the bed problem

November 24th, 2010 by paul

D&D has an interesting resource-management mechanic, Hit Points, to represent the increasing difficulty of fighting successive battles. However, it's essentially a toothless system because fighting successive battles is optional.

No edition has offered a mechanical benefit for forging onwards. 4th edition made a vague wave at the idea by doling out Action Points regularly, but it's still always better to hit the reset button by taking a nap. Sure, the DM can provide story reasons to fight multiple battles, and players may do the honorable thing and journey onward. However, neither DM-based or player-based efforts to route around a rules problem constitute a valid solution to the problem.

The mantra recited by the D&D designers during their pre-4e marketing campaign was "decisions should be interesting." Now consider this decision:

Should I go to bed?

  • Yes, if I want to be stronger
  • No, if I want to be weaker

    To offer a compelling choice, dwindling HP (or healing surges) need to be opposed with increasing power along some other scale. The choice should be something like:

    Should I go to bed?

  • I'm getting dangerously low on hit points
  • on the other hand, if I go to bed, I'll lose all these cool advantages I earned

    I haven't thought of a good fix yet, though I have a feeling it has something to do with action points. The ideal solution would

  • provide just enough motivation to do multiple battles that it was an interesting choice
  • not make the PCs massively overpowered even if they manage to do, say, 8 battles in a day
  • not encourage weird PC behavior, like, say, purposely doing badly in fights in order to get benefits
  • replace the ungainly "1 action point every 2 encounters" rule. I hate keeping track of whether it's an odd or even encounter.

    I call this problem the "bed problem". I will award the Bed Prize and 1,000,000 imaginary dollars to whoever comes up with a satisfying, fun solution that will address the points above.

    Note: I pre-reject the solution "The DM should just force the players to do multiple encounters in a day."

  • 14 Responses to “the bed problem”

    1. katre says:

      I came up with some thoughts on this, and it got so long I wrote my own blog post about it:

    2. Dave says:

      The “bed problem” (commonly known as the “5-minute workday”) certainly is a challenging problem. One of the main things that makes a mechanical solution difficult, is that making characters more powerful as they become more tired tends to disrupt verisimilitude. What makes the most sense from an in-character perspective is when the mission you’re working on is time-sensitive, but constantly having this element is hard to do without it feeling contrived.

      That being said, I am nearly done my work on a 4e-based system that combines what I think are the best aspects of D&D 3.5, 4e, and GURPS. The approach I’m using to fight the “bed problem” is fairly simple, but further play-testing is needed to know how well it actually works.

      Like Katre’s idea, my approach gives you something after every encounter/scene/challenge. The resource I’m using is called mana, and is defined to be elemental energies or personal determination that allows you to push yourself beyond your normal limits. You gain 1 or more mana after every scene, based on how dangerous and challenging it was (0 if it wasn’t). When resources are low, scenes are likely to be more challenging, and thus a 1-mana encounter will be a 2-mana encounter for a worn down PC. 2 mana points may be spent as a free action on your turn to gain an extra action (2 mana essentially equals one action point). You may do this no more than once per turn.

      There are no Daily powers, as they encourage going to bed early (and I’ve never like Vancian magic). Instead, you have Encounter powers that cost mana to use. Standard 4e Dailies would cost 2 or 3 mana, depending on how powerful they are. Mana is reset when you take an extended rest.

      There’s more to it, but that’s basically it. Simple, and fairly effective. You can tempt your players into continuing by offering them an extra mana after their next challenge. What do you think?

    3. Matthew AC says:

      Well, Paul, I call it the ‘groove.’ Each encounter you push through gets your character’s blood pumping and gets them in the zone.

      After each encounter overcome, a character may choose to gain either a +1 to damage rolls or saves. This bonuses stack. Additionally, for every milestone achieved the characters gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls. The ‘groove’ vanishes when you take an extended rest.

      Simple, encouraging, and easy to track.

    4. John says:

      Should I go to bed?
      PROS: I will get stronger
      CONS: Time doesn’t stand still. While I’m sleeping, people are getting away, monsters are accumulating, reinforcements are arriving, patrols are going out – you get the idea

    5. Philo Pharynx says:

      One in-game way to do it is to determine if the bad guys are aware of the players (or will figure it out during the rest). If they run across the bodies of their buddies, then they’ll take actions that will make things harder for the PC’s, like:
      * Build traps and set up ambushes
      * Reinforce doors and barriers
      * Send out scouting parties to track the PC’s to where they are resting
      * Beef up their patrols – make sure the guards are alert
      * Go to the authorities and give evidence that they were attacked by the PC’s without provocation
      * Go out and capture some prisoners to threaten when the PC’s come back
      * Slaughter their prisoners and hang up the bodies to send a message
      * Torture their prisoners to find out if they know anything about the PC’s
      * Use some of their prisoners as cannon fodder (by threatening the rest of them)
      * Eat their prisoners because they got hungry in the meantime
      * Move out and find a new lair the PC’s don’t know about
      * Hide or move the MacGuffin
      * Raise up the corpses of their buddies as undead
      * Set up magical wards and alarms
      * Complete their evil ritual early and gain new powers
      This will only apply sometimes, but when it does it will encourage the PC’s to think about their actions. Used every once in a while, it encourages players to avoid the 5-minute workday.

      I also have some mechanical suggestions.
      * Only allow the use of daily powers once they’ve adventured for a while. I like the idea of pro-rating them based on the number of healing surges spent.
      * Let them recharge daily powers or regain healing surges every X encounters.
      * Have more items similar to meliorating armor that gain power based on milestones. Perhaps an amulet that increases healing by 1 per milestone, or a weapon that adds the milestones as a bonus to damage.

