Goodbye 5-Minute Workday

Anyone who has sat in one of my games can tell you: I hate the 5-minute workday. I have no problem with players spending their daily powers in the first encounter, as long as they understand that it will be the first encounter of many. If you spend all your daily powers assuming that you can immediately take an extended rest, then that’s when I get grumpy.

Part of the problem comes from the fact that I dislike daily attack powers. In fact, I’m considering removing them from my next campaign and just having some supplemental mechanic, like a class-specific critical hit bonus or effect. Daily powers are supposed to be the powers most representative of a character’s class. Instead, I feel as though they are just one more thing to remember. Between sessions, you have to remember whether you’ve spent them. They show up so rarely that they are no longer iconic. Cloudkill, for example, is an iconic D&D spell, but when it’s only showing up every three or four sessions, it loses some of its awesomeness. Oh sure, it is awesome when used, but the rest of the time, it’s out of sight and out of mind. I’d rather see it as an encounter power, where it is showing up often to remind players what the spell does, and how badass it is.

But I digress. So daily attack powers reinforce the 5-minute workday. Healing surges do as well, though to a lesser extent. In my home campaign, I just ran a campaign arc in which the characters went through a total of 8 combat encounters and two skill challenges. In effect, they completed an entire level over one extended rest (or would have if I used experience points). At the end of the arc, only one character in the party had a healing surge left, and he had only one. The characters were able to push themselves to this limit for several reasons.

1. Time Limit: The characters were on a tight schedule. It might be a ritual about to be performed (a la Keep on the Shadowfell), or it might be a dying king who needs the heroes to bring a cure before he expires. In the case of my home game, it was a clan of firbolgs that set out to attack the Prince of Frost’s fortress after the PCs set certain events in motion. Not wanting to be left behind, the PCs felt compelled to join the attack.

2. Careful Resource Management: This quality is important for both the DMs and players. Recently, my group has got in the habit of assessing how many healing surges and daily powers they have after each fight. I encourage this kind of behavior, sometimes getting a tab on their resources. Knowing how many resources they have allows me to adjust encounters and rewards on the fly.

3. Resource Rewards: Treasure is great, but when you’re pushed to your limits, you want that potion of healing or potion of restore-daily-attack-power. Despite the fact that these items don’t exist in the game, I strongly encourage DMs to give out such items. A potion that allows a character to regain a healing surge is a valuable tool to stimulate the characters into forging onward. Several times, I’ve given out a ritual scroll that allows the characters to redistribute their healing surges throughout the party. Sure, it’s a little meta-gamey, but I’m not big on simulation. If it adds to the drama to keep the characters adventuring, then I’ll do what I can to keep things going.

4. Player-DM Understanding: I’m a sap when it comes to killing PCs. I’ve never TPKed a group, and in the 1.5 years I’ve been running 4th edition, I’ve killed only two characters, and one was only petrified. My players know this, so even though the characters in my last session were walking into a fight against a level 31 solo (they were level 16), they trusted that I had equipped them with the tools (in the form of knowledge and allies) to overcome the fight. Thus, when they might have stopped and taken an extended rest, they kept on going.

Characters battling the Prince of Frost and his allies in a frozen palace in the ruins of Cendriane.


I admit that in part, I drove the player characters to this limit to prove a point—don’t use your daily attack powers in the first fight, thinking you can just sleep it off immediately afterward. In doing so, I discovered how a little bit of improvisation and resource management can really lend itself to a much more fulfilling adventure experience. After all, Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn could have stopped chasing those Uruk-hai; they certainly had expended all their daily attack powers on the battle along the river. But they kept forging ahead to recover Merry and Pipping. It wouldn’t have been a very interesting story if they’d decided to take a 6-hour nap, would it?


13 thoughts on “Goodbye 5-Minute Workday

  1. Most players that I have played with tend to save their Daily power and only use them when they are in big trouble or when they know near the end of the “day”. For LFR mods this is usually the third encounter. In campaigns, its when we know the party surge pool is very low and we will need to rest very soon.

    In fact, I would say that most people save their Daily powers too much.

    1. I agree that a lot of people tend to save them. For newer players, I think it’s because they don’t often realize how much better their daily or encounter powers are. Mostly, I think it just depends on what kind of person you are. I tend to space mine out over several fights. I think most people either spend them all in the first two encounters or save them until the end of the day.

  2. Great suggestions for getting people to use their dailies without relying on an immediate rest afterward – having players hold back their coolest powers (and often never use them) really takes away from fun, organic play.

    The time constraint works perfectly most of the time, though my group has found a nice groove of getting a feel for when we’ve been through enough encounters or if we need to save something for an important battle that’s coming up.

