4E Exploration and Extended Rests

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Have been mulling over how to make 4E work with gritty sandbox exploration (West Marches style) for more time than I'd like to think about and finally I came up with an idea yesterday that I'd welcome thoughts on.

What if PCs can only take extended rests as per the rules when in an inn / house or other safe and secure location. PCs still need 6 hours sleep every 24 hours or else they take a cumulative -1 penalty to skill checks/ability checks/attacks and defences per 24 hours since they last slept due to exhaustion but they only ever gain the benefits of a short rest until they find a safe place or get to a town etc.

Thoughts / views? 
Have been mulling over how to make 4E work with gritty sandbox exploration (West Marches style) for more time than I'd like to think about and finally I came up with an idea yesterday that I'd welcome thoughts on.

What if PCs can only take extended rests as per the rules when in an inn / house or other safe and secure location. PCs still need 6 hours sleep every 24 hours or else they take a cumulative -1 penalty to skill checks/ability checks/attacks and defences per 24 hours since they last slept due to exhaustion but they only ever gain the benefits of a short rest until they find a safe place or get to a town etc.

Thoughts / views? 

If I remember correctly this is an idea that's either included in the D&D Next playtest packet, or discussed in one of the WotC articles, or both - might be worth taking a look to see if their ideas help develop yours?

EDIT: Hm, I might have imagined this entirely Embarassed 
As DM, what is your goal with this? No 5-minute workdays? Time pressures tend to work better for that purpose. But time pressures only make sense if the PCs have a goal. If the goal is "explore stuff," then some competition might be in order - other adventurers are exploring and trying to find all the Cool Stuff and make a name for themselves, too. Or the goblins of the Dead Eye tribe will swarm into the Gap of Hrzog in a fortnight, cutting off access to the Lake of Dreams. You get the idea.

Messing with rests can work with player buy-in, but I suspect it would impact some characters more than others and be a mechanical patch to what sounds like a fictional problem. If you'd like to workshop some of my ideas above, I'm happy to help.

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By the way, I assume you're talking about Ben Robbins' campaign - it'd be really easy to do this in 4e.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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As DM, what is your goal with this? No 5-minute workdays? Time pressures tend to work better for that purpose. But time pressures only make sense if the PCs have a goal. If the goal is "explore stuff," then some competition might be in order - other adventurers are exploring and trying to find all the Cool Stuff and make a name for themselves, too. Or the goblins of the Dead Eye tribe will swarm into the Gap of Hrzog in a fortnight, cutting off access to the Lake of Dreams. You get the idea.

Messing with rests can work with player buy-in, but I suspect it would impact some characters more than others and be a mechanical patch to what sounds like a fictional problem. If you'd like to workshop some of my ideas above, I'm happy to help.



Fundamentally, it's a realism issue, and I appreciate that 4E has never been intended to be realistic, but 4E does not simulate well the grind of wilderness travel where there should be attrition of resources (hp, surges, powers etc.) as every time the PCs make camp their resources refresh. I love 4E for a variety of reasons, particularly its ease to play or DM but this is something it does not do well principally because it is designed for story-based adventures. This is a workaround intended to solve that single issue.

By the way, I assume you're talking about Ben Robbins' campaign - it'd be really easy to do this in 4e.



Not entirely on that model but it's the best example out there. I have always (for the most part) favoured developing a simulated world more than a story-based campaign and I'm not convinced, without a mod of some sort, that 4E can capture this element of wilderness travel/exploration.
Fundamentally, it's a realism issue, and I appreciate that 4E has never been intended to be realistic, but 4E does not simulate well the grind of wilderness travel where there should be attrition of resources (hp, surges, powers etc.) as every time the PCs make camp their resources refresh. I love 4E for a variety of reasons, particularly its ease to play or DM but this is something it does not do well principally because it is designed for story-based adventures. This is a workaround intended to solve that single issue.



D&D of any edition hasn't been a great simulation of reality and only a fair to middling simulation of the genre. 4e is also less of the simulation school of thought than previous editions, focusing instead on mechanics for resolving conflict, not necessarily simulating the physics of the game world. 3.X edition or Pathfinder might be a better fit on that score.

Having said that, wilderness travel and the ensuing complications and wear on the intrepid heroes can easily be worked for 4e using the skill challenge system. It's just a matter of framing. For example, let's say your PCs have decided to travel to the Lost City of the Anakralli by getting through Two-Fang Canyon before nightfall - for when the sun sets, the restless dead of the yuan-ti stir in the sand.

