not actually convinced that a Short Rest after every encounter would break the game.

Which brings us around to how you would change the resting mechanics to change the structure of the game.

How to Change the Rest Mechanic to Change the Structure of the Game

So, let’s talk about 5E and the structure of the game and the way in which you can f$%& with things. Oh, wait. Hold on. Let’s talk about the stupid question first. And the idea of Pressing the Rest Button. And why I kind of hate the way the resting mechanics have been phrased since 4E.

Would You Allow a Player to Retroactively Turn an Interrupted Long Rest into a Short Rest

Let’s talk about that dumba$& question and why it makes my blood boil. First of all, when I dismissed the question as infuriating, the questioner took that to mean that I didn’t understand the question. I did. But I realize that the question is weirdly worded. So, I’m going to clarify.

Imagine the party settles down for a nice Long Rest. But, four hours into the requisite 8 hours of rest, they are attacked by rabid dire marmosets. Their rest is interrupted. At the moment before the party joins the battle, “would I allow the players to declare that that four hours was a Short Rest and thus let them spend any Hit Dice they want and recover any abilities that are recovered after a Short Rest.”

Take a moment and figure out your answer. And then I will explain why the question is a stupid f$&%ing question and why the answer is OBVIOUS.

First, the reason why it’s a stupid question is because of the whole dumba$& concept of a Rest Button. When the party settles down to take a Short Rest or a Long Rest, the PCs aren’t hitting a button on a console that says “Short Rest” or “Long Rest.” They aren’t actions the party chooses to take. And they aren’t exclusive in any f$&%ing way.

If the party sits on their a$&es for an hour and doesn’t do anything except chit chat and eat and bandage and poop or maybe nap, at the end of that hour, they gain the benefit of a Short Rest. It’s automatic. It happens because they sat around resting for an hour.

Likewise, if the party sleeps or rests for 8 hours, they have taken a Long Rest and get those benefits. They didn’t have to decide to do it. They didn’t have to sit down with the intention of taking a Long Rest. All that matters is an uninterrupted 8 hours of sitting around doing nothing except resting or sleeping.

Once the party has satisfied the conditions for a Short Rest or Long Rest, instantaneously, at the end of that period, the benefits manifest. They can’t choose not to have the benefits. They just do. Because the heroes sat around resting. Done and done.

And THAT drives me f$&%ing bonkers. Because we do treat the Rest Mechanic like a button the party has to purposely press. And that’s absurd. I mean, what is the difference in the game world – in the fiction of the game itself – between a party sitting around for an hour eating and relaxing but not recovering and a party that sits around for an hour eating and relaxing that does recover. What did the one party choose to do differently? Does that choice even make sense? No! NO!

And frankly, that’s always a problem I had with Healing Surges and Hit Dice. At the end of a Short Rest, you can choose to expend some of your Surges or Hit Dice to recover HP. You can spend as many as you want. And that determines how much you heal. But what always drives me f$&%ing bonkers is WHAT CHOICE IS THE CHARACTER MAKING IN THE GAME TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN?! Is the character purposely sitting uncomfortably? Does the character only put bandages over most of his wounds? It doesn’t make any sense in the fiction of the world.

But that’s just a side note. I’m fine with the player choosing how to expend resources and us just accepting that the character’s’ wounds heal at different rates and maybe it’ll take more rest for that particular wound to heal or whatever. I’m really fine with it. But it is something that annoys the part of my brain that always wants the characters and the players to be involved in the same decisions. Don’t worry about it.

What DOES bother me though is the pants-on-head moronic idea that a rest has to be purposely chosen or declared for it to “count.” And THAT is why I actually miss the days of Natural Healing. Because all those rules did was define how fast you recovered from injury. Now we have this button called “Recover” that we think we have to purposely press.

