Rest break

I'm not a huge fan of D&D 5e's rest mechanics.  Let's look at the why it's there, what it does, and some possible tweaks.

Why Rest?

Rests are part of the game balance.  Some characters have features that recharge on short rests, others on long rests.  Features that reset on rests are generally pretty powerful, so giving them more limited uses keeps the overall power of a class in more in line with those classes that that don't rely on those powers.  Long rest features are usually more powerful than short rest features.  These limited use features are "burst" abilities -- extra damage or healing or actions above what could be done normally.

In addition to the class (and some racial) features, rests also have universal effects like spending or regaining hit dice and health , removing exhaustion, etc.

On the player side, it helps stop certain characters from constantly overshadowing others -- a wizard that can cast their highest-level spells, every round, all day, would be pretty over-powered.  The choice of when to use these limited resources should be a fun and interesting decision-point for the player as well -- do they burn a big ability now, or save it for a more dire situation?

On the GM's side, the limited-use abilities are built into encounter creature and encounter balancing.  The DMG assumes an "adventuring day" is roughly 2-3 encounters, a short rest, 2-3 encounters, a short rest, 2-3 encounters, and finally a long rest.  More or less rests are going to decrease or increase the relative encounter difficulty, so you'll need to tweak the target encounter difficulty or adjust the effective creature CR.

Breaking Bad

Players are going to want to rest as often as possible.  Unless there is a reason that the characters shouldn't rest, it makes sense for them to short rest after every encounter, and do as few encounters between long rests as they can.  The GM can add limitations so that rests are limited, for example:
  • time-sensitive goal
  • rest interruptions, such as random encounters
  • escalating threat
  • limit on number or frequency of short rests (long rests are by default limited to once per 24 hours)
While some of these fit well into certain scenarios, they can easily not apply very well, and coming up with limitations on rests becomes a meta-game for the sole purpose of limiting what is often a mechanically-driven choice.

That's not to say that rests can't be a good part of role-playing or be story-driven (indeed, the party's conversation around the campfire can lead to awesome interactions and exposition), but the players' desire to trigger a rest is usually based on the idea mechanically regaining resources, and rarely for other reasons.

If there is a risk or cost (like random encounters, or the foes' power escalating), then it might seem like an interesting decision point, but are they?  Random encounters are usually just filler, extra work for the GM, and not usually advancing the progression of the party through whatever story they are exploring).  Escalating opponents fails to be fulfilling since it is a delayed (and hard to be viewed as causal), as it is not that rewarding to turn a tough fight into a TPK just because the party took a short rest several earlier in the session.

Once the party has access to rope trick or tiny hut or the like, it can be harder to control how often the party can rest.

If the party is resting too often, combats become too easy.  Sure, as the GM you can up the difficulty but that often means just making battles run longer, not to mention that you are effectively overriding the choices the characters make.

The DMG offers a few variant rules, namely increasing or decreasing the time needed for a short or long rest.  Increasing the duration of a short rest to 8 hours (and only once every 24 hours) puts a pretty hard cap on how often they can do it, but that also has a pretty significant impact on the feel of the game to be more gritty and less high-fantasy.  On the flip side you can shorten rests, but that makes them almost too easy to take.

You can use wave-based battles (essentially fighting two or three encounters back-to-back), but then you can have an "adventuring day" that is essentially:  Fight for a minute or two, rest an hour, fight for a minute or two, rest an hour, fight for a minute or two, wait 15-16 hours doing nothing, sleep.  Hardly heroic.


How can we fix rests, then, or at least, what are some alternatives?

Can we just get rid of them? If we get rid of short rests, and just let short-rest abilities recharge when, say, you've been out of combat for x minutes, it's probably not too balance-breaking.  If the interval is too long, it can lead to more meta-game behaviour (like long waits between leaving a room just to hit the interval), so I'd be inclined to make it just a like 1 minute or 5 minutes of not running and nobody trying to kill you.  It does give a bit of a boon to classes that get short-rest recharges, though, as they will likely get them way more often.

If we wanted to keep everything in line with the suggested 6-8 encounters per day and 2 short rests, then we could just add a 2-rest limit:  So characters can take a short rest after they've been out of combat for 1 or 5 minutes, but they can only do at most twice a day.  It adds another thing to track, but other wise preserves the intended balance.  It still doesn't stop the players for pushing for a long rest, though.

Another method might be to just to tie rest effects to XP gains.  If you divide the XP required to level by 12, and trigger a short rest every 2 increments and a long rest every 6.  It's a fair bit more work to track, though, and will get crazy if you have characters at different levels.

What if we combine the ideas and go just by level and not XP?  So when a character levels, they get two long rests tokens (or points or whatever you want to call them), and 4 short rest tokens.  They can cash them in any time they are out of combat for 1 or 5 minutes or whatever.  This gives players the interesting choice of when they can use them, but still puts hard cap on how often they get used.  Optionally, the GM could then reward extra for certain in game events, or force them to be spent (like force a long rest to be spent when a series of encounters is over at what is clearly the end of a day).  I'm not sure if taking the choice out of the players hands that would would be too frustrating for the players or not.  Another alternative would be to give to tokens to the party as a whole, and they'd have to come to some consensus as when to use them.

I haven't tried this idea yet, but will run it by my players to see if they want to give it a go.

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