We're firmly in skill challenge territory here: compelling stakes, interesting failure, complex activity over time. Now you just make a list of complications they might face along the way (at least # of successes required for success + 2): Scorching Heat, Rock Predators, Flash Flood, Lingering Curses, etc. Present the complication in a clear and compelling way (choose or roll) and ask what they do, then ask for a skill check. If they roll medium DC, they succeed, but suffer a cost (e.g. hit points or surges if it makes sense in the fiction). If they roll high DC, they overcome it no problem. Under the medium DC is failure and, well, you can get creative with that (just make sure everyone thinks it's fun). Overall success in the skill challenge means they make it to the Lost City before nightfall. Defeat probably means a rough (but fun!) night of surviving in a box canyon choked with undead, perhaps while low on resources.

Not entirely on that model but it's the best example out there. I have always (for the most part) favoured developing a simulated world more than a story-based campaign and I'm not convinced, without a mod of some sort, that 4E can capture this element of wilderness travel/exploration.



See above!

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Fundamentally, it's a realism issue, and I appreciate that 4E has never been intended to be realistic, but 4E does not simulate well the grind of wilderness travel where there should be attrition of resources (hp, surges, powers etc.) as every time the PCs make camp their resources refresh. I love 4E for a variety of reasons, particularly its ease to play or DM but this is something it does not do well principally because it is designed for story-based adventures. This is a workaround intended to solve that single issue.

I think the key word here is grind. Grind implies tediousness and repetition, which just isn't fun. Just because something has to be long and tedious to the characters doesn't mean the players have to suffer the same fate. What it sounds like to me is that these days of exploration simply don't have enough going on to adequately tax the players. I'd say you just need to provide more stuff to do - more excitement and adventure.

Long, slow treks through the wilderness are realistic and can certainly happen in 4e, but they seem like the kind of thing that is better narrated than played through, maybe with a skill challenge, maybe not. You don't have to sacrifice realism for excitement. Maybe you'd play out a couple encounters along the way, but a multiple sessions full of tedious exploration (without enough adventure to adequately tax resources) doesn't sound very fun to me. Most of us only have a few hours a week to play - make the most of that time.
They have X days to complete their mission, or before something happens. Each extended rest uses up some of that X, maybe a full one, maybe a quarter of one. Travel uses it up too. The party can rest every day, or they can push through. If they have enough rests, give them less time next time, or have something come up that will decrease X unless they take immediate, dangerous steps.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

I think the key word here is grind. Grind implies tediousness and repetition, which just isn't fun. Just because something has to be long and tedious to the characters doesn't mean the players have to suffer the same fate. What it sounds like to me is that these days of exploration simply don't have enough going on to adequately tax the players. I'd say you just need to provide more stuff to do - more excitement and adventure.

Long, slow treks through the wilderness are realistic and can certainly happen in 4e, but they seem like the kind of thing that is better narrated than played through, maybe with a skill challenge, maybe not. You don't have to sacrifice realism for excitement. Maybe you'd play out a couple encounters along the way, but a multiple sessions full of tedious exploration (without enough adventure to adequately tax resources) doesn't sound very fun to me. Most of us only have a few hours a week to play - make the most of that time.



Right. It's important to note that scenes become grinds when it lacks a dramatic question or the question has already been answered and the scene hasn't ended or transitioned. "How many rations will we use on the way to the ruins?" isn't a particularly compelling dramatic question (certainly not more than once or without framing it in a more "grabby" way). "Will we make it to the Oasis of the Moon before we die of exposure?" is much more interesting, and there are a lot of complications to include along the way to generate action and decision-making which will probably result in resource expenditure. As you point out, I don't think the simulation alone can be relied upon to make this a fun experience. It needs goals, time pressure, and stakes.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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 D&D of any edition hasn't been a great simulation of reality and only a fair to middling simulation of the genre. 4e is also less of the simulation school of thought than previous editions, focusing instead on mechanics for resolving conflict, not necessarily simulating the physics of the game world. 3.X edition or Pathfinder might be a better fit on that score.

Having said that, wilderness travel and the ensuing complications and wear on the intrepid heroes can easily be worked for 4e using the skill challenge system. It's just a matter of framing. For example, let's say your PCs have decided to travel to the Lost City of the Anakralli by getting through Two-Fang Canyon before nightfall - for when the sun sets, the restless dead of the yuan-ti stir in the sand. 



I appreciate that this could be resolved with skill challenges which is how most (if not all) published 4E adventures do it but that does not really capture the feel I am looking for as it each skill challenge needs to be quite story-specific and I have no interest in designing a skill challenge for every wilderness area (the other option as I see it). I also appreciate that 3.x or PF would handle this better but that is not what I am after either. I have tried both (and BXCMI/AD&D/2E among others over the last 30 years) and they are also not what I am after.

