Session Forty: GM Commentary

One interesting thing about these last two fights is that the party battled 2 gongorinan qlippoths, went back up to rest, then returned to battle two more, and now is going back up to rest. Chris touched on it a bit in his comments for the last session, but D&D/Pathfinder is structured so that there are strong incentives for stopping often to rest and heal. At its most extreme, this become the “15 minute adventuring day” that people complain about in various RPG forums. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it does sap a lot of the tension and drama out of scenarios, not to mention raise the other question of “Why does the villain just let them sleep? Is he a moron?” In many adventures there’s also the assumption that the party will be worn down by many smaller encounters by the time they meet the final boss, so he’s not as powerful as he would be if the party was expected to meet him fresh. This obviously does not work when the party refreshes themselves after every fight.

How does one combat this? I believe a solution should allow for some resting, but not let it get ridiculous. They generally fall into one of four categories:

  1. Toughen up the encounters. Basically, make it so that the encounters are challenging even if the party is at full strength. This works best in horror scenarios, not so much in ‘clear the dungeon’ ones. It does fit my fondness for fewer, more challenging battles, but if you overuse it you have to explain why the orc lair has 10th level mages in every other room, which is awkward to say the least.
  2. Put the PCs on a timer. Maybe the princess will be sacrificed in three days. Maybe the rival team is going to get the artifact first if you take too long. Maybe everyone in the village will die if you don’t bring back the cure by a certain date. Whatever it is, the PCs only have a set amount of time before they fail in their objective. They can rest some, but not too much.
  3. Take away the PCs’ ability to rest. As a player I hate this, but I see its utility. You have something interrupt the PCs’ rest so they don’t recover spells, heal, etc. Usually it’s wandering monsters, but it could easily be weather, strange magic, or anything else that negates the benefits of resting. As I said, it’s a good thing to have in your GM toolbox, but I’ve been on campaigns where it’s way overused. (Rappan Athuk, looking at you!) I think it’s best used sparingly, maybe when you’re approaching the end of a scenario, or maybe to avoid the dreaded “Why is the villain letting them rest?” question.
  4. The dungeon resets. If you stop and leave the dungeon, when you come back all the rooms you thought you’d cleared are once again populated. They may be the same creatures, or they may be different ones, but you didn’t gain anything by resting. This is a tough one to use because you then have to answer the question of where all these new creatures are coming from. If your scenario involves portals to the abyss, then you’re probably good. That’s the good thing about fantasy worlds: you can solve all kinds of logical problems just by saying “It’s magic!” Don’t overdo it, though.

I’ve used all of these at one time or another in my GMing life, and often more than one in the same scenario. Not overdoing it, as I said, is the key. Change things up, do a little mix-and-match, and do let the players rest occasionally.

Unless they’re on a mission deep into the Underdark. Then they’re just screwed.

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Posted in GM Commentary

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