This article was first broadcast in Episode Fifty-Eight on 23rd January 2019.
Ryu: Ugggh do we seriously only get an hour to rest?
Lennon: What do you think “Short Rest” means?
Ryu: I don’t know, can’t it just…be longer? I’m tired.
Ostron: Actually, it can.
Lennon: Okay, no, you’re not casting your wibbly-wobbly time magic again. Last time I thought we had a three hour conversation with you about the difference between 1d20 and 2d10, but when I looked at my watch less than 5 minutes had passed
Ostron: Okay, first of all, that was just a regular conversation, it did only last 5 minutes. Secondly, I’m a wizard, I know my schools, and if that were to happen it would be illusion magic, not time magic; and thirdly, this method doesn’t require magic at all. It’s just an optional way of adventuring.
If you look in the Dungeon Master’s guide on page 267, there’s an optional rule I’m kind of surprised the Killer DM hasn’t brought up yet. Under rest variants, the “Gritty Realism” option states that a short rest takes 8 hours, and a long rest takes a full 7 days.
The Gritty Realism rest rules, aside from being more realistic (at least, as much as you can be realistic in a land of elves and entire kingdoms of undead), are actually a throw-back to the earliest editions of D&D. In the early editions, natural healing was rarely an option for recovering health, and rarely netted you more than a few HP per day. In a game using the Gritty Realism rules, magic healing becomes absolutely vital, and healing potions would become a heavily-trafficked item. From a world-building perspective, spellcasters would become much less common, but much more feared. The damage they can do in an instant takes much longer to heal. Warlocks would shine in this setup; sure, they can only cast a handful of spells (max of 4), but they get those back every day at dawn, unlike other spellcasters. This would, without a doubt, fuel a lot of tension between regular spellcasters and Warlocks, the former likely seeing the latter as “cheaters”.
Another thing to consider if you implement the Gritty Realism rules is that taking a week of full rest to get the benefit of a normal long rest, means adventurers spend a lot of time not being able to do downtime activities, because they need to rest. There are additional considerations, like spending a full week in bed at 1 hit point, to be instantly brought to full health at the end of the seventh night, with no improvement during the course of the week. Those who want to use those rules should be prepared to house rule some changes for a bit more realism.
But for a lot of campaigns Gritty Realism isn’t actually going to matter, or it becomes a punishingly difficult restriction. None of the published adventures really have an in-game time limit most of the time; in terms of gameplay, it doesn’t matter if the PCs sit around for one day or a week to heal; everything is going to wait for them. So why would you bother?
A lot of campaigns get played in a movie or TV-show style format: characters’ lives are fast-forwarded to the interesting bits, which are usually combat or some sort of tense negotiation or chase. However, if you have Gritty Realism in place but someone walked out of the dungeon with all of their hit points and don’t have any spell slots to get back, what are they going to do with all that time? Well, there are a number of rules provided that give more depth to characters “living their lives” apart from when they go out adventuring.
Many people are more familiar with these rules because of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. In that campaign, there is the possibility that the characters will gain control of a business, and can run that business for their own profit. That mechanic isn’t specific to the Waterdeep campaign; the generic rules for it are found in the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 129.
In fact, there’s an entire subsection of the DMG on pages 127 – 131 entitled “Downtime Activities” that describe a variety of ways characters can burn through days and weeks of time. For example, selling magic items is supposed to be a multi-day process as the characters look for someone with enough interest and gold to purchase the items. If you take a look at Xanathar’s Guide to Everything on page 133, it has extra details on the process of selling magic items, including delays and complications that can arise.
Similarly, arcane or holy characters can perform multi-day rituals or projects to give themselves bonuses or create magic items, while non-magical characters could do jobs to improve their renown with factions (if you’re using that mechanic in your campaign).
If you combine the pages in the DMG with the section in Xanathar’s Guide entitled “Downtime Revisited” (which starts on page 123), there is a treasure trove of details and complications that can arise surrounding characters spending time between adventures, as well as ways they can use their time to their advantage. And again, most of these activities are designed around the idea of the characters spending a significant amount of time at a location; a week or so is usually the minimum amount of time any of these activities takes, with some pursuits, like constructing a castle, taking over a year.
Speaking of building a castle, we should mention at this point that the third party resource “Strongholds and Followers” put out by D&D veteran Matt Colville has even more ways the characters can spend copious amounts of between-adventure time centered around building, improving, and working within a stronghold or castle.
Finally, and somewhat unusually, the players themselves have a list of things they can do in the Players’ Handbook. Page 187 has a shorter but no less relevant list of downtime activities they can perform between adventures, including Researching to gain information or insight about the adventure they’re involved with, training to gain proficiency with tools or items they don’t have, or conditioning to give them advantage against certain ailments.
Now it isn’t unreasonable to ask “why”; a lot of D&D characters work fine just going from adventure to adventure, living as wandering explorers or nomads helping with issues as they go. If that’s working for you, there’s no reason to change it. But sometimes DMs or even characters want to increase the realism of their campaigns, or have the passage of time really make an impact. It adds strategy to gameplay as the characters need to weigh the merits of resting for a full week to get all of their abilities back, and possibly train up some new skills against moving out sooner to maybe interrupt an enemy’s plans faster.
So if you’re looking to introduce a “looming menace” or a long-term race against time to foil the big bad evil guy’s plans, you might also want to look at how long your players are resting, and what they might do in the meantime.
Ryu: Great, so what I’m hearing is I’ve got the next 8 hours off. Time for a nap and some 비빔밥! *Translation: bibimbap, a Korean-style mixed rice*
Lennon: No that’s… not what I was saying at all. Ryu! Ryu, the scrying pool’s that way!
Ostron: Well, *I’m* heading over to the scrying pool. Hopefully I won’t be reading what the listeners have to say all by myself.