How to Change the Rest Mechanic to Change the Structure of the Game

So, how might we change the rest mechanics in 5E to futz with the structure of the game. Now, before we begin, I’m going to set down this little rule. It’s a personal rule, just because of the way my brain works, but it’s MY website so you’re going to have to f$&%ing accept it. I am not going to do anything stupidly arbitrary. What do I mean by stupidly arbitrary? I mean that whatever resting mechanics I do come up with must be based solely on actions the characters choose to take in the game. 13th Age, for example, pulls this bulls$&% where GMs hand out Long Rests based on whatever the octopi that live in their brains tell them. It’s supposed to be “based on the needs of the story,” but that bulls$&% doesn’t fly on THIS blog.

No. Resting mechanics MUST be based on the reality of the fiction (how’s THAT for a sentence). If the party sits on their a$&es for eight hours, they get the benefit of a Long Rest. Or whatever.

So, here’s the long and short of it (ha, resting mechanic pun): there’s only a couple of things to really fiddle with. We can fiddle with the requirements for a rest or we can fiddle with what resources are recovered as part of a rest. Anything more than that and we’re going to have start tweaking more mechanics.

On top of that, we’ve got to understand that the resting mechanic is going to affect the structure of the game. As it stands right now, for each Long Rest, a party should be able to get through up to six encounters and should have no more than two Short Rests per encounter.

The question, of course, is WHY do we want to do this? Well, the answer is simple. We want to change the structure of the game.

The most common thing I hear people asking about is “what if I don’t want to have six encounters in a day?” And that’s a totally reasonable thing to say. It’s perfectly okay to accept the fact that you only rarely have combat encounters. Maybe you have one a day or one every other day. And the intervening time is filled with intrigue and exploration and interaction and other, less threatening forms of challenge. The conventional wisdom – which, as I’ve often pointed out is stupid and wrong – is to just make the encounters more dangerous. You can have only one encounter in a day provided that encounter is stupid dangerous. Right? Well, that’s kind of a tricky line to walk, as people have discovered. The one-fight-per-day model tends to have a pretty narrow margin between “trivial” and “oh god, oh god, there’s blood everywhere!” The idea of using up most of the party’s resources in one fight is dangerous if it ends up being just one or two characters losing the hit points. Remember, 25% of the party resources can mean three uninjured PCs and one dead PC.

Is it possible to futz around with the resource mechanic?

Sure. It’s easy. Just assume that a Short Rest requires 24 hours of rest. That is, the party has to spend a day – an entire day – doing nothing. At the end of that 24 hour period, they get the benefit of a Short Rest. That’s just the speed at which people heal and recover. Injuries are serious things. And even simple things like using Ki Points to stun people is tiring as hell. Remember that the game is designed such that two encounters are supposed to tire the party out enough that they need to take a break. If that break is 24 hours long and they only have one combat encounter every day or every other day, you’ll maintain the proper balance.

In that system, you need to decide how much down time constitutes a Long Rest. It could be as simple as just needing a second day of rest after the first. If you rest for two straight days, that’s a Long Rest. And if you rest for a third straight day, you get back any remaining Hit Dice you didn’t get back for the previous Long Rest.

And, honestly, that’s the only change you need to make. It does mean that everyone is going to have to space out those noncombat abilities, particularly spellcasters with their utility spells, but that also makes rituals more valuable. But if you really want to, you can have spell slots and other abilities recover after 8 hours of sleep, just like they do now. Basically, divorcing the recovery of abilities from the recovery of spells.

Now, what if we want to make Short Rests easier? Can we do that? Absolutely we can. As I’ve already pointed out, I don’t think it’d break the game at all to just allow Short Rests at the end of every fight instead of every second fight. There’s only a couple of abilities that I can see really affecting that. For example, the bard’s Song of Rest might be a little more useful in that case, but remember that the Hit Die limit is still going to be the big thing. And the weird hit point games that druidic Shapeshifting allows might be even easier to abuse, but those are corner cases. If you want to go back to the 4E method of the 5 minute Short Rest, you should be fine.

Now, let’s play an even more interesting game. What if we want to get rid of Short Rests altogether. What if we want to go back to the old days where you slept every night but otherwise didn’t have any healing or recovery during the adventure? Could you do that?

