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I'm looking to get some of my coworkers together and start a lunch time, casual, D&D game. Has anyone done this - is there a practical way to do this?

Our lunch breaks run for about 1 hour, but I can see being able to make one weekly break run for 1.5 hours for most of us.

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up vote 15 down vote accepted

D&D in an hour

The D&D 4E Development team at Wizards of the Coast actually do (or did) this! Greg Tito, a 4E playtester, ran a lunchtime D&D campaign. Mike Mearls ran a lunchtime game of AD&D 1st Edition and a lunchtime campaign of Against the Giants.

Also check out Kenneth Newquist's The Lunchtime Game Master's Toolkit.

Generally, you're gonna complete one encounter.

Games you can finish in a short time

If you want to avoid games that take forever to play, here is a favorite suggestion or two:

  • Annalise is a moody, subtle horror game. Character creation is nearly instantaneous. Setting is created in play. You can pack up and start immediately. Play is "scene" based so you can stop at any time between scenes. You can tell a complete story in 4-5 sessions -- that's one week of lunchtime gaming.

  • Fiasco is designed to be played in around two hours. It's also scene-based and has a natural stopping point halfway through play (about an hour!). It's a game about ambitious people with poor impulse control: that is, just about anything, but you use one of the playsets in the book to start, or find one of the additional, free playsets online.

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Another that works for the Short Time list is Mouse Guard, where my typical 4 encounter session was between 45min and 3 hours, usually right about 1.5 hours... with an oversized 6-7 player group... Do GM Turn one session, player turn the next session. And it's ultra-low prep. –  aramis Dec 10 '10 at 23:52
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How long are your lunch breaks? I think you might have better luck with a lighter system. Even if you have the entirety of your lunch break to play (and people show up on time, don't have to wait in line to buy food, aren't slowed down by things like eating), there's a lot of overhead in D&D and I'm having trouble imagining you getting much done. If you're able to run the game off a laptop that would probably help, since you could just pick up the laptop and go at the end of the session. No need to copy the map into a notebook, figure out where everyone was standing, whose turn it was, etc.

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Is there a lighter version of the D&D rules? We're going with this system because most of us have some (passing) familiarity with it. Is there maybe an alternative game that is easy to pick up and would be appropriate for lunch breaks? –  blueberryfields Dec 10 '10 at 16:16
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There are a large variety of freely available, light alternatives to D&D, some of which are essentially clones of the D&D rules (for example, Microlite20) to very different systems that go for the same feel (Old School Hack, or Warrior, Rogue & Mage). –  Mike Riverso Dec 10 '10 at 17:30
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Some old colleagues of mine used to play once a week in the evening in the meeting room downstairs, and I think it must have worked out quite well as they played for years*

From my own (very limited) experience of D&D 4e a session wants to be at least a few hours long.

  • (until about the time they invited me to join, at which point 3 left the company and the whole thing folded :( - nothing to do with the D&D I might add)
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Maybe a retro-clone or older edition of D&D would suit you well, with a decreased emphasis on tactics and the like.

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Some things to overcome:

  1. Figure out if people eat at their desks before/after lunch, or during the session. If they have their mouth full, they can't say, "Grog is attacking the lead Orc". Do you skip the player until he can talk, or do you wait for him? Depending on your preferences, the former gets more done, but the latter is probably more within the rules.

  2. Mixing character sheets, dice, minis, etc. and lunch. I know there is the phrase, "a character sheet isn't broken in until soda/coffee has been spilled on it", but it still shortens the time that a character sheet remains viable.

  3. Keeping things on topic. People typically socialize during lunch, and the OC chatter may derail your plot, ESPECIALLY during long combats. Either go with it and let a week's worth of gaming take 2 weeks, or find some way to shut it down

  4. Curious Onlookers. Either have a way to keep them away, a mechanism to bring in more players (who may or not stay with it), or a way to deal with watchers.

