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Background: I'm new to tabletop role-playing games, with D&D Next being my first. I like the idea of tabletop role-playing and thought I'd give it a try. The group on average meets about 3 times a month for 7 hours each session, and has been running for 7 months now.

Based on the plot of the story it's a fairly safe prediction that we are less than a quarter of the way through the story so far. It's starting to seem like a pretty significant amount of time invested already with no end in sight. Is this typical for tabletop role-playing games?

This is my first tabletop experience but I guess I was expecting for an adventure to take about a year to complete.

Edit: As mentioned in an answer below my reference to story arc could/should be expanded. To put it in context, if this were a series of novels culminating in climaxes, the overall story would likely be a series of 7 books. Each of the arcs would involve a separate territory ending in a 'final boss'. In the original question I was referencing the overall story, ie the full series, as opposed to one individual arc.

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It varies wildly. There are a lot of factors that go into it.

How big is the adventure?

I've been in games where an entire story went from level 1 nobody to level 20 world saving hero in about 40 sessions of 4 hours each, played weekly. I'm currently running a game that's going to take two years, with 3.5 hour sessions weekly (we're over a year into it, and that time estimate is doing well).

Before that I was in a game that was following a set of published adventures. That game was going before I started, and will be going after I finish. It also meets weekly, but they have more side quests and other things going on.

There's no real guideline for how long a storyline should be, except that you want something your players can finish. If you only have until the end of the semester before people go back to university or something like that, you can't run a 3000 page adventure.

How fast are the players?

Some groups operate quickly. Everyone knows what to do and they'll keep combat moving at a high speed. They may also be focused on the current goal and ignore other things (or they may not).

Other groups won't. Sometimes you get newbies who need more time to figure out how to react. Sometimes you get people interested in exploring the world and they'll go off on side quests, or random tangents not related to anything because they want to see what's around the corner.

And sometimes, you get groups that for one reason or another wind up doing a lot of out of character talking during games. That also slows things down, as the game isn't progressing while people are telling jokes or catching up. And you know what? If everyone is having fun doing that, great! I suspect you might be having this happen somewhat, as 7 hours is a really long time to stay in character for without breaks. There's nothing wrong with that, but a lot of it just means things will take longer.

How descriptive is the DM?

Some DMs will be description light, and that makes things go faster than DMs that are description heavy. For players that want a fast paced game, being light on description can be really helpful to keep things moving.

I had a DM once who was very detail oriented. One session we made offhand comments about solving our money problems by robbing a bank. Next week, he came to us with a detailed overview of how the banking system operated and the bank security, should we want to do that. He spent 45 minutes going over that with us, based on an offhand comment. It brought the game to a dead stop, and it was awesome.

How much combat is there?

Combat can be slow, given the setup involved, and the actual dice rolling and such. If you have a lot of combat, you'll take longer to accomplish goals than if you have less. Random encounters can be a big one here.

I found that random encounters as people wandered around a dungeon were slowing them down too much from reaching the scripted encounters in the various rooms, so I just removed 90% of the random encounter rolls from the dungeon I'm doing. That let the players move around the dungeon more quickly, and made them happy.

In general, most of this comes down to time efficiency. There's lots of ways to get more or less done in the same time at the table. Beyond those, it's really about the scope of the storyline and the play style of the people at the table. There's no real hard numbers or guidelines for it, but in my experience yours is on the longer side.

Some Numbers

From my own time as a player and DM, here's some numbers I've seen:

  • My current campaign - Currently at 58 sessions, 3.5 hours a session. 203 hours. They've completed 5 dungeon areas which have their own story, along with some occasional side quests. So we're in the 30-40 hours per story range, but these are all one story arc. Right now I estimate 80-100 sessions to complete the entire story.
  • Last Campaign I played in - This one took 40 sessions of 4 hours each, so 160 hours. The story had 3 parts, but again it was all one major story. ~54 hours per story part.
  • One Before That - This one was a series of published D&D aventurers. I believe they had estimated times on them, but we were underpowered for what we were fighting (due to the DM giving well below standard loot, class selection, and generally being a party that wasn't optimized at all). The result was that we had to be very cautious or die. Combat and exploration took a VERY long time in this group. It has to be over 100 sessions right now and still going, and I'd put each story piece anywhere from 40-70 hours depending on the specific one. (We literally spent over a month trying to clear out one floor of a tower.)

Those numbers won't hold true for other groups, but they give you an indication of just how wildly things can vary.

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In general, there is no good answer possible. There are too many variables.

For D&D, however, the following are basic truisms:

  • a typical 30 page adventure varies from 4 hours to 30 hours of play
  • many of the module series are a single story arc in installments.
  • a typical session is 3-4 hours of play
  • a typical group has one session a week.

