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You Down with PPP? (Yeah, You Know Me!)

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All right, it’s rant time. Once a month, I do these BS articles to basically unload a crappy, rambling, blog post instead of a crappy, random semi-useful article. Most of the time, they’re about problems I’m trying to think through. Like last month. That’s when I talked about the problems with downtime and time in general in RPGs. Sometimes, though, these BS articles are rants brought on by reading the responses to previous articles – comments, e-mails, messages, discussions in Discord, and so on. Well, that’s this month.

See, there’s this toxic, cancerous idea that lurks in the brains of otherwise good GMs that I need to address before it spreads any further. It’s about dealing with a thing I’ve decided just now to call the Player Pacing Paradox. Why? Because I like giving names to things and I like alliteration. The Player Pacing Paradox is a consequence of the way certain RPGs are designed. And a consequence of the way other RPGs aren’t designed. It’s related to the downtime issue I talked about last week. And, it IS a problem of design. Pure and simple.

And it’s something GMs have to deal with. They just do. Sucks but true. The problem is that A LOT of GMs – in my long, undocumented, and unscientific experience – fall back on a solution that is utterly and completely toxic to their games and their players. So, consider this a rant. It might be a rant against you if you do the thing I’m ranting about. If you don’t, though, it’s not actually a rant against you. Keep that in mind.

Either way, if this rant makes you feel bad, just remember: I don’t care. I’m not here to make you feel good. I’m here to make you good at running games.

The Obligatory Hypocrisy Head Off

And now we’re going to see if my readers are astute enough to wrap their cortexes around a complicated, nuanced point or if they lack the lateral thinking power that God gave spam. I need to explain something before I launch into this ranty discussion because if you put this article next to last month’s article, you’re going to accuse me of hypocrisy and use that to dismiss my argument. Not that I care, mind you. Yes, I’m a hypocrite sometimes. Every person on Earth is a hypocrite. Even you. You just lack the self-awareness necessary to admit it. But, hypocrisy is not, in itself, an argument against anything.

For example, I smoked for many years. Cigarettes. As did my parents. They still do. In fact, there’s a bunch of smokers in my family. And we all say the same thing to every kid in our family: don’t ever smoke. It makes you cough and stink and die. It’s awful. And we keep doing it anyway. Except me. I quit. I broke free because I almost died. At, like, 34. So, yeah. Now, are we all hypocrites? Yes. Does that mean “don’t ever smoke” is bad advice. No. That’s why we confront ideas, not the people espousing those ideas. Because smart people can have dumb ideas, dumb people can have smart ideas, and everyone can be smart and dumb at the same time. That’s humanity.

But, I also don’t care because, in this case, I’m not being a hypocrite. Let me explain.

Last month, I was trying to work out a game design problem. And I said that it was no fair pointing out that the problem could be solved by the GM at the table. Time is meaningless as written in D&D and Pathfinder and many other games. Though not all. GMs can fix that problem by imposing a meaning on time. But the games don’t tell the GM they should or why it’s important. So, you can’t judge the design based on that.

This month, I’m talking about pretty much the same problem. But, now I’m telling GMs that, yes, it is their job to fix the problem. And they are fixing it wrong. How can I hold both views? Because the context is different. And no matter what screaming morons on the Internet claim, context actually is important. It’s everything.

Last month, we were talking about how to design a game. How to fix the problem at the design level. Why? Who knows. Maybe to fix the game at the design level. Or to design a totally new game. We were talking about designing games, though.

This month, I’m talking about running an existing game that has a problem. And, while we should all agree – at least, you should agree with me because I’m right – while we should all agree the problem is a problem of design and should have been fixed sometime in the last forty years of edition after edition, the fact is it hasn’t been fixed. It’s still there. And it’s still messing with our games. So, if we want to run good games, we have to fix the problem.

It’s the difference between an ideal situation and a real situation. Ideally, we should never have to fix the problem in a game we’ve sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into and the game designers really should know better. Practically, the problem is there and if we don’t fix it, it’s going to cause problems.

It’s like: yes, cars are supposed to give you, a pedestrian, the right of way in a marked crossing. But you’d better pay attention, because if a car doesn’t yield to you, you’ll still be dead. The moral high ground won’t bring you back to life. That isn’t victim blaming. It’s the real freaking world.

The Player Pacing Paradox

Let’s talk about the nature of role-playing games. Basically, when you get down to it, an RPG is about you – the GM – presenting the players with a situation and the players making a choice about how to deal with that situation. That’s what happens on the level of individual actions. That’s what happens on the encounter level. And on the adventure level. And the campaign level. And that’s the defining feature of a role-playing game. The open-ended choice that players have to deal with whatever situations they are presented. Now, some RPGs try to screw with that formula by asking the players to create the situations and they call that “engaging” and “narrative-driven.” But that’s bullshit. Those games suck.

As a GM, the only thing you can do is create situations. You create a village full of innocent people who are being tormented by a dragon and you put that situation in front of the players and hope the hell that they decide to fix the situation by killing the dragon. Or whatever. Now, as a GM, you also have to give the players a reason to deal with the situation. You have to push the players to care about the plight of the people. Or you have to give the dragon a glittering horde of dragon treasure. Whatever. That’s because the one thing you can’t do is force the players to do a specific thing. You can’t rob the players of their agency without breaking the thing that makes an RPG an RPG.

Basically, that means all you really have to work with is incentives and consequences. Some at the character level, some at the player level. If you take on this adventure, you’ll earn XP and your character will become more powerful. If you kill the dragon, you’ll get a bunch of treasure. If you save the village, you’ll be doing the right thing. If you ignore the adventure, a bunch of innocent characters will suffer and die. If you fight the dragon, you’ll prove you’re a bad-enough player to win against my awesome dragon challenge.

That’s how it works.

Now, the players want lots of things. Different players want different things. They want to be true to their character. Or they want to make their character more powerful. Or they want to feel like a hero. Or they want to overcome a challenge. Or they want to hang out with their friends. Whatever. But the one thing the players can pretty much agree on is that they want their characters to survive and to win. If you have a player who doesn’t want to survive and win, they are screwing with the fundamental fabric of the game. That’s why GMs who say “try to help your players embrace losing and failing” are pants-on-head retarded.

Anyway…

How does this relate to pacing?

Well, the players pace the game. That is, they decide what actions to take and when and where to go and what to do. If they want to dilly-dally for three days before they go off to the dragon’s lair or if they want to retreat from the dragon’s lair and rest, that’s their prerogative. You can’t control that. And, frankly, it’s important that you can’t because the game – D&D here – has made that into part of the strategy of the game. Certain resources are contingent on the pacing of the game. Basically, every class has expendable abilities that get recovered when the party rests. Short rests or long rests. And hit points, the measure of when the players have died, are also restored at rests. Depending on the edition, it might take an hour or eight hours or weeks to get your hit points, but the actual time involved doesn’t matter.

