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What’s the Longest Session You’ve Ever Run?

Back in 2004-5, I ran a D&D campaign for my friends back in Michigan that only met once a month. To make up for having fewer sessions, we played long games: 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, with some wiggle room on the back end to run over.

There was at least one session where we did run over, playing until 5:00 or so, and even setting aside our break for lunch, I’m pretty sure that’s the longest session I’ve ever run. So that’s my record: about eight hours.

Predictably, it ran long because we wanted to reach a good stopping point. We were all a bit more tired than usual, but it was a good experience overall. Although I’d run a game that way again if there were no other options, I much prefer more frequent shorter sessions — four to six hours seems to work best for me.

If you’re so inclined, I hope you’ll share a little bit of backstory on your longest session. I don’t think of this question as a pissing contest — I’m more interested in the details: Why did you run such a long session? Was it fun? Would you do it again?

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#1 Comment By Jennifer Snow On September 12, 2007 @ 9:11 am

Eleven hours. Back when I was in college I was a member of a (relatively large) gaming club and it wasn’t unusual to have your weekend booked solid with gaming. This session started early on Saturday (2pm, I think) and went until 1am. The trouble is, that while I remember running the session and having a “whoa, dude, we’ve been here 11 hours!” moment afterwards, I cannot recall what actually happened. Nothing.

If you’re gaming for 11 hours and nothing memorable happened, this is a sign that you need to get a life, I think. Nowadays my games don’t last longer than 3 hours, but more happens and they’re more interesting.

#2 Comment By Ishmayl On September 12, 2007 @ 9:30 am

My group currently plays online, using OpenRPG, once a week. However, once every three or four months, we all try to get together in a central location and pull a marathon session. Our last such session was from a Friday night, starting at midnight, and lasting until Sunday afteroon at around 1:00 PM. Now that’s 37 hours right there. However, we obviously took some sleep time in there, and took a 2 hour break Saturday evening to hit some golf balls at the local driving range. The longest segment during that session was the first one, from Midnight Friday/Saturday until about 5:00 PM Saturday (minus some quick snack breaks in there), giving us basically a seventeen hour run 🙂 Yes I’m bragging, and at the same time, yes I’m a dork 🙂

#3 Comment By Frank Filz On September 12, 2007 @ 9:40 am

I’m not quite sure what my longest session was, though they were all in college. One I remember many of the details of was a session of Cold Iron. We usually started in the early afternoon, perhaps about 1:00 PM. This session ended up running well into the next day, at least 10:00 AM. I distinctly remember why it ran so late. We usually ran until Midnight or so, often running til 1:00 AM or so, so 12 hour sessions were pretty common.

In this particular session, we started a huge battle with a field of undead at about 11:00 PM or so. It was not unreasonable to expect we could finish the battle by our not-uncommon 1:00 AM, or perhaps at worst, 2:00 AM. But I had underestimated the effects of providing such a large enemy force. They also had spell casters, which slowed things down. The PCs made maximum use of Cold Iron’s buffing magic. Of course the late hour resulted in it’s own slowdowns as we had to wake people up to take their turn, or just people being groggy. In any case, the battle finally finished sometime midmorning. Then I had to distribute XP and treasure (the PCs may have even returned to town and we may have handled some in town stuff). We also debriefed about the game some.

If I’m remembering right, there was at least one more session in that campaign that ran until the sun started to rise again the next day. I also remember some marathon D&D games my Fresgman and Sophmore years. I remember one game which lasted until sunrise, where I ended up being sick all day, until I finally discovered the problem was I hadn’t eaten during the marathon session, and then felt too sick to eat breakfast, and lucnh, and… There was another time we spent most of the weekend running, with one marathon session, a sleep break and then some more gaming.

Even past college, I’ve run a few marathon sessions, though post-college, marathon would be a 12ish hour session from 8 hour norms (or expectations – the norm may have actually been more than 8). To me, I guess a handy definition of marathon session would be a session that overruns the expected time by considerably more than an hour. A separate consideration is why the expected time might be more than the 4 hours or so that seems to be pretty common these days.

The usual reason for a session lasting much longer than expected is a combat starting late in the session that ends up being more complicated than expected, or sometimes simply not realizing the time until the combat is underway. Another contributor can be the urge to finish the adventure. In my college D&D games, I think some of the marathon gaming resulted from a desire to finish a module in one sitting. There can also be a desire once the session time has been blown, to come to a good stopping point (thus sitting for an hour or two more while experience and treasure is tallied).

