Content of the article: "You can have your “gritty” cake and eat it too"
Recently, there have been a couple of highly-discussed posts about the "Gritty Realism" rules variant. One new DM said it was just what they needed to get "Lord of the Rings style pacing"; another poster argued it was a bad idea because it messed with the heroic assumptions of 5e.
TLD̦R: I'm here to argue that you can get the best of both worlds, if you're willing to live with a small amount of additional rules "crunchiness" (complexity). That is to say, you can make a setting where the amount of time it takes to rest depends on "ambient energy level". This has several advantages. First off, it allows the pacing of ability recovery to match the pacing of the story, so that (for example) the players have the same total resources to spend over a one-week overland journey/exploration as during a one-day dungeon-crawl. And second, it can be a convenient way to deliver hooks for advancing the plot and/or role-playing of your campaign.
I'll first give a version of the home-brew rules I'm proposing (though of course you're welcome to change them however you want); then, I'll say a bit more about why I think this is a good idea.
Proposed home-brew rules
Throughout most of the world and at most times, ambient energy is low, lengthening the time needed for rests. However, there are certain places and times where ambient energy is increased. On solstices and equinoxes, it is one step higher than ordinary. And it is medium or high at certain locations near to nexuses of power (permanent or temporary). Permanent nexuses are rarely unguarded; a nexus might be a holy site, powerful school, or dungeon. Table of resting times by energy:
|Ambient Energy||Individual Rest (1/char/long rest)||Short rest (first 2)||Short rest (after 2)||Long Rest|
|Low||5 min||1 hour||8 hours||32 hours (1 day 2 nights)|
|Medium||1 min||15 min||1 hour||8 hours|
|High||2 rounds (concentration)||5 min||15 min||1 hour|
In this table, an “individual rest” is a once-per-long-rest ability of all player characters; they get the benefits of a short rest in a quick period. Separately, the first two times after each long rest when the party as a whole takes a short rest, it takes substantially shorter than usual. After those two first short rests, the time for a short rest stabilizes at its normal value.
Temporary nexuses may occur at any place or time, though they are more likely to occur near some special feature of the landscape such as a spring, peak, grove, or reef. Finding such a temporary nexus is never harder than a DC25 nature check, and may be substantially easier at DM’s discretion. Rangers travelling in their favored terrain get advantage on such checks, and if assisted by another character proficient in nature skills, also get +5. Note that even temporary nexus points tend to attract wanderers, whether monstrous or otherwise.
Player characters are aware of the ambient energy level; though transitions from one level to another are not always abrupt, the DM will let you know when you go through one. NPCs may or may not recognize the difference or understand its significance.
Magic items which usually recover charges once a day only recover charges once per long rest. It has also been found that non-concentration-based spells and abilities “burn slower” in low-energy environments, so that they actually last longer. That is to say, if they would normally last for a short or long rest or some multiple thereof, they still last for that time period in other environments. For instance, Water Breathing usually lasts 24 hours (3 long rests), so in a high-energy environment, it lasts 3 hours; False Life usually lasts 1 hour (1 short rest), so in a low-energy environment, it lasts 8 hours.
The main point of these rules is to allow different pacing, so that characters' ability recovery can better match the current pace of the adventure. This allows for a better match between the prototypical "6 encounters and 2 short rests per long rest" 5e "ideal", and the natural pacing for events in the story. It just doesn't make sense that a mid-to-high-level party would be facing more than one substantial challenge in a day of travel; yet on the other hand, IMO, it reduces the flow and urgency of a good dungeon crawl if the party has to leave the dungeon every few encounters to get even a short rest. So flexibility is good.
Do I think that this flexibility is necessary for a fun campaign? Of course not. If you're happy with ordinary rest durations, or with pure "gritty realism" rules, then by all means keep using them. I'm not judging you; please don't judge me for suggesting a change I like.
There are a few extra things I've added to the rules above, besides simple changes in the rest durations. I'll address them one at a time, saving the most important one for last.
- I've made the short rest durations variable. First, each player has a once-per-long-rest ability to individually get the benefits of a "quicker" short rest. I think it's good to be able to sometimes decouple individual characters, so that the entire party doesn't have to always wait around for one character to recover; but of course, this ability should be limited. Second, I've made it so the first two party-wide short rests after each long rest go quicker. I find this is good for pacing but feel free to ignore one or both of these additional possibilities in your game, even if you use the rest of these rules.
- I've made it so magic items and long-duration spells shift in tandem with the duration of rests, so that overall game balance stays about the same across different "ambient energy" environments. Again, if you don't like this extra rule, feel free to ignore it.
- I've included a rule about finding temporary nexuses, especially for rangers in their favored terrain. As I'll discuss below, I think this adds to the fun of roleplaying; and I think it's good to give a fun (and party-wide) buff to an existing ranger feature that… ummmm, how do I put this…. has been criticized for being un-fun in its existing implementation. I don't want this to be a post about whether or not rangers suck/rule, though.
- Finally, and most-importantly IMO, I've talked about how areas with higher ambient energy (either permanently or temporarily) often have more stuff happening in them. I think this is a useful way to add plot hooks. For instance:
- The party ranger has found a temporary nexus, but uh oh, it's infested by trolls. How much do they really want to be able to rest before tackling the next big challenge? (hat tip to u/DiemAlara for suggesting this idea)
- The party has just entered a new area where they'll be hanging around for a while. The only permanent nexus in the area has a
on it. They'll let the party rest there, but only if they agree to…
- …wear silly outfits (rp opportunity!)
- …agree to non-aggression rules (oh look, an antagonist is staying there too, we get to exchange taunts and build anticipation for the final battle without having to fight right now; and maybe we'll see if the party will bend the rules to try to steal from her room overnight)
- …fetch quest / babysitting quest / clear area quest (campaign plot hook!)
- …ignore some morally-questionable thing (moral dilemma!)
- …teach some skill to some
group of kids (rp opportunity, plus introduce NPCs you can use later)
In other words, I think this is not just a nice pacing device. It's a nice plotting, role-playing, and world-building device too.
(Disclaimer: I already made this suggestion in the two posts I linked to above, but I thought it was an important enough discussion to deserve its own post. Please feel free to use this post to discuss the general idea, not just my specific suggestion above for implementing it.)
- Tentative Push-On Rules to Keep Dungeons Rolling
- Hey guys! I put together some Short/Long Rest mechanics for 5e with inspiration from Zee Bashew, and I want to get some DM opinions on it before I use it with my players.
- Long Rest as a healing strategy – how to control the usefulness and make short rest (and other mechanisms) also attractive?
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