View Full Version : A quesiton of time.....

03-16-2010, 08:16 PM
Hey folks, I'm what one might call an insufferable noob to the world of tabletop RPGs. I've got a good bit of experience with the MMO genre, boardgames in general, and miniature wargames in particular, but I've felt a recent urge to try my hand at some tabletop RPG action.

D&D seems like a logical first step.

I've got some friends who are interested in starting a group, and a potential, experienced DM identified, but we've hit something of a snag.

We can't seem to agree on how much time/commitment will be required to really enjoy the experience.

All of us involved are older (30-40), and have jobs, families, kids, etc, and can only really carve out one night a month to get together on a regular basis. The DM is concerned that one night a month isn't enough time to really have fun with it. Now, I suspect our DM is used to life pre-4ed....though I'm not sure that it matters.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Is it possible to have a robust, fun, ongoing D&D game that meets only once a month, or do we need a more frequent gathering to make it worth our while?

Thanks for reading.


03-16-2010, 09:52 PM
That is why our tabletop group meets every two weeks. This way it isn't as difficult to remember what happened in the last game session. Now, with our varied schedules for work, kids, etc., we have had some times that we have met 3 weeks in a row, as well as a couple of times when we haven't met until after 4 or 5 weeks have went by. Just got to take advantage of getting together whenever everyone can.

03-17-2010, 02:55 AM
I find every 2 weeks to be good. You could do once a month but thats a long time to go in between sessions and a lot for people to remember without continuity. You can do once a month though. I've said it before, i will say it again - i prefer campaign play. In other words, its not episodic - you have to show up every time to get the full flavor and there are many treads tying the sessions together - plot devices, NPC's, locations, faith, ideals, organizations - it gives it an immersive feeling.

So sans just running characters through random play scenarios, i say the GM should put together a campaign. Have the scenarios short enough to be accomplished in no more than 2 sessions as a rule. At once a month, i personally think these should be 8 hours sessions on like a Sunday. If you have to limit it to 4 hours or so, stick to the approach - don't make scenarios span lots of sessions... people may lose interest if the feeling of accomplishment takes to long to get. Keeps a brief character log of the main points, persons, and events for the players to refresh with before the next session (that's a little more work for the GM, but it usually has good returns when players use place names, references, and events in character conversation - just good role-playing flavor).

I also found another way to keep players involved when it goes a while between sessions is online threads - email threads, discussion groups, blogs - have a long character in-game discussion via an online venue that after a week or so you can start to keep interest up. It could be as simple as "whats the next step" - end your sessions at a point where this is easily faciltated and let players flex their noggins via an online discussion between characters. Or you can make it innocuous such as "my character xyz of faith 123 is looking for those to take a more active role in the flock of followers" - let characters put forward and work on ideals and bonds between characters. Have a character get a letter about joining a guild or brotherhood - in short both group and individual threads managed by the GM can keep interest up in between sessions...

Just my 2 cents - it all depends on desired style of play and goals of the gaming experience...

03-19-2010, 04:32 AM
I have no argument with what's been said up to now, but I'd like to add my own observations. What I've found, playing with groups that have similar demographics, is that games which drop down to once-a-month sessions are right on the borderline for dying out. Every group is different, but this is what's pertained to the groups I've played with over the past few years:

It's often harder to commit eight hours even once a month than it is to commit four hours once a fortnight. Eight hours is basically a full day, while four hours leaves some room for an errand or two, or another activity. If your group can actually commit to an eight hour session (meaning eight hours of gaming, not x hours of schmoozing and 8-x hours of gaming) then infrequent sessions become more justifiable. However, I still think eight hours in one go risks burnout more than four hours twice as often. It does have the advantage of less "catch-up" time between sessions, however.
For groups that like regularity, four hours a fortnight is a good pace. With regularity, it gets easier to carve out the necessary time, and once a fortnight means not having to indefinitely pencil out one day of the week.
For groups with more irregular schedules, aiming for once a week and averaging once a fortnight might be the way to go. Cplmac's example may reflect this state. Just make it clear that a 50% cancellation rate is to be expected from the outset, but nevertheless try to minimize last-minute cancellations.
If your group is down to meeting once a month, especially if it's for a four hour session, or it's subject to cancellations such that the real rate is less than once a month, it might be worthwhile to consider whether that time isn't better spent doing something else. Tabletop role-playing loses out to many other activities in terms of short-term gratification. In a typical game session, especially with casual players, there's going to be initial socialization, followed by catching up on what the party's supposed to be doing. Then, especially if many of the players are new, there's going to be coaching and upkeep throughout the session. Not much time remains for actual gaming. Beyond that, with a new group, there's going to be interpersonal activities: group forming, getting used to people's play styles (which might be significantly different from their personalities in other endeavors), establishing norms of behavior, and so on, that have to be reiterated when there are long interruptions between play. The upshot is that it can be easier to actually burn out, as opposed to the expected fading out, with these infrequent sessions because everyone's got to repeat stressful social activities more than they would if the group met more often.
Maybe this is just a local quirk, but one way that can avoid burnout is to rotate seasons: one season of regularly-scheduled role-playing, one season of other types of activities (board games, video games, sports, barbecues, etc.), and then one season of "lying fallow." If some people get hooked on tabletop rpgs, they can form smaller, more intense groups during the "off-seasons."

I haven't found that the edition plays a role in it. I started noticing these patterns around 3rd edition, and they didn't change for 3.5 or 4th edition. Before 3rd edition, I was in a different demographic, but I imagine they'd still hold true.

