Delver Evolution: Rest and Recovery Redux

I’ve gone over resting in D&D and how it shapes the 15 minute workday in earlier posts (part 1, part 2, and part 3). This time I’d like to take a look at the other effects of rest breaks so we can get a stronger fix for the system as a whole.

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Benefits of Sleep

In all editions through 3rd, resting gave spell casters a chance to replenish their supply of spells. In 4E, this translates into letting every class recharge their daily powers.

The other big perk of sleeping is it let you recover hit points. In some earlier editions, this could go as low as 1 hp per day. Later editions upped this rate, while 4E raised it up to a full refresh each day.

Costs & Risks of Sleeping on the Job

In earlier editions, the sleeping in dungeons was a risky affair. The party could easily be attacked in it’s sleep by wandering monsters, which could sap the very resources the party was trying to recover. Later editions would downplay or outright eliminate this threat.

Outside of the attacks, the cost of resting is pretty small. If your group is tracking supplies, there is a cost in food and water, but that becomes less significant as the party accumulates more funds.

System Side Effects

HP Attrition

The party starts with a limited supply of hit points and will usually lose some with each battle. This means each battle makes the party easier to defeat.

On the up side, this can provide some rising tension to the game as hp wind down. However, this does have some problems.

  • Forced Rest: Once hp get low enough, the group will be strongly motivated to rest despite what the plot demands. Going past this points makes the loss of at least one party member a distinct possibility. Oddly enough, the wondering monster mechanic can actually aggravate this problem. After all, if the party anticipates a fight while resting, they’ll be more inclined to rest sooner while they have more resources left.
  • Accelerating Risk: In many scenarios, the adventure starts with the weakest challengers and progresses toward more difficult ones. However, due to attrition, hp will be dropping over time. This means the party is facing increasingly greater threats with fewer resources, which serves to inflate already hazardous situations. To counter this, players may try to rest more often. However, this means the closer the party get to the adventure’s climax, the more time they spend sleeping. While tactically smart, this doesn’t really create a heroic feel.
  • Less Predictable Lethality: Hit point are characters main survival mechanic. That means the fewer hp a character comes in with, the harder it is for them to live through the fight. A battle which might be easily survivable at full hp can become incredibly deadly with only a few hp left. This makes designing adventurers harder. Granted, you can get around this by having most encounters be only moderate threats, but that limits your range of battle types. You can also try telegraphing the big fights, but that cuts down the element of surprise and some players might miss those signs anyway.

The 15 Minute Workday

The benefit to resting is extremely useful to spell casters. This is especially true of wizards, who became pretty close to useless as they ran out of spells. This means if the party could mitigate the costs and risks of resting, the spell casters could unload their strongest spells in an encounter, then immediately rest to be at full strength for the next one. This tactic is referred to as the “15 minute work day”.

Note, the DM could counter this by applying time limits or immanent threats to the group. However, such tricks do constraint the GM’s options and give them an additional problem to manage.

Cleric Dependency

This issue arises in editions where hit points do not recovery fully with each rest. That meant without a cleric, the group would be out of action for multiple days. With a cleric, they could be back on their feet in a fraction of the time, possibly within a single day. This drastic difference made having a healer along seem like a requirement for many parties.

4E Approach

4th edition essentially moves many of the character’s hit points into a separate pool (“healing surges”), but allows for easy healing between encounter so long as the character still has points in reserve.

However, as the Angry DM pointed out this approach has certain consequences. One of these being that when full healing is allowed after every encounter, every encounter must bring similarly lethal levels of force to be a legitimate threat.

It is possible to wear the party down by draining healing surges. However, the party can usually circumvent this threat by taking an extended rest. 4E doesn’t make any use of wandering monsters or supply costs, so the actually mechanical cost for resting is minimal to non-existent. Limiting the use of extended rest seems to fall entirely on the shoulders of the DM and scenario designers, which has it’s own issues.

Wrap Up

That should give you a good ideas of how simple rest breaks have influenced D&D. Next time I’ll take a look at an alternate way this could be handled.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just want to point out one important facet of the 4E model which I mentioned, but often seems to be overlooked. Draining healing surges actually has a minimal impact on the challenge/danger/threat of a combat because in combat healing (the way in which healing surges can be used during a combat) are very limited for balance reasons. Thus, provided each character has a approximately two to three healing surges at the start of a combat, it actually doesn’t matter how many they have. A party generally doesn’t have enough ways to use more than that.Because combat balance was designed with this in mind, forcing a party to engage in a combat below that threshold is basically asking them to die. Damage output and monster accuracy are balanced on the assumption that each character has a short rest and there are two healing words available.

    • Yeah, I find that if any anything healing surges act as a cap on how may encounters the party can handle in a day. In effect, they move things closer to a shorter work day. This kind of limit has long been a feature of the game. In earlier edition you got a similar thing from hit points plus the clerics healing spells. However, I’m not convinced the “must camp every x encounters” feature is one that really adds that much to the game. Part of my next post actually deals with removing that feature.

      • Precisely. The problem is that they really don’t ramp up the tension. A party with dwindling healing surges really doesn’t feel each additional fight as pushing themselves beyond a limit, further cementing the idea that each encounter has to stand on its own a struggle of life and death.

        I especially agree with the “must camp every X encounters” sentiment. While useful for helping a DM plan the adventuring day, it really doesn’t a great deal without a real sense of attrition and growing danger behind it. Personally, if you wanted to just accept the “every encounter stands on its own” approach, I’d just say dump the concept of healing surges altogether. Let the party heal to full after each encounter, rest when its logical, and use as much healing in encounters as they have powers and abilities to do so.


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