The 5 minute workday myth

Apologies in advance for the rant below. Call it catharsis, Mandy, Pugo the Wonderdog or whatever you will.

The 5 minute workday is a myth. It does not exist. Or at least, it does not exist to a significant enough degree to merit it being a design consideration, any more than there should be rules which prevent PCs from attacking other PCs. Some players will try to bend the rules in order to maximise their enjoyment of them (usually at the expense of others). Changing the rules to prevent that from happening just means they will bend or abuse some other rule. You’re trying to catch the wind.

The theory goes something like this: in the first encounter, the Wizard (or Cleric, etc) uses all of their spells then demands (loudly) that the party rests as they have run out of spells. The players set up camp, and face the next encounter fully refreshed and the Wizard is back to full spell allotment. Rinse, and repeat.

Now, in all of my 30-odd years of gaming I have never seen that happen. I am pretty sure that my other players would club a Wizard player who tried such a thing with the heaviest thing on hand, and as GM I would let the player try it just once. After that the monsters later in the dungeon are better prepared and more able to face this crazy adventuring party who think they can take a leisurely saunter through their underground home. No rest shall go unchallenged, and wandering monsters aren’t so much wandering as actively hunting for anything resembling a sleeping Wizard.

Ah, but the flaw is in the Wizard design, you argue.

No – the flaw is in the abusing Wizard players understanding of the Wizard design. The Wizard class is historically designed to have a lot of punch, but in limited amounts. Once you’ve cast your Fireball/Sleep/Power Word:Kill/whatever it’s gone. The Wizard is the sine-wave of the character classes, peaking with great power then troughing when that power is spent. That is the trade-off inherent in the “logic” behind the Wizard class.

In contrast the Fighter is a straight line; consistent and dependable. As the levels increase the Fighter remains a straight line, and the Wizard remains a sine-wave though the damage output of both increase. The Wizard’s sine-wave increases in magnitude – an 18th level Wizard with a dagger isn’t much different to a 1st level Wizard with a dagger when he’s out of spells, but his power potential has increased vastly too – while the Fighter treads the mid-line between the Wizard’s peaks and troughs.

What the 5 minute workday critics want is the Wizard’s peaks, but none of the troughs. They want the power output of the Wizard’s best spells all the time, and none of the tactical considerations of when to use them and when to reach for the crossbow.

Is that fair on the other players? Nope. Should they influence the rules of the game, or should they be educated about how the Wizard (and related) classes work? I say the latter.

Now, I haven’t seen the 5 minute workday in any of my game sessions, and suspect that it’s more talked about than actually taking place. Sure, some players will say “I’m out of spells/healing/whatever, let’s rest”, but they are in the minority. Isn’t it better to educate them not to burn though their precious spells so quickly and heroically press on rather than “fix” rules that, frankly, don’t need fixing? Equalizing the classes so they all operate on the same “wave” takes away much of the uniqueness of the classes and is to the detriment of the game.

One tactic GMs can take is to use time limited events. If the heroes don’t return the Orb of Darkness to the Lich Horde’s Shrine within three days, the world will explode. Perhaps the Gnoll Queen’s Army will arrive before nightfall and the heroes must convey a message requesting an alliance with the Sea Orc Kingdoms, or their very Souls are forfeit if they do not….. you get the idea.

Real heroes don’t rest. They don’t have time. So let’s slay this 5 minute workday myth once and for all. Please?

Thanks for listening.

16 Comments on “The 5 minute workday myth”

  1. I honestly like that you and I have written such different blogs about this. I don’t think you and I are actually that far apart on what you write. I more or less agree that the idea of a 5-minute workday due to optimization is fairly rare. I have seen it, but it isn’t a giant concern. It is primarily an issue only in RPGA / organized play games, where there can be the feeling of needing to win (beat all the monsters so you can be the same level as your buddies that played this adventure last week, for example). But, to be honest, Organized Play admins are capable and can handle this if it becomes part of the game.

    What I’m more concerned about is two things. First, that the game can be wildly unpredictable enough that you never know when the party has to make it a five minute workday. Second, that this unpredictability means only an experienced DM knows how to correct the problem. From the Legend & Lore article I can add a third: the notion that how long the day lasts is a balance between the spellcaster and the non-caster, with the DM responsible for achieving that balance.

