Tips For Lunch Hour Games + Personal Announcement
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1198
Big news to share with you this week. I have embarked on a grand adventure. Two adventures, really.
The Great Resignation
First, I’m going fuller-time with Roleplaying Tips! I’m thrilled but nervous and can’t wait to begin this new journey. I gave notice at my day job last week and I’ve acquired part-time work as a consultant for one year. By the end of April I’ll have four full days a week, plus mornings and eves the other three, to complete several projects and bring new ones to you.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to be spending more time with you on RPT!
Watch Me Create a New Campaign — My OSE Campaign Diary
My second adventure is starting a new campaign. And I’m diarizing all of my prep like I did for The Demonplague so you can follow along each step of the way from zero to first session run.
Old School Essentials is based on the 1980s Basic and Expert rules, which I GM’d for years. A nice, simple game. And one I can scale up to D&D 5E, Pathfinder 2E, and other systems if I choose. The campaign will be part sandbox, part hexcrawl, and part story path — my favourite type of campaign to GM that offers the best of each mode.
My OSE Campaign Diary is a series of videos, with at least one new video a week, documenting how I’m prepping for this game. New monsters, 5 Room Dungeons, 3 Round Combat Plans, session prep, critical story path design, 5 Step Villain Plans, kingdom creation, encounter building, and All The Things I do to launch an awesome campaign.
There’s also a private discussion area at my campaign-community.com forum to ask me questions, make suggestions, and chat about the campaign.
I have started with what I call my Campaign Meta Planning Template. There are seven videos posted so far covering my plans for Story Logistics, Session Logistics, Campaign Organization and more. You can get the whole template for your use and see the one I’ve filled out. I have also figured out my Razor and thumbed out a region map, and will be publishing videos on those steps soon. Next up: some fun faction design.
If you’d like to join my on my campaign building journey, it’s only $2 a month. Less than the price of a small cup of coffee to watch and participate as I use all the Wizard of Adventure techniques I write about in this newsletter and see how I put a complete sandbox-hexcrawl-story path campaign together.
Or get the annual membership and get two months free. If you are already Silver+ Wizard of Adventure (thank you!), you can find all current and future videos and discussions under Resources => J4’s OSE Campaign Diary:
If you become a Silver Wizard of of Adventure, you will also be helping me out with adventure #1: my quest to work full-time on Roleplaying Tips to help game masters around the world have more fun at every game. Thank you!
So on that note of having fun, I received a tips request for running lunch hour or simply one-hour games. Let’s dive into those tips now.
Tips For Lunch Hour Games
Wizard of Adventure CD asked me this question about squeezing some gaming in at lunch:
I supervise a D&D club at my high school and run one group of new players. Due to bussing we can’t really run sessions after school or weekends, so I rely on our lunch period to run short sessions.
Any tips for running an hour-long session that will make most efficient use of that time?
Thanks for the question, CD! I’ve run two lunch campaigns at work over the years. Alas, I was just getting into the groove with each when they folded due to evolving work demands.
Here’s what I learned to hopefully help you avoid that awkward inefficient period I went through.
Begin With Story
Make story your top priority so each session feels rewarding.
Begin with the 5 Room Dungeon mindset where each session:
- Has a strong beginning
- Builds to great action via roleplay and challenges
- Pays off with a climactic encounter
- Sets up a strong start next session with a revelation or reward
We also narrow Choice down for one hour games by providing clarity on the session goal, which ties to the party’s clear campaign goal. In this way, we’re managing time through tight encounter design and quick session pacing.
I’m not saying sessions should be five encounters. But do use the 5RD structure to help fantastic story emerge from whatever gameplay transpires.
Try to also shine the spotlight brightly on each character once. Brainstorm a list of cool spotlight moments for each PC and then keep an eye out for how to drop in at least one idea per PC each lunch. For example, list what each PC does best and what each player wants for treasure. Then add something to each new encounter that serves up such options for at least a couple of PCs.
There’s a lot more we could talk about on tight encounter design here, such as borrowing from episodic TV or D&D 4E adventure approaches. But our main goal here is to keep players interested in a solid and clear direction to move the story forward at a brisk pace.
Make Combats Quick, Easy, and Purposeful
If combat does erupt, here’s what you can do to make them fast.
Use minis in the spirit of “a picture is worth 1,000 words” for efficiency. Physical maps and objects help people focus. They also help people sort out positioning and other aspects with less confusion. I’m not saying use the grid for combat. Instead, use physical representations of gameplay where it helps.
On that note, try to fight using theater of the mind, combat zones, and the grid in that order, based on your game system and group preferences. Use Combat Missions and 3 Round Combat Plans so you don’t fight to the last health point every time.
- Ask players to handle certain combat tasks for you like initiative.
- Create cheat sheets compatible with phones and update them with tricky rules that emerged from last gameplay.
- Reduce foe counts, weaken foes, and make it so combat is not the purpose of the story but a means to tell it.
- If lunch ends mid-combat, take a photo so you can set up fast next game.
Create Smooth Session Logistics
- Reduce your props, equipment, and GM aids. We want setup and takedown to be as fast as possible so we don’t rob gameplay time.
- Do a session recap as you set up.
- Handle treasure, administrivia, and a session recap as you tear things down.
- Worry less about cliffhangers and end with clarity on how you’ll start next session.
- Consider starting each session in medias res.
- Present simple choices early in sessions so you get back into the mindset fast and drive play forward rather than stall on group discussion or risk split parties. “Do you talk with the mayor or head back to the dungeon?”
- Keep a clock visible to all.
- Do what you need to get people to show up on time.
- Create clear goals. Side quests are ok, just avoid subtlety.
- Use backchannel communication to help players chat, make decisions, do character sheet updates, and handle admin stuff between games.
- Think weekly cadence too. You could literally play one Room per day and end each week with a bang if desired. In other words, you cue one scene per session. That allows easier prep too.
- Use the simplest game system everyone can enjoy.
- Use mechanics that encourage story over combat (e.g., milestone XP).
- Create strong, team-oriented roleplay hooks for each PC. For example, every PC has at least one other PC in their background.
- Get simple yet pointed personalities written on each character sheet so players have personas they can get into, and get into fast.
- Get food logistics sorted. Ensure there’s a garbage can that’s impossible to miss for fast clean-up. 🙂
Any Other Tips?
Those are my learnings off the top of my head. I hope this helps, CD.
RPT GM, have you run one-hour or lunch games? What tips do you have for CD? Hit reply and I’ll pass them along. Thank you!