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Action movies and understanding 5e.


When people have trouble understanding 5e I compare it to an action movie. There should be tension in all things 'on camera', that is, what is happening at the table.

The 2 areas I see many people (mostly people from 3e/4e) have issues understanding are skills and rests.

I think they are operating from a different framework. So I'm going to use Terminator (1 & 2) in an attempt to show the design which 5e is based around.


John Connor has a magic hacking device that shows him the PIN on any machine that requires both a card and a PIN. Early in the movie he is shown using it to set up its use later.

In 5e the early use would be an automatic success. There is no tension here. It's not exciting whether he has success or fails. The ATM is also mundane. Later on when the cops are coming and they need to get into the room or else. That's when an ability check would be called for.


Here's the timeline of Terminator 2 (2 1/2 hours):

First 30min - Story and character set up

30min - First action scene. The Terminators have found John.
40min - John wants to save his step-parents. Only he is too late. The T-1000 tries to trick him and the T-800 (Arnold). They outwit him.
50min - Sarah Connor escapes her forensic ward just in time as the T-1000 comes for her. John and Arnold rescue her and they escape from the T-1000

1:10-1:35 - The team rest and stock up in Mexico

1:35 - Sarah attempts to assassinate Dyson
1:50 - They break into Dyson's lab in order to destroy it. They fight a lot of cops
2:00 - The T-1000 comes for them.
2:10 - They stop the T-1000 by freezing it. Only it keeps coming less than a minute later.
2:20 - The T-1000 is destroyed

The long rest is the 25 minutes in Mexico where they are safe. It's a lull in the movie. They recover, they stock up, and they go back in on their terms. There are momentary lulls throughout where they have time to catch their breath, but they aren't safe and it's still coming for them.

It would be a dull movie if they went back to Mexico every 15 minutes.

The first Terminator has tighter pacing (and is the superior movie of course). It comes in at 1h50min (45 minutes less than Terminator 2). It follows similar pacing up to the 1:15 mark.

The action starts at 30min. At 1:15 they find a motel. Wounds are bandaged, bombs are made. But they are still on the run, from the police and the Terminator. At 1:25 the Terminator finds them again (10 minute break rather than 25).

This one is an example where there are no long rests. They have moments of respite in the police station and the motel, but they are never safe and don't have time to fully recover.

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