    With the first and second, I find RPGs work best when PCs aren’t so vulnerable that the narrative and the game flow is interrupted or unpredictable. With D&D Next, I’ve run two tables where PCs were able to take on multiple rooms of 10+ foes, then had a third table that could barely make it through the first room of 8 foes… and this was with the exact same PCs. When you have low accuracy and high damage relative to HPs, and lots of foes, the game becomes unpredictable. This will be even more an issue with bounded accuracy, because you can have lots of foes at higher levels but not that many more HPs. Think of taking 900 XP vs 450 XP… but there is no major difference in HPs. Similarly, think of how 450 XP of kobolds can be far more brutal than one 450 XP foe. This creates a system mastery that we simply don’t need. I want to see as much mastery around what not to do removed from the game.

    Also, the beauty of classic-style dungeon play is all about going deep in the dungeon and exploring many cool rooms with many quick battles. It isn’t about a surprising turn where the kobolds got lucky (rolled high) and now the player of the fighter is rolling up a new PC and the entire party went back to town. That should be pretty rare.

    1. Personally I love the swinginess and I think it adds interest and tension to the game. I hope it stays and doesn’t revert to a boring and predictable steady state. Here’s to those lucky kobolds that clobber the adventurers every once in a while!!

  2. I have to disagree on a couple of major points.
    1) The issue with an 18th level Wizard isn’t that their peaks are so high, it’s that they have so many spells they rarely have to come down. Before 4E when Wizards got more as they leveled, and the spells got more powerful, any balance gained through the linear:sine::fighter:wizard paradigm was chucked into the gutter.
    2) I haven’t seen people asking for the Wizard’s highs without the lows. What I, and many others, want is to ratchet the Wizard down just a bit, and bring everyone else up. I shouldn’t have to wait for my turn to matter, which means the Fighter needs cool, worthwhile, competitive things to do right out of the gate.

  3. While I haven’t seen a wizard or other spell caster demand rest because they are out of spells, I have seen the group demand rest because their spell aster (usually healer) is out of spells and that was after 1 or 2 battles. It was usually because the warriors were reckless and had to be healed a lot for them to survive. One player (the rogue who had not taken damage) was annoyed the group requested to rest because she was still fresh.

  4. After that the monsters later in the dungeon are better prepared and more able to face this crazy adventuring party who think they can take a leisurely saunter through their underground home.

    This is enough to make it a bad tactic in most of the games I run. Why would you reveal your capabilities, and then leave and allow your enemies a chance to prepare?

    Also, all rest takes time, and time can be valuable, even if you don’t have a ticking clock hostage crisis going on (like a dragon with princess or whatever). And maybe there is sometimes bad whether, which might delay you even more if you are not prompt…

  5. Hey Robin

    I suspect that you are right on the money with this one. Personally with my own limited AD&D experience and my 4e campaign, I’ve noticed that players do tend to push on – its about risk v reward etc. But in 4e its been healing surges that have determined the length of day (assuming no pressing need not to stop) that has been the factor. I think that players in 4e had resources every encounter (even if the dailies were spent) meant they were more willing to go further and endure more.

    I think Alpha’s point about the swinginess of combat is the most salient, 450xp of multiple foes v one foe is a very salient point, I believe.

  6. I’ve never played 4e, but rocked my fair share of 3-3.5, and I have never seen anyone even suggest taking breaks because because of magic users. I’ve been a magic user – cleric in fact – and at the end of everyday, it was unusual not have at least one spell left from first level onward. The trick is notice the limitations, and plan around them.

  7. I also have to disagree that players are asking for all the highs of a wizard and none of the lows, as I certainly would like to see the wizard reigned in and other classes on a similar level. At higher levels in older editions, the wizard became all-powerful and everyone else just gave him a break once in awhile. Not the most exciting prospect for any party as it gets into high levels if you aren’t playing the wizard.

    I’ve seen a little of the 5-minute workday in 4e, thanks to refreshing of dailies, but it didn’t happen that often as to be a problem. Given the way Next is currently handling things, the system will force a DM to artificially force the players to do things they don’t want to in order to avoid the problem, and that’s a flaw in the system. I don’t know what the answer is, but they can’t just wish it away because old-school DMs know how to lead their players around.

  8. Two 5 minute workday truths.

    Playtesting DnDNext. The party goes in. Encounters a mobile group right outside another room, so they end up doing two encounters in one fight. The entire fight lasts 24 seconds of game time. They loot the room. At this point the casters are out of spells and everyone is low on hp and everyone is burdened with the loot (a bunch of spears). So they decide to go back to town. Yes, it was not a 5 minute workday…it was a 24 second workday.