One last observation is that your DM's concerns about availability may stem from a fundamental question of "Is it worth it for me to spend a good chunk of my own personal time to satisfy what will amount to a minor distraction for the players?" I don't believe the amount of time spent developing a game is directly proportional to session time, especially at the beginning. Maybe after the game's established itself, meeting half as frequently results in half the effort for the DM, but not at the outset, especially not with new players.

Many DMs put in their time because they are satisfying desires that go beyond the basic "I want to competently referee a game session." "Telling a satisfying story," is a common example of such a desire. If the DM's needs aren't satisfied, their ability to function as a DM may suffer, and the group is more likely to be headed towards an unsatisfactory conclusion.

03-19-2010, 08:29 AM
Umiushi's comments should be taken to heart, there's a lot of great perspective there. My assumption is everyone is really into it - hard core gamers just with a restrictive schedule. My own groups lose an hour each session easily to just reminiscing and jokes. At once a month, without much time and dedication to the game, i'd probably find something else - movie night, board games like Cthulu, Arabian Nights, Dread Pirate... Munchkin... Kobolds Ate My Baby - these can all be just as fun if not even more so because there's less pressure on everyone if the gathering is primarily social.

I don't game frequently, but my groups are hard-core gamers. When we do game, we game. We see each other infrequently for dinner, movies, events and whatever outside that... so when we do manage to get a lot of us together at once, we dedicate it to gaming.

03-23-2010, 01:16 AM
I think once a month can be fine, but you definitely want to cater to the timing.

As people have noted, it's hard to remember what happened in the last session and you lose time getting caught up to speed. My solution to that is to try to make sure each single monthly session is an encapsulated story. That way there is no "When we left off the party was fighting the brass dragon. Tunath had just used a healing surge and it's Rober's turn in the initiative order... go!"

You can run a full and protracted campaign, but it has to be episodic. You are trying to get each session to have an opening and a closing while pushing the ongoing story forward. So it's a bit more friendly to rails to be honest, but they are not required.

The other nice benefit is that if someone cancels, it really does not matter. The DM can tweak the content and tailor it to the reduced party, but none of the actors are missing on the stage in a crucial moment. They start off stage, and stay there.

I've been thinking a lot about the once a month game, because it's the reality I think I'm starting to accept. I'm just too busy to go for bi-weekly, which is my preferred maximum. Running something on the last Saturday of each month (pick a weekend, matters not) and inviting all my friends to see what my latest adventure offering is is entirely possible if they know what's happening before they get there.

04-23-2010, 10:35 PM
Once a month can be fine, to just play D&D, but it does not work so good for a campaign. You might want to just do the 'random classic' adventures. A month is way to long to remember anything. So you'd need adventures that are short and to the point.

The whole time thing is always a problem. It does come down to that if people want to, they will make the time.

04-24-2010, 10:05 AM
One of the things our group does to help everyone get their fixes is a core group gets together, 2-4 people + GM, and has an excursion just for those players/characters. We run a couple settings and different character groups to facilitate this, and also, if the seting permits it (say down time between adventures) in a city they can use the main campaign characters.

This way those who want more game time get it, and there's not much of a gap between those characters and the rest - keeping the party balanced and equal for the most part.

04-26-2010, 12:11 PM
I've found weekly or bi-weekly games are best for me.
35 married one 9yr old son.
Currently I have a Friday evening game 7-11 usually every week to play in. Even this gets skipped on occassion because of family commitments.
I did find Tuesday-Thursday evening games were best for me at one point. As it took nothing away from weekend trips with the family. The only reason I quit my one group was because after my move it was 100 miles one way even than I still played in it for a few months. It wasn't the drive that killed me it was the getting home at 1:30 am and getting up by 5am to go to work the next day. If it had been a bi-weekly game I probably would still be in it.

One thing I have found for groups as the demographic got older, was using Yahoo Groups email helped a heck of a lot on book keeping and non-encounter discussions like planning/shopping/general role-playing. Than the actual game days were a serious meat and potatoes deal.

04-27-2010, 08:14 AM
One thing I have found for groups as the demographic got older, was using Yahoo Groups email helped a heck of a lot on book keeping and non-encounter discussions like planning/shopping/general role-playing. Than the actual game days were a serious meat and potatoes deal.

I can't agree more - using online groups has REALLY allowed us (we meet every 2 weeks) to slim down the pre and post play record keeping and focus on story when we are together. I recommend this even for groups that meet frequently - its a great way to keep the play going in between sessions.

04-29-2010, 09:08 PM
I guess the schedule depends on the players, every other week is OK, allows to compensate in case of Holidays and Vacations.

In my case I play Fridays from 7-12(1 am), the little ones go to bed at 8:00 so they don't miss daddy when he goes out to kill dragons. That way, Saturdays and Sundays are still family time.

05-11-2010, 11:18 PM
I really like weekly because it keeps it fresh. I would rather have 3 hours per week than 6 hours every two weeks or 12 hours a month. This can be problematic if everyone isnt on board with start and stop times. Also games like D&D & Shadowrun don't work as well with 3 hour blocks because your constantly stopping in the middle of the action. My general rule is you need 1 hour per player block of time to really get into a game. Less than that is rough. If your going to play monthly I HIGHLY recommend someone takes good notes and puts them up on a wiki (like google sites) so everyone can review before game starts.