I decided to just write a blog post that I could link to instead of constantly repeating myself on the forums. A lot of people make the allegation that only via railroading or metagame tricks can a DM keep the five-minute workday at bay. I believe this is a fallacy. While I respect their right to play whatever style of game they like, I will not have my own style impugned by these charges. A DM who limits the five-minute workday is often doing so because he is running a realistic dynamic world.
I am presupposing a dangerous world. But that’s not a lot to ask of a D&D world. A set number of encounters per day is a guideline and not a fast rule. If you average the suggested number or even come near the average the threat of such days will lead the group to make logical resource choices.
Here are my guidelines for running a campaign successfully without five-minute workday problems.
How to simulate a realistic world and by default handle the 5MWD
The world should not be so uniform that players get expectations about encounters per day or encounter balance. Some days should have one and some seven or more.
So first of all. Roll randomly for wandering monsters especially with overland travel. Roll on a chart that represents what they could encounter and not what is level appropriate.
Running should always be an option. Don’t be too predictable with encounter balance.
Taking on a superior challenge should be something the group could consider if fully prepared. A reason to not frivolously become unprepared.
Opportunity (Lost Rewards)
There should be circumstances where the group might try something if fully prepared and not try if not. These golden opportunities to overachieve can be missed because some resource was squandered in an earlier encounter unnecessarily.
Some monsters will take their treasure and flee. Sometimes the group loses out because the monsters clearly overmatched will run. Sometimes leaving a clue about what was lost or missed is a good idea. Perhaps a letter or note.
Groups should never feel too safe while in the adventure. If some challenge can be handled without wasting a limited resource then they should think that is the best approach.
If a group leaves an enemy force alive while resting overnight, that force will either run (see above) or they will retrench. Part of retrenching could be preparing traps, preparing for the group in particular (magically if the enemy is smart), or recruiting additional temporary allies.
Losing the element of surprise is a big loss. Enemies really can better prepare especially in the short term. The Lord may not be able to keep a group of skilled mercenaries on hand indefinitely but he could temporarily if he felt threatened. He could also post bounties for the heads of his enemies.
This is related to threat but a bit different. Enemies will counterattack instead of waiting to be slaughtered.
If a group is actually sleeping in the dungeon then the enemy may gather up their entire force that is in fact a greater challenge to the group and attack in mass.
If the group returns back to town, some enemies may even strike them there. Even if they don’t many will use divinations.
Some enemies that run away will do so and they will still act against the group. One of my group members is often quoted as saying – never leave an enemy alive to come back to haunt you. Truer words were never spoken. Enemies that survive even by flight will often seek revenge.
Let me again emphasize that I am not saying you can’t play however you like. I’m not even saying that I could not play a game and enjoy something without dailies. It wouldn’t be D&D to me but it might be a fantasy game I could play. Unlike some, I think there are core things about D&D that makes it D&D.
I am though saying that even if a mechanism existed to mechanically stop the five-minute workday that all of the above solutions would still be used in my campaign. I’m not going to stop playing the monsters to their appropriate intelligence. And by playing the monsters to their appropriate intelligence, I already don’t have a five-minute workday problem. Let me emphasize. The above are not “solutions” to the five-minute workday. They are normal DM adjudication of monsters in a hostile world. The side benefit is no five-minute workday.
I believe we should train and teach new DMs. They should as often as possible start out as players. The DMG should explain all of this (better than I have above) in great detail so that DMs can not only prevent workday problems but also have a more immersive and fun world for their players. I’m not against some helpful starter rules either for inexperienced DMs. But to be honest, for the short time it’s going to take a DM that really bothers to try to get better to learn, I’d suggest just making it a rule – X encounters between rests. I mean a DM is going to learn pretty fast. In fact if you plays with a good DM he may start out doing it without any additional training. The rule would totally annoy me and perhaps not annoy others. That’s ok. And for those of you that never want to deal with it is the rule all that annoying?