But you, as the GM, are encouraged to build a game based around a certain pace. That is, the players need to divide their daily resources between four to eight encounters, depending on level, edition, and all that other crap. Well, at least these days. Once upon a time, the number of challenges in an adventuring day was much less mechanically proscribed. But that’s another discussion.

And, by the way, I’m just using the resting mechanic as ONE EXAMPLE of the game’s pace. You can frame this problem, the Player Pacing Paradox, in a way that pertains to downtime. That’s sort of what I did last month.

Pacing, by the way, isn’t just a matter of game balance. It’s also a matter of the narrative flow of the game. The game feels most satisfying if the challenges get more and more dangerous. That is, tension should rise over the course of an adventure or play session or whatever. The party should be pretty beaten up by the time they reach the boss. If there is a boss. Otherwise, it’s not a climax. And you never want the climax to follow a rest.

So, on the one hand, for reasons of both a good GAME and a good STORY, the GM wants to pace the game a certain way. On the other hand, the GM doesn’t set the pace of the game. He’s entirely reactive. And there’s nothing he can do if the players decide to change the pace. Not built into the system itself. And forcing the players to follow a certain pace will damage the game irrevocably by being both a theft of agency and a screw job.

THAT is the Player Pacing Paradox.

Beating the Players to Death with the Stick

“Aha,” says the GM, confronted with the Player Pacing Paradox, “I cannot force a certain pace, but I can create consequences and then the players will have to accept the pace I set.” And so, when the players say, “we want to rest in the Dungeon, for we have depleted our resources beyond our ability to continue,” the GM says, “I shall let them rest in the dungeon. But their rest shall be interrupted by a host of terrible beasts. After all, the party cannot expect safety in the dungeon. And they will be forced to accept that they cannot rest and continue the adventure properly.”

And so it goes. The players set up camp in the dungeon, they are jumped in the night, the combat interrupts their rest and further depletes their resources. But now, thinks the GM, they will be forced to continue. Assuming they survive the ambush while they were resting. Of course, the additional depletion of their resources may be enough to ensure they don’t survive the adventure. They might not have been truly able to survive the adventure. Maybe they were right. Maybe they really needed a rest.

This is the dangerous attitude I mentioned that some GMs use as a solution to the Player Pacing Paradox. Hell, someone even pointed out that the execrable Xanathar’s Guide to Everything has a system called “foils,” that the GM can use to stop the players from spending too much time on downtime activity. Basically, they are rivals that the GM can keep in reserve and use to screw the players if the players spend “too much” time on downtime activities.

Is it a valid approach? Well, technically yes. That’s what the GM does. Uses incentives and consequences to drive the players to act. Is it a good approach? It really, really isn’t. It’s a bad approach. It’s a dangerous approach. And it isn’t remotely interesting or compelling. It’s kind of arbitrary and it leads to one-upmanship and it amounts to a well-intentioned screwjob. At its core, it is punishing players for not playing the game the way the GM intended.

Let’s take that resting in the dungeon thing and really break it down. Let’s ignore arguments about what’s realistic for now because those are stupid arguments that I refuse to waste my time on. Yes, it is unrealistic to expect to be able to camp out unmolested in enemy territory. But it is equally unrealistic to say that there are no precautions that could be taken to allow you to hide out in enemy territory and recover without being discovered for a few hours. So, it’s a wash. Shut up about realism.

Let’s also ignore the problem of the fifteen-minute workday problem. That is, let’s ignore parties that rest after every encounter to recover their resources and face every obstacle fresh as a daisy. We’re going to call that an exploit. And, while it IS a problem and I HAVE had parties do it, it is not a constant problem and not every party plays that way.

We’re going to talk only about a party playing in a good faith. They are pushing themselves as hard as they dare in an attempt to complete the adventure, but they aren’t willing to die to complete the adventure. Which is fair enough.

The party decides, after getting through half the encounters the book says they should be able to get through, that they are spent and need a break. They need to recover. Spells are depleted, hit points are depleted, and so on. They look over their resources and decide that’s enough. They aren’t comfortable pushing forward.

Now, here’s the thing: they don’t know what’s coming up. They could be right, they could be wrong. They might have the resources needed. Or it might be a really close call. Or they might lose someone on the way. Or they might all die. They are making their best guess. And part of that best guess is a modifier called risk aversion.

Every human being is risk averse. That is, all else being equal, we don’t like to take risks. That’s also called survival instinct, by the way. Because losses and injuries reduce our ability to survive. Even losses and injuries that don’t kill us. But everyone has a different level of risk aversion. On average, people do tend to place a higher value on losses than gains, so that the rewards have to grow much faster than the risks do for someone to take the chance. But that’s not important. What’s important is that everyone does this little risk-reward calculation whenever they do anything.

So, the players say, “what is the risk of carrying on? Well, my character might die. Or we all might die. And lose the game.” That sucks. And they weight that against their desire to carry on and complete the adventure in one go. Which, when you get down to it, that’s kind of a sucky motivation. So, players tend to be very risk averse. Because there’s no prize for winning without needing a rest.

Now, where it gets tricky is what happens on the GM side. Your motives are, well, weird. First, you know the fifteen-minute workday is a problem. And you don’t want your players to get too liberal with their resting. Second, you know your adventure will feel more exciting if the players have to suffer attrition to get to the end. So, for those reasons, you don’t want your players to rest. Fine and dandy.

If you just stop there though, you’re going to jump your players in the night with some minor enemy. Not enough to kill them, but enough to keep them moving. To convince them they can’t just rest.

But you can’t stop there, can you. Because, let’s suppose the party really does need a rest. Do you really want to force your players along a death march? I mean, on the one side is avoidance of the fifteen-minute workday and a good climax. On the other side is dead characters or maybe a dead party. Is that really a good trade? Do you want to be the GM who rides their players to death?

Realism aside, balance aside, how is that in keeping with your goal as a GM? Yes, loss and death should be possible consequences. But what you’re doing is robbing the players of the chance to avoid them when you march them to death. They screwed up and overspent their resources. Whoops. Or they are misjudging future encounters. Whoops. But they see that mistake now. And they are trying to head it off BEFORE it kills them. Isn’t that, also, the essence of an RPG?

And that’s also assuming perfect judgement on your part. You ain’t perfect. Sorry. Assuming you even take the time to figure out the resources expended by the players vis a vis the resources they should have spent to decide whether they are really over-resting, you could be wrong. And the next encounter could go really bad. You’ve effectively second-guessed the players on their own characters survival. And if you get it wrong and PCs die, that’s your fault. You screwed your players. Good on you. And you can comfort yourself by saying, “I only created the consequences, they made the choice that killed them; it’s just not safe to rest in a dungeon,” but you’re a still a dick. Because you could easily have said, “it’s not safe to rest in the dungeon, but if you retreat, you can rest safely.”

