In my exploration-based game I am using a variant on the Gritty Realism optional rules. I have a good handle on most of the implications of this, however I have some concerns about my handling of the exhaustion condition.

My variant rest system

A simple summary of my rest system is below:

  • If the party are in a safe place (i.e. their home base or an allied city) they can rest as normal.
    • Long rests take 8 hours
    • Short rests take 1 hour
  • If the party are exploring or in hostile/neutral territory use gritty realism.
    • Long rests take 5 days (half a tenday)
    • Short rests take 8 hours
    • Receive the benefits of a short rest for the first night of a long rest but not for subsequent days.

The aims of the system are to:

  • make resource management during exploration more important.
  • encourage the party to engage with the faction system (more allies means more places to rest)
  • increase the stakes of low CR encounters while travelling
  • mitigate the 5-minute adventuring day and increase the number of encounters per long rest (compared to previous campaigns)

So far (14 sessions) I think the system has been extremely successful and the players are giving extremely positive feedback. I'm averaging about a full adventuring day worth of XP per long-rest, something I haven't managed to achieve in previous campaigns.

Exhaustion and Rests

Currently I still require the PCs to sleep for 6 hours (4 for elves) per night, regardless of whether they are taking a short or long rest. If they fail to do so they make a DC10 (+5 for each additional 24 hours) constitution saving throw to avoid gaining a point of exhaustion (as per the rules introduced in XGtE. I am also aware there are other sources of exhaustion that will come up in future (e.g. environment effect, particular monsters, etc.).

The problem comes in how much more difficult it is for the party (currently level 4) to remove points of exhaustion due to gritty realism. 3 of my 4 PCs have been carrying a point of exhaustion for the last two sessions. The players and I agree we want managing rests and exhaustion to be important. However disadvantage on all skill checks for multiple sessions feels harsh and risks quickly becoming un-fun.


How should I manage exhaustion/resting mechanics to maximise player enjoyment (i.e. reduce the bits that suck while maintaining the difficulty of the variant rules)?

I've considered three options but am open to outside suggestions:

  1. Status Quo: Continue with the current system, PCs will learn to be more careful about avoiding gaining exhaustion.
  2. Reduce the sleep requirements: Relax the requirements making a save in some way. Either by lowering the DC or increasing the amount of time before requiring a save.
  3. Make removing exhaustion easier: Add a more accessible means of reducing exhaustion. E.g. Make short rests remove 1 point of exhaustion, add a homebrew spell with lower costs than Greater Restoration.

Assume the party is facing the standard XP budget per long rest of encounters, regardless of which type of long rest they are getting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Jul 6, 2022 at 6:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I know this is old, but would you consider adding a self-answer as to what you actually did? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 14 at 16:10

6 Answers 6


Exhaustion should probably not be much harder to remove than to gain.

I think you have a great point here: If you combine Gritty Realism resting rules with Xanathar's exhaustion from lack of sleep, you wind up with the strange situation that missing one night of sleep potentially gets you a point of exhaustion, but it takes almost a week to recover from it. I don't know about you, but that doesn't match my real-world experience, where one good sleep is usually enough to get me back on a pretty even keel after pulling an all-nighter.

Since Gritty Realism makes "sleep one night" a short rest instead of a long rest, it's entirely reasonable that the exhaustion recovery rules should similarly change to one point per short rest instead of long rest.

That certainly fits with the reality of dealing with some sources of exhaustion, like heat exhaustion or hypothermia. If somebody is chilled from being out in a blizzard, it's a bit absurd that it would take a week to get back to normal. (And if they were on the verge of death from the cold, five days to recover sounds pretty reasonable; a month doesn't!)

If that seems like it's a little too easy to recover from, then you could certainly implement a system where recovery from Exhaustion requires a Constitution saving throw (probably DC 10 + current exhaustion level) so that extreme cases may take a lot longer to recover from than a minor problem, possibly with advantage if you're in a safe location with plenty of supplies and assistance -- like a hospital or being cared for at an inn.