Up until recently, my preference has been for an 8+ hour session expectation. This started in high school where at the beginning, I had spent 1.5 hours taking public transportation into MIT. And we didn’t have anything better to do. In college of course it was easy. Bed was at most a 10 minute walk from the game. And by the time I started running Cold Iron, we simply needed the time to accomplish a decent amount (since often Cold Iron combats took 2+ hours, and a 4 hour combat was something that happened occaisionally). Post college, I kept up the Saturday start at 1:00 PM and run 8+ hours, but I only ran once every 2-3 weeks.

These days with weekday gaming, 4 hour sessions are my expectation, though there have been times when the reality was often 5 hour sessions, with an occaisional 6 hour session.

I think for occaisional weekend gaming for a campaign style game, that has tactical combat and lots of exploration, that 8-10 hour session expectations aren’t horribly unreasonable. Extending past 12 hours really is a bit silly, except perhaps as a planned thing.

One thing I rememeber is that almost always the players emerged exhausted but satisfied after marathon sessions. I think allowing for them has some value, but clearly such an occurrence has to be reasonable given all the other parameters. A 6 hour session on a weeknight that starts at 6-7 PM is ok. Running until dawn when people have to go to school or work the next day is stupid.

Frank

#4 Comment By Frank Filz On September 12, 2007 @ 9:46 am

I was going to add that someone would surely come along and win the pissing contest aspect with something much longer than my max of 20ish hours (could have been as much as 22 hours). Much longer than that without sleep breaks starts to become insane, but I’m sure someone will come along with such a story.

I should add that any of my sessions that runs 8 hours or more have pretty much always included a meal break. In high school, some meal breaks exceeded an hour since we would walk a mile or so to a restaurant occaisionally.

Ishmayl, you raise the point that online gaming can certainly contribute to much longer sessions since people are in the comfort of their own home.

Frank

#5 Comment By robustyoungsoul On September 12, 2007 @ 9:55 am

26 hours total was the longest. This included a break for dinner and later a break for breakfast.

Back in college we used to end our campaigns with 24 hour sessions. The first campaign I ran for the group I’ve more or less than playing with for the past 9 years or so ended with the 26 hour marathon that left everybody completely drained physically and emotionally. It was truly glorious, because by that point everyone was so deeply invested in the ending that every death hit home, and one character death in particular literally reduced every person there to tears.

I would never be able to stay awake that long to do it again, but that campaign in particular is still looked upon with fondness by myself and everyone else in the crew.

#6 Comment By Andy On September 12, 2007 @ 10:12 am

Waaaaay back in the day, my friends and I used to run pretty long campaigns that focused on character development, intense RP, and story line. These usually lasted 20-30 sessions over the course of almost a year for each campaign. We would end the campaign with one, long endurance session. The first time we did this, the session lasted from 3PM on Saturday to 7PM on Sunday, a 28 hour session. We took breaks for pizza, beer, funnions, mountain dew, etc… We even grilled NY Strip steaks at sunrise. All in all, it was incredibly awesome.

#7 Comment By robustyoungsoul On September 12, 2007 @ 10:17 am

Hey, it’s Andy! We’re talking about the same game! 😛

#8 Comment By John Arcadian On September 12, 2007 @ 10:34 am

I don’t know that I’ve had any sessions that went that long. The longest I can remember is probably an 8 hours session to finish up a campaign. We knew it was going to go long beforehand, and planned food appropriately.

It was kind of fun to keep going, and I had stuff planned out to end in that session. It felt like there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and I think that made it feel like we were working towards a goal, and so going long (for us) felt very justified. It also felt good because we felt like there was always something more. Knowing we were going long in advance kind of changed the paradigm of the game. I’d love to do more moderately long sessions, but the groups I’ve been running for/playing in have never had schedules that meshed with being able to do that. It’s the whole growing older thing . . . and growing old sucks.

#9 Comment By Phil On September 12, 2007 @ 11:00 am

When I was a teenaged DM we asked our parents if we could pull an all-nighter playing the A D&D ‘Desert of Desolation’ Module. (I was the DM).