  5. Campaign notes. I'd recommend keeping your notes on a laptop so you only have to hit "Save" at the end of the session and run back to work. Especially for combats where you need to keep track of any number of NPCs, their hit points, etc. Try to find (or make from your own books) PDFs of the rules and get text only versions so you can search for them QUICKLY.

  6. Duplicate Character Sheets. Have a copy of each character sheet (or rule that they stay in the office), so you never have "crud. I forgot my sheet." Try to get a word Doc of the stats, so worst case, you can print out another copy for the day (or if you have a scanner, and such, scan the sheets before play).

  7. Since you can only play 1 hour at a time, you will have to be able to set up and tear down QUICKLY. I recommend getting one of those battle-mats that are around 20X30 inches. Draw the map, and then all you need to do is unroll and place the minis.

  8. Mini maintenance. You will need a way to control who touches the minis, ESPECIALLY during tear-down. Take a cellphone snap of the map and/or use a wet-erase marker to mark each player's spot during tear down.

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Regarding #2 - My groups have used sheet protectors to cover the sheets and sticky notes to maintain information that changes in-game for decades. That way, you protect the sheet from the dangers of snacks and from unnecessary erasing / rewriting. Only update the sheet when values change permanently, and just transfer values to a new sticky when you use one up. These people are playing in an office. They should have sticky notes and sheet protectors available. –  gomad Dec 10 '10 at 16:54
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I think you're going to face some real challenges in terms of time. I have no idea what kind of game you're planning, but if you want to get anything done in 90 minutes (including setup, cleanup, and presumably, lunch) I would suggest a lighter system.

The system I would probably try to run in a situation like that would have to be Savage Worlds. Here is why:

  • The system is very light. You can pick it up as a player or GM in no time.
  • The core book is very cheap - every player can afford to buy a $10 book and you'll save time you'd waste passing around a $35 PHB.
  • The system is fast. The motto of the system is Fast, Furious, Fun!. Combats are exciting but don't take forever.
  • There are a bunch of published settings for the system, from Old West horror (Deadlands), through superheroes (Necessary Evil), pirates (50 Fathoms), and many more I can't remember.
  • Also, it's easy to hack. I ran my last Firefly game in Savage Worlds using the core book and a free unofficial Serenity conversion. It was my first Savage Worlds game and it went great.

I think you could be successful, and I totally love the idea. I have been unable to get even a regular boardgame group together here where I work - we keep having trouble scheduling a 90 minute lunch.

I just think you're going to have to concentrate on speed - players in my experience get bored if there's just a combat for a whole session. And a fast, light, simple system that gets out of your way and lets you play is going to be a big part of getting some interesting play in a constrained time period. Good luck!

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I think we're fairly comfortable taking a system and hacking it for speed. Also, if things take off, I can see ways to fit in small micro sessions in other work breaks - say, 15 minute sessions advancing side plots throughout the week between the hour long lunch breaks. –  blueberryfields Dec 10 '10 at 16:59
    
@blueberryfields - if you can make 4e work, great. I just thought I'd point out a solid, well-supported system that has play speed as a core design value. Would you consider making an edit to your question at some point to let us all know how it turns out? –  gomad Dec 13 '10 at 16:29
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Back in High School, we had 45 minute lunch periods. We generally played Traveller or Twilight 2000... not D&D. But I knew people running AD&D 1E at lunch.

Assuming you have an honest hour for lunch...

If you can play without minis and maps in the edition you use, yes, it's doable. Keep in mind, setting up the maps is 5 minutes by itself.

Game Systems

D&D 4E

If you can't play without minis and maps... 4E will be pretty hard. 1 combat encounter per lunch, and maybe a scene or two extra, or if the encounters are small, 2 small combat encounters.

D&D 3E, 3.5E; AD&D 2E w/Player's Option: Combat & Tactics

Again, minis play makes it tough, tho' non-minis play can go pretty quick.

Big battles likely to be two-day fights, most balanced encounters half-a lunch.

