Eliminating the "5-Minute Workday"

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One of the most intriguing (and promising) concepts raised in the recent podcast with Mearls & Noonan was the idea that a fundamental design goal of 4E is to do away with what they termed the "5-Minute Workday"... the concept that an adventuring party kicks down the doors of a room, unloads all their firepower and bells n' whistles (ie, all the daily class/special abilities such as spells, stunning fist, turning attempts, singing, raging, etc)... so that encounter is easy cheesy, then they stop and rest right there.

Without GM fiat, this tactic is a strategically sound tactic and a difficult mindset to work around. After all, why should a certain class feel limited early on by having to be extremely miserly with their abilities - and then when those abilities are tapped, be put at extreme risk without safety. Arcane casters are the best example of this -- they pop their firepower too early and they are spectators the rest of the way. The hold off too long, and the party suffers from lack of support.

So I'm greatly intrigued by the premise of adjusting abilities and encounters to eliminate this. I think this has a lot of promise, and can be accomplished in a variety of ways.

One way I could see this manifesting would be generally lowering the power of these abilities, but increasing the number of times they can be used.

Alternatively, offering some limited, lower power version of abilities that are always available -- in this regard, I think of the Warlock's eldritch blast, or the numerous "Reserve Spell" feats that allowed wizards to have a lower-effect but (more or less) constant spell power as long as they had a spell slot of X type remaining...

I think this will probably tie closely into the concept of the Roles that has been discussed. Perhaps a cleric fulfilling a certain role (support? leadership?) has a constant low-level healing capability (think Healing Aura a la the Dragon Shaman) that allows him the flexibility to use his abilities in other ways, but still extends the "5-Minute Workday" and still affords him the opportunity to really max out healing when the opportunity calls for it.

What do you think?
Have you witnessed the 5-Minute Workday syndrome?
How would you combat this tendency?
What sort of innovations or concepts do you think will be implemented to account for this?

What sort of innovations or concepts do you think will be implemented to account for this?[/COLOR]
[/b]

A fair distribution of /day, /encounter, at-will abilities.:D
Though I think the "5-minute workday" concept is way over simplified - it is much more likely a party rests after 2-4 encounters if they are designed right - the idea of fixing the problem has strong merits. I think you cover the bases for what will be done wrt wizards and clerics to avoid this issue.

Seeing as this is more of a problem for low-level PCs, specifically spellcasters, I am interested bordering on worried as to how these can be implemented successfully to balance the classes over 30 levels. The fighting classes will gain some useful abilities, but in the end they will still be able to fight normally when those are used. Spellcasters will lose abilities compared to 3e to compensate for "infinite" use magic, and I have my doubts that the whole will work any better than in any previous edition. I often enjoyed the resource mgt part of the game, even if it meant "holding back" in case a tougher foe was around the corner. The game may become more fun in individual encounters, but that is no guarantee to me that the game will be better overall. If "wizard shoots his crossbow" gets replaced by "wizard uses eldritch blast," what has really changed in the long run?
I think their gradual move away from per-day to focus more on per-encounter will help. However, I greatly prefer RPG and game systems that are nearly entirely per-encounter balanced, so that the players don't have to rest unless A) they're tired because they've been up all day or B) they've taken a particularly grievous injury, the sort that doesn't happen every five minutes.

It seems 4e will still be a little too frightened to completely remove the sacred cows that some of them want to. They say they're not removing Vancian casting, just "making it a smaller part of the game". And they're not removing per-day abilities and constant resting, they're just "making it a smaller part of the game".

So I predict that for maximum power, players will still feel some pressure to rest after every encounter, but they will no longer feel like they have to do it.
Well, besides the several mechanical differences between firing a crossbow and using eldrich blast, the latter lets the wizards feel like he's still operating within the scope of his abilities. Pulling out a crossbow and wasting bolts is not a very wizardly thing to do. In addition, assuming the eldrich blast type abilities pack the punch that they ought to, they wizard can rely on them more often and not feel obligated to pour through their more powerful abilities every encounter.
The trick is time-sensitive adventures. Like those that always seem to occur when I'm playing the wizard or cleric...
How would you combat this tendency?

