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If there are three characters in a party, and each can stand watch for only two hours, how can they benefit from a long rest while also posting watch throughout the long rest?

From PHB:

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.

Please confine your answers to mundane means of enabling the party to get a long rest: no spells and no magic items. I'm asking because I'm about to start DMing for three players and this came up in discussion with a couple of them. We're at character creation stage at the moment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This sounds, to me, like an idea-generation question right now: "How can a party of 3 post watch for the duration of an 8-hour long rest"? Without constraints, this kind of question will likely pose problems. However, if you're asking "Is it possible for a 3 person group to post watch during a long rest." is fine, but you've already answered it in your question. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jan 5 '17 at 2:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please specify what player characters and of what races you party is made. It makes a difference to the answer if one is an elf. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 5 '17 at 3:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ or if there are one or more spellcasters, not to mention potential magic item involved. Are you looking only for mundane solutions, as being submitted right now, or are you open to spells being cast? at what level? \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jan 5 '17 at 3:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast How so? I know elves only have to "sleep" for 4 hours, but I didn't see the rule that affects the "Long Rest" duration from a rules perspective. Did I miss it? \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Jan 5 '17 at 5:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note to future answerers: by RAI, being an elf does not particularly affect answers to this question as there's still a limit of no more than 2 hours of watch during a long rest, and elves still require 8 hours of 'sleep' and/or light activity to get a long rest (despite only needing 4 hours to 'sleep') as clarified in the first answer of a Sage Advice here. Noting this here as it's come up in several of the answers as a point of confusion. \$\endgroup\$ – CTWind Jan 5 '17 at 15:16
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A party of 3 can finish a long rest in 10 hours

Lets say we have 3 characters, Aberforth, Barte, and Caius. During the first 2 hours, Aberforth can keep watch while the others sleep. Then during hours 3 and 4, Barte can be awoken to take watch, while Aberforth goes to sleep. Caius continues to rest until hour 5 and 6 when he is awoken for his watch. Barte then goes to sleep while Aberforth continues to sleep until hour 7 when he takes a second watch. He can then finish his long rest during hours 9 and 10 while either of the others, who have both finished their long rests, keep watch.

For a visual representation:

\$\begin{array}{r||c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|c|} &1&2&3&4&5&6&7&8&9&10\\\hline\hline A&\blacksquare&\blacksquare&(\;\;&&&&\blacksquare&\blacksquare&&\;\;)\\\hline B&(\;\;&&\blacksquare&\blacksquare&&&&\;\;)&\blacksquare&\blacksquare\\\hline C&(\;\;&&&&\blacksquare&\blacksquare&&\;\;)&\blacksquare&\blacksquare\\\hline \end{array}\$

\$\begin{array}{l|l} ()&\text{Long rest period}\\\hline \blacksquare& \text{1 hour of watch}\\\hline &\text{1 hour of sleep} \end{array}\$

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While this is similar to some existing answers, this answer gives an even shorter option to better manage time. I'm unsure of the best way to approach the same incorrect or un-optimized information being given in multiple answers so I have provided my own. If there's a better way to do this, please let me know and I can remove this answer. \$\endgroup\$ – inthemanual Jan 5 '17 at 6:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have accepted this answer as it is the most broadly applicable, but have upvoted others for leading the way towards this answer, or for other helpful approaches. \$\endgroup\$ – Clearly Toughpick Jan 5 '17 at 17:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just for completeness, it might be useful to note that a similar scheme will let a two-character party complete a long rest in 12 hours, with one of the characters always keeping watch: first A sleeps for 6 hours while B keeps watch, and then B sleeps for 6 hours while A keeps watch, with the middle 4 hours of the total 12 counting for both characters' long rest. \$\endgroup\$ – Ilmari Karonen Jan 6 '17 at 1:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is indeed optimal: If we don't want to waste any time, then one person starts it's long rest period immediately. Let x be the time it takes for the last person to start the extended rest period. This person takes watch for the first x hours, but the rest of the first 8 hours need to be covered too and any of the persons can post watch for at most 2 more hours during this period, which gives us 8 - x <= 2 n = 6 which is equivalent to 8-2n = 2 <= x. The time the last person ends his/her long rest is 8+x >= 10. \$\endgroup\$ – fabian Jan 6 '17 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the visual--much easier to follow than some of the ASCII-art attempts we'd seen =) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 6 '17 at 14:18
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Possibilities:

  • Hirelings: pay NPCs to travel with the group and keep watch; even if the NPC can't fight, they may be able to wake the PCs at least.
  • Take extra time: Three characters can have a combination of "active" and "inactive" rest totaling eight hours if the group as a whole is willing to stop for twelve: Character A stays on watch for four hours: two while not resting, two while resting, then sleeps for six more. Character B sleeps for four hours, wakes up to watch for two, then sleeps four more. Character C sleeps for six hours, wakes up, watches for two, then watches for another two. In this scenario, B can even overlap A and C for one hour of non-light activity on either end, if they'd like.
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like the hirelings. You have the PCs sleeping for eight hours: they only need to sleep for six hours apiece, bringing the time required down to 10 hours. That's not so bad! \$\endgroup\$ – Clearly Toughpick Jan 5 '17 at 6:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ One more possibility: Elves. They only need 4 hours of “trance” for a long rest. So if one character is an elf they only have to cover 4 hours of sleep. Spellcasters have additional possibilities too: Alarm spells or stuff like Leomund’s Tiny Hut. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Jan 5 '17 at 9:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Michael Elves may only need 4 hours of meditation time, but unless there is house-ruling going on they can still only spend two hours of their eight-hour rest on watch. \$\endgroup\$ – Javelin Jan 5 '17 at 9:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Javelin: “Trance. Elves don’t need to sleep. Instead, they meditate deeply, remaining semiconscious, for 4 hours a day. [...] After resting in this way, you gain the same benefit that a human does from 8 hours of sleep.” Me and my party have always understood that to mean that Elves only need 4 hours for a long rest. \$\endgroup\$ – Michael Jan 5 '17 at 14:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Michael That is incorrect, as clarified in the first answer here. Sleeping and resting don't necessarily require/cause the other; getting the benefits of 8 hours of sleep doesn't grant you a long rest. \$\endgroup\$ – CTWind Jan 5 '17 at 15:12
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Not in 8 Hours Without Help

3 people * 2 hours of watch each = 6 hours, leaving 2 hours of unprotected sleep. Other answers have given a way to stagger rest to extend the downtime to make it feasible.

