25
\$\begingroup\$

While there are a lot of questions concerning how to give players fewer resources (usually by reducing the frequency of rests), this question is the inverse: I've had issues at my table with the infrequency of short rests affecting class balance and encounter balancing.

At my table, most "adventuring days" will conclude without a single short rest. The primary reason for why short rests are so uncommon is because both myself (the DM) and my players find value in maintaining a somewhat plausible/immersive narrative, and short rests feel like they break that. It simply doesn't feel appropriate for adventurers to break for an hour after loudly slaying a room full of monsters while dozens more prowl the same dungeon. What's to keep those monsters from jumping the players while they rest or laying an inescapable ambush? As a result, the players don't often take short rests, and I find myself hesitant to encourage them to take short rests in order to avoid narrative inconsistency.

This produces a number of issues, most of them relating to class balance and spotlight issues. Classes based around short rests, like monks and warlocks, tend to feel extremely resource-poor in comparison to classes based around long rests, like wizards and clerics. 5e expects short rest classes to have higher resource availability, however, if short rests never happen, they end up simply having fewer tools to play with in comparison. This is obviously frustrating for players of those classes.

Moreover, my table mostly runs pre-built modules published by Wizards of the Coasts, where the encounter design in those books (in my estimation) seems to expect a party with full resources for each fight. Combat can be incredibly lethal if half the party has no resources remaining, and I often find myself needing to artificially "soften" encounters to avoid TPKs.

How can I allow my players to take more rests without breaking immersion? I want to restore class and encounter balance without creating a scenario that challenges the table's suspension of disbelief.

Direct solutions based on personal experience are preferred. Or maybe the way my table views short rests is incorrect or somehow twisted, in which case I welcome a frame challenge.

\$\endgroup\$
4
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Related but different: How can I reduce the number of encounters per day without throwing off game balance \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Oct 15 at 11:14
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ "It simply doesn't feel appropriate for adventurers to break for an hour after loudly slaying a room full of monsters while dozens more prowl the same dungeon. " Might be just our group, but as I DM i kinda expect the group to find a safe place to take a rest where ambushes and the like wouldn't be likely to happen. Of course, this isn't always possible. \$\endgroup\$
    – T. Sar
    Oct 15 at 12:46
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ You seem to be providing the realism right in your description...they didn't rest, then they were too tired to be effective. So the math is "How much will I benefit from taking a rest?" (considerably) vs "How much will my opponent benefit from my inaction?" (not so much, if you've found a decent resting place). Aka the "this isn't great, but we're tired so we need to rest here for a bit anyway" conversation. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ "What's to keep those monsters from jumping the players why they rest or laying an inescapable ambush?" Are your players regularly encountering multiple sets of monsters who are intelligent enough to lay such traps? Are your players regularly setting a watch when resting for long/short rest periods? E.g. 1 or 2 players stay up and on guard, and still running into this issue? \$\endgroup\$
    – TylerH
    Oct 18 at 13:22
39
\$\begingroup\$

Simplest solution: Switch from 5E short rests (an hour each, too long to occur reliably between most encounters) to something closer to 4E short rests (5 minutes, essentially automatic outside of densely packed back-to-back encounters). You don't have to skip straight to 5 minutes, but making it short enough that you'd believably spend that much time on looting, cleaning up, bandaging wounds, fixing small damage to armor and weapons, etc. is entirely reasonable.

The 5E DMG recommends such a solution (along with 1 hour long rests) as a "rest variant" for a more "epic heroism" feel; you don't have to go as far as 5m/1h rests, but perhaps 15m/4h rests gets a balance that achieves the intended outcome (roughly two short rests per adventuring day between long rests).

I'll note: My tables haven't needed this tweak. But that's mostly because our table considers taking an hour long short rest pretty much automatic unless the next encounter is literally on the other side of next door, or we have some strict time constraint preventing it. The 5E default rules work best if you just remember that adventurers are human; they've just engaged in a fight for their lives, they're not usually going to charge straight into another one without a break. Allow your adventurers to be human(oid).

