17 Mar 2011

Ask Dr. Evil: Managing Extended Rests

Blog 22 Comments

A question crawled through the internet’s tubes and revealed itself with much fanfare in my office. It’s a bit of a long question, so I’m not going to reproduce the entire thing here. I will, however, summarize the circumstances. The reader and his/her group evidently play a delve style with no DM and there is some concern about extended rest frequency as you will see behind the cut.

The reader is challenged by how often to allow extended rests, finding the characters more than equal to the opposition. In the email, the reader has experimented with several options and none have produced a satisfactory result. Which leads to “How do you manage the extended rests?”

As I’m sure most of you know, the extended rest is the main method for recouping spent resources. At the extended rest’s end, character regain the use of all expended daily powers, all hit points, and reset their action point total to 1. Adventuring groups are limited to one extended rest per 24 hour period, but there’s nothing stopping a group from withdrawing from a location for 48 hours and under most circumstances there are few consequences for doing so.

There’s always been a tension in D&D between pushing on to take on the next group of bad guys and pulling back to circle the wagons. Without a carrot to encourage the players to push on, extended rests occur with greater frequency than they should, thus allowing high value attacks and utilities to appear more frequently than they should. When the game launched, there were a few carrots in place. They were:

  • Action Points: Action Points upgrade a character’s contribution on his or her turn by letting him or her take an extra action.
  • Item Daily Powers: Prior to the Essentials revision, characters faced a usage limitation on the number of daily powers gained from magic items. A character gained additional uses for each milestone reached. This is no longer an incentive.
  • Milestone Benefits: Certain magic items, rings especially, improved with each milestone reached. There are class features and other mechanical nuggets buried in the game as well, though finding them can be tricky.
  • Time: A character can only take one extended rest per 24-hour period.

While these incentives to push on remained, I don’t feel as though they were powerful enough to dissuade characters from recharging their daily powers at the first opportunity they could. And, throughout the first year of running the game, I grappled with coaxing the players to push on. This is a game where resource management is important. Too often, though, I found my efforts thwarted by one or two characters reduced to a single healing surge and the risk of character death outweighed concerns about maintaining the narrative flow.

Some of these problems have resolved themselves with the new suite of character options in the game. Stripping daily powers from the fighter, rogue, and other classes means there’s less reason to turn to the extended rest to reclaim expended resources. Healing surges remain a factor, but party composition in my Sunday night game ensures this isn’t as big of a problem as it once was. This fact does little to help people who are still wrestling with extended rests, I know, so let’s look a bit deeper.

I manage extended rests by preparing for them ahead of time. The adventure’s narrative flow suggests when extended rests are appropriate. For example, in an exploration or investigation adventure where combats might unfold every couple of days, the characters are going to take extended rests every day and thus are fresh for each combat. In a dungeon crawl environment, the characters might face several combats one right after the other, with only a short rest in between. Attrition demands the players to manage their resources more carefully since the opportunity to take an extended rest in the environment is less frequent.

A DM should always build into the adventure when extended rests are available and build encounters accordingly. If the PCs are facing only one encounter in a day, then the encounter level ought to be n + 3 or higher, where n equals the party’s level. If the PCs are expected to face a string of encounters, perhaps only one encounter in the string should be n + 2 and the rest should be n + 1, n, or even n – 1.

Lately, I have been treating extended rests as a sort of reward. The PCs locate safe places to rest as a result of exploration and success in the story. After battling through four or five combats, the PCs might discover a secret room, an abandoned chamber, a small cave in a deep ravine, or something else. Communicating the location’s potential safety cues the players to take the opportunity to rest or note the location for when they need to rest later. Such locations are usually only good once and should the party fall back to the same location they might face an extra encounter (say something at n – 2).

Another incentive to drive players forward is to impose consequences for taking too many extended rests. Wandering monsters might settle into places where the PCs have already explored, enemies build up their numbers, set traps, or come up with a variety of other ways to make the PCs lives more difficult. Giving the opposition in the next encounter a 20% increase to their hit point totals is probably sufficient. A more difficult and perhaps more realistic solution is to increase you XP budget by 20% of an encounter of the party’s level. For example, a 1st level party who takes an extended rest at an inappropriate time might give you 200 XP to play with. You could then add a pit trap (100 XP) and 4 extra goblin cutters (100 XP) to the next encounter.

