4 Steps in Discovering The Joys of One Shot RPGs

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The new year is when most people try new things. Gyms are crowded by people looking to lose weight. Dinner tables are filled with healthier meals. Tabletop gamers have stacks of new games to entertain. What’s the best way to get a group of gamers to test out a new system or setting? This year, try a one-shot game featuring a self-contained episode that finishes in one night.

Not every RPG needs to be a years-long epic or even a couple of months. A well run one-shot can offer a taste of something different before getting back to a big campaign—or suggesting a new one once the current one is over. Whether you’re a Dungeon Master looking to try out a new game or a player looking to see if taking a turn behind the screen, we’ve collected some great one-shot tips for any Dungeon Master.

Step 1: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

The first step to putting together a one shot is keeping the story straightforward. Taking time to explain the setting, the rules and teach players how to play eats up a significant amount of time. There’s a time and a place for clever twists and subtle characterizations, but those can wait for a longer campaign. If the session is two to four hours, that’s not a lot of time for intricate plots. It helps to think of three elements to the story; the initial problem that needs to get solved, the unforeseen complication that requires additional action and then time for the resolution to play out.

Step 2: Everything is Awesome!

Telling a good story is important but so is playing a fun game. Books have been written about the best practices on teaching games, but a good suggestion is to center the adventure around any mechanics that the Dungeon Master enjoys. Highlight the awesome parts of the game and players will feed off that enthusiasm. If the combat does something interesting or fun, include a fight that shows off those rules. If the game focuses on stealth mechanics, put in a scene where the players sneak. Think of video game tutorials here. Dungeon Masters want to teach the important stuff and get players to keep playing at the same time.

Step 3: Characters-To-Go

Enthusiasm for RPGs often gets tested during a critical part of the process; character creation. Filling out paperwork and rolling on charts for character can dampen the game experience once players are sold on trying out the game. Pre-generated characters can help,  but that often leaves players feeling a bit disconnected or looking to create chaos without any investment. Offer characters that are mostly pre-generated but have one spot the players can customize. In Fate Core, for example, leaving aspects blank lets players choose story elements that they want to explore and also provides an opportunity to explain how aspects work.

Step 4: Leave on a High Note

The end of a successful one-shot hopefully means players want to play the game again. There are several things a Dungeon Master can do to make sure the players leave feeling satisfied. A good ending helps, The players want to feel like they succeeded more than they failed. Some Dungeon Masters will tell you to let the players win but that advice varies from genre to genre. A horror game like Call of Cthulhu rarely lets the players win, but if the players feel like they sacrificed themselves to stop the end of the world, they are more likely to come back to the table and play again.

Do you have any RPGs that you’ve been dying to dive into or simply tips for turning a slog into a midnight feast? Let us know in the comment section below.

Image courtesy of Evil Hat Productions

Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.

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