Quite simply the solution is to get rid of X/day abilities. If resting doesn't recharge your powers, then people won't want to rest after every battle.

Change X/day to X/adventure and you're set. Now there's little to be gained by fighting things one battle between rest periods. As long as X/day exists, this problem will exist. It's a natural consequence of the mechanic.

The idea is to design mechanics that support the kind of play you want. So if you don't want people doing fight + rest, then don't reward it. Maybe resting restores HP and that's it, no spells. So if you blow your X/adventure spells all in the beginning, you're stuck for the rest of the story with your at will and per encounter abilities only.
Well I think the idea is to let the x/day options be there for emergencies, not to fell like they are absolutely necessary. Sure you will still have parties that feel the need to rest between every fight, hopefully with the new rules they won't feel so compelled to do so.

And as some one mentioned it makes time sensitive adventures and more dynamic dungeons more feasible. I personally find it odd that every "dungeon" the PCs go through is just full of monster and other enemies patiently waiting to get killed and looted. Going home for the day or trying to hole up in a empty room in said dungeons shouldn't always be an option.
I always felt it annoying that I had to include "safe rooms" for the PC's to camp out in so that the Sorcerer could get his spells back. We were constantly having to go to sleep at like noon so the Sorcerer wouldn't stay useless. And shooting his crossbow? Thats like the fighter running out of "sword-swings" and him having to throw rocks.
[b]What do you think?

I think the whole thing is to make the video games better, not game play. A good GM see that the party faces three combats time to time before resting. A cleric/wizard should keep the power dry to needed. One reason some might see the wizard/cleric to powerful is the fact the GM is letting them unload all a higher level spells in each combat, every combat, in the first rounds.
Now, I give up that the whole nerfing of the buff spells duration in 3.5 leads to needing to rest more. One reason as a GM I set them to a 10 min per level. As a player ask for the same thing to happen.

[COLOR="DarkRed"]Have you witnessed the 5-Minute Workday syndrome?

As a GM. I had to kill a party for going back to rest. Start of a new game and world, The party blow though the first combat. The Wizard unloads everything and then whines about it being to easy. I pointed out that was just the start of the sewer way and there just might be more goblin ahead. He demands the party go back to town and rest. I see where this is going as more goblins were coming to see what the noise is all about. I tell them you all made a lot of noise. They still go back to town ant way - ALL CAMP AT THE MOUTH OF THE SEWERS! It going badly after that. The ranger fells his spot ..... Two players fall their rolls and are a sleep one round to many ... It was a mess

How would you combat this tendency?

Let the die land as they roll. No Gm made "safe" rooms. The players make them safe!

What sort of innovations or concepts do you think will be implemented to account for this?

None I can think if but making the spell durations longer like in 3.0
A good GM

No offense to Orc Food, but I get sick of seeing people use this. Not everyone is a good GM. But it should be possible for people to be the GM without being born with a special talent, or having that magical set of circumstances happen to them in life that make them good. I'm not saying the game should be made equal for all GMs, but those who aren't great should still be able to make it work.
No offense to Orc Food, but I get sick of seeing people use this. Not everyone is a good GM. But it should be possible for people to be the GM without being born with a special talent, or having that magical set of circumstances happen to them in life that make them good. I'm not saying the game should be made equal for all GMs, but those who aren't great should still be able to make it work.

Going off topic but good GMing just takes time and running games. you can become a good GM. I am a OK GM right now. Ever time I run I get a bit better. The way you wrote your letter hints to me you are starting out. Find your self thinking "what to do now" Reading about Gming helped me a lot. Cart Law puts out a great GM book and DM's guide 2 is a good starting GM book to read.

How to say this ,,, I played under "Good" GMs that after a time .. I would never play under again if I can help it. They had the talent and the rules down. Sadly ... Some favored some players over others. Some could not let themselves "lose" to the players. They keep putting the party in can't win most run away combats. Left a game after both combats under him lead to the party running, and the 3th combat had more bad guys attack us as we run for it. Left the group but hated it as the roleplay was really great. That GM could always get new players but could not see why players kept leaving. Some GMs that know the rules but did/do not follow them because the story should not end/go that way, etc.

