Monday, November 23, 2009

A Hole in One

Seems to me that the art of the one-shot rpg adventure is something of a lost talent these days.

The one-shot is generally something you do when you want to game or think you should but don't want to or can't run your usual game. Other times its played when no regular campaign is scheduled and a GM wants to experiment and try something new or unusual.

Now I'll agree that these are the perfect times for one-shots but I see it as a positive rather than a negative.

Many of the players and even GMs that I currently game with look upon the one-shot or 'pick up game' as the unwanted, red-headed stepchild of RPG gaming. If a one-shot is suggested it is gazed at with scorn and must be a game or genre people are just dying to play in order to convince anyone to show up.

Part of the reason for this, at least among my friends, is that many of the players have to travel a good distance via public transportation to get to the game. In addition to time, this is money spent for a game that in their minds "won't matter". Its not part of an ongoing story and features PCs they'll never use again, so why bother. Add in the cost of food and other expenses and its simply a very tough sell.

Personally, I love one-shots (there I go again being all different from my brethren and such). I think they're fun and a great way to try new games without the commitment that goes into a new campaign. Not that I'm afraid of commitment. I'm just very flexible. Wow, this is surely going the wrong way...where was I?

Ah yes, one-shots...I also find that some of my best campaigns started as one-shots. Sometimes you try a new game or an idea you've had for years and you say, "Thanks gang for letting me try that. I needed to get it out of my system.". Then the players ask when you're running it again. That's a Kodak gaming moment that is.

I think another part of the problem is that doing a great one-shot requires a different approach than the first adventure of a new campaign. Instead of a slow build up and clues to what the future may hold, the GM really needs to catch the players' attention from the get-go. The game needs to hit the ground running and really get the adrenaline pumping so the players want more.

By the first hour of a 6-8 hour one shot, the players should already know who their characters are, what they are doing and roughly why. By hour two, the basic plot or premise of the adventure is evident and the goal(s) spelled out. By the fourth hour, the PCs should already be knee deep in dookey as they try to unravel the central mystery and a massive, flailing, death beast is bearing down on them.

Its a one-shot. You don't have time to describe in Iliad level detail the lineage of the houses of the noble wizards going back six generations or how the robot battle wagons convert asteroids into fuel. Right at this moment, who gives a damn? If the setting in this one-shot is never played again, no one will remember that stuff. If it is played again you can detail it later when you know you have the time. Seriously, if its long, drawn out and loaded with this kind of info, who is going to want to revisit this game?

Well, I've made this post a bit longer then I intended but I just felt the one-shot needed some love. So before you GM, put some thought into making a pilot episode or a TV movie and not the first episode of a long series. If you do it right its a lot more likely to be picked up by the network...I mean your players.

Barking Alien


  1. I'm with you, Adam. I love the analogy of the pilot episode.

    And I guess that's one thing to be said in favor of the old-school dungeon crawl. It works just as well as an evening's fun as it does as part of a campaign.

  2. And one of the awesome things about a one-shot is that the lack of continuity can be rather freeing from a GM perspective. Instead of worrying about how players are going to weaponize this or screw with that, you have a lot of freedom to just throw stuff in there. Do the big stories; Save the world/galaxy/universe! Or destroy it!

  3. @Jerry- Agreed. At the same time I usually save something like a dungeon crawl for my less experimental one-shots as, lets be frank, it isn't something the players have never seen before. Usually I'll try to wow them with an atypical setting when doing a D&D-esque one-shot like our recent battle to villains on flying mounts trying to reach their pirate ships out at sea. The game began with some players on their own ship and two more on the backs of the mounts trying to wrestle control from the enemy or through them off. This was all in the first few minutes of the session.

    @Doug- That's a great point but in some instances has to be handled carefully. If you do end up turning the one-shot into a campaign the lack of continuity can bite you in the butt. I've learned that the hard way. Heheh.

  4. Most of my experience with one-shots has been running at cons, where there's very little chance of building continuity.