Lessons from my 32 Hour D&D Fest

Posted December 15, 2012 by admin in Gaming

Lessons from My 32-Hour D&Dfest

Empty pizza boxes and soda cans littered the carpet. The scent of nerd-sweat (including the sweet odor of our two resident girl-nerds) hung so thick in the air that you could taste it. We’d been playing for more than 24 hours, and tempers were running hot.

Still, they were trapped in the Underdark—an unkind twist of fate (and DMing) just when they thought they’d won a long campaign. They pushed forward, showing a heroism in their epic appetite for the game, unwilling to pause the story just yet.

In all, the session lasted 32 hours. It was trying for all of us, and both characters and players came close to deadly encounters, but it was worth it. Here’s are some lessons I learned from the experience.

D&D Characters

Image courtesy of Will Merydith

1: Carbo-loading is the way to go.

Your D&D group probably has its own selection of staple foods. For us, it was all in the carb category. Pizza, toaster pastries, and cheese-whizzed crackers were regular favorites, but the hero of that particular session came in the form of bagels.

The bagels weren’t cheap, but they were deeply satisfying. Even more than greasy pizza or sugared-up goodies, the bagels gave us staying power. There wasn’t a lot of fat to weigh us down. Just carbs, carbs, carbs to keep the dice rolling.

2: Give your players someone to love.

The original push for a long session came because the “big bad”—the dread and powerful Witch Queen of Zeraska—was just around the bend. It could have easily stopped with the defeat of the Witch Queen, but it turns out her bargaining with members of the Underdark was already well underway. When the Queen was defeated, half the characters were trapped together in the Underdark.

Half. That’s the important part. The characters each had a significant someone in the NPC world. Astra, the war-fan wielding bardess, had her lover—a fellow gypsy—on the surface. Aurias, our admittedly effeminate elemental sorcerer, had a strong friendship with and unrequited love toward the warrior woman Selifirra. Sadie, our shadow-druid, had a rocky relationship with Darius, our taciturn rogue. Everybody had somebody.

It wasn’t that they were stuck that prompted them to keep going after so long into the adventure. It was that they had somewhere they needed to be, and someone they needed to be with.

3: Caffeine is a poor friend of endurance.

When people think of doing a long session, the first place they go is coffee, energy drinks, and no-doze pills. That may seem like a good idea at first, but the hyper is counterbalanced by the crash. You can’t sustain yourself on caffeine; as the caffeine stimulates dopamine, it prevents your body’s normal sleep-deprivation dopamine from swelling up. Then, when you crash, your body has nothing left to run on.

Simple sleep-deprivation—coupled with an exciting adventure, the aforementioned carbs, and some healthy movement—is far more effective in keeping the group awake.

4: Let the story come first.

I didn’t kill Aurias.

In the Underdark, the players were prevented from escaping (especially from using nifty tricks like teleportation) with the use of enchanted bracers. But when forced, as a show of loyalty, to sacrifice the servants they had been given by the Drow, our sorceror Aurius lifted his sword and brought it down on his own arm—severing arm and bracer—and attempted to teleport both himself and his servant away from the shadowy kingdoms.

I took the player to another room. We rolled some dice. He was lucky. More importantly, I was lenient. The result was a teleport spell that took him away but not to his intended destination. He was thinking of home, home, home. He was losing blood. I told him the last thing he saw before he passed out was Selifirra—his character’s love interest, and a character who had been separated from the group.

Could I have killed him? Easily. He certainly wasn’t going along with my plans for the campaign. But what he’d done was such a powerful, heroic act that it seemed the only appropriate response was to give him every opportunity to reap the appropriate karmic rewards.

5: Sprawl.

We didn’t have a table and chairs. We’d tried that, but our sessions went on for so long that such a setup was impractical and uncomfortable. Instead, we sprawled just about everywhere. Our shadow-druid was happily curled into a chair in the corner. Our sorcerer flopped onto the couch. Our bardess alternated between curling up next to me and leaning back against the couch. And when I wasn’t up pantomiming an NPC, I was in my plush, over-stuffed office chair.

If your body is asking for your attention, you can’t get sucked into the game. Be sure you’re comfortable before you start in for a long session.

6: Take time to breathe.

I’d killed Aurias.

I hadn’t, like I said before, but when the player and I came back in from our secret dice-rolling session, the player sadly shrugged and started rolling a new character, happy to keep up the illusion that his character had just committed a heroic suicide.

And then I was nearly killed. My then-girlfriend (who had been up for thirty or so hours at this point) started crying and screaming. It was no longer even about the events. I had put them in too hard a place! I hadn’t given them a fair chance! The Witch Queen was supposed to be the last villain! It wasn’t fair!

The story is important, but if we’d kept pushing forward at that point, things would have fallen apart. Instead, after realizing that the emotions of the campaign had boiled over, we called a time out. We went to different rooms. My then-girlfriend took a short nap. If you really want to go for an endurance session, such time-outs are mandatory.

This session was just one of many in that campaign. That night (and day and night) was just a small portion of the story, and these lessons are just a fraction of what I learned. But despite all that’s happened sense, and all that went wrong, that endurance session remains one of my fondest memories. So learn from my lessons, and keep on playing on.

About the Author


Rob is a world-wandering author and poet who blogs about his travels and the writing craft. Check out his website for updates, photos, travel tips, writing games and exercises, and other uber-nifty™ travel and writer-oriented content.

About the Author