Trances Instead of Sleep

If one (or more) of the party is an elf, they only has to trance for 4 hours. So that would mean he could restfully keep watch the other 4, giving 4 + 2 + 2 = 8 hours.

Elf trance does provide some sensory input even while they trance.

It isn't clear if the elf trance is specific trumping the two hour minimum, but it seems Mike Mearls thinks it does: http://www.sageadvice.eu/2016/12/10/what-advantages-does-the-elven-trance-bestow-vs-normal-sleep/

@graysanborn @ChrisPerkinsDnD yes, can also spend long rest awake, on watch #wotcstaff

And so does Crawford, yay it's an official ruling:

A long rest is 8 hours for an elf, but the elf can spend much of it on watch and doing light activity, while others sleep.

https://twitter.com/JeremyECrawford/status/532595706104537088?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

After those tweets they released an answer in the Sage Advice Compendium which makes it seem that watching for 4 hours still isn't valid:

Standing watch is even possible during it, but for no more than 2 hours; maintaining heightened vigilance any longer than that isn’t restful. In short, a long rest and sleep aren’t the same thing; you can sleep when you’re not taking a long rest, and you can take a long rest and not sleep.

He does add:

That all said, if you’re the DM and you decide to let Trance shorten an elf’s long rest, you’re not going to break the game.

Animals, Hirelings or NPCs

They could have a ranger's animal companion, or a wizard or warlock's familiar take watch.

Depending on the companion it could sleep while you travel.

With the familiar it isn't clear if the familiar even requires its own rest being a spirit and all -- or if time spent in the pocket dimension counts as rest, etc. etc. But, even it is just another creature to keep watch, you're still better off than having no warning system in place.

You can also expand the party with hirelings, NPCs or the like who could take point/watch a shift.

Spells

There are a few spells that would work to help keep watch, for instance:

  • alarm
  • glyph of Warding

There are a host of other protection and ward spells, or spells that create safe places to sleep:

  • Leomund’s tiny hut
  • force cage
  • Mordenkainen’s magnificent mansion.

House Rule

You could always make a house rule that lets the players keep watch 3 hours instead of 2, if they rest 10 hours instead of 8 -- or some such. This wouldn't be RAW, but it also wouldn't be game breaking.

Plot Hook

Lastly, I wouldn't hand any of these to the player directly... I would let it be a problem for them to solve and work out. While they do, if they mess up, there is a chance for night encounters with a round of surprise. That would interupt sleep and leave them with two choices:

  • Sleep extra in the morning
  • Take a level of exhaustion

Each of these could have story implications as well. Maybe they are late to the event they were planing on if they sleep in, and exhaustion can be devastating if they have to perform a lot of skill checks the next day. Used too often, you're a terribly mean DM -- used just right it could be fun.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The official ruling for trance & long rests is here. It clarifies your Crawford quote- the 2 hour maximum watch time mid-long-rest is still in place for elves, though they can use their other 2 hours for other light activities. \$\endgroup\$ – CTWind Jan 5 '17 at 7:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this sounds like another instance of Crawford firing off a tweet without goving it full consideration. While you can definitely spend rest time awake, being on active watch, whether you're an elf or not, is one of the activities you're limited to two hours of. \$\endgroup\$ – Polisurgist Jan 5 '17 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nobody is on watch during hour two in your update. \$\endgroup\$ – inthemanual Jan 5 '17 at 20:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, and I see that whole in Javelin's answer now at hour 4.... Hmmm... I guess 10 is the lowest. But it seems like there should be an efficiency that could be made with that weird overlap in the 9th hour... Too bad you can interrupt a rest and still have it count... :p \$\endgroup\$ – J. A. Streich Jan 5 '17 at 20:31
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You can't, but there are a lot of ways around that

As you point out, RAW states that the three characters can only post watch for 6 of the 8 hours. As far as I know, there aren't any exceptions to this. But, there are a lot of solutions to this problem.

As a player, you can get around this if someone is an elf or warforged, since they only need 4 hours of (whatever) to get the equivalent of 8 hours of sleep. A party with an elf can thus keep watch for the full 8 hours.

The first-level Alarm spell could also help post watch, in a way, because anything that approaches would set off an alarm. If any of the characters has a familiar, it can keep watch as well.

DM Techniques

As a DM, you could simply stretch this a bit for the party, and allow the party to keep watch for the full 8 hours. After all, if you do pull that trick on them (someone attacked you in the 2 hours where everyone was sleeping!), you are functionally punishing the group for not having enough players. You could do whatever ambush you want by having the character on watch fail his/her perception check--it accomplishes the same thing but preserves the semblance of player agency.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for not punishing players for the number of players there are. This is one of the (fairly uncommon) cases where a universal "house rule" makes sense. (That said, if you're running a super gritty ultra realistic campaign and want "trying to find somewhere safe to sleep so everyone can get rid of their exhaustion levels" to be a game mechanic, I don't think that's entirely insane.) \$\endgroup\$ – Tin Man Jan 5 '17 at 20:24

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