D&D for Lunch

While we were sitting around eating lunch at work and making characters for my upcoming game, a coworker came by and asked “are you starting a lunch campaign?”  I could tell by the look in his eye what the next question would be – “if so, can I join?”

The idea is actually quite appealing, so much so that I once tried it many years ago.  Ultimately I chalk this up as a completely failed experiment.  Now, part of that may be due to my being new to old school gaming at the time and still experimenting with the form.  Part of it may also be due to a particular player who was not well prepared for how easily death came in that game.  He rage quit after dying “due to a single die roll”, which let’s be honest, happens all the time in old school D&D.  I clearly did not set his expectations well.

But beyond that one player dropping out, I’d say the game was generally not very satisfying.  Even once the game was rolling, the problem was that the players seemed to need a certain amount of time to settle in to the act of playing.  Every day, just as the players had figured out what their goal was and how they should go about achieving it, lunch was over and it was time to go back to work.  It never really felt like we got down to actually playing.

Personally, I think one hour is just too darn short a time period to play D&D.  I run my Bossfights at conventions in a two-hour slot, and even that feels frenetic.  I think three hours is really the minimum for gaming, and four hours seems to be the sweet spot.  So much so that four hours is pretty much the standard duration for convention games at every convention I’ve ever attended.  Five or more hours is luxurious, and not unknown, but I think above four hours starts to require special logistics.  You need breaks, maybe a meal, etc.

Of course this very much depends on the system.  I’ve never seen a Fiasco game go longer than three hours, and that’s pretty impressive for a game that’s ultimately so freeform. Perhaps three hours is just the magic amount of time a group of people can tell each other stories without feeling like they need to do some other activity?  Does the rolling of dice and/or the moving of miniatures somehow help punctuate roleplaying to make longer sessions approachable?

I remain disappointed to have to come to the conclusion that D&D for lunch is simply not tenable.  I’d be curious if other DMs out there have pulled it off, and if so what techniques they have employed.  Or is there another game like D&D but lighter / faster that fits better in a lunch hour?  Tell me your success stories!

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6 Comments

  1. My Creepy Crawl campaign was played in mostly 1 hour lunch breaks once or twice a week, with occasional four hour event games on Friday nights, and it was one of the best campaigns I’ve ever run, IMHO. Maybe there was something unique about the company I was working at or the blend of players, but such a game is possible. All I’d say is you need to cut out the bells & whistles (like minis) and run something streamlined like B/X or Labyrinth Lord or OED. You have to also accept a certain choppiness in the flow of the game. A session might just be 1 combat or a planning huddle, but since we kept up the tempo it worked okay.

    Admittedly, there was a bit of slack, time wise, that we often took advantage of (in other words sometimes “lunch hour” was a bit more broadly defined) and often we faced delays from players not having their food situation properly sorted. I ate my lunch at my desk while working, so I was able to show up ready to play. So overall it went okay.

      1. At least once a week. Usually twice, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Based on the dates of the follow up emails I’ve got archived there seems to usually be 1-3 days between each one, when I hadn’t forgotten and wound up doing a double sized update. So yeah, I’d say twice a week without too much fear of contradiction. We had a grand total of 74 sessions before I got laid off, counting the initial 4 hour Halloween game and about 2-3 Friday night special long sessions.

        I dunno if I could have kept up the tempo with a daily game. I did benefit from stretches of downtime where I was sitting at my desk with nothing better to do than pull up a Dyson Logos map and key it up to expand on a plot hook that had snagged the party.

  2. Is an after-work session possible?

    Another teacher and I run groups, once a week, after school with a lot of success. We have a strict time constraint. That is, the end of class and the departure of the “late busses”. That gives us about 75 minutes to work with.

    The big selling feature I think is that D&D is a nice way to end the day! The kids wouldn’t be able to let go during lunch, mentally, and get into the game. It’s also a beer and pretzel vibe.

    For example, it took me 10 sessions to get this year’s batch through the Tomb of the Serpent Kings (by skerples). My colleague had a similar experience. They typically end the game wanting more , a great feeling, which keeps them coming back week after week.

    1. So, still an hour-ish long, but just after work? It’s an interesting idea, but I think might be somewhat difficult given my job’s flexible hour policy. It would require that we synchronize our schedules on that day, otherwise some of us may be expecting a game at 5 while others are not ready to stop work until 7.

      1. Hm, also worth noting that we exclusive dungeon crawl. 75 minutes of crawling is much different than a regular game broken down into smaller junks. The sacrifice is that there is less role play and no town or campaign or wilderness play. This might help explain why your insanity cards made such a splash for us. It catapulted their role play forward as we couldn’t quite make the leap to regular role play under such time and game constraints under our own power!

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