17
\$\begingroup\$

The variant Gritty Realism rule presented in the DMG (see p. 267) changes short rests from 1 hour to 8 hours, and long rests from 8 hours to 7 days. Its description suggests, casually and without elaboration, that

[t]his approach encourages the characters to spend time out of the dungeon.

In other words, 5e's designers evidently thought the rule's ramifications would increase the difficulty of dungeons enough to warrant comment, yet unhelpfully declined to articulate why. Given that dungeons are a namesake of the game, this is a regrettable oversight, even for a variant rule. DMs and players considering the rule are left guessing as to what pitfalls they should expect -- e.g., what game mechanics are made more complicated by the design principles informing an archetypal dungeon-based adventure. For 5e veterans, that might not be a heavy lift, but those with less (or no) experience face potential frustration.

A number of Q&As here on RPG.SE have discussed Gritty Realism, e.g.:

However, none have meaningfully examined why -- or even whether -- dungeons might be especially problematic in a game using Gritty Realism.

Given the game mechanics implicated, is the DMG's observation that Gritty Realism discourages adventuring in dungeons really accurate? Might it be overstated? Might it be understated, such that groups primarily interested in dungeon-delving should absolutely eschew Gritty Realism?

\$\endgroup\$
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Answers to this should not be speculation. Please remember that subjective answers still need to be backed up and in order to do that, you need to have used Gritty Realism and used it in a dungeon crawl scenario that meets OP's requirements. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 16 at 14:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; the prior conversation attempting to refine the question has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 16 at 21:15
26
\$\begingroup\$

The reason gritty realism makes a dungeon crawl particularly difficult is simply the dichotomy of expending spells and abilities versus expending hit points (i.e. the more spells and abilities you use in a fight, the less hit points you'll have to spend to get through the fight and vice versa). If you use the gritty realism rules and the PCs use their spells and abilities in the 1st level of the dungeon, they have no other option other than to go back to town to rest for 7 days in order to be prepared for the next level of the dungeon. This will have one of two effects on the PCS:

  • PCs will try as much as possible not to use their spells and abilities so as to save them for the lower levels of the dungeons since a simple short or long rest will not recover their more powerful abilities. This will have the affect of causing them to lose more hit points, and therefore will need to leave the dungeon to rest.
  • PCs will burn all of their abilities and spells to preserve hit points, at which point when they are ready to transition to the next level of the dungeon, they'll realize they don't have the spells and abilities they need to get through the next level and therefore will need to leave the dungeon to rest.

Now imagine the dungeon is a days walk from town, with nasty critters between them. Your PCs may not even be able to start the dungeon when they get there due to random and planned encounters and will immediately either have to try to camp for a week or turn around and head back to town. The end result is that your characters will end up having to be much higher levels just to have the depth in abilities and spells to make it to the dungeon and then through it.

So I guess you have to ask yourself, do you want your 5th level PCs to fight goblins and kobolds, or do you want them fighting something more challenging? If your PCs find it fun to slash their way through low level creatures at high levels, then by all means, try out gritty realism. If your PCs like to have challenging fights every time they fight, then you're going to have a hard time with these rules and have your PCs actually get anywhere.

There are certainly ways to mitigate this, but they essentially have the effect of reintroducing standard long and short rests (things like, providing an abundance of healing potions and coming up with some sort of ability point pool you can use mana potions to replenish).

Source: Played D&D from 1st to 5th ed. Early rules made abilities and hit points (especially hit points) more difficult to recover, which had the effect of changing the structure of the game and the behavior of the PCs which was more akin to the gritty rules presented in the DMG.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome! You can take the tour as an introduction to the site and check the help center if you need further guidance. Good luck and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jul 16 at 16:33
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Grim_Havok It occurs to me that your first bullet point has a corollary: while the PCs are incented to ration their most powerful abilities as they explore the dungeon, the monsters they face have no such incentive. The monsters have no reason at all not to blow every big, one-use nuke they have. The result might be a kind of asymmetrical warfare further accelerating the PCs' hit-point loss. \$\endgroup\$ – screamline Jul 16 at 18:50
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @screamline Is that not how monsters already behave? Their survival pretty much always depends on depleting the PC's hit points, and they generally have the incentive to do that as quickly and thoroughly as possible. It's the DM who has an incentive to design and arrange encounters in such a way that such behavior is not (typically) lethal to the players. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case-Stop Harming Monica Jul 16 at 21:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Grim_Havok Yes, my point is not that Gritty Realism changes the monsters' behavior, but rather that it changes the players' behavior without changing the monsters' behavior. The PCs' and monsters' relative attrition becomes more assymetrical. If the monsters' behavior did change, the effect of the rule on the PCs might be lessened. Not, perhaps, a compelling point on its own -- just a corollary. \$\endgroup\$ – screamline Jul 17 at 15:23
17
\$\begingroup\$

This isn’t about causing rules interactions. It’s about altering players’ calculus about when it’s safe and worthwhile to rest without withdrawing.

This rule is based on much older editions of D&D, where resting to recover basic resources (spells per day, etc.) took a full uninterrupted night’s sleep and natural healing was measured in single hit points per entire day of total bed rest.