I would play under a fair bad GM over a good unfair one any day. Hope that helps you get better and feel better about your game.
Sometimes, though, a game is just a bit more than it is possible to handle.

Plus some of us like the idea that the game will be designed without a certain number of encounter in a day. Why does there need to be an assumption? If the system is kept the same then having just one encounter in the day does mean "5-minute workday".
No offense to Orc Food, but I get sick of seeing people use this. Not everyone is a good GM. But it should be possible for people to be the GM without being born with a special talent, or having that magical set of circumstances happen to them in life that make them good. I'm not saying the game should be made equal for all GMs, but those who aren't great should still be able to make it work.

Exactly. And what about the "good GM" who doesn't want to spend most of his time fighting with a poorly-designed ruleset? I'm a "good GM" myself -- I'm not bragging here; I just work hard to try and insure that my players and I all have a good time, and I'm proud to say that more often that not my efforts pay off -- and while I can wrestle an entertaining session out of a flawed system, I'd rather not do that. I'd much rather the professional game designers do their job and provide me with the best tools they can. After all, that's what I pay them to do when I buy their books.

A good pilot can land a plane with one engine and all her instruments burned out, but isn't it better if she's flying a mechanically sound aircraft in the first place so she doesn't have to land like that?

A well designed game shouldn't require a good GM. A well designed game should help an average GM to present a fun session to her players and let a good GM craft something truly memorable. Not to mention the fact that the less that average GM has to fight with the system she's running, the easier it is for her to become a good GM.
No offense to Orc Food, but I get sick of seeing people use this. Not everyone is a good GM.

Yeah, me too. Especially when the apparent duty of a good GM in this case (at least according to Orc Food) is to TPK his players for resting.

Also, his players were morons. Resting at the edge of the dungeon... Why not just go to the inn. That prevents the monsters from coming and killing you in the first place. Let me tell you, against players who aren't fools, there is little you can do as a DM aside from assigning time constraints. Smart players will teleport hundreds of miles away to rest, rest in a rope trick, or simply go back to town. And there isn't much you can do at all as a DM.
Quite simply the solution is to get rid of X/day abilities. If resting doesn't recharge your powers, then people won't want to rest after every battle.

Change X/day to X/adventure and you're set. Now there's little to be gained by fighting things one battle between rest periods. As long as X/day exists, this problem will exist. It's a natural consequence of the mechanic.

The idea is to design mechanics that support the kind of play you want. So if you don't want people doing fight + rest, then don't reward it. Maybe resting restores HP and that's it, no spells. So if you blow your X/adventure spells all in the beginning, you're stuck for the rest of the story with your at will and per encounter abilities only.

But adventures can have extremely variable lengths, and it's not always easy to say when one ends and the other begins. I suppose X/level would get at the same kind of idea.

You could also imagine a system of X/(game session) abilities. Seems sort of metagamy, but it also seems like what you would really want for purposes of fun... you know you're going to get to pop out your awesome move every time you play, but you still have to think hard about when to do it.
But adventures can have extremely variable lengths, and it's not always easy to say when one ends and the other begins. I suppose X/level would get at the same kind of idea.

Especially long adventures could just be broken into chapters. So for instance if you were doing Lord of the Rings, Fellowship would be chapter 1, and heroes recharge after that, Then Two Towers and then Return of the King. But hopefully X/adventure abilities aren't super essential so wizards can get by without them.

X/level works too.

You could also imagine a system of X/(game session) abilities. Seems sort of metagamy, but it also seems like what you would really want for purposes of fun... you know you're going to get to pop out your awesome move every time you play, but you still have to think hard about when to do it.

No, I don't like that. It's a system that rewards PCs for playing slowly. That's not good for anyone.

Also it's unbalanced, some game sessions last 10 hours, some last 3-4. So you're not even sure what X/game session means.
So how long is an adventure supposed to last in the X/adventure system?

There is a major problem with that idea: DM thinks "adventure" in game-world time will last three days. But PCs bumble around for an extra day stil using up some of they're abilities. Now they are too low for the rest of the adventure. So the PCs get screwed because they didn't stick to the DM's carefully designed script?

