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Push 'em Real Good
Dungeon Editorial
by Chris Youngs

When it comes to the pace of a game, DMs like to think they're in control. After all, a DM can change the course of a session at any time with but a word. But in reality, when it comes to the hour-to-hour flow of the game, the PCs often set the pace.

How do players take this power out of the DM's hands? By resting. Sure, 4th Edition is better about this than previous editions. As a rule, you don't have wizards or clerics telling the group to rest after a single fight anymore. Most balanced groups can make it through five or six fights before they need to rest, often more if they're particularly skilled -- or they get hot hands with their dice.

But 4th Edition still has some nonrenewable resources, most importantly daily powers and healing surges. Still, I've yet to really see dailies prevent a group from pressing on. No, what seems to stop most groups is when one or more characters run out of surges. I saw this happening last week in my game, and as the group started to debate whether to stop and rest or push on (they're on a bit of a time crunch, or I don't think it would have even been a debate), it got me thinking.

Man, it's fun when you can push a group of PCs past their comfort limits. I think that in many groups, the first PC who drops to a couple surges calls "Uncle!" and sends the rest of the party out of the dungeon. If you're a DM, this can be frustrating. Maybe the very next encounter is the last one in a long adventure, and it's going to be anticlimactic if you have to stop and wait while all your players refresh their character sheets after taking an extended rest. Or maybe, as in my case, there's supposed to be a time crunch, and the PCs are supposed to feel some pressure to continue.

When the group suddenly stops because the wizard wants his spent sleep power back, all I want to say is, "Gah! Are you adventurers, or chumps?!" If this has happened to you, then I have one word for you:

Push.

That's right, don't let 'em rest. Have a breathless NPC show up and ask for their immediate help. Start a skill challenge. Or just send in a fresh wave of bad guys.

Chris Perkins is a master of the push. In fact, he's used it dozens of times in his campaigns, often when the PCs felt genuinely deserving of rest. I can remember the party wizard telling the group he was down to 1st- and 2nd-level spells, plus maybe a couple of wands, and Chris dropping us into a big fight. And then another one. And then another. We found creative ways to contribute, even if we were out of spells. We scoured the Player's Handbook for tactics (Aid Another!) and our character sheets for something -- anything -- that could help ("What if I take this sunrod and …"). We rose to the challenge, every time. And those were some of the best, most memorable fights of all, precisely because we weren't at our best.

So last week, when my group debated on whether to rest after two characters spent their last healing surges (and one of them was still at less than full hit points), I decided to push. The NPC accompanying them, himself almost bloodied, told them they needed to continue. That the safety of the region depended on it. And with that, they kicked in the next door, to be continued this week.

I can't wait to see what happens.