September 23, 2023

A Musing On the 3 Hour Hard Stop

To start, allow me to define my terms. By 3 hour hard stop, I mean the game starts at 6 ends at 9 with a 5 minute bio-break at the midpoint. Of course, this is much easier in our current world with so many games happening online. Why is this my preferred format for gaming these days?

An anecdote- it was New Year’s Eve 2007. I had downloaded a PDF of a 3.5e port of the classic Tomb of Horrors and my closest friends were excited to ring in the new year by getting ground into sausage. Not only had I prepared to run the massive dungeon, I also had role-play encounters in a nearby village ready as well as random encounters rolled up for the trek to the tomb. We started at about 11 AM and ran well into the night. Finally at about 2 AM our gnome wizard was asleep and our dwarven fighter was fading fast. Less than halfway through the adventure, we decided to call it a night.

The above session was more or less the norm when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Everyone was broke and those of us who did have jobs didn’t have much else happening on our days off. So, of course, we bought Little Caesar’s and a couple 2 liters of soda and gamed all day. Not only did we have more time to play, but more time to plan. I would spend hours feverishly churning out content and adding obsessive detail to every nook and cranny.

If your life still looks like this, that’s great. Enjoy it. Pelor bless your heart.

If your social obligations are such that you’re still about to play like this into your thirties and beyond, that’s great too. Give yourself a +2 on your next roll. Tell your DM I said it was OK.

But, here’s the thing: a day where me and three or four of my friends are all free to play D&D for eight or more hours is rarer than somebody who enjoys grappling rules.

I’ve been able to sustain a group for over two years now. Week after week logging on to continue the next thrilling episode. And would you like to know the secret? Please, say yes. The rest of the article hinges on it.

We waste 20%-30% of our time just catching up. My group consists of a highschool friend and his wife along with two former roommates, who are also married to each other. One is an ER nurse and we love to hear what harrowing injuries she saw this week. One is a teacher and we howl at the ridiculous things her students get up to. One of the group is a zookeeper and we probe about how smart his orangutans are. And believe me, this is separate from the inane banter and jokes that round out our sessions.

And before anyone starts finger wagging, we do get around to gaming too. We just finished Tomb of Annihilation- roughly 11 months after starting.

At this point, I’m not sure which is the draw: the gaming or the catching up? Thing is, we’re always starving for both. After going through a week of doom-scrolling, crushing work hours, and dire news dispatches, I can’t say if we want the escapism or the closeness. Lucky for us, we’re able to find both in our three hour hard-stop sessions. I will say this though, without the frame tale of the Tomb of Annihilation, we wouldn’t have an excuse to connect every week.

So maybe your game stalls out and you only get to one combat encounter a week- is that so bad? Coming together for a common cause like pretending to kill lich fills two gaping needs of modern life. We get to escape reality and really connect to other people. And if that means taking seven months to navigate a dungeon I am very, very OK with that.

I have to end with the caveat that this is absolutely not for everyone. This will really annoy some players. For some people, it is about the narrative structure. It is about the character growth. It is about losing yourself in a role. And that’s really cool too. You can also cut out a good portion of the joking and goofing around. I think the three hour sessions are also great for defining a set time and staying engaged and serious for the entire time. It’s just not for me most of the time.