Long Rest 5e: How to Make Them Count

Published on March 5, 2022, Last modified on February 29th, 2024

You need to long rest 5e for healing and regaining abilities, but few people know how great they can be for pacing your adventure with quiet, slow moments

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How Long Rests Make Your 5e Game Better

It seems Dungeons & Dragons players only ever want three things from their DM:

  1. Leveling up
  2. Magic items
  3. RESTS

After every combat, at least one player will ask: “can we take a short rest?”, no matter how inconvenient or dangerous their surroundings may be. And yet, when it finally DOES happen, do your players freak out with excitement and soak it in?

Probably not.

Most players roll hit dice, swap out some spells, and maybe get up and get some Cheetos. The actual downtime and relaxing and recovering usually just skipped over, and with the snap of a finger, the players are back to exploring, adventuring, and fighting.

But here’s what everyone is missing…

Every “Can we have a long rest in 5e?” question is an opportunity

Long rests 5e have the potential to make both the narrative and gameplay better. Each one is a chance for the party to slow down, reflect, and discuss whatever life-or-death situations they just experienced. 

Admittedly, no one wants to roleplay EVERY moment of a weeks-long voyage or roll to look under every rock for a portal to the Elemental Plane of Earth. Part of the DM’s role is summarizing important moments to make a good story.

That said…I can’t imagine anyone enjoying a game where the DM hand-waves 90% of exploring a dungeon or defeating an undead lich. We play out the combat, exploration, and roleplaying a lot of the time, and summarize some of the time. Maybe the ratios flip when it comes to rest, but the point stands: we shouldn’t skip over playing them EVERY… SINGLE… TIME.

And yet that is EXACTLY what we do for nearly all of our rests: we refuse to slow down and see what happens!!!

We reduce them to a mechanical tool that can be skipped over, diminishing D&D to a game of pure numbers. This results in a less organic game and, ultimately, a less compelling narrative. Can these moments become a viable option in roleplaying and storytelling? And if so, how do we do that?

There are better ways to run each long rest in 5e, and this post offers six options. It also discusses how your players benefit from taking a long rest and how rests affect the pacing of a story in important ways.

How “Resting” Became a Thing Players Choose

To new players, “taking a rest” is a fundamental aspect of the D&D experience. But, veterans know that it’s actually it’s a relatively recent addition. 

In earlier editions, they didn’t exist at all! Players naturally regained 1 hit point per day, regardless of how active they were. Of course, players COULD choose to relax and lie down, but it came with no mechanical benefit. 

D&D 3.5/Pathfinder added some beneficial mechanics to incentivize taking a rest. At the same time, they also introduced a plethora of magical healing options, so most healing was accomplished through spellcasting.

Fourth edition added the short rest to include “Healing Surges” and compensate for certain abilities that could only be used once per encounter. D&D 5e refined this idea by creating rules that made resting an everyday element of adventuring. 

Notice two very important things here: 

  • Older editions that put less emphasis on storytelling had no rest mechanic. 
  • It went from passive, natural healing to something players actually DO

This is very important. In 5e, when you hand wave it… you aren’t skipping ‘nothing’… Something is happening. It’s not passive… REST IS SOMETHING PLAYERS HAVE TO DO… and choosing when and how to do it can be part of the adventure. Resting is an action players take, and it’s FULL of storytelling potential. 

But before we dive into its narrative impact, let’s examine the rules!

The Long Rest 5e Rules

Basic Rules for Resting

Page 186 of the Player’s Handbook explains the standard rules for resting: 

Short Rests: They last 1 hour, you heal by rolling hit dice, and can’t do any major physical activity… just the basic stuff (eating, drinking, reading, tending wounds, etc. is allowed). 

Long Rests: Last 8 hours (6 of which must be sleeping). You regain all your hit points and half of your spent hit dice. You can have no period of strenuous activity during that time and any major interruption of the long rest requires starting over to gain its benefits.