The trick, of course, is to figure out when an extended rest is appropriate. In my experience, as balanced party of Player’s Handbook series classes can usually make it through three to five encounters of about their level before they have to rest. A balanced party of Essentials classes can go about five to seven encounters. For optimized groups, I recommend setting the encounter levels 1 or 2 higher than normal to accommodate the increased power level. By this I don’t mean use higher level monsters; use more of them. So when building a dungeon environment, each “level” should consist of no more encounters than the party can handle in a single day and the PCs ought to find a place in that environment where resting is possible.

My last bit of advice is a controversial one. Mercy is overrated. Much of the advice out there urges DMs to avoid a confrontational relationship with the players. In truth, no matter how tough the PCs are, the DM will always win. So I’m not suggesting that you take a me vs. them approach. I do feel strongly, though, about maintaining the suspension of disbelief. If the players err and extend themselves too far or make poor choices in a combat, a DM shouldn’t feel obligated to pull punches or to create situations where the PCs can reclaim expended resources or even “win.” Players should know running away is a good option. Players should have to think beyond the encounter and use their environments to hide from enemies hunting their characters. Players should manage their resources more closely and resist the temptation to nova every fight. These situations create tension in the game, concern for their PCs’ well-being. This is an experience not always present in the standard sorts of combat encounters faced in the game. Of course you shouldn’t be draconian, but it is in your best interest and in the best interest of the game to provide a dynamic and engaging environment where the characters’ choices have consequences and where death is always a possibility.

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22 Responses to “Ask Dr. Evil: Managing Extended Rests”

  1. Charles Ryan says:

    Good post, though reading the whole thing in a Dr. Evil voice is really exhausting!

    I like your thoughts on making the adventure tougher as the heroes take extended rests. This can be easily justified, as the longer the heroes spend in the danger zone (dungeon or whatever), the more prepared the foes will be and the more foes will be attracted to the locale. But I recommend another step to ratchet up the tension and keep the players thinking strategically about when to use their rests.

    Over on my blog (www.charlesmryan.com) I recently wrote about the mini-game–the little game-within-a-game that can focus players’ strategic thinking and add tension to the game. Why not make a mini-game out of the rest decision? Explain to the players that the longer they spend in the dungeon, the more dangerous it will become to them. Then paperclip a bit of paper to the outside of the GM screen. Every time they take an extended rest, put a tally mark on the paper.

    Tie this into whatever scheme you’re using to make the dungeon tougher–more encounters, greater XP budget, better-prepared foes, whatever. In this regard, my suggestion is no different than Rob’s. But by calling it out to the players, and keeping a tally that constantly reminds them of their status, you’ll focus their thinking on the rest decision. You’ll inject tension into the game, because every time they consider resting they’ll be cognizant of the consequences (even if they don’t know exactly what those consequences are).

  2. deadorcs says:

    I too, have wrestled with Extended Rests. My approach, though (for better or worse), was to not worry about when the characters wanted to take an Extended Rest, but to enforce upon them, the fact that when you rest in some places, you may not get all the benefits from that rest. If you’re interested, you can find that post here:


    Great post! The mechanics behind resource management are one of those things that seem easy, but are really rather complex below the surface. Knowing how to manage some of that is really helpful.

  3. darjr says:

    What about reduced XP. For every encounter they… encounter… before doing an extended rest rewards them with XP. Afterall those encounters are harder at that point. It would have to be some amount worthwhile and I think an increasing amount would do.

    That way it’d be like a game of chicken. Imagine the building conflict and tension. I do think it’s a bit of maybe to much meta.

  4. Joel says:

    If you haven’t already seen it, you might check out AngryDM’s excellent post (http://angrydm.com/2011/02/tearing-4e-a-new-one-short-rests-and-encounter-resources/) about rests and resource expenditure, and how there aren’t really any good incentives to press on (and even out of the 4 items you listed, 2 are met much easier by taking a rest than not taking a rest). Seems relevant.

  5. darjr says:

    That was tortured. Sorry.

    At each encounter before the next extended rest add extra XP, scaled by how many encounters they have faced since their last extended rest.

    Don’t use that XP for building the encounter itself. If you must, tie the extra XP to a quest reward.

