Tobold's Blog
Friday, March 01, 2013
 
Character rest in Dungeons & Dragons

Yesterday's thread on dungeon design led to some discussion of character rest in D&D. Specifically Carmedil didn't like that after an extended rest in 4E all characters were back at full health. I didn't perceive that as a specific problem, I've been playing since AD&D 1st edition and we ALWAYS rested until full health in every edition for the last 30 years. But more generally character rest poses a series of design questions:
  • How many battles are the characters "supposed to" do between rests?
  • How much weaker are characters in their second and subsequent battles compared to the first one of the day?
  • How much of their power / resources does a group recover by a rest?
  • How do you prevent groups from always resting after every fight ("5-minute workday" problem), and then always unloading all of their best abilities in that one fight per game day ("alpha strike")?
  • On the other hand, how do you prevent your group wiping because they stumbled into a major fight after already having exhausted most of their resources?
These questions aren't unique to D&D. Every pen & paper roleplaying system works with the players having some sort of resources, be that offensive like "spells" or "powers", or defensive like "hit points". An exciting battle is one which is well-balanced, and this balance can go out of the window if the players either have too many or too few resources at their disposal.

Apart from the game balance problem, there is also the problem of creating a logical and believable fantasy world. Going through a monster-filled dungeon with several battles in sequence is already a stretch, and more of a convention of the genre than something truly logical (Why doesn't the first monster ring an alarm and all monsters of the dungeon band together against the players?). The players sleeping for 8 hours after every 5-minutes of game time combat is throwing all logic out of the window.

In previous editions of D&D the 5-minute workday problem was a function of your character class. Character classes like fighters, who deal damage by using a weapon, consumed no offensive resources. As long as their defensive resources, hit points, were up, they could put out a constant stream of damage forever. Spell-casters on the other hand had a limited amount of offensive resources, X spells per day, with X being as low a 1 for a level 1 wizard. That meant that even after a successful and easy combat in which the group took no damage at all, the wizard might want to rest because he fired his only Magic Missile for the day, while the fighter didn't see any reason to rest.

4th edition D&D made huge improvements to this systems: First of all, ALL characters classes have the same number of daily powers. Second, ALL character classes have attacks they can use forever, as well as those daily powers, and powers they can use only once per encounter. Thus even if a group did alpha strike all their daily powers in fight one, they would still have a good selection of at-will and encounter powers in fight two without having to rest. Of course you still get conflicts between players who shoot their daily powers quickly and want to rest, and other players who tend to conserve their resources and want to carry on. But this now becomes a matter of player strategy, and not one of an inherent flaw in the rules system.

4E also made improvements to the defensive resources, by having both hit points and healing surges. Healing surges are a daily resource, so the answer to "when should the party rest?" becomes "when their healing surges are consumed". But as you can spend healing surges between fights in a short rest to heal yourself, you don't get into situations any more where the group stumbles into a fight while already being low on hit points. At worst you get into a fight while low on healing surges, and even most healing spells in combat only work if you have healing surges left.

After a long rest in 4E, characters regain all health, all healing surges, and all powers. That makes a long rest a true reset to the initial situation. Now I understand that some DMs (like Carmedil) would like a situation in which the group rests, but isn't at 100% after the rest. As a DM in 4E I can create this with special circumstances (e.g. resting in the Evil Temple of Doom results in players starting with less than full healing surges or powers). But if you make it a permanent rule that players don't regain health at night, you end up with a system which is very uneven, because how powerful the group is after a night's rest suddenly depends on how many healers they have. I *did* play a 1st edition AD&D cleric who on some adventuring days was forced to use all his spell slots for Cure Light Wounds, and had to use them right at the start of the day, leaving him no spell for the rest of the adventuring day. Not a fun system!

