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This came up during today's session. Long Rest (p. 186, PHB) says:

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours.

So you can stand watch during a long rest. However, short rest says:

A short rest is a period of downtime, at least 1 hour long, during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds.

No mention of standing watch. Is there anything else stated in the rules that clarifies if you can stand watch during a short rest, as you can during a long rest?

(I ruled that you can to keep the game moving and avoid an extended discussion and rules search as there were no random encounters anyways, so it did not matter, but told the team I'll find out afterwards what the official rules say).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Although the rules aren't the best suited for this, as a DM I internally always just assume that when everyone is conscious, "keeping watch" is a kind of default group activity. (With obviously not everyone watching every second, but on average it's taken as a group thing.) \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Commented Oct 22, 2023 at 14:04

2 Answers 2

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Watching requires attention, but is not strenuous

Neither the PHB nor the DMG define what standing watch is. "Light activity" and "strenuous" activity are not defined either, beyond providing examples and consequences. Thus, we can take the common English meanings for these terms. It would be useful if both the short rest and long rest used the same terms, if, for example, a short rest said that you could perform 'only light activities' since the long rest gave examples of what those were, but they do not. In the absence of such a uniform usage, we can assume that light activities are not strenuous, and vice versa.

Further, we know that:

If the [long] rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity - at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting spells, or similar adventuring activity - the characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.

We also know that standing watch for two hours does not interrupt a long rest. If one can be on watch for two hours without it counting as a strenuous activity that interrupts a long rest, then being on watch for one hour should be restful as well.

The "Noticing Threats" section of the PHB tells us that one cannot be simultaneously on watch for danger and navigating, drawing a map, tracking, or foraging. However, this is because these activities demand one's attention, or focus one's attention on things other than any threats immediately at hand, not because they are strenuous. Drawing a map, for example, is typically going to be less strenuous than walking.

While not stated directly, all context clues point to it being possible to take a short rest while standing watch.

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It’s up to the DM, but I’ve never encountered a DM that didn’t allow it.

Rules don’t give an exhaustive list of activities that are allowed or disallowed during a short rest. That would be impossible for obvious reasons. That’s why the rules afford the DM the discretion to make rulings, because:

The rules don’t account for every possible situation that might arise during a typical D&D session

-“Introduction”, Dungeon Master’s Guide

The DM must decide whether standing watch is more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, or tending to wounds.

That said, I've never encountered, or even heard of, a DM that didn’t allow standing watch during a rest. It’s how I’ve always run it as a DM, and how I’ve always seen other DMs run it at the tables I’ve played at.

Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on my anecdotal experience to set your expectation, because you can just ask the DM at your table. Or rule however you want to if you are the DM.

As for why one might decide to rule that you can’t stand watch, it does raise the stakes of the decision to short rest, leaving one character unable to rest while the party chills for an hour. If this is one thing you think your table might be interested in, discuss it with them and try it out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Rules don't give an exhaustive list...". I see what you did there. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Commented Oct 21, 2023 at 14:54

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