The question I'm really asking is - would the mechanism above have any distastrous effects on the game that I am not seeing? I think it should, theoretically, work well but if others can see something I'm missing I'd welcome views.

I think the key word here is grind. Grind implies tediousness and repetition, which just isn't fun. Just because something has to be long and tedious to the characters doesn't mean the players have to suffer the same fate. What it sounds like to me is that these days of exploration simply don't have enough going on to adequately tax the players. I'd say you just need to provide more stuff to do - more excitement and adventure.

Long, slow treks through the wilderness are realistic and can certainly happen in 4e, but they seem like the kind of thing that is better narrated than played through, maybe with a skill challenge, maybe not. You don't have to sacrifice realism for excitement. Maybe you'd play out a couple encounters along the way, but a multiple sessions full of tedious exploration (without enough adventure to adequately tax resources) doesn't sound very fun to me. Most of us only have a few hours a week to play - make the most of that time.



Grind is the wrong word so I apologise for using it. What I want to be able to simulate is how a trek through the wilderness should be where PCs do not refresh their abilities and powers every time they make camp. Does this workaround address that?
I appreciate that this could be resolved with skill challenges which is how most (if not all) published 4E adventures do it but that does not really capture the feel I am looking for as it each skill challenge needs to be quite story-specific and I have no interest in designing a skill challenge for every wilderness area (the other option as I see it). I also appreciate that 3.x or PF would handle this better but that is not what I am after either. I have tried both (and BXCMI/AD&D/2E among others over the last 30 years) and they are also not what I am after.



If you're doing it like Ben did it with different areas and relative difficulties on a map to be explored, then it's just a matter of making a list or chart of possible complications one might experience while in that area. The stakes of the skill challenge would be improvised. No work needed on your part outside of complications you might expect to encounter in the Gnarly Wood of Og or the Scabfens, which I imagine you're thinking about anyway. But anyway, this isn't what you're looking for, so...

The question I'm really asking is - would the mechanism above have any distastrous effects on the game that I am not seeing? I think it should, theoretically, work well but if others can see something I'm missing I'd welcome views.



It probably won't affect much. Ask your players for buy-in, and be prepared for them to come up with a workaround you didn't expect.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

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I'm a player in a play-by-post game right now where some benefits of an extended rest are granted when characters reach a milestone: namely we regain action points and dailies only when we've "accomplished" something the DM has deemed worthy.  I don't have any plans of instituting such a rule in my own games, but it's worked fairly well.  The DM was upfront about this houserule when we applied for a spot in the campaign, and I'm having a lot of fun.  I do wish that APs were applied more liberally, but overall it's working well.  That said, the reason why I don't feel cheated at all is because I knew what kind of game I was getting on board for.  Also, and I may be the minority here, I actually think that resource management can add to the fun.
I don't tie mechanical extended rests to in-fiction sleeping.

I gave my characters their first extended rest after 5 fights. In that time they had travelled 120 miles and had made camp several times. 
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Resource management is a key issue here. The trek in and of itself is a waste of time, and boring. Do you really want to be role playing out "you walk for 10 minutes and see a rock, walk for 30 more minutes and see two rocks, walk 26 more minutes and see a big rock"?

To this, I would advise making food and water a vital resource that the PCs cannot obtain as easily as they would think, and make suffocation a threat beyond being submerged in liquid for too long. Trail Rations and Survival Days should be hard to find, and might not even be for sale outside of high end markets at exorbitant prices. Make them keep track of these things. Have them represent the burden, and use them as the means for PCs to be able to refresh themselves. A good 6 nights sleep shouldn't do anything without enough food and water to have the energy to take the day on at the same strength as prior.

Of course, these are just examples. There's much more than can be a strain on the PCs, and simpler solutions like draining surges and small -1 or -2 penalties here and there based on exposure to the elements can be just as effective to wear on the PCs so that the grit really sticks as anything else. Come up with about 2 or 3 common threats that would wear and tear on the PCs and keep them from being at full strength on the long journeys. But also don't push the grit. If the PCs prove resourceful enough to forage water and food for a few extra days to make it to town and resupply, roll with it. The grit has an impact only if it is a threat, not a guarantee. When the elements are assured to win, it becomes the very type of grind that was mentioned earlier. Risk of danger can only be a risk when the danger isn't always assured.

Hope this helps. Happy Gaming
The question I'm really asking is - would the mechanism above have any distastrous effects on the game that I am not seeing? I think it should, theoretically, work well but if others can see something I'm missing I'd welcome views.