And X/level? How much world time per each level? I'll have you know I've had games where level=adventure.
It's literally never been a problem. Part of it is that my players are impatient...they'd rather forge ahead and take a risk of being TPK'd then simply play it safe and rest more. The only exception is when they're REALLY hurt, and even then they don't always.

The second reason is that ever since I gave up straight-up dungeon crawling (like Keep on the Borderlands) where monsters just sit in little rooms, all my adventures have been story-driven and time sensitive. If the players decide to go home in the middle of it? Adventure's pretty much over...by the time they rest and go back to where they left off, the villains/NPCs have been doing things, and the situation that made it an adventure is over. The only exception is a "lair raid", where the villain isn't going to pack up and leave...but if the PCs have recovered resources, so have the villains...and they've improved their defenses, added traps, are now on higher alert, etc etc.

Basically, in most adventures I can recall, it rarely if ever paid for the PCs to go home and rest. If a behavior is not rewarding, your players won't do it. Simple.

(note: we never used the "rope trick" trick. I thought it sucked, so it didn't work.)
One of the things I've been working on as a DM is the single session adventure. Our group has trouble getting together regularly so I design and run 4 to 6 encounter adventures in a town/city setting. I did this mainly to avoid the dragging along PC as NPC problem, the only characters along are the ones belonging to the PCs at the table. The adventures are usually time sensitive and the players have a pretty good feel of how they need to manage their stuff to make it last.

One thing my players became good at is the scribe scroll technique. Scrolls are extremely cheap to make in terms of both xp and cash. They can also be purchased. Don't have the spell memorized? Out of spells? That's okay, we have scrolls available. Down on HP? That's okay, we horde potions.

All of this requires a pro-active party and a pro-active DM. If either or both don't prepare ahead of time, the rules as they stand encourage the "5 minute workday." A reworking of the rules can only cure part of the problem. A poorly played party is always going to want that short day because that one once per day ability is too good. A poorly played DM will encourage the short workday by always hitting the players with encounters that are too hard to win without using all available assets.

Rules can only go part of the way on this issue.
Rules can only go part of the way on this issue.

But they still have farther to go to meet halfway. As they currently stand the party has to make all the effort to make the assumed day work.
I also never had the problem of the 5 minute workday...except of course when it makes sense. Like when the party got hit hard and had to rest(remember adventuring isn't like working at a desk job or something...if a person fought 5 minutes a day they would propably ber thinking of resting too).

Though the propblem is too many DMs are afraid to hit the party while at low strength.

In all honestly I didn't always run encounters 4 a day module but I did enough for the PCs to realize that they shouldn't blow their loads on the first combat of the day.

The fact they are still going have 1/day abilities means to me that days of the "5 minute workday" are reaching their middle...because as always they will be groups out there that will blow their load in the 1st combat and seek to rest after it for the next day. And there will be DMs who let their PCs get away with it.
I don't think the rules should be built around eliminating or curbing this "5 minute workday." Especially because it is only a problem if you let it be one.

If players want to rest after every encounter that's there business. They are entitled to play their characters as they see fit. Resting should not always be possible however. Is there any campaign world where everyone and everything stops moving because the PC's are at rest? Hopefully not. The villains plans are that much further ahead. The helpful knight just left town. Foods gone, winters coming, the goblins attack the camp. Its up to the DM to run his/her game, of course the players are hopefully enjoying it.

@Howland Reed. This is the way I like to run my games and I can say the same, that the 5 mWd has not been a problem.
And this is not to say that I am always running my Hero's against the clock. They can make their time to rest and re-group, but they often are wanting to see what's around the next corner for their own sake.

Make the story and your world pull your Pc's away from the 5Mwd, not the rules.
So how long is an adventure supposed to last in the X/adventure system?

There is no preset time. That's the whole point. You dont' measure recovery time in days, weeks, whatever, but in story units. So the adventure ends whenever you happen to achieve your goal.

So if the quest is rescue the princess, you get your points back after you bring the princess back home safely, then you start another story next time back at full abilities.


So the PCs get screwed because they didn't stick to the DM's carefully designed script?

