You’ve probably heard the advice that long games are better than short ones (or vice versa). But what’s the ideal game session length for an RPG? It all depends on a variety of factors. In this article, we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of shorter or longer games sessions, as well as some of the underlying things I’ve witnessed that add or detract from a game session.
Disclaimer: The following is merely a summary of my observations and a few brief anecdotal discussions I’ve had with my gaming group over the years of playing Pathfinder. Obviously, people’s opinion will differ on this topic of what kind of game lengths they prefer. My hope is that this article gives you something to chew on, while also giving you some better ideas, or rather, finding that holy grail of that game that you keep searching for.
The length of an RPG game session can be a touchy subject. Some people swear by shorter games, while others feel that longer sessions are where the real fun is at. Ultimately, it’s up to the players and GM to decide what works best for them.
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What is the ideal game session length for an RPG?
It all depends on a variety of factors, including the type of game you’re playing, the players’ preferences, and how much content you want to cover.
One factor to consider is the type of game you’re playing. If you’re playing a fast-paced, action-oriented game, then shorter sessions might work better. On the other hand, if you’re playing a slower, more strategic game, longer sessions might be preferable. For example, is your DnD adventure a hack n’ slash, or is it more of a story telling, narrative adventure. How is your GM/DM setting up your adventure?
Of course, if you’re like me with specific preferences where there is a balance between character development and combat encounters, then a happy middle ground can usually be found.
In addition, player preference is another big factor to consider. Some players prefer shorter sessions so they don’t have to commit a large chunk of time to the game. Others prefer longer sessions so they can really get into the thick of things and explore the game world. As you could have guessed, there’s no right or wrong answer here – it’s all about what works best for the group as a whole.
Of course, how well your party communicates and works together also dictates if you’re going to experience conflicts with timing and dedication. I knew a guy who wanted much more game length, but the rest of us couldn’t play for the 8-10 hours on a weekend. It just wasn’t feasible. More about this below.
Another factor to consider is the players’ need for frequency to really dive into a story/adventure/campaign. In this case, I’ve found that a good rule of thumb is that if players are meeting weekly, then shorter sessions tend to work better. If they’re meeting less frequently (bi-weekly, monthly, etc.), then longer sessions might be preferable so that everyone can get a chance to dive back into the context that may have lost some of its magic over time.
The game length will also be determined by how much content you (a player or DM) want to to cover. If you’re only playing for a 2-3 hours, you might not be able to get through all the content you wanted to cover. On the other hand, if you’re playing for an extended period of time, you might need to take a break mid-session so everyone doesn’t get too tired.
My Gaming Group’s Ideal Gaming Session Length
I found that as I got older, acquired more adult responsibilities, it became harder to find time for the longer games. And, unsurprisingly so did my gaming group.
When we decided to start playing Pathfinder, we had to come up with a happy medium that would work for all of us. We didn’t want the game sessions to be too long, but we also wanted enough time to get through all the content that we wanted to cover.
We ultimately decided on 4-hour game sessions, which has worked out well for us so far. It’s long enough that we can get through a good amount of content, but not so long that it becomes a slog.
Of course, there are pros and cons to shorter and longer game sessions. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Pros/Cons of shorter games
Pros of short game sessions
- Shorter games are easier to schedule. You don’t have to block out a large chunk of time in your schedule, which can be helpful if you have a lot of other commitments.
- Shorter games are less likely to be interrupted by real-life obligations (e.g., work, family, etc.).
- Shorter games are less likely to drag on and become boring.
Cons of short game sessions
- Shorter games might not give you enough time to really get into the thick of things.
- If you’re playing a more strategic game, shorter sessions might not give you enough time to make all the decisions you need to make.
- Shorter games might feel like you’re just scratching the surface of the game world and not getting the full experience.
Pros/Cons of longer games
Pros of longer game sessions
- Longer game sessions give you more time to really get into the thick of things.
- If you’re playing a more strategic game, longer sessions give you more time to make all the decisions you need to make.
- Longer games might feel like you’re getting the full experience of the game world.
Cons of longer game sessions
- Longer games can be harder to schedule. You have to block out a large chunk of time in your schedule, which can be difficult if you have a lot of other commitments.
- Longer games are more likely to be interrupted by real-life obligations (e.g., work, family, etc.).
- Longer games are more likely to drag on and become boring.
Things that make a game session worth playing for a long time (examples)
- Rich and detailed world-building
- In-depth character development
- Complex puzzles or challenges
- Long-term planning/campaigning
What makes a game worth playing for a shorter time (examples)
- A simpler world that’s easy to understand
- Shorter, more focused challenges
- Quick character development
- Lighter planning/campaigning requirements
Conclusion – it all depends!
So, what’s the ideal game session length? It really depends on your group’s preferences and the type of game you’re playing. There is no one right answer here – ultimately, you’ll have to experiment and see what works best for your group.
In conclusion, there is no one answer to the question of how long an RPG game session should last. It depends on a variety of factors, including the type of game you’re playing, the players’ preferences, and how much content you want to cover. Ultimately, you’ll have to experiment and see what works best for your group.
To reiterate, my ideal gaming session length has always been between 3-4 hours. It’s just the sweet spot for me in terms of being able to get through a good amount of content without the session dragging on. Of course, your mileage may vary!
What about you? What’s your ideal game session length? Let us know in the comments!
This is an excellent article! Our game usually lasts for two hours and we play once a week. Unless I’m at a con, I don’t usually participate in longer sessions. It’s also a challenge to coordinate family/work/life schedules for 4-5 people. Adulting often gets in the way of RPG, but I think it makes the sessions we do have more meaningful. 🙂
Thanks! Yeah, I enjoyed writing it 🙂 I always wondered what other peoples’ preference were for game session length was, given how difficult it can be to manage time, logistics, and all the things that go around game time. Adulting is the worst, but sometimes it pays for the fun we have, too!
I run a biweekly game of chronicles of darkness (my own setting), with 5 players all about 38 years old.
My sessions last about 3.5 to 4 hours. But on special occasions we plan longer sessions.
Ah, all within the same age range as myself. Yep, around the 4 hour mark is where I am, too, and it doesn’t seem natural to go longer given all the other things we need to do starts to creep in….
Yes. Playing longer really needs to be planned well in advance and it’s only for a special occasion or at a pivotal moment in the campaign.
At times I’ve found it useful for the final session before the long summer break or the first session after the summer break.
This may be Belgian context but in my 20 years of GMing I have never been able to keep a campaign going in July and August. People are just way too busy with holidays and other things. So now they have become yearly breaks.