Still, any system can leave you with players wanting to rest after every fight. So what is a DM to do? There are some limited "carrots" he can offer: For example 4E has a system where after every 2 fights the group is said to have reached a milestone, and every milestone gives boni like an action point, or triggers magical item improvements like for an armor which gets better with each milestone. But mostly preventing constantly resting groups it is a matter of "sticks": Rests get interrupted by wandering monsters, for example. Or a part of the story is time-sensitive, where the group doesn't succeed in some goal if they don't reach it in a certain game time.

Ultimately every group has to find some sort of compromise with its DM. The DM just imposing his will is rather bad dungeon-mastering, and something that is ultimately doomed to fail because the players can always quit playing if they don't have fun. But most groups will be open to reason and accept that they can't just rest after every single fight. A bit of DM guidance, like "this place looks / doesn't look safe to rest", and the rest issue can be solved.

Comments:
You're an incredible resource for us as we start our second adventure in D&D4e! We were just debating the rest mechanics last night!
 
This is how my group decided to handle the 5 minute workday issue.
Professional athletes, which were the best analog we could come up with for our heroes, can go for 2 to the 3 hours at peak efficiency and effort with only small breaks and gatorade.

So we introduced gatorade to the game world. As long as the party takes a brief rest, and drinks some gatorade, they recover all their daily powers.

This allowed me to prepare each combat with the assumption that the characters had all their powers, and balance around that.

The characters felt more powerful, and more heroic, and the gatorade gave me a great 'motivator' for them to do missions. In fact, we went on a whole series of sessions where the characters attempted to discover the secret of making the gatorade. It was fun.
 
The problem I face isn't that the group rests between each fight. The problem is that for the group to feel some wear on their ressources an adventure has to compact all the action into a 16 hour timespan. I just don't like playing 4 sessions (4 hours) or more which could take months in real time, just to resolve a 16 hours adventuring day.

I think a system with slower recoup would allow for a nail bitting 1 day adventure, and for longer timespans on adventuring.

I love how Encounter Powers recharge fast, and Dailies don't. I just think that healing should have a similar mechanic, with a portion of healing recovering over a longer period than a single day.

Presently, after a extended rest you just don't get all HP back, but all Healing Surges too.

Tobold your players are still low level, when they reach 12th level you'll see that At-Wills aren't used very often anymore and that players have access to many Encounter/Daily/Utility/Magic item powers.

At low level players really manage powers and surges, but at higher level things are different. At low levels players can always fear the surprise encounter because their ressources are more limited. At higher level it takes a series of epic battles to wear down a party.

Don't forget to replace the "Solo" (boss) monsters from Monster Manual 1 by the ones in the Essentials Monster Manual. MM1 monster don't do alot of damage and have to high hit points, making long boring fights that doesn't challenge players.

Certain magic itmes and Utility skills allow Healing without Surge usage or to heal multiple PCs or every party member gain 20 temp HP. I suspect that that the Skills Powers from Player Handbook 3 are in part responsable for this, I would have too study the sources of my PCs powers.

It's sad but 4th ed breaks down at higher levels. Essentials tried to fix it, but they tried to make it too compatible with vanilla 4th and couldn't get there.
 
@Ted

This is what I loathe. Balancing for a fully powered Paragon party makes for very long fights.

Why because balancing implies adding more creatures.

In D&D 4th you cannot use creatures that are much higher level than the PCs because:

1) PCs must already tweak their aatack bonus just to hit creatures of same level. 4th everything is about hitting with your powers. Even the best powers need to roll to hit else the effectiveness is zero or near zero.

2) Creature attack bonuses and defenses scale very fast and if you use a higher level creature then your PCs are always missing which isn't fun and have to burn through more monster HP.

3) Since game sessions are 3-4 hours long, longer fights aren't a good thing.

Ressource management adds strategic value to the game. I would rather find a solution which adds to the strategic value than remove it.
 
It's sad but 4th ed breaks down at higher levels.

In my experience ALL editions of D&D break down at higher levels. I remember some rather ridiculous 1st and 2nd edition AD&D campaigns with near-max level characters. In one of them, playing in a fantasy version of medieval Europe one of my characters made the river Rhine disappear.

