I have been running a west marches style D&D 5e game where the GM and the players (along with their characters) change between every session. Due to this, every session ends back in town and with a long rest so that players can change naturally. We have tried the gritty realism rest rules to try to make random encounters meaningful but we are still unable to fit more than 2-3 resource using encounters between long rests. This causes our spellcasters to be overpowered as they can use all their spell slots with no risk.

How can we remove long rests at the end of every session whilst still having some way to hand over each session?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented May 11, 2020 at 18:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems to actually be a problem with the West March style, I'm very interested to see how others with WM experience have handled this. Related question for others on What defines a West Marches campaign? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented May 12, 2020 at 14:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ How long are your sessions? Do you and the other players/GMs feel like you're getting through a satisfying amount of content in each one? Because this seems like it could be a tempo-of-play issue, rather than anything specifically about rests. Does your group have the flexibility to make some sessions longer, so you can get more content in within a single session? Could you combine two sessions on different days into a single conceptual "super-session" with the same GM/party throughout, rather than always trading off? \$\endgroup\$
    – Blckknght
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 7:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ For those answering, this really seems like you must have experience either seen or done in West Marches campaign using 5e. If you're just submitting ideas, I don't think that's helpful and may trigger closure of the question for generating opinion-based answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 13:46

4 Answers 4


Pre-Plan your random encounters, and go deadly more often

I don't think that rest is your actual problem.

we are still unable to fit more than 2-3 resource using encounters between long rests.

Let's look at a key element to a West Marches campaign: DM's get time to prep because the players are organized enough to tell the next DM "we want to head over toward the The Green Tea Swamp for the next session" or words to that effect.

Yes, it's a sandbox, but the players must decide what they would like to do in advance of the session. Normally, as part of booking the DM's time for the session, the players would also state what they wanted to do in that session. This way the DM can prepare in advance, without needing to prepare the whole world, or improvise large pieces of content. (Linked Q&A)

If you are not already doing that as a group, then you need to start doing that effective immediately. Cut the DM-for-the-day a break; give them the opportunity to plan.

Your stated problem is that the encounters aren't taxing enough on the resource base, and your group's time management (based on game session time available) doesn't match your desire to have the ending of the session and the adventure day coincide.

Problem statement: you have to get "back to base" by the end of the session and you have to put a higher demand on resources.

  • A significant part of the solution is to keep the pace of play moving.
  • The other part is to make the encounters harder.

Do all of your DM's buy into this, or just one or two of you?

If all of your DM's don't buy into this to the level that you do, your problem isn't very solvable unless your whole table accepts that some nights are "easy nights" and some nights are "hard nights" - which some groups accept readily. We had a group that RL broke up two years ago who liked that: some nights are tough nights and some nights are a walk in the park.

We had a problem very like yours in my brother's shared campaign world where I am the other DM (our third is gone for RL reasons) - we do not strictly have a West Marches campaign; mostly we have/had the 'nova' problem and significant RL scheduling and session length challenges (the latter are outside the scope of this answer).

What I noticed was that while some resources were used, there was ample reserve. During a sojourn through the mountains, I raised the stakes as DM. I roughed out 3 deadly+ encounters per day ahead of time; and three hard-to-deadly. What I never knew was "When does this one happen?" but what I was sure of was that at least three would happen. As it worked out, the party tended to be out of resources when the adventure day was done. They occasionally cake walked an encounter, but the dice are fickle - sometimes, that happens. What follows is how I pre-loaded random encounters, taken mostly from a different answer.

Since you are running a West Marches style, the "fight or flee" decision is an imbedded part of the style you all have chosen; you have it easier than I did. In your case, it is OK to make some of the encounters well beyond deadly such that the party has to flee and may have to use resources in order to successfully flee. How to set this up is Reverse XP budgeting. Plan to do 3 (tougher) encounters with 1 or 2 short rests per session, but have 6 or 9 pre packaged that are suitable for the area.

Using the XP-per-day-per-character table in the DMG and work backwards.

Err on the harder side. The example uses 5 level 4 PCs.

