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.
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?