    A little thing I do to give them a hint for the pace is offer daily powers back throughout the day as a reward for continuing – maybe an endurance check (like an adrenaline rush) if they’ve been pushing themselves, or a short skill challenge where they can solve a simple puzzle and regain a daily if successful, or even a magical gem with a one-time use for restoring a daily. I only do this if they’re essentially respecting the pace of the game – if they blow every daily in the first few rounds of their encounter, I’d definitely get upset.

    And if they try to sleep like little sissies after every fight, they always find themselves awakened by some sort of patrolling monsters – that’s my punishment for them. >:)

    But in general, I’ll do whatever possible to keep them from sleeping all the time, because – regardless of all the rules and technicalities – it’s really, really boring.

    Thanks for the article, always a pleasure to read them.

  3. I’m a sap too! On one hand, I love Daily Powers because my players get so much joy out of using them. On the other hand, they can be a pain to track and it leads to the situation where they want to keep taking extended rests to get them back. The former makes it harder to plan challenging combat encounters for them, especially when coupled with the latter and the fact we can only game for 2-3 hours per week. So for most of our campaign, the encounters haven’t been as challenging as they should. Like you, I am working on changing that a bit. I can’t wait to try some of these out.

  4. I’m one of your players, and I have to say that while it was scary to go into the last few encounters with no surges and no dailies left, it was still thrilling. It’s one thing to go into a combat encounter all fully rested and ready to take on the world, but it’s quite another when you’re already beaten down and tired, and still take on the world and prevail. I think that kind of excitement and fear makes for better gaming.

    1. And as one of my players, you’re in the unfortunate position of being test subjects for my various experiments. I’m not always sure how I’m going to run an adventure until it arrives—I had no idea you guys would be going for 10 encounters—but once I recognized the possibility, I took steps to keep things moving (and ensure you had a chance to survive).

  5. I have long since stopped counting Daily powers as once per day and instead gone to once per session. Same goes for healing surges. I tend to run tight episodic games and so the (realism? verisimilitude?) lost is made up in good pacing. Cuts out a lot of bookkeeping, too.

    1. I like the idea, and I think I might try it some time. It seems like it would work well for a long session (8 or 9 hours), assuming you have 3-4 encounters. Once you’re talking about 2-4 hour sessions though, it’s probably a lot harder because the frequent use of daily powers could cause a strange imbalance in encounters (making them potentially too easy).

      1. Too … easy? That seems rather difficult to manage, assuming you don’t want to kill off characters. I mean, even if each member of a four person party has a 95% chance of surviving any given encounter, after ten encounters there’s something like an 87% chance that someone’s dead.

  6. You are hitting on my biggest peeve about the 5 minute workday. It interrupts the narrative flow. I’ve dealt with that in the past by building plausible excuses into the story, like a friendly priest who is able to cast a ritual that gives a 5 minute rest the effect of an extended rest.

    I wonder if a reward based approach might work to discourage players from wanting to rest all the time. For example, a 5% experience bonus for every milestone achieved between extended rests.

  7. My players are about to hit a point where they will experience having to confront a series of events with little to know rest. In the next 2 levels worth of game I expect to have 1 maybe (big maybe 2) rests for them. I’ll be making this clear to them by how the series of events is phrased for them (critical time limit).

    I usually only worry about things when the party is over extended because I get something wrong – then I have allowed them to retreat and rest (before later ambushing them to have that final confrontation) or have granted them a “divine boon” in the form of a “instant daily recovery” while they were purifying a holy site to one of their gods from cultists of Zahir ( and I got the encounter difficulty wrong).

    I’ve since learnt that encounters of PC level or 1 lower can be quite useful for establishing narrative, using some resources (surges) then you can have tougher climatic fights – which it is usually pretty clear its “burn the dailies” time, and usually leads logically to a rest. Time will tell how my players cope with Paragon tier mind you.

  8. In my group after we hit level 9 or so the amount of Daily powers in the group was so high that every fight saw at least 2 being used.

    Sure – early on each player only has 1 or 2 dailies, they might be very situational utilities – so they get saved. After you hit paragon they become less of a resource and more of an option. You will use one of these in each fight – so which one do you think will help the most?

    Usually dailies had duration, so you wanted to choose to use the power in the first few rounds of the fight to get maximum use. If you’re going to expend the daily then try and shave entire rounds off the fight, or absorb some damage.

    As far as the end of the 5-minute workday… sure, ticking bombs always speed the party along. But after you get a few sessions into paragon and some healthy loot choices you will see that the players really can just bust through 3 -5 encounters a day very easily and extended rests tend to be “and we have to hike back to town, so we camp for the night so we don’t have to hike in the dark”

  9. I agree that the 5 minute work day is bad, and I also hate when players wait till they are in the last encounter of the day or adventure and blow three or four daily powers each during a fight.

    I really think that the “daily” powers ought to be “one of these per encounter” powers.

    So of all your current “daily” powers you can use one of them in each encounter. It has some implications for low level play but for most of the game it works really well. Only area it seems to foul up is “per day” utility powers.

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