Have you heard of the five minute adventuring day? The characters blow their powers in the first combat each day and then choose to rest so they are fully charged tomorrow for the next challenge. This is not only boring, it’s terrible storytelling.
We just posted a new lesson in the Faster Combat course for game masters about the problem of over-resting and what to do about it. I’m going to expand today on one of the solutions to over-resting, as there are many cunning and evil tricks within this solution you can employ to prevent PCs from abusing rest periods.
Over-Resting Taxes Your Game
In game systems with a generous rest mechanic, players typically abuse the rules. Over-resting, where the PCs take a break too often in their adventures to recuperate, taxes the game.
Within the Faster Combat point of view, where we want to run combats as fun and fast as possible, rest gives characters their expended powers and abilities back. This means they face more battles fully charged, which results in a few combat-lengthening problems for you:
- Battles take longer because players have more choices to make. As powers get restored, those become options again for players who have to take time each round now to consider.
- Pacing goes to hell. How can you offer easier encounters to mix things up with when you don’t know what state the PCs will be in?Great pacing includes PCs steadily weakening to increase the drama, then getting a rest opportunity before the critical battles.
- Your story goes to hell. The PCs stop at ridiculous times and places to recuperate, stretching sense of disbelief.”You don’t want to press ahead a bit so you can camp outside, under the stars, in fresh air with a warm fire?” “No, we’re down to 50% hit points. This room full of monsters we just killed will do.”
- Nuclear arms race begins. PCs tackle foes with a full array of powers knowing they can rest and regain their abilities after the battle, so you have to keep dishing out difficult combats.But as the PCs gain levels, you need to make encounters even more over-the-top to compensate. Woe to the GM who errs in treasure pacing, because too many magic items will make the arms race unstoppable.
- Entitlement sets in. The minute you prevent players from taking their “hard earned” break after the morning’s first battle, they accuse you of railroading, meta gaming or worse.Your players are not evil, they’ve just become accustomed to driving into every combat in their shiny Porches. This is unhealthy, and further entrenches their sense of entitlement.
Dynamic Foes vs. Rest
Lesson 2.11 in Faster Combat addresses solutions to over-resting in RPG. The lesson is titled They Can Sleep When They’re Dead. One of its teachings is to make your foes dynamic.
Make foes react to PCs who rest often, and have your foes use their native cunning and abilities to make PC rests painful.
This is excellent advice and it works. And right now, I’m going to dive deeper into this one solution and offer you several evil tricks to show you how to run Dynamic Foes vs. Rest.
After an incursion and the PCs stop to recover, the alarm should sound within the dungeon or region. “Enemies afoot!”
The whispered grapevine should be at full bandwidth. At water holes, trading lines and crossroads where denizens meet, foes should warn each other, or at least set each other up to whack the PCs. “They are heading your way next!”
Word will spread and the PCs will meet only alert and prepared opponents tomorrow.
Make the PCs’ tactical error known to the players. In your descriptions, gives clues the monsters have been up all night or week preparing for the group’s arrival.
Roleplay it. Have foes inform the PCs of their mistake. “We’ve been expecting you since Moonday. Prepare to die!”
Once intelligent monsters know PCs are about, they will bolster defenses by adding to their ranks.
Option 1: You can hand-wave these efforts and just up the monster count.
Option 2: Better, go Gygax on the adventure and create probabilities for mustering. 1d4 new mercenaries will join the band starting one day after Little Eye travels back to town and starts recruiting.
Option 3 (my favourite option): slaving. Here’s a chance to merge your dungeon’s encounters together in strange and cool ways.
What happens when the ogres attack the bugbears and subjugate them – six hours ago? (Hint: awesome roleplaying, story and tactics potential.)
What happens when the smart slime colony drives the leprous dire hounds into a cave and starves them until the PCs arrive? As the party nears, the slimes recede into the shadows. Who let the dogs out!
In Riddleport, I have another method of mustering that’s working well. There are summoners and Outsider alliances that result in numerous summoned creatures from the planes occupying the city.
