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Tearing 4E a New One: Short Rests and Encounter Resources

February 22, 2011

Are Short Rests Changing Your Game

But That’s Metagaming!

Now, some folks I know have referred to a party’s reliance on the short rest as an excuse for reckless, offense-first behavior as metagaming. Now, I can’t really argue the point because, in theory, the PCs really shouldn’t know they will always have five minutes to recover. But I also can’t fault the players. Even assuming the risk of the DM occasionally throwing a curve ball in the form of a second wave of combatants showing up before they rest, it’s still the best strategy. Frankly, I realize the PCs don’t know they will always have five minutes. But they must realize that after a five minute breather, they are always ready for the next fight as if nothing happened before. I’d notice that.

But rather than get angry at the players for using a perfectly viable, optimal strategy, I’m more apt to get mad at the system that created such a strong incentive to metagame in the first place. We can all wring our hands and say that the party “shouldn’t” behave like this, but really, I’m more concerned with the system that created the problem. After all, if that wasn’t the optimal strategy, players wouldn’t play “wrong.”

But the DM Should Fix It!

You see, it is the DMs job to create situations in which the party has to choose between resting and completing their goals so that they have meaningful choices or to add alternate risks to the game so that every encounter doesn’t have to be about whether someone dies or blah blah blah. No. Just no.

I agree that the DM has the job of creating opportunities for the players to make meaningful choices. And I agree that the DM has to create a feeling of urgency and risk in his adventures. But there is never, ever any excuse for a system that requires the DM to actively find ways to fight the incentives it has created. The system is supposed to give the DM tools, not obstacles. Never obstacles.

Put another way: it should be possible to write a perfectly enjoyable, meaningful adventure using only the tools given in the rule books. I’m not demanding that the adventure be art. It doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. But the system has to stand on its own first. I should be able to open the box and play a meaningful, enjoyable, perfectly average game with only what’s inside and a good story.

Yes, a DM can move beyond the system. He can add or subtract, edit, change, and make the game his own. But it should not be a requirement just to get the expected experience.

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