I met our own Level One Wonk via a gaming group that actually spends most of its time playing games online; although the core of original members were all playing together in college, these days they (now we) primarily play over Skype/Twiddla/Google+/etc. However, starting six years ago, we have all gathered together in Delaware once a year to trade stories, raise a few glasses, and play a bunch of games over the course of a long weekend. I’m writing this in Delaware, most of our way through Beach Weekend VI (which I suppose could also, given that the pair of us did most of the GMing, be thought of as Cannibal Halfling Con I), and I’ve definitely learned a few things over the years about turning tabletop roleplaying into a marathon affair.
Have more than one GM. Like most of the advice here, this is to taste. Perhaps your GM doesn’t mind running games for the entire marathon. In my personal experience, however, GM Burnout becomes a particularly acute risk if the group is playing for multiple days in a row. This also applies to cons: GMs, don’t overbook yourself! But if you find your group playing for multiple days in a row, whether it’s a yearly trip like ours or maybe even the only way you can manage to get the gang together, consider going the ’round robin’ route of GMing. During the marathon itself this gives your GMs a chance to catch their breath and avoid breaking down. However, it can also be a breath of fresh air, allowing group members to try their hands at being a GM when they usually don’t have the opportunity!
Try different games/systems/genres. This plugs into the round robin style of GMing. Unless the marathon session is the only way you get to play, and you really want to make some progress on the game, too much time in a single system or world can burn you out. A few years ago we played two sessions of Exalted 2e over the course of a Beach Weekend, and while it was fun we were all a little mentally scorched after the fact. So far this year we’ve played Transit, All Outta Bubblegum, Zweihander, D&D5e, and Masks. The gang is gathering together for a Paranoia game outside as I write this. That’s a LOT of different flavors of gaming, and it’s served two purposes. First, it’s worked to keep every game fresh. Second, for the games that get a little heavy (looking at you Masks) it allows everyone, players and GMs both, to take a step back and catch their breath.
Avoid your ongoing games. For a few years we had games at Beach Weekend that we were already in the middle of online, started at Beach with the intent of continuing online, or were having the grand finale of an online game at Beach. Whether your regular game is online or in-person, though, I wouldn’t recommend bringing the normal game into a marathon. We pulled it off for a while, but have removed it as an option over the years. A lot of this has to do with attendance. If someone is missing a marathon session, they’re going to miss a lot compared to a normal session. If someone who can’t make the regular sessions can make it to the marathons, then they’re either going to feel like a fish out of water and/or their suddenly-created-character is going to be a little disruptive (through no fault of the player). Best to stick to the one-shot format for a marathon.
For the love of the dice, take breaks. Standard convention rules for getting enough sleep, showers, and food obviously should still apply. Aside from that, however, remember to take time away from the table to recharge and reset. Trade stories with friends you haven’t seen in a while. Break out a board or card game that you’ve wanted to try. Find some time to play games on your phone, read a book, take a nap, or otherwise scatter the fellowship to get a little introvert time to balance out all the extroversion. Basically, drop the dice and the playbooks and the character sheets for a while in between games; you’ll have more fun with each game if it’s not one long seemingly endless slog.
As I’ve written this I’ve assumed the moniker of Friend Computer, subjected the poor Troubleshooters to an endless swarm of kleptomaniacal clones named Barry armed with whatever they could loot from the quartermaster or assemble from parts (Mecha Barry!), and actually got the game to the debriefing. Marathon gaming days/weekends are quite the undertaking, and they won’t be feasible or fitting for everyone, but if you can manage them they can certainly be memorable and fun. Hopefully some of the above advice will come in handy if You Want to Have a Gaming Marathon yourself.