Well, PCs do get screwed if they fail to accomplish the quest efficiently. A X/adventure system really encourages PCs to try to solve the quest, whatever it might be. So they want to get to the Holy grail as soon as possible as opposed to wasting time doing other stuff.

And X/level? How much world time per each level? I'll have you know I've had games where level=adventure.

Again, time isn't a factor. With a per level setup it's based entirely on how many encounters you've got. An adventure based in a ruin may have people leveling up in a day of adventuring. An adventure about an epic journey across the continent may have people level up every 3 weeks. It really doesn't matter though, because only encounters deplete your resources, so 3 weeks of uneventful travel isn't going to matter.

The idea is that abilities refresh according to story units, not real-time units. So it doesn't matter if it's weeks or even months later, if nothing eventful happens in the story in that time, then your abilities don't come back.
I don't think the rules should be built around eliminating or curbing this "5 minute workday." Especially because it is only a problem if you let it be one.

If players want to rest after every encounter that's there business. They are entitled to play their characters as they see fit.

I see you haven't ever had the problem of DMing for a nova party...

Believe me, if they're smart and story-apathetic enough, then it's a real pain to DM for them.
There is a really simple answer; don't have anything per-day, per-adventure, per-level or anything that long. Plenty of game systems do that and they work just fine. Some systems do any of the following:

1) Have everything basically balanced per-encounter, where you only need a quick minute of rest to get back to full health. Many RPG systems and most video games use this method.

2) Don't rely on a particular idea of needing to rest each day; instead have powerful actions have a chance of causing some harm that will eventually build up and require down time. For example, systems where you can cast spells all day long without ever running out, but each time there's a chance you might injure yourself or get Paradox (Mage: The Ascension) or something similar. In this case you go much longer without absolutely needing rest, and usually just recover when the adventure-segment is over and you're back in a safe town for a few days.

3) Balance things around consumables or points of some sort instead of rest cycles. In some games, there isn't a healer class, and instead you have to spend gold to buy health and mana potions. You can't heal by resting. So if you want to nova every fight, it costs you more money. Gold is only one resource that can be used; there are also blood point in Vampire, or things like luck dice, fate points, action points in Eberron, etc. Things that encourage you to not nova because you are paying a resource to do it.

There are other ways as well... but, I doubt WotC really wants to get rid of the idea of resting all the time, as to most people it's a sacred cow.
Exactly. And what about the "good GM" who doesn't want to spend most of his time fighting with a poorly-designed ruleset? I'm a "good GM" myself -- I'm not bragging here; I just work hard to try and insure that my players and I all have a good time, and I'm proud to say that more often that not my efforts pay off -- and while I can wrestle an entertaining session out of a flawed system, I'd rather not do that. I'd much rather the professional game designers do their job and provide me with the best tools they can. After all, that's what I pay them to do when I buy their books.

A good pilot can land a plane with one engine and all her instruments burned out, but isn't it better if she's flying a mechanically sound aircraft in the first place so she doesn't have to land like that?

A well designed game shouldn't require a good GM. A well designed game should help an average GM to present a fun session to her players and let a good GM craft something truly memorable. Not to mention the fact that the less that average GM has to fight with the system she's running, the easier it is for her to become a good GM.

I just wanted to say this was an excellent post and I agree 100% -- it would be more if I could! It seems there are a lot of people on the boards that don't understand this (and they frustrate me repeatedly).
No offense to Orc Food, but I get sick of seeing people use this. Not everyone is a good GM. But it should be possible for people to be the GM without being born with a special talent, or having that magical set of circumstances happen to them in life that make them good. I'm not saying the game should be made equal for all GMs, but those who aren't great should still be able to make it work.

Yes, I want a prefect system as well. In 20 years of gaming I can tell you it is not going to happen. You named it and I have payed it and GM some of it. I have been looking for it about 10 GMing years now.

By the way the wizard player in the TPK was testing me!!!! He was a nova player. I never had that problem again. He was seeing if I would hit the party at low str.

Everthing Yeth said is true. I well add again ... let the die fall as they roll. Think out your timeline and who well do what and when. Do not fix it in stone but things still happen. Yeth wrote it out better than I could.

