D&D as a 2-hour game

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Most people seem to think that D&D takes, at a minimum, 4 hours to play. I understand the desire to play an extended game, and indeed 4 hours isn't really that long, especially if you have memories of 8 or 12 hour marathons as a kid. And if you can afford that kind of time, then you may as well use it. However, if you're trying to maximize your time with D&D, this perception may be more harmful than helpful.

Here's why I think insisting upon marathon sessions of D&D is potentially harmful to the hobby.

A great way to make sure D&D never happens for you is to insist it can't happen in under 4 hours. This keeps D&D unattainable to you outside of gaming conventions, and relegates it to an only-on-special-occasions activity. If you want more D&D, the key is to play it less so you can play it more.

Relay races over marathons

Most adults in the hobby want to play D&D more often than they're able to, and yet nobody seems to have the time. While playing for 4 or 6 hours at a time seems like a smart way to maximize time spent with D&D, it's difficult for adults to carve so much time out of a day on a regular basis. The way I see it, if you want to play more D&D, sometimes the trick is to play for less time each session, but to have more sessions. Mathematically, it makes sense: you can play 6 hours once a month for a total of 72 hours a year, or 2 hours twice weekly for a total of 208 hours.

The perceived disadvantage to this is that you have to carve out small chunks of time more frequently, so it just becomes a different scheduling problem. Many of us think our schedules are too unpredictable for regular appointments, but you might be surprised how small commitments don't really impact your schedule much, and indeed can sometimes provide little elements of structure to an otherwise chaotic week. After all, millions and millions of people all over the world find time to attend church every Sunday morning, or to watch a popular TV show on Friday night, and so on. Making your way to a short D&D game isn't terribly different, and in fact if you're very clever, you could capitalize upon other traditional commitments. If nobody in your group watches the latest popular TV drama or goes to church or goes to a Saturday morning soccer meet, then propose a game as a reliable alternative.

The difference is similar to a relay race over a marathon. The energy is up, because it only needs to last in a short burst, and it's easy to integrate into your weekly routine because it doesn't take half the day to happen.

Greater focus

You can hear it in the way people talk about their games: a D&D game is as much a social event as it is a game. For some people, that's the point. For others, that's the problem. The way I see it, if you spend an hour before a game socializing, plus a cumulative hour during the game socializing, then out of 4 hours you've only actually played D&D for 2 hours.

If that's part of the appeal for you, then that's excellent and you shouldn't stop. But if you're interested in the game more than the socializing, then limiting your game to 2 hours can help people focus on gameplay. You might be surprised at just how much D&D can actually be played in 2 hours when everyone just plays the game. In fact, it might take a session or two for the DM to adjust because so much more ground gets covered.

Unexpected instances of D&D

A significant side benefit to a 2-hour game is that D&D can happen a lot more casually than when it's seen as a big important special event. If you find yourself hanging out with a friend, you can safely and reasonably propose a game, secure in the knowledge that it'll only take an hour or two. And you don't need 4 friends all in the same place at once, or a published adventure, because you know that a three-room dungeon and a few traps and monsters is plenty to fill a 90 to 120 minute slot.

This also helps break down the idea of having "D&D friends" and just "friends". Most people I play D&D with (outside of my weekly game) aren't "D&D people". They're people who have never played before or, if they have, don't play often. But a 2-hour game, often played 1-on-1, is easy. It's about as threatening as a game of Monopoly, and lasts about as long. If they don't love it, they've only lost 2 hours of their lives and got to experience something new. If they like it, then they can always come back for more. If they really love it, then they can answer my occasional call for marathon sessions.

The dynamics of proposing a game changes when there's no threat of being roped into a long drawn-out laborious story that never ends. This is a board game, with a clear goal and a time limit. It's safe to play even if it's already 7 at night.

That's the why. In the next post, I'll address how to run a 2-hour game successfully.

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