AD&D 1E, 2E; D&D OE, BXCMI/Cyclopedia; most retroclones thereof

Minis play again slows things down, but a 45-55 minute session is quite doable. 1-2 combat encounters, plus some RP.

Other Options

WFRP

1E or 2E, Again, minis play makes it tough, tho non-minis play can go pretty quick.

Big battles likely to be two-day fights, most balanced encounters half-a lunch or less.

3E: Setup alone is gonna eat some time every day; 5-10min or so. But it plays fast, and is easy to note. If you use overhead pen on page protected cards instead of using counters and card flips, you can speed it up even more. (Hint: using sportscard pages, you put them in facing away from you, so you write on the side with no openings!)

d6 Fantasy

One of the faster playing engines in the industry... same base engine as the old West End Star Wars. Also, PDF available free legally from DTRPG. A 45-55 minute play session can easily handle 3-4 small combats, a big combat, or a good number of non-combat skill based actions.

Tunnels and Trolls

Also fairly fast playing, and it's easy to grab just about any D&D module and run it in T&T. Typical battles run 5-10 minutes if lopsided; 20-30 minutes if actually even odds.

Arrowflight

Typical combats run 10-30 minutes for me, using map on whiteboard, loose movement, etc. Often I don't bother with a map at all. 2E said to be a bit faster.

Some Tips on doing it right

Minis-on-map tactical

Have any maps or handouts drawn out before hand.

Use a magnetic portable whiteboard; use counters, not minis, and use business card magnet mountings to mount the counters. This allows a battle in progress to be left as is for next session easily.

You can make your own magnetic whiteboard with a sheet of steel and white krylon. To grid it out nicely, use white 7/8" tape with 1/8" gaps, run both ways, then spray with gray or black krylon to fill the resultant holes. Don't remove the tape until the spray is dry. Then run a double layer of electrical tape around the edge. If you make 2 or 3, you can have multiple encounters ready on different boards.

General

Rules issues: handle by email or bbs post.

Level up: handle by email or phone, if practical.

Character sheets: GM hangs onto or has copies. This due to "Absent or Late Player" issues

Starting: start play on time every time. If someone is routinely late, find out who they want running their character until they get there. If someone's absent, hand their character off to someone else. Late is often going to be not their fault.

Damage tracking: have NPC damage cards handy.

Go/Nogo: have people check in at start of day with a text or email. If too few are there to play, text or email half an hour before lunch.

Time: Figure 1st and last 5 min of lunch are lost to travel, and 5m lost to settle-down. Plan accordingly.

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If you don't have to worry about teaching anyone the DnD basics/mechanics, you may want to consider running Encounters. Didn't see anyone mention this yet. It's specifically designed for shorter encounters. I was looking for a short but regular game and found a local game shop running these. Took anywhere from an hour to 90 minutes at most.

http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Event.aspx?x=dnd/4new/event/dndencounters

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I'm old. We used to play AD&D in high school during free periods and lunch, back in the days where FRP meant D&D.

First off, D&D isn't necessarily about combat encounters. IMO, good FRP is much more about story, strategy, and scene than hack and slash. If your DM is good and makes it so that play is about story, strategy, puzzles, politics, etc. then there's all kinds of stuff that can happen during your one hour of play, and then the players can think about problems to solve during the rest of the day, and have plans and strategies for the next day.

Also, if you play every day you'll get comfortable with quick rules and simplify where needed.

I say DO IT!

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If you and the other players sign up over on Wizard's web-site you can get the D&D Next rules downloaded. I would recommend everyone sign up because of the potential legal issues of the NDA. One of the goals of the rules is making it possible to run a complete adventure in an hour. I am sure they would be happy to have your feedback in the surveys to make this possible. I have played one game of the new D&D Next rules game and it was fun, felt like D&D and the combat moved dramatically quicker than the current production game.

Hope you guys have fun, DaddyDM.

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Although it didn't exist at the time this question was posted, Dungeon World could easily fit in one-hour chunks. It's quick to pick up. Character and party creation is easily under half an hour.

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