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When I run game sessions, they start with a bang, a lot of action and the story keeps moving, but by the end of hour 2, they have slowed to a crawl, not a lot is happening, etc.
How can I manage this and make the endings of my game exciting, so players look forward to the next game, and have a clear idea of what they where doing at the end of the last session?

In my experience, the games end with everybody feeling tired and a bit bored, and no one really remembers what they where doing at the start of the next session.

The game is an ongoing D&D 5e campaign. So far, as a fix, I have tried ending on a cliff hanger, but can never seem to get the timing right. Typically, our games go from 2-3 hours depending on schedules.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How long are you planning to play? One shots or campaign? Why do it slows to crawl? What are your players thinking about this? Do many missing details. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Sep 18, 2021 at 0:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ What game are you playing? Ones I play have very different ways of dealing with (or not) similar issues. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    Sep 18, 2021 at 0:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Could you give us a description of one of your sessions, so we can try to help you identify what you could change? \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Sep 18, 2021 at 19:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/185680/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Sep 18, 2021 at 19:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TheDragonOfFlame How long are your sessions planned out to be? How many hours? \$\endgroup\$
    – Axoren
    Sep 19, 2021 at 17:30

2 Answers 2

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Hooks and Cliffhangers

One thing that you should have plenty of is hooks, rather than spend all of them during the session, you can save a couple for when things start to drag on.

While your party is doing one final survey of the dungeon, they find evidence of a prior group's investigation and a journal.

That journal can be core-plot relevant or side-plot relevant, but whatever it is, it can be used to distract the players from the slog. It is something new and interesting that they will question immediately (hopefully) and likely steer them towards things both you and they find interesting.

When the session is about to end, you can use this technique as an opportunity to place that interest onto the next session.

In the journal, you find that this past troupe was sent by King Ronald to hunt the dreaded Grimace. It's not anything like what you've found during your time within the dungeon. However, as you read on, there's suddenly a deep and echoing laugh emanating through the dungeon around you. And that's where we'll leave off.

And that's where we'll leave off.

There is an art to this, deciding when in the middle of a hook to stop the storytelling. You want to give the players just enough info for them to know something is happening next, but get in the way of them being able to resolve it during this session by fading to black.

Their minds are already thinking "what would be my next course of action" but without the opportunity to get the feedback of actually doing anything, this will build up anticipation for the next session when they will actually get to see the plan that's flashed through their heads, or the courses of action they've talked about amongst themselves between sessions, or the crazy ideas they've thought of in the meantime that might actually be worth trying.

Don't do this too often.

Sometimes, it's important for sessions to just have lulls in them. Once you've overcome a major arc, the players don't need to be put to the blade again so soon. Repeated pressure to "do the next thing" can lead to player burnout and might be more stressful. This is a balance you need to learn with your players and it's not something I can really give a good rule of thumb for. Keep an eye on your players and see if they're trying to accomplish something in game that is getting interrupted by these hooks. If players are willing to pick their own pace and trajectory, this saves you some work and guarantees they're invested.

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First, if you're the kind of DM that needs prep time to present the players with interesting content, it's okay to end the session early. It sounds like they're already returning players, so you don't need to hook them if they know every session starts with excitement. Unless there's another constraint that demands you fill the time, you don't have to make the session drag and this could add to their enjoyment because they don't feel trapped until you end the day.

Granted, that option is meant more for piece of mind. We all like to keep a good session going if people are into it. Since you listed the content as being "missions", I get the impression that these are fairly impersonal goals. This is a good time to develop the PCs. Their characters will want some good downtime, which can open plot inspiration and long arcs. You can also use it to add more challenges to keep the party going, and if you are playing to a specific clock, being in the middle of this random challenge will encourage them to come back and finish it. Especially if their character has something on the line outside of the main plot arc.

A natural extension of that, is a way to involve cliffhangers. If you are in the middle of something dynamic, the tension builds itself and you wait for the right time to cut off. The fighter hangs from the edge of the cliff. The rogue starts to pull rope from their pack. The fighter's fingers are starting to slip... And we'll see if he's saved next time. Another cinematic resolution to this problem is the hook of calling cards or teasers. "You're finally mug in hand at your favorite tavern when a messenger hands you a sealed scroll. Inside is an invitation to the Royal Tournament starting in only three days."

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