I think you could. You’d need to make two basic adjustments. First of all, you’d need to assume that anything that recovered based on a Short Rest could instead be done Once per Encounter. Again, ala 4E days. In some cases, that might result in things being a little less frequently useful and in others, they might be a little more frequently useful, but overall, I think that would work just fine. You might have to tweak a few specific abilities, like allowing the bard’s Song of Rest to be more like a once-per-encounter burst heal or putting a specific condition on it that requires the party to sit around and listen to him sing for a few minutes. But you could pull it off.

But what about the HP?

Well, that’s where things get interesting. We can sort of math this out. At first level, you gain the maximum HP for your Hit Die, plus your Con modifier. At each subsequent level, you gain the average HP for your Hit Die, plus your Con modifier. And, at each level, you get one Hit Die. What that means is that, except at first level and disregarding your Con modifier, on average, you have enough hit dice to heal yourself from 0 to full. Since, statistically, the average Con modifier is going to be +1, that means you will likely come up short of full healing by your level. If you’re level 6, you’ll have enough Hit Dice to expect to heal yourself up to your maximum HP minus 6. Except for first level. Which throws a monkey wrench into the plan.

But each day, you only get back HALF your hit dice. Which means that, in general, each day, you can expect to have enough Hit Dice to heal yourself up to HALF your maximum HP after you’ve dropped to 0.

If we disregard the effect of the Con modifier and first level being maximized, what that means is that you can increase all PCs HP by 50% and they will have all the HP they would be expected to have if they spend half their hit dice every day.

So, by giving all PCs 150% of their HP AND by allowing all abilities that recover at a Short Rest to be used once per encounter instead, you could probably remove Short Rests from the game and not have to modify any other mechanics.

Now, that’s all just theory. I’m just thinking through it. As an example. And I suspect you’d have to tweak a few things here and there. There are a small number of abilities that have in-built HP thresholds (like disintegrate and sleep) that you would have to adjust when used against the PCs to account for the increased HP. But you COULD do it. That’s my point.

Well, actually, my REAL point is just that, once you understand what rests do, you can pretty much pick out whatever structure you want and place the appropriate limits on rests.

As long as it isn’t just arbitrary bulls$&%, of course.

30 thoughts on “Hitting the Rest Button

  1. Unimportant nitpick: Each hit die spent also adds your constitution modifier to the HP recovered from that hit die, so you can simplify the entirely correct reasoning that leads to 150% base HP being equivalent to removing hit dice.

    Consistency is an easy thing to sacrifice for sake of story, as once you’ve set a short rest as 24 hours you can’t throw a conventional dungeon scaled for one-hour short rests at your players without jumping through some hoops. Similarly, fast-recovering characters that storm through six encounters a day in dungeons will face a strange experience if they go on a road trip with daily encounters. Running a good game and having the details check out is hard.

      • I was just about to say the same thing about CON modifier on Hit Dice, but I guess now I don’t have to. One related thought that I had, though, was in regards to the “remove Hit Dice and give a 50% increase to hit points” idea. Specifically, I think that a more elegant and intuitive way to arrive at nearly the same result is simply “every level grants the maximum number of hit points rather than the rounded-up average.” This has the added benefit of not making Constitution any stronger than it already is, since it’s already almost everyone’s second-favorite ability score.

  2. “But if you really want to, you can have spell slots and other abilities recover after 8 hours of sleep, just like they do now. Basically, divorcing the recovery of abilities from the recovery of spells.”

    I believe you meant to say: divorcing the recovery of abilities from the recovery of HP.

    There is a house rule that I use in my game in that you can do 3 short rests per day: the first needs 5 minutes, the second needs 15 minutes and the third needs 60 minutes. After that, the party is so beaten that it needs a long rest to recover. It gives a nice sense of progression and doesn’t slow down fast-paced adventures, but it has the problem of the rest-button feeling that you mentioned.

  3. Interesting article. I’m actually using a “gritty” rest variant much like the one you mentioned in my game: Short rests are 6 hours once a day just like Long rests usually are, while Long rests are now a full 5 days (ie: a work week) of sitting around doing nothing more strenuous than sitting in a cart or ambling around town a bit. Along with that, I of course stay true to the normal “adventuring day” schedule, only an adventuring “day” is now an adventuring “week” or so.

