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The 5 Minute Workday in D&D

So I've been thinking about the five minute workday in D&D (specifically D&D, but other RPGs definitely have this issue), and, more importantly, the way that I play Nethack.

D&D has a problem which people call the 5 minute workday. Basically, if you want to get your spells and hitpoints back, you need to rest for a night. Different editions have had different versions of this, but it all boils down to, when you want your resouces back, you wait for eight hours. This often comes to a head when the party fights a group of goblins, spends all their refreshable resources on winning the fight, and then sits down in the room in the dungeon for eight hours. This leads to two problems that people identify.

On to the first issue is the roleplay issue. It's pretty obvious to see the issue with a group invading a dungeon, shooting one fireball, then camping out and doing nothing for eight hours. It calls into question speed and purpose. This one has several tools that people have tried to deal with it. The obvious one is wandering monsters, which is what Baldur's Gate has always used to stop me from doing this. Having a bunch of wandering monsters means that pretty quickly the party goes back to safety (town probably), every fight. So they go to the dungeon, fight a group of skeletons, go back to town, round trip goes from 8 hours to 48 hours or whatever, which feels like it's not a solution. Similarily, things like requiring clerics to pray at dawn or dusk to refresh their spells means that the rest moves from 8 hours to "however long it takes to refresh my spells".

The second issue, is, in my opinion, bigger because it's about table dynamics. So let's say an 8th level D&D party comes across 10 goblins. Fifth edition D&D means that the way the action economy works, this could be a pretty tough fight, but then the wizard blats out a single fireball, kills 10 goblins, and then the party rests for 8 hours. This comes down to the issue where this potentially tough fight suddenly went away. It could have been a chance for the fighter to flex their second attack (something that isn't even an expendable resource!), and potentially their action surge or second wind. If they'd managed it, they could have managed the fight, done a short rest (one hour!) if they need it, and then move on. But instead, the wizard just ended the fight. Also, because of the five minute workday, the wizard can do this every fight. This completely obviates a certain kind of fight (swarms of smallish enemies in a small space), and also means that the fighter doesn't get to do anything in a bunch of fights (something people who play fighters tend to enjoy). Therefore the five minute workday can make certain kinds of fights just unfun, and take away the ability to show off from some classes.

Staying on the topic of the table dynamics issue, later editions of D&D (Fourth and Fifth) codify Short Rests and Long Rests into the system, and make some classes refresh their resources on a Short Rest and others refresh their resources on a Long Rest. This leads to a problem where there's some classes with less powerful powers they are supposed to be able to use a lot, and some with more powerful powers they are supposed to be limited in their usage of. In my mind the Warlock is the archtype for a Short Rest class and the Wizard is the archetype for the Long Rest class, if you don't have a strong idea of what I'm talking about. The problem is that if the party isn't regularly short resting, then the warlock isn't getting their chance to shine, because the wizard is always more powerful than them. This sucks because class choices should all be valid and fun, and core design things limiting them sucks.

And now that we've defined the problem, let's talk about the problem. When I play Baldur's Gate - I almost always sleep every time there's a fight, and, more importantly, the game feels bad when I'm forced into long sequences without my spell slots. Similarily, when I play Castle of the Winds and Nethack I constantly am sleeping and resting to heal up and get back my mana, because it would be foolish to go deeper into the dungeon without my spells and health! And ya know what, the feels like a true RP solution to me. I also don't know if you've ever been in a fight, but the adrenaline spike is very horrid, and the adrenaline crash is horrid! I wouldn't want to do anything else in that day if I'd been in a fight for my life. I understand the need to sit down and have a nap and a meal after a fight. But I think that's what a short rest is supposed to represent, maybe?

Fundamentally, I think that RP side of the five minute workday isn't a big deal, I think it's reasonable, and punishing it often can cause weird escalations and table conflict. If that's your jam as a table that's fine, but I tend to dislike it. I know that once a dungeon has lost some people/monsters alarms should be raised (if there's sapient creatures), and so waiting eight hours should have some level of consequence, but escalating constantly becomes a little bad. Similarity the fixes that just force the day to be a certain length feel like that, just escalations. D&D as a brand really wants there to be a resource economy like "five fights per long rest" (the numbers have changed a lot over the years), and that makes sense if you want to balance short and long rest classes, and force people to make decisions about how/when to use their powers. But unfortunately the math of random encounters doesn't really work like that. The problem with that is that it makes the decision a false one, you can pick a short rest or a long rest class, but you need to understand, as a player and a designer, that long rest classes will almost always have their powers.

So, in conclusion, I think this problem is good and fine, and we should stop pretending it's a problem with players, and instead realize it's a problem with how D&D is designed. This isn't a basic flaw in D&D, and so on. But, instead, we should understand that short and long rest classes aren't really a viable thing. They are a situational difference, and wizards and warlocks generally go into fights with their full compliment of spells, and therefore we should give them similar sets of tools to engage the encounter. Make sure that all classes are equally fun in an encounter when they have all their resources, rather than try to balance them for encounter two or three.