Tuesday, March 20, 2012

My Thoughts on the One Hour RPG Session

Mike Mearls wrote about (and I critiqued) One Hour D&D Gaming Sessions yesterday. Actually, it was more like a 45 minute session of gaming, as character generation took up like 15 minutes (he's currently using his own houseruled version of Basic D&D (1981).

I want that to sink in for a moment. 45 minute session of gaming.

It takes me that long to get to a session of gaming near me ;)

What Mike is doing is gaming at work during the lunch hour. That's actually kinda cool, but than again, he works at a gaming company.

For the rest of us, you might be able to run sessions that short via Google+ Hangout, but otherwise it's just not practical for most groups.

What I'm apprehensive of is that Mike wants to design D&D Next with 1 hour sessions, or 1 hour building blocks, as it's core.

It all has to do with the math. The math behind the expo. The math being the Vancian magic. The math behind the party resources. The math...

Ideally, if you want to run a short session, you limit the party's choices and limit the number of encounters.

Still, the last / current edition of D&D, a single encounter takes an hour plus, and Mike claims he snuck 6 encounters plus roleplaying into 45 minutes. How the hell did he do that?

1 - He's using Basic D&D, which plays pretty fast, especially at low levels. Limited choices and limited resources will lead to faster gameplay than more complicated games. Question - How will Mike make that work in a game that plans on keeping 4e style combat as an option?

2 - I'm guessing railroad. He moved the party along a predesigned path in the adventure. Comment - I hate fucking railroads.

3 - Automatic success for skills. Monte talked about this leading up the the 5e announcement. If your skill in spot or disarm is high enough, you don't need to roll to succeed. Mike doesn't mention this one way or another in his write up, except for mentioning (undefined) houserules. Auto success will speed things up. Comment - Auto success also neuters the game and makes it bland. If there is no risk, the reward isn't very rewarding.

4 - The math. Mike has his expo spreadsheet and has it all worked out. Question - Is the One Hour math going to work the same over Four Hours? I don't think so.

5 - Disciplined Players. They see each other every day at work. Very little small talk. Question - What happens when you haven't talked to or seen the people in your gaming group for the last week or two? Everyone has to catch up on real life. RPGs are social games by nature. Unless your One Hour sessions are daily at a place very convenient for your group, you are going to lose time to the social aspect of gaming.

One Hour RPG Games have their place, but it's limited.

Mike sees One Hour D&D sessions as the core of D&D Next, while admitting some may want to play longer sessions.

I have news for you Mike - I'm not hopping on a train or in my car for 45 minutes each way to play for 45 minutes to an hour. I don't know of anyone who is. I don't know anyone that works with a group of gamers that can game daily during lunch.

Mike, you seem to forget that your gaming circumstances are not the norm.

But hey, it's your houserules. Enjoy them. Just don't expect many to buy them.


  1. Dude, why are you complaining about him using Basic D&D as a model for making 5e into a much simpler and faster game than 3e or 4e? You should be encouraging this line of thought not putting him down for it. As for buying his houserules, you don't seem to have trouble buying other people's houserules, cough.. every damn retro clone there is.. cough.

    I'll save my bitching for when we see some the actual game. In the mean time, I like where he is seemingly trying to go.

  2. Also I believe very strongly in what I call the sanctity of the dice. You have to play (or explain) what the dice dictate. That's the value of randomness. Once you start auto-anything you do indeed neuter the game.

  3. I saw the 1 hour as a goal for packing in enough fun, not as an arbitrary "you can only play 1 hour".

    The idea was to see if it was possible to run a full adventure in an hour or if it drags on due to an overbearing system. One of the complaints of 4E was long combats that often caused a night of adventure to devolve into nothing but a combat due to time constraints. This 1 hour approach seems to be an attempt to see if the system can keep things moving along.

  4. @Mike - I take issue with the idea that a game that is being built with support for 4e tactical combat can support 6 encounters an hour PLUS roleplaying. But more specifically, I see building the game on a one hour play length as a base for longer sessions is yet another formula that is going to suck the soul out of the game.

    Here's your XP in monsters to divide into one hour gaming blocks... it's the same as the adventure design XP break down in 3.5e (and 4e too I assume), just shortening the assumed play period to an hour from four hours.

    I don't have an issue with One Hour Game sessions. I don't like the idea that D&D 5e is apparently ging to be built on that.

    and yes, I love my OSR assortment of rules. and I probably would house rule anyone of them before running them, just as I house ruled AD&D back in the day.

    Have I liked Mike Mearl's house rules that he's shown us so far (and very likely will become core in D&D 5e)? Nope.

    @KYM - Do I like the idea of autosuccess, like Monte has alluded to? No, but it certainly speeds up play. And for One Hour Gaming blocks, you need to grab all the time cheats you can.

    @Callin - Mike doesn't expect 1 Hour Sessions to work for all, but he wants it to be the building block. I'm sure there's a whole "One Hour Sessions will replace D&D Encounters" marketing angle too.

  5. I may not be hopping a train for 45 minutes to an hour to do so, but I'm definitely gaming for 45 to an hour at a time these days. Whether I'm sitting around with the wife after dinner or visiting the guy friends over the bridge in Jersey (which I guess IS 45 minutes of driving away...). I'm all in favor of a game which supports smaller timeframes, because, to be blunt about it, that's where my time falls nowadays.

    And Mike, you hit the nail on head RE: people arguing against buying houserules, then buying retroclones. I've yet to see a difference in the two actions.

  6. Tenkar made the difference quite plain. He doesn't like what he's seeing from MM. I would think that was obvious, but if not, you can read his comment to his own post where he makes it crystal clear.

  7. @James Smith - thanks James.

    Yeah, I'm not happy with Mike Mearls' house rules that he's shown us thus far.

    Oh, and yes, I'm in the OSR corner of things.

    Yes, I favor stuff that looks, feels and tastes like the good old games.

    I've never hidden that fact in any of my postings.

  8. I think that it's much easier to run a four hour session with a game that is designed to be able to be run in an hour than the other way around. I hope they continue the focus on simplicity.

    4E style combat can coexist with this system if they drop the grid and make powers options during level up (or things that you discover during play). This is how spells work in traditional D&D, and it keeps the complexity to a minimum.

    I'm with you in that suggesting railroads will be a tempting way to decrease the load on the referee, but we all know that is a false economy in the long run. I hope they at least have a diversity of referee advice in the new DMG. The reason an XP budget for encounters and traps is bad is that it means the ref is predicting what encounters the players will see. That's bad.

    For me the sweet spot is 2-3 hours. In person I play after work. Much longer than that is not practical. Most G+ games that I have seen also run for 2-3 hours.

  9. By the way, your blog comment system lost the email subscription functionality. I think you can probably fix that (if you want to) using this method:


  10. @Brenden - and i moved away from embedded comments when blogger blew that up in the early fall.


    I'll give it a try. ;)

  11. testing embedded commnet feature...

  12. brenden, not sure embedded was allowing comments this afternoon, as my question about game length got zero responses here, but 30+ on g+

  13. It was working for me earlier. I think G+ just has more readers.


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