I’ve resisted the D&D bashing so far this month, but here we go. Rests are a really dull mechanic and should be changed. Admittedly a lot of D&D needs changing and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone run it rules as written in my entire roleplaying life because of that. But I’m talking about short rests, which aren’t just in D&D. They’re something a lot of games to do heal up.
D&D Third Edition was when I first realised that for a game about adventurers, players were way more cautious than they needed to be. Encounters were balanced to take down a percentage of the supplies (HP, spells, feats, etc) of the group and you should run them down a few before resting. Only players rarely realised that and would explore a small number of rooms before resting, and then repeating that. This happened in Hackmaster Fourth Edition as well, with my group making their way a couple of rooms at a time through a dungeon and then taking half a day to ride back to town and hide.
My old flat mate Ash simply reset the dungeon when he ran games. If we went to town to heal up and sell loot then everything would be exactly as it was before we did anything. It was videogamey and accomplished nothing because we’d only push our luck a little further before we realised we needed to rest and then everything would reset again.
I played Lost Mines of Phandelver with a group of old friends and my brother last year, to get him playing a tabletop game with folks and to just hang out with them, even if I didn’t really want to play D&D. Both travelling and in the first dungeon there were multiple long rests for the group, whenever we got near to 50% of our health. It cut into the action and we had to make sure where we were staying was safe, set up watches, etc. It never really felt right, seeming way too cautious, but at the same time it was a step which had become necessary at first and second level.
Games like D&D and Hackmaster are pretty damn lethal early on, so you’re going to need to grasp onto your health, especially if you’ve spent ages making your character. This means a short rest is going to be needed unless you’ve got a good pool of hit points like D&D 4th Edition, Fantasy Craft or Dungeon World.
My proposal would be to nick a mechanic from Lady Blackbird to replace long rests: refreshment scenes. It’s also a good way to make use of Inspiration, as players can have a little scene going through the dungeon and then they’ve healed, they’ve got some uses of abilities back and so on. Personally as well as not having seen D&D rules as written, I’ve also barely ever seen Inspiration get handed out either. It’s a shame as alongside Advantage/Disadvantage, it’s one of the good new mechanics from D&D 5th Edition. This would be another good way to encourage engaging with that mechanic.
Some examples of Refreshment Scenes could be:
• Sharing some rations or a drink around a half-dead campfire the bandits you killed were using
• Catching fish in a nearby stream or hunting deer in the woods
• Burying a beloved henchperson
• Checking armour for any damage and recovering arrows
A short roleplay scene during these kinds of moments as a way to earn Inspiration and the benefits of a short rest could be really interesting. Codex: Gold from The Gauntlet has The True-Gold Forge, a set of tables which can be used for characters round a campfire as prompts about their origins or wishes to add even more flavour. It’s the kind of thing which if you weren’t feeling inspired about how to have a refreshment scene, you could use one as a prompt.