4 min read

One Shot, New Opportunities

One Shot, New Opportunities
So intense and broody. All credit to Eminem and whoever made the movie.

One-shots are standalone D&D adventures that require very limited commitment from players. They are a great way to introduce people to D&D, while also giving any existing players a way to take a break from their current campaign.

As a Game Master, one-shots allow for all sorts of crazy experiments.

You can explore strange new universes, play around with new creatures, test out homebrew ideas or just try something entirely different, safe in the knowledge that if it goes poorly, you can just walk away at the end of the session.

That sort of freedom is to be treasured.

A Normal Life Is Boring

I've run a few one-shots over the years, and while some of them were authored by other people (like the Tomb of Horrors), others were created from scratch.

Creating a one-shot is a great opportunity to try something different.

Most D&D adventures focus on just that, an adventure. Exploring new locales, meeting new characters, confronting an antagonist, killing a god, etc. You know, all that sort of normal stuff.

There are elements of mystery in most adventures, but I've never played in an adventure where solving the mystery was the main point.

Sounds like a good idea for a one-shot.

I can see two obvious ways to present a mystery.

The first is where the mystery is abstracted. Where the players roll investigation or perception at various points in time and get information in exchange for the quality of their rolls.

This feels like the easier way, because you're just leveraging the existing mechanics of the game.

The second is where the mystery is real. Players don't get to roll investigation or anything like that, and must put together clues from the information and situations that are presented to them. You know, with their minds.

This would be more interesting in my opinion, but sounds far more difficult to put together and run as the GM.

Still, in either case, such an adventure would be a memorable thing, especially for players that immerse themselves into it. It probably wouldn't be for everyone, but I think it would find an audience all the same.

Lose Yourself In The Music

An entirely different experiment would be to use music.

I'm not talking about background music, like raucous inn noises or the dank dripping sounds of a cave. That sort of thing is useful for establishing ambience, but it doesn't really have any meaningful impact on the adventure itself.

Instead, I'm talking about music as a key element of the story, where every song played has meaning, and goes beyond just setting the tone.

Years ago I played in a one-shot where music formed a key part of the story.

Entirely by accident.

Initially the one-shot was positioned as a simple prison break, where a ragtag crew of incarcerated characters needed to escape from a fighting pit of some sort. In retrospect, that was probably just the intro for a larger adventure, but the players took things in an entirely different direction.

We decided that we were a rock band and that this was just a bad gig, which eventually led to a rock battle in the arena against a captive dragon. Infernal Legacy: Scions of Darkness (our in-game band) drafted and performed a bunch of songs as a result of that rock battle and it was, perhaps, the most glorious D&D experience that I have ever had.

If I could recapture even a fragment of that experience in a one-shot and then give it to other people, I would be a happy GM.

You Only Get One Shot

The last experiment I can think of involves time, which is often confusing and convoluted in D&D sessions.

For example:

  • Combat takes a tiny amount of in-universe time, but ages in reality
  • Conversations amongst the party in reality about what to do can easily exceed the in-universe time period, especially during critical moments
  • Weeks of in-universe time can elapse over the course of a few minutes in reality, especially when travelling

It's not a bad thing per-se, because it allows for a lot of flexibility when it comes to telling a collaborative story, but a potential experiment for a one-shot would be to make the flow of time consistent.

As an example, you could create a one-shot that takes place over three in-universe days, each day lasting for two hours in reality.

On the upside, it would inspire players to move faster, because they know that time is ticking down and the imaginary world will keep turning with or without them. I like the idea of that sort of urgency, and of there being real ramifications to moving too slowly.

On the downside, it would make combat impossible. I don't think you could run combat normally in a one-shot like this, given the intense time dilation that it typically operates under, so you'd probably have to ditch traditional turn-based combat and go with narrative combat instead.

The other downside is that the urgency of decision making might minimise certain player types, the ones who aren't confident in speaking up if someone else is driving the situation. Also, if the group isn't well aligned, with a good leader who can make decisions, they might miss out on things.

Then again, maybe missing out on things is an upside, because it establishes a world where things happen without them. It might feel more real as a result.

This World Is Mine For The Taking

For once, all of the words above aren't just ambient thoughts.

I've actually already created a one-shot that involves music as a core part of the story, the solving of a mystery through the in-universe equivalent of a police investigation and it all happens over the course of six real-time hours representing three in-game days.

I've run it a few times already and it's easily one of my favourite one-shots to run. Unfortunately, every time I run it, I have to find entirely new people to play, because it has exactly zero replay value. Once you know what's going on, it kind of spoils the whole thing.

I've already lined up the next game though and I'm very much looking forward to it.

To watching people put the pieces together and solve the crime.

Or not.

Failing is fun too.