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The most valuable lesson I have learned from Dice, Camera, Action!

Rating: 3 votes, 1.00 average.
Dice, Camera, Action! is a livestream of D&D's latest storylines run by Dungeon Master extraordinaire Chris Perkins. The show airs every Tuesday at 4 pm PT on the D&D Twitch channel and is also available on YouTube. Chris Perkins is an amazing DM, and the players really bring their characters to life, so check it out if you haven't already!

After more than 80 episodes, the show has served up a number of gems for mass consumption: colorful (if short-lived) NPCs, quirky pets, humorous catchphrases, thrilling cliffhangers, and compelling magic items, all painted against an ever-changing but always epic backdrop. But the one thing that I enjoy the most about the show is the two-hour format.

I have realized that among the many obstacles to gaming in my life, finding 4 consecutive hours on a regular basis to play a tabletop RPG is perhaps the most difficult to overcome. I suspect that the four-hour session arose as the (dare I say) default session length sometime during the live convention days of yore, but how reasonable is this block of time today when tools like Fantasy Grounds allow you to join a game without ever leaving your home? Even the sport of baseball, the king of leisurely pastimes, clocks in at 3 hours. Two hours, on the other hand, is a movie rental. I rent movies; I can do that.

But aside from being more friendly to the temporal constraints of real-life, the two-hour session has other advantages. It forces everyone at the table to play with a purpose and stay sharp for the entire game. Do you really want to spend several minutes debating the merits of sneaking past those ogres instead of trying to kill them? Did the DM really just leave in the middle of the game to drive his wife to work? (Yes, that has happened to me.) How engaged are you during that 4th hour of play? Nothing detracts from the immersion and excitement of a game more than a choppy, plodding pace. I enjoy tabletop RPGs for the shared storytelling experience above all, and if the story is not evolving, I am not having fun.

Along those lines, two-hour sessions allow the plot to unfold in a more thoughtful, fleshed-out manner. The DM has time to digest the latest turn of events and consider how the game world will respond after players (or the dice gods) inevitably derail the game you thought you were running next week. Improvisation can be fun, but a couple hours of that is stressful and challenging for most DMs to pull off. Players likewise have time to ponder their next move if the party finds themselves in the middle of a precarious situation at the end of the session, which I highly recommend.

DCA has totally convinced me of the value of a shorter game session, but what do you think? Is the four-hour session a relic of the past? Do you relish those moments in hour 3 when the conversation at the game table drifts off into utter obscurity? Post your comments below!

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Updated March 10th, 2018 at 05:34 by leozelig



  1. GavinRuneblade's Avatar
    My games run from 10am my local time until 4pm or 5pm depending on when people have to leave. So 6 or 7 hours depending. We are all adults with jobs and some have kids but we make time. A 2-hour session would kill me from frustration. I'd rather play a board game or something if that was all the time I had. I stopped going to game days at the local comic stores because of how short their sessions are. Mostly my players ask for more time and I'm the one cutting off the session so I can eat.

    I find that as a DM I enjoy putting my players into situations where they don't have time to think and have to make a decision off the cuff. When they have days to ponder they get into all kinds of long conversations with each other and it often ends up being a different player convincing the one with the decision which way to go. At the table each player has to make up their own mind. As a player once I get into character, I find it easier to keep going and maintain the style of decision making. Away from the table I make decisions as myself, not as my character. Bringing those out of character decisions to the table I find ruins my experience of being the character. It breaks immersion.
  2. Evilrich's Avatar
    Hi Leozelig,

    I completely hear what you are saying, but I feel like this 2-hour game slot works for short con games or is at least adapted for the streaming entertainment medium. Might work well for weekly online games too! For live, in-person gaming, I still prefer the somewhat less frequent by more enjoyable 4-6 hour game around a table. But I do enjoy the occasional streamed game as well! There is no "right" way to have fun.
  3. Xydonus's Avatar
    It really depends on the group and the GM.

    If 2 hour sessions work for you, all the more power to ya. 2 hour sessions would definitely not work for me or my group, I know that for certain. I run my game with a heavy emphasis on roleplay vs combat (plus the ruleset doesn't favour combat as much) so there is a lot of player to player interaction going on, and that's a good thing. My sessions normally run up to 4 hours, sometimes 3 hours, and very rarely, 5 hours. The extra time allows for more rp, and there isn't always a feeling of rushing along or trying to get things out of the way just because the clock is ticking, and that in itself can ruin immersion.

    Sometimes it is worth having that conversation about whether or not it is worth sneaking past those ogres, as you mentioned - because depending on the ruleset being used, careful planning or the complete lack of planning due to restriction of time can lead to a TPK, and having those discussions be it in-character or out of game, can lead to hilarious moments and creative thinking from the group.

    I think 3 hours is the 'sweet spot' for most games. I know a mate of mine who runs his games over the 8 hour mark.... Sometimes 12 hours for him. But his game takes place around a table in a non-virtual setting and there is a lot of faffing arsing about so there's probably only 6 hours or so of actual game time taking place, but that is way too much. I think anything over 5 hours is stretching it to be fair.
  4. LordEntrails's Avatar
    It's an interesting thought.

    One concern is if people show up on time or not, and how long it takes people to settle into playing. I've been in group that regularly don't start playing till 30 minutes after "start time". Which is no big deal if you are playing many hours, but 2 hours would be a problem.

    Another thing that impacts the session length, is how well or how comfortable the GM is at improvising. With an 6 or 12 hour session, the GM is either going to have to totally railroad, or be comfortable flying at the seat of their pants because their is no practical way to prep for all the possibilities of a 12 hour session.

    I have to say, if I was going to stream, I would definitely strongly consider a 2 hour format. And of course, if a longer block doesn't work for you, do what works, game on!
  5. leozelig's Avatar
    Thanks for the comments. You guys make some excellent points.

    The 2-hour game definitely requires everyone to be punctual, although that is an important quality for me in any game. I am not super comfortable with improvisation, so I think that does make the shorter sessions more appealing to me than some other DMs.

    I agree completely that the 2-hour session is primarily a product of the live stream entertainment medium (meant for watching) rather than offering an advantage to tabletop RPGs in general (meant for playing).

    I can also understand the demand for a longer session in a live game, especially one that meets less than weekly. Only the convenience of an online game really allows for such a short session, and probably only if it runs on a weekly basis.

    Interesting point about play style being a consideration. I suppose my preference leans more towards combat than RP, but I can see how the pacing might not be right for a RP-heavy game.
  6. GavinRuneblade's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by leozelig

    Interesting point about play style being a consideration. I suppose my preference leans more towards combat than RP, but I can see how the pacing might not be right for a RP-heavy game.
    The playstyle comment is definitely a good point. I am a very RP heavy DM and so are my players which almost certainly impacts their desire for longer sessions to tell more story.
  7. leozelig's Avatar
    This video about Adventurers League reminded me of your comments about RP and possibly needing a longer game for that. If nothing else, this guy makes some funny videos...
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