Please note, this is a repost from my short lived blog at EmbraDM.blogspot.co.uk
I love playing and running D&D 4th edition, but one thing that’s never quite felt right for me is a lengthy, ongoing dungeon. Explore a corridor, or a room or two, avoid/disable a couple of traps, then have a fight. Rinse/repeat as needed until you get to the bottom, top, far end, centre as desired.
If those fights are a standard, on level encounter they’ll last about 5 or 6 rounds most of the time. That’s only 30 seconds of real world time, but as anyone who’s played 4e knows, it can grind to a halt at a table for up to an hour. Generally after an on level encounter, the inevitable short rest is needed so that players can spend some surges and get their encounter powers back. That means that after a 30 second fight, they’re stopping for 5 minutes. To keep things working as presented in the core books, that’s 5 minutes of undisturbed rest – an occasional interrupted rest of probably fine if they’re taking them in dangerous territory, but for the sake of player/DM trust, I don’t feel you want to be doing that too much. Usually, running standard encounters, parties will manage maybe 5 or 6 encounters in a good day before they need their extended rest.
That leaves you with an age old problem – during that 5 minute rest, what are the other monsters in the dungeon doing? Didn’t anyone else hear 30 seconds of weapon clashes, screaming and grunting? How do you balance the common sense approach that things would come and investigate what was happening, or come ambush the party? Assuming there are more than 5 or 6 groups of monsters in your dungeon, where are the party going to sleep? If it’s inside the dungeon, why are there no patrols? If it’s outside, why are the early dungeon rooms still empty the next day?