\$\endgroup\$
3
  • 12
    \$\begingroup\$ In my experiences (IRL and gaming), taking a few minutes after a battle to reload ready ammunition, inspect armor, drink water, bandage wounds, and catch your breath is natural and intuitive after combat. By shortening the duration of a Short Rest to 5, 10, or 15 minutes, that immersive break can be a Short Rest and not disrupt the narrative like a one-hour lunch break. \$\endgroup\$
    – ValhallaGH
    Oct 15 at 14:04
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ When hiking it’s also natural to occasionally stop for a few minutes, drink and eat something, take a piss, enjoy the scenery, figure out where you have to go and so on. Longer than 10 minutes or so and you tend to get cold. Only on very leisurely hikes will it be warm and relaxed enough to take a nap in a meadow somewhere. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael
    Oct 16 at 9:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ With the shortened rest times it also makes sense in a dungeon: everyone it too tired to take on the next room and they know it. Build up a makeshift barricade and tend to your wounds for 15 minutes should always be doable. Maybe the next room is better prepared then, but thats a tradeoff worth taking \$\endgroup\$
    – Hobbamok
    Oct 18 at 8:40
24
\$\begingroup\$

A variation I have seen work: graduated rest times

The writers for the modules/published adventures have indeed tended to ignore the short rest structure in the book in many cases. What one DM I played with a couple of years ago did was this: as the day went longer, the short rest took longer as a recovery method but the first one only took ten minutes.

As a player, it 'felt' about right to me.
The first short rest after two encounters was ten minutes.
Our second short rest later in the adventure day was half an hour.
Third short rest, if there was one (for us it only happened once) took an hour. It helped that we were basically dungeon delving. (I've not run across this same problem in the outdoors based adventures as much as underground, but that - my own experience - is a small sample size).

What did this achieve for our group?

It made the first short rest feel like a breather. In a couple of cases, we spiked the doors shut (an old school habit that worked) in the room that we were in as we took a breather and the party got themselves together.

This scheme made the second short rest feel more like a lunch break, which I suspect is what a short rest is meant to emulate; it reminded me of the lunch breaks we used to take when I worked for a moving company (back in college days).

It made the third short rest, the one time we took one, fell like a welcome relief even though we knew we had to get to the bottom chamber in the ruined temple before the day was over.

What does this mod require of the DM? Clock / time awareness.

Keeping closer track of time in the dungeon throughout the adventure day fits this scheme, and I think they go hand in hand. (Again, I've only seen this player side). There's an old school trick to keeping track of turns and time (out of combat) in the dungeon that uses a d6. You start the turn/time interval with the d6 showing a 1, and as turns progress you change the die face to a 2, and then a 3, and so on until you get to a 6 pip face. Once that turn is over, you've covered an hour, a half hour, six minutes: whatever time interval makes sense for "what the party is doing right now." Start the next interval with the d6 showing 1 pip. (You can do this behind the DM screen, or in front of it; that's a "taste" thing that varies with each table. I like the players to see it as it helps to encourage the feel of time passing).

The other thing this approach enables nicely is to key the DM to a "wandering monsters" check. (If you are using those). In some situations there are various cavern denizens or NPCs who may be moving about the dungeon / tower / temple / town - the 'wandering monster check' can be described as "Did the world move on while the PCs were doing what they were doing?" The RNG basis of a d12 or a d6 rolled (I use a 1 to show "something happened" other DMs use the highest value of the die) reflects that the world's other inhabitants crossed paths with the PCs unexpectedly; they were not statically waiting around for the PCs to trip over them.
In published adventures (I did this in Sunless Citadel) you can reflect this by moving some of the monsters from one room to an area closer to, or adjacent to, the players but that's going to vary by location in the adventure, and vary by adventure. Some monster locations are very "set piece" in their design.

Applying this wandering monster scheme isn't required to make the graduated rest idea work, of course; the DM who used the graduated rests also used the wandering monster check as a means of keeping the level of tension up.
It can be applied in a variety of situations to keep a sense of urgency or danger foremost in the players' minds and need not be applied throughout the adventure day - only in the locales where more NPC/Monster/World activity makes sense.
Use, or don't, to your taste.

