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Related: How can I close my sessions better?

I'm an inexperienced DM running my second game (playing D&D 5e both times).
The first game I ran was the Starter Set, 'Lost Mine of Phandelver', with players who had a combined total of almost 40 years RPing experience. They knew how adventures worked and could use their experience to pick up on what goals were being presented.
My current game is with 4 totally new roleplayers. I'm finding it difficult to let them know (without giving plot away) what the size of the adventure they're playing is.

For example, when running episode 1 of 'Hoard of the Dragon Queen' as a 'one night only' game, I got to the end of the episode and the players all wanted to continue straight on following the plot hooks into episode 2.
When running an introductory adventure of my own making for them (which was intended as a one-day-only game but spilled over into a second night) they picked up on and wanted to immediately follow the plot hooks at the end before we'd even spoken about whether they all wanted to continue in a regular game.

One of my players has told me she finds it useful to always have a goal in mind for whatever she's doing, and to know what the structure of her plan is. I, too, feel that my role as DM would be easier knowing there were specific parts of a story my players were progressing through - for example, so I knew when a good time to level up would be (using milestone leveling), and because all the published adventures I've read have had this structure.
So, How do I, without giving away plot in advance, let the players know what the adventure is going to consist of, so that they know when they've finished it?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Wait. You have players who are eager to continue playing after having a taste, and that's a problem? Can you articulate how that causes you difficulty as a GM? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 6 '15 at 20:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why does it matter when they've "finished" an adventure? If everyone wants to continue, every adventure should feed into the next one, it doesn't have to be divided into clearly delineated story arcs. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Oct 6 '15 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ Knowing when to use milestones is almost certainly a separate issue that should be posed as a separate question. (An answer explaining how to know when to use a milestone won't tell you how to communicate with your players, for example.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 6 '15 at 20:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like you're trying to ask for suggestions on how, in a stylistic sense, you should close your sessions, but I can't figure out how the rest of your question logically follows. The question "How do I, without giving away plot in advance, let the players know what the adventure is going to consist of, so that they know when they've finished it?" seems incredibly straightforward to me but your overall post suggests that it is a difficult issue for you. Maybe you can rephrase? \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Oct 6 '15 at 20:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Remember you can frame-challenge in an answer; comments aren't really meant for an extended critique. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Oct 6 '15 at 22:05
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First, let me congratulate you: you're having the problem that your players are having too much fun. As an inexperienced GM, this is the best problem you can possibly have, as long as you don't stress yourself about providing the material (don't be afraid to ask for more time).

However, the solution is easier than you seem to think: just tell them beforehand. There's no need to pretend that D&D isn't just a game; you know it and your players know it. You don't have to give away the plot just to say "Hey everyone, I'll be running a one-shot tonight." All they know is that the plot will be wrapped up by the end of the night (if things go well). There's no need to give them the false sense that their adventure might continue on if you have no desire to do so. Indeed, it's definitely worse to be disappointed that a story you liked suddenly ended than to know a story you haven't unravelled yet is going to end by tonight.

That said, please feel free to expand upon your one-shots. There's several different ways to DM, but I personally prefer to write what's happening next between sessions, not plan out the entire campaign in advance (although I will think of some good ideas on where to go next, I won't decide until later). If your players really liked one of your one-shots, there's no reason you can't make it into a real campaign, even if you never planned on it -- tons of campaigns happened this way. And you certainly don't need to write up your entire campaign as a module for it to be "valid" or even quite good.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 because the best answer is always 'discuss it with them'. You don't need to 'signal' anything - just sitting down and having a discussion about what you want out of it, versus what they want out of it, is ALWAYS a good thing. Don't forget to listen to their wants as well as expressing your own wants. \$\endgroup\$ – Wolfman Joe Oct 6 '15 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking that maybe the question was unsuitable, since I felt like I was having a problem but being told I didn't. This answer, though, has still let me know that it's not really a problem, but offers good advice too. If the question's not right for the SE please let me know if I can fix it, but I'm not sure how to better explain why I feel it's a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – RichardJ Oct 6 '15 at 21:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, you're still being awfully vague, for a start. What parts of this answer did you find to be good advice? Saying that would help me understand more about your problem. Do you feel that your question was sufficiently answered? The problem you have is a problem, it's just not one you have to stress about because everyone's having fun. To me, the problem is a very simple one that's solved with an out-of-character disclaimer at the start of a session. The large body of your OP, when juxtaposed with the simplicity of the issue, leads me to second-guess myself. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Oct 6 '15 at 21:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RichardJ Furthermore, it could be only you that feels it's a problem, and I would guess as much because your players seem all right with it. That's fine -- these minute pieces of intuition that allow you to "feel" group dynamics come with time as you continue DMing. If you're really not sure, ask them if they don't mind one-shots or if they're getting antsy to run a long-term campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Oct 6 '15 at 21:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suppose there was just a very large chasm between what you expected the answer to be and what I chose to answer with. You seemed to expect some form of in-game subtlety or clues, whereas I read the question and instantly took the opposite approach: this topic should be broached out-of-game as directly as possible. That's not to say there is no way you could cue your players in to the adventure's length in-game. Even specifying in-game time limits ("you have three days before the orcs attack") will give the players a general idea of how long the adventure will take in real time. \$\endgroup\$ – Lucas Leblanc Oct 7 '15 at 13:43

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