Background:

I've DM'd before (3 past campaigns). I started playing D&D 4e when I was 12 or 13, so it holds a special place in my heart. However, school commitments took me away from the game for a few years.

Now, I think I'll have 20-30 days over a span of 2 months to play D&D. I think I can fit in 5 hours/day to play D&D, which means I'll have 100-150 hours to play.

I want to run a 10-level campaign, but as time has passed I've forgotten how long a campaign takes. I vaguely remember leveling up once every couple of weeks or so on a weekly campaign. I don't want to start something that I can not finish, but I also don't want to finish the campaign before my free time is up.

Assuming 5-hour sessions:

  • 30 minutes of warm-up
  • 60-90 minutes (avg. 75 min) per encounter
  • 30 minutes of cool-down, summary, and recording what happened

Meaning:

  • I can fit 3-4 encounters (roughly) into a 5-hour session
  • 60-120 encounters in 2-month campaign
    • 100 hrs * 3 encounters = 60
    • 150 hrs * 4 encounters = 120

Note: However, my group wouldn't have a problem with a delayed ending or an early start every once in a while.

I remember reading somewhere (can't find source) that explicitly stated the average number of encounters per level in 4e is between 8 and 10. Based on that value, the group could level up to 6-15 (avg. of 10.5 levels) in 2 months.

Question: How many hours would a 10-level campaign ordinarily take? Given the time I have available, should I plan for a 10-level campaign, or fewer/more levels?

  • To clarify a bit, are you asking for first-hand experience or pointers to research and statistics on this question? – edgerunner Apr 9 '17 at 10:43
  • Either. I'm asking for basically anything that will give me any indication at all as to how many levels I can fit into my campaign in my constraints, because "six to fifteen" is way too vague for me. First-hand accounts would help, as would statistics that could give me a more specific answer. Even assuming a constant number of sessions (25, the mean) would give me numbers from 7.5 levels to 12.5 levels. - that's why I didn't bother waiting until I had more scheduling information to ask. – Tom Dacre Apr 9 '17 at 10:57
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    uhm.... I believe this question can't be answered without it being opinion based, and even if there is a statistical correct answer, this answer will not hold true for silly reasons such as people coming late, missing meetings or just having trouble to get into the right mindset. Then you ignore that events could drag on much longer than planned (my best example: the ancient shaft of a well that the players explore for two hours because of no reason but just wanting to do it) and whole sessions can be lost due to someone starting to ruleslawyer... Too many factors have to be ignored. – Trish Apr 9 '17 at 11:48
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    I am well aware that things could get sidetracked or people could be late, but my most specific estimate still varies by literally half the length of the campaign I'm planning and I do not know how reliable some of the numbers I'm using for my calculations (encounters per level, for instance) are. Assuming that we're only counting hours of actual gameplay and that hours lost due to external factors will magically be played some other time even an anecdote will help. No matter how opinion based the answers are they're going to be more specific than my raw number-crunching. – Tom Dacre Apr 9 '17 at 11:53
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    @VladislavMartin Thank you for your stoic editing effort. – doppelgreener Apr 9 '17 at 18:57
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Let's do some math, assuming we take an average 4 people party, starting at 0XP.

The Encounter Budget Chart helpfully tells us, that every encounter should contain at best 400 XP for the first level, 500 XP for level 2 etc. The tables for for the budgets has a few jumps, but that doesn't help with speed... yet. It only gives us XP/Encounter, which can be calculated into the XP per player and hour, which we ultimately need to get the time per level.

$$\frac{{XP}_{Group}}{Encounter}\times\frac {Encounter} {Encountertime\text{ [in h]}}=\frac{{XP}_{Group}}{\text h}=N_{Players} \frac{{XP}_{Player}}{h}$$

Filling in with a 4 player group, 75 minutes per Encounter (=1.25 hours), this gives $$\frac {{XP}_{Group}} {4 \times 1.25\text h}= {{XP}_{Player}}$$

Now, how much XP we need? Character advancement table time! Ok, 1000 for level 1, 2250 for level 2 etc.

Let's have FUN with MATH! OR... we do it easy: Let's make an excel table! or rather, a Google Spreadsheet!

112.5 hours of encounters to gain level 10, it is reached in Session 28, assuming 4 hour per session are dedicated to encounters and encounters can be seamlessly split up; nobody ever comes late, ruleslawyers, investigates abandoned wells* or just derails the plot; interludes are part of the encounters and take up no extra time; etc.

All in all, I estimate that these 112.5 hours of encounters to level 10 will be overshot by at least 50% for interludes, Plot reasons, prolonged battles and just bad mood, etc.

Now, the tricky part: we have 100-150 total hours available. One of 5 hours is dedicated to arrival and cleanup, so 20% loss. That is 80 to 120 hours available... That makes it a bit tight, leaving at worst halfway between Level 7 and 8, and in best leaving two sessions after acquiring level 10 - as long as the estimated 1.25 hours are fixed.

Now, a short experiment of what happens if we manage to drop encounter time to 60 minutes flat! Hours per level... drop to 10 hours of encounter per level, and we only need 90 hours of encounters for level 10. In THAT case, you will very likely manage it.

Conclusion

To squeeze in the 10 levels into the 150 hours of sessions (of which about 20% are dedicated to arrival and cleanup) and reach level 10, you might want to fix one or more of the three screws that are relevant to the calculation:

  • Tweak XP needed per level downwards
  • Give more XP per encounter than calculated per player (netting more \${XP}_{Player}\$)
  • Achieve faster encounter times (however you manage that - it directly increases the XP/h rate)

As an alternative: switch to milestone Level-Ups.


* The story behind the well goes rougly like this:

I was GMing a campaign. After a night rest in the wilds, the group encountered a hole in the ground the next morning. It was intended as a simple "fail your perception and reflex roll, and you take some damage" at first. Nobody fell, but they started to investigate the abandoned well without walls with increasing stubbornness and despite my maniac laughter (were they expecting a TPK because of that?!). Over their discussions they went from throwing mere stones to tossing their bard into it, almost forgetting a tether for the later. I didn't budge, it stayed a deep hole in the ground with black rock lining and water at the floor deep below, and it didn't wanted to tell any of them anything because none had Knowledges or Professions that could be applied. But they had lots of fun doing it for two hours, when I finally told them "Guys, do you want to continue searching or do you want to continue the adventure?!"

When I ran D&D 4th Edition, we played 8-hour sessions and leveled every third session through 6th Level. Assuming an hour of prep per session, that comes to 27 hours per level. Extrapolating to 10th Level, that's approximately 243 hours.

One way of running this, as suggested in one of the DMGs, is to level by number of encounters and 'encounter-equivalents' rather than XP. Makes it much simpler to work out what you need, and it's also easier to change the values based on the time you have available.

The normal is 10 standard encounters per level. A boss fight counts as two.

You already know the number of sessions you have, and should have an idea how long each encounter will take to play.

The maths are very simple at this point.

And the number's very easy to adjust based on available play sessions--especially if a couple of people are sick and you lose a session.

They lose the fun of getting XP, but they are saved from the need to keep track. And you can tell them the proportion of a level they have left with no problem at all.

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