And this is the problem with saying, “well, I only use encounters to stop the players from resting when I think they are abusing the system.” You’re still beating your players into the ground with a stick.

Keeping Yourself Honest

So far, I’ve been talking about the GMs who spring encounters on their players when they feel the players need to be spurred on. To keep adventuring despite their own desire for a rest, to prevent abusing the rest system, or because they are spending too much time in town instead of playing the fun game. And, look, it’s all with the best of intentions. It’s all about making the game fun. And players will optimize the fun out of the game once they discover they can win that way. To be honest, one of the reasons many groups DON’T use the fifteen-minute workday exploit is because it’s a weird thing to do. It just doesn’t feel natural. So, players assume it’s something they can’t do. Then, one day, they have an emergency and pull out of the dungeon because they have no choice and they discover that there really isn’t any reason why they can’t do that after every encounter. The fifteen-minute workday is a FOOS, a first order, optimal strategy. It’s an easy, optimal way to win any adventure that is merely a series of encounters. But it has to be discovered before it can be used. And it’s alien to a lot of people’s thinking. Until the day it isn’t.

Not the point though. Because good intentions don’t absolve you of responsibility for what you actually do. Sorry. If you spring encounters on players to drive them to play the right way, you’re wrong.

But is it any different if you simply roll for random encounters? The short answer is “yes.” The longer answer is “yes, it is completely different, as long as the random encounter system is actually fair.”

What do I mean by fair? I mean that the players can tweak the odds and the GM can’t. Weird, right? But hear me out.

The players should be able to tweak the odds of a random encounter by taking certain actions. For example, resting in the dungeon as opposed to in the wilderness outside. That should change the odds of the encounter. Or, if the players rest in an area of the dungeon the monsters don’t visit, that should change the odds. Like a room that the monsters think is sealed up. Or a room that used to contain a dangerous wild creature like an ooze or slime that the denizens of the dungeon avoid. Like that one room in the goblin warren that the goblins avoid because of the ooze that lives there.

Second, the players should be able to mitigate the risks of the random encounter. For example, if they camp out in an area that has only entrance that can be sealed or barricaded or trapped or alarmed, they should at least be able to ready themselves to defend their camp against attack when the encounter does interrupt them. I mean, if the uninjured archer can hold the narrow cleft that provides the only entrance to the cave the party is sleeping in, the rest of the party should be able to sleep right through the encounter.

Third, as a GM, you can’t tweak the odds just because you think the players are abusing the system. That is, you can’t penalize the players for taking too many rests. That way, you prevent your own arbitrary judgement or misjudgment from interfering with your actual job. You create situations, incentives, and consequences, and the players decide how to deal with them.

It’s a subtle point, but it’s the difference between a transaction and coercion. It allows for a negotiation between the players and the GM. The players want a rest. They feel like they need one. The GM doesn’t want them to take a rest for various reasons related to game balance, excitement, and fear of abuse. If the GM simply makes resting impossible, that’s tyranny. And if the GM makes resting so dangerous that it’s never a viable option unless the GM decides it’s okay in a particular case, that’s coercion. But if the GM says, “okay, you can rest, but here’s the risk,” the players can say, “okay, but can we take the time to mitigate the risk by doing this,” the GM can say, “yes, but it will cost you this.” And then a compromise is reached. The players accept the risk – or don’t – and the game continues. And whatever happens, the players have earned the outcome.

Is that an argument for telling the players the odds? Do they have to know exactly what the chances of a random encounter are and how much their various efforts might change them? No. Certainly not. As long as they know the odds are fair and follow a pattern that they’ve been able to learn over the course of the game, and as long as they trust the GM, the odds don’t have to be known exactly. Of course, that means that the random encounter system has to be systematic. It has to be something the players can see. Even if it only comes up when the players rest, for example, it has to come up every time they rest. That way, they can learn what to expect and make choices accordingly. And that’s why it’s not fair to change the odds when you feel like the players are abusing the system. Or why it’s not fair to only make rolls when the players are abusing the system. Because they can’t rely on what they’ve learned to make good decisions. That’s bad Game Mastery.

And developing a good system is all about figuring out exactly what the ideal behavior is. For example, I might decide that players get one Long Rest a day. That’s the ideal. And since most adventures should take three days – one day getting there, one day of adventure, one day getting home – the players shouldn’t have to deal with an interrupted Long Rest more than once, on average. And really, they shouldn’t have their rest interrupted at all unless they take more than three rests. So, the chances of a rest being interrupted are, on average, 1 in 4. Simple as that. If the players rest in the dungeon, it could drop to 1 in 2. If they take precautions in the wilderness, it could drop to 1 in 6. Heck, if I just want to use a d6, I could adjust everything to 3 in 6 in the dungeon, 2 in 6 in the wild, and 1 in 6 with drastic precautions. Of course, those drastic precautions have to have a cost. Maybe they can only find a well-protected camp with a good Survival check. And failing the Survival check costs them extra food and water as they wander around looking. Or there’s a chance they get lost. Something like that. I don’t know. I’m just thinking.

Am I saying you HAVE TO use random encounters to deal with the Player Pacing Paradox? Are encounters the only way? No. YOU are the one who decided to use encounters as your solution. I’m just telling you that there’s a good, honest, fair way to use them in a sucky, dishonest way to use them to turn your adventure into the Trail of Player Tears. And, look, I use random encounters too. I like them. They’re fun. And traditional.

But they aren’t the only way.

Maybe Carrots?

When I started writing this, I was just going to rant about how beating your players down with encounters to keep them from playing wrong was a sucky thing for a GM to do. Even if done with the best of intentions, it’s a dishonest, unfair screwjob. And I was going to say how systems and mechanics can sometimes keep you honest and ensure that you’re inviting the players to compromise with your mechanics. Not quite in those words, mind you. I don’t talk like a hippie. But the more I thought about the Player Pacing Paradox, the more solutions I started to see. Solutions that could be implemented pretty easily. And solutions that were based on carrots rather than sticks.

There’s lots of ways to create incentives and consequences. We call them carrots and sticks. Or rewards and punishments. And we generally think carrots are better than sticks because, well, punishment sucks and people respond better to rewards.

Well, sort of. I mean, if you know operant conditioning, you know it’s more complicated than that. You’ve got reinforcement vs. punishment and you’ve got positive vs. negative. But I don’t feel like trying to explain the difference between positive punishment and negative reinforcement to a bunch of people who are going to call me a hypocrite for writing this article and then think they won the Internet for doing so.

Let’s just say there’s four ways to change behavior and the specific type of change you’re trying to instill determines what works best. For example, we’re not really trying to get players to stop taking rests. We’re trying to get them to get to a certain point in the adventure – the climax – without stopping to rest. Framed in that way, we want to encourage them to press on more than we want to discourage them from stopping. And that means reinforcement is the best way to go. And we can reinforce good behavior by either giving reward or withholding a punishment. Basically, “if you get through this whole adventure without sleeping, I’ll give you a carrot” or “if you get through this whole adventure without sleeping, I won’t beat you with this stick.”

