The Five-Minute Workday
I love to see that the D&D Next crew is taking a look at the tropes of D&D from both sides, especially as Mike tackles the five-minute workday.
Mike summarizes it pretty well:
The mind-blowing part of that to me is “leaving to rest.” What kind of dungeon complex just lets you wander back out? Why haven’t they made plans to stop you when you come back in? And if you rest in the dungeon, how are you not discovered in the middle of the night?
The solution that the D&D team appears to be currently exploring is that of tweaking: making a rest worth just enough that you only want to take one ever so often. It’s a strangely high-level approach.
As usual I tried to look at how other games deal with the gating of abilities based on recuperation time, but I couldn’t really find any that were dealing with it the way D&D does. A Burning Wheel spell might sap your strength, which you recover over time, but it’s not in such a time correlation as D&D’s “you need X time and you get Y spells.” Many games have a similar cycle, but few of them share the five-minute adventuring day.
I think the root issue might be that the designers are attacking this on such a high level, and through only one avenue. They’re presuming that there’s a set amount adventurers should be able to get done in a day, more or less, and designing back from that. The resulting system isn’t fictionally-rooted, but it’s mathematically solid. Which, to me, sounds like a great recipe for a boardgame.
So much of the weirdness of spells and five-minute days comes from designing for effect. A world where wizards a) have only so many spells per day, b) get those spells back by resting, and c) can go to and from the site of an adventure at will leads to wizards who go, fire all their spells, and make it back for brunch. This isn’t a broken design, it’s just a design that doesn’t match up with the world the designers (and presumably enough players to make the five-minute adventuring day a trope) imagined.
What kind of world would have a longer adventuring day?
- A world where the number of spells a wizard has is slightly unpredictable, leading to pushing your lock
- A world where stopping to make camp is not an easy choice to make
- A world where spells aren’t limited per day, but instead on something else
There are many other worlds that lead to the same thing. To me, the world that’s dangerous enough you don’t always want to make camp in it is the easiest to establish while still keeping the D&D tropes; it’s particularly true to early D&D.
The five-minute day, like healing, is a side-effect of D&D growing from a game that meticulously tracked time to one that cares only about time in combat. In Moldvay making camp is a tense decision that requires certain planning and invites particular risk. In that climate there is no five-minute adventuring day because no sane adventurer would stay in one place longer than they must and risk another encounter.
It’s a little sad to see the solution to the five-minute day be “a crystal clear guideline on how many rounds of combat a group should tackle before resting.” It’s a high-level solution, almost a metagame one. It’s a fine solution for that type of game, and I like it for that, but with D&D Next trying to be so many things it’s a tough fit, based on what we know of the design so far.