To all who it well help. I see that the forms has a "what is a GM to do" threads. Read some of them to become a better GM.
I see you haven't ever had the problem of DMing for a nova party...
Believe me, if they're smart and story-apathetic enough, then it's a real pain to DM for them.

Excuse my ignorance, but what is a "nova party?" Anyone?
Everthing Yeth said is true. I well add again ... let the die fall as they roll. Think out your timeline and who well do what and when. Do not fix it in stone but things still happen. Yeth wrote it out better than I could.

So don't try to design the adventure to account for PC abilities but to simply be the story you wish to tell? So it's okay to surprise the party with a hellishly difficult encounter which they have no chance of winning because that's what you want to see happen?

I though the job of the GM was to run a game where everyone had fun, and that meant that they needed to take into account what the PCs could and could not do, how often they could do it, etc.
To all who it well help. I see that the forms has a "what is a GM to do" threads. Read some of them to become a better GM.

Unfortunately the idea that anyone can utilize advice is wrong: some of us are going to be bumbling around even with it. In fact, in my case if I read too much I get even worse because I have to make sure I'm following all of it.
Excuse my ignorance, but what is a "nova party?" Anyone?

I took it as old time power gamers. In my case of the TPK. A player 10 years older and 8 year longer as a gamer. If you read knights ... A Brian.

As to the "story"
Sadly, I could tell you better then write it. I need/use a timeline -- NOT a story. Story GMs tend to already made they mind on what is going to happen. Also my players have fun. A to easy game is not a fun game. There is a middle ground to all of this. I think others have put it better on this thread.

I learn by running and reading, having players that GMed helps. No system I have seen is going to do that for you. All I can say about it.
Excuse my ignorance, but what is a "nova party?" Anyone?

To "nova" means to use up a lot of limited resources in a short period of time, usually dealing out lots of damage (or other effects) but leaving yourself relatively powerless afterwards. Often used for wizards, but other sorts of classes could potentially have this problem.
Excuse my ignorance, but what is a "nova party?" Anyone?

As Draschasor said, "nova" means to use all your highest levels spells and per-day abilities in a single combat. A "nova party" would do this consistently, and rest after every single combat. If they're allowed to do this, then they can take on challenges much higher than a similar party that doesn't rest after every combat.

The thing about D&D is there's no actual rule anywhere saying you can't rest every five minutes or after every battle. Most DM's and parties just agree it seems sort of unheroic and unrealistic, so they sort of work around it and try, in a vague sort of way, to only rest every two or three battles instead.

You can only really force non-resting if you make an adventure time-sensitive (and it would be annoying to make every single adventure a race against the clock), or if you make lots of long dungeons where it's unsafe to rest (this is unrealistic too, and once you reach mid levels, players have lots of tricks to rest in even the craziest environments, from rope trick to Mordenkainen's Mansion to just teleporting out and back.)
The thing about D&D is there's no actual rule anywhere saying you can't rest every five minutes or after every battle. Most DM's and parties just agree it seems sort of unheroic and unrealistic, so they sort of work around it and try, in a vague sort of way, to only rest every two or three battles instead.

You can only really force non-resting if you make an adventure time-sensitive (and it would be annoying to make every single adventure a race against the clock), or if you make lots of long dungeons where it's unsafe to rest (this is unrealistic too, and once you reach mid levels, players have lots of tricks to rest in even the craziest environments, from rope trick to Mordenkainen's Mansion to just teleporting out and back.)

Yeah it's rather pointless trying to stop people from resting. There are so many easy ways in D&D to hide or disengage your foes. It's alot easier to just treat the disease rather than the symptoms.

If resting doesn't help the PCs, then you don't have this problem.

Just don't have per day abilities and you're fine.
No per day abilities can be a bit boring though. You want the PCs to have some reason to rest now and then, otherwise they never will.

I think if you make resting not give you that much, then it will be rare. So there's a middle ground where resting will give you some abilities back, but not enough to be worth stopping the adventure instead of continuing on. Especially true if you might encounter monsters that interrupt resting. Just keep resting from giving you so much power relative to your current levels that it is insane not to rest, and you should be fine.
I played under "Good" GMs that after a time .. I would never play under again if I can help it. They had the talent and the rules down. Sadly ... Some favored some players over others. Some could not let themselves "lose" to the players.

