Is the average RPG campaign only six sessions long?

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
But picking X because you feel it is right is crummy statistics and research.

We shouldn't assign what a campaign is. We should look at the data, and discover what it is.
That depends on what you're looking for information on. If you're just collecting data and seeing what comes out, that may tell you something about how people play. But if people approach one-shots and campaigns differently, just looking at how many sessions people play is not going to spot it - not without defining the approaches differently and seeking that data.
For example, I would not include sessions intended to be one-shots as campaigns.
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
That depends on what you're looking for information on. If you're just collecting data and seeing what comes out, that may tell you something about how people play. But if people approach one-shots and campaigns differently, just looking at how many sessions people play is not going to spot it - not without defining the approaches differently and seeking that data.
For example, I would not include sessions intended to be one-shots as campaigns.
I agree that one-shots are a different thing from campaigns, but it seems that would be a relatively easy thing to sort out, datawise.
 

I tend to take Nerd Immersion's videos with many grains of salt, and would be curious to see the data. If one-shots were included, that'd skew the findings dramatically.

I tend to be more stubborn and dedicated about running a campaign, so mine tend to go for longer than that. But in the past year, I've been a player in two campaigns that fizzled out, and both probably averaged out to around six sessions. I think a lot of people underestimate the amount of work running a successful campaign is.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I agree that one-shots are a different thing from campaigns, but it seems that would be a relatively easy thing to sort out, datawise.

That depends on the data source. If you start out intending to do so, and can include the question on intent, that's easy. If you are mining other sources (old surveys, VTT data, and so on) you may not be able to differentiate.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
That depends on the data source. If you start out intending to do so, and can include the question on intent, that's easy. If you are mining other sources (old surveys, VTT data, and so on) you may not be able to differentiate.
Yeah, I was thinking in terms of starting out with intent. Obviously if you are using someone else's data there are limitations.
 

pogre

Legend
One factor that I think most people are aware of for D&D is tier of play. For some when you reach a given level the game loses it's appeal. Or, in the case of tier four loses support.

With fast leveling (like in A.L.) six sessions would take you from 3rd to 9th level.

I enjoy all levels of play and typically run my campaigns to high levels (frequently 20th), but I know that is uncommon.
 

payn

Legend
That was the average for me for sure when I was a teen and in early 20's. I didn't get a regular group going that lasted for long term campaigns until my 30's. Even then, they only went long if I was the GM.
 

pogre

Legend
The turning point for me for much longer campaigns was when I ran the Enemy Within campaign in 1986-87. We played it over two years and I have been running longer campaigns ever since.

When we played in the 70's and early 80's we almost always stopped playing at level 5. At least when the wizard hit level 5.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Most of our campaigns span several years, with dozens of gaming sessions each. My longest-run campaign (3.5E) ran from 2002 to 2005, and we played every other Friday like clockwork...so that's what, 78 gaming sessions (give or take)?

The campaign I'm in right now (Eberron 5E) has been running since 2019, and according to our scheduling spreadsheet we have had 61 gaming sessions. We 're only 11th level, too, so I suspect we have many more gaming sessions left in this run.

The only time we've ever had a campaign last less than a year was when we ran a Pathfinder campaign. We made it 5 whole gaming sessions before a TPK ended it (we were playing the "Serpent's Skull" adventure path, and it's particularly deadly). Rather than roll up new characters and picking up where we left off, we unanimously decided to switch to something less rules-heavy. We switched to 5E and never looked back.
 

Gilladian

Adventurer
My current campaign is on session 20. It began in May when we went back to ftf play. A campaign of mine lasts on average 1.5-2 years. But I have a core of 2-3 players who are the same in every game, so that helps.
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
What sort of "average"? I can well believe that many campaigns die after a few sessions, you can start off with great enthusiasm and then after six months you've had three sessions and all that early enthusiasm has been killed by scheduling issues and other problems. Then you have Critical Role doing 150 sessions in a campaign towards the other end of the scale (and plenty go longer). But the first sort are common enough to weight a mode or median to around six sessions, even if a mean would be higher.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But the first sort are common enough to weight a mode or median to around six sessions, even if a mean would be higher.

If you list all your data, the mode is the number that shows up most frequently. We seem to be generally guessing that it will be low.

The mean is the arithmetic average.

