Expanding PC Rests in 4e or “4e – 4 Rests”

As you may have noticed by now I’m a fan of 4th Edition D&D. Seriously, if you haven’t picked up on this you should not consider a career as a detective. It’s an edition that is much maligned by both ends. The OSR crowd says it is pen & paper WoW pandering. Those people entrenched in 3.X and Pathfinder guffaw at its lack of depth and minutiae. Others just stayed with the MMOs, Diablo clones and other, faster digital offerings in RPGs. It suffered plenty of setbacks, mismanagement, non-existent long-term support, and is riddled with power creep issues. Despite its flaws there is a good, solid system at its core and it’s still my number one choice if I want to run a game with a heavy emphasis on tactical combat.

One of the major difficulties I’ve read and spoken with other people about concerning RPGs, especially 4e, is the weathering of resources. Because 4e’s strength is in its ability to build and run balanced combat encounters there was/is a need for PCs to be relatively the same strength whether it’s the first fight of the day or the fifth. But I empathize; you don’t want to be forced to run 4-5 extensive, time-consuming pitched battle encounters just to exhaust an adventuring party. It’s especially so when they’re only 6 hours of sleep away from being completely refreshed and ready to do it again. A lot of DMs throw in the towel here, get frustrated, and go on the search again for the unicorn rules system, that one perfect storm of RPG that does all aspects of RPG perfect, every time, right out of the box.

It doesn’t exist, have a good cry and get over it. The sooner you do the sooner you’ll be happier with your games. I may sound like a broken record but it’s always worth repeating, choose a rules system that complements the type of game you want to play. If I want to run an intrigue at the royal court cloak and dagger game 4e D&D is going to make that very difficult. I don’t go for a jog in flip-flops; different activity, different shoe.

Now that you’ve had your pity party we can get to work. Game masters are the analog equivalent of a video game’s modding community. If the system works for almost everything you need but one or two minor bits, rewrite the mechanics. Assuming you’ve run games from behind the screen for a while you should be intimate enough with game mechanics to get under the hood and make some changes. One piece of advice? Use the KISS method, Keep It Simple Stupid. If it seems to simple and easy it probably is, but until someone proves it to be otherwise don’t go out of your way to make things more difficult than they already are.

Let’s get practical.

Don’t want to make every fight a set piece, epic battle worthy of “O Fortuna” as BGM? Well let’s whittle down 4e’s health system. First of all WoTC went out of its way to screw this up by injecting the toxic waste of surge-less healing into the system via Divine Power. The healing surge system worked adequately in the beginning, Divine Power’s new ability to get back free HP (Something 4e was explicitly designed not to do, just look up the original Cure Wounds power in PHB as proof) set a dumb, OP precedent for leaders. Fourth Edition’s healing is already screwed up so you don’t have to worry about breaking a perfectly good mechanic! Hooray?

I think most people who criticize this aspect of 4e have hit it right on the nose. The problem with 4e, is its rest system. A group of PCs fight off some orcs, take a 15 minute rest and they’re effectively the same as if the fight never happened. Unless you’re throwing things at a party so multiple PCs are blowing multiple dailies between extended rests the adventuring party’s power is the same at the beginning and end of the day.

I’ve seen a number of different people tackle this problem in a dozen different fashions, many making it more cumbersome than needed. The simplest and probably easiest is solution is do away with PCs being able to heal willy nilly by expending surges whenever they want during a rest. This has some underlying, long term obstacles but as a short term fix it’s probably the easiest and simplest way to cover it. Ta da, you’re done. Good for you!


I want something a little meatier, a lot of 4e mechanic stuff deals with the resource management aspect of healing surges. So I want to keep them around because A) I think HP surges are a cool and useful mechanic B) they are seriously important to some race/class/disease/ritual/item/etc. mechanics.

So of course I need to see where we’ve been to know where to go. So take some time and review what actually happens during those pesky short and extended rests.

Short Rest (~15 Minutes)

Characters can spend healing surges freely to regain HP up to their max, they recharge all encounter powers, and they gain an action point if it’s a milestone.

Extended Rest (~4/6 Hours)

Characters heal their HP to max, they regain all their surges, their action points reset to one, they recharge all their encounter powers, and they recharge all their daily powers.

That’s not a lot of variety in resting bonuses. So I took some time to review the individual bits of each rest and then applied some of my own knowledge from extended backpacking trips. I may not have had the misfortune of skirmishing with orcs on a regular basis but I do have a general understanding of travel by foot. Putting these bits together I developed a four rest dynamic for 4e. Ha, 4E: 4Rests, got the title anyhow. The types of rests from least beneficial to most are as follows: Short Break, Long Break, Camp, and Room & Board.

