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

February 22, 2011

Are Short Rests Changing Your Game

Hindsight is 20-20

I realize this may seem like a non-constructive rant about how the game is broken. But the game is not really broken. It does play perfectly well and a DM can get around the issues presented above. And, of course, I am not an expert game designer. Maybe these things were foreseen but deemed less important than the game balance fix. I can understand that, really. Or maybe they are only visible in hindsight and with the benefit of a lot of other people playing the game and then writing about their experiences on blogs, forums, and Twitter. And nothing here renders the game unplayable. Players can certainly move beyond the “fifteen minute workday” and DMs can find ways to inject some risk.

But my hope is that this analysis has granted a little insight because there are some folks out there talking about short rests and the encounter format and others who are frustrated with the combat system in general. I’m not angry at WotC. If anything, I applaud them. This was an interesting experiment, and from an adventure planning perspective, it worked very well. It’s just a question of whether it was worth the side effects. And that’s going to come down to a matter of opinion.

What if it Isn’t Worth It?

But what if it’s not? What if you are one of those DMs or have one of those groups who is frustrated by something and I’ve helped you trace it back to the short rest and encounter resource mechanic? What if you, like me, genuinely like 4E, but you’d like to get around the issue without tearing the whole game apart and without sacrificing too much?

On the other hand, what if I haven’t convinced you that there is really something to what I’m saying?

If you want a fix, I have a proposal. If you want proof, I have an experiment for you to try. Now, I haven’t implemented this yet, so it may take some fiddling and fudging, but I’d love to hear about anything you try. If you have a party that seems to have fallen into overvaluing damage over defense or simply counts on the short rest a little too much, or you have a “fifteen minute workday” party, or if you think your party doesn’t respect the impact of combat and want to shake them up and force some different tactics on them, try these two things out.

  1. Place a restriction on how many healing surges a PC can spend outside of encounters. For instance, a PC can only spend two healing surges at the end of a short rest and they cannot take another short rest until they’ve had another encounter first.
  2. In order to use their best abilities, the PCs need to build adrenaline or momentum or whatever you want to call it. Mechanically, it works like this: after an extended rest, a player only has access to one daily attack power – the lowest level one. After each encounter, during a short rest, he gains access to the next highest level one. If he has two powers of the same level, he can choose which one becomes available. The players can horde these powers or use them as they become available.

The first rule means that all damage doesn’t go away at the end of a fight. If the party handles the fight well, they will end with more HP and be rewarded for defensive and preventative tactics. There is still a strong incentive to throw out a lot of damage early, but the party can’t ignore its defenses so much.

The second rule places a very strong incentive on continuing the fight, even when it might be dangerous to do so. The reason is because the most dangerous fights tend to come later in the adventure or dungeon. If the party stops and rests too early, they might not be able to bring their biggest guns out against the big, bad boss. More importantly, they will have powers on the character sheet they won’t be allowed to see unless they manage their resources well and challenge themselves. Further, it balances the fact that, through the day, the party’s resources will dwindle. More offensive capability later in the day balances out flagging defenses.

Together, the two rules set up a conflict at the end of every encounter. “Do we push ahead and risk further injury and death so that we can face more threats with increased offensive power” or “do we stop and rest to recover ourselves, knowing that we’re going to lose the momentum we’ve gained and possibly have to face stronger fights with less offensive capability.”

Give it a try. If it changes your party’s behavior, you will know they were influenced by the system whether they show it or not. ┬áBut also be aware that you may be sacrificing some of the certainty in encounter balance afforded by knowing you always have a fresh party. One way or another, it will be an interesting experiment.

Want to hear more? Check out The Angry DM’s responses to various questions, criticisms, and comments raised by this article: Tearing 4E a New One Addendum.

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