See how this works? By the way, hitting someone for doing something wrong IS NOT negative reinforcement. Not hitting someone for doing something right is negative reinforcement.

Anyhoo…

I’ve talked a lot time and I’ve got a lot of thoughts about how to build pacing into the game. But I’m going to mention one interesting idea. Imagine if every adventure includes an XP Award for completing the adventure. They really should, after all. But D&D and Pathfinder only go so far as to recommend that that is something you could optionally do if you wanted maybe. Because RPGs these days are written by pussies who are afraid to design good games because it’s too constraining to the special snowflakes.

Now, there’s a pool of bonus XP for completing the adventure too. Or a multiplier. I don’t know. Something. It represents the fact that people learn and grow the most when they push themselves to their limits. Each time they take a long rest during the adventure, the bonus is reduced by a certain factor. The PCs are going easy on themselves, not challenging themselves. At the end of the adventure, if they succeed, they get the XP Award plus whatever bonus is left in the pile.

Or, what if all the XP you earn during an adventure goes into a pile. You don’t get it until the adventure is successfully completed. Each time you rest, it depletes some of the XP from the adventure pool. Maybe by a percentage and the percentage grows each time you rest.

This addresses the problem that there really isn’t an incentive to push yourself to complete an adventure in one day. At least, the players don’t have any incentive. That’s why it’s so easy to decide to rest.

You could build similar systems for each instance of a Player Pacing Paradox. I’m just thinking out loud. It’s not like the speed at which the PCs gain XP matters anyway. GMs usually ensure that each adventure is appropriate to the players’ levels. The only time it’d get tricky is during long, multipart adventures. I have other solutions too, but I need to massage them before they are ready for primetime.

And this isn’t really about solving the problem anyway. It’s about stopping you from solving it wrong. Which I’ve hopefully done. But, I might have done you a terrible disservice by stopping you from solving the problem wrong without solving it right for you. Or have I?

GMs Overvalue Stuff Too

To be totally honest, GMs really overvalue this crap. Crap like pacing and attrition and climaxes and stuff. And I admit I’m one of them. Yes, climaxes feel best when they come after a slog. And yes, the game works best if the heroes deal with six encounters a day. But what if they don’t? What if the players pull back just before the dragon fight, rest, and face the dragon totally fresh? Well, then the fight will be easy, and the players will pat themselves on the back for being smart enough to rest and recover. Sure, if they start doing it every time, you might have to push the difficulty of your climaxes up, but so what? If the party then decides one time NOT to retreat and rest, well, that’s their problem. They trained you to expect that. Whoops.

Not to be flippant, but the Player Pacing Paradox can be annoying, but it’s not a disaster except in extreme situations. And extreme situations are best addressed by sitting everyone down, identifying the problem, and putting forward a solution that works for everyone. So, let me tell you how I really handle rests in my game.

When the party decides to retreat from the dungeon and rest, I just freaking let them!

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42 thoughts on “You Down with PPP? (Yeah, You Know Me!)

  1. I’m working (slow, new baby in the house) on a rest system that would basically modulate the rest benefit according to the quality of the resting place. Like, trying to rest in the poison swamp wont recover you. Resting in the luxury suit of the ye olde medieval spa would grant temp hp and remove exhaustion asap. Such a subsystem would make it easier to create hard days where players need to push through. It would also give opportunities for certain classes like rangers to get bonuses when resting on favored terrain or a use for high survival score (set up a good camp, get better rest). I feel like that would be a useful (but not all encompassing) tool.

    • I used to grant temp hp for resting in luxury, but then I realised that temp hit dice might work better (or bonus healing surges in 4e).

      Also, while reading your post, I thought you were going to suggest bonus xp for the quality of rest area, which reminded me of the Final Fantasy 15 xp system.
      FF15 saves up your xp to grant you all at once when you rest, with an xp multiplier based on the quality of rest area (resting in that game isn’t as useful as in D&D, but let’s just pretend it is for the sake of comparison). This promotes saving up your xp and not resting until you find a nicer rest area.

      Many D&D groups already rule that you can’t level up until you rest, so it’s not much different to say that you don’t get xp until you rest either. Then add bonus xp for resting in town and you’ve got a nice incentive to push on until you clear the dungeon.

      I would advise against having luxury rest areas with higher xp multipliers be rare or hard to find, because that just encourages hoarding xp, and in FF15 it was super annoying when you spent several days worth of xp at once on a decent multiplier, then discovered a much better multiplier in the next town over.
      Also, if you like all your players being the same level, it’s probably best to give every tavern the same xp multiplier, otherwise different players might want different levels of luxury and thus receive different amounts of xp. Luxury inns can always just reward bonus hit dice or temp hp or have faster recovery times instead.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this problem for a while, and realised that so many people only ever talk about disincentivising players from resting via “random” encounters and adventure timers. So I figured, “what about incentivising *not* resting?

    So I started contemplating possible rewards for the players to push themselves further. More gold and other material rewards are too much of a Schrödinger’s cat to fluctuate that suddenly; it’s not like dragons go to town every night to spend 10% of their hoards on merrymaking. And it conversely feels like a disincentive if you start removing loot after every rest.

    Bonus exp is more reasonable, but if they get too much, it could make them level faster, which would enable them later encounters much easier, which could snowball unless the GM adjusts these encounters, which negates the reward. Alternatively the bonus is so small that it’s practically negligible, at which point it ceases to be a reward. It becomes a bunch of extra work to find that sweet spot where reward is neither overwhelming nor irrelevant.

    Ultimately, the best kind of reward I could think of is something transient enough to not affect the adventure at large, while also granting a tangible benefit. An extra inspiration point after every encounter, perhaps, though that would bring the usual problems that inspiration has with it (though maybe the regular reminder of “you get an inspiration point” after every encounter would help). It could symbolise the party getting into the workflow, and them getting motivated by past successes. It would also help parties that accidentally misjudge how far they can get, since they now have more resources to work with. Any leftover points could also be spent on rest, such as quicker recovery or a bonus to not being ambushed while asleep (after all, the characters have spent an entire day fighting and may still be battle ready on a level so deep that even sleep doesn’t affect it).

    • Yes. At a first glance I loved the XP bonus “carrot” mechanism, but now I share your concern: extra XP are irrelevant until they are sufficient to gain an extra level. If the amount is small, it risks to be a too long-term reward to be effective. If the amount is high and many extra levels are gained, the GM would be forced to increase the encounter difficulty, so “countering” the reward effect.

