Fixed Rest (GM Tip #2)

Tired of dealing with rest in D&D? (See what I did there?) Then read on…

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In 5th Edition D&D, players decide how many hit dice they wish to expend after a “Short Rest” (one hour of downtime). A character could take a Short Rest and spend, for example, 1 hit die, and then take another Short Rest and spend 4 hit dice. This makes resting a matter of strategically managing resources, which some players may enjoy. However, as The Angry GM points out in “Hitting the Rest Button,” this makes absolutely no sense if you think of the player’s choices as representing the character’s. In order to obtain the benefit of rolling more hit dice, characters don’t actually have to rest longer, eat more food, or tend to their injuries more closely. The player arbitrarily decides how much their character will heal after each rest, which is deducted from their daily allowance, as if the character could somehow control how quickly their own wounds heal through sheer willpower.

You may argue that the mechanic represents the varied rate at which wounds heal and puts the variation in the control of the player rather than leaving it up to random chance. Even though the player is in control, it doesn’t necessarily mean the character is controlling anything. But, like The Angry GM, I prefer my games to be more immersive than that. By asking the players how much their characters heal, you shatter the illusion that they are their characters. What’s more, I find that the resting mechanic as presented in 5E tends to slow the game down, with little payback. When players are asked to manage their hit dice, more often than not it feels like a chore instead of a strategic deliberation. Especially to people just getting started with D&D (as many of my players are), it’s just one more thing to keep track of on an already crowded character sheet.

That’s why I’ve opted for a fixed rest mechanic in my games. By “fixed,” I don’t mean that I’ve repaired a broken system (though I like to think so). I mean that the rate at which each character heals is set—it’s not up to the players to decide.

My solution is a little different from the ideas The Angry GM came up with:

After a Short Rest, the player rolls half of their hit dice (rounded up) and adds their Constitution modifier to each roll. For example, a Level 8 Fighter with 14 Con rolls 1d10+2 four times. These hit dice are not “spent”—the character may take multiple Short Rests per day, rolling 4 HD each time, but not without seeing some action between each resting period. Also, at a certain point (GM’s discretion, but usually after two Short Rests), the character must take a Long Rest before they can benefit from further Short Rests. In other words, a character heals roughly half of their HP after taking a Short Rest, which they can do around twice per day, but not twice in a row.

This system is roughly equivalent to the 5E resting system (assuming the PCs take about two Short Rests before settling down for a Long Rest), but it’s faster, easier, and more immersive.

After a Long Rest, a player is fully healed, as per standard 5E rules.

If you’re looking for a grittier system, cut the allotted hit dice in half (1/4 HD for a Short Rest and 1/2 HD for a Long Rest). Under those rules, our Level 8 Fighter would roll only 2 HD after a Short Rest and 4 HD after a Long Rest.