Delver Design: Taking a Breather

Last time I look at how rest breaks shaped how adventuring parties function. This time I’d like to try flipping things around. Let start with how we’d like the party to function and see if we can build mechanics that support that.

Design Goals

Rather that throw out mechanics ideas, I’ll be building toward a specific goal. As such, it’s going to center on a certain play-style, which may not work for all groups.

Limit Reliance on Sleep

As it stands now, the decision to sleep is largely a tactical choice based on needing to regain resources. In many cases, this need is independent from or even at odds with the game’s narrative.

As such, I’d like to decouple recharges from sleeping. That way we should be able to keep the action moving without needing to insert long chunks of down time.

In short, having the party take time out to recover is fine. Having that recovery take hours both to perform and wait for the next opportunity doesn’t seem to add much. Time requirements are generally poor limiters in a medium where time skip are so easy to execute.

Sustained Recovery

No that we’ve split sleep from recovery, lets look at those recovery periods. In earlier editions, recovery tends to happen in large chunks. The characters either recovery nothing or they go all in and recover everything. 4E is somewhat better in allowing small recovery periods, but eventual an extended rest will be needed.

Instead of relying on a few long rests, let’s try shifting toward more short periods of recovery spread over the course of the adventure. That’s not to say adventures won’t have stretches of down time. However, it we’re not mechanically dependent on long rests we can limit them to only when the party would normally have that down time anyway.

Cost of Conflict

Each combat should cost the party something. Usually, this cost is in hit points, but other costs may occasionally come into play.

The party should be able to change and mitigate these costs based on how they handle an encounter. That means if they do well enough the cost may drop below their recovery rate, effectively eliminating the cost.

Spoils of Victory

By the same token, each fight the party wins should have some reward. At the minimum, fights should offer an opportunity to recover. That means if they were worn down from a previous encounter, acing a the current one could let them pull back toward full strength.

We may also want a modest award as an alternative to recovery. That way a full strength party still gets a reward for handling an encounter well. However, such a reward should be limited to keep an overly potent positive feedback loop from developing.

Cost Cap

By the same token, we don’t was a battered party to fall into a death spiral. To counter this, there should be a limit to how much of a cost can be extracted from the party. Without this limit, the party could reach a point where they don’t feel like they can progress, which can lead the action to a standstill. In short, cumulative costs should act as an incentive to improved tactics and a source of rising tension, without preventing further progress.

Varied Battles

Since we’ve got varying costs for battles, we should have more leeway to vary their difficulty as well. We can now have plenty of small skirmishes to test the party, big battles to drain their resources and push their limits, and even a few easy battles to help them recover or build up speed for bigger battles.

Sample Mechanics

Heroic Effort

During conflicts, adventurers can try to push themselves beyond their limits. These pushes take the form of heroic efforts which can greatly boost a character’s actions. However, this power comes at cost. Each heroic effort consumes a quarter of the character’s hit points. If they don’t have enough hit points to pay for this, the effort can not be made. Each character can normally only make a heroic effort once per encounter. However, character may gain additional uses during extended encounters.


Every time the party wins a conflict, they gain momentum. The party will usually gain momentum equal to twice the number of party members. When performing a heroic effort, character can spent a point of momentum from the group’s pool to ignore the effort’s hp cost. The party can not normally hold more momentum than 3 times the number of members it has.


Character can take a breather any timer there’s a few moments of quiet time to rest and recover. Each character that takes a breather regains a quarter their hit points. However, the group also loses a point of momentum for each character who takes a breather. No more than two breathers can normally be taken back to back during an adventure. However, the DM may allow for additional breathers when camping or between scenes.

Design Notes

I started by guessing a battle that goes badly will deal up to twice the damage the damage of a moderately well done one. Next, I decided that a standard skirmish should eat up the the full recovery value if done well. These skirmishes also shouldn’t lead to a TPK unless the battle runs poorly and the entire party is drained. That means our minimum health when starting a new encounter should be twice our standard recovery rate.

After that, I wanted to add a bonus for when parties do exceptionally well. By making this bonus something that’s taken in place of hp recovery, we add an interesting decision point for the player.

Since we’ve already got a double recovery as our minimum target health, it was easy enough to equate each unit bonus with a round of recovery. This does mean when hitting the target performance, characters will split their reward between healing and this reward.

From there it was easy enough to make the reward a performance booster similar to daily powers or action points. Since we’ve already got a 1 for 1 trade in on action boosts and recovery, it was easy enough to flip the relation ship to create exertion rules.

The final result is a fresh party can only make a heroic effort at the cost of hp. A party that’s doing well gets their heroic effort for free as long as they have the momentum to fuel it. Full resting is possible, but it costs them that free heroic effort.

Wrap Up

This time around, we looked at one way to handle rest that doesn’t rely on sleep and left a well played party carry on indefinitely. Next time, I’ll take a look at how some of this could be adapted to 4E.

Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 11:17 pm  Leave a Comment  
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