Taking the old G-D-Q series - G1, G2, G3, D1, D2, D3 and Q1, that arc is 3 major chapters, and took my group as kids about 7 sessions of 3-4 hours each using AD&D 1. With a later group under AD&D 2, it took 5 sessions of 6 hours, ending in a TPK early in Q1. Adapting for D&D 3E (3.0), a friends group took 4 sessions for D1-D2, and had a TPK end their game. D&D Next looks to be similar in time taken to 3E, tho' I've not done more than a few bits, so that long arc might take 6-12 sessions. Roughly an academic quarter. I've also seen a group under AD&D 1 take 6 sessions on G1-2-3 alone - looting everything in sight, to maximize experience earned.

Each time I ran G-D-Q, the parties hit about 10th to 13th level by the end of Q1. But that includes the rather extensive looting in order to get treasure XP, full XP for causing flight (it's still defeating them), and roleplay bonuses.

A partial list of things that matter a lot in how long it takes:

  • amount of combat
  • nature of interpersonal actions (in character dialogue vs one-liner and a roll)
  • whether combat is being played out gridded or not
  • whether players are focused on the action when it's not their action
  • whether the GM knows the materials
  • whether or not there is a conclusion to the story arc (there isn't always one)
  • whether or not there is table talk
  • whether or not level-up is done at session
  • whether or not the GM narrates a lot of details
  • whether or not the GM knows the modules/adventures used well
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As the others answers say, it depends on a lot of things. But I think one factor in particular matters above all others: What do you mean by story arc?

There are of course a lot of differences between fiction and role playing, but there are a lot of similarities, so look at Sherlock Holmes as an example. If you view one of the short stories as an "arc" then they are only about 8000 words long give or take and can be read in around a half hour depending on how fast you read. But if you view the entire collected works as one arc then you have four novels, 56 short stories, and a whole lot of reading in front of you.

In an RPG, you could easily see a relatively small quest as an arc, or have a major quest with dozens of side quests as an arc, or you could have the story from level 1 - 30 and call the whole thing one arc even if they have dozens of major quests that are only very loosely connected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This (condensed a bit) might be better as a comment; it doesn't directly answer the question, and the question itself will be much improved if/when the OP notices it and edits the question. \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Mar 18 '14 at 21:40
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One thing that I like about DnDNext, is that I feel, if one desires, they can play the game much quicker.

For example, sometimes, instead of having 3-4 hours to play, we only have 1-2 hours to play. In those times, we pull out DnDNext and play that game instead. In just 3 sessions of 2 hours each, we have gone through 3 "one shot" adventures, which were connected to each other by the DM. Each adventure had a "beginning middle and end", which built upon each other.

However, a good RPG game, like a good television series or a bad soap opera, can go on for decades without ever having an "end".

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First off, there's a question of terminology. I'm going to assume by story arc and your stated length of one year to date, you actually mean what I would call a campaign. A campaign is a linked series of smaller story arcs, each of which should only take three or four game sessions to resolve, if even that long. Some campaigns may have overarching metaplot a grander story line that ties all the smaller stories together beyond just featuring the same characters.

The length of a campaign is subject to a lot of different factors, the most important of which is player interest. As long as the players (including the GM) are still interested in the characters and the setting, games can theoretically run indefinitely.

Personally, I run games in an episodic, television-like style. One episode typically takes two to four game sessions of six hours or so. Each episode has it's own story arc, with a beginning, middle, and end. Some of them are entirely self-contained, featuring characters and locations that may never come up again - in show business, these are sometimes called bottle episodes1. Other episodes have threads that tie them into the larger metaplot I mentioned previously.

The episodes are arranged into seasons, typically thirteen episodes to a season. This number is partially a conceit to tie things into the cinematic approach, but it's done for a similar reason. Most of the loose threads from the various episodes are tied up at the end of each season. It's a good place to have a major setting change, too - e.g. the lost ship that was travelling from place to place trying to find their way home finally arrives, triumphant or not. Thirteen episodes of weekly play at two to four sessions per episode works out to about one season a year (actually ten months or so, but there are likely to be skipped weeks).

Over decades of running games, I've found that a given group of characters and players can sustain interest for about three seasons worth of material, so three years worth of play. Much more than this, without some major shakeup, and things get stale. I'm personally of the opinion that any campaign that does not reach a full year of weekly sessions is a failure. If it can't keep everybody's interest for that long, then there was some flaw in the characters, setting, or storyline.

1Unlike television, where they reuse old things to save money, these typically feature new things that simply don't come up again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to comment on this, I did indeed mean a campaign. In the end I moved away to another country after ~1 year so it ended for me, but after 1 year we were only 1/7th of the way done and it already felt stale to be honest. I could guess at a few of the reasons why it became stale but it was my first and only DND experience so hard to judge against the 'typical'. I found it a bit too cookie cutter, our characters are good but with no real reason and we're fighting evil, just because. I guess I wanted something a bit more compelling if I'm spending 7 hours a week on it. \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Waters Jul 13 '17 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yup. That can happen when the game is more about the threat than the characters. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jul 13 '17 at 21:01

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