Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Am I Under a Rest?

Nothing like a campfire to make an adventurer feel safe
While I was speaking to an old friend, he told me that he had adopted an unusual rule for his D&D games: longer rest times. He generally plays a more character- and story- driven game, which intrigues me.

This is actually a variant rule listed right in the DMG (pg. 267), with options for "Epic" and "Gritty" games. How are these created? How do they affect the game?

Well, let's first look at the rules themselves.
  • Normal: A Long Rest is 8 hours, a Short Rest is 1 hour
  • Epic: A Long Rest is 1 hour, a Short Rest is 5 minutes, with some restrictions on high-level spell recovery
  • Gritty: A Long Rest is 7 days, a Short Rest is 8 hours

I think these rules were designed with a specific type of play in mind, namely, the traditional dungeon-crawl style of D&D. According to DMG pg 82-84, a party should encounter about 6 encounters per long rest, averaging medium difficulty. They should get two short rests, each one after 2 encounters.

That's a pretty combat-heavy system. Though more old-school players might laugh at the idea of a mere 6 combats in a day, many groups would balk at the idea. Combat is a very intense part of the game, taking up a lot of time and using up the player's resources.

Not coincidentally, this is also why many games have trouble with the idea of "encounter difficulty". A Hard encounter is actually only hard in terms of its place in the overall adventuring day. If you throw a Hard encounter at a fresh party of adventurers, they will trounce your monsters. But after 5 other encounters, it will actually feel challenging.
About time to sleep, I think
This actually gives us some reference for how a game should adapt to these variances. In an epic game, combats should be happening nearly constantly. An hour's respite is simply a lull on the battlefield, and a Fighter needs a moment's rest before jumping back in the fray.

In a gritty game, however, combat should be rare. A party might go an entire day without a combat, or face two combats on a difficult day. When they rest, they show up the next day still nursing wounds - it takes a full week to recover completely.

In the Epic rules, it says a DM should consider carefully the recovery of high-level spell slots. I think that's the biggest indicator that the DMG expects the players to still be following the "normal" adventuring day. If the PCs are facing down wave after wave of enemies, granting high-level spell slots to the wizard is only fair after everyone else fully recovers.

Now, if you're like me, you probably already have a particular rest set that you use. It might even be based on the magic system you have in your setting. And it's hard to justify why Mr. Wizard could only cast Forcecage once a day while his successor, Mr. Blizzard, can cast it again after an hour's rest.

So here's some ways to implement this within an existing campaign.

The plan is murder. Everyone got that?

Different planes have different rules. On the bloodthirsty plane of Acheron, abilities recover quickly so warriors can rejoin the fray. On the cliffs of Mount Celestia, those of pure heart need only wait a moment before their wounds knit closed. Meanwhile, the barren wastes of Pandemonium prevent those within from easily recovering magic. And in Limbo, you simply have to wait until the laws on Entropy once again move forward, allowing your wounds to close.


Normal recovery only applies in towns and campgrounds. If you're deep in the wilderness or dungeon, you simply don't have the resources to heal properly, and it takes longer. Meanwhile, fighting a battle within a church or palace will afford the highest level of physical and mental rejuvenation.

Blessed or Cursed

The party, their country, or their whole world has been laid low by a terrible curse: magic becomes difficult to recover, and wounds that healed easily now fester. Alternatively, an army blessed by Pelor must now fight a never-ending horde of Orcs - but fortunately, their wounds heal quickly, and their magic seems limitless.

There's only one way to break the curse... find a new DM
Setting-Altering Events

In some way or another, magic leaves the world. It's no surprise that spellcasters suffer - but those who were healed by the residual magical energy around them (i.e. everyone) suddenly realize how much they had been relying on that power.

Obviously, building games in these rules will require different expectations for encounters. An epic party will nearly always be fresh, and so will require more dangerous and numerous encounters. Meanwhile, a gritty party will shy away from even a lowly goblin patrol, knowing that their wounds won't heal for at least the remainder of the day.

Additionally, the time a campaign takes will also change. A normal campaign is generally measured in days, but a gritty campaign takes place over weeks, and an epic campaign over hours. This means a few things in terms of non-combat encounters.

First off, in a gritty game the possibility of aging, buying property like a tower or stronghold, and running a business become more feasible. In a normal game, these are rare, and in an epic game, they are off the table.

Conversely, an epic game can feature wars where the PCs are heroes among hundreds of combatants. They can fight for a full day, resting here and there, and be fine. This is also rare in Normal games, and downright impossible in a gritty campaign.

Give me five minutes, I just need a quick breather
So it's worth looking carefully at what kind of game you'd like to run before you adopt a particular rest variant. And you may need to decide that before you pick a campaign setting.

Thanks for reading!

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