    For example if they rest then the next encounter rewards them with +0 XP, the next with +100, the next with +200, the next with +300. Use appropriate xp bonuses for their level.

  6. Steve says:

    The other thing about extended rests is, narratively speaking, they don’t have to necessarily be X hours of actual lying around and resting. They’re really just a game convention for recouping resources and so can be “reskinned” (like a lot of 4e elements) to fit the narrative of the game.

    One example is the chamber with the defaced altar to (good deity of choice) – if the heroes display some piety and respect, they gain the miraculous benefit of an extended rest without having to actually find a safe have in the dungeon and rest for hours. The same goes for the mysterious magical pool, the blessing of a fey creature, or a rallying call to battle after a long, hard ride to get there in time (hardly restful, but narratively appropriate).

    Like a number of game elements (such as Skill Challenges) how you work them into the story can be a big factor in how often they occur and how logical them seem when they do.

  7. Dan says:

    Can’t increasing the difficulty of the encounter following an extended rest that was taken ‘to soon” actually increase the frequency that that players will want to take extended rests in the future?

    If the party uses up resources in two encounters to the point they think they need the extended rest (earning a penalty) then 1st fight out of the gate the next morning eats up 20% more than the expected 20% of resources the party will actually need to rest again sooner than they would if that encounter was at a normal level. It can become a never ending cycle of pain for both DM and Player.

    I agree 100% that taking an extended rest when it is in-opportune for the story or unrealistic even is a problem. And I guess I have been lucky with my main group not pushing that issue as often as they could. I do think that adding a smaller encounter before the rest, or during the rest would be better serve. It would show the players that they were not ‘supposed’ to need a rest yet, and it would force them to see how hard it is to fight once they have used up all the black powers in the previous two fights instead of managing them for a longer run of encounters. This fight at the rest should be n, or n-1 – not a hard fight, but one that makes that player with 1 healing surge scared, one that makes they guy who relies to much on this dailies realize that at-wills also do damage, and one that makes the leader find ways to heal once he uses up his two heals per battle.

    Last thought on this for now, I have enjoyed, from both sides of the screen, having encounters run together… as soon as one is just about over the door busts open and the next encounter starts. This cannot happen every time but it does lend itself to stopping the problem being discussed in this thread… :)

  8. Hunterian7 says:

    I’ve too have found that Essential characters can go a bit further without having to take an extended rest. We utilize the coup de grace a lot (my group is the one without the DM). We make a judgment call about it. If it’s a weedy goblin then they typically will not conduct a coup de grace. An Orc, Gnoll or Demon? Yep. They will take the PC out of commission.

    Another tricky issue we have faced is the various monster stats between MM1, MM2, MM3 & MV. Each year featured monsters of differing strengths, making it dicey to plan out a delve session and place in the extended rest in the right place.

    I sometimes wonder if they will reduce healing surges at some point down the road, like Gamma World did. Having one second wind at your bloodied value per Encounter ups the ante a bit. Ah, Gamma World- a great setting….

    Last thing- the Encounter adventure Keep on the Borderland seems to have the extended rest down pretty well. I’m playing an Eladrin Knight and he’s pretty banged up right now. Be cool to see a half-Orc knight or a Dwarf Knight!

  9. Grayson Davis says:

    Good post, but I think there are some other aspects of the discussion that could be elaborated on. As you say, sometimes PCs will fight 1 encounter a day, sometimes 2, sometimes 3 or more. For players to make informed resource management decisions, they need to have some idea of how their resources are being spent.

    How do you communicate this to players without being overbearing or blatant?

    For instance, if players are going to go through 3 encounters before resting, then they should have some idea of that during encounter 1. You don’t need to lay out every encounter ahead of time, but players should have a vague idea of how to expend their resources. For instance, in a level + 3 encounter, it is often smart to spend dailies immediately and gain an early advantage in the fight. If PCs are fretting about whether to blow a daily, then the fight might be harder than it really needs to be.

    Often the story will provide a big hint to the players. (A group of goblins in the first room of a dungeon is probably not a level + 3 encounter.) And sometimes you want some uncertainty. But you still want to give the players some info on how they should spend resources.

