Is the average RPG campaign only six sessions long?

MGibster

Legend
I've been fortunate to have had a fairly steady group for the better part of the last decade where we meet on a weekly basis for some hot RPG action. We took a hiatus in 2020 for obvious reasons, but started meeting online in August when it became clear this situation wasn't just going to blow over. We started meeting face-to-face in June 2021 once everyone was vaccinated, but game night isn't reliable as we've had to cancel more often than we did in the past. I don't think my experience is typical, because I'm not sure most people have had a steady group like I have for so long.

I've never really given much thought into figuring out how long our campaigns last. For a number of years, I've planned for campaigns to last a few months before they were finished. I don't really plan it time wise, but I set goals for the campaign and once they're met we pick another game. Our typical campaigns can last anywhere between 6-20 sessions. One in a while a campaign just fizzles out because we lose interest.

Attempting to game with others outside my regular group has proven difficult. I've found a lot of gamers are somewhat flakey meaning they'll commit to being at the game and then they just don't show up. Some of this can be chalked up to compatibility issues, but when half the people don't show up on the first day it's not about compatibility.
 

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Mezuka

Adventurer
My D&D campaigns lasted between 1 and 5 years. On the other hand campaigns with non-D&D RPGs lasted 1 to 8 sessions.
 

In recent years, I've run Blades in the Dark, with a Blades of the Inquisition (Warhammer 40k fan hack) campaign lasting 10 sessions before the core group fell apart over one of the members arriving 2 hours late, drunk on vodka, and missing his character sheet. The other, a voice-only default Blades game on Discord started during the pandemic, is still ongoing and is close to 50 sessions already.

But yes, games will start and stop willy-nilly all the time if you have a constantly changing gaming group, which I did for some time. Even with a lot of regulars with GMing experience, there was a lot of experimentation with games that would last under 6 sessions. We tend to remember the successful campaigns and undercount the "failed pilot episodes" and "first season cancellations."
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
And the (hopefully few) session 0 failures, were really nobody buy the pitch and the whole group tries to avoid being one telling it to the pitcher...
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Was there any clarification regarding the source of the "six sessions" number?

It's a thing I recall hearing back in the 3e days, so it would be interesting know if this is truly based on research, polling, vtt report, or some other concrete numbers... or if it's a continuation of a "well, it's just common knowledge!" sort of myth.
 

I've had most campaigns last considerable lengths of time, onto 50 or more sessions, but I've had a couple that failed out after a session or two, which would probably pull my average down more than would convey the reality.
 

For those of you running longer campaigns, can they be grouped (either intentionally or after the fact) into "arcs" or "seasons"? If so, how many sessions/episodes are in each arc? I think of my Blades game as happening in seasons, 10 episodes per season like a netflix show, for example. The advantage is also is that there is an easy end point if the group decides not to continue with the game.
 


Staffan

Legend
One point to make clear, all the "Well MY campaigns last..." are anecdotes, not data.

EN World is loaded with people so dedicated to the game that we post incessantly online about it - we are not what you'd guess to be a statistically relevant sample of gamers as a whole.
Also, there's a difference between "most campaigns are short" and "most gaming is done in short campaigns".
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Also, there's a difference between "most campaigns are short" and "most gaming is done in short campaigns".

Only if you think there's a non-linear effect where folks get "more gaming" per session in a long campaign.

If we accept that "a session's a session", and the short campaigns dominate the distribution, that means short campaigns dominate gaming, overall.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Not to be a downer, even if that 6 sessions is correct, I see it as expected life span. If you are in your 50s, your expected life span is longer than when you were born, because there's a lot of early deaths.

I can picture the same thing with campaigns. I know my campaigns go particularly long - my current is 1.5 years, my last three completed were 4.5 years, 7 years, and 4 years. But still, even playing hardcover adventures we hit 20+ sessions.
 

MGibster

Legend
Not to be a downer, even if that 6 sessions is correct, I see it as expected life span. If you are in your 50s, your expected life span is longer than when you were born, because there's a lot of early deaths.
I know in the early days of gaming, we lost a lot of campaigns to polio, whooping cough, pellagra, and other maladies long before they were able to make it past the first few sessions. But thanks to vaccinations and better nutrition, our campaigns are more likely to make it past the first three sessions.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Only if you think there's a non-linear effect where folks get "more gaming" per session in a long campaign.

If we accept that "a session's a session", and the short campaigns dominate the distribution, that means short campaigns dominate gaming, overall.

This really depends on the definition of "short campaign". If this is the average (mean) is six sessions, then discounting what happens at 6 sessions exactly, half the amount of gaming happens at mroe and half at less.

So if you consider 20 sessions a short campaign then you're very right - you're right anything where you define a short campaign as more than 6 so it includes the full lower half and part of the upper half. But if you consider a short campaign to be four sessions, then it is less than half of the total gaming since it's not even the full lower half.
 

Staffan

Legend
Only if you think there's a non-linear effect where folks get "more gaming" per session in a long campaign.

If we accept that "a session's a session", and the short campaigns dominate the distribution, that means short campaigns dominate gaming, overall.
I think you misunderstand me.