I remember starting after dinner and having the game more or less come to a complete halt at around 2 or 3 AM when we were all comatose on the various gym mats we had strewn under and around the gaming table.

I too don’t really recall what happened but that was 20 years ago… We must have played through the sunken city and Pyramid parts…

#10 Comment By Phil On September 12, 2007 @ 11:01 am

When I was a teenaged DM we asked our parents if we could pull an all-nighter playing the A D&D ‘Desert of Desolation’ Module.

I remember starting after dinner and having the game more or less come to a complete halt at around 2 or 3 AM when we were all comatose on the various gym mats we had strewn under and around the gaming table.

I too don’t really recall what happened but that was 20 years ago… We must have played through the sunken city and Pyramid parts…

#11 Comment By Darth Krzysztof On September 12, 2007 @ 11:11 am

There was one holiday weekend when my brother, a friend, and I slogged through most of Against the Giants, stopping only to sleep. I didn’t run that game, but it was the longest session I can remember.

Honestly, it’s hard to remember because I was roleplaying non-stop every summer in high school, and all the time in college, which was a big part of why I dropped out.

#12 Comment By Jeff Rients On September 12, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

When I was in 8th grade or so my original D&D group tackled the Temple of Elemental Evil in one weekend. I recall taking a brief nap at least once, but it was basically nonstop D&D from Friday after supper until early Sunday afternoon. We drank an unbelievable quantity of caffeinated beverages and sugary snacks to keep up our energy levels. The PCs advanced from about 2nd or 3rd level to 8th to 11th level (depending on class). The elemental demiplane levels were kinda haphazardly run, as I was getting loopy near the end. At one point my buddy Gopher was slumped over the table, periodically waking up just long enough to roll a d20 and declare “I kill it”. Then he’d fall back asleep. He didn’t even look at the die. He was a fully autopilot hack n slasher.

The party did managed to get all the way through the dungeon and iced Tsuggtmoy.

#13 Comment By John Hyland On September 12, 2007 @ 12:26 pm

When I was in high school, one of my friends lived in the garage apartment behind his parents’ house, and it wasn’t that uncommon for a bunch of us to go over and basically game for an entire weekend. In contrast to most other peoples’ marathon game experiences, though, we’d usually play a variety of things – sessions from any ongoing campaigns, a couple one-shots, throw in some card or board games once in a while, and we were all good. We didn’t really stop for food, either – we’d have pizza and snacks and copious amounts of Mountain Dew on hand, and people would either sit out for a while to eat, or just sort of graze while they played.

I played some long sessions in college (and those did tend to be single-game sessions), but the longest of those were probably in the 10-12 hour range, nothing like the gamestravaganzas of my youth.

#14 Comment By Benjamin On September 12, 2007 @ 12:57 pm

When I was in Elementary school, my brother and I would visit my grandmother for two or so weeks out of every summer. We didn’t actually do much visiting with her though, and actually spent the entire two weeks every year playing D&D and Palladium the whole time with a neighbourhood kid. We would go through several whole campaigns, passing 10th level at least 2-3 times a summer

#15 Comment By Jennifer Snow On September 12, 2007 @ 1:21 pm

Darth Krzysztof said: “Honestly, it’s hard to remember because I was roleplaying non-stop every summer in high school, and all the time in college, which was a big part of why I dropped out.”

You and me both, dude, although I don’t like to admit it. It wasn’t so much the gaming as it was *me*: I would have cheerfully seized on any excuse to do something that was actually fun/social and avoid doing work. This was pretty much the story of my life until my parents kicked me out and I was forced to either develop a work ethic or starve.

#16 Comment By Telas On September 12, 2007 @ 1:24 pm

I went to middle and high school in Louisiana. One fall in junior-high, two friends came over on a Friday to spend the weekend. A hurricane made landfall Sunday night, and the schools were closed on Monday and Tuesday. The friends stayed over Sunday and Monday nights, and a couple of other friends joined us for parts of the long weekend.

Obviously, we didn’t run 24/7, but we did game all day Saturday until sunrise on Sunday morning. I’d say it was about 20 hours of gaming between Sat morning, and going to bed sometime on Sun morning. Add in the other time spent gaming, and we got in something like 40 hours of gaming or gaming-related activity in a long weekend.