Some foes last only a short time before the magical summoning wears off. Others last longer because they arrived through means other than spell.
Either way, I can drop in demons, devils, dragonspawn, drow or whatever into encounters I need based on pre-determined factions and alliances. If the PCs over-rest, I can muster on a moment’s notice because just about everybody in the pirate city is connected in a mob-like way to one faction or another.
Watch And Learn
The PCs look so peaceful in their sleep, don’t they? Well, except for the paladin crying out during another one of his not-so-chaste dreams brought on by the wizard’s terrible Slow Bat Soup at dinner.
Have foes approach to watch and study during PC rests. Then make sure they use this knowledge in battle.
Due to the slower pace, have foes watch while the PCs travel and fight others. Who leads and why? Often, killing the scout means future traps will be more successful. Do the PCs need light? Which ones? What buffs do the characters use and how long do they last?
Most importantly, what significant tools and weapons do the PCs have? Items are the easiest asset to take away, so foes should consider targeting known tools and devices first.
If I were an intelligent creature waiting for the invading force to arrive, I’d want to get a close look at my foe and learn their methods and tactics. Take out ranged threats first, perhaps through rear guard actions. Spellcasters have gotta go too. And hit the party before they seem to gain in power from magic just before they enter battle each time – best attack before they’re prepared.
Flying PCs means stage your defense in low-ceiling areas. PCs with reach need to be fought toe-to-toe. Sundering, tripping and disarming weakens the ones wrapped in heavy metal.
Hit the ones immune to fire with cold. Let spellcasters know which targets are likely to be more susceptible to mind attacks, which seem likely to dodge magical attacks, and which seem able to withstand a lot of magical abuse.
Bring the battle to the PCs. Have foes create areas that seem safe but are death pits.
That pile of stones on the hill is set to roll down with a rope tug. The tunnels underneath lead to trap doors for easy and silent popups under sleeping PCs. Exits are easy to block and the place filled with water, fire or poison.
Create spaces that give foes tactical advantage, especially flanking or many-to-one situations.
Create spaces where you can divide and conquer. Separate PCs and attack individuals en masse, one at a time.
Frequent rests make NPC encounters seem natural.
“Tohm, you are on guard. In the distance you see a wounded warrior stumbling toward you. As he approaches he pleads for water. His name is Petr.”
“The GM is bored, so he’s adding some roleplaying. Ok, we’ll bite.”
Turns out Petr is a spy. And a saboteur. He’ll ruin stealth or steal a critical item just as PCs enter combat. He’ll leave messages that reveal the PCs’ weaknesses.
You can only do this once, maybe twice. Then the players get smart.
So you get smarter:
- Introduce two NPCs. Who hate each other and try to kill each other. But are secretly a team.
- The PCs find three alive but unconscious on the battlefield. The survivors do not radiate evil (that’s why you pick neutral spies).
- The NPC enters on the last round to help save a PCs’ life as the character lies bleeding on the floor. It’s just the GM having mercy again.
- Flying creatures do not even need to hide their nature. They just need to stay beyond range of the party’s missile weapons.
- Do the PCs sweep for invisible foes before resting? How creepy would it be for the invisible spy to sleep on top of a PC each night to keep them both warm. It’s all about the flavour text, people.
- “Oh man, this new pet dog is awesome. Look at his teeth! I told you I could train him. He breathes fire, too!”
Forwards And Backwards
PCs will leave a trail of destruction so wide only a dead dwarf would fail to track it.
There are two things players never do. They never look up and they never go back.
Why go backwards anyway? It’s boring. “We already killed that stuff and got the loot.”
Mobile foes will use this to advantage to track and approach from an unexpected direction as the PCs rest.
Better yet, they will attack the PCs when the party is most vulnerable. This is often during combat or just after combat. It’s also when half the party is trying to cross the threadbare rope bridge.
