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.