If you have five campaigns of five sessions each, and one campaign of 25 sessions, the average campaign length will be about 8 sessions. But 50% of sessions will be part of a long-running (well, moderately long – 25 sessions isn't THAT long) campaign.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think you misunderstand me.

If you have five campaigns of five sessions each, and one campaign of 25 sessions, the average campaign length will be about 8 sessions. But 50% of sessions will be part of a long-running (well, moderately long – 25 sessions isn't THAT long) campaign.

Yes, but if you get 25 that run for three sessions, and one that runs for 25, your average is 4.8 sessions, and 75% of the sessions are part of a short stint. We can construct averages like this all day.

You are correct that, without the data, we don't know for sure which situation we are in. However, every time someone mentions a super-long campaign, that means more and more campaigns that are super-short to balance and reach that average, and the more likely it is that we are in the space where play is overall dominated by short runs.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Only if the "research" is pointing the average length of a campaign. Which is the title of the youtube video posted, but if you read carefully, the "research" he saw quoted on discord mentions that "the average campaign or series of interconnected sessions of the same group same game lasts six sessions". There is no methodology to define the "average campaign" ; it's a common usage of the word, not the mathematic meaning of having an average of six sessions. The research could have concluded that the "typical" campaign lasted around six sessions and it could refere to a variety of measurements, including the more intuitive median length to describe something that's typical, and that would be described easily as "average" by non stat-savvy people (perhaps not the research itself, but the discord member speaking of it and the youtuber quoting the discord member...). So not only are we lacking the data, we also are lacking the methodology.

I am pretty sure a poll here (based on anecdote mentionned here, would lead to conclude that the typical campaigns peters out quickly and a few gain traction and reach large size) would show the same, despite ENWorld not being representative of TTRPG players of course. If it's the median lenght, they don't need may short plays to counterbalance a gigantic campaign, just one.
 

schneeland

Adventurer
The problems of determining the average campaign length have already been mentioned a couple of times, but with that in mind, I would really be interested in how the data looks like across a broad range of groups. My guess would be a bimodal distribution (with a peak around very few sessions and then maybe around 12 sessions), but I guess you really need to recruit participants for a survey across various platforms to get a least a decent sample.
 

This. A lot of people seem to confuse what "average" means.
Yeah. Mean, median, mode, and "typical" are not the same.
It's worse than that even. Whenever you say average, you are assuming something to average over. For roleplaying campaigns, you might assume that the average is over the campaigns (that would be the typical usage), but another reasonable option would be to average by time spent.

The average (mean) by campaign says "given I am about to start a campaign, how long do I expect it to last?". The average by session count says "given I am playing in a campaign, how long do I expect it to last?".

Example:

I played 4 campaigns of length (in sessions) of 1, 1, 2, 16. The per-campaign average is 4 sessions, but the average over sessions is (1*1 + 1*1 + 2*2 + 16*16) / (1+1+2+16) = 13.

Now this may seem a pretty odd way to calculate an average, but it's closer to people's perceptions, I would argue. People think in terms of how they spend their time, so for the person above who spends 80% of their time in a campaign lasting 16 sessions, it makes sense that their perception is that campaigns are long -- weighting by the time spent makes sense as our fun is generally thought of as per-session: You don't say "I played one great campaign for a day, and one awful one for a year" and think of that as an averagely OK experience!

Mathematically, it has another good property. Adding in campaign that never got started doesn't scare up meaning. In the example above, suppose there were 4 other campaigns that were ideas, but never got started. They had zero sessions. For the per-campaign average, that reduces the per-campaign average to 2. But it doesn't change the average by session at all.

Anyway, this was your bit of statistical arcanum for today
 

Bluenose

Adventurer
However, every time someone mentions a super-long campaign, that means more and more campaigns that are super-short to balance and reach that average
To be honest this makes me suspect it's a Median or Mode rather than a Mean. The mean is so heavily weighted by extreme values (those campaigns which make it to 100+ sessions) that either there's a huge number of very short campaigns or they used one of the ways to make an "average" that doesn't suffer from the (1, 2, 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 5, 75) Mean = 10 issue where that average is more than 9 out of 10 don't go that far.
 

Staffan

Legend
Yes, but if you get 25 that run for three sessions, and one that runs for 25, your average is 4.8 sessions, and 75% of the sessions are part of a short stint. We can construct averages like this all day.

You are correct that, without the data, we don't know for sure which situation we are in. However, every time someone mentions a super-long campaign, that means more and more campaigns that are super-short to balance and reach that average, and the more likely it is that we are in the space where play is overall dominated by short runs.
My point is that if you only look at the average length of a campaign, you will get an average that does not reflect the experience of what people actually play. By definition, the average session will be part of a campaign that's longer than the average campaign. If I've been in one campaign that lasted two years of almost weekly play (100 sessions), and then we spend half a year trying out different games in campaigns of about a month each (4 sessions), that's an average campaign length of ~18 sessions, but I've been spending four times as much time in the long-running campaign as in the short ones, so my primary experience is with massive epic campaigns.

In other words, you can run 12 one-month campaigns in the same time it takes to run a one-year campaign. So when calculating average campaign length, each one-month campaign counts for as much as the one-year campaign, but there's still been as much playing in the one-year campaign as in all twelve one-month campaigns put together.
 

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