You need to hit the lesson home, though. Players will think it’s just more foes spawned from your infinite critter generator. You need to show the PCs the mobile foes came from their future, warned and given enough time to react.
One way to do this is for surviving PCs to stumble onto the mobile creatures’ lair later in the adventure. Through roleplaying or clues, players learn their foes slit off, with one (or more) groups to attack the PCs proactively, and another to defend the lair.
In the end, though, who cares? The PCs had a couple extra battles to fight. So what?
Hit them where it hurts most – their pocket book. There are two currencies in D&D style games: treasure and XP.
Treasure first. Foes warned in advance will hide their most valuable stuff that can’t be used as a weapon or defense. The crown jewels have got to be buried. Best case is rivals show up to town a week later with a ton of bling harvested from methodical searching in the PCs’ wake.
XP second. Foes might flee. You can’t level up when foes flee and leave behind just a few terrible traps. Foes offer less XP when divided because the difficulty level goes down.
If you can swing it, give story objectives associated with foes. And when foes have time to prepare because the PCs rest so much, the object gets nullified along with the XP bonus.
In Faster Combat, we teach you how to create and use Mission Stat Blocks – special goals used to help you merge story with combat, and to make combats faster because fights end not when one side’s last hit point has bled out twelve rounds from now, but when the mission objective has been reached in dramatic fashion three rounds from now.
In dangerous times your enemy’s enemy is your friend.
Once word spreads through the grapevine the PCs are coming, foes will form temporary allegiances.
Now it’s two – or even three – on one. And all because the PCs gave their foes time to team up.
Turn this scenario into an exciting one of roleplaying, politics and tactics if possible. Make the monster alliance tenuous so PCs can break it up through clever play. Even make it possible for the PCs to turn the alliance on itself so the characters can do a bit of their own divide and conquer.
Bring The Dungeon To The PCs
Have foes and their plotlines interrupt rest instead of forcing PCs to travel to specific locations to unlock progress.
One time I ran combats every hour of sleep. The PCs got not a lick of rest. The night culminated in a fight with the stage boss. The PCs were sorely depleted and it was an awesome battle.
The adventure’s Stage One objective was accomplished at the same time because the stage boss had a clue on him who his master was and where the master might be based.
The PCs never had to step foot outside of camp because the adventure came to them.
The party was at a disadvantage the whole time. If the party had not stopped to rest, they could have scouted and generated tactical advantage for themselves. But instead, their foes did that to them!
The party survived the night, but unfortunately they retreated back to Hommlett. Others came along and cleaned up the abandoned foe lairs. The stage boss in particular had some nice baubles stashed away.
Conclusion: Be Consistent
These tactics all hit home the need for PCs to press on and not wimp out so much.
However, none of these GM tactics offer a one-time permanent cure.
You will need to adapt your style a bit so you reinforce the message that over-resting is bad, over and over.
Make your foes dynamic and smarter (at least up to their Int score – their leader’s Int score) and reactive. Use all the techniques outlined above often.
Over time your players will learn not to abuse your game’s rest mechanic. They will learn it’s better to forge on a bit until it’s tactically sound to take a break.
This not only adds more drama and story opportunity for your game, but it makes combats faster. Weakened PCs have fewer options and decisions to make.
Players who’ve learned to forge onward instead of rest up will manage their resources better, which also means more efficient decisions during combats.
And you can roll out a larger variety of encounters not maxed out to the party’s level +4 every combat, which means fewer rounds needed to reach resolution.
Bonus points if you use our Mission Stat Blocks to give thrilling combats a purpose and an even shorter duration.
Check Out Faster Combat
If you are curious about this online course for GMs I’ve been mentioning, it’s 52 lessons on how to run awesome combats in half the time with twice the story and excitement.
You study at your own pace, and I’m always around to answer your questions. Lessons contain step-by-step instructions on how to GM create Mission Stat Blocks, killer Combatscapes, Turn Efficiency and many other important GMing concepts.
It’ll give you a lifetime of new GMing skills.