That said, the rule you outlined about changing long and short rests while in town will make this ruling a little wonky, where you can fully recover from heatstroke in a few hours by just going into town. That said, I don't think it's much more wonky than that particular rule makes the rest of the game. You're suggesting that it would take five days to get your hit points back in the wilderness, but a single night's sleep in a bed repairs all your wounds and recovers your hit dice. Seems like a disconnect -- the point of being in town is that you can take that long rest for five days in safety without the danger of further encounters interrupting it, right?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have far too much experience with sleep deprivation, and I agree with this. In reality, sleep dep often does require more sleep to recover from than the sleep that was missed, but it isn’t (remotely) a 7-to-1 ratio. You might make reducing exhaustion take a number of good nights’ sleep equal to the level of exhaustion you have, so going from exhaustion 3 to exhaustion 2 requires 3 nights’ sleep, and going from 2 to 1 requires another 2 nights, etc. That matches the escalating effects of sleep dep, IMO. But +1 because I don’t think that’s worth it, and would recommend this instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jul 6, 2022 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding the different rest rules in town, I don't think there's a huge issue. You can define the requirement for removing a point of exhaustion as a full night's rest (or equivalent, e.g. trance for elves). That will naturally correspond to a long rest while in town or a short rest while adventuring. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6, 2022 at 21:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ My reasoning for resting in town being short is that the party don't need to be on alert. Are sleeping in comfortable beds with ample food, shelter and no need to keep watch. I think it's not too much of a leap for that to be far more restful than a night on the road or in hostile territory. Your suggested mechanic is pretty good and I can easily make the require a nights sleep rather than a specific kind of rest. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Jul 6, 2022 at 23:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ My suggestion to balance this idea is to let the player re-make the constitution saving throw after an uninterrupted short rest. DC 10 or so, and they remove one level of exhaustion on a success. That way its not trivial to remove exhaustion, but not un-fun or impossible. \$\endgroup\$
    – Toddleson
    Jul 7, 2022 at 19:26

Exhaustion is not a fun mechanic. It is mechanically debilitating, which leads to a lot of frustration and annoyance. It's something that a lot of players try to avoid. I find that players will simply work to avoid getting exhausted, and if they are exhausted try to get rid of it as soon as possible.

Players in your system have many options to reduce exhaustion; resting for a week in the wilderness, hightailing it back to civilization for a day, various spells or items. They also have a lot of options to stop themselves getting exhaustion, starting with going to bed earlier and taking more care to keep long rests from being interrupted.

You don't have to change anything, let your players reduce the bits that suck. To quote Soren Johnson and Sid Meier (designers from the Civilization series); "players will optimize the fun out of a game" so "one of the responsibilities of designers is to protect the player from themselves". A great example of where this quote comes into effect is something like the Steady Aim feature of the Rogue. You get advantage at the cost of a BA and movement - it's mechanically advantageous but incredibly boring. Rogue gameplay used to be about darting into cover and playing cat and mouse, but this feature reduces it to standing still. The good thing about exhaustion is that it is neither fun, nor mechanically advantageous. Players will avoid it because it sucks, and thus maximise their own enjoyment as a side effect.

Trust your players. They are smart, they are resourceful. Exhaustion is too significant for them not to bother to learn from it. Once they realise they are losing encounters and progress has stalled because of exhaustion, they will rest. Yes, it's not "fun", but not every single thing in your game has to be fun all the time.

I would also encourage you to be very cautious about making system changes this far into the game. The laws of physics of the world should be stable so players can interact with them reliably. I know you aren't saying this, but what if every time they grumble about something you wave your magic wand and fix it? What kind of agency and autonomy and accountability do the players end up with?

