D&D DM Guides

D&D Optional Rules #4: Resting and Healing Variants

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One of the great things about D&D is the fact that players can experience what it’s truly like to get eight hours rest and practically free healthcare…for their characters, at least. Resting and healing are staples of any campaign as they give the characters a chance to fight another day rather quickly. However, the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG) offers rules for both that either speed up or slow down the ways adventurers regain health and rest.


When an adventuring party finishes a particularly grueling fight, the first thing they do once the dust settles is tend to their wounds. This usually involves healing spells and healing potions if the party managed to buy any before leaving town.

Another way to heal that many parties seem to overlook is the healer’s kit. In-game, the healer’s kit contains ten uses of bandages, salves, and splints to help characters recover health. Usually it is used to stabilize a character at zero hit points without using a Medicine check. The DMG offers a rule that during a short rest, characters must spend one use of their healer’s kit in order to use Hit Dice to recover HP. This makes healer’s kits a must-have item before venturing forth from a settlement.

If your campaign has a bit of a superhero-like feel to it with high-powered characters that seem to have lots of battles, the DMG details a way for players to heal during combat so that they can continue the fight, called a healing surge. Players can spend half their Hit Dice during combat to regain HP, but they cannot use Hit Dice again until after a short or long rest. A short rest restores a number of Hit Dice equal to the character’s level, divided by four, with a minimum of one Hit Die recovered. A long rest restores all spent Hit Dice.

Some campaigns call for more realistic healing, as the setting has less of a magic focus or is paced for more realism than fantasy. For campaigns such as this, the DM can simply install a rule that characters do not regain all their HP at the end of a long rest. Instead, they spend Hit Dice similar to a short rest. This prolongs injury recovery and adds a bit of a challenge should the party encounter more than one fight a day.


The resting rules in D&D have always been a bit of an immersion breaker for me. After fighting an adult red dragon, a party can go back to town, sleep for eight hours, and fully recover from all their wounds? I think not! With that said, some campaigns are super combat heavy and having characters fall unconscious every other turn would be boring. On the other hand, campaigns that focus more on political intrigue and where combat is rarer wouldn’t require adventurers to recover wounds as fast. Thankfully, the DMG gives us rules for both scenarios.

For games where combat is as normal and frequent as waking up and going to work, the DMG suggests shortening the lengths of short and long rests to five minutes and one hour, respectively. This way, characters can heal and be ready for the next fight that is seemingly right around the corner. To balance this, DMs should look to make encounters a little more difficult.

Also, shortening the lengths of rests affect how spellcasters get their spells back. With much shorter times to recover, it is recommended that after a one hour long rest, spellcasters can only recover a maximum of half their spell slots, rounded down, and only of spells of 5th level or lower. A full eight hour rest is required to gain all their spell slots back.

If most of the combat in your game involves curse words, insults, pick-up lines, and witty barbs, it might behoove your party to extend the resting period for wound recovery to make the game more realistic. Actual physical combat may show up once every few sessions, so it wouldn’t be required for party members to fully regain HP after a long rest. In this case, the DMG suggests extending the times for short and long rests to eight hours for short rests and seven days for long rests.

With rest periods being so long, party members might think twice about running into a battle and take a more diplomatic or stealthy route instead. Any battles foreseen would require more careful planning and perhaps an NPC ally or two.

Whether you want an epic hero story or a gritty noir story, there are variants to the traditional resting and healing rules to fit your campaign. By shortening or extending rest times, relying on healer’s kits and changing the times players can use Hit Dice, resting and healing can help dictate the pace of combat, or lack thereof. And if your campaign is role-play heavy, having seven days to recover from a humiliating social interaction seems necessary. This just got too real, didn’t it?

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