This was an interesting thing to observe because the design team for 4th Edition swore that they had done away with the 15-minute adventuring day. But the reality is that, rather than fixing the “problem”, they ended up making it worse.
As I describe in “Death of the Wandering Monster”, the 15-minute adventuring day is the result of a simple mechanical incentive: By design, the spellcasters are supposed to deal more damage less frequently and the fighters are supposed to deal less damage more frequently. Over the long-haul, this should balance out. But the 15-minute adventuring day — in which the spellcasters go into a single encounter, nova their most powerful abilities, rest, and then do it again the next day — destroys this balance. Not only does it result in the spellcasters consistently out-performing the fighters, it also leads to the entire party being far more effective against the opponents that they face.
Some people dislike the 15-minute adventuring day because it feels unnatural to them. But the reality is that it’s actually quite natural. In real life, people rarely fight intense battles and then turn around and immediately go looking for another one. When historical armies have been forced to fight a second battle immediately after the first one, for example, it has generally ended poorly for them. And you’ll basically never see a boxer fight a second match on the same day.
It makes perfect sense, all other things being equal, for characters in a life-and-death situation to use every single resource they have available to end up on the “living” side of that equation. And if that means they have to rest up and gather fresh resources before facing the next life-and-death situation, that makes sense, too.
And ultimately, as I say in “Death of the Wandering Monster”, this leads to the conclusion that the best way to solve this problem is to create a world or story where there is a reason for the characters to persevere. And that solution will work almost as well in 4th Edition as it did in 3rd Edition.
I say “almost as well” because, as I mentioned before, 4th Edition actually ended up making the problem of the 15-minute adventuring day worse. And it did that by making the incentive for doing it larger.
To understand what I mean, let’s talk about the other solution for the 15-minute adventuring day: Removing the mechanical impetus for resting. In order to do that, you have to do at least one of two things:
(1) Completely remove any mechanical benefit for taking a long rest.
(2) Provide a meaningful mechanical bonus for not taking a rest.
4th Edition’s designers apparently believed that they fixed the first problem by making sure that every class was given at-will and encounter abilities — things they could continue doing for as long as they wanted to without ever taking a long rest.
But the nova-rest-nova cycle of gameplay isn’t driven by a character’s least powerful abilities, it’s driven by their most powerful abilities — the things that are designed to be used rarely, but which the nova-rest-nova cycle allows to be used frequently.
In 4th Edition, a character’s most powerful abilities are their daily abiltiies. Which, as the name suggests, still benefit from the nova-rest-nova cycle and the 15-minute adventuring day. But just as all of the classes were given at-will and encounter powers, all of the classes in 4th Edition were given daily powers. Which means that you’ve gone from having one or two characters who could potentially benefit from the nova-rest-nova cycle to having ALL of the PCs potentially benefit from the cycle.
Okay, so what about the other potential mechanical solution — offering some sort of mechanical bonus for not taking a rest?
You can accumulate X action points by going through 2X encounters per day, but this is irrelevant because you can only use 1 action point per encounter and you get 1 action point whenever you take a long rest.
You can also accumulate X daily uses of your magic items by going through 2X encounters per day. This is more useful because, unlike action points, you can use all of your accumulated daily uses for your magic items in a single encounter. But in order to gain that advantage you have to make sure you don’t use the daily use for your magic items in your first Y number of encounters in the day.
And that’s it. So, on the one hand, you have the ability to occasionally use more than one daily use of a magic item in a single encounter. On the other hand you have the ability to use all of your daily powers (including your daily use of a magic item) in every single encounter. It’s not hard to figure out which one represents the larger incentive.
Aggravating this problem even further, there’s the issue of healing surges. Characters have a certain number of healing surges per day, and virtually all healing in 4th Edition works by activating and using up these healing surges. Once you’ve used up your healing surges for the day, you basically can’t be healed any more and you have to rest.
In 3rd Edition, a group who wanted or needed to continue adventuring could invest in resources — like a wand of cure light wounds — that would allow them to do that. In 4th Edition, however, that same group will find itself literally incapable of pressing on.
Take, for example, my experienced gaming group. Because of the way our 3rd Edition campaign is structured, this group rarely experiences a short adventuring day. In fact, they’re usually scrambling to figure out some way to pack even more activity into every single day. This same group hit 4th Edition and, despite my efforts to jack up the sense of urgency in Keep on the Shadowfell, quickly fell into the 15-minute adventuring day. This was partly due to necessity (they were using up healing surges), but it was also largely because the pay-off for doing it was so much greater than it was in previous editions.