Is your party trying to take a long rest after every other encounter? Then this article should be interesting for you.
How D&D 5e is supposed to work
Assuming typical adventuring conditions and average luck, most adventuring parties can handle about six to eight medium or hard encounters in a day. If the adventure has more easy encounters, the adventurers can get through more. If it has more deadly encounters, they can handle fewer.5e – DMG P. 84
Since I often need to be flexible when it comes to the amounts of encounters per in-game day I ran into a problem:
I generally stay well below 6-8 encounters per day, say when the party is solving a mystery, and on others days, when they are in a dungeon, the encounter frequency gets a lot higher.
This means that on the low encounter days, the long rest is resetting the party too often, making them too strong, while on encounter heavy days it’s about right.
Putting the cart before the horse
The way I have seen many DMs, approach this issue, is to just increase the encounter difficulty for low encounter days. With the obvious problem of increasing the volatility of the fights, comes a way worse side effect, in my opinion.
You are teaching your players to hit the long rest button after every second encounter or so. And that is a habit you really don’t want to get into, since it significantly alters how the game feels and frankly was envisioned to be played, based on the assumptions in the DMG. If that doesn’t bother you that is ok. It did bother me.
So instead of trying to alter my encounters to fit the resting system, I decided to think about how I can have a resting system, that is flexible enough to suit my encounter needs.
If I simply was to stretch the adventuring day out (as the DMG suggests) by making both long and short rests longer, it would work well for the low encounter days but get worse for the high encounter ones. So that just shifts the problem.
Example, “Gritty Realism” variant (DMG p.267):
A long rest of 7 days. A short rest of 8 hours. The Party goes dungeoneering and after clearing two rooms they have to rest 8 hours. Not good.
I came up with was, to keep the short rests fairly short, so the party can use it after every encounter if they wish too, while a long rest is a 36h period which pretty much is a whole day off.
My reasoning behind this is, that the decoupling of going to bed in the game world from gaining the benefits of a long rest has a good impact on how low encounter scenarios play out, while not shifting the mode of play for high encounter ones much.
The game is slower and the party has two combat encounters per day? Fair enough, after three days they got to take a day off and they don’t wake up fully restored every day.
The party is dungeoneering for a full day and gets eight encounters in? They have to leave the dungeon and rest, which they usually also do with the normal 8 hours long rest.
On top of leveling the wonky difficulty across the different modes of play, not teaching the players that going to bed equals a long rest adds a layer of planning for them to consider. The long rest feels more impactful and reflects its importance. You regain hit dice, prepare your spells, buy equipment and plan your next step. To further embody that notion, I also let the party recover all hit dice during a long rest, not just half.
Making short rests easier, or making them shorter in comparison to long rests, on the other hand, does not change their impact too much. Many short rest abilities have 2 charges for instance, effectively making them a per encounter ability already and the limiting factor really is the parties hit dice pool. At the same time this change, will decrease a short rests influence on the pacing of the game, which is especially nice if you want to run an action packed scenario.
Now I can have a consistent way of letting the players rest across all scenarios with less changes in the games difficulty, giving them an incentive for planning and better resource management, while still staying true to the original design, according to the DMG. A win-win situation, in my opinion.