Tonight’s D&D session ran a little short, which was fine by me because I’ve been a little under the weather. The current plotline is that the PCs have returned to the capital because it is under siege and an important relic which they had left with allies to be studied might be lost. In this campaign, Linked Portal works a little bit differently because the various nations have taken active steps to prevent its use in war (a concept I find imminently reasonable). As a result, each of them lost d3 healing surges as they forced their way through the mystic defenses. The Warlord lost three… He only has eight.
Two encounters later and he’s looking at only having two healing surges for whatever is left. Now, he knows that hiding out six to eight hours in an active combat zone is going to be pretty sketchy, but he’s also worried about half the party’s healing disappearing if he gets randomly walloped. This is one of those gamemastering moments where the rubber meets the road. When the party decides that an extended rest is needed, when and why should you say no?
In many ways, this is one of those situations where you can fall back on the old GM’s adage, “when in doubt, roll and shout!” There are relatively few situations where you should just flatly deny them, but at the same time, camping out as the bombs fall should carry some risk. You can just have them make a group skill challenge and call it a day.
Part of your consideration should also be what you have intended for upcoming encounters. If you have an at-level or a level+1 encounter planned, whether or not they get an extended rest may be moot. Conversely, if they’re staring down the barrel of a level+3 boss fight, saying no might be the same as saying “rocks fall, everyone dies.”
It’s also appropriate to take into account arc design. If the encounters are tuned based on your expectation of how long it has been since the party received an extended rest – and they should be – then permitting them an extended rest may upset that design. This is one of the areas where experience will help you be flexible. Tune (on the fly, if possible) to what happened, not what you expected to happen. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this in the moment, try calling for a 10-minute break (This is an excellent opportunity for the players to order you a pizza).
The most common arc tempo seems to be the crescendo: small encounter – small encounter – medium encounter – BOSS. It’s logical because most of the time the PCs are headed toward an objective. Some things might get in the way, but the conclusion is where all the meat is. The problem with this is that you have just dramatically changed the flavor of all the encounters involved in getting to that meat. These encounters are now distractions and their impact is reduced. From a mechanical perspective, the victory condition changes to spending as few resources as possible, a play style that is generally much less fun. If you’re running this arc, you pretty much have to let the characters rest.
I like to run the decrescendo: the characters achieve the objective, but then have to skedaddle. This has the benefit of more flexibility with regards to rests.
Of course, I have my players trained to accept that extended rests are an unreliable thing, so I’m somewhat spoiled in this regard. I did, however, fall into a rut at one point where three out of four encounters were the party being ambushed while they were in tents. They still mock me mercilessly about it. I think some of the fear of not being at full power is a 3.5 legacy. In that edition, you were heavily punished for having too many encounters in a day. Much of this fear goes away as your players grow more accustomed to 4e.
You should also encourage your players to stop hoarding dailies, at least past a certain point. If no one is ever dropping them, not only are they not being challenged, but having them all for boss fights can be terribly distorting. If I don’t see one or two dailies used amongst the party, I feel that the encounter has been something of a waste (unless I intended it as a “let the characters blow stuff up” encounter).
I don’t remember who suggested it, but shortly after 4e was released, one of the designers mentioned an optional rule where the characters could not receive the benefit of an extended rest until after four encounters had passed. While this has some positive qualities, we decided not to use it because it is very disruptive to the flow of the story.
Another option to try is to allow only some of the characters to benefit from the extended rest. Most likely, this would mean that the 1/3 of the party benefits (the people who were sleeping for the first two shifts). At my table, the determination of who is on shift is generally made randomly, so that no one feels picked on.