    I’ve found this to help me a lot in slowing down the pace of the adventure, not just for combat, but also for between-combat and downtime activities. When you need to fit 6 encounters and 2-3 hours of resting into a day, plus a good amount of RP stuff, noncombat encounters, and exploration, a single day becomes pretty crowded. That, combined with the need to make sure there’s a good reason your players can’t just sit and rest for a day after every couple fights leads to a lot of restrictions on what kind of story you can have. You’re basically forced into a situation where both you and your players always want to be either “adventuring” or “traveling between adventures”. Spending more than a day or so doing anything else just feels like a massive waste of time and resources. Why would the hero who has dedicated his life to saving people from monsters ever spend a month sitting around in a city when he could be slaying countless monsters and saving countless lives during that time?

    If you want to have a story that takes place over a longer period than a week or so (say, a war between nations), then you need to pad out those ‘adventuring days’ with many other non-adventuring days where the party can do all the RP and walking around and so on. You can throw in a few combat encounters in there to spice things up, but they’ll never really be challenging due to how the system is built. If you want a really challenging and exciting ‘boss’ battle, you better have had your players fight 4-5 smaller encounters that same day leading up to it.

    Your note on non-combat magic being weaker was definitely something that came up with me and my players, but rather than backpedaling and allowing those to recover normally (which would lead to many of the same issues re-appearing and ultimately solve nothing), I think a much better solution is to address the problem at the source by simply increasing the duration that the spells last. Since my campaign involves a good amount of mass combat as well, this also allows many more spells to be useful in the timeframe that those take place in as well, which is a happy side-effect.

    Specifically, anything that lasts:
    1 minute becomes 10 minutes (If it’s meant to last a normal combat, now it lasts a normal mass combat)
    10 minutes becomes 1 hour (if it’s meant to last between two “back to back” combats without rest, it still does that)
    1 hour becomes 8 hours (If it’s meant to last a long time, but not through a short rest, it still does)
    8 hours becomes 5 days (if it’s meant to last through most to all of an adventuring day, it still does)
    1 day becomes 2 weeks (If you’re meant to be able to keep it up basically 100% of the time, you still can)
    5-10 days becomes 1 month (If it’s meant to last through a few adventuring days, it still does)

    I’ve been running this for a few months now, and so far it’s working great. The only other problem I’ve run into is the plethora of magic items that recharge “at dawn” or similar, which I’ve basically handwaved to now actually mean “on a full moon”, which we collectively assume conveniently happens every time the party gets a long rest. Which mostly turns out fine, since for the most part, long rests only come during downtime between adventures, which are usually longer than 5 days anyways. If you wanted to keep track of the days and have the full moon come on specific days that could happen in the middle of an adventure, though, that would also work well, and may lead to some interesting decisions depending on when in the adventure the full moon comes.

    Speaking of downtime though, the slower pace of the game also allows me to make downtime more interesting, especially when it comes to acquiring magic items. Instead of simply having a magic mart, the players can actively seek out magic items, following rumors and sending out messengers to various important people or merchants to track down the specific magic item (or at least, something from a short list of ‘stuff I want to buy’) that they want without having to make it into a full adventure. The players will also often spend a week seeking out a new ally (a low-level NPC companion that mostly takes part in mass combat or helps with non-combat things), or training a new stand of mass-combat troops, etc. Technically this would all be possible with the normal rest rules, but it all fits in much more naturally with the long rest framework.

    The idea of getting better rest from actual bed rest is interesting to me though, basically allowing the players to trade a week of downtime activity for their long rest, and I might adopt that to make recovering from all that fighting feel a bit more significant.

    • Forgot to mention: Most non-spell abilities also have their durations increased appropriately. This might be a bit weird for some abilities, like the Barbarian’s Rage, and some might need to be kept at normal to avoid making them stupid OP, which is a right I’ve reserved for spells as well, but so far I haven’t seen anything that breaks the game with the longer duration, at least for a party of Fighter, Wizard, Warlock, Rogue, all level 8 so far.