Nowadays, I prefer 6 hour sessions, but Real Life doesn’t cooperate too often. Most games are 4 hours on weekdays, 5-6 on weekends. Anything less than 4 hours feels wasted…

#17 Comment By longcoat000 On September 12, 2007 @ 1:35 pm

We used to have marathon sessions, and I *thought* I remembered some 24-hour game-a-thons, but thinking back on it, I can’t really remember any of them too clearly. We usually played 8 – 10 hour games at least three times a week during the summer (back in Jr. High / High School), and we had a 12 hour game session every New Year’s Eve, but that’s about it.

But I do remember playing daily during the summer for several years, so I guess that’s a marathon of sorts…

#18 Comment By Walt C On September 12, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

I went through the Catholic school system so I’ll have to go by grades, but I’d say through the equivalent of middle/high school I probably averaged 6 hours a day of gaming.

I would say that this had a big influence on turning me toward Narrativist (Roleplaying) campaigns. It was difficult to design dungeon crawls or even good stories with such frequent sessions so we concentrated more on our character’s personalities (I daresay that I thought more about my character’s social life than mine…upon reflection, how sad).

College forced me to accept a weekly game (I was a commuter, and my core group was still at home). These games tended to be 3-4 hours, which is about where it’s been ever since.

Walt

#19 Comment By Derek On September 12, 2007 @ 3:00 pm

When I was in 5th grade, my AD&D group would start around 11:00 a.m. on a Saturday and run until about 7:00 or 8:00 p.m., then the other kids would go home and I’d play with my dad and our adult DM until 1:00 a.m. or 2:00 a.m. I guess that makes my longest session around 14 hours. Why did I play such long sessions? Because I could! The happiest memories of my childhood are sitting at our dining room table running AD&D. I would have played until I dropped if my parents would have let me. I still remember how freaked out I was by the picture of the evil-looking fighter on the old Dungeon Master’s screen (left panel). I eventually just paperclipped a piece of paper onto the screen to cover the guy’s face. Good times.

All you high school and college marathoners are a bunch of posers! I was kicking it marathon-style in elementary school. My pee goes waaaaaaay farther than yours!

#20 Comment By Darth Krzysztof On September 12, 2007 @ 3:55 pm

At one point my buddy Gopher was slumped over the table, periodically waking up just long enough to roll a d20 and declare “I kill it”. Then he’d fall back asleep. He didn’t even look at the die. He was a fully autopilot hack n slasher.

When our friend Jose fell asleep at one of our marathon sessions, we tried to wake him to tell him it was his turn.

All we could get out of him was the moan, “White lettering!”

This incident was never explained.

#21 Comment By The Burb On September 12, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

Whenever we’ve run a long session in my group, it’s because we’re all trying to reach a good end point, but can’t. We prefer short sessions of 3-4 hours, but with D&D 3.5, if someone’s being a jackass (me) and trying to grapple, bull rush, feint, or cast obscure spells every round of combat, the game tends to lag for much longer.

We start our sessions pretty late (10pm-ish), so if we go on for more that three or four hours, we’re talking dusk or dawn, and everyone’s falling asleep. The longest session we’ve had ran until five or six in the morning (about seven or so hours). This is nothing compared to the twenty-something hour games some of you guys have run, but we were nonetheless exhausted (-6 to Dex and Str and all).

#22 Comment By Sarlax On September 12, 2007 @ 5:58 pm

Mine was 21 hours. I’d had a group of six players in my sophomore year of high school and we were deeply into Planescape. We’d gotten into the longest arc of the campaign when two players suddenly and simultaneously couldn’t show up for several weeks. We didn’t want to stop, so we kept going. But we didn’t want those 2 to miss any of the action, either.

So I ran it twice. Once those two came back, they got a special “session” that ran from 6:00 PM to 3:00 PM the next day with no sleep and only a 15 minute break while we ate pizza.

This was back when D&D wasn’t as treasure-intensive as it is now so I wasn’t worried about duplicating treasure. Those two PCs (a fighter-thief and a mage) blazed through encounters like mad. They gained levels several times. They didn’t skip a single encounter and they even caught a lot of things that the first 4 didn’t.

#23 Comment By David Michael On September 12, 2007 @ 7:58 pm

12 hours was my longest session as a GM. This was several years after college, and was the “wrap up” session for a campaign (because I was moving away to take a new job).

