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RPT Newsletter #1,198 | How To Run A Lunch Hour Game

Have you played quick games?

  • I don't like quick games. It didn't work out for us.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • I like quick games. It is fast and furious.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • We play without any props, without dice even.

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • We play more often this way, like daily or so.

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  • Total voters

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
How To Run A Lunch Hour Game
From JohnnFour | Published April 4, 2022

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #1,198

Wizard of Adventure CD asked me this question about squeezing some gaming in at lunch:

I supervise a D&D club at my high school and run one group of new players.
Due to bussing we can't really run sessions after school or weekends, so I rely on our lunch period to run short sessions.
Any tips for running an hour-long session that will make most efficient use of that time?

Thanks for the question, CD!
I've run two lunch campaigns at work over the years.
Alas, I was just getting into the groove with each when they folded due to evolving work demands.

Here's what I learned to hopefully help you avoid that awkward inefficient period I went through.

Begin With Story​

Make story your top priority so each session feels rewarding.
Begin with the 5 Room Dungeon mindset where each session:
We also narrow Choice down for one hour games by providing clarity on the session goal, which ties to the party's clear campaign goal.

In this way, we're managing time through tight encounter design and quick session pacing.
I'm not saying sessions should be five encounters.
But do use the 5RD structure to help fantastic story emerge from whatever gameplay transpires.

Try to also shine the spotlight brightly on each character once.
Brainstorm a list of cool spotlight moments for each PC and then keep an eye out for how to use at least one idea per PC at each lunch.
For example, list what each PC does best and what each player wants for treasure.
Then add something to each new encounter that serves up such options for at least a couple of PCs.

There's a lot more we could talk about on tight encounter design here, such as borrowing from episodic TV or D&D 4E adventure approaches.
But our main goal here is to keep players interested in a solid and clear direction to move the story forward at a brisk pace.

Make Combats Quick, Easy, and Purposeful​

If combat does erupt, here's what you can do to make them fast.

Use minis in the spirit of "a picture is worth 1,000 words" for efficiency.
Physical maps and objects help people focus. They also help people sort out positioning and other aspects with less confusion.
I'm not saying use the grid for combat. Instead, use physical representations of gameplay where it helps.

On that note, try to fight using theater of the mind, combat zones, and the grid in that order, based on your game system and group preferences.
Use RPT #631 | Combat Missions and RPT #1,148 | 3 Round Combat Plans so you don't fight to the last health point every time.

Ask players to handle certain combat tasks for you like initiative (see also RPT #1,197 | 3 Ways Your Players Can Help You Out Next Session).
Create cheat sheets compatible with phones and update them with tricky rules that emerged from last gameplay.
Reduce foe counts, weaken foes, and make it so combat is not the purpose of the story but a means to tell it.
If lunch ends mid-combat, take a photo so you can set up fast next game.

Create Smooth Session Logistics​

Reduce your props, equipment, and GM aids.
We want setup and takedown to be as fast as possible so we don't rob gameplay time.
Do a session recap as you set up.
Handle treasure, administrivia, and a session recap as you tear things down.

Worry less about cliffhangers and end with clarity on how you'll start next session.
Consider starting each session RPT Newsletter #608 | In Medias Res.

Present simple choices early in sessions so you get back into the mindset fast and drive play forward rather than stall on group discussion or risk split parties. "Do you talk with the mayor or head back to the dungeon?"

Keep a clock visible to all.

Do what you need to get people to show up on time.

Create clear goals. Side quests are ok, just avoid subtlety.

Use backchannel communication to help players chat, make decisions, do character sheet updates, and handle admin stuff between games.

Think weekly cadence too. You could literally play one Room per day and end each week with a bang if desired. In other words, you cue one scene per session. That allows easier prep too.

Use the simplest game system everyone can enjoy.
Use mechanics that encourage story over combat (e.g., milestone XP).

Create strong, team-oriented roleplay hooks for each PC. For example, every PC has at least one other PC in their background.
Get simple yet pointed personalities written on each character sheet so players have personas they can get into, and get into fast.

Get food logistics sorted. Ensure there's a garbage that's impossible to miss for fast clean-up.

Any Other Tips?​

Those are my learnings off the top of my head. I hope this helps, CD.

RPT GM, have you run short, one-hour, or lunch games? What tips do you have for CD?


RPG Therapist
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Gold WoA
Wizard of Story
Lunch gaming is better than no gaming, but it can feel "forced" often to meet the hard stop time deadline.

It takes everyone keeping "the state of play" clear in their heads so there's not a lot of lost time to recaps.

Pre-session newsletter can help keep everything "fresh" - but you have to also take that last 5 minutes to get "next session plan" to remind them of.

It can be very "episodic" and leave you only time for 1-2 encounters at once ... so a quick combat, quick roleplay and done.

Handwaving some stuff like basic town supply runs can help keep the focus more "in the game" rather than kill a whole lunch sword shopping and haggling with a blacksmith.

The time crunch causes numerous compromises which is why its not my favorite - but it is also an opportunity to just hit the high points and manage the rest off stage.


New member
I have a work game once a week over lunch. With COVID, it went online which was helpful as far as setup since you don't have to get all of your stuff into a meeting room, and get set up. If we go back to the office, I may try to leverage that and use a monitor to show a player view of the map there.
As far as the game itself, short format is definitely better. We tried "Rime of the Frostmaiden", and it was a trainwreck. We are switching to a West Marches style, and it seems to be much better.

Stephan Hornick

Community Goblin & Master of the Archive
Staff member
Platinum WoA
Wizard of Story
Wizard of Combat
Borderland Explorer
Thank you for sharing, @dcoughler. Why exactly was RotF a trainwreck for you? Which elements of the West Marches style changed that for you and how does it work now? Do you have a lot of players and no common story


New member
My lunch group is 2-3 players (we finally got back to 3 after our previous player changed jobs). The biggest problem with RotFM was time. A 1-hour lunch game is really only 45 minutes by the time everyone gets settled in and grabs their lunch after the 11AM meeting they got out of and you did a quick recap. Larger format modules like that I find need more time to build the story and set up the next chapter. Even with fewer players, combats could take 2 weeks to complete, and by then we'd all forgotten why the battle occured and what the current objective was. It didn't help that RotFM has multiple plots occuring in the same locations and does not do a great job of segregating the storylines. ("A Duergar jumps out and attacks you! Oh wait, never mind, that doesn't happen at this spot unless you are investigating rumor B. You guys are on rumor A. Let me re-read to figure out what is going on....")

West Marches, or at least my interpretation of it, is better for this because it is essentially a somewhat random collection of modules that can be processed in one to three sessions each. It doesn't require a large overarching thread that needs to be developed and advance. And if a player goes on vacation for a couple of weeks, it isn't going to derail a storyline. There's less moving parts in general.

I have two groups with a shared origin story: they are brought together by a benevolent organization to gather powerful magic items, free magical creatures, and stop powerful magical ne'er-do-wells across the multiverse. Their team soon discovers that their gear that lets them dimension hop is faulty and even dangerous to use and they are essentially stuck. Think "Sliders" meets "The Librarians".

My home group, with 2-3 hours a week, have progressed and developed the story. Their backstories have intertwined with the plot. They've run through Sunless Citadel, Humblewood, and parts of Dragon Heist and Against the Giants. They had the time to do all that.

My work group with 45 minutes a week just couldn't get there. They stopped teleporting before the tech started getting too dangerous. Now they are freelancers. After RotFM, I started giving them 4-12 page modules to play through, until now when I gave them a dozen rumours and let them pick which they went after.