The median is the middle of the data span. It doesn't care about how many scores there are low, or high - it is imply right between the lowest and the highest.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
I think all the campaigns that are false starts or early TPKs really skews the data down - that is, if this average is actually determined by a source and via a method we trust, we can't really know. That said, however, it feels right or in the ballpark even if it is not really my experience. And personally, I don't think one-shots should count since they are by definition "not campaigns." While I do have some false starts or quick deaths in my experience, and unfortunately I did not keep close track of number of sessions played for campaigns I was running or playing in until after 2000, I can do a pretty good guess for some and know for certain about the longest or most recent ones.
  • The Oath (2E - mostly weekly from Oct 1996 to Feb 2000): approximately 148 sessions [DM]
  • The Company of the Rod (2E/3E - mostly weekly from Jan 1999 to June 2001): approximately 119 sessions [player]
  • Out of the Frying Pan - first try (2E/3E - bi weekly for a few months in 2000): Approximately 12 sessions [DM]*
  • Out of the Frying Pan - second try (3E - biweekly from Feb 2001 to Jan 2006): 104 sessions [DM]
  • The Promised Land (3E - biweekly from Feb 2003 to Dec 2004): 28 sessions [player]
  • Second Son of a Second Son (3E - biweekly from Jan 2007 to Aug 2009): 52 sessions [DM]
  • In Pursuit of Adventure (3E) - biweekly from June 2010 to May 2016): 99 sessions [player]
  • Ghosts of Saltmarsh+ (5E - every 3 to 5 weeks from January 2020 to present): 32 sessions (so far) [DM]
  • Revenants of Saltmarsh (5E remote - every 3 to 5 weeks from April 2020 to present): 22 sessions (so far) [DM]
There are a couple of other games sprinkled in there that didn't last any significant time. There was a 2E game we played about eight sessions of before it fizzled and a short-term "when everyone can't make it" game that only lasted about 4 sessions I can think of off the top of my head.

* This iteration of the campaign dwindled and died due to playstyle differences and people moving away, but I had done so much work prepping it, I just started over with new people a year later and that time it stuck.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
The median is the middle of the data span. It doesn't care about how many scores there are low, or high - it is imply right between the lowest and the highest.
Nope. Median is the middle value of the sorted data elements. So, yeah, it does care how many are low or high - because there are equal numbers of data elements on either side.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Nope. Median is the middle value of the sorted data elements. So, yeah, it does care how many are low or high - because there are equal numbers of data elements on either side.

Yeah, you're right. I was remembering an approximation for continuous distributions.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I have currently wrapping up a 54-session campaign that shouldn't go above 60. Length makes campaigns memorable, but for a few that take up, there were a lot that petered out and I have to think hard to remember them. There is a strong possibility half of our campaign lasted no more than six sessions: either because we felt blocked by the system (Eclipse Phase, 2 tries with 2 different GM), Knight (2 tries), because the GM wasn't really able to continue (RQ, two campaigns, though maybe on of them lasted 10 sessions). We also have a campaign that is... episodic play, we play on and off over several years but it's a campaign because we're organized around a faction and having several one-shot... not sure how to count that one), because we didn't click with the world (Inglorious Basterd isn't a good game idea, nor was apparently alt-europe [1 try, then one succeeded to outlast the cap of six...] And we had a session that tanked because the GM was... awful at GM'ing and we... never spoke about that session again. And a premature online try that didn't work at all. otalling it and adding 3 tries that were designed as short campaign (ie, they could have lasted longer...) That's 13 campaign that didn't last long, and 7 campaigns that spanned 50-150 sessions over the last 20 years. The average is roughly 40 session, but with a median certainly lower than 10.

Edit: 15 campaigns in fact, I remembered two more that didn't last more than a few sessions (setting didn't click, and X-files didn't translate well)
 


Yora

Legend
From 20 years of experience with RPGs, 6 seems pretty spot on. Bothe for the campaigns I've run and played, and from what other players told me about their games.
 

I think it's helpful to keep in mind the real life constraints that might limit the narrative/imaginative scope of your campaign. Not just the fact that scheduling or whatever might limit your campaign to six or fewer sessions, but that those sessions themselves might only last 2 hours each, online (this article talks about the disjuncture between the imagined long-form campaign and modern reality). It can also help you choose which game best serves the rl needs of your group. I've found Blades in the Dark to be a great game to run online for a few reasons: It's easy to go through the full cycle of play in 2-3 hours, there's little to not prep, it doesn't really matter if you go a few weeks between sessions, and you don't need a complicated vtt set up.
 

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