D&D rules on Short and Long rests can be seen as a compromise between “traditional” (i.e. pre-4E) and most current “modern” takes on the game. These rules all aim at dealing with the famous “15-minutes day” syndrome, where a party awakens, prepare their spells/powers, go “nova” for an encounter or two, then go back to rest (of course, a lot of this “syndrome” comes from forgetting that D&D evolved from wargames and that campaigns where slow and methodical games where the party advanced careful over large areas/dungeons).
Anyway, I’m digressing…. as usual. I’ve been running a lot of D&D 5E playtest lately and that has been an interesting experience. As I said above, in D&D 5E you PC can recover resources through forms of rest:
- A “Short Rest” requires at least one hour during which a character does nothing more strenuous than eating, drinking, reading, and tending to wounds. If those requirements are fulfilled a character can spend one or more of his Hit Dice (plus Con mod) to recover HPs (besides recovering certain abilities like a Fighter’s Second Wind or a few spell slots for Wizards).
- A “Long Rest” requires at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours (but you can still fight or kick-ass for at least one hour). You regain all your HPs and class features (and half your HDs), but you can’t take more than 1 Long Rest every 24 hours.
Of course, the Dungeon Master’s Guide best chapter (that’s Chapter 9) has all kind of cool variants for rest, with different times. For example, “old timers” like myself love the variant (Gritty Realism) where a “short rest” requires 8 hours and a “long rest” can only be taken once a week (i.e. 7 days). “Younger gamers” like myself (no contradiction here) can enjoy a more dynamic game with “short rests” requiring 1 minute and “long rests” 1 hour (Epic Heroism).
And that’s the point with 5E: it’s entirely customizable! You can play it as you like it.
Now, take for example 13th Age. In that (awesome) RPG a “short rest” ALWAYS happen between fights (unless the party did something terribly wrong) and a “long rest” happen every 4 encounters (give or take). That is an even better rule than 5E IMHO because it can be adapted to the adventure’s rhythm (i.e. the GM doesn’t have to grant a “long rest” exactly every 4 encounters, for examples… particularly if a certain encounter was too easy). Another advantage of 13th Age’s approach is that it’s harder to abuse it.
Let’s get another other example (from another great game): Low Fantasy Gaming. In that OSR/d20 variant, a “Long Rest” requires 1d6 days (or 1d4 in a safe environment). A randomized result is another great and (ye again) it avoids abuse by the party.
Now, here’s an example from a good friend of mine, that manages to bring together 2 styles of play that I really like: dungeon crawl and sandbox. While inside a dungeon he proposes following the rule that a “short rest” requires 1 hour and a “long rest” 24 hours; but, outside the dungeon (i.e. in the wilderness) we follow the variant that one “short rest” equals 8 hours and a “long rest” 7 days. That’s brilliant! You can make the game work inside the gauntlet and - at the same time - avoid the common problem of running wilderness encounters (usually in sandbox crawling the party faces just about 1 our maybe 2 encounters a day; that frequency is bad for classes like the fighter but great for spellcasters, which can “go nova”, spending all their spell slots, because they know that a second or third encounter during the same day will be a rarer event).
Another cool example: I recently run a playtest adventure where the party was crossing a desert. And where is the cool part: the party would only gain the benefits of a rest (short and long) if they managed to reach one of the deserts oasis. That’s it. Without an oasis the party can’t gain the benefit of a rest (short or long). That’s an awesome idea to generate tension and force the party to manage their resources.
Which bring us to the final topic of this post: short or long rests aren’t something set on stone. Quite the contrary: they can and SHOULD be changed to suit an adventure or challenge. They can also work as a great alternative to rewards. Imagine: if the party reach X or defeat Y they gain the benefits of a short (or maybe even long rest). A priest’s blessing could be represented “in game” as a short rest (i.e. recovering small class abilities and spending HD to recover HPs). A dread curse could be represented by increasing the party’s requisites to gain the benefit of a short/longe rest. The requisites to gain a rest’s benefits can be tailored to reflect locations… a long rest in Mordor or the Shadowlands is probably harder to get.