Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Using The One-shot Game

If you been around gaming for any time at all, you most likely used a one-shot game. The funny thing is we sometimes don’t like to do one-shot games at all. I’ve always wondered why we don’t use them as often as we probably should. I think it sometimes comes down to that we don’t know when we would want to use a one-shot game. Let’s look at some examples of why we would want to use a one-shot.

The Classic type is the fill-in game. Sometimes only a few of the normal party can meet to play. Many times, you might try to fill in the party with NPCs or just run the adventure with the players at hand. Sometimes however, this just is not right. In these cases if you have a one-shot game you can play, then at the very least your players and you can have a fun session without affecting the adventure you have had written nor the players that could not attend. That’s the big thing about a one-shot, it normally has little effect beyond the one-shot.

A more useful one-shot, is rules testing. This can be either seeing if some rules changes you have in mind for you game are going to work or playing a game system you have never played before. In either case, the idea is too see if the rules work. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun, it just means that your primary objective is the rules. One of the things about testing a new game is that sometimes what you think will be a one-shot the players may want to make a longer game. Depending on your wants, this can be good thing. After all you will have player interested in playing a new system. If they want to continue playing it then you something that really hit a nerve. The only down side? You may not have enough material to transition from one-shot to full campaign.

Another good use of the one-shot is to allow everyone to take a break. It might even allow you to be a player if someone else wants to be a Game Master for a one-shot. As a matter of fact, one-shots are useful here because they can be used as a proving ground for new game masters. I don’t think I know many game masters that only like to game master. Most of them love to play. As a matter of fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that most game masters do it because they can’t find anyone else the wants to do the job.

Finally, there is the convention game. This is likely the most common place your going to find a one-shot game. After all you going to get a group of players together that most likely have never meet before. They are going to play a session which is going to end and it’s unlikely that they will ever play those character again.

As you can see, there are many reasons you may want to actually run a one-shot. In future articles, we will discuss how you can create a one-shot.
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Siskoid said...

There's another way, and I've used it in at least three distinct games: The series of one-shots. My examples tell the tale:

I played Dream Park for years. In DP, you take on the role of players who themselves take on a role in one-shot games set up by one of many GMs you play. Sound meta-textual, but it really works, and basically means that you can play a continuing character (the player) while changing the game setting every session. Each session is a one-shot in any genre (often multi-genre) setting you like. Characters can even be killed, but of course, the players of this futuristic LARP may lose points with which to buy their "options" in the next game, but are otherwise fine.

In a DC Heroes game loosely based on Justice League Unlimited, each super-adventure was a one-shot and players would take on the roles of different (slightly obscure) DC comics characters in each. All the characters were in the same team, and some returned more than others. The team had a continuing story, but the players plugged into different parts of it rather than staying with the same character all the time.

The third example is Paranoia. This game is so deadly (comically so) that you can't possibly carry one character from one adventure to the next. If played reguarly, it becomes a series of one-shots. To make it a "series", you can have time move on chronologically (your clone hears about the previous troubleshooter group, or a secret society's subplot is advanced, etc.) but I also like to give players the illusion of advancement by raising the team's security clearance progressively... as if it gave them any advantage.

Herb said...

Another one that I've used is the try-out. You've moved and need to assemble (or join) a new group or you need to add people to your current group or just want to start a second group.

You invite people to one shots. You get to seem them in action and vice versa. You can evaluate if you want to add them to your game or not and they can decide if they want to join yours.

Bonemaster said...

Thanks for those additional types.

clash bowley said...

I was going to post what Siskoid said - One-shot series. We have had 2 long running one shot series - a Two Fisted Tales pulp game and a western using the Sweet Chariot ruleset - that we pull out when we can't get a quorum for a full-on regular game. We might play three to five games of one or the other per year.

It's great fun, the players love it, and they can see the players advancing. The western has been played through 20 game years - 1885 to 1905 - with characters marrying, kids being born, and all sorts of craziness. The 2FT game is less long-lived - about two years old - but the players enjoy it just as much.


Siskoid said...

I love that generational take! Bit of Pendragon but fast and loose!

Brian Lassen said...

Thanks for the post. I have memorable one-shots as players and GM. But there is a really useful storytelling trick I strongly recommend. It is the shorter version of a one-shot - the Interlude.

It is a strong storytelling tool to build tension and the feel of a tale ("Meanwhile, in a cold wooden watchtower 4 of the kings men were trying to cook a petty excuse of a chicken..." If I even bother creating stats for the characters in the interlude, it is quick and dirty. If the players are good they just pick up a character role and go with it.

We had some very memorable interlude characters in our campaign, so it can be great fun. It is also been possible to mix systems with some success.