I am trying to run a long game (23+ hours). What are some of the other games that have run like this, and how can I best prepare the environment and game?
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This post isn't in the best order, but just the order I came up with the major points
Our game group used to start gaming on Thursday evenings and push through until Monday or Tuesday. We did take breaks though.
That said, as the game group shifted and long-term gaming needed to be consistent, for the last 10+ years, the one consistency we've relied on is that we game every Saturday from 12 noon to 12 midnight. It's not a 84 hour stint, but it's a long game, and we do it regularly.
Long game sessions without regular breaks are difficult to organize, and even more difficult to keep on task.
DMing long games is tricky
The DM who usually runs our games spends nearly all day every day working on his games. He is thinking about situations while he's at work, and waking up at night to write notes. He's making props, and preparing for the random right turn of the group constantly.
There are advantages to running 12 hour game sessions for 10 years though. He has gotten very good at on-the-fly DMing, and that's not something to shrug at. I've seen some of the "best" DMs flop when the players do something unexpected. I remember a distinct quote from a guy who chose to DM one such game.
When players get used to long game sessions, they expect to be able to do more unusual things and get more interesting results. Dungeon delves are not as useful here, but can add flavor for portions of the game. While a single dungeon can take this long, I've seen some of the most complex dungeons thwarted by a quick-thinking player with a little creativity. Don't prep a single path for your players and expect them to follow it. Always have a backup plan.
Most of this stuff goes along with DM-ing in general. A general rule is 2 hours of prep time for every hour in game. When you're thinking about longer game sessions, this rule makes things very clear that you'll have to spend a lot more time working on your storyline and world.
Keep players on task
This deserves separation from DMing because it also applies to the player sitting next to someone who's watching YouTube videos instead of focusing on what's going on. A good DM must keep on top of this too. Sometimes its the player who isn't paying attention who should be singled out, much like the student in class who's passing notes. But it's also partially the DM's fault if their game is not interesting enough to keep everyone involved.
Players should have an active role in involving each other. That means you can't keep the DM distracted from the other players. You are just as much at fault if another player falls asleep because no one has said anything to him in over an hour. For the sake of everything that is holy, don't spend 8 hours on game day discussing Castle Building. The DM is going to be thinking about the world quite a bit to prep for the next game. Catch him outside of game-day in order to go over these details.
Monitor the group's mood carefully
Lack of food makes people cranky. Some people will not only forget to eat, but might put off eating in order to focus on the game. Lack of sleep makes people slap-happy. People who are acting silly can make stupid decisions, like charging at the ancient blue dragon at 1st level (yes, seen it). D&D is the reason the group came together, but this is a social gathering for us. We're all here for one reason, to have fun. For some players this means soda and snacks. For others, this may mean a 6 pack of beer. Many players are smokers and will regularly step outside to keep their nicotine urges under control. This is a lot of things to keep in mind, but if you're constantly looking around the "table" at the people who are there, you'll be able to see who is in need of assistance.
Don't exclude people because they are in a bad mood, or out on a smoke break when a pivotal decision is being made. If you do, they'll leave, and you'll be down the tank, or mage, at a vital moment. Caring about people's mood invariably leads to the next bit.
I know you don't want to. But let me put it in perspective. When you get together for a long game session, you're not in a comic book store, and most people bring a few small snacks at most. That means, the DM might also be the host who had to clean his house, and pay the AC bill, plus he's probably cooking for everyone. And who brought money for food? It's pretty likely that someone in your group is fronting a lot of money to pay for this game session. It is a kind gesture to maybe head out to a fast food restaurant for at least 1 meal and if you know who's out of pocket for the game (or if you want XP from the DM) maybe buy his meal. This is where the breaks come from. Ordering pizza is great, but you have to spend time divvy-ing it out. And don't forget about the dishes!
This is, as I've been saying, primarily a social gathering. If you want to be social and a part of a group of people who have similar interests, then you're going to want to be around each other when you're not focused on the dice. That said, I never implied you couldn't
I'm not by any means implying you need scheduled, or even regular breaks. Look around. If half the group is asleep or doing something else, it's break time.