Page 367 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide presents two rule variants: 

Epic Heroism: Designed for high-paced play: a short rest is 5 minutes and a long rest is 1 hour. This is obviously a very short amount of time to recover from grievous wounds and should either A) be reserved for monumental and awe-inspiring adventures or B) be used sparingly in legacy-defining moments of the campaign.

Gritty Realism: A short rest is 8 hours and a long rest is 7 days. This would make hit die KING: the most precious resource of every player character.

Now… you may have noticed, “Dang, that isn’t all that much”. And you would be right. The insignificant attention given to the 5e resting mechanic… or at least the lack of variety…has led to a wealth of homebrew resting rules.

My personal favorite is that of “We Speak Common”: a short rest is 8 hours, and a long rest is 24 hours, but you can enter “dungeoneering mode,” where you revert back to the normal rules. Given that very few tables play the recommended 6 encounters per long rest, I find the adjustment to a full 24 hours of doing very little to feel more significant and realistic.

Regaining Spell Slots and Class Abilities

That said, there are two things that player characters recover alongside HP during a long rest 5e: spells and class abilities. Wizard all out of 3rd level slots and can’t cast fireball? Cleric worn out from using Channel Divinity on those zombies? Fighter about to collapse after using Action Surge? Well, if they sleep for at least 6 hours and relax for an additional 2, they get everything back.

A long rest 5e is basically a “reset”; (nearly) every mechanic your character regenerates, and they return to tip-top-fighting shape. Even characters that gain benefits from a short one still return to full strength at the end of a long one.

Now that you know everything a character can gain from a long rest (health, spells, and abilities)… BE CAREFUL WITH HOMEBREW!!! While the rules are simple, they are factored into the designs of all the races and character classes.

So if you mess with WHEN they get those back, you mess with the balance of the game. Health and abilities need to feel scarce, but not too scarce. If they are recharged too often, players will feel invincible. If recharged too slowly, they’ll never take risks… or die a lot. Any tinkering threatens to turn a well-designed game into an unreliable mess.

5e Long Rest Exhaustion

As your players can tell you after scratching and clawing at an owl bear, adventuring is TIRING. And often, those much-needed rests are interrupted by, say, a moonlit night raid by undead skeletons. They need their long rest… so what happens when they do not get it?

Well, there is also a mechanic where you GAIN something when you FAIL to rest: levels of exhaustion.

When players go long periods of time in between uninterrupted long rests, or experience severe sleep deprivation, their ability to adventure slowly starts to suffer. The more incapacitated and exhausted they are, the more levels of exhaustion they take. There are five levels, ranging from disadvantage on skill checks (level 1) to disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws (level 3) to DEATH (level 6).

Yep… just like in the real world, your character can DIE from exhaustion. It is one of the debilitating conditions in DnD 5e, and players can get it from a few sources. Players can gain a level of exhaustion from spells (“Sickening Radiance”), class abilities (Barbarian “Frenzy” ability), elements (Rime of the Frostmaiden), diseases (“Sewer Plague”), and monsters (The Atropal).

So make sure your character sleeps!!! You can’t recover from exhaustion all at once… the total number of levels is the number of long rests you need to take to get back to normal!

What About Long Rest for a 5e Elf?

All D&D 5e elves enter a semi-conscious “trance” rather than sleep, allowing them to gain all the benefits of a long rest in just 8 hours! However, they are not alone… Warforged have “Sentry’s Rest”, which allows them to be fully conscious, but lasts 6 hours instead.

How Rests Helps Storytelling

Chapter 8 of the Player’s Handbook opens by covering the basics of the adventuring life. Right after explicitly mentioning resting, it explains how a good story “follows a natural rhythm”. This natural rhythm is known as PACING: the varying speed of a progressing story. 

Pacing prevents a good story from becoming boring or exhausting. With good pacing, everyone stays present: nothing is missed, and everything is appreciated.

