If you find yourself ending an adventure with significant session time to spare, do you stop short or introduce the next adventure?

For most of my GMing life I’ve been in the “if there’s enough game-time to set a scene or two then do it” camp. If everyone set aside four hours to game and the adventure ended with over an hour to spare, then why not launch into something new, especially if the PCs don’t have to do a lot of bookkeeping in between adventures?

That said I’ve noticed several issues with that approach over the years. At the start of a new adventure every player brings their A-game; they latch onto the hooks and follow every clue. My opening scenes are often the most elaborate and well-described, as these are the only scenes I know for certain the PCs will play through (who knows where they’ll go next!).

When a new session starts, much of that shine is lost. Many players don’t even remember why they are in the dungeon or why it’s important whether the local fixer was in the space station at 1300 hours last Thursday. The first few minutes of the session is often devoted to recapping and it’s disappointing to find PCs that were hot on the trail abandon threads because the players don’t remember what they were thinking a week or two ago.

Similarly, my emotional investment is also sapped. Given that I’ve already prepared the adventure that I have to finish up at the start of a session, I’ve likely spent time preparing the next adventure and that’s where my head really is. I often wonder how many adventures I inadvertently cut a bit short just to move things along so I can spring the next adventure on them.

Another issue is PC growth. With XP handed out at the end of a session, a player typically has the benefit of a week or two to think about how to upgrade her character before the next adventure. When starting a new adventure mid-session, the player often makes impulsive choices so that she isn’t “holding up the game.” Sure you can still give them a chance to fix it between sessions, but sometimes the damage has already been done.

More recently I’ve adopted the attitude of “one adventure per session,” regardless of how much time finishing the adventure would take. This has forced me to think of my adventures in “session chunks” and to tighten plot threads on the fly to finish before the session is over (or, with the blessing of the players, a few minutes over) rather than hold the last few scenes for the next session.

Given that I game with older players this is a boon, as players skip sessions more often and it’s disappointing when a player actively chases down a plot thread only to have to miss the conclusion or join an adventure in progress at the very end with little idea of what’s going on (and effectively playing an NPC controlled by the other players – “don’t worry about why we are here, just fireball the dragon, Johnny!”).

One pleasant surprise to this approach is that it eases my burden. If an adventure runs over, then I know I can relax for a session before I get cracking on the next one. It also keeps my mind focused on the present adventure rather than the next one, and I often find myself inspired to add something more to the current scenario rather than look to get it “out of the way” for the next adventure.

So how about you? Do you start new adventures in the middle of sessions or do you break once the current adventure ends? Does it matter what time the previous adventure ends? What pros and cons have you noticed with starting late or ending early?

(Oh, and given this is posting on August 11, I’d like to wish my beloved wife a very happy anniversary! 12 years ago we started our own campaign and its been getting better ever since (and even generated 3 new players along the way!). Happy Anniversary, Lena!)