How Long Should A Module Take?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0911

Resurrected GM Anthony asks how many sessions a published adventure should take:

Hello, I am a new Patreon member. I have been getting the newsletter for a few months so far and kicked in for the extras and the communications, thanks for that.

I DMed AD&D 1st ed. back in highschool, in my first lifetime. Now I have reacquired all of my stuff, plus some, and have assembled a small group to start a homegrown campaign, created by connecting modules and small adventures.

When I played before, it was very novice and mostly hack’n’slash with obscene magical stuff. 

Now, I have these grand ideas for pulling together a lot of pre-written elements (Waterdeep, Underdark, some extra planar quests, and conclusions in either Temple of EE or the Desert of Desolation) and I was wondering about the timeframe for a module like Under Illefarn, where the party is brought together.

I have never used modules before. I am fairly certain the altruistic answer is as long as it takes, however we are all in the work force now and have kids to raise and sessions need to be enjoyable and efficient? I guess I am having difficulty deciding what is trivial, and what cannot be missed. Thanks for the advice and thanks for helping me make this game new again.

Thanks for the question, Anthony!

First off, remember the game is what you and your friends want to make it. Change published adventures however you like, anytime. Modules are just tools. Use them to craft your ideal game experiences.

With regards to your question, one of my attitudes is, “Begin as you would end.” A friend said that to me once, and it resonates with me.

Therefore, I ask how long do you want your Under Illefarn adventure to last?

Start with an ideal session count, and work backwards.

Ugh, Math

For example, let’s say you want the adventure to last two months’ real time because you’ve got all those other adventures connected up and you want to get to running them.

Now let’s say you game every two weeks.

Your Adventure Budget is now 4 sessions.

How many encounters do you chew through a session? Combat, puzzle, roleplaying, and administration type encounters each have a unique cadence with your group based on play styles and preferences. But figure out a rough number of encounters played per session.

For my group, the Encounter Pace is 7.

4 sessions x 7 encounters = 28 encounters.

How many encounters is Illefarn? If it’s a lot more than 28, I’d have to look harder at what I could skip. If it’s far less than 28, I’d need to add custom content to pad it out.

Don’t get too granular here. Gameplay always offers the unexpected even to astute planners.

This approach also works for GMs who homebrew their own adventures. Figure out your Adventure Budget. Figure out your average session Encounter Pace. Multiply and compare that to the number of planned encounters.

For sandbox and hexcrawl game masters, this works as well. It helps you quantify the volume of game material your group needs details for, whether it’s planned or made up during sessions. “I’ll need 7 encounters’ worth of stuff tomorrow night. So I think I need a couple more encounter seeds in my back pocket.”

As far as what encounters in a module are essential versus ones you can toss to meet a tight Adventure Budget, I’ve actually just finished prepping and shooting a new course called Adventure Hacking.

Adventure Hacking teaches you how to figure out the Core Story of your adventure. Core Story is something I learned when I worked at BioWare. It’s the critical path an adventure must take to come to a successful conclusion.

The Adventure Hacking course shows you how to map out a published adventure’s Core Story, as well as loot an adventure for Lego parts for homebrew campaigns.

I’ll be releasing beta access of the course to Patrons when it’s ready.

Meantime, your question on what is trivial vs. essential — use your Adventure Budget and Session Pace to guesstimate how many encounters you need.

Then look at your adventure and note which encounters are required to resolve the adventure. Those encounters have clues, keys, and conflicts core to the plot.

Compare the number of core encounters you have to the Adventure Budget. If you’re short, hook in more encounters. If you have too many, you’ll need to tweak the plot.

Hope this helps, Anthony.