In these editions, it’s not impossible to rest in the dungeon, but the rewards are fewer and the risks are much, much higher. It takes more determination and planning simply because the extended period of time allows for many, many opportunities for interruption. (Interruptions that are harder to deal with due to depleted resources.)

Taking more determination and planning—whether building defenses, scouting safe locations, bribing/allying/threatening a dungeon faction, or just estimating the value of risk of death versus reward of the scant resources that will be regained—meant that it was often simpler and easier to just leave the dungeon with a plan to come back later.

The resource game of D&D 5e is much more forgiving than of early D&Ds, so the pressure of rests taking longer is not as acute. But it still shifts the party’s calculations about whether to attempt to rest in the dungeon or to retreat to greater safety first.

Why is this considered “gritty realism”?

There’s the obvious meaning, which is that healing is slower and closer to reality, which does often produce a “closer to the ground”, gritty feel.

But by itself, this rule variant only adds a thin veneer of gritty realism: that healing takes time.

The real reason for the name is because it’s appropriate to use in a game that the DM is already running as gritty realism.

In such a game, rests are realistic for more than merely length:

  • It’s usually not enough to just have longer rests, if nothing else changes. The length of time has to proportionately increase the threat of interruption by hostile forces. This rule doesn’t add random encounters or another interruption chance rule, so to impact player choices the DM has to supply a method for (possible) interruption.

  • The chance of interruption can’t be uniform at all times either, else it’s no longer a risk judgement by the players, it’s a certainty they can rely on.

  • The chance of interruption can’t be uniform for all places either, else it disincentivises players from seek to discover safe(r) locations in the dungeon, a resource itself.

  • Dungeons should usually be living locations, so that even if the party’s rest isn’t interrupted, the time spent doing nothing has consequences: factions move around, monsters have agendas or schedules rather than staying in certain rooms, previously “cleared” areas may have new monsters move in. Entirely leaving a dungeon that is partially “cleared” in order to fully rest may result in more significant changes, making for unknown challenges in familiar areas when they return.

An already-realistic game will have these in place already. The variant resting rule is just the tip of the iceberg.

Overall, this option seems to be there mostly for DMs who already want to use older, longer rests—DMs who already know what it’s for and the ecosystem of DMing choices that make it worthwhile to use. It seems to be part of the mostly-discarded design goal for 5th edition that it could be played in the style of any previous edition just by tweaking a few rules. That marketing promise wasn’t really fulfilled, but it still offers some dials toward that end for DMs who know how to get a certain effect.

\$\endgroup\$
9
\$\begingroup\$

Gritty Realism is only situationally disadvantageous to dungeon crawling.

The drawback of slower recovery relies on an assumption, common to earlier editions of D&D, that the players will naturally undertake multiple combat encounters in one day.

My personal experience is that players are instead highly motivated to rest and recover to the maximum whenever possible, to protect the characters they've invested so much time into. If long resting now takes 7 days, the players will just rest for seven days.

However, there are some 5e game mechanics where danger triggers based on time or resources are limited by time, rather than by party actions like the decision to press forward or the schedule of long rests. These increase risk under Gritty Realism.

The primary risk factors are as follows:

  • The DM actually enforces the standard rules on carrying sufficient provisions
  • The DM uses random dungeon encounters
  • The DM is running an adventure with a time limit
  • The party uses spells like animate dead with a 24-hour duration
  • The party encounters enemies with poison or disease

Summary

  • Supplies are the primary limiting factor to how long you can remain in the dungeon without returning to civilization.
  • Random encounter rate, set by the individual DM, determines the feasibility of resting in a dungeon.
  • If the DM allows players to rest without cost or consequence, the extra resting time has no consequence. Gritty Realism would still be mildly more dangerous due to disease and poison effects and a few less feasible spells.
  • City-based adventures, mysteries and intrigues, which don't try the four-or-five combat encounters per day gameplay mode of the dungeon, aren't so heavily constrained by the long rest schedule or ready availability of food and drink.

Supplies vs encumbrance

While most DMs I know don't strictly track food supplies and encumbrance, they are standard rules, and a DM using Gritty Realism might well use them. They can severely limit the amount of time you can stay in a dungeon.

According to Player's Handbook p. 185, a character needs a pound of food per day and at least a gallon (8 pints) of water. In fact, according to the equipment list on p.150, a day's rations weighs 2 lbs and a full 4-pint waterskin weighs 5 lbs. This means a character must carry 42 lbs of food for each long rest they intend to spend in the dungeon.

A character with Strength 10 can only carry 150 lbs, meaning that they can only realistically carry enough for two, maybe three long rests in the dungeon. Under the more realistic variant encumbrance rules, one long rest's worth of rations is nearly enough to encumber them. Not every party has a bag of holding, particularly at low level.

The spell create food and water only creates food which lasts 24 hours, and goodberry only lasts 24 hours. Neither of these are ritual spells. Gritty realism limits your ability to use this to survive a long rest.

