Elves, trance, and long rest

September 29, 2014 at 10:00 am
filed under Roleplaying
Tagged ,

Per a thread I saw, there was a question about elves and long rests. The write-up says they go into a trance for 4 hrs. However, when someone asked Mike Mearls about how this affected with a long rest, he said that they still need to rest for 8 hrs; they only need to “sleep” for 4.

So what’s the point of trance, then? My guess is that it has to do with the night watch. Let’s look at the blurb for long rests and see what emerges. My goal here is to accord the right amount of respect to the “trance” perk while keeping the rules for resting as simple as possible.

From the PHB basic rules:

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours. If the rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity—at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting spells, or similar adventuring activity— the characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.

Now, some of this hinges on how exactly you interpret the “no more than 2 hours.”

  1. Is that two hours consecutively or total?
  2. Is that two hours of watch, or two hours of not-sleeping?

I read it as 2 hrs total. Watch requires a level of attentiveness that reading, chatting, and eating do not. You need to be ready to fight, and possibly patrolling. This read is simpler and at least slightly more believable. Nobody gets to play shenanigans with alternating hours of sleep and watch. Rest is about contiguous downtime.

So what about not-sleeping? It’s less clear but simplicity hints at an answer.

If a long rest requires no more than two hours not-sleeping, why bother? Anyone else can sleep for six hours and watch for two. I think trance is meant to be a meaningful perk, albeit a minor one.

We don’t want one rule for how elves rest (i.e. they can read for 2+ hrs but no one else can). From there it falls out that watch is the only non-sleep activity we care about.

In summary:

  1. The two hour limit applies chiefly to standing watch.
  2. A character can spend only two hours standing watch throughout the long rest.

Notice we say nothing about trance or any other rules here, which means this is orthogonal to trance or whatever future abilities might crop up. (For instance, what if players play a construct?) In other words it’s still elegant. The only part that still bothers me is what those other two hours are “for.” But that’s more of an aesthetic issue, and a really minor one.

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