Two Hours Or Less Is Bes(t)

Since virtually every RPG ever written can be played in a two hour session, let’s talk about the ones that excel at or before the 120 minute mark. Let’s also assume that the “RPG” requirement is generous and expansive!

I’m going to generate hate mail on this, but I’m gonna say one of my best sub-two-hour RPG experiences was Fall of Magic. I say hate mail because this game was designed in and for a much different play community than mine: Oly(mpia).

It’s good sport to make fun of the Oly players and their mellow, melancholic stretches of description and mood-setting. Hopefully they’re not offended by that characterization! The Oly players I’ve met all agree. I think it’s a thing.

Well so we speed-ran Fall of Magic when I got it because we’re not Oly-style players. We’ve gotten good, through other GMless/ful games, at digging out the melodrama, at going for punchy and fast. I’ve even experimented with manipulating the pace when I GM sometimes. They quickly check out.

Fall of Magic I thought provided a pretty good platform for a play style in direct contrast with its origins. But there’s not a lot there, either, so if you do decide to introduce hot, punchy prompts (as I stare into the water, I think about how I’m going to kill the magus at the end of this journey or whatever), yeah, you move around the map fast. We made it to the end at about the two hour mark and it felt good. The quantity of prompts felt like it fit inside a two hour window very nicely.

It’s a little mind-boggling to me to hear about games of Fall that take multiple sessions. I have no idea what everyone’s talking about during that time. I can sort of guess. Pretty sure I’d also be a bull in a china shop should I ever visit that scene.

0 thoughts on “Two Hours Or Less Is Bes(t)”

  1. Montsegur 1244 was my very close runner-up for last post’s “most impactful” thing. Now that’s one I would not personally want to race through! If I ever play it again.

    Rachel E.S. Walton’s Mars 244, which is loosely derived from Montsegur 1244, also needs room to breathe.

    Honestly I don’t know what it was about Fall that didn’t evoke that same sense. Probably the players I ran it with the first time. (Now I’m wondering if they’d speed-run Montsegur!)

  2. I haven’t played it yet, but when Fall of Magic dropped, the first AP I read was like six hours long and they got through half the map. They wished it were possible to play faster. The second one I read finished in 90 minutes.

    I really should get that out.

  3. Now I’m super curious about this play community thing you mention. I seriously have never heard of gaming group predilections or styles broken up geographically.

  4. Holy hell, I have no idea how you could do Fall of Magic in 2 hours! We barely got started in 2 hours. In fact, play was so slow, we never tried again after that first attempt, and I gave FoM up as one of those “I will never have exactly the right number of players and only those players two sessions in a row” games that I am very attracted to and never play. (See also Downfall.)

  5. Right on Paul Beakley! Weirdly, Fall of Magic really slowed us down. No matter how hard we tried to rage through it, it still took us two or three two-hour sessions. Which is still fast by Olympia standards, of course.

  6. Life on Mars, on the other hand, was so chill that we almost couldn’t get through it in a four hour con slot. Might have been the table, which I sensed was more tightly committed to the Olympia style.

  7. With which style is the Olympia style contrasted? I’m sorry to keep floundering around in here, but for some reason this is really interesting to me. I don’t know if I even have a goal for this – I’m gonna game how I’ve always gamed – but I feel like I’m in the Matrix or something.

  8. You want to know how I’d characterize other regional play styles? I’m not sure I really want to go too far down that path, honestly. Heck, there are non-Oly style groups in Olympia for heaven’s sake.

    I believe Jason Morningstar​​ ‘s crew runs like we do here: very fast relative to a very ambiguously defined background-standard pace. Which I can’t define for you a) because it’s like trying to define the affectless flat non-accent of media anchors and b) literally anything I might say can and will be instantly contradicted by counterfactuals.

    If I was forced by subpoena to define “fast,” I’d say our local games feel truncated on occasion, played with some urgency and verging on impatient. We rush toward plot beats and shy away from detailed set pieces. Make sense?