      The only thing that comes to my mind, at the moment, is that the extra levels may be a reward by themselves: players like to have new spells, skills, class features, and in general to feel “more powerful than before”.
      From this point of view, an XP bonus with high amount (so that extra levels are gained often) may be a viable solution, even if the future encounter level is adjusted accordingly. By the way, future treasures would be probably adjusted too…

      • This is absolutely absurd. “If it’s too small, it isn’t worth anything… but if it’s too big, it’l break everything.” If only there were a giant space between two extremes where a solution could be found. Something called THE MIDDLE. I mean, seriously, since when do I have to tell people “obviously, you have to find a balance.” I even nodded to the idea of planning around the optimal play experience.

        But the assumptions in this comment go beyond even that false dilemma. Like, the idea that a GM planning adventures around the level of the PCs is somehow “countering.” COUNTERING? Seriously? Is that what you’re doing?

        You are overestimating the fine control GMs and adventures exercise over how much experience is given out and the risk of PCs being slightly over-leveled for a challenge. The game doesn’t exist on that sort of razor-edge of balance. If it did, every published adventure that spans more than one level would be crap. And despite your personal opinion of published adventures, they actually work just fine and many, MANY people enjoy them. So, don’t hand me the “they’re broken” crap.

        At least you did eventually realize that even if the challenges DO increase as the PCs levels do – which is how the entire freaking game works, by the way – even if that does happen, the PCs will still enjoy the warm fuzzy of advancement.

        Of course, the most obvious solution – the one strongly alluded to in everything I said – is maybe don’t give out XP until the end of an adventure. Maybe the PCs can only level up between adventures when they have time in a safe place to train, study, reflect, meditate, pray, or whatever. Then you won’t have PCs overleveled in the middle of adventures. And longer adventures could have those periods built in. Or else, the PCs have to at least retreat to town and do that.

        Holy crap, but GMs will overthink and nitpick themselves into a tizzy if you let them. They are worse than players.

      • It sounds like your adventures are long enough that players will level up (or otherwise “use” their XP) during the adventure. If you are concerned about this messing up your adventure’s challenge curve, but you don’t want to take Angry’s suggestion of only leveling up at the end of the adventure, consider making the “bonus” XP the primary source of XP. This will offset the challenge reduction caused by a frequent resting strategy with an effective challenge increase from the players not gaining in level as much throughout the course of the adventure.

        But a word of caution: once you do this, frequent resting to reduce difficulty no longer really reduces difficulty. If the players are frequently resting, they may be sending you a signal that the adventure may be legitimately difficult for them and that they don’t know how to handle that difficulty other than just refreshing all their assets. They probably either are saying they can’t predict the upcoming challenges or that they feel there’s no good way to mitigate the difficulty of the challenges they do predict. If it’s a problem at your table, yeah, the adventure designer let you down, and now as GM it falls on your shoulders to fix – and you need to fix it by changing the adventure to give your players different difficulty-reducing or challenge-changing options (e.g. options to turn combat challenges into skill or social challenges, providing more concrete intel about what lies ahead, etc).

        That being said, regardless of your XP awarding mechanic, if it works at your table, you really should consider doing level ups at the end of adventures, even if it’s a multiple-level gain. It makes adventure planning easier, gets some players more excited about the adventure climax and conclusion, eliminates short-term vs long-term character advancement dilemmas (which _suck_), and when done together around the table, can be a great spot for the players to have a little party retrospective about lessons learned and what went well and what didn’t and how to improve their characters as a team. And it will mostly eliminate any concern about giving “too much” experience.

        • Thank you for taking your time for this detailed response.

          As I said above, I probably failed to explain myself correctly, which is my fault.
          My first paragraph was purely theoretical and had the purpose of introducing my thoughts which were in the second one.
          I am not concerned about the challenge curve of a specific adventure, and I gladly accept the recommendation of doing level ups at the end of each adventure: actually, this is what I already do.

          I will make treasure of your hints, anyways.

          • Yeah, due to either the moderation delay or my own lack of reading ability I didn’t notice your above post, sorry.

            Perhaps the comment will be useful for someone else out there.

            Rock on!

    • “More gold and other material rewards are too much of a Schrödinger’s cat to fluctuate that suddenly; it’s not like dragons go to town every night to spend 10% of their hoards on merrymaking. And it conversely feels like a disincentive if you start removing loot after every rest.”

      It’s not the answer for every scenario, definitely. BUT–I can think of specific instances where you could communicate to your players “Now that you’ve kicked in their front door, killed a few guys, and taken their stuff, the jig is up. They’re going to start relocating their stuff elsewhere, and the longer you dally, the less treasure will be available to loot.” That could even be the hook for a later adventure: “You trashed Evil Cult’s Outpost, but because you rested so much they moved a lot of treasure and key personnel to their Secret Temple. Go there and get them.” And then maybe the next time they’ll scout the area first, maybe think up ways to block off escape routes or funnel escapees through choke points.

    • More XP is solved via the use of encounter zones. For example:
      The players are now APL 3, and the area they’re in has encounters with a CR from 2 to 4 + the boss who is CR 5. They can grind, snowball, get to APL 5, kill the boss and the next area is CR 5-7.

      Can players grind a lot to get to APL 6 or so? Yes, they can, if they’re willing to spend so much frigging time grinding that you end up wondering what’s the point.

  3. I like the Depleting Bonus XP Pool idea. As the Time Pool visually signals a growing sense of dread, the DBXP Pool visually signals a growing sense of momentum.

    I have two ideas, one of which I want to try in my group next time is akin to World of Warcraft’s rested bonus.

    1) Completing a third encounter without a long rest gets a bonus +10% XP. The fourth nets +20%. A fifth nets +30%, and then stops. A sixth or more earns no bonus XP. I like this since PCs know the final encounter in a complete adventure usually nets the most XP. I also am not terribly worried about “advancing the PCs too fast.”

    2) Same as 1, except the 3rd encounter grants inspiration to be used during that encounter, with the 4th and 5th granting it also. This could replace other means of getting inspiration, although I am a fan of Angry’s Pre-Granted Inspiration and Inspired Actions system.

    • Once again, 4e took a swing at this problem in the form of Milestones and Action Points – Milestones which were terribly confusing in their relation to magic item uses, but the Action Points (you gain an action point after every other encounter in a day, lose them all when you extended rest) was a step in the right direction imo.

      Of course, tying so many abilities to them meant you had to limit them, and limiting them to once per encounter kind of ruins the point of saving them up, which means that the easiest way to make sure you get an action point for every encounter is to extended rest before every encounter and whoops we’ve come full circle back to the problem…

      But at least they **tried** to address it.

    • Your first idea is something similar to what I’ve been using in my games.
      1st encounter after long rest nets regular XP
      2nd +10%
      3rd +20%
      and so on, up to the max +50% on 6th encounter.

      So far it seems my players like it, especially paired with giving 2x XP for clearing an encounter without any injuries. The double XP increase is what I’m experimenting with to incentivize approaches to combat that aren’t as direct as a regular arena combat.