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be fair, my players aren't grumbling about this. They chose to take the exhaustion for narrative reasons and are happy living with the consequences. I am just cognisant that it may not always be this way and as you say "Exhaustion is not a fun mechanic." and the aim of my changes was to increase fun. Therefore looking to preemptively fix it if this is likely to become a bigger problem down the line. \$\endgroup\$
    – linksassin
    Jul 6, 2022 at 7:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @linksassin Don't sweat it. No problem, no need to solve it. Losing hp isn't fun, spell slots aren't fun, hell rules are inherently limiting. We need to accept some level of unfun in order for there to be some level of fun, right? That's the entire premise of "games". Good luck! \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Jul 6, 2022 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your comment about steady aim is perfect, but you seem to have learned the wrong lesson from it. Steady aim was introduced to be more friendly and help 5e attract even more players. Thematically dodging and hiding is great, but actually the player said 'I hide and shoot' and now they say 'I aim and shoot'. There is no real difference there, but one is easier, quicker and saves the player from having to constantly ask about cover, light, perception etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 6, 2022 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ The fact that 5e has removed a lot of the 'un-fun' mechanics is a massive part of why it has had a popularity boom. Recommending keeping an 'un-fun' mechanic because players will work around it is a dangerous game and best suited to old school players than new players. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 6, 2022 at 15:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I think that may be more of a reflection of your games. Put yourself in the goblin's shoes, if the enemy are hiding at you and sniping, WWYD? Destroy their cover? Gain line of sight? Ready actions? Hide themselves? Hiding is a very fun and interesting mechanic, "stand and shoot" is not only unfun, but it prohibits moving which is a fun mechanic too. I don't think 5e removed unfun mechanics, there is still spell slots, hp, ammo tracking, encumbrance, bag space, rations, etc ad infinitum. We need those to contextualize good choices, skill, luck, and victory. FWIW; Idk the RAI of SA. \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Jul 7, 2022 at 2:35

Remove exhaustion via short rests while using gritty realism rules.

If you really like the 'safe place = get all spells back instantly' home base thing, make exhaustion only go away on long rests in the home base. Basically, regardless of circumstance, 1 night sleep = -1 point of exhaustion.

Exhaustion is poorly thought through. The first level of it is the equivalent of a character gaining Expertise in a skill, but negative, and applied to every single ability check. A character with 1 level of exhaustion isn't just less effective - they may be an actual hindrance. It applies less if you don't ask for ability checks (letting someone just tag along in the rear), and it applies less to spellcasters - which is bad, as spellcasters already steal the show in D&D 5e. Making exhaustion more common in the game will likely therefore lead to a lack of fun. As a 'you must go sleep now', it sort of has a place. But if it applies and people can't reasonably remove it, it becomes incredibly onerous.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I know this is the most common solution, but read the chat linked in OP. They are having far sparser encounters than RAW. In a day they might only have a fraction of the daily budget. I generally think this is not a bad idea for GR, but if you have GR AND less encounters then I think it's a bit more questionable. What do you think of it with that in mind? \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Jul 7, 2022 at 2:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ There is a common concept, particularly in video games where sleep is a factor that if you can sleep anywhere, you usually get a "well rested" bonus only if you sleep in your own bed in your home. Based mostly on the idea that at home you don't have to sleep lightly in case of being attacked by raiders/bandits/wolves/monsters. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rowan
    Jul 7, 2022 at 10:53

Single Use Magical Consumables

In one campaign I was a player which used gritty realism, after completing an early adventure as a reward for a job well done we were given three Lembas (Elven Bread). They each had a special property that when consumed they healed a small amount of health and would remove one level of exhaustion.

With a party of five players and plenty of opportunities to get exhaustion those three magic items were not enough to get rid of all exhaustion, but could get us out of a serious bind. They were not something we could go out and buy more of either. We treasured those items and they helped us get out of a serious bind where we had made poor choices and with multiple dice roll failures punishing us for it.

As such for your campaign I recommend home brewing a magical consumable that can remove a level of exhaustion and more cannot be bought. Through the plot have the characters get their hands on a few of them. It wont be enough to mitigate all exhaustion, but can prevent that exhaustion from getting in the way in select situations.


How should you manage exhaustion mechanics to maximize player enjoyment?

Keep what works; modify what doesn't.

Status Quo:
Continue with the current system, PCs will learn to be more careful about avoiding gaining exhaustion.

No. You have explained that your modified 'standard safe' / 'gritty dangerous' resting mechanic is extremely successful at all levels except for that of exhaustion. If it is just that one thing that is impacting your fun, address just that one thing. Continuing with exhaustion as a 'pebble in your shoe' will drag down player's appreciation of the entire new system through association. Forcing them to 'be more careful about avoiding exhaustion' will return you to the same problems (the 5 minute adventuring day) that you are trying to solve with your new system.

Reduce the sleep requirements:
Relax the requirements making a save in some way. Either by lowering the DC or increasing the amount of time before requiring a save.