A note on clock/time awareness: if you run the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan the die/clock/time awareness tool is handy as all get out. The adventure has a feature that calls for the DM to assess when an hour has passed since "something happens" as each hour passes.

The last point I'll make is that sometimes a short rest can be interrupted. For a player it is quite frustrating 😒 when that's done during a short rest, but it is a bit realistic, and immersion inducing, that sometimes when you sit down to rest something undesirable happens. (As examples: as you've gotten into the shower and are lathering up...the phone rings! You just sat down for a beer break (short rest indeed!) and to check out that college football game, after cutting the grass, when your wife tells you that she needs you to pick up the kids from soccer practice; her mother just called and needs her... ) Having the rest interrupted for a DM-driven reason may feel like a DM vs Player interaction, whereas if it's a die roll or RNG that triggers it most players are OK with "not my lucky day" as part of the fickleness of the dice in D&D. The occasional cruelty of the dice is addressed in the Preface to the Players Handbook:

You and your friends create epic stories filled with tension and memorable drama. You create silly in-jokes that make you laugh years later. The dice will be cruel to you, but you will soldier on. (PHB, p. 4)

Korvin, why don't you use the above method routinely?

So far I've not found a need to do so, pacing wise, in my games. With parties of six or seven in two of them, someone always has a resource handy. In my Saltmarsh game, the five party members rarely run low on HP thanks to the Protector Cannon that the party Artificer uses to most excellent effect.
If I end up running a published adventure where I think this is needed, though, I'll adapt it in a heartbeat. It felt "about right" from the player side of the screen. (Which I hope fits into your desire to aid with immersion).

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Even if there's ultimately no mechanical difference between a 10-minute rest and a 1-hour rest, I like the narrative implications of each short rest taking longer throughout the day, because it implies a compounding level of fatigue which lengthens the needed recovery time after a period of intense action. It's almost like mini-levels of exhaustion with the mini-penalty of making short rests take longer. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15 at 17:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @RyanC.Thompson The DM didn't connect it to the exhaustion mechanic, but he did explain this in that manner: the longer your day has been, the more recovery you need to get up and get going. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15 at 18:07
22
\$\begingroup\$

I make them thematic and include the environment.

For example, a short rest can be taken while they search a library for books. It isn't a strenuous activity to wander about reading books, so it's a perfect time to incorporate a short rest.

If a player is injured, a short rest can be described as the time needed to bandage and secure their wounds, repair the damage to armour, recover arrows, and sharpen their weapons for the next possible encounter.

When travelling a short rest can be regarded as a spot to fish/hunt and make lunch.

Now, for the more tense areas where short rests become necessary in a dungeon, those can be incorporated as part of the actual dungeon experience. While the rogue scouting for traps isn't taking a short rest, the rest of the party is while they wait for the rogue to get back. Instead of covering the dungeon in 60 seconds, it's more thematically appropriate for the scout to be advancing cautiously and observing/inspecting for traps in a more prolonged fashion anyways.

Another example is listening and watching guard patrols to detect patterns. In reality this does take some time as people aren't NPC's who follow the same prescriptive actions. They frequently inject their own ideas into the mix and while they can be predictable, still have enough variations that it takes more than 10 seconds of observation to discern the patterns. This is an ideal time for a 30 minute break while the characters who don't need it remain on alert and watching the patrols/listening for information.

You get the idea.

This has worked exceedingly well in my games in blending short rests into the environment that the players are in.

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ I really like the idea that some members of the party could be taking a short rest while the others are actively working. Somehow, I've never seen anyone attempt this before, but it's a totally viable and reasonable idea! \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15 at 14:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I am so stealing this ... thanks for this excellent answer. 👍😊 \$\endgroup\$ Oct 15 at 15:23
6
\$\begingroup\$

Food breaks are an ideal time for the party to have a short rest. One example from video games is a side room used for saving, but in a dungeon, there could easily be a storeroom off the side of a corridor that the group can hide in and bar the door for resting purposes.