      I don’t have a problem with increased XP gain, it actually increases the leveling rate to a sweet spot for my games and players. The PPP turns out ok since the bonus is capped at 6th encounter.

      Another thing I keep track of on top of the above is time. Resting takes 8hrs, and I always have some form of time based events for adventures which the players are aware of.

  4. I’ve actually come up with a solution that works out for me thanks to the time pool mechanic. I start adventures with an “incitement” encounter or two, then give them a safe space they can easily find. If I roll for a random encounter in the time pool and they are in the “safe space”, they see the random encounter pass by with no I’ll effects. However, that is the only clear safe space I provide, so if they spend too much of the adventure backtracking the chances of random encounters increases. I see it as an emergency plan if an encounter in the middle of the adventure was far harder than I thought it should be, but also as motivation to keep the party moving forward when they are near the end since once the climax happens there’s little need for any random encounters anymore.

  5. I try to solve this problem in a similar, although a little less abstract, way.
    Along with the main quest goal, there are optional goals that players want to achieve. Alternatively, there’s a number of equally important goals (save the princess, capture the villain, lift the curse, loot the secret vault). Ideally players would want to achieve all of them, but realistically they aim for some of them, ingoring the rest. Whenever the players take “too long” (my subjective judgement), the story advances, threatening one of the optional goals so that achieveing it becomes harder or outright impossible. “Too long” usually includes excessive resting, farming, squeezing meager profits in risk-averse ways, etc.

    If the players progress fast enough (my subjective judgement), they manage to solve most problems before it’s too late. They get satisfaction, and also exp for completing optional goals.
    If the players are too slow, I don’t lock them out of “winning” by solving the main problem, but incur more narrative costs, making the win progressively more phyrric. The players also don’t get exp for optional goals they couldn’t achieve.

    It works well, because:
    – GM only delcares costs, the story is still driven by player decisions.
    – bad decisions lead to a vicotry (that might be bitter, but still a victory), rather thatn to a party kill.
    – Narrative consequences are better for pacing. They tend to push players to speed up the progress, while simply preventing the players from camping doesn’t make them want to camp less – they will just waste more time to ensure a camp, which will wreck the pacing even further.

    The downside here is the heavy narrative lifting that GM is subjected to – but, as you said, we don’t have much choice here.

  6. I think that a mix of solutions is a good solution here. A lot of the carrots feel a little gamey to me, and ungrounded in the fiction of the setting ( I loathe mechanics in dungeon crawlers that encourage you to blitz through), but that’s me.

    If you mix it up enough, you can even foil players natural tendency to degenerate into the 5 minute work day while only occasionally using any mechanic at all. That is, you don’t have to use a mechanic in every dungeon, just often enough that they don’t get into the habit of abusing it.

    An additional thing that I do that works for my game is, after every long rest or session break, I always start the game off with a very weak encounter. It serves to set the stakes of the beginning of the day very low, while still draining the party’s resources a bit. This means that whatever happens next is a rise in tension. In cases where it’s a new session, it also gets the party back into the swing of the game, before they have to make decisions that might kill their characters. Things like remember to check for traps, or approach conversations carefully, or just being tactical and remember what their current HP is.

  7. Not sure if you follow Matthew Colville or not, but he did a video ( this one, here: https://youtu.be/lFct8TtOo18 ) about trying to get your players to go the full 6 encounters, by giving them special powers or cool things to do that would reset if they took a rest.

    It’s a lot more work to implement, since you would have to make some balanced bonuses that work for the characters or classes, but I think it works well as a “carrot,” while also making sure the players still have resources (and don’t go into a Skyrim-esque hoarding mentality) to deal with the threats you set out.

  8. In the campaign I’m running right now, I started an XP multiplier to try to encourage the PC’s not to rest. It goes something like this.

    1. After a long rest, the party has a XP multiplier of 1.0.
    2. After every successful encounter (combat or otherwise) the multiplier goes up 0.1.
    3. After every short rest, the multiplier goes down 0.1.
    4. Total XP when the party completes a long rest.

    In game, the characters can still sleep, but the players may choose to not gain the benefits of a long rest.
    So far, it’s been working super well. The party go as far as they possible can until they take a rest. They use basically every resource before resting. They even intentionally go into places they know they are not high enough level for so they can keep their multiplier.

    I know for some it might feel a little “gamey” but it’s working hella well and I’m just going to do this in every campaign I run.

  9. A “situation” can be something the players need to deal with to gain a reward, as well as a problem that needs solving:

    A vital ingredient for a powerful item they’re making is only available on the night of the spring equinox, and that’s in three days time, and the journey is hazardous. Every rest now ticks the clock down, and makes getting there in time harder.

    The mayor has asked them to rescue the delivery of supplies intended for the village, and he’ll pay you for every crate returned. The bandits who stole them however, are starving and working their way through the supplies themselves. The longer you take, the less you get paid.

    There should always be multiple clocks ticking down in the adventure, some on bad things, but quite a few should be on good things too.

  10. I’ve been thinking about this very thing since playing Final Fantasy XV, which
    uses an XP modifier to encourage you to buy a night at expensive lodging.

    I’m imagining using an experience modifier represented by tokens in a stack.
    Poker chips would work well. Each token represents a 20% XP increase, but the
    stack can never exceed 5 tokens, for a total bonus of 100%.

    Every time the players finish an encounter, add a token to the stack. Whenever
    the players take a short rest, remove one token from the stack. Whenever they
    take a long rest, give out the XP they gained that day, applying the current
    modifier, and then the stack is emptied.

    Thus, the optimum risk to reward strategy is to have six encounters in an
    adventuring day, with one short rest.

    You can take this modifier into account when designing your adventure by
    adjusting the base XP monsters are worth based on how fast you want to alter the
    rate the PCs level. To keep it by the book, cut base monster XP in half (though
    not when calculating encounter budgets, obviously). To make it pure bonus, don’t
    modify at all. Want to split the difference? Cut it by 25%.

    This is simple to work with, simple to understand, has a nice visual reminder,
    and is easy to modify or get rid of if it doesn’t work.

    • This is a very nice solution, using chips as a visual aid. I wouldn’t necessarily fix it to 1 per encounter, but add them as rewards whenever I feel the players deserve it. Or, at least adjust the number to the challenge of the encounter so that you can have adventures with fewer though more challenging encounters. I like that you only get your full xp share when you have pressed yourself to the limit, though…

      I have to ask though, how much will most players care about the bonus xp? I know for my table, story incentives clearly trump xp incentives. If resting is “what my character would do” or tactically optimal, I think it will take quite a lot of extra xp to bribe my players into taking unnecessary risks.

  11. So, for me and my tables, I’ve found that the key to to making time matter is… to make time matter. Make a calendar (or use the one from whatever campaign setting you’re using). Mark off days. Give their quests time constraints naturally. There’s a big war going on, you have to solve this situation in X amount of days or the other side wins (or just scores a decisive victory in a series of battles). Your mother is under thrall to a vampire, you have to get to her by a certain occultic significant date (holidays are best) or she will be sacrificed. A child that a PC met earlier on has been kidnapped in a place where children have gone missing and never returned – you have no idea how much time you have, but taking any kind of rest could result in a child.