A 4th level PC can handle 1,700 XP-per-character-per-day (in theory) before resource exhaustion. With five 4th level characters, there are 8500 adjusted XP worth of monsters to play with for an adventure day. The following three encounters with a short rest between 1 & 2, and between 2 & 3 meets this budget. And you can sometimes only allow 1 short rest.
This approach reduces your problem of "how many encounters": each encounter is a significant challenge. Deadly is estimated as 2500 XP for 5 level 4 characters on the XP Thresholds by Character Level table. (The below examples add up to 8400 XP all told; close enough). Again, you can make them harder if you'd like; it's West Marches - they may need to flee or talk their way out of combat rather than fight. That second level suggestion spell is a resource well expended if it convinces the Stone Giant not to squish the Paladin like a bug. All encounters use the NPC names in MM and Volo's Guide.

  • Encounter 1: An Acolyte (re-skinned as a low level shaman) and 3 Berserkers. ((3 x 450 + 50) X 2) = 2800 adjXP
  • Encounter 1a: two Hill Giants (2700 adjXP)
  • Encounter 2: A Druid, 3 Scouts, and a Veteran (possibly elves who are guarding a sacred grove; and xenophobic regarding outsiders). ((450 + 300 + 700) X 2) = 2900 adjXP.
  • Encounter 2a: An Earth elemental and four mud mephits.
  • Encounter 3: A wight leading a zombie ogre and four zombies emerges at sunset from the forest / swamp / cave / ruin ... (700 + 450 +200) x 2 = 2700 adjXP.
  • Encounter 3a: a young black dragon. (2,900 XP)

    Caveat: some of these have a lot of NPCs/Monsters. "Focus fire on one enemy" becomes a less effective tactic, and the DM has a bit more work to do in each encounter. Dropping in a CR 7 monster (~ 2900 XP for one encounter) presents a different problem, but is at least easier for the DM to run. As this is West Marches, the chance that a PC may die is IIRC generally accepted. But that's only the first part of the solution. Combat needs to feel dangerous and pressure packed.

Make combat fast and furious

You need to run the combats in a "fast and furious" mode (for two reasons that I'll get to). But please note, this fast and furious mind set is not applied to non-combat encounters. Let those go at an organic pace.

Reason 1: time compression.
In Fast and Furious mode, the players need to feel pressure to make a decision. The player is to do all of their thinking before their turn comes up. They need to pay attention to what is happening in combat; pay attention to what the other players are doing and saying. If someone isn't ready to tell you what they are doing when it's turn in the initiative order, they get to take the Dodge action and you go to the next player's turn. I've done that a few times with slow players: the message got across. I generally allow two questions from the player to help them resolve what's going on - "Is that elephant in range? "Which of those two ogres looks more badly wounded?" This overall approach enhances the feel of combat, and provides a sense of urgency.
Note that if your whole table will not buy into the fast and furious mode of combat, that preference adds to your core problem of time management of a gaming session.

Reason 2: mistakes usually cost resources
Decision making will, over time, improve and combats will take less time, but poor decisions will be made sometimes and will usually create a larger resource demand - which is something that you say that you want.

A potential problem with this approach and with your question

I am not sure that you speak for all of the DMs at your table. (It's great if you do, but I have no way to confirm that).
All of the DMs have to agree to (1) pre-rough in some encounters ahead of their turn to DM and (2) to implement Fast and Furiuos combat. Fast and furious can lead to mistakes in combat, which can (1) lead to overuse of resources or (2) a need to flee - and those outcomes both lead to neat stories (you did what?) and they support your end objectives as stated in the question: at sessions end the party gets back to base and really needs that long rest.

Whether or not your group of DMs are all willing to do this can only be determined by a detailed discussion among you all about:

(1) is this really a problem, or are you the only one seeing it?
(2) does each DM have some time to rough in some deadly encounters that fit the expected regions that the party will be in before their DM session?

That answer can only come from within your group.