It will work fine if the players are bought in to the reason you've implemented it. Otherwise, they're likely to argue that there's no reason they couldn't sleep anywhere.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

@Medriev. Actually I also enjoy using resource starvation, extended rest deprivation as drama to create sense of urgency and danger to almost every extended outdoor wilderness trekking that takes the pc's far from any civilization. I let them know this trip gonna take them far from civilized resources and let them prepare with extra resources, tents, food for a month, extra clothing etc.. before starting the trip. Your hike through a dangerous marsh without extended rest is good. Usually I just inform the group this area isnt the area you want to camp, its too dangerous with too much roaming threat. Usually I also add with a timeline, get to point B in certain time or... The players get the hint and just trek through even though it hurts. Idea is to get the players into resource starvation, SPECIFICALLY daily's & heal surge starvation...that really significantly adds to the drama...players start to freak out big time when dailys and surges are running out.

So have breath taking short but sustained encounters during trek and force each pc to tap into their dailys and surges.  Players dont seem to care if they run out of food and water...but their abilities and surgee are whole another matter.  This is your challenge.  Players will do their best to take extended rest to get them back..and challenge for you as the dm is to create sustained threat and urgency to the players so THEY decide on their own not to take the extended rest.

I like to set this up with a sustained chase against the players, using some nasty mysterious creatures the players dont know about...like the Aliens movie... make the players burn their dailys, surges...realize quickly they cant win this situation and then find themselves having to run run run without extended rest.  Works well for me.

At the end when they been starved enough, suffered enough and the trip culminates to final battle, I let them rest in spectacular luxury, shower up, pamper up, resource up, gear up..make them appreciate a civilization, and then final scene with the BBEG for some ego stroking kick assing;  for this type of adventure since I made the whole middle so damn hard, the end I usually let the players kickass spectaculary...release all that pant up frustration during their ego starvation getting there ..you know what I mean.

Matter of fact, I plan to run paragon adventure remake of Aliens...dnd version.  Breath taking chase & survival all the way.
One of the ways my group is going to explore this same idea is that while camping rough, the PCs can take an Extended Rest as normal (regaining HPs and powers) but only regain their Con modifier in Surges back (minimum 1).

*This has the potential to unfairly punish the Defender role (they burn surges like matches), so I have been toying with the idea that Defenders (ONLY!) can make a Moderate DC Endurance check and gain 1 + Con surges back; failure results in the standard Con modifier. This will also make rituals like Comrade's Succor and spells that grant surgeless healing FAR more important.
So many PCs, so little time...
Grind is the wrong word so I apologise for using it. What I want to be able to simulate is how a trek through the wilderness should be where PCs do not refresh their abilities and powers every time they make camp. Does this workaround address that?



I would just do similar to what Fardiz is saying, and pace combat encounters so they don't need to constantly gain extended rest benefits, if they're only getting 3-4 encounters over 3-4 days before a rest, then mechanically there is no real change than if they had 3-4 encounters in one day and then rested.
The irony being that the extended rest mechanic of 4e is decidedly not narativist in that when and how you can take an extended rest is not based on story but on simply being able to rest for 6 hours once a day. Obviously you can think of story reasons why groups will not be taking an extended rest, and in wilderness survival a skill challenge is an additional easy sollution. It still feels jarring if it happens all the time, and when you run a city-based intrigue campaign with only the occassional fight it tends to fail anyway. Playing with the extended rest mechanics is certainly a way to work around it, and your sollution is as good as any. Just take care though how you deal with certain rituals and how you are going to handle unexpected setbacks. Personally I have decided it is not worth the efford, and stick to story sollutions ;)
It still feels jarring if it happens all the time, and when you run a city-based intrigue campaign with only the occassional fight it tends to fail anyway.

Time pressure should work in that case. While the players rest, the villain and his people are working. Rest up to handle an escalated situation later, or run in now with what you have.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

If you're doing it like Ben did it with different areas and relative difficulties on a map to be explored, then it's just a matter of making a list or chart of possible complications one might experience while in that area. The stakes of the skill challenge would be improvised. No work needed on your part outside of complications you might expect to encounter in the Gnarly Wood of Og or the Scabfens, which I imagine you're thinking about anyway. But anyway, this isn't what you're looking for, so...

 

Thanks. Your idea of an individual chart of complications for each area is a good one and not something I'd considered.

Many thanks to other posters as well. These thoughts are really useful. I love how one random idea can generate so many other thoughts and ideas in this community so quicklySmile. Now I have more thinking to do Undecided.
Hey, thanks for bringing it up. I hadn't thought about West Marches for a couple of years and so I posted the link to the blog in my gaming community to see who might be interested in doing it on a somewhat large, collaborative scale. We're exploring the idea now!

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
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Here, Have Some Free Material From Me: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

Here's an article from the Id DM that got me thinking.  He also references this chart, which I have had some success with as a "do you really want to make camp here?" complication.