If you enjoy tabletop RPGs (roleplay games), you’ve probably heard of the one-shot adventure. Personally, one-shots are one of my favorite ways to game.

Don’t get me wrong – long-standing RPG campaigns are amazing, and have all kinds of benefits of their own.

But if I’ve only got a little time to play, or if I’m sharing tabletop RPGs with players who are new to the genre, a one-shot adventure can sometimes absolutely be the way to go.

First Off, What is a One-Shot?

One-shots are exactly what they sound like: you play an entire “adventure” in one single gaming session. Most people go into games like DnD (the world’s most popular tabletop RPG) planning an ongoing campaign composed of multiple gaming sessions. But if you’re new to the genre, or don’t have tons of time to play, why not start small?

One benefit of one-shots is that if you and your gaming group really enjoy your short adventure, it may lead you to play more. Perhaps an entire campaign even emerges from your single game. But since you started without any pressure, you allow the game to build, organically.

One-Shots Provide the Unexpected

Truth be told, part of the reason I love one-shot games so much is because they allow for more “freeing” gameplay. For example – and this is a big one – during a one-shot adventure, I don’t care if the character I’m roleplaying dies a terrible and spectacular death.

In fact, I welcome that kind of moment, because it’s dramatic, epic, and unusual for the tabletop RPG genre. In most games, you want your character to gain levels, acquire new and better items, and grow in prestige, right? Those things are definitely fun, but there is a sort of formula to them.

Imagine instead not caring about those kinds of things. There’s no need for them, as you may not ever again play your character.  It allows you to roleplay in ways you may not otherwise, take more risks, and be more daring.

Unusual Settings and Circumstances

It’s also not just your character that can be unusual, when playing singular games. As a gaming group, you can explore settings, villains, and plotlines that are both simple and stunningly dramatic.

For instance, why not make an entire one-shot adventure centered around one gigantic boss fight? You can start the session right in the middle of the action, combating the beast at the base of the tower. Over the gaming session, each new “section” of the adventure simply takes you further up the tower, where more danger and additional challenges await you, all while the fight of your life takes place.

Your entire game can take place in the most fantastic magical setting you can imagine. No need to build up how you got there, or even why. Just enjoy massive crystalline structures that alter magic, other planes of existence, and deep caverns filled with old-school DnD traps and monsters.

Also, if you’ve never played an RPG campaign through to its conclusion at very high levels, you may not have ever experienced what it’s like to play a max-level character. So, why not run your one-shot at max level, with all the magical artifacts and items you’ve ever dreamed? It makes for very fun memories.

Basics of Running a One-Shot Adventure

Another great reason to run a one-shot adventure is because it’s hard to make them more complex than they need to be.

If you’re the game master for your group, think about it like this: you’ve only got 3-4 hours to run your adventure. What will the end challenge be?

From there, keep your timeframe in mind, and work backwards. You don’t need to overthink this by looking up the 5-act structure for storytelling, or anything drastic like that – just keep this simple.

Once you have your end scenario in mind, think about 3-5 scenarios that will lead your gaming group up to that point. Refer to your favorite movies and books for inspiration.

Remember, you don’t have much time to build up a ton of drama. All you have time for is creating great moments, in every stage of the adventure. Pull out all the stops. Do all the things you’ve always wished you could do in an adventure. Make this a high-budget blockbuster film, for your players.

In one-shot adventures, it’s all about turning up the volume. Make this an experience you and your players will never forget. Don’t worry about making mistakes. Just make it fun.

Jacob Tegtman