Consider mixing things up
When we remember that this is primarily a social gathering, we can think about it in terms of having multiple activities. You don't want the whole game to be a hack and slash. You need to add some role play elements, some puzzles, even some politics. This is part of the DM-ing tricks though. The DM has to know what the group is really interested in, and as the mood shifts, flow with it. If everyone is ancy for a fight, it might be time for a random encounter. If everyone is getting into party in-fighting over who's got a bigger sword, then it might be time to present an unusual NPC for them to figure out.
This goes for games as well. Not a lot of DMs can keep going for long games. Even with our 12 hour sessions, we often have half-days. One DM will run for 6 hours, and a different DM for the next 6 hours. Allow for flexibility in your group. If you bring down the hammer over every little deviation you're going to have a very small group, and a very sore throat.
Care about the environment
This is something I can't stress enough. It's unpleasant enough to show up at a game group where the DM tells you to "just wipe that off" when you spot your chair and find it covered in kitty litter. It's a challenge to sit at these game sessions for 2 hours. If you're sitting in that disgusting chair for 48 hours, you're likely to be sick. Right before the group arrives, take out the trash and vacuum. It makes a world of difference. This isn't just a matter of hygene.
Your gaming area needs to be comfortable. Sitting on plastic lawn chairs is fine for up to a 4 hour game session, but if you're doing long games you want to be comfortable. We have reclining sofas and comfortable chairs on wheels. There is a lot of evidence that those who host game groups don't care about the environment. Hardcore gamers like us have portable chairs that we bring to game sessions, as half the time you don't even have a place to sit. This is nice, but don't rely on it. Be prepared for the group.
Leveling takes hours
It just does. And not just leveling either. No matter how much you say it, some players just will not show up with their characters made. Be prepared for these sorts of hiccups. During all that time that players are writing and calculating, recap the previous game session, or give details about your world. One of the best DM tricks I ever saw was using this time to tell a bedtime story the characters would have heard as children in the world. It adds a lot of prep time, but if you are ready for the 2 to 3 hours spent making characters, and the 1 to 2 hours for leveling up, you can keep everyone focused on the game, and not discussing the best way to power-game a bard.
Allow for less dedicated gamers
Let's face it, not everyone is going to want to game as long as everyone else. You may start this and find out out that the group would prefer 72 hours to your 48, or you may find out that most of the players can only do 4 - 6 hours in between work days. Whatever the result, you need to account for no shows and partial shows. It's difficult for some DMs, but getting players in who show up late or getting players out who leave early is vital to running long game sessions, especially if they're regular. Some of your most loyal players may have to work during one game. When they show up the next time, they're not going to want to find out that the party used their character as bait and got it killed. Take care of your players and they'll keep coming back. If they can't make it, leave them in the wagon, or at the last safe-house.
It's important that you trust that the players want to be there. They wouldn't come for even one game session if they didn't want to play D&D. They didn't show up for the bragging rights.
This does not contradict flexibility, but be consistent in start and end times. If your group wants to go longer or decides as a whole to wrap up early, that's one thing. However, prep for the whole game, as the group is expecting the whole game. If you have a set end time and decide to go over it's a bonus. If you tell the group to prepare for a specific end time, and you kick them out early they'll be annoyed and frustrated.
Consistent start times are vital, particularly if you start to do these regularly. People need to know when to show up if they want to be included. They need to know where the game will be and they need to know what they need to bring. Don't leave people in the dark. This goes for rules too. You need to be consistent in your rulings, and flexible with the group. Don't tell one player they can't do something and another they can. If that's the case, clarify the why in great deal. If it looks like you're flighty or showing favoritism, they will get annoyed with your game and find someone else to game with.
A certain James Wallis (whom I do not know) writes, on the forums of rpg.net:
I don't think there's anything more "official" than Guinness concerning these weird world record things. :) (Note, please, that I did not verify Wallis' claims with Guinness.)