Short Break

A short break lasts around five minutes. It allows time to get a drink of water, lets a PC catch his breath, and that’s about it. This is a standing break, the PCs do not drop their equipment, sit down, or try to find a piece of gear in the bottom of their pack.

  • PCs can spend one healing surge
  • PCs recharge one encounter power
  • PCs gain an action point if this constitutes a milestone

Long Break

A long break is approximately half an hour. A long break allows the group to slough their gear, sit, and take food and water. Essentially it’s a meal break while traveling. It also affords enough time for the group make adjustments to gear, check their path, and discuss plans.

  • PCs can spend up to two healing surges
  • PCs recharge all encounter powers
  • PCs gain an action point if this constitutes a milestone


Camping is a rest that takes a considerable amount of time. Temporary living arrangements are made including pitching tents, laying out bedrolls, making fires, cooking meals, mending gear, and other activities that require focus, time, and cannot be completed while walking. Camping requires at least enough time for all characters to gain a full night’s rest (4 – 8 hours depending on race).

  • PCs regain HP as if they spent 3 healing surges, up to max HP
  • PCs regain one healing surge
  • PCs recharge all encounter powers
  • PCs recharge one daily power
  • PCs’ action points reset to one

Room & Board

There’s nothing quite like the luxuries of civilization, even if those luxuries only include a moldy straw mattress and yesterday’s room temperature gruel. Room & Board requires characters gain a full night’s rest (4 – 8 hours depending on race) with the comforts of civilization including a permanent shelter, basic amenities, and at least one meal.

  • PCs regain HP up to max HP
  • PCs regain all healing surges
  • PCs recharge all encounter powers
  • PCs recharge all daily powers
  • PCs’ action points reset to one

With the ways characters recover broken down into four different types of rest you can have more dynamic in your travels. If PCs encounter rigors while traveling in the wilderness they recuperate HP as they rest in Camp mode but only regain some of their HP surge reserves. In this way any travel difficulties costing a character more than one surge per day will inexorably wear them down. In 4e the average PC has roughly 8 surges. A full week of travel on the road with some interspersed fights and no inn stays will show the PCs mechanically weathered by the events.

Concerning Long Breaks you should use DM Fiat if the group decides they are going to take a Long Breaks multiple times per day. In general a party should have breakfast before striking camp and dinner once they set camp. The only substantial break they will take while traveling is to take food, lunch. At most a group will only take a Long Break twice a day. If your group decides they want to take copious long breaks in rapid succession you can decide either to add extra time to the journey, chew through their rations, or they receive no benefit greater than a Short Break.

Well, that’s about the thick of it. Try it out in your games and see if it helps you roll back some of the need for constant combat in 4e. If you like it let me know, if you have a question or would like to get my opinion about another topic drop it in the comments. You can also find me on Twitter and G+ if you feel the need to pretend we’re BFFs.

3 Replies to “Expanding PC Rests in 4e or “4e – 4 Rests””

  1. I get the feeling you like 4e, but can you tell me ‘why’ its better system then 3rd? I mean its a lot les ‘realistic’ if you can apply such a world to a fantasy game. I think the #1 reason I have gone out of my way to steel clear of it was healing surges and the rest rules. and it doesn’t make any difference to the role-playing aspect of the game which hasn’t truly changed since 1st edition apart from skills of course. 4th edition just seems a little watered down, i may be way off here I’ve never run a 4e but it seems to be overly simplified like there trying to compete with people who spend there days crammed in games workshop.

    • Thanks for the interest Michael.

      I have in previous posts I think been pretty explicit in why I personally prefer 4e to 3.X/PF, but it is that: a matter of personal preference. The 3.X framework is not a bad system; it’s a perfectly adequate system for the archetypal D&D game.

      Before going further I note from your post that you avoided 4e rather than play it. I play 4e regularly and I have a regular PF game, I sincerely don’t care enough to be involved in any edition wars. Or system wars for that matter.

      Fourth edition is less than realistic, but as D&D has renewed itself it has focused more on being a game and less on being a simulation. That vague HP exists as a core mechanic across the editions kind of throws out realism. I don’t think anyone really wants to play D&D, Oregon Trail edition where your PC is 80% more likely to die from dysentery than wandering monsters.

      But it’s two sides of the same coin. For you it may seem watered down but others find it streamlined. You probably find 3.X/PF robust and comprehensive where I see it as needlessly cumbersome and overcomplicated.

      4e was designed to try and bring new blood into the hobby, people who are more familiar with digital gaming. The hobby has a declining population, old blood dies and new blood hasn’t taken to the older design.

      There is much more that went into 4e’s initial design than looking to create a new and ‘better’ rules set for current Dungeons and Dragons players.

      Hopefully that was helpful.