Today I come to you with a limited amount of time, an adult level of responsibility, and an ever shrinking attention span… Wait, I know what will help this! A One-shot adventure!
Some of you may have never played a one-shot before, others may love or hate them. The one-shot adventure is an amazing tool to meet up with a group of role players and do something explosive and fun! Your normal roleplay group is like a great TV show, but a one-shot is like an action packed movie! It has interesting characters, a quick set up, some action, back and forth, some obstacles to overcome, and an explosive ending! For you Game Masters out there, I want to share some tips with you to make sure your next one-shot is a blast!
One-Shot Campaigns rely on preparation.
You don’t normally have a ton of time to let the players make their own characters. You should have pregenerated characters or pieces of pre generated characters. If you are comfortable with the skill level of your players you can make template characters for them to fill in with a little bit of flare.
“You can draft your character: Here are 5 races, 5 classes, and 5 artifacts that you can start with. Take turns drafting amongst your players until all are chosen.”
Prepare locations, plot points, and NPCs.
You should have an index card with the major and minor locations they will come across with two sentences of ‘flair’ to transport your players to this place. You should also have a short list of major and minor plot points that you want to accomplish in this one-shot. Take a short note of what the plot point is and what they need to do to achieve it. Clear goals are your friend. It is also a good idea to be flexible and be able to mix up the order, or skip one, when needed for time.
“The musty castle Ugannar was lit by torches glowing a pale blue… The ol’ Reverend Quentin Prosper was a fierce drinker with a powerful personality, that was before he went insane…”
What is the theme, mood, and pacing of this one-shot?
This session is set up like a movie, what type of movie is it? Is this a Micheal Bay movie with explosive high budget action, is it a dungeon murder mystery, or maybe a lovecraftian horror survival on a distant planet? Do some research on your theme and make sure it influences everything, the NPCs, the locations, the sights, sounds, smells, and visuals of your session. Finally, just like a good joke, timing is everything! Keep control of the pace like your favorite movie. Slow it down and speed it up when needed.
“Dark Cyberpunk future: Your apartment is no longer secure, the spotter on the roof says you have 15 minutes before they arrive to kill you… GO!”
A plot that sweeps you up and holds you for the whole ride!
Making sure you come up with a good plot hook right out of the gate. Starting with some action or a ‘what the heck is going on’ moment will do wonders to kick the energy level up. Plan for a strong opening and 2 or 3 big pickups and drop offs.
“The lights turn on, it hurts your eyes, as you look around the room you recognize everyone as the people you were at the party with last night. What’s that noise? How do we get out of this room? Is someone watching us?”
What is the end goal?
Design a good ‘heel’ or villain, or something that can really get a strong reaction out of the group. They should, at some point early on, know what needs to be done, how to do it, and why they need to do it.
“After collecting the three eye stones from the three elder witches, you can complete the summoning ritual to banish the Dracolich for good!”
Revisit your pre generated content.
Once the goal, plot points, major locations, NPCs and PCs have been planned out, breathe some life into the world and script out some social interactions, encounters, locations details, items to find, and think of what your ‘bread crumbs’ will look like. What will they follow from scene to scene, and give them opportunities to make choices that impact the group in some way.
“Remme Maverick: A card shark who can be found in the tavern, thieves den, or getting into trouble has the location knowledge for the last arcane charge needed to blast open the vault located in the Maw. Fight him, pay him off, or make him laugh to get this info”
Shine the spotlight on each character at least once.
Because you generated the characters (or parts of them) you can use this info to more easily tie an encounter, NPC, or planned scene to a character, making sure you have at least one tied to each of the players.
“For the character who picked the pocket watch: Only they can tell, via permission, when the Invisible Stalker comes to rob the blood bank.”
Keep the timing and pace of the session tight!
This is the final and most important aspect of a one-shot! Keeping on task and knowing what you have left to accomplish. When a dramatic ending lands right on your stopping time and you have a group of worked up players that just beat the final scene… That is the greatest feeling that all of us role players chase…
I wish you the best of luck with your one-shot adventures! Share your story with me about your favorite one-shot that you played or ran. What was the highlight of the session? That will do it for me and until next time adventurers: Keep your table inclusive, exciting, and keep empowering your players’ voices!
Wesley Allen is in a long-distance relationship with Sword in the Stone Games, having run countless adventures at our Wilkes-Barre store before relocating to Clinton, Tennessee with its booming adult population of 7,889. (He’ll be back?) He is a self-described Horror DM, Player of Goblins, and Lover of Fantasy Dagger Weilding Rats. He can be reached at @wesjallen.