    Also, I think you sort of skim over the problem of PCs who choose to ‘nova’ even when it’s unwise. Let’s be honest: if the PCs blow all of their resources during Encounter 1, and will almost assuredly lose during the upcoming Encounter 2, then as DM you’re probably not going to have them march unwittingly to their doom. You can ‘punish’ the players in some way (either mechanically or narratively), but that’s not very satisfying. The fact is, as well prepared as the DM might be, the PCs can always choose to waste resources, and as DM your job is to make the game enjoyable regardless.

    You talk about punishment as an incentive, but what about positive incentives? What can be done to *reward* players who manage resources effectively, outside of the obvious reward of being more effective in combat?

  10. Kilsek says:

    I really like the suggestions of building in ideal points and areas in adventures for getting some sleep ahead of time. That and Steve’s “reskinning” the extended rest comment – excellent approach that includes great narrative atmosphere to make the mechanic feel much less gamey and intrusive.

    Adjusting future encounters based on PC decisions and actions, including getting some shut-eye, is something I try to do as long is it makes reasonable sense in the adventure. If you’re going to try to get some sleep in an orc stronghold you’re tearing apart, you’re either a) not going to get much sleep and be attacked, and/or b) face patrols of at increasing numbers and frequencies.

    I like the n+3 encounter level suggestion too for situations where you’re only expecting one set piece encounter per day. For important encounters, that’s probably the way to go. Characters feel challenged, get to use most of their cool powers, and then are essentially “rewarded” with not only treasure and quest/adventure advancement, but an extended rest.

    It really does feel like a waste of time sometimes on both sides of the table when a the singular encounter for a day is too easy because the encounter difficulty wasn’t challenging and PCs just held onto their “best stuff” for fear of blowing their best powers on “easy early encounters that probably aren’t as important.” Holding onto powers “for the right time” is boring and excessive more often and not.

  11. j0nny_5 says:

    After running the Dark Sun Encounters, I changed how my home group takes extended rests. Players in my group have to collect Survival Days. It’s an ongoing skill challenge, with the majority of the checks in foraging, but I make arcane characters roll Arcana to find “regents”, I make thieves find thieves tools, healers have to find bandages and herbs, etc.

    Depending on their environment, these checks might be easy or hard. I generally allow them to only find three days worth of Survival Days. Awesomeness might gain them more days, failure less. As the DM I keep them guessing by never giving them a set amount.

    Now, speaking of a game based in resource management, Extended Rests become another player commodity. Roleplaying is more prominent too, as players are always on the lookout for Survival Days.

  12. chad says:

    You talk about punishment as an incentive, but what about positive incentives? What can be done to *reward* players who manage resources effectively, outside of the obvious reward of being more effective in combat?

  13. robertjschwalb says:

    Since two of you mentioned it, I’ll make sure to include positive rewards or carrots the subject of my next post either tomorrow or Monday.

  14. chad says:

    Grayson Davis says:

    You talk about punishment as an incentive, but what about positive
    incentives? What can be done to *reward* players who manage
    resources effectively, outside of the obvious reward of being more
    effective in combat?

    For a carrot (rather than a stick), I suggest adding alternative uses of those resources, and training your table (either in game, out of game, or both) to expect such things. There are players that always hoard resources against a potential future need (usually, this describes me), and then there are players who like to go out as flashy/strong as they can (the strategy that we call “Don’t Die with Smart Bombs.”, from the old arcade game /Defender/). The game by default almost always rewards the latter more than the former, so you should expect most people to lean that way.

    Examples are hard to give in the abstract, since you really want to match them to your players, but I’ve had good luck with this in practice. For example: an altar gives a character Resist 5 Fire for a significant time, if they `give of themselves’ to support it — donating 1/4 of their healing surges. Another option that worked well: a climactic battle wherein the adventurers needed to make difficult skill checks in order to erect a magical circle, but they could instead make easy checks the `channel power’ (sacrificing daily attack powers) into the circle. Most players chose to tough it out and make the skill checks, but for a few clutch situations, the option allowed them to shine.

  15. Charles Ryan says:

    Heh. Don’t die with smart bombs. I used the play the hell out of Defender.

    A good philosophy!

  16. darjr says:

    Above I meant the extra XP for each encounter taken before an extended rest as a pure bonus for not taking that extended rest. I didn’t mean for it to add to the budget for those encounters.

    the players would face losing that XP and facing the very same encounters if they opted to ex rest early or to often.

    the key would be keeping the encounters the same.

