Making the Best of the 5-Minute Adventuring Day

In dungeon crawls, Dungeons & Dragons character classes offer an elegant balance. Spells can dominate one fight, but casters need to save spells for the rest of day. Martial characters lack the peak firepower of spells, but they make a steady threat in every fight.

Wilderness adventures differ from dungeon crawls in a key way: Adventurers travel at their own pace and can often rest after an encounter. For example, the sandbox portion of Storm King’s Thunder lets characters roam freely, exploring without urgency. At my table, Fireballs and Hypnotic Patterns ended most encounters before martial characters even reached their foes. Nobody needed the cleric. After winning a fight, characters would rest and recuperate. Even the hardest encounters from the book proved easy for a fully rested party.

Whenever possible, the characters worked a 5-minute adventuring day.

Narrative adventures typically follow players as they take a hook, encounter obstacles, defeat the villain, and claim the treasure. Often, narrative adventures move at the same easy pace as wilderness expeditions. In Time Pressure, Wandering Monsters, and D&D’s Social Contract, I explained how adventures work better with time pressure. In a D&D game without time pressure, all the risk and adventure disappears.

Many, perhaps most, narrative adventures lack time pressure. When players expect fewer fights in a day, spellcasters show more power. Over the years when D&D shifted from dungeon crawls to narrative adventures, characters gained more chances to rest and wizards seemed to gain power—and mid- to high-level wizards hardly needed a boost.

Adventures with the grand scope of the fifth-edition hardcovers add time pressure from threats that build over weeks or months. But pressure on such scales leaves plenty of time for 5-minute adventuring days—especially when spells like Leomund’s Tiny Hut let groups rest in safety.

When characters spends days roaming the wilderness, a few techniques prevent the game from turning too easy.

  • Increase the difficulty of a typical encounter. Sometimes I let spellcasters shine, by say, clearing the field of easy-burning blights or hypnotizing a few giants at once. Other times I contrive encounters that limit spellcasters. Spread out foes and let them attack from multiple directions. Make attacks in waves. Let the first battle attract a second group of monsters hoping for weakened prey. Spellcasters tend to use their best spells early, so when a second batch of monsters comes, rogues and fighters gain a chance for heroics. Plus that second wave lets me adjust difficulty on the fly.
  • Add side treks that feature multiple encounters. In Storm King’s Thunder, I devised side-trek style mini-adventures that forced players to brave a series of encounters to succeed. These sequences injected some urgency into an adventuring day. This blog presented two of my side treks: To Steal a Primordial and The Giant Ship.
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9 Responses to Making the Best of the 5-Minute Adventuring Day

  1. alphastream says:

    It may be worth mentioning Tamoachan’s technique, where a poisonous fog prevented anyone from resting. That fog is a very simple but effective technique, and I’ve used similar techniques in outdoor settings when the location is fantastic. For example, a forest could be so overwhelmed with evil that you cannot rest – you are unable to sleep or wake immediately.

  2. Kyle Maxwell says:

    5e explicitly states that characters can only benefit from one long rest per 24 hours. So if they want to sit around for the day, that’s why you have your time pressure techniques, but they can’t take an 8 hour rest after every encounter… 😀

    • If your players actually play like that, spending 24 hours picking noses, they’re easy prey for say, I dunno, stalkers who figure out their weakest moment, or ambushes who literally have DAYS to prepare because they do nothing else.
      That being said, if your players insist on this ,they’re probably not the best players, or your a shit DM, because TTRPGs should flow in a way that either embraces or discourages min-maxing by how the game is run.

  3. If my players ever did this consistently, I’d unceremoniously gut their characters via a grue-like monster. Or make them roll mental stats to not get bored, or have their physicals go down because they literally just spend time gathering up fat.
    Because to be fair, 5 minutes of moving around a day does not a fit and sharp adventurer make.

    I mean, being top fit makes sense in-world, but PCs cannot know when or what their next encounter is, so setting up camp that often is a huge risk and somewhat mentally unnerving, as well as a big hit to their pride for needing to do so.

  4. ayjayz says:

    I modify Resting times based on what’s happening in the adventure. In a dungeon, Long Rests and Short Rests are the standard 8hrs/1hr respectively. In a wilderness crawl, Long Rests/Short Rests might become 1 week/8 hours respectively.

  5. Ilbranteloth says:

    Yeah, I’ve seen this topic many times, and for many of us, it’s just not an issue.

    If the players are playing the game like the characters are actual people in an actual world, then the problem just doesn’t exist, it isn’t necessary to alter the resting frequency or rules, there isn’t a need to make any artificial time constraints or contrived encounters and the risk and adventure doesn’t disappear at all.

    • alphastream says:

      I think the reason this topic comes up so often is because it is a big deal for so many gaming groups. The more the group frontloads the use of expendable resources (the best spells, the strongest features that require a rest to regain) and the more that the DM is unsure of how to gauge a difficulty level, the more that play will suffer.

      Running organized play tables (as DM David does in addition to his homeplay) shows just how different a run can be for powerful groups when the adventure adds pressure. It’s good for me to read over this, even though I have many ways I address it in my own campaign.

      In my home campaigns I generally deal with it by making it the standard. I kind of flip things. My default session is one with one or two combats, often separated by a rest. So, I’m aiming at higher difficulty levels on a big scene and balancing the session with a lot of RP. When I plan a session with a lot of combat, such as exploring a dungeon, then I back off of my normal challenge level and often go much easier with a few really strong moments.

  6. I recommend you read AngryGM’s article on on making wilderness exploration interesting. http://theangrygm.com/getting-there-is-half-the-fun/ Then you can stop worrying about making random encounters balanced for the whole party. Its only a problem when the DM is doing what angry calls the Genauein Encounter Solution.

  7. Duncan says:

    When I came to 5e straight from 2e I couldn’t believe how powerful spellcasters had become (no more 2 spells a day!). As you say makes sense for a dungeon crawl, but I find it strange how D&D seems to have evolved from hack and slash dungeons to more mature narratives, but yet still bases its class power balance on a six encounters day. It’s hard to believe in a world where you have to survive six fights to get from town a to town b… not good for the local economy. Meanwhile when you do play a one or two encounter day it’s the sorcerers and paladins that decide the fight every time.

    I do like “the second wave of foes” tip you mention here, as both a DM and player. The first wave is always a competition to see who can deal out the most damage, but when the second wave comes there’s a real sense of worry that leads to real teamwork as the party have to pool their resources and cunning just to survive.

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