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The problem

In a few groups I'm DMing, sessions last about 3h. During that time, we usually have about half the adventuring's day worth of encounters (so at level 10, about 18k XP out of the 36k XP budget). This means that the players need to keep track of HP, hit dice, spell slots etc between sessions, which has been proven to be a bit too much book-keeping (and even worse, those that do keep track of the expended resources are punished).

I don't want to just say that the adventuring day ends at the end of the session; the party will then never face situations where most of their resources have been expended.

The question

I'm wondering if there's a way to make the adventuring day shorter, so that the XP budget becomes 50% or 75% of the regular one. I don't want to always use harder encounters: I'm already using mostly hard or even deadly ones and they also take longer that easy ones.

Is there such an official (preferable) or tested homebrew rule so that the party has fewer resources to expend and therefore have fewer encounters / lower XP budget?

Perhaps something like "get rid of hit dice healing, only allow 1 short rest per day, and get rid of 1/3rd of the spell slots".

Any proposed homebrew solutions should be supported by citing evidence or experience, per the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective guidelines.

What I'm not looking for

While relevant, this question is not about finding ways to make tracking state easier or rewarding. Even as a DM, it will make my life easier to plan each session as a day, without having to keep track how much of the budget has been expended before. Not looking for ways to speed-up combat either.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So you want the party to expend more of their resources in encounters that are not harder? \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Jun 6 at 12:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Szega not really, I want to limit the resources so that they only need do to say 3-4 encounters instead of 6-8 per day. \$\endgroup\$ – falsedot Jun 6 at 12:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ This topic comes up a lot, and I think we have some answers on it but I may be "cross remembering" some of the discussions I am in at gitp; forums. Will try to find the related Q&A I think I am remembering. This is related: does the "reverse budget" piece of my answer help, or am I missing what your problem is? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 6 at 12:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu as I understand it, OP is looking for how to change characters/resources, so that if they face half as many encounters as the book recommends, they'll still be running on fumes at the end of that. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Jun 6 at 13:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Akixkisu I'd say decreasing the amount of available resources so that a party is expected to spend all of them in say 3-4 medium encounters instead of 6-8 medium. Nothing to do with levelling; I removed this bit from the question to make it clearer. \$\endgroup\$ – falsedot Jun 6 at 13:33
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I'd be very leery of trying to tinker with the adventuring day. A lot of game balance issues are built around it. Magic item uses, spell slots, hit dice, class abilities, etc. It seems to me your core issue is tracking expended resources between sessions. Changing the adventuring day is doing things the hard way, and you risk seriously unbalancing the game.

just off the top of my head the following things would have to be changed:

  • number of hit dice
  • number of spell slots
  • magic item uses/recharge rates Spell effects
  • encounter difficulty
  • Monster abilities
  • Spell effects

The last three are due to the fact that if the players have less resources to start with, then higher difficulty encounters get rapidly more deadly as players run out or resources. Or you can downgrade the monster's abilities or upgrade some spells, maybe downgrade downgrade others, or a mix. Basically you are looking at a complete game redesign.

It seems to me that the core issue is Resource tracking.

If you are playing table top, players should be marking up their character sheets in pencil and just carrying that between sessions. If need be you can collect them at the end of the session. The default character sheet actually has plenty of space to mark that stuff off. Apparently that's not working for you., so an alternative:

Alternative: use index cards as tokens for things like spell slots, hit dice, superiority dice, etc. Each card says what it is and the characters name and what it takes to recover. e,g "Lucius/hit die 1d8/long rest or Lucius/Channel Divinity/Short or Long Rest) They are given to the DM as they are expended, then passed back to the players after short or long rests, as appropriate. If you use coloured index cards you can assign each character a colour making handing them back even easier.

e.g bob is a 5th level cleric. He gets:

  • 5 cards representing a hit die
  • 4 cards representing 1st level spell slots
  • 3 cards representing 2nd level spell slots
  • 2 cards representing 3rd level spell slots
  • 1 card for Channel Divinity

each time Bob bob uses a tracked resource he hands the appropriate card to the GM. when the characters take the appropriate rest the GM hands the expended cards back to the player.

At the end of the session you each go home with the cards in your possession, and you all bring them back next time. DM has the expended cards, players have the ones that are still available. Pick up where you left off, no need to try and redesign the entire game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for additional guidance. If you're still confused by anything on the site, you can ping one of us in chat with "@[user] [message]" and we'll help out if we can. You make some very good points, have you used the index card method yourself? If so editing how it worked out for you can make your answer even better. Thanks for contributing and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jun 7 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep, sometimes the answer to "how do I do X" is "don't do X". Realising that this would involve a complete redesign of the game resonated deeply so picking this as the accepted answer! \$\endgroup\$ – falsedot Jun 7 at 10:22
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I also run games that are about 3 hours in length, but we use Roll20 and its fairly easy to keep track of resource expenditures with that. However, Roll20 may not be feasible in your situation or might not jive with your personal preference. But for those times when we need to keep up the tension and keep resources somewhat depleted, I only allow one short rest per adventuring day.

While your question did not specify if this was a homebrew campaign or published module, if you know the treasure to be awarded in advance, you can opt to simply not award some of the single-use items like healing potions. Awarding major magic items continues on as intended to maintain the sense of power progression in the PCs.

Reducing the efficiency of multi-use items is also useful for what you asking. You could alter the recharge rate, the number of charges a use expends, or the maximum number of charges in the item to find something that works for your campaign. If you are regularly using only about half of your budget, simply halving the max charges of the multi-use items might be the best approach for that. This approach was used in one of my games, and as long as the players aren't feeling "nerfed," it works pretty well. Basically as long as the GM doesn't goof and say "This wand has 10 charges, but you can only use 5," the players have been pretty cool with it because they have a cool new thing to play with. Or you could just be devious and not disclose how many (reduced) charges remain, and let the players find out the hard way when it runs empty.

Although I have not run a game this way, I have played in a game that did this and it seemed to go over well by making all single-use items only available for purchase. This was intended to drain our gold stores as we gathered supplies for our upcoming adventure, but one of the major themes of that campaign was rebuilding a town (which also required a significant outlay of our limited gold). I mention this suggestion because it might be feasible to tax your players' resources in other ways that aren't combat.

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This answer might be simpler than you're looking for, but it sounds like, since you get half an adventuring day done in 3 hours, that you treat each session as 1 adventuring day. You might find it easier to not do that, and let the days come as they come independent of the session time itself. You already have resource expenditures worked out on the character sheets, so you don't have to track them, and it's not super hard to find a quiet point in the middle of the day or another good lull in the action to call it quits during the session.

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