|Art: Dragonlance - Companions of the Lance by Larry Elmore|
The short rest is supposed to help alleviate this by allowing the characters to recharge some of their abilities without resorting to taking a full eight hours off. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like the short rest in D&D 5E does a very good job at this. To understand why, it helps to look at the history of the short rest mechanic in D&D.
The short rest mechanic was first introduced in D&D 4E. At the time, the short rest was a mere five minutes long. This is just long enough to signify that the battle is over and that encounter powers could recharge. It was less meant to indicate a true rest than to indicate a break in the action. Unless something strange happened, it was safe to assume that the party would take a short rest after every major encounter.
Short rests were also very integrated in to the At-Will, Encounter Power, and Daily Power model of D&D 4E. All characters had a mixture of these three power types. At-Will Powers were always available. Encounter Powers recharged after each encounter when the party took their short rest. Daily Powers recharged at the end of the day when the party took a long rest.
Because it was so integrated into the power model and could reasonably be expected to occur after each battle, I think D&D 4E is where the short rest came closest to achieving its goal of eliminating the 15 minute work day.
When the D&D Next playtest first came out a short rest was ten minutes. You could still use them to spend recoveries to heal, and certain abilities recharged after a short or long rest. Spells moved to a model split between what in D&D 4E would have been At-Will (Cantrips) and Daily Powers (most other spells).
What’s more, it was obvious from the polls run at the time that the continued existence of short rests in the new edition was up in the air. The mere existence of the short rest was surprisingly controversial in these polls with strong opinions in favor and against short rests continuing to be part of the game.
As a result, the designers split the difference, keeping short rests in the game but bumping them up from 10 minutes to a full hour of rest. In my opinion, this is the absolute worst choice that they could have made. Personally, I think short rests should be truly short or not exist at all.
The first problem with one hour short rests is that they really kill the momentum of a story. Taking a five minute breather after a fight doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Sitting around in a room for an hour in the middle of a dungeon seems absurd. Characters resting for an hour will probably perform a lot of the same tasks they would for a long rest, like finding a defensible area or even posting a watch. From a narrative standpoint taking an hour long short rest feels very similar to taking an eight hour long rest, completely killing the flow.
Another problem with making a short rest take an hour makes is that it makes the number of short rests you get during an adventure extremely inconsistent. Some sessions you might take multiple short rests in-between long rests, others you might take none at all. In D&D 4E short rests were assumed to take place after every major encounter; if there wasn’t enough time to take a five minute breather, it really wasn’t two separate encounters, just a long one that happen in waves.
Knowing the party would consistently get a short rest after each encounter helped both the players and the DM. Players could use abilities that recharge after a short rest with confidence they would have them back for the next encounter. This was good for DM’s too, since encounter planning is a lot easier when you know what resources the PCs are likely to have available to them at the start of the fight.
So is there a solution? Personally, I have been experimenting with making short rests short again! I ran a recent mini-campaign where I reduced short rests to ten minutes, just like they were in the original D&D Next playtest. It worked very well, encouraging the players to take a short rest after each encounter. It also cut down a bit on the 15 minute work day, although because most spellcasters still recharge their spell only after a long rest, there was still pressure from the primary casters to rest more.
This isn’t to say there aren’t some issues with moving to this model. My game didn’t have any warlocks, and while I don’t actually have a problem with how their spell slots recharge on a short rest, I do think that how pact magic works with multiclass characters would need some tinkering. Specifically how the pact magic spell slots interact with things like sorcery points and paladin smites would need some work. It also might make sense to allow more spellcasters access to abilities like the wizard’s arcane recovery ability to help alleviate the pressure for a 15 minute work day.
Despite these issues, I highly recommend trying the shorter short rest in your game. There may be some balance tweaks needed, but I really think the benefits outweigh the problems. I know I intend to move to shorter short rests going forward.
Have any of you tried shorter short rests in D&D 5E? For that matter, have any of you just eliminated them entirely? If you have, please let me know in the comments, I would love to hear how it went!