How to Handle D&D Parties That Abuse Short Rests
It's happened to almost every party -- you've been through a harrowing encounter, and you know there's more to come. Several characters are low on hit points, and maybe your warlock is fresh out of spell slots. The answer is simple, right? Take a short rest and replenish a bit.
Unfortunately, the short rest has become the bane of many Dungeon Masters (we call them Quest Masters). It is all too easy to fall into the trap of using the short rest as a cure-all, no matter what is going on in the story. If your party abuses the short rest, we have a few suggestions that might help.
What is a Short Rest?
Before we can address the problems that crop up with the short rest, it is first important to understand what it is. A short rest is a chance for the heroes to take a breather, to eat a meal and bind their wounds. It might be a good time for some inner-party social interaction or reading, but that's about as strenuous as any short rest activities should get.
What a short rest is not, despite the attempts of many well-meaning parties, is a quick ten-minute pit stop. A short rest requires enough time for the party to really build some stamina back up, and that takes a while. Of course, this can be altered on occasion at the QM's discretion, but be aware that this can be a slippery slope that the party may try to take advantage of.
Account for -- and Use -- The Party's Surroundings
A short rest isn't like a pause button that players can hit to recover hit points any time they like. They need to be able to find a place and time where they can safely sit for an hour to be able to make a short rest actually work. For example, they likely can't just run 50 feet away from a major battle and try to take a rest; generally, they'll be seen and followed. There are some spells they could make use of to make this work, but at least then they're using a spell slot, and have to decide if that (usually high-level) slot is worth the spells and hit points the party might regain.
As the Quest Master (QM), you can use the circumstances around your players to break them out of any bad short rest habits they might have developed. If they try to sit down just about anywhere to take a break, keep a few roving monsters on deck to attack them if they don't set a watch or inspect the area for safety first. It's a nice reminder that they need to be aware of the world around them and cognizant of what's going on before they try to take an in-game nap.
Why it Matters
It might be tempting to let this issue slide in your game. After all, you're all there to have fun, and throwing a monster or trap at them in response to an ill-planned break spot can feel like straight-up punishing your players -- and on some level, it kind of is. However, there are a few reasons it's important to keep the short rests in their place.
Storytelling: There are times in the course of your campaign when you really want to maintain a sense of urgency in your story. Unfortunately, this is next to impossible when your players are using short rests as a way to basically call "time out" in the middle of your dramatic boss battle. If your party is breaking the tension with a short rest, the solution is an easy one: use whatever is causing the tension and danger to break apart that rest halfway through. You can also consider throwing in some consequences for the time wasted, such as the boss having more time to gather strength or a nearby town falling prey to the Big Bad the party was supposed to be chasing while they were napping.
Immersion: Part of the joy of D&D is losing yourself in the moment and becoming fully engrossed in the fictional world around you. That's hard to do when you know you can hit pause anytime you need to. This situation can be resolved simply -- if the players are asking to take short rests in ridiculous places, it may be one of those times when you have to put your foot down as the QM and just say no. Of course, we'd recommend telling them why so that you get fewer repeats in the future.
Mechanics: The game of D&D is a very flexible one, but it is also one that is the product of years of trying and revising different rules and formulas to find the best way to balance everything from encounters to armor class to spell slots. That said, your players' hit points are the result of tried-and-true rules and methods. There are methods to restore hit points in the game whether that's potions or spells, and letting players take short rests in unlikely situations undermines those mechanics. Simply put: Hit points and spells are worth something in this game, and too many short rest opportunities cheapen both of them.
In the end, there's no right or wrong way to play D&D. Each campaign and each gaming group will be different, and each QM will have their own ideas about in what circumstances a short rest should be allowed. However, it always pays to have a few methods up your sleeve for dealing with the situation in case your party starts trying to slip in a few too many of those oh-so-helpful short rests.
What is the most spectacular way you've seen an in-game attempt at rest backfire? Tell us about it below!