12 hours is pretty small potatoes to some of the other posters, but I remember the action and intensity levels being high all the way through the session, and everyone having a lot of fun.

Which stands in contrast to most of the 12-hour sessions I (vaguely) remember from college: Those sessions seldom, if ever, had a high level of intensity or action. They just…kept going. And going. Because none of us needed to be anywhere else.

-David

#24 Comment By caroline On September 13, 2007 @ 12:59 am

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#25 Comment By David Wright On September 13, 2007 @ 3:02 am

Back in erm the dim and distant past (early 90s) my group at that time ran a 24hr RPG (AD&D 1st) session for a UK charity event.

I was the sole DM and there were 6 players. Players could only go to bed if their characters were killed… Unfortunately towards the end of the 24hrs some of the players started to almost engineer their death so that they could go to sleep.
The scenarios were from a variety of sources including Dungeon and I concocted a theme throughout them. At the end of the 24hrs, 4 of the characters were still alive which is quite impressive I think.

It’s something I’m planning on trying to do again with my current group for charity but it doesn’t seem as easy to organise now I’m in my mid30s.

#26 Comment By Clayton On September 13, 2007 @ 2:03 pm

Individually the longest I have gone is 6 hours.

As a group, me and my friends took one weekend and played for 72 straight hours.

We took turns DMing the story. When it was our turn to DM we just ran our character as an NPC. By the end of it we were so sleep deprived that when my turn came up they ended up meeting a talking pizza and the Harry Potter Sorting Hat…

And I think they ate the pizza 0_0

#27 Comment By paul On September 14, 2007 @ 1:51 am

back in jr high, we played from friday night through sunday afternoons, with some breaks sometimes. there was one holiday weekend, where we didnt sleep, or at least we didnt break for sleep. we had people falling alseep sitting, with their eyes open. lots of gaming, lots and lots of home made dungeons with 300 goblins in a 10×10 room.

#28 Comment By Chris On September 14, 2007 @ 8:10 pm

A couple of years back, one of the guys from our core gaming group back in the day was getting married and we were trying to figure out what to do for him, since he doesn’t drink and he’s not really into strippers. As all of our old gaming crew was back in the same city for the first time in five or six years, we decided to surprise him with a marathon gaming session (which I GMed). The best man brought party favours and food. I brought 4 liters of Mountain Dew.

About 10-12 players started the session (which was a huge 2E Drow module adapted for 3E) at 5pm. One by one they fell away until there were 4 players left – all the core players from our old group – at 5am. They defeated the menace and then everyone slept, and slept well.

We pulled a 12 hour all-nighter to send our friend off properly and he still talks about it fondly. Good bachelor party, all things considered.

#29 Comment By Shandar the Ashen On September 15, 2007 @ 7:13 am

When I was in high school we did a marathon session that was continuous over a three day weekend. We used a figure based system then, expanded from the very simple rules that came with the Dungeon Dwellers paint n play sets. I’d built 3 or four levels of a 3D dungeon using core board and balsa wood and in our system, each player had a party of 5 characters, and each adventuring company was in a race to clean out the dungeon, so there were four parties in the dungeon at the same time, and it was all turn based. Sort of like a role playing board game. If the player wanted to eat, he or she had to secure a room, and not play while eating, which gave monsters a chance to attack by surprise if they got there before the person finished eating. Same with bathroom breaks and naps. We had two people doing GMing in shifts.

I don’t know that my body ever recovered from the exaustion or the poisoning by Doritos and Mountain Dew, but it was probably the most fun session I’ve ever played. There is something wonderful about your band of orcs decimating a party that is caught asleep because the player is too tired to even lift his dice and just mumbles…”kill them all…I’ve got to sleep…kill them all…”

Tee hee.

#30 Comment By Martin On September 17, 2007 @ 8:39 pm

Here’s how reading this went for me:

“Eleven hours! Wow. That’s pretty impressive.

Wait…37 hours!? Okay, that’s insane. I bet that’s an anomaly.

20+ hours…

26 hours…

28 hours…”

And on and on — you, faithful TT readers, are insane! Insane in the very best geeky way, of course. 😉

Christ, my eight hours feels weak. Maybe we need a 24 GMing Day (like 24 Hour Comics Day) to get all of us endurance-challenged GMs up to snuff…