You can leave and re-enter the dungeon, staying in hotels for weeks between fights, but exit and entry may be dangerous due to terrain. You'd also have to assume that the dungeon remains static in this time: no monsters repopulate, nobody else loots the dungeon while you're away.

Random encounters

Depending on how the DM chooses to run random encounters, the frequency of random encounters could make time spent in the dungeon more dangerous.

Dungeon Master's Guide, p.86:

You decide when a random encounter happens, or you roll. Consider checking for a random encounter once every hour, once every 4 to 8 hours, or once during the day and once during a long rest—whatever makes sense based on how active the area is.

Even if the DM rolls every 8 hours for a long rest period of seven days, that's 21 rolls at 15% chance per roll, resulting in a high likelihood. You can't risk a long rest so easily.

Time-limited adventures

Dungeon Master's Guide, p.80, Twists, shows this optional adventure twist on its 1d10 chart:

The adventurers have a time limit.

Page 81 also describes adventure objectives where the player characters may face a time limit, such as trying to stop a ritual.

Poison and disease

Some poisons and diseases (Dungeon Master's Guide p.256-258) trigger based on time, rather than rest schedule. For example, recovery from Cackle Fever is timed based on long rests, rather than days.

Certain spell durations

Some spells have a duration of 24 hours. Normally, one can long-rest every day and maintain such a spell more or less continuously, but when a long rest is 7 days, this isn't possible.

Spells where this is a problem include animate dead, bestow curse, create undead, the banishing effect of divine word, druidcraft, goodberry, guards and wards, hallucinatory terrain, heroes' feast, mass suggestion, mind blank, Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion, Mordenkainen's private sanctum, Nystul's magic aura, telepathy, and water breathing.

Why is dungeon crawling the more dangerous than other activities?

Fundamentally, the dungeon is a combat-dense mode of play.

Chapter 3 of the Dungeon Master's Guide identifies four primary types of adventures: location-based, event-based, mysteries, and intrigue. Of these, location-based involve the highest density of encounters, meaning that you cannot plausibly go far before finding another combat encounter, or stay still without a combat encounter finding you.

But even comparing the two main types of location-based, which are dungeons and wilderness respectively, the dungeon is more deadly of the two due to two defining factors of a dungeon: its exceptional encounter site density, and the limitation of paths of movement between those encounter sites.

Dungeon Master's Guide p.99 describes the second of these traits as particular to the dungeon:

Within a dungeon, adventurers are constrainted by the walls and doors around them, but in the wilderness, adventurers can travel in almost any direction they please.

This means, for example, that if you had to climb down a cliff face and cross a risky lava flow to get halfway through the dungeon, you have to overcome these challenges again every time you try to leave.

Compare this to a wilderness encounter. Quite often, even if the woods are full of orcs, you can sneak past the orcs. You can make alternate routes through the woods, stealth your way through at reduced travel speed, and generally avoid many wandering monsters. You're likely to encounter fewer monsters than in a dungeon, due to the decreased density. You can literally lay low in the woods just by staying still, but you can't do this in a room in a dense dungeon.

Moreover, in most forms of wilderness terrain, one can hunt for food, and therefore survive off the land indefinitely. You don't have the problem of running out of supplies.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ All of your points are correct as regards to the problems with taking longer rests. What is missing is an explanation of why they apply to resting in dungeons but would not apply apply to resting in any other hazardous location such as a forest full of hostile orcs. \$\endgroup\$ – krb Jul 16 at 17:42
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @krb The question only asked how Gritty Realism affects a dungeon crawl, not how a a dungeon crawl differs from other scenarios. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Jul 16 at 18:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @krb A forest full of hostiles and hazards is functionally equivalent to a dungeon for rest purposes. The contrast is between that and “home” or nearest safe civilisation. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 16 at 19:41
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The question asks why "dungeons" were singled out as being more affected by Gritty Realism than other adventure settings. \$\endgroup\$ – krb Jul 16 at 20:02
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @krb Ah, I see what you mean. I'll update my answer to contrast for that. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Jul 16 at 23:58
2
\$\begingroup\$

Gritty Realism impedes Dungeons the most because of time constraints.

Although I already gave a lengthy answer, let me give another, simpler reason why Gritty Realism impedes Dungeons more harshly than any other adventure type:

  1. Resting converts time into other resources (hit points, spell slots, class ability uses, item charges, and so on).
  2. Gritty Realism increases the time cost of resting. It goes from trivial to substantial.
  3. Time is more limited in the Dungeon than in Event, Mystery, Intrigue, or Wilderness adventures, because hunger is time-based and foraging/buying food is hardest in the Dungeon.
  4. Dungeons mostly contain things which expend resources: combat, traps, and environmental hazards. This puts time at an even greater premium.

Therefore, while Gritty Realism isn't incompatible with dungeon-based adventures, it is harder on dungeons than, say, a city-based murder mystery quest where you sleep at an inn every night, and might only fight one combat in a month in-game time.

Gritty Realism also forces you to leave the dungeon to rest, simply because characters can't easily carry enough provisions to rest in situ. This also constitutes encouraging the players to spend time out of the dungeon, as the description says.

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.