      • For a Barbarian’s Rage I might just extend the duration on an ad hoc basis – pretty much “until the battle is over or you withdraw from it (spend 1 minute having neither attacked an enemy nor taken damage), no matter how long the battle is.” That would also have the happy side-effect of allowing the furious Barbarian to charge toward the archers plinking the party from 300 feet away, even if they happen to all miss their shots or otherwise fail to damage him on a particular turn.

  4. Technically, you’re wrong about resting not existing as a mechanic in earlier versions of D&D.
    In the Moldvay/Cook version of basic D&D (the one right before 1st Ed. AD&D), you had spend 1 turn resting for every 5 turns of play (or, 10 minutes of rest every hour of adventuring), or suffer penalties. It did not heal you, but you were penalized for not doing it.
    So, when you say resting is a recent invention, you’re wrong. What you need to say is “Regaining hit points, spells, etc through rest is a recent addition.”

    • While you are technically correct (the best kind of correct), your approach leaves much to be desired. Typically, it is considered impolite to direct criticism at a person when debating a topic. One’s arguments should be directed at a person’s position, or some part thereof.

      One may change positions on a topic, but one may not choose a different self.

    • Actually, I said what I meant. You missed the distinction I drew between recovery through Natural Healing and recovery through a Declared Action. The Moldvay/Cook rule is neither a resting nor a recovery mechanic.

      • Late reply but…
        I’m sorry, I don’t understand how it isn’t a resting mechanic. The word rest is specifically used in the text, and you suffer penalties if you don;t do it because you’re fatigued.

  5. There’s one more thing related to recovery (though not technically resting) that 4th Edition innovated and 5th chose to dump: the milestone. In 4th Edition, every two encounters (combat or skill challenge) constituted a milestone; characters would always gain an action point after completing a milestone, and, in later products, could have magical items that had more powerful effects if they had completed a milestone before using them. (The latter made an interesting counter to the ‘five minute adventuring day’ where groups would have a fight then look to take an extended rest — such groups would never power up those items that required a milestone for the larger effect.)

    One way to maintain the ‘two encounters, short rest’ design concept from 5th Edition while eliminating the short rest is to re-institute the idea of the milestone — character abilities that, in ‘core’ 5th Edition recover after a short rest would instead recover whenever the party reached a milestone. It might seem a bit weird that characters could also spend hit dice after reaching a milestone (why after this fight but not after the previous fight?), but I don’t think it breaks anything to do it that way (that’s why it’s a ‘milestone’; you get to choose whether to tap your reserves to press on or to pack it in for the day and completely recover).

    If the arbitrariness of the milestone occurring after every second encounter really bothers you, though, you could instead choose to give out a ‘recovery point’, which allows the bearer to expend it after any encounter to effectively take a short rest without expending any time — in effect, allowing the character to take the milestone recovery immediately or ‘bank’ it for a later encounter if needed. (Since the benefit of the ‘recovery point’ is pretty comprehensive — you regain all your short-rest recovery powers back and can spend any number of hit dice up to your maximum — there’s little reason for a character to spend more than one after an encounter.

    The more I find myself adapting 4th Edition mechanics and concepts for 5th Edition D&D, the more I realize how well-designed 4th Edition was as a game system.

  6. “no more than two Short Rests per encounter”

    I don’t think this sentence says what you want it to say:)

    I’ve been running a 5e campaign for a while in an urban setting and it’s played out generally as no more than 1 encounter/day. For the most part, it’s felt like the combat was too easy, of course and I had given warning that resting mechanics might be changed to be less forgiving. I did want to play for a while with the rules as-written and see how it played out…

    Now, however, there has been a chain of dungeon encounters (pursuit, retreats and monsters moving between areas) and my pcs have barricaded themselves in a dead-end room with the door wedged shut for a short rest. It feels “right” under the circumstances and I’m glad they’re going to be able to get a few resources back, but still feel like they’re on their heels (they surely are).