  9. A lot of pacing seems to be depth of description and tolerance for silence and meditative space within the game. Having played a lot in both styles mentioned here I don’t think one is better at hitting emotional beats, for example, than the other. But if you really want to feel that drop of moisture on the space station window, one style absolutely doesn’t have time for it and the other totally does. Regional and local and hyper-local cultures of play is a fascinating topic.

  10. It does, thanks. I get that it’s like trying to codify breathing in a way. “How do you breathe?” “Air goes in and-” “No, I mean how do you breathe compared to how do I breathe?”

    Is it possible to be a gaming goldfish? To expand to the time you have, to the point where you end up getting rushed and impatient because you dallied too long in the early meandering? I think it might be.

    Are there elements to this beyond scene framing and time jumping and level of detail? Speaking in-character vs. saying “Swordhawk the Magnificent says, ‘Let me in the wizard’s tower, peasants!'” vs. saying “Swordhawk’s gonna intimidate these guards to get into that tower”?

    I do recognize I personally have little patience for dungeons and maps (or their sci-fi/post-apoc/pulp equivalents). Don’t ask me if I take the right or left path, just say “You explore the dungeon. It is dank and possibly also dark. Eventually you come to a chamber where stuff happens.” That said, I will absolutely eat up loving descriptions of weird alien background, whether it’s actual aliens or bizarre supervillain bases or wizard dimensions. I’m a pretty visual person, I think, and I like to imagine that stuff.

    edit: Don’t know if it matters, but I’m Baltimore/southern PA area. I also don’t really go to cons so that’s probably another reason I’ve never thought about this.

  11. Probably distinctive play cultures have some things in common:

    * They’re somehow distinctive (duh!) from a baseline norm, which strongly implies a baseline norm.

    * The folks who play this way talk about it a lot, probably online: forums, Youtube, the Facebook, the Plus, the Tumblrs.

    * The style is somehow viral: distinctive but not disruptive, easily mimicked elsewhere, attractive to a subset of those exposed.

    * Convention presence, at least regionally, seems like a common infection vector.

    But mostly I think it’s the fact that it’s talked about and seems fun.

    Doing that on purpose…dunno! Probably possible.

  12. Fall of Magic felt SO much like it could have come straight from my local game design culture. At the same time, I found it annoyingly open and freeform (“here’s a map, now roleplay!”)

  13. Paul Beakley if you are curious, search youtube for “fall of magic” and you can see lots of examples of what people talk about. i particularly enjoyed Adam Koebel, Eric Vulgaris, and +distracted elf’s sessions. there is also a video we produced on‘s page that includes some player interviews.

    Also Oly is short for Olympia which is the capitol city of washington state. and people play all sorts of ways here. 🙂

  14. I’ve noticed a little bit of the Oly influence here in Seattle, which makes sense.

    We played Fall of Magic in Oakland pretty tight, about 2 and a half hours. We got to the end through the underground (other side of the map). Not sure if that was a short-cut or the longer route though.

    Everyone at the table had story game chops and were aware of time, pacing, and spotlight; so much so that I could feel the pace being pulled along a bit abruptly in certain scenes (I was doing it too.)

    I love a 2 hour game, but I find myself thinking and designing towards more meditative, and even granular spaces.

  15. I brought Fall of Magic to Dreamation 2017 and to my surprise we finished it in the 4 hour slot. This was a combination, I think, of a) taking the Underground route, which can be slightly faster (mostly because the Island cards are so nifty that they tend to expand play) and b) as facilitator, I purposely played back a bit and kept my scenes short. That said, my normal FoM game is about 5 hours, played in a single sitting when possible.

    But then again my games tend to be uptempo, possibly because at the NY Story Games meetup we basically have a 2-hour slot so I have gotten very good at hitting a lot of points very quickly. (That’s not my ideal session length–my home games run 5.5-6 hours, but those are basically once-a-month events we can plan for.) I suppose that also fits with the stereotypically fast-pace NYC lifestyle or some other BS like that 🙂

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