Those aren't good GMs. Let me repeat that: Those aren't good GMs.

Rules knowledge and roleplaying ability are only two characteristics of good GMs. Frankly, with knowledgeable players, rules knowledge becomes the least important. Fairness and a dedication to everyone having fun is far more important.

IMO, YMMV, etc.
By all appearances I think the per day will be limited in scope to the more fantastic abilities of a spellcasters potential. This is good, and shouldn't continue the old cycle of the 5 minute workday.

Per Encounter will be the most used tactical spells in the casters arsenal, likely buffs and high damage magic ala fireball. These will likely resemble the Force Powers abilities in scope, modifiable by Action Points and the like.

Hopefully the can achieve their goal...
No per day abilities can be a bit boring though. You want the PCs to have some reason to rest now and then, otherwise they never will.

Yeah, you want some special abilities the PCs can bust out when things are tough. But these are what per adventure abilities are for. And it really doesn't matter how long you rest or what, the adventure doesn't progress until you progress it, so you can't get your abilities back that way.
2) Don't rely on a particular idea of needing to rest each day; instead have powerful actions have a chance of causing some harm that will eventually build up and require down time. For example, systems where you can cast spells all day long without ever running out, but each time there's a chance you might injure yourself or get Paradox (Mage: The Ascension) or something similar. In this case you go much longer without absolutely needing rest, and usually just recover when the adventure-segment is over and you're back in a safe town for a few days.

Ultimately, this is the same fundamental mechanic with a different veneer.

Once we get to adventure scale, D&D is a game of attrition. You win when you attrit your opponent's resources below some critical threshold. These resources are most obviously hp, but they can also be X/day or global abilities (global abilities are items such as potions and wands that aren't specifically limited in quantity).

Attrition can also be nested. I have a concept of "attrition cycles", which are points at which your attritionable resources reset. At the lowest level, one can consider a round to be an attrition cycle: you have a certain number of actions and non-action activities in a round, and they reset every round. However, running out of "per round" resources usually doesn't signal defeat, so we'll move up to the next level, the encounter.

Even without Tome of Battle, encounters are an attrition contest in D&D. hp can be refreshed during an encounter (usually by trading on higher level resources), but for the most part an encounter runs hit points down and then you repair everyone up at the end with slower spells and effects like neutralise poison and the ubiquitous wand of cure light wounds. A few other abilities are per-encounter.

At the top is the daily attrition cycle, where all the per-day abilties reset. Sometimes, this is synonymous with per-adventure, although a multi-day adventure might be its own attrition cycle when consumables are considered.


There's not fundamentally a difference between having X uses of an ability and having indefinite uses, each of which confers a penalty Y. In either case, the important question is "when does it reset?". Though the incrementing penalties model is more flexible in that the user has a more interesting tradeoff. A slight exception is "all or nothing" penalties - you can do this indefinitely but there's a 30% chance of losing it permanently for the rest of the cycle. If significant enough, these are a pain to balance, since they are highly luck-sensitive.
3) Balance things around consumables or points of some sort instead of rest cycles.

Non-cyclic stuff has a bunch of problems of its own. Either it's cheap enough that it's effectively unlimited (wand of cure light wounds), or its expensive enough that it's "emergencies only". It's hard to get a meaningful value equation on such resources.


Let me jump in and say that I believe moving more stuff per-encounter is a good thing. But I also believe that it's important to have those higher level attrition cycles, for three reasons:

(1) Encounters are more tactically interesting when there is a strategic cost to them. The existence of limited resources that you can pull in to tip a specific encounter in your favour rewards efficient play - if you can pass one encounter without calling on those resources then the next is potentially easier.

(2) Without strategic resources, encounter scaling is completely outside the player's control. Every encounter becomes independent, and PCs with their sandboxed resource set can't devote more or less resources to scale with difficulty.

(3) Encounters become episodic. If an easy and a nail-biting victory leave me in exactly the same state once my resources refresh, I lose any sense of continuity in the adventure. It becomes a series of encounters, not a unified whole.
Ultimately, this is the same fundamental mechanic with a different veneer.