There's also the option of timed access to areas or floors. For example, a door that only opens at sunrise, or a slow moving elevator platform between dungeon floors.

Keyed access is another way to go and that gives control of the timing over to the party. For example, the stairway to the next floor only opens when a basilisk eye is placed on an altar. The current floor mini-boss is a basilisk. This way the party can rest for a while after their combat and proceed when they are ready.

Puzzles are another form of keyed access. Sometimes they are time-sensitive (solve the puzzle before the room fills with water and you all drown), but they can also be effective combination locks for access.

I think one of my favorite short rests before combat involved an evil vampire who invited our party to dinner. There was a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor about how he wasn't really evil, and it gave the party a chance to try to negotiate as well as rest.

Another favorite our DM liked to use was escort missions. Sure, our party of adventurers could go for days on end without rest breaks, but the noble family we escorted through the Forest of Dread needed frequent breaks to eat, fertilize a tree, etc. NPCs have a lot they can do to slow down the party. Gather herbs in a grove, paint scenery, perform ritual magic, all things that the party can rest up for, and just maintain a relaxed look out for.

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

Some great answers here already, but let me add a few points.

Things take time.

Communication: As soon as a fight is over, it can take no time at all for the players to check if anyone needs healing and press on to the next room. They know what their comrades did as they were all watching everyone else's turn. The reality would be different.

Most dungeon fights are chaotic, noisy and poorly-lit. Try this out as an experiment. Set up a fairly complex combat, send your players out of the room (on their honour not to talk about the fight while they're out there) and invite them back in initiative order. Take most of the minis off the table and describe briefly what their character can see:

"A bloody brawl is unfolding. There's a couple of goblins heading your way."

"Is anyone attacking the wizard? Does the rogue need help getting into a better position?"

"If you want to spend this round assessing those questions..?"

"Uh, no. Goblins, you say? Charge!"

Keep on, with each player taking their turn at the table, feeding them very limited information, maybe allowing some extra information or communication with a minor action. When the players are all back in the room, after defeating the enemy, they're not just going to check if anyone needs healing and move on. They'll be creating their story of that battle. Some versions won't even match - even without player "creativity" in their accounts.

I'm not suggesting you do this more than once - and I know the rules allow for much more player information and assessment of the combat than I'm suggesting - but it may be instructive for the group to experience that "Uh, what just happened?" moment.

Injury: In the heat of a fight, people don't always even realise they were wounded. Barring easy magical solutions, assessing, cleaning and treating wounds takes more than a few minutes and might involve more than one character, e.g. one running triage while another focuses just on dressing each wound in turn. Also, that armour? It's going to have to come off if you want me to bandage that.

I need a minute: Talking of armour and the heat of battle; it's hot, fighting is exhausting. I'm a re-enactor and I've walked off the field needing to drink litres of water to replace the amount I've sweated so liberally. I'm munching on glucose tablets, I can't talk for five minutes, I NEED to get this armour off, and imma just lie down for ten. Okay, I'm not the fittest person in the world, but no-one's going to just walk straight on towards their next fight.

If nothing else, everyone could use water and a clean-up. If you were wounded, you have blood everywhere - a small forehead wound can have you go full Carrie in moments! Between the blood, sweat and various monster goo, your equipment will be some combination of slippery, sticky, dried stiff, stained, broken, lost, chafing, rusting or just plain stinky.

Straightforward fights that are over in a couple of rounds aren't likely to have so much impact, but a sustained combat should leave your characters needing a short rest, just to feel up to the next battle. You'll have to achieve this mainly through description. The game doesn't supply the narrative detail - but it doesn't forbid it either. Some player groups would be unhappy if you "forced" a break on them, but it should be fine if you put it that, by the time they've got themselves back in shape, looted the bodies and searched the room, they can treat it as a short break. I find it helps to signal early in what I intend as a more challenging scrap that the group is likely to need a break after "this brawl", so that players don't hold back on short rest abilities.

\$\endgroup\$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .