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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Extending the 15-Minute Adventuring Day

There are two concepts I need to explain to blog readers who aren't familiar with games like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons before I get on with the meat of this article.
The 15-Minute Adventuring Day: What you get when a group of player characters, after 2 or 3 encounters, decides they need to stop adventuring because they're low on spells and/or hitpoints and/or "X times per day" abilities like Bardic Song or Rage and want to recover them before continuing further into the dungeon. This is because these games are essentially exercises in resource management. 
Resource Management: The mini-game of strategy within the overall roleplaying game that requires decisions such as "Should I use my last healing spell on the fighter now to top him off, or should I wait to see if someone gets injured?" Spells, potions, class abilities, even hit points are all resources to be carefully managed within these games and poor resource management can lead to defeat and death of player characters. 
At low levels, the 15-Minute Adventuring Day is understandable, as player characters have only a dozen or so hitpoints and a handful of spells.At higher levels, this learned behavior becomes an annoying habit of "Well, the spellcasters have used their highest spells, and the melee types are looking a bit peaked, so let's all rest so we can be at full power for whatever is around the corner."

Depending on the GM, such reservation to advance beyond one's safety margin might be warranted, but it can prove to be irritating to move at such a snail's pace - especially if the GM is the kind of person to say "All right, now the dungeon inhabitants know you're coming, so they're on a war footing and spent the day arranging a welcoming committee for you with traps and ambushes."

There have been many solutions on how to solve the 15MAD. Most of them involve what I call "adventure pressure", which is another way of saying that there is a condition of the adventure that makes time a factor, such as a deadline to complete a quest or having to beat other adventurers to a goal. However, I feel that these are external solutions for an internal problem. Put another way, they're using setting to solve a non-setting problem. I feel that the problem is a combination of mechanics and player psychology, so the solution to the 15MAD must come from the same source.

Here's my simple solution: Let an 8-hour rest count as "a day" for purposes of regaining abilities. When you stop to think about this, it makes perfect sense:
  • All arcane casters need 8 hours of rest to recover spells. Why this number? There are a variety of explanations available, but I like the notion that the brain of a caster needs a period of rest from the task of maintaining a spell in preparation. Think of it like rebooting a computer to free up resources and clear out temp files. 
  • If arcane casters only need 8 hours of sleep, then saying they can gain their spells only once per 24 hour period raises questions such as "Is the universe keeping track of how many times they prepare? Is there a fixed pool of magic and only so much to go around? If not, then why an arbitrary 24 hour limit when the rules say 8 hours of rest?"
  • Furthermore, look at the Cleric. The Rules as Written say that a cleric chooses a time of day at which to regain spells, with the implication being that if it isn't that time of day then the cleric receives no spells. I call bollocks on this, for the following reasons:
    1. It presumes that the deity the cleric worships doesn't listen to prayers except at specific times of the day, and
    2. It is contradicted by this passage in the Core Rulebook:  When preparing spells for the day, a divine spellcaster can leave some of her spell slots open. Later during that day, she can repeat the preparation process as often as she likes. During these extra sessions of preparation, she can fill these unused spell slots. If a deity only granted spells during a set part of the day, then this ability wouldn't exist. 
  • Finally, an 8-hour rest restores 1 hit point per character level
I say, standardize everything based on the 8 hour rest. A good night's sleep heals the body and refreshes the brain, allowing the player characters to adventure without having to wait 24 hours -- and 8 hours is definitely enough time for dungeon denizens to compose and execute a proper response to invaders, be it increased watchfulness and patrols, ambushes and traps, or just a counter-attack while they sleep. 

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