    Because of the way the system works, it’s going to be difficult to reconcile these two types of play (also: overland travel, where I surely won’t be planning 6 encounters/day either). But I *want* both to be fun and potentially threatening. Partly this is going to involve making sure that rp encounters are consequential and “threats” of sorts, partly it’s going to have to be just fine to have some easy days with easy combat.

  7. Really cool article. It’s awsome to see the progression from resting-as-part-of-life, to it functioning more as a long action, I always was curious about that. I’ve been playing a character in a 5ed campaign for a few months, and we immediately started using the “Gritty Realism” option for resting in the DMG. With the added caveat that spells and abils still refreshed after a “short” 8 hour rest to keep things reasonable. It’s been awsome and truly, well, gritty, having to discuss how far away we are from the next settlement, and whether it’s safe to start blowing HD on healing if a good rest is a far ways off. But I also run Rules Cyclopedia d&d for some of these folks, so I think we naturally lean towards harder healing rules. Wounds hurt, I’ve had my share of stitches and broken toes or sprained fingers, and your just not going to be feeling top-notch for a few days, at the least, after something like that. I would add tho, that when I run my RC game, we also add CON bonus’ to the one hp of natural healing that occurs on a rest day (I think that’s in the book actually), as well as allowing someone with the Cooking skill (and a supply of healthy food), to add a further 1d3 hp of “natural healing” to that, but only if the food is consumed along with the entire day of rest. Having a good cook in your camp, even in real life, makes everything just a little easier to handle. The two systems really are different animals though. In RC (ad&d), I find that one has to plan more “big picture” with your encounters, as opposed to “day-by-day”. Running old-school games, I find keeping the party at around 60%, of their hp, through battle, natural occurrences, and bad choices keeps them just on-edge enough that they feel like it’s a constant, but survivable struggle getting through each day.

    • I would also like to add that the RC rule for “long distance travel” is really good. On the parties 7th day of travel they must rest a full day or suffer -1 to hit and damage untill they do (they get tired), cumulative with another -1 or each extra week they travel without rest. This promotes rest days, as well as driving home how tiring it actually is being in the wild for weeks at a time. Boy are they happy to stumble into even the tiniest farming villiage after a trip cross-country!

  8. Why is it bull$#!+ to rewrite the rules of reality (with respect to healing, wounds, and mystical energy) to serve the needs of the story, but not when you’re doing it to preserve the challenge balance of the game?

  9. I’d say you’re quibbling, because D&D always has this tradition of borrowing from the technology of the day, and that the main purpose of these changes is just to minimize downtime and keep the game part going. That D&D is at its weakest as a simulation of a fantasy reality, and at its strongest as a tactical fantasy combat simulator.

    BUT… the resting rules bothered me a ton in 4th edition too. Mostly because it forced the pace of the game into this narrow predefined rates that I felt were outside of the kinds of stories I wanted to tell, and that as the guy who’s role it was to design interesting combat encounters, being able to control the pace of action points and daily powers was essential for creating balanced fights and have the right tension. Players often have these big feel bad moments involving set piece fights if they ‘wasted’ their cool powers on a bunch of stupid goblins. Or they start to feel bad because they’re constantly saving all their cool stuff for the ‘final’ boss.

    Long story:
    Years ago I ran a combat oriented campaign in 4th edition where the entire campaign was to take over the course of a single day. At the time I was felt the other dms in our group were hurting their campaigns trying to include combat every session. So I came up with ‘the combat’ campaign to relieve pressure and to showcase what the new system was capable of, but it kinda became its own thing. Players entered a tower filled with monsters and traps and had to rush to the top as quickly as possible.

    I had to completely reinvent the rest mechanics. One because players had to have a way to start a session fresh, and two the entire campaign took place over the course of a single day.
    Every floor typically had a ‘hidden object’ or special feature where the player could restore their encounter level stuff by spending a couple rounds charging. There were even mechanics for doing this in combat, but it wasn’t recommended. About every two floors was a mile stone, which granted an action point and recovered item powers. Since combat and challenges and puzzles took forever we could get about two floors (each floor was one encounter) of the dungeon done per session. This gave me control over the game’s difficulty, and was a way for players to enter the game fresh.