    4E. With every encounter being balanced to challenge the resources of the group they often end a fight having expended healing surges and dailys to the extent where they feel they have to take an extended rest after every two fights. The group decides to take this rest, not the wizard (actually the only wizard type of caster usually is the only one willing to go on because the player is the type to always hold onto at least one big gun ability).

    I have found the 5 minute workday to be a reflection of the players play style. Some are simply more cautious than other groups and prefer to be at their most effective. Some do not play as effectively as possible (like the player who is playing a “battle-cleric” healer and chooses to charge into combat because that is what is fun for the player and resources get drained that might not need to be drained).

    The 5 minute workday is not a myth. Myths are not real and I have seen the 5 minute workday on numerous occasions. It does not happen all the time; my group of players have resisted the 5 minute workday on occasion as it seems silly to them to sleep away 24 hours after one fight.

  9. I guess I find it odd that you’ve never seen it.. .cause I’ve seen in every group I’ve ever played… It might be the casters themselves, or it is the party not wanting to proceed with out their casters having stuff to cast, or maybe everyone goes “It sucks that Biff can only stand around chucking daggers now… let’s rest”. It might not always /happen/ but it’s often a consideration.

    So which of us is more typical? I have no idea. It’s probably somewhere in the middle where it happens enough to be a concern for the designers of the game. At the very least the perception needs to be addressed.

    And personally it’s not so much a “I don’t want the lows” as “I don’t want to feel useless”. It’s partly why I like at wills (or their equivalent) as well as things like healing surges (or other self healing abilities, in or out of combat)…

  10. (friendly ribbing tone) I think that the argument “I haven’t seen it, therefore it doesn’t exist” is a logical fallacy. Especially when you follow up with, “If it were to exist, it would be the players’ fault.”
    I’ve seen it in different editions, and it is based on the group’s style. For many groups, it isn’t a problem. But for others it’s a big issue. One person I know tends to want to rest when he still has a significant amount of resources left. In part it’s because his first DM liked to attack the group with major forces when they were resting. So he likes to be able to have a couple of significant spells in reserve when they rest.

  11. I agree with Greywulf but on reading the replies, I’m not sure how solid my experience is now. I DM a lot, averaging 2 games a week for the last 10+ years and I haven’t experienced the 5 minute workday. Then again, if the party are careful picking a camp-site and take watches, I haven’t dropped major forces on them out of the blue. Do I have an unrealistic DMing style because I don’t aim to kill off PC’s or is it better that the players trust me not to generally attack them when they’re resting?

    Lol. On a side note, my players expect to be attacked when sleeping in taverns in town much more than when they are camping in the wilderness. Maybe that’s my skewed view that only starving monsters will attack a camping party but thieves in a town will try to rob anyone! Lol.

  12. I’ve not seen any wizards demanding that the party rest when they’ve run out of spells. But I’ve seen my fair share of parties running away when a dungeon crawl went horribly wrong as a result of bad planning or overpowered adversaries. I guess that counts as a 5 minute workday by Callin’s description.

    Surely the best way to combat this if it happens too often is to do what most movies do… seal the exit shortly after the party enters!!

  13. As long as WotC keeps trying to correct the “problem”, people will talk about it. Never had it happen in my games, but then, we have never relied on magic-using characters. I agree if it is happening it is a problem with the individual group, not the game rules (but that’s true for most things WotC has tried to fix or mandate via rules changes.)

  14. In the 30+ years I’ve been gaming, the 5-minute workday I’ve not seen. Now, the two encounter workday I have. My group (which has remained fairly consistent over the years with players coming and going but a solid core) has one player in particular who in 3.5 and again in 4e would burn through all his spells/encounters/dailies by the third encounter and say, “We have to stop and rest because I’m out of spells.” The rest of us would look at him and say, “We still have all our dailies and such.” Now, he’s much better about that now having figured out 4e and how the game flows, but we DID find the same thing occurring to ALL of us during our DnDNext playtests, so take that with whatever grains of salt you wish.

    I think that, yes, the burn through it all approach rests more with the player than the system; however, it seems to be more system ingrained with Next in this alpha/pre-alpha phase.

  15. The 5 minute workday is created when the DM thinks that every single encounter should be borderline TPK and makes players feel like they can not step inside a room if they are not 100% fresh. I remember those days – 2 out of 5 players spent their daily power in day’s first encounter, too bad, time for camp. And we were VERY cautious about spending our dailies. I hate the 5 minute workday as a player because I feel it is a sign of DM being unreasonable. The only way to get rid of it is changing DM or losing attachment to your character.

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