Roleplaying in one hour sessions

Recently, I have been running roleplaying sessions for some of my work colleagues, who had never played before and fancied giving it a try. We’re too spread out to easily run an evening session, so I decided to experiment with one-hour lunchtime sessions. These proved to be reasonably successful, but they do require some slight adjustments to work smoothly. Here are some tips that worked well for me.

Structured sessions:
In order to feel like each session accomplished something, I had a much more rigid idea of how I wanted things to pan out than I might have for a longer session. To have a good balance of gameplay, I aimed each session to have 25 minutes of roleplaying/exploration, 30 minutes of combat and 5 minutes of wrap up, and I would move things on pretty decisively, to hit my schedule.
This does start to drift towards the bad practice of railroading and certainly, with a group of more experienced roleplayers, you might not need to be quite so proscriptive. If your players are happy to have some sessions where they do nothing but talk to a couple of NPCs, that’s fine. However, for complete newbies, the structure meant that they came away from each session feeling like something had happened.

Structured plots:
In addition to the structured sessions, I had fairly tightly focussed plots. I typically wrote my adventures as two-parters; the first session would end in a cliffhanger, while the second session would resolve things.
Again, this did lead to a little more railroading than would normally be approved of, but it kept my newbie roleplayers invested while they found their feet.

Keep up the pace:
One hour might sound like a reasonable amount of time, but it goes very quickly; you can’t afford anything that is going to waste play time for no purpose. During the more roleplaying/exploration part of the session, I would accept any vaguely reasonable idea from my players and if it was a really good idea, I might not even make them roll for it.
During combat, I played reasonably fast and loose with the rules (fortunately, we were playing a fairly rules-light system) and generally called the combat before the last enemy was out of the fight, so as not to spend a lot of time on mop up. Again, with more experienced players who don’t mind that sometimes a session might literally be a single fight, from beginning to end, you could play things out a bit more fully or use a more crunchy system.

Overall, my lunchtime roleplaying has been a reasonable success. It definitely has a different feel to a more traditional roleplaying session, but we’ve successfully run through plotlines, had hilarious moments of roleplaying and large, if truncated, combats. Highly recommended for anyone with the desire, but not the time, to roleplay.

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