    For daily powers, I had a big object called a ‘yap stone’, which would be obvious on arrival. The players would find at about the same pace as milestones. These even had market place and ritual mechanics associated with them but the players never needed that (including a Raise Dead mechanic). I also had a rule that once a mana point was passed, players didn’t get an opportunity to charge again – no back tracking.

    What this did was allow me to create interesting tension throughout the campaign, players didn’t know exactly when they’d next be able to recharge. In one case, due to player action (Player: Can we do [incredibly dangerous and stupid thing]? DM: Are you sure?), the third floor started to sink into the ocean. Well, this was a yap stone floor, and another player *really* wanted to recharge his powers. He risked high probability of death just to get those back, then came up with a super clever way to get to the door to the fourth floor. It was one of the greatest moments in the campaign, everyone else at the table is like “No just go. Just run skip it”.

    “Do not, my friends, become addicted to resting, or it will take hold of you and you will resent its absence”. By having a literal rest button, it forced the players to be more strategic in the economy of their powers and think clearly about how they use each tool they had. Instead of just relying only on their character sheet, they were more likely to take advantage of the environment and traps. If they knew they were getting an action point back, they’d more likely use it for something cool. Further, if I knew players were coming up on a hard fight, I could front load them with more action points by using skill challenges or a role playing floor. I could hide the rest button behind an optional puzzle room or trap room, and it’d let the players decide how badly they wanted to push it.

    Long story short, the concept of a ‘rest button’ is AWESOME, but the weakness of it in traditional campaigns it that the players get to use it whenever they want, and it gives the rewards listed in the PHB. Then it’s like “well is it safe to sleep in this dungeon to get back our powers or…” or as a DM do you have to think about if the players can be attacked at night, or if there’s a story happening while the player is in the dungeon and how they’re supposed to deal with that (There are slaves waiting to be sacrificed at the ritual tonight, timed to begin just as the players enter the BBEG’s lair. Or is it tomorrow morning because the cleric is out of healing spells in that last fight and needs to take a nap?). Worse is when you’re designing a dungeon and think, ‘maybe I should start putting in beds and stuff for the players to sleep in.’ Just turn your game into a bethesda rpg and fill your dungeons with cooking pots and forges and a spot to chop lumber.

  10. AngryGM. I know you play Devil’s advocate and offer options you don’t always use yourself.
    In articles like this, could you include a mention of any choice/variations your personally use?

    Basically, do you use the regular rest mechanics, or have you tweaked them for your own campaigns?

  11. I think the only problem I have with having short rests after every encounter is that Warlocks become a nightmare…

    The way I’ve always explained short rests to my players is the “Bruce Willis Mechanic”. In Diehard he spends 20 minutes picking glass out of his feet and talking to his new cop buddy, then he is fine and dandy, he even seems to have more ammo…

  12. In my campaign I’ve chosen a sort of a “middle way”. I came directly from AD&D 2E, were every battle was a fucking nightmare if you don’t put your mind at work. I had my affairs with 3.X, but for me it was a cheesy game, with all that build multiclass stuff and other things. I was miserable those days, because we, prefering an “old, unbalanced game” were sort of pariahs in the Argentinan gaming comunity, and it was really hard to find players when I moved to Buenos Aires (the capital city).

    And even when I found them, I take from granted than they will be a lot more like my old group: strategic and tactical, awesome players. But not: they were from the core of the 3.X community (we Argentinians never fall for 4th edition, for several reasons), and they took the approach of hit the X button (not only “rest”, but every other fucking button), move X spaces. I had to adapt myself. The fights must to be easier, as they rely almost always on the stupid basic RAW choices.

    And then it came 5th edition. Then I find a new group. Several old school players, even a gay GM playing a vegan monk. And it was awesome at first, but the combats sort of suck. I personally find them boring as hell, as the party never tire, never is at a real risk because they have a druid with the healer feat, and a paladin, and the fucking long rests. And the solution was not to increase challenge (several times they hit the ground at 0 hp, which sucks), but I wanted than the fights were meaningful, even when they enter a dungeon and they had several fights in a day.