Constant combat sounds fun, but it can actually ruin a story’s pacing. It doesn’t matter how interesting or exciting the encounters are. If your players are being bombarded with combat encounter after combat encounter, the thrill of the fight becomes less… well… thrilling. Usually, combat is accompanied by the other two pillars of D&D 5e: exploration and roleplaying, both of which can still feel intense. 

What is missing isn’t better encounters… but a pause in the action.

Players need intentionally quiet moments to balance the intensity. Slowing down the pacing by taking a pause gives the players a chance to assess what happened and what it means going forward. Constant encounters or events can just be exhausting. 

Thankfully, as a DM, you have a built-in game mechanic just sitting there, offering you a way to include roleplaying while also slowing down the pacing… RESTS!

Proof That Taking a Break is Important

Let’s look at the real world. For human beings, sleeping is not optional. Stopping and taking a break is essential for both surviving and thriving.

Don’t believe me? Try going hours without sleep and see what happens (spoiler alert: you hallucinate). We need to intentionally power down and deactivate the flight-fight-freeze response in order to actually experience reality.

But rest is also necessary for people to truly live. Physically, it repairs weary muscles, lowers stress, strengthens the immune system, and prevents injury. Mentally, it results in higher levels of focus, memory, and creativity. 

These modern discoveries only affirm what ancient philosophies and religions have been stressing for eons: rest is essential for human flourishing in body, mind, and soul. 

Personal experience, scientific research, and religious wisdom all agree that people adventure better when they take better rest. So what does this mean for your campaign? 

There is no heroic dragon-slaying or dungeon delving if there is no ‘heroic’ rest. 

Part of being an adventurer is being aware of this and balancing out the high-intensity dungeon crawls with some much-needed tavern time.

Ok, let’s do a quick summary… so far, we have established:

  • Too often, DMs hand-wave a long rest for 5e
  • D&D 5e mechanics include minimal rules
  • It is an action players take
  • It is an important tool for storytelling
  • It is an essential part of life.

So how can our adventuring party ‘heroically’ sit down and chill? How can long rest in 5e be a meaningful part of our game?

Ideas For Playing Better Long Rests

When our players sit down after a long fight, they enter negative spaces just waiting to be filled, and I believe both DMs and players can work together to improve the player’s experience and overall story with these moments.

Dungeon Master: Encounters for Interrupted Long Rest in 5e

I’ll start with the obvious one. Every DM worth their salt knows the value of using encounters to interrupt a party’s rest. But given everything previously discussed, there is more you can do than a goblin raid or being stalked by a wolf pack!

For example… have you ever tried to sleep in a well-lit room? Or set up camp on rocky ground? People have an AWFULLY hard time getting good rest when it is too cold, hot, uncomfortable, or noisy. If the environment is oppressive, or if the group is in an unknown and terrifying magical plane, try increasing the number of hours they need for a successful long rest for 5e. 

Better yet, provide a cost for resting outside of normal hours! Our bodies get better rest when we lie down at regular times. So when players break their circadian rhythm by trying to long rest in a dungeon at 11am, make sure it’s challenging! Have them make a WIS save to calm down or a CON save where, if they succeed, they struggle to sleep.

Even small additions like this make the players consider rest even more as a part of the adventure. 

Players: Tending to Wounds

As stated above, a huge reason for resting is to regain lost hit points. And one activity that I would say qualifies as light activity would be addressing any wounds taken. As soon as your players begin a long rest 5e, have them summarize the wounds they took during the battle: Where were they wounded? How painful is it? How do they begin to treat them. They can have the option to roleplay this in character or just describe what it looks like.

If the wound is serious… say a broken bone or serious internal injury… then maybe insist the players have to do a little more. Before they sit down and start healing up automatically, they or their allies make successful medicine checks or use healing spells. This would likely be quite painful, so I would also take the wounded character constitution modifier into account… maybe they have to succeed in CON saves as they are operated on, or they pass out? Regardless of the success, delay the start of the rest until AFTER the operation has taken place.

