We’ve been running public Dungeons & Dragons events at the cafe for around 3 years and in that time, we’ve experimented with which sessions to run and how to run those sessions. From home-brewed one-shots to fully fledged adventurers league campaigns. We’ve found each approach has its own pitfalls and its advantages and favours different player and Dungeon Master (DM) preferences. But there are a few common lessons learnt from our sessions that we can use going forward:
- Group Size
- Tables should never exceed 5 players to 1 DM
- More players mean the session takes longer, is harder to run, and less fun for everyone
- Session Length
- Sessions should run around 3 hours.
- Typically, DMs are given session notes in advance, we know that it is important to carefully choose/write notes with time restraints in mind.
- Sessions should include breaks (not included in the 3-hour estimate)
- Long sessions test players focus and patience, as well as DMs endurance, reducing the potential for fun
- We want all players of any skill or experience level to feel welcome at every session.
- Overly complicated sessions with little or no introduction often end up not being fun for everyone at the table
- Feeling like you’ve missed (or are missing) something inhibits people’s ability to fully have fun
To learn from these lessons, we are adapting our Dungeons & Dragons sessions going forward. To summarise these changes, we are emphasising fun. That isn’t to say our sessions haven’t been fun the in past, but it hasn’t been the focus. In the past, sessions have been chosen (or written) to be challenging, novel or for continuity and it has been assumed that sessions will be funincidentally. More often than not these sessions were great fun and most people really enjoyed both playing and DMing the sessions. However not everyone enjoyed these sessions the same amount, mainly because of one or some of the reasons listed above. Here are some of the changes and choices we have made in order to bring about a focus on fun:
- Stand-alone adventures
- In order to make it easiest for anyone of any level to join any session we are, for the time being, going to be running sessions not connected by a single-story arc. This is usually referred to as a campaign.
- These are a little different to one-off adventures disconnected from a central theme or story (i.e. one-shots) as these sessions are sure to share locations, characters and themes.
- Players are also permitted to play the same character session after session to give themselves a sense of personal continuity or create new different characters as they please.
- The important thing is that any player can join any session and not feel like they are missing anything because they weren’t at a previous session.
- Simplified character creation and levelling
- A stumbling block to entry in the past has been convoluted rules when creating and levelling-up characters.
- This also incurred additional bookkeeping for DMs and event organisers, which we want to avoid.
- In this series of upcoming events, we are simplifying the process in this way:
- Characters can be made any (valid) way a player chooses using any legitimate resources they might have. (i.e. printed and published official D&D 5e material)
- Each session will be of a certain level advertised beforehand, and players simply bring a character of that level. Characters do not need have played any previous sessions to be of the right level for the session.
- Players can also bring characters used previously and DMs and event organisers will help them level up their character to the appropriate level for the session before the adventure begins.
- Lastly there will be pre-generated characters of the right level at sessions available for players to use if they cannot or do not want to create or level-up their own character.
- It is worth saying that DMs at each table have the final word on if a character is appropriate for sessions and if they deem a character too powerful they might ask that some quality or qualities of that character be changed.
- Creative storytelling over extensive combat
- We’ve observed time after time that the most fun comes well-orchestrated story details generated organically by the DM and players together.
- Furthermore, although combat can be great fun, it can become a grind that some people find irritating. We want to have more creative combat encounters and less grinds against waves of zombies, for example.
- What is more, as players don’t need experience (from combat) to reach their next level, combat becomes less essential to the play experience.
- One of the practical upshots of this approach is that any items (magical or otherwise) can be kept by players from session to session (with DM discretion) to enhance the feeling of world building and continuity.
Other changes will undoubtedly arise as we go on from here, and we aren’t claiming to have cracked it, but we hope some of these changes makes the play experience better for everyone.
We realise that not everyone will wholly love all these new changes, but we hope you can see that by putting a focus on making sessions easy to run, fun to play, and accessible for all, which we hope you can agree is worthwhile.
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