    Pause: I use a lot of tactical thought on fights, but in doses. Mostly like you have been advising in this blog, keeping true to the monsters: a powerful demon is never going to run away, goblins will ambush and retreat at the first sign of things going bad, and human soldiers tend to pick the better ground and use a lot of tactics mostly to stay alive, trying to retire in a safe way if they are in a dire situation

    After a while, when the DMG was published, I took the Slow Natural Healing and Healing Kit Dependancy rules from there, but tweaked a bit: they now can use only 1 Hit Dice per short rest after a succesful Medicine check spending a use of the Healing Kit; and for every 5 points above 15 in the check (20; 25; 30) they have a “free” hit dice to use. In a long rest, provided that they make a succesful medicine check, they can use every Hit Dice, with the same rule above (a free dice for every 5 points above 15). They recover half their Hit Dice every night of good rest.

    This rule keeps the combat more meaningful without the risk of TPKs, as their healing resources are scarcer but single combats aren’t more dangerous (traps and multiple combats certaintly BECAME more deadly, so they tend to avoid stupid fights and be more careful overall), and there is a way to make the medicine proficiency more relevant (if you have +7 with an 18 check you have two free dices), and healing kits more meaningful.

  13. A bit of an old post, but I wanted to bring up some specific issues with resting after every encounter in 5e.

    Fighters are intended to be monsters between short rests, especially battlemasters. BM fighter can nova every fight, which means you basically need to plan all of your encounters around the idea that the fighter can deal 70+% of your “boss” monster’s hp and/or kill 2+ “filler” monsters on his first turn for every single combat. I sort of think this is unfair to the party to have every encounter scaled upwards just because the BM has an action surge/superiority dice, instead of having the interesting decision of saving resources because the current fight is fairly trivial.

    This is also a problem with monks who can use their strongest powers basically without limit at any given level if they get a short rest every combat. Same issue as fighter above, but probably considerably less powerful overall. It’s somewhat telling though that an elemental monk can basically spam a limited pool of sorc spells as long as he gets a short rest between each combat. It seems odd that if one wanted to use a lot of high powered magic blasts, one would play a monk instead of a sorc (who is the class typically associated with many spells per rest).

  14. I like the newer resting system. You just shouldn’t be a moron about it. If the party does stuff that you would constitute as a short or long rest, and they want the bonus (and they usually do), give it to them. Party stayed in a save room for a while, talking to an NPC? “You guys stayed about an hour in there. You want that to count as a short rest and heal up?”
    The interrupted long rest? IS STILL A FUCKING LONG REST IF THEY CONTINUE TO SLEEP AFTERWARDS. God damn. It’s not that fucking hard.

  15. Additional unimportant nitpick: since each Hit Dice will only give the avarege + Con Hit Points, and since you get half your maximum HD every long rest, the proper bonus HP should be 25%.

    • No it shouldn’t because each level except first you get the average of your hd rounded up as your HP. So with average hd rolls you should pretty much be healed up with 1/2 max hd. So +50% is more correct.

  16. Another very interesting article. Just thinking at the top of my head here, but how about a short rest lasts 10 minutes per Hit Die spent during said short rest (minimum of 5 minutes if character spends no hit die). So if the 6th level rogue has 5 hp left after an encounter (pretty tired, dispirited, and battered up) and spends his 6 hit dice to regain hit points (binding wounds, sitting, napping), then his short rest lasts one hour. But the group’s wizard is almost full hit points but would like to spend a short rest to regain a spell slot (arcane recovery feature); then *his* short rest lasts 5 minutes. If a combat starts after 30 minutes, the rogue still gets the benefit of 3 hit dice of healing, plus a reset for any features that require a short rest.
    Using this rule, a very battered up, exhausted, bloodied, 12th level party with critically low hit points might need a 2 hour short rest to spend 12 hit dice– or less of course if they can rely on magical healing and save hit dice for later.

  17. Pingback: Healing that even @TheAngryGM would like? – Microlite20 Press

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