    Now, this is definitely a more narrativist approach that might not work at more gameist tables- but I’ve found that even more hardcore gamer types will fall in line with the addition of the Carrot method of extra XP for success in missions that Angry mentioned (the abducted child arc above worked as a great capstone to a series of level 1 sessions I did with a group where I told them in session 0 that we would be moving from XP to milestone advancement once they had a good idea of the types of gameplay I award XP for- that group has very few hours to play every week and agreed that XP tracking deducted too much from valuable game time. It was further helped by the end of the final session where I revealed to the players that I was rolling a die at the end of every game that would determine if the cultist had completed the ritual or not {there were other mechanical factors involved that would take too much time to go into: suffice to say, honesty and communication, even after the fact to avoid spoilers, help a game along swimmingly} My other games we do leveling the normal way, but I award RP and milestone XP so no one feels like a session has been “wasted” if they spend all day faffing about finding clues or seducing nobles). Also, gameists love winning. Make the win conditions clear from the outset and they’re willing to take more risks if that means they beat the scenario.

    I wish I could say I came up with this idea on my own, but the original Fallout planted the bug in my head. Time is real. Consequences of wasting it don’t have to mean random encounters, just meaningful failure.

    • As an addendum- the calendar/time idea is one that doesn’t need to add a whole lot of time to prep. Just put an x through a day when they say they’re taking a long rest.

  12. A multiplier would make sense and push players to test their limit? One fight per day 1x the XP. Two fights multiplier goes up to 1.1, four fights is 1.2 of all the XP in all the fights etc (not sure about the multipliers, they would have to be small enough not to break the game, but large enough to create a dilema – “do we go for the bonus or play it safe?”) Not sure if giving over this type of control of XP to the players is a good idea either, but might be worth testing.

    • It would make sense IMO. Problem would be that the players could get too greedy and rush the boss with a x2 mult and no resources, but thats a different problem.

    • When I read your comment the exp table of 5ed come in my mind. They considered a difficulty multiplier based on the number of creatures, but what if there is also a difficulty multiplier based on the number of encounters in a day? Basically the 3rd encounter is more difficult then the 1st, just because some resources get already depleted.. In a system that will take this in consideration , the gms could tweaks the number of encounters and the relative xp, starting from a narrative prospective, instead of feel dull forcing 5-6 encounter in a day

  13. Imagine something like this: players can level up only after adventures, and they cannot exceed the experience needed for the level, but they can use that extra xp for downtime activities. In addition, during adventure they get an xp multipier for not taking additional rest etc. In practice the carrot is extra downtime activities. It’s not my style of playing I actually let my player have a rest if they feel they need one. They are good players btw

  14. I have been experimenting with something similar in my home game (for a few weeks now). What I realized when formulating my approach (thanks physics background!) was that the amount of xp isn’t the limiting factor: the amount of xp versus the time spent accumulating it is! It’s the RATE of xp accumulation that is our carrot and stick. So, I generated an expected rate of xp accumulation (an estimate, if you will, of how long the present “goal” of the player should take to accomplish). Assume that the players will earn 5000 xp in encounters to reach their next goal (clear the dungeon) and that you expect it to take two long rests. Each time the players declare a long rest, you tell them the effect on their experience before they rest. After the first two rests, they are still earning 100% of their xp. After the third rest, they will earn 2/3s. After one more, 1/2 xp. This way you are both signalling the expected pace of play, while also giving players a choice as to how to proceed. I’ve also experimented with bonus xp for fewer rests (so, in the previous example, if they finish after only one long rest, they get 150% xp). Note that I ignore short rests, in that they are already limited by long rests (2 per).

    The beauty of this system is that it is both transparent and fair. If you miscalculated the challenge, you can easily vary the pace by announcing an xp rate change earlier or later. If a party decides to be too risk averse, they will suffer for their choices without me having to contrive encounters to punish them. The risk and reward are explicit, and therefore, fair. Parties can push and be rewarded, or they can be punished naturally for nova-ing each encounter. I’ve been working on extending this to all other types of play. If you are expected to travel to X, you can base the xp on the number of rests or on the number of encounters they engage in per day. Social interaction can be rated based on the time needed to convince the Baron to help, or the amount of resources spent bribing him, etc. The players have a natural inclination to level as fast as they can. Varying the rate of xp serves to harness this desire to help regulate the pace of play.

  15. Never really seen the resting problem. Might just be I’ve been lucky at my table so far but when its come up the fact that you can’t benefit from a long rest more than once in any 24hr period RAW or a short rest more than 3 times (think I have that right). Other than that – largely agree with MC above. Best game I ran was a short weekend long campaign which the players had an npc party member bitten by a vampire and due to turn in three days (yes, the monster manual rules were tweaked to service the plot). Man were they clever about when they rested when they had a time limit to find and access his crypt and finish him.

    Of course, key point – although they were trapped in his freaky castle, because he was waiting for the princess to turn and an arrogant vampire their “guest rooms” were safe even if the rest of his fortress-like home was a gothic death-trap. Because if the players can’t rest when they actually need to then you are pretty much straight up killing them.

    That said, they did lose their guest privileges on the last night when he discovered that they’d slain his three vampire brides… not such that they didn’t get a rest, only that they had to fight him again first. 😀

    Oh, and angry;s last point. Agree SO much. I mean, I like a nice tense combat encounter but there’s more to the game than that and sometimes players enjoy absolutely trouncing the hell out of something.

  16. On our table, there is one but golden rule: the GM is god, period. If you get beat with a stick to the ground, then you most likely deserved it
    Most of our Gm`s live by the creed of my way or the highway. You can leave the table at any time and you can continue to watch the game but you are forfeit from playing until consenced otherwise by the group. We have been exchanging GM seats between ourselves for five years with this belief and we have had very little problems, if any, so far.
    Two of us love the foil system in Xanathar`s guide and concense so far is that is great.
    Regarding downtime, life is not fair. Why should our game be otherwise?,
    Choices have consequences. Your ineptitude and lack of foresight is your own fault. If you want to succed big you have to sacrifice big, but that is never a guarantee. Reality does not own you anything, much less so our game. We perfectly understand if you can`t or won`t abide this, simply look somewhere else.

  17. While I understand that there are issues to trying to stop the PCs from resting, I hate the idea of making the PCs feel smart for resting, honestly that just leads them down the path of the 15-minute-workday. This is supposed to be a game about heroic adventure, and taking the cowards way out and turning back doesn’t facilitate that. Having to turn back and rest should feel like a defeat, a time for the players to re-evaluate their tactics and work better on rationing their resources better so as not to run out so quickly and have to fall back. Instead if you glorify it, it’ll just feel like a question of “Hey guys, why aren’t we just burning all our best spells every fight and then resting afterwards? Clearly that’s what the DM wants us to do because he praised us when we rested. That was kind of dumb how we used to press on and challenge ourselves.”

