The ‘Heroic State’: Epic Heroism, Immersion and Realism

The Apothecary hands the Paladin a vial of murky green liquid. ‘This will push you beyond your normal limits, but for a price.’ He crows.

The Paladin does not hesitate. Lives are at stake. He downs the bottle. His blood pounds loudly in his ears, thrumming like the beating of a dragon’s wings. His chest aches with white heat. He steadies himself and focuses, and as he does so the cuts on his hands mend themselves shut in an instant.

Intro

Hello again everyone! This is a continuation on my series about Rest Variants and alternating between them depending on the situation. This post is a direct follow up to this one where I discuss switching between Rest Variants, and I really recommend you read it first. It is within the context of what I discuss there that I will be discussing the Epic Heroism Rest Variant.

Epic Heroism

First of all let’s define the Epic Heroism Rest Variant. Page 267 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide suggests the Epic Heroism variant, in which a short rest is 5 minutes and a long rest is 1 hour. This variant is seldom talked about, and where Gritty Realism is at least suggested as a solution to many problems voiced by DMs, Epic Heroism seems to fall by the wayside.

Indeed, I would describe it as the least useful Rest Variant. However, when operating within the notion of switching between Rest Variants depending on the situation even Epic Heroism has a place. My original post spoke more about Gritty Realism within this framework, so this one will seek to discuss Epic Heroism.

When Do We Use It?

Where Gritty Realism is useful for navigating the overworld (I described this as the “Overworld State” in my original post) and the standard rest rules are useful for the “Dungeon State”, Epic Heroism seems like it doesn’t naturally fit anywhere. Indeed, a few folk commenting on that post expressed as much.

So where does it fit then?

Simplest answer: the Boss Rush.

The Gilded Castle has stood for millennia, ably manned by the Aurum Guard. Today the forces of evil have coalesced and joined forces to take down the castle once and for all. Even the Aurum Guard cannot stand against such a force. But the most lauded heroes of the realm have arrived just as the siege begins, ready to throw themselves in the thickest part of the fight.

First, an ancient black dragon besieges the north wall. The heroes barely take it down before the call comes that the gate is being assaulted by a host of fire giants guarding some great engine of war. They collect themselves then sprint to the gates, arriving just minutes after the black dragon fell. After the giants are dispatched of, the heroes are called to the east tower by the sea where a great hydra has risen from the waves and is lashing at the walls.

When all this is done the heroes finally sit for an evening meal while the Aurum Guard hold off some skirmishers. No sooner have they finished their food than the call comes that a new wave of assaults has been launched in the night. The heroes rush back to the walls, having sat for barely an hour.

Do you see where I’m going with this? Epic Heroism is designed to be used in exactly that: the most epic and heroic moments of your campaign. This is a high-level party, one that is renowned enough to be brought in to help hold the most important castle in the world, one that is considered even more powerful than the castle’s own lauded soldiery. Have your players run a gauntlet of boss fights or majorly hard encounters in a situation where action is truly non-stop. This is where Epic Heroism can and should be deployed. Having only 5 minutes to patch yourself up before getting back in the fray makes you feel like a god damn epic hero.

Granted, the boss rush isn’t the only situation Epic Heroism can be deployed in. Really any time-sensitive situation is ideal. Fighting your way out of a crumbling dungeon. Assaulting the layered defenses of a corrupted keep before a ritual taking place inside can be completed. Chasing the fleeing BBEG as he throws hoards of minions at you. The list goes on.

How Do We Use It?

I suppose I should clarify the question first. Really what I’m asking is ‘How do we use it realistically and immersively?’. This series has been all about using Rest Variants to maintain some level of realism, and Epic Heroism certainly feels the least realistic Rest Variant. Patching up after a fight in only 5 minutes? Being fully rested and recovered in only an hour? It’s so far beyond the limits of physiological reality than even for a high-level character it feels like bullshit.

But DnD doesn’t operate on physiological reality. We can explain away patching oneself up in just 5 minutes the same way that we can explain away someone shooting fire from their hands: magic. The realism isn’t really a problem, it’s the immersion that’s the problem. Suddenly saying to your players “Ok now you can suddenly short rest in just 5 minutes because magic, have at it” isn’t very satisfying or immersive.

What is immersive is having the players do something in-universe that allows them to suddenly heal at lightning speed and recover resources in just 1 hour that would normally take a week to recover (assuming you’re using the ‘Overworld State’ prior to this). I would like to draw your attention back to the flavour text at the start of this post. Taking some sort of potion that allows you to push your mind and body far beyond its normal limits is a really immersive way to explain why short resting suddenly only takes 5 minutes. Your physiology is being magically pushed far past what it is normally capable of.

Let’s look at how to do this mechanically. Have the players know well in advance “Hey this guy sells potions that let you short rest in 5 minutes and long rest in an hour”, and then when the players need it most they will go seek out that potion seller (“Potion Seller, I am going in to battle! I require your strongest potions!”).

So that they don’t just use it all the time, have it be rare or limited somehow, or give it some sort of drawback. Perhaps the potion seller requires rare ingredients that take him a long time to acquire. He can generally only produce one of these potions every fortnight. The 5-man party is going to have to wait nearly 3 months for him to be restocked. Maybe make it prohibitively expensive. I discussed how my method of switching between Rest Variants ties in with party gold gain and expenditure here, and this essentially ties in to that.

Personally I like to give it a drawback. I tend to do things like ‘You can take this now and use the Epic Heroism Rest Variant, but if you don’t sleep within 48 hours your character will die’. I’m also a bastard, so maybe you might make your drawback a little less harsh.

Also, having them unlock the ‘Heroic State’ by way of a crazy-powerful potion isn’t your only option! Your Cleric might commune with his God to ask for a holy blessing that will allow them to perform beyond their usual limits. Your Wizard might have some powerful extraplanar allies that can lend the party some of their power. Your Bard might have discovered some ancient ritual that can provide whoever performs it (and 5 allies of their choosing!) immense power, but only temporarily. You can come up with all sorts of ways to do this, and add limits to them as necessary so that your party does not just employ the Epic Heroism Rest Variant all the time.

Why Would I Want To Use It?

Because you want your players to feel like Epic Heroes.

Specifically in my original post I stated the benefit of Epic Heroism as a Rest Variant was that it allows PCs to not have to worry about resource management. It is best used when the point of an encounter is to figure out how to beat it using every tool at your disposal. This Rest Variant should be used at the most challenging parts of your campaign, at least story-wise.

And that’s where it really shines – at the peak of challenge in a campaign. First major boss? Epic Heroism. It will make the entire section stand out from every other run-of-the-mill encounter the players have handled thus far in a way that mere encounter design cannot accomplish. Every time we hit a ‘boss battle’ situation we can employ this Rest Variant to make each one a ‘spike’ in the campaign’s narrative. When the party looks back on their deeds, these moments will be the ones that stand out the most.

An Heroic Conclusion

The day is won. The Gilded Castle stands. But the power that flowed through our heroes during the 48-hour siege destroyed them utterly. Their bodies, minds and spirits spent, our heroes are laid to rest in the Tomb of Kings where only royalty have been buried until now. Statues are built in their honour in the middle of the town square, and the story of their deeds will outlast them by several lifetimes. The city can rest safe knowing that the forces of evil have been defeated once and for all.

I hope from all this you’ve developed an understanding of exactly what Epic Heroism can accomplish, why you might want to use it, how you can use it and – if I’ve done my job right – how you can tie it in to the overall mechanic of switching between Rest Variants to suit different situations and circumstances.

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