A note on Resources to help you (the DMs) do all this: there are a variety of encounter builder tools available on line, but each one has its own nuances. Pick the one that works best for you. It will save time, and will enhance your ability to put 6, 9, or 12 hard-to-deadly-to-worse encounters into a pile before your next DM session - and you only need to run three of them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Yes, it's a sandbox, but the players must decide what they would like to do in advance of the session." I think this is fantastic advice for all formats of long-running campaigns! I know I wouldn't be half as good a GM if I didn't ask my players to do this, even though we don't change GM at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Vigil
    Commented May 29, 2020 at 17:58

1. I don't think there is an answer to your question as asked.

Your question at present is: 'How can we remove long rests at the end of every session whilst still having some way to hand over each session?'

I am just one DM running a West Marches campaign in 5e and I decided very early on that trying to keep track of different characters' remaining hit points, spell slots, &c. between sessions with a different set of characters in every session would be too difficult both for me and for my players. I imagine that tracking these things would only become more difficult with multiple DMs. I will be surprised and impressed if someone comes up with a solution which allows characters not to be treated as having completed a long rest at the start of each session.

So instead of answering your question as asked, I'm going to try to present a solution to your problem: as you see it, your inability to fit more than 2-3 encounters into a session, a reasonable result of your 3hr session length, causes spellcasters to be more powerful than non-spellcasters.

2. Who sees this as a problem?

Before changing anything, you should first consider whether the other DMs and, more crucially, your players also see this as problematic. If your players, particularly those controlling non-spellcasting characters, actually say when asked that they're not bothered, then you should probably just leave things be, because anything you do try will be to some extent pushing back against systems built into 5e. But if they do see it as a problem (and I would):

3. Make your spellcasters cast more spells outside of combat.

Or, to put it another way, fit in more resource-using encounters by making some of your resource-using encounters take up less real time. You probably aren't going to be able to fit more combat encounters into your 3hr sessions, but you should be able to find other ways to encourage your spellcasters to use their slots that take up less real time. Since this is what I do, I present a few examples from my own game:

  • Using Speak with Animals to ask a deer whether it had seen water-filled holes in the ground, in one of which the players thought a legendary spear might be hidden.
  • Not avoiding avoidable traps and losing hit points that were then magically restored.
  • Using Detect Evil and Good to see whether a room behind a locked door was a crypt filled with undead or not.
  • Using Detect Magic to see whether a suspicious-looking door/statue/fountain was actually magical. This spell is used a lot.
  • Using Continual Flame to stop a torch being blown out.

Getting your players to cast spells outside of combat does require some thought to go in at the worldbuilding stage: you've got to make sure that there are deer wandering around that can be spoken to, traps that deal damage, mysterious possibly-magical statues, annoying drafts in dungeon corridors that blow torches out, and so on. You also have to train your players to use their spells for non-combat purposes by showing them the benefits of doing so (e.g. magical doors that cause damage somehow if opened without first being Knocked).

For further ideas of ways to encourage spellcasting outside of combat, see:

  • \$\begingroup\$ So glad to see that the time became available. Besides the West March experience, I think that this is a good answer for any DM in re approaches to take and offering varied challenges. \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 30, 2020 at 1:09

The actual problem in the question is that since there are only a couple of encounters per rest, mages can use all their tricks without conserving resources, and hence overshadow other characters.

Making long rests more costly is a part of a solution to treating this problem. There are others methods one can use in parallel.

I have been running a sandbox game for quite some time, most recently with D&D 5. Not quite West marches, but close enough, since the game involves lots of travelling through hostile territory with long rest pretty much impossible during the expedition, plus game master as a neutral referee. An extended description was treated as prescriptive, so I removed it from the answer to avoid misconceptions.

Resources determine how far you can go and how big a risk it is

Random encounters add time pressure and uncertainty. The first is not so important here.

I tend to roll three random encounter checks per 24 hours with 1/6 chance of an encounter each. This means that though most days are without an encounter, sometimes there might be three. If this uncertainty about how difficult it will be to return to civilization does not exist in your game, you might choose to adjust your random encounter procedure accordingly, or introduce one if you do not yet have such.