Basically the problem is that your characters already start our their career as "heroes", and then want a significant boost to their power with every level. Do that 10 or 20 or 30 times, and you end up with characters that are ridiculously powerful.
 
Yes in ealier editions Spells could be very world changing or worse (9th level Wish, etc.).

In 4th since powers are combat focused it isn't about changing the world but more about character and monster stats scaling. In 1st your characters AC didn't go up with leveling like the defenses in 4th.

Mike from Wizard has already comment in D&D Next articles how he wants the basic orc to be a threat to level 1 PCs and for a horde of orcs to be a threat to a high level PC.

Currently in 4th a high level character could bathe in the middle of an orc army without a scratch because of his natural defenses.


 
I think you are still stuck in the assumption that encounters can only have 2 possible outcomes, victory or party wipe. If the players don't die, they are able to fully recover, under the assumption that all encounters are balanced against a fully prepared party.

Obviously, this led to your previous discussions on player risk, and how it's hard to keep putting your players at any serious risk when sometimes things will go badly for them.

If you don't let your players fully rest after every fight, you don't have to worry about threatening their lives. An encounter going bad can simply mean a few of the players take heavy damage in an early encounter, so they are at a handicap for subsequent encounters in the adventure.

This is more realistic anyway. I always thought it was crazy that serious wounds were supposedly fully healed after taking a knee for five minutes, or a night's sleep. The kinds of wounds you regularly take in D&D would take weeks to recover from, barring magical assistance.
 
I think keeping the dungeon monsters wandering to increase the odds of camp interruption, or simple environment clauses (like the smell here is awful, or the insects prevent you from resting well, or even a leaky ceiling) should be sufficient to keep the party moving on until they reach better "safe spots".

If a large dungeon only has 5 monsters in it though then it is quite possible for the party to just chill in there for ages.

Until they run out of food and water anyway.
 
Think outside a dungeon format also.

Adding wandering encounters slows down the game too much.
 
Carmedil : Not if you plan for it. Its fun to add an encounter during the night (plan for a not so hard one) because the characters starts the fight prone, without weapon nor armor.

In my game, i sometimes add wandering monsters at night so their extended rest is interrupted. Most of the time, they resume their rest, but end up not having all their Healing Surges, HP or Dailies... I told them at the start of the campaign. And i dont utilize this too often. Another trick is use is : You slept horribly, dark dreams, weird noises waking you, etc... so when you finally wake up, you dont have all of your ressources (HP, Healing Surges or Dailies.) I never remove too much : sometimes its a lv1 daily, 1-2 Healing Surges or they healed half their wounds while resting.

My group like it this way. Like i said earlier, i'm not using this all the time.

 
It's similar to an issue often considered in designing roguelike games. A lot of games (probably a majority) allow full healing if the player character can get out of combat to somewhere reasonably safe. Other games are more attrition based: for example healing might only come from potions (which are in limited supply) or at the end of a level.

Both can work, but the game has to be designed with them in mind.

The key is not to fall between two stools. Let them rest to full, and plan a couple of massive battles. Or don't let them rest at all, in which case they must conserve resources.



 
@CArmendil: You said one thing, that at wills are not used much after level 12. In our party, lvl 21 currently, at wills are used all the time.

I can't even say dnd breaks down, but a lot our bigger fights have recurring minion waves or battlefield effects, randomly drawn from a stack of cards (like 5-6 cards) made for that specific encounter which might help it not breaking down
 
I had a sort of cognitive dissonance issue with healing surges and the quick-heal mechanics of 4E, but I got over it. The main problem is that if you do a lot of combat narration, it's pretty much impossible to state what, with HPs, is going on when the warlord could yell you back to health at any second. Once I broke the habit of equating HP with physical health the logic behind 4E worked better.

Damn, all this 4E talk is seriously making me want to start a game again!
 
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