Dungeon Master: Character Development

Blaise Pascal said that most of human’s internal problems could be solved if they just sat quietly in a room for 15 minutes. A lot of people are constantly active to avoid looking inward, and when their body FORCES them to rest is when they are along with their thoughts.

Perhaps use the long rests in 5e as an opportunity to have the players look inward by asking your players good questions. Doing so will help your players shoulder the responsibility of storytelling and further develop their characters. Questions like…

  • Following a near-death experience, what is your character grateful for? 
  • Is there anything or anyone your character really misses? 
  • What about that encounter stuck out to your character? How do they feel about it?
  • What is your character daydreaming about? 
  • Are they sleeping well, or are they restless? Why? 
  • What is the last thing your character thinks of before going to sleep? 

I have personally found this to be especially helpful for new players or anyone who prefers to discover their character through gameplay.

Players: Exploring the Inner World

Nearly every day, a D&D hero faces death, suffers wounds, and is confronted by the foreign and unknown. All of these are inherently traumatic, and it takes a lot of inner work to keep those traumatic experiences from sabotaging their ability to function. This is excellent role-playing material.

With that in mind, rests become indispensable for helping a hero remain a hero. Take time during the rest to consider how your character would bring their inner world back into balance. How would they integrate their experiences into their self-understanding? Consider their identity and values and how those might change or be reinforced. 

Then again, your character might be bad at resting! In the real world, it’s a skill that can take a lifetime to develop. Personally, I suggest that if player characters never stop struggling on the inside, they should eventually take a point of exhaustion or reduce their passive Perception. 

Dungeon Master: Story-Telling

Your questions will develop characters, but your narration will develop the plot. Use rests as bookends for really dangerous and important encounters. 

Prior to a dangerous situation, build anticipation for what is to come. The night before a battle is infamous for its gut-wrenching mess of complex feelings. Following a battle or particularly enlightening encounter, sow seeds of curiosity: selectively reveal information as the players rest for them to pursue later. A little suspense goes a long way!

The narrative needs pauses, and it’s the DM’s job to lead the table through those pauses. Slowing pacing before and after every quality combat encounter makes the whole campaign better.

Players: Roleplaying Through Downtime

Once combat ends, there is a whole manner of chores to attend to looting bodies, sharpening blades, mending armor, tracking anyone that fled, prayers for the dead, setting up camp, foraging for food… the list goes on. So consider your character and their post-combat habits. What do they usually do after a fight or a long day of exploring? And if they are breaking their routine, is that important? Would their party members notice?

But more importantly, when your character takes a long rest in 5e, they take a break from work! So unless you have a totalitarian view of labor and people, work is not an end to itself! What hobbies or skills come up when they are not adventuring? What does your character to move past the combat or take their mind off the horrors they witnessed?

Finally, why not talk to your fellow adventurers? A long rest in 5e is a perfect time to prioritize and strengthen our relationships with others. Or alternatively, you can use the ‘captive audience’ as the perfect moment to address a concern or slight and confront a party member!

In Conclusion: Gritty Realism 5e

Rest is a necessary and important part of the D&D 5e’s mechanics, story, and adventurer’s life. They are intentionally chosen, full of potential, and something we should skip a whole lot less. Better long rests 5e make for better D&D sessions and campaigns. 

Rather than skipping your party’s rest, allow yourself to slow down: slow the pacing, catch your breath, and add depth to your adventure. Make no mistake, rest is an essential part of any story. 

To put it simply, just because the player characters are taking a break doesn’t mean the story should! 


Riley James

Riley is a freelance copywriter and content writer based out of Spokane WA. He is thankful to have the opportunity to use his passion for imaginative role-playing to help FLGS, tabletop, board game, and D&D related businesses communicate their distinct value to players everywhere. When not playing or writing about board games or DnD (or playing them!) he is busy hiking, cooking, and gardening… very hobbit like activities for someone who is 6’4”. Click this link if you are interested in his TTRPG and board game marketing expertise!

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