I agree they can be similar, but I think there is an important difference. With a known per-day ability, like "You can cast fireball 4 times a day", the player knows he can cast it exactly 4 times, and if he thinks he has a good chance to rest after the given combat, he has no incentive to not cast all 4 fireballs. With a system like "Every time you cast a fireball, you have to roll to see if you take damage", the player doesn't know exactly how many times he can cast it. He might be able to cast it a hundred times without ever taking damage, or he might injure himself so severely after two castings that daring for a third might just kill him. It makes it so that something that is currently very predictable (There's almost no reason not to blow all your high level spells if you think you're going to go to sleep soon) to something dangerous; which means you won't casually throw them around if you don't really need to. Of course, if you have ubiquitous Cure Light Wounds wands then the HP damage example doesn't work so well, but there are ways to make a system that is balanced around the idea of possible danger instead of set numbers.

There's also a more subtle psychological feel between the two. For something like "You have 4 fireballs per day", it seems wasteful if you don't cast all 4 fireballs every day. Players feel as if they have to use those abilities they leveled up for or they're not realizing their full potential. In something like "Fireball might damage you", players don't really feel the need to cast it as much, in fact, they might feel psychologically compelled to not casually cast it even if they know they'll probably get healed soon, just because the idea of doing something that will probably backfire without having a good reason goes against intuition.

Non-cyclic stuff has a bunch of problems of its own. Either it's cheap enough that it's effectively unlimited (wand of cure light wounds), or its expensive enough that it's "emergencies only". It's hard to get a meaningful value equation on such resources.

It's hard, I'll agree, but so is almost any sort of game balance. I don't think per-day abilities is necessarily any easier, and a trip to the Char Op boards will show that 3.5 is easily broken even without any equipment.

(1) Encounters are more tactically interesting when there is a strategic cost to them. The existence of limited resources that you can pull in to tip a specific encounter in your favour rewards efficient play - if you can pass one encounter without calling on those resources then the next is potentially easier.

(2) Without strategic resources, encounter scaling is completely outside the player's control. Every encounter becomes independent, and PCs with their sandboxed resource set can't devote more or less resources to scale with difficulty.

I agree, but I don't think "per-day" is a good way to present a limited resource. It is only limited in a few cases: when the PC's are on a race against the clock (which you can't do all the time), or they're in a dangerous place with no way to safely rest (which is hard to do once they get to mid levels). I think consumables are easier to handle and make more sense to many players.

(3) Encounters become episodic. If an easy and a nail-biting victory leave me in exactly the same state once my resources refresh, I lose any sense of continuity in the adventure. It becomes a series of encounters, not a unified whole.

This is true, but I think if I wanted to stress the idea of attrition I'd want more of an overhaul to D&D than would be acceptable. I like the idea of someone getting wounded and the party needing to retreat, but D&D handles almost every wound as something you just cure instantly with your CLW wand. I feel like the idea of being exhausted or battered or severely wounded all make literary sense, but D&D makes all of that a simple per-encounter problem, and makes "attrition" almost entirely the result of a party's wizard running out of prepared high level spells for the day, which still feels slightly ridiculous and uninteresting to me, despite the years of playing D&D.

So, I'm with you on trying to implement a system that allows a lot of per-encounter balance while still allowing the possibility to wear the party down by attrition, but I don't like the flavor of attrition being almost entirely based around spells or other abilities that for mostly unexplained reasons can only be used a set number of times per day.
I agree they can be similar, but I think there is an important difference. With a known per-day ability, like "You can cast fireball 4 times a day", the player knows he can cast it exactly 4 times ...

Agree. I like the concept where using the ability causes random attrition. I also like the concept where it's not simply X times, but "well, you can go more or less than X, but the more you do the worse it will be". I think "overdriving" in general is a fun mechanic, where you need to decide if the cost is greater than the desperation.

I'm just pointing out that it doesn't get around "per-day" attrition. Unless you mean it to be a "per-encounter" ability where a "tougher" encounter will push further into the danger zone? If so, is there any persistent penalty, or does the penalty also reset "per-encounter"?