    I am intrigued by the idea about other kinds of rewards. I think this is also a problem for other RPG’s.

  17. Goken says:

    I have no trouble with this because my players learned early on that the world doesn’t sit around waiting for them. If they’ve chased down a villain to a lair, but pull out after a few encounters to rest, that villain will either flee to do something even more dastardly like capture them in their sleep. Only a cave full of wild and unintelligent monsters will remain relatively static, and even there more beasts can creep in. Who wants to explore such a dull place anyways?

    I did have an idea from your discussion about the carrots to keep players going. In my experience, there’s not much value to getting more than 1 action point accumulated, you usually only really need them every 2 combats, and you can only use 1 a combat. But what if that weren’t the case?

    What if you could get a second action point expenditure in a single combat? I’m thinking the second action point expenditure should cost 2 points and not be usable in the same turn as the first action point expenditure. In this way players might want to build up 3 action points to really lay down some pain for a boss fight.

    I suppose a third action could even be possible at the cost of ANOTHER 3 action points, but I don’t think its very feasible to accumulate a total of 6 action points. If someone actually does, I’d certainly be tempted to let them spend them, they earned ‘em!

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  20. Internet Driveby says:

    IMO this is 100% a role-playing issue.

    Just use RP elements that will keep the characters moving including their own personalities and motivations.

    For instance an active, confident PC personality will not want to waste his time twiddling his thumbs 23 hours a day waiting for his powers to recharge. I also think its terrible RP to burn a Daily early without feeling like there is a serious need for it.

    IF PCs go do 1 encounter and then rest you can have NPCs make fun of them for being lazy and too cautious to fight anything or put in a hard days work. You could have an important leader tell them they sound like they are too dainty to do any real work and refuse to hire them or whatever.

    “Yes, I’ve heard of you. It took you over a week to wipe out a Den of Kobolds. You don’t really seem to have the will to fight that someone would need to be of service to me…”

  21. Chris McNeil (a.k.a. Gwarh on Twitter) says:

    Here is a House Rule that I’ve been using

    As an optional rule, you can make the Player Characters have to pass a mini skill test to gain the full benefits of an extended rest. And if the fail they do not gain back the full effects of an extended rest.

    If the Characters are taking an Extended Rest in a Wilderness setting, they will need to pass an Endurance Skill Check + a Wilderness Skill Check.

    If the Characters are taking an Extended Rest in a Dungeon or Cave/Crypt setting, they will need to pass an Endurance Skill Check + a Dungeoneering Skill Check.

    If the Characters are taking an Extended Rest in an Urban setting, they will need to pass an Endurance Skill Check. And the 2nd skill check is an automatic pass to simulate the more restful/secure setting.

    Successes Hit Points Surges Daily
    √ √ All All Yes
    √ X ½ ½ Yes
    X X ¼ ¼ No

    If the Player Characters choose to push on though, for each encounter after the first they gain an automatic success to one of the skill checks.

    1 Encounter, then an Extended Rest = no automatic successes.
    2 Encounters then an Extended Rest = 1 automatic success
    3 Encounters then an Extended Rest = Automatic success on both skill checks.

    # of Encounters completed before an Extended Rest Automatic Successes

    1 Encounter X X
    2 Encounters √ X
    3 Encounters √ √

    You can have the Player Characters each roll their own mini skill checks to build drama. Or have them nominate one Character to make the roll for the entire party to keep it simple.

    Have the Character with the highest skill levels of the pertinent skill type make the rolls. You can also allow aid-other rolls to represent the other party members helping to secure the camp site.

    If you like you can give the Characters a bonus to their primary skill checks if they succeed with a secondary skill. Say a History Roll to know that the Old Forrest the Characters are bedding down in is known for its Giant Tree Spiders. Or a Religion check to know that wailing Ghosts lurk in the deepest levels or the Crypt they are bedding down in. A +2 to the primary skill checks for a success on the secondary skill roll sounds fair.

  22. Chris McNeil (a.k.a. Gwarh on Twitter) says:

    Forgot to add this

    If you can to be a little more hard-core. Just don’t allow skill checks at all for an Extended Rest and enforce the Encounters completed = successes towards an Extended rest chart/option.

    That way the only way the players can gain the full benefits of an Extended Rest is to complete 3 encounters or more.

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