Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Creating a One-Shot Adventure

You are an experienced game master. You have created many adventures. You’ve decided that there is a situation that calls for a one-shot adventure. Should be easy to do right? Your skills at creating adventures should allow you to create a one-shot adventure right? Well, it has been my experience that this is both true and false. It’s true that many of the skills you will need for a one-shot adventure are skills that you already posses. It’s false because there are additional things you may need to take into account to create a wonderful one-shot adventure.  

Like almost everything we do, we have to look at our audience. For whom is this adventure for? Is it for first time gamers? Is it for a game convention? Is it just for a filler session? Is it just to see how a high level adventure might work? By knowing your audience, you tailor the adventure to their needs and yours? Let’s look at some questions you should ask. You will have different answers based on your group.

Have they played Role-Playing Games before?
Is this a new game for the players?
Is this a new genre for the players?
Do you expect to see the players again?
Do you think they might want to convert a one-shot into a campaign?
Is this mostly a filler session?
Is there any rules testing going on?
Have you run this game before?
Have you run this genre before?
Have you run adventures in the character level before?

The answers to this question will determine if you need to provide or take into account any of the following items.

Pre-generated Characters
For many one-shot games, you will have to provide some sort of pre-generated characters. This is done for many reasons even if the players don’t use them. For most new players, you are going to want them to use a pre-generated character. Even if they really want to create one of their own. You will have to explain to them that this is for a single adventure that afterwards, they will be better able to create a character. Even for those with years of experience at gaming, a pre-generated character might not be a bad option if it’s a genre or game that they may not have played before. As a game master, your pre-generated characters usually need to be of the general archetypes for the game setting or genre. Unless your adventure require it, you should not create pre-generated characters that are obscure. I know I’ve played in a few convention games where that’s happened. The sad thing, it was hard for anyone at the table to get a handle on things. If a system has skills, skills selected should reflect the adventure your going to run. So the rouge pre-generated character should have trap-finding skills if they are going into a tomb with many traps for example.

Straight Forward Adventure
Unless it suppose to be some sort of murder mystery or the like, the adventure shouldn’t be hard to follow. Remember, this is a one-shot game. You may be under time constraints, so you are going to want to make sure that there are few if any red herrings in the adventure. The players should be able to grasp the thrust of the adventure and generally know the goals of said adventure. If it’s too complex or misleading, your players are going to be frustrated and so are you. If you have to run a mystery, please try to make sure there are multiple ways to get the same clues. You don’t want the players to be stuck because there is only one way to get a vital clue. This may seem like railroading. It is in some ways. The trick here is to railroad them without having them think you are railroading them.

Have Skill Be Used
Along with a straight forward adventure, if a character has special skill or power make that there is an chance to use it in the adventure if possible. More than a normal adventure each character needs some spotlight time. Unless it suppose to be an adventure with just normal people, players are going to want to use things that make them special. This doesn’t mean that you have to deal with all the special skills or powers of each player. It does mean that you should pick one per player and have a place in the adventure where the player can use if they want.

Rule Cheat Sheets
Rule cheat sheets are important for those players that have never played the game in question before. They should be able to use the cheat sheet to get a rough idea of how things work. Just remember that not every rule needs to be put down. If your cheat sheet is 10 pages long, I think your doing something wrong. Unless it needs to be, it should only be a front and back side of page. It should cover if possible basic skill usage, basic combat, healing, and any rule that is use all the time. You may find that even your veteran players like these sheets for reference.

Special Character Sheets
If your game is at a convention, you might want to make the character sheets look a little something special. While some game masters might want the sheets back, I think it’s a nice touch to have a sheet that the player gets to keep. It provides them a simple memento of your adventure. If you have done your job well, the players will be happy and remember your adventure every time they look at your sheet in the future.

So, while most of your skills you have will convert to a one-shot by knowing your audience, you will be able to tailor the adventure to the needs of that audience. So until next time, good luck and good gaming.


anarchist said...

It's easy to create a one-shot adventure.

First, you create an adventure which is designed to be the first of a long campaign.

Then you get me to run it.

[is sad at not being a better DM] :(

Bonemaster said...

@anarchist - One thing I learned about being a DM, I learned more by my failures than I did at my successes. So keep on trying, one day your get there.

anarchist said...


anarchist said...

PS I've started putting my energy into creative writing. So I might end up being the only person who became a fantasy writer because they were a frustrated DM :)

Jared said...

Totally agree with the pre-made characters as well. Else you lose the entire session to people a) character constructing and b) meeting one another.

Nice idea about the special skills, too...

I think my personal bugbear is underestimating the time it takes to run a combat. Something intended to be a one-off takes four sessions to run, because battle always takes too long.