    6. paul says:

      These ideas all sound great. I’d use katre’s idea as it is: I like its “turning in tickets at the carnival” feel. I might lower the costs of some of the mid-level prizes, because the 2-ticket prize, an action point, is so good. I love the idea that the capstone prize is HEALING ALL OF YOUR HIT POINTS.

      I also like Dave’s idea that daily powers are something you earn. I think I might start by pricing the use of a daily power at 1 carnival ticket (or mana or whatever) and raise it if PCs seem to be abusing that. (Messing with daily-power rules also ameliorates Dave’s concerns that this system breaks verisimilitude: daily powers break verisimilitude anyway so we can mess with them freely!)

      Matt’s “groove” idea is actually similar to something I’d been thinking about, where PCs get bonus damage for each encounter overcome. I could even imagine combining this with John’s system: while you have unspent carnival tickets in your hot little hand, you get bonuses: maybe +1 to damage and saves per 5 tickets. So when you spend your points, you are actually giving up some small bonus.

      I also agree with katre and john that using healing surges instead of encounters as a way to track progress might better take into account the difficulty of encounters. However, I don’t love healing surges and I wouldn’t want to hang rules on them, in case I decide to houserule them away at some point.

      John and Philo have some good methods for preventing the five-minute workday from being a big problem. However, in my opinion, the fact that good DMs can route around rules problems doesn’t mean that the problems shouldn’t be fixed.

    7. steve says:

      Simple – bonuses to XP the more you go on.

      This is just like the real world. If you go to work and work all day and even work when you are tired – then you will get better at the task faster.

      There’s your solution.
      Now my 1,000,000 imaginary dollars please… in singles.

    8. [...] a good solution to the “5-minute workday” is, still I was intrigued when Paul over at Blog of Holding suggested that the reason story based solutions don’t work to this problem is that they are [...]

    9. Jess says:

      Unfortunately, I have to agree that story-based solutions to this problem are not enough, especially because when used too often, they begin to look more and more like DM fiat/rail-roading. The main problem I have with solutions to this issue is that they often require rewriting larger portions of the rules than I want to see. If I have such a significant problem with the rules that significant portions need to be wholly rewritten, than I’m playing the wrong system. While not a fan of Vancian magic systems, it is the trope in D&D. If I want something more fluid and flexible, I’ll go play Exalted. I want something elegant and simple that works within the current rules set. Maybe this is too much to ask.
      As it stands, katre’s idea of EP is a great idea, and very much one that I would like to use, if I didn’t have a Warlord in the game I’m running now, which means that Action Points are pivotal to the class features. With that in mind, I had already expanded how Action Points interact with the game.
      I’ve been handing out action points after every two encounters completed with no more than a short rest between them (and no significant down time, such as traveling either), essentially giving them another AP after they complete each encounter past the first one. I’ve found this encourages people to keep going in dungeon situations, but doesn’t necessarily reward the random encounters when moving through the world. I removed the limit on how many AP could be spent in an encounter, not that my players often have more than one at a time now.
      I also changed how AP works at higher levels. Normally they lose all AP after an extended rest, and then gain one back. In my game the players can retain one AP for every ten levels they have after an extended rest, assuming they have any. Most of these changes were due to the Warlord character being in the group (and thusly not having a cleric), so I wanted to make Action Points more effective, which has sped up combat and helps mitigate not having a dedicated healer. I’ve found that the promise of being able to retain AP has helped to mitigate the 5-minute workday and pushes the PCs onward.
      I’ve also allowed the players to spend an AP on a check/saving throw to increase it’s result by +5, after the dice have been rolled (excluding damage rolls). This helps when they’re looking to hit a high AC, or they needs to overcome a status effect.
      Lastly, I’ve always been interested in player involvement in the storytelling process, especially the cinematics in battle. Even though 4E has gotten rid of the idea of just making basic attacks over and over again, especially for martial classes, I still find that players more often remain in the mood of “I use [X power] to hit the enemy.” To reward more descriptive and innovative actions I stole an idea from Exalted; solid and creative involvement in the storytelling process results in a small bonus to their actions, so that the player is more likely to succeed. Particularly impressive feats result in the restoration of an Action Point. Examples include when the Dragonborn Paladin used his fire breath weapon to counter the white dragon’s ice breath (spending an Action Point to interrupt). I allowed the idea and ruled that whoever had the high attack roll would overcome the others. He ended up winning out and everyone enjoyed the exchange. It was the first time anyone had come up with a sufficiently impressive feat, and the reward reinforced the role of players as co-storyteller firmly for them.
      Just some thoughts.

    10. [...] began (this time) at Blog of Holding in Paul’s article The Bed Problem. The thread was picked up by HenchBlog in their article D&D: Solving the Bed Problem. The Red [...]

    11. [...] was another debate about the “5 minute workday” this week.  You can read about it here, here, here, and here.  Oh, and here. (Blogs not cited for serial [...]

    12. Philo Pharynx says:

      “Unfortunately, I have to agree that story-based solutions to this problem are not enough, especially because when used too often, they begin to look more and more like DM fiat/rail-roading. ”

      Having the bad guys improve security after finding intruders is railroading? It sounds more like a sandbox-type technique. I think having the world react to the players is much better than the 1e “monsters never leave their rooms” mentality. As I said, it doesn’t need to be done every time – sometimes they won’t find it. But even when it happens a few times, the players have to wonder, “What are the bad guys doing while we rest?”

      Katre’s EP issue tends to encourage some types of people to hold them until a big encounter. If there’s no big encounter then they lose them. If you have these kinds of players they’re losing some benefit unless you railroad to have a big conclusion.

    13. [...] a good solution to the “5-minute workday” is, still I was intrigued when Paul over at Blog of Holding suggested that the reason story based solutions don’t work to this problem is that they are [...]

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