What is a One Shot?
One shots are adventures or modules that a DM/GM/Keeper can run in a short period of time and are usually one (or sometimes two) session long. My one shots have run anywhere from 2 hours, to the most common 4 hour time slot. I've also done a one shot day which took 10 hours to complete. Most one shot adventures will give you the basic information you need at the beginning of the written material including time frame, recommended party size and level if you purchase a one shot adventure. When creating your own it's up to you, the dm, to decide what types of things you want to have.
I am a huge fan of one shots. I love writing them, running them and if you have a party that is missing some players it’s a great way to still give ttrpg time to your players without disrupting your usual game with the absence of key people. There are lots of different ways to create a one shot, and there is no correct way to run/write a game. As this is one of my favorite styles of game play here are some things I personally think are important.
The players and you- One shots
One big reason why I love one shots is it gives a different play feel for dm's and players alike. Unlike full campaigns, this adventure will be run for a limited amount of times and you don't need to worry as much about characters or story arcs trying to grow over a long series of sessions. With a one shot you can have players test out different character types or levels. Your players need a power trip? Do a level 20 one shot where they try to kill a god of their choosing. Have players that love to build characters? Let them pick some of their dusty character sheets to have some beloved characters come out to play for a small adventure. I also love that the players are more reckless usually during one shots because there are not as many complex consequences if the character they are portraying dies.
My most used reason for using a one shot is my campaign group has too many players out to continue with the main adventure so we play a crazy one time adventure with the players that are there. If things go poorly, it was all a shared dream of the party and we continue on next session with out character deaths etc. If things go great, then the party gets some more loot and stories to share with the players who return.
Do you have friends, co workers or people in your life interested in D&D? A one shot is a great way to introduce individuals to D&D or other Table Top Games with out the long time restraints of a full campaign. I also recommend one shots if you have new players and you want to make sure they are going to fit well into your dm / game style. I also recommend that if you have someone interested in becoming a Dm, to have them run a one shot first to get used to being behind the DM screen before agreeing to a long campaign. Running a game is not for everyone, and testing out the waters as a dm can easily be done with a one shot. If you are trying out dming for the first time I also recommend using pre made/published adventures rather than trying to write a one shot on top of learning how to run the game.
Building A One Shot
When I write a one shot, I try to stick to the rule of one area / two encounters per hour of play. I also try to allow for at least 10 minutes of introduction time for the module/adventure and for players to introduce themselves and who they’re playing at the table. If I know I have a heavy role play group I allow for 20 minutes introduction and only focus on one encounter an hour knowing that puzzles, traps, and even if players get hurt in battle the RP groups will take more time in the game for that rather than focus on rushing through combat and rooms.
Overall focus on one theme or goal. Give players to many tasks to complete and the game will drag on and feel like there was no "end" at the end of your one shot game.
Figure out BBEG first: One of the local women, Actually pretty but is stealing local children to complete warlock pact, "patron" is actually using children to create an avatar body (bonus BBEG if they fail to stop the ritual
Hook: The local children has gone missing at an alarming rate. It is said that the town became cursed after the mine was closed. The blood trails leave the town and go into the woods, blood disappearing as soon as they hit the tree line.
How much time is allowed: 2 hours of play
lvl 5 characters- high magic game
10 minutes of intro/ start of the adventure to set the scene
Area 1: The Woods
Going into the woods- Find foot prints, more blood deeper in. 3 Will-o- wisps attack
5 Vine Blights attack while making survival checks to get to the mine
Area 2: The Closed Mine
Encounter 1: 2 phantom warriors in the form of miners (can be rp based for information of what's inside. If RP based and time allows there can be a different encounter farther in the mine of 3 skeletons)
Encounter 2: BBEG - Battle to stop the ritual Combat + puzzle. Combat against the Blood Witch, puzzle- stopping the arcane circle from pulling through the demon.
Last Thoughts From the Fox
One shots are a time for you to let creative juices flow, not worry so much about consequences and sometimes its just nice to take a break from serious campaigns. Remember, a one shot is for a short game. It's easy to over write for a one-shot. Stick to the things that players think are fun, allow for players to expand more on the things they enjoy and let your hair down as you build a fun experience together. Keep things simple yet fun. Don't worry about having a hundred things prepped. Stick with a beginning, middle, end and you will be golden. Make sure that the end is what you start with when creating your own to make sure that you can tie everything together and give your players a satisfying end.
One shots are great to play with things that inspire you. Want a Fairy tale based one shot? Do it! Wonder what your characters would be like in a Victorian era game? Explore new things! For my pathfinder games we did a one shot with their players in Starfinder and got to experience a bit of that TTRPG. I am currently working on a Phasmophobia based 5e game because I love Phasmophobia as a video game and want to know how well (or terrible) it would be to have it at a ttrpg table.
Whether you are using a pre made one shot adventure or writing your own; have fun and enjoy!