The mages should be somewhat reluctant to use all their resources so that they still have shots left for the random encounters, if they do happen.

Some adventure locations of yours are presumable more involved, living envinronments. After one has made one expedition there, the inhabitants will react, might escape, the place might be restocked, etc. As such, the players should have inherent encouragement to push as far as possible, which requires conserving their resources, typically.

But we don't have time

Make play in general and combats in particular go faster. There are all the usual tricks: roll attack and damage at the same time, become more fluent at using the digital platform of choice, keep play focused on playing, etc.

I will mention one special trick: quick resolution of combats. Since West marches is a challenge-oriented game, this is appropriate. The procedure goes as follows:

  1. When anyone notices that a combat is not interesting (i.e. there are no non-trivial tactical or strategic issues at hand; the thing is resolved modulo dice rolling, essentially), they mention this.

  2. Supposing nobody disagrees (the game master might know of some special powers of the creature, for example), someone, anyone, can suggest a quick resolution to the combat. This should be based on the assumed outcome of dicing it out. For example: "Everyone takes d6 damage and you win." or "The hydra gets two free attacks against everyone and then it is down." or "We use all our alchemist's flasks, more than 10 of them, but burn all the zombies." or "We spend 3d6 arrows and the slow beast is down."

  3. Everyone needs to agree to the deal. In particular, if the game master suggested it, the players should agree, and the other way around. If not, clearly the outcome is in doubt; play it out.

This allows resolving boring combats quickly.

Also remember morale

Most creatures do not want to die and avoid situations where that might happen. Monsters and non-player characters should usually run or retreat when things get dangerous. If you want to formalize this, have them roll a wisdom save, or maybe have a player character who did something remarkable roll intimidation (or both). If the dice favour the enemy, they will fight on or attempt a gambit of some type. If not, they will retreat or run.

This should speed up combat significantly. Non-intelligent enemies often fight systematically, so even if they do not run, the combats can be resolved quickly, as per above.

It is a player skill and responsibility to act decisively

Players get to experience as much of the game as they manage during the session. If they proceed slowly in real time due to messy team dynamics, unclear leadership, poor rules competence, etc., then they miss out content in game. Having the players take responsibility of this leads to improved play on their part and more enjoyment for everyone. Furthermore, it teaches them relevant real life skills concerning team work and leadership.

Their characters can also learn more and find more treasures, or whatever their goals happen to be, if the players are fast and organized. They are less likely to die due to stupid decisions, confusion or hesitation.

Emphasize this point to the players. Competent play leads to better results both out of game and in game. D&D is a game of skill, when played in West marches style (and in a number of other styles, but not nearly all).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented May 15, 2020 at 15:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ These suggestions seem to be "here's how I speed up play". Is the answer to the OP question then, "if you don't complete the adventure before the session, then the part turns back and misses out on the remainder of the content" ? \$\endgroup\$
    – GcL
    Commented May 19, 2020 at 14:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GcL Since it is West marches style, yes, by definition, the party returns when they run out of time. In particular, it does not so much have adventures as a world, and you explore as much of it as you have time and resources for, during a given session. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tommi
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 7:01

Resource expenditure is proportional to the difficulty of the encounter. If you want to force your players to expend more resources, simply increase the difficulty of your encounters.

There are numerous suggestions in other questions:

Alternately, start emphasizing non-long rest resources. There are plenty of resources that do not refresh on a long rest, such as money. Many spells also require expensive or perishable components, emphasizing their use may help keep spell casters in check.

Lastly, you could instead just accept that spell casters are going to be buffed by having fewer encounters. Martial players will likely still want to play martial classes, casters still need to save slots in case there is a 3rd or 4th encounter. It may be a perceived problem more than an actual problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As session time is still an issue, how long do your more difficult encounters that require resource expenditure last at your table? I've found that generally the more deadly encounters with resource use take longer, so getting to 3-4 encounters in a single session I don't think has ever happened for us. It's usually 1-2. Has your experience shown different? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented May 20, 2020 at 3:55

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