    Why bother with all the work on adventure pacing when you’re going to hand the PCs an “easy mode” button they can push anytime they want and then reward and glorify them for doing so? Seems like you’re training your group to be a bunch of rest-whores.

  18. They were given a multipliers for the experience earned after reaching an XP threshold based on the XP threshold for an medium encounter in the DMG, ramping up to a max of 1.3* for all the XP earned. At the end, 1 encounter worth of XP was subtracted, so 10m adventuring days were safe, but useless for XP. I calculated the ramp-up so that they would have a total XP bonus around 1 or 2 encounters before the adventuring day threshold was reached.
    The players were also given the option to sleep and move on without officially long-resting, keeping the multiplier going. It took a bit for them to wrap their heads around the sleeping-but-not-resting thing, even with some semi-plausible narrative explanations. It was fun for us to see how far they could go without resting in the end. This was a story-light dungeon-crawling adventure.

    The two main negatives about it that the some classes are better for that playstyle, and it needed looking up at tables and a bit of calculation to give out the XP reward. The wizard was noticable a lot more conservative than the warlock, to the point of a lot encounters going by with him only casting cantrips. Not too bad, but I don’t think the wizard knew what he was up for when he picked the class.

    Because I didn’t want to break the pacing to look at XP tables, the XP was calculated after the session. I ended up with a spreadsheet that made the calculations quick enough, but it didn’t seem accessible enough for players other than ‘don’t rest and get 30% more XP at some point’. It would have been great if I could say at “you now get a 1.3 multiplier” at the moment of them getting it. Honestly, I blame the weird scaling and ramping up of XP in the system, needing multiple non-linear, scaling tables (player XP, encounter difficulty, monster XP & adventure day threshold). For my current game, I’m testing a new XP reward system to try and fix that.

  19. Interesting. I’m not sure the problem has necessarily been correctly identified, making the offered solutions perhaps incomplete.
    In my experience, the problem is that certain classes have abilities which they can all burn to trivialise any single encounter per day, whereas other classes kind of just do the same thing each encounter and only exhaust hit points. Having both of these in a party creates conflict because the former just wants the least amount of most difficult encounters per day, whereas the other wants the highest amount of easy encounters per day. This means that these classes are balanced around a certain expectation.

    You won’t actually hear the fighter say they want to rest after one encounter.

    Past this, having a bunch of easy/moderate encounters per day just to drain resources becomes a slog, so me and other GM’s I know usually do less, but harder encounters. This promotes the classes which can go burn all their resources and be flashy, creating the bias towards the five-minute workday.

    My experience with D&D 4e showed this quite efficiently. Suddenly, the notion of resting was equally attractive to everyone. With the encounter powers and effective short-rest healing, they weren’t even all that attractive.

    So for example, a solution could be to have all your players play classes that distribute their strength over the day in a similar manner. Then you could deviate from the suggested encounters/day norm without too much trouble and run a hard and a deadly encounter in a game-day.

  20. The original Deadlands game had a chip system that might be modified to address PPP:

    Based on an “ideal” six Encounters before resting, resting after only one Encounter gives the DM two Black Chips. These allow him to force PC to re-roll a single attack, save or ability check with a significant penalty.

    Resting after Encounter #2 gives the GM only one Black Chip.

    Resting after the third Encounter carries no penalty or bonus. So the stick is gone (whew.), but the carrot is so close….

    Going through four Encounters without resting gives all PCs a White Chip, good for a straight re-roll of an attack, save or ability check.

    Making it past Encounter #5 without a rest earns all PCs a Red Chip instead of a White Chip. Reds do what Whites do, or can be used to reduce damage received from a single attack by half (one Chip per source of damage only).

    Finally, enduring six Encounters (or more) without resting awards all PCs with a Blue Chip (instead of Red). This can be used as above with the additional options of rolling an extra die of damage for a single attack, or negating a Black Chip played by the DM.

    So this gives a sort of sliding punishment to reward scale (more on the reward side) without being too heavy-handed either way. Of course, one would have to use good judgment (e.g.: If one PC had some incredibly bad rolls in Encounter #1 and ended up getting nearly mauled to death while everyone else in the party is fine, they shouldn’t be punished for resting. – Start the countdown over or skip that Encounter.)

  21. Isn’t the Player Pacing Paradox an attribute of crappy adventure design? It seems that the issue is, at the core, that GM wants the players to do a number of things without letting the PCs rest, for tension/pacing reasons, and the players want to rest the PCs whenever they can because it improve their odds.

    Resting has an explicit cost: time. If the GM doesn’t want the PCs to rest, then make time an issue. If you design an adventure such that the players can do a bit of it, then go back and sleep for eight hours, then come and do another bit, then go away and sleep for eight hours, then come and do another little bit, then go away and sleep for eight hours – then you’ve designed an adventure that enables the PC to rest and why should you penalize them for doing so? Why give them gimmicky XP rewards for pushing on even though it’s not tactically beneficial?

    Is adding a story based time constraint to an adventure really so hard that we need these extra house rules to get around the fact that the GM has failed to instil a sense of urgency to the proceedings?

    You have three days to go to the bottom of the evil lair and kill the princess before we set fire to your pet dragon. The lair is 6 hours travel away. How many 8 hour sleeps are you going to take on the way?

    • Having also read the related article : “Time is an Illusion, Downtime Doubly So” which suggests that adding in-world time constrains is a kiddie band-aid over a system flaw, which to a certain extent may be true) I would still stick by the concept of in world time constraints during an adventure.

      Downtime is a different beast, because it’s explicitly not playing time. It’s obviously a bad thing requiring the GM to make up stupid time constraints to limit the time PCs have for, say crafting new armour, or working day jobs, because if you don’t then the whole house of cards of complex encounter balancing all comes tumbling down as soon as a player realizes they can spend 8 years working as a gigolo to earn the money to then craft a top level magical item that makes them overpowered.

      However, just because arbitrary downtime breaks the system doesn’t mean to say that choosing not to bother with tracking time during an adventure can be solely a fault of the system – in game time, in turns or rounds or hours or days, is a resource that you can very easily use to stop PCs abusing rest mechanics.

      Obviously, if a system were designed such that the rest mechanic couldn’t possibly be abused, then the GM wouldn’t need to track time – but I’d suggest the game would still be better if the GM did. Time pressure – be it big scale, like the orc army is on the march and will be there in a few days, to round by round concerns like you have four rounds before the doorway collapses – these are great tools and if you can’t be bothered to introduce some time constraint or ticking clock that the players can see then you’re allowing PCs to take as long as they damn well please to wander through your adventure and you’ve only got yourself to blame.

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