No. If they can go longer without having to make a save, you are undercutting the grittiness of the dangerous environments. Based on the rules in XGtE, you are having this be a Con save at a certain DC; it is affecting players based on their choices of how important Con is to their character. This is a natural consequence of their character concept; it is supporting immersion and bolstering other parts of your game. Rugged barbarians and veteran soldiers should be better at catching sleep when they can and still functioning at low levels of sleep than bookish wizards and soft bards are.

Make removing exhaustion easier:
Add a more accessible means of reducing exhaustion. E.g. Make short rests remove 1 point of exhaustion, add a homebrew spell with lower costs than Greater Restoration.

Yes. One of the four aims of your system is to "make resource management during exploration more important." You have an opportunity to do this by keeping your current rules for generating exhaustion, but relaxing the rules for removing exhaustion so that it becomes more of a question of resource management. RAW, Greater Restoration removes a single level of exhaustion, at a cost of a 5th level slot and 100gp. If it was not immediately obvious that this was too costly already, consider the other conditions that it removes; all of them are far more serious than disadvantage on skill checks: charmed, petrified, cursed, reduction of ability score and max hp. Three of the five of them are things that will never go away on their own regardless of the amount of rest. Having greater restoration be necessary for removing a single level of exhaustion is clearly out of balance considering the ease of generating exhaustion in your system.

On the other hand, look at Lesser Restoration. Four of the five conditions it affects (blinded, deafened, paralyzed, poisoned) all typically go away on their own, and depending on their source those afflicted with them often receive a new save every round. What does not typically go away on its own is the diseased state, and for that specific use Lesser Restoration may actually be overpowered.

My suggestion is not creating a new homebrew spell, but restructuring the effects of both lesser and greater restoration as follows:

lesser restoration, when cast at second level:
Removes one of blinded, deafened, paralyzed, or poisoned; does not remove diseased or exhaustion

lesser restoration, upcast to third level:
Removes one of blinded, deafened, paralyzed, poisoned, diseased, or a single level of exhaustion on a single target

lesser restoration, upcast to fourth level:
Removes one of blinded, deafened, paralyzed, poisoned, or diseased; or removes two levels of exhaustion on a single target; or permits up to four targets to re-roll the failed save that generated their most recent level of exhaustion

greater restoration, cast at fifth level:
For 100gp of diamond dust, removes one effect of charm, petrification, curse, or reduction of one ability score or hp maximum on one target.
For 100gp of diamond dust, removes up to five levels of exhaustion on a single target
For 50gp of diamond dust per target, removes a single level of exhaustion on up to five targets

Also, rather than your suggestion of a short rest removing a level of exhaustion (which is more generous than RAW), 24 hours of rest will remove a level of exhaustion, whether in a safe resting place or not.


Constitution Check on Short Rest

You can add an Constitution Check at the end of each short rest that starts with a high difficulty, and lowers over time (assuming they don't gain any additional points of exhaustion.) On a successful check, they remove one point of exhaustion.


Constitution Check starts at 25, and lowers by 5 after every successful short rest. Low level characters are guaranteed to fail the first check, but characters with high Con might pass the second on a good roll. After 5 short rests, Exhaustion is removed automatically. (DC 0)

You can tune this as you see fit. If the example above reduces the DC too quickly, you can subtract 1 from the DC instead of 5. You can start the DC lower or higher. You could even make it vary based on the conditions: if they PCs are in an austere location (desert) then the DC starts high and lowers slowly, but if they are in a "safer" portion of the wilderness (forest) the DC starts lower, and decreases more rapidly.

The key is to decide up front how long you want Exhaustion to last, and then tune the system so on average it is removed at that time.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Nitpick: with proficiency in Con saves (e.g. fighter or barbarian), a low-level character could have a +5 and hit a DC25 on a nat20, without any other bonuses to saves like a ring of protection. Other things like Bless or Bardic Inspiration are probably not going to work on an all-night thing, so yeah options are limited for boosting it beyond that. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6, 2022 at 15:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why this mechanism specifically, and not also letting the characters sleep in an extra hour or two to catch up on sleep they lost a previous night? Especially if the previous day didn't involve combat or anything particularly strenuous or adrenaline-inducing. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6, 2022 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does this come from you own experience, or do you have somewhere else you're drawing from? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 6, 2022 at 15:33

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