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I've bought the 4E red box starter kit and taken on the role of DM for the first 'season' of my group. Reading up on DMing and playing D&D with articles like Angry DM's Build a megadungeon, I get the feeling my group was running the game at 1/4 the 'suggested' pace.

The box contains serveral encounters, let's say 8. Each session we had, we managed to complete 2 encounters at most, some sessions only 1. This made the game feel pretty slow, but I blamed it on our inexperience and the size of the group. The articles I've read gave me the impression the red box can be completed in 2 sessions. We needed 8, including checking our character sheets and playing through some of the single player designed content.

My question is: What amount of encounters can be considered 'average', keeping in mind the below facts:

  1. We're all reasonably new to D&D (lots of waiting, thinking, looking up rules)
  2. Sessions are about 8 weeks apart (causing the rules and details to be slightly forgotten)
  3. The group is larger than designed with 6 players, making it take even longer due to #1
  4. Average play time per session is around 2-3 hours
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There is a large variance in "encounters per session" between each group for a variable number of reasons:

  • Time alloted per session (Some people play 3 hours per session, some play twelve)
  • Complexity of each combat encounter (Throwing some monsters in a blank terrain is faster than creating multiple complex interactive objects)
  • Experience with the rules (More you play, less you need to consult rules on the fly, cutting time)
  • Group size (small groups have less time between turns)
  • Group composition (some classes are more direct like Rogue and Sorcerer, some like Shaman and Warlock are filled with minutiae)
  • Group interest in "roleplaying" (some groups love to talk with each NPC and between themselves. Some like to jump from combat to combat)
  • Etc, etc, etc...

The only recommendation in the DMG (pg 121) is:

The experience point numbers in the game are built so that characters complete eight to ten encounters for every level they gain. In practice, that’s six to eight encounters, one major quest, and one minor quest per character in the party.

That is an average per level, but not per session. Exactly because the rhythm per session is table-specific.

Since D&D 4e is build on the premise that people like tactical encounters (in contrast with other editions, who usually favor "exploration" over "combat"), it gives you a lot of tools to make combat very interesting. That's why you have a lot of combat rules. There is no problem with a combat encounter lasting one hour or two, as long as everyone is enjoying that hour-long combat. If you think the combat is going too slow for your group's interest, you can try another system that fit better your playstyle.

Now, in my personal opinion, your group size is within the limits, but leaning on the too large side (I would recommend 4 for starter DMs, but the game support 4-6 a a starting number), playing for too little time (I usually recommend 4 to 6 hours per session), and with very spaced sessions (Best interval is weekly or bi-weekly). This time interval make it hard for you to keep grasp of the rules between sessions, and sometimes even forget about the game's storyline and have to be constantly reminded ("Who is this guy we are talking too? Oh, right..." Think of it like if you play a new videogame for two hours, and then only pick it up to play again in eight weeks. You have to be reminded of story and mechanic as well.)

In the end, what matters is if your group had fun. RPG is in general not about how fast you reach a destination, but what you do in the voyage. As long as everyone is having fun, keep your own rhythm and enjoy the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! Quick comment on your personal opinion: It looks like we're losing 1 player as he's more in it for the social aspect. The session length and spacing are affecting each other: We can't meet more often due to our social lives and individual locations, so when we do meet we end up chatting away the first hour or more. I try to keep everyone on the same page concerning the story by letting the players describe the last session together. Bottom line: We are having fun, some things can be changed and some can't, but we are having fun. \$\endgroup\$ – MeanGreen Oct 28 '15 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, This is a great answer. I just want to add that it also doesn't hurt to switch things up. My 4E group plays every two weeks for 3 hours. Some sessions we fight the entire time, other sessions there's not a single round of combat. \$\endgroup\$ – DCShannon Oct 28 '15 at 16:58

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