This is the third post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. Today, we check in with Jarin Dnd. Jarin is a frequent contributor/game master to the Facebook One-Shot Group, which has been mentioned previously in the series. – jw
In my 30 years involved with Dungeons & Dragons, Spelljammer, Shadowrun, and a few other tabletop roleplaying games, I have been both a player and a Game Master (Dungeon Master) on numerous campaigns, one-shot spin-off sessions of longer campaigns and adventures that lasted only two or three sessions. After moving and taking almost a year off, I found myself missing the storytelling and friends I had made over the years. As this yearning to return grew, I found several YouTube channels focused on the Tabletop RPGs that I grew up loving and quickly started watching them daily. As I listened to live game plays and discussions by such people as Esper the Bard, DawnforgedCast, Fistful of Dice, Tabletop Terrors, and BeABetterGamemaster, I remembered the 30 years of good times and the awesome stories I had helped tell, including a campaign that I ran several times with no single group lasting long enough together to complete it.
One night, during my normal routine of watching a live gameplay sessions, followed by one of Dawnforgecast’s “Ask a DM” videos, and was amazed to discover that the question I had been pondering for weeks was the focus of the episode. That question was “No-one in my area plays… how am I to find a group of people to play with?” He had many suggestions, one of which was to go on Facebook and join the “Tabletop RPG One Shot Group.”
It’s been about a sixteen months since I joined the group, and I have improved my preparation methods and skills as a GM both for hosting one-shot sessions as well as longer campaigns. Some of the reasons I like using one-shots is that it gives me the ability to GM for a wide range of players, to find who I feel most comfortable with; and to try crazy settings, themes and moods (such as underwater adventures, a flying mount race, etc.) that would be hard to develop into a full campaign, only to discover the players had no interest in that type of thing. In addition, the preparation time for a one-shot is much less than I am used to, and if I see players are really enjoying the session, I can offer to turn it into a full campaign for them. As a player, I like the one-shots because they give me a chance to play new systems and settings without having to worry about knowing all the rules or mechanics of the game system.
In this article, however, I wish to offer a little bit of advice for those considering trying a one-shot or online sessions, and show you a quick method I use to plan the basic plot and scenes in a one shot.
The Game System:
Pick a game system that you are familiar with, or at least have access to the basic core rulebooks. In my case, I stick with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, although I am currently reading the core books for Pathfinder, Fate, and Star Wars Edge of the Empire to expand my knowledge.
When I pick a setting for a one-shot session that I will be running, I first consider the mood and theme I want to tell a story in. Usually, this will result in something along the lines of a high fantasy world with a middling amount of magic, which is largely unexplored. Sometimes, it will also result in the type of adventure I wish to run such as: a murder mystery, a large-scale invasion etc.
Once I determine the setting, I come up with a simple name that conveys the setting (i.e. Under the Ocean) and I pick a day and time that I will be available for a minimum of 3 to 5 hours which I find is a pretty typical length for one shot sessions. Then, I create a event for the “Tabletop RPG One Shot Group” and post a interest link including a brief description of what level characters I expect players to use, how they should determine their stats, etc. I tend to post this on Sunday night or Monday morning and I post the full week’s schedule all at once. My one-shot schedule usually consists of two weekly on-going campaigns through the one shot group and one or two other one-shots with occasionally a special event thrown in such as 6 one shots taking place within a 24 hour period.
After this is done, I sit back and wait for people to make comments or send me a message to which I reply as soon as possible, taking players on a first-come first-served basis for four spaces in the group. For the fifth space I usually handpick someone that I have played with, or have had in prior sessions that I know has what I look for in a player. I also have three alternate players who will be on standby in case players don’t make it to the session.
For a plotline I use the following method for all my one-shots and campaigns. Using this method, I spend about 30 minutes prepping for all my sessions (not including the addition of monster stats to my notes). The method is simple: It’s called the “IARR” method, which stands for Introduction, Action, Role-Playing, Result. I often take these four categories and make a table for each location I expect to use in a session. As part of this table, I include a row for each of the possible players, resulting in four to five rows total.
I fill out each box as ideas come to me. In the below table, I show what I prepped for a one-shot in which the characters found a possessed teddy bear:
|Lord Alric holds a feast and welcomes characters to his keep.||Characters introduce themselves, then huntsman reports to Lord Alric about mounds appearing on the road and undead attacks.||Characters question the huntsman.||Lord Alric asks the party to investigate these mounds and warn the people on the farms outside of the keep to come into the keep.|
3 farms to east; road to north; forest to northwest; mound on road about ½ day’s travel
|Characters decide where to go.||As characters travel to destination, a ragged farmer appears and begs for help because family is trapped on farm.||Characters decide to rescue family or continue to destination (if family rescue then ghoul combat).
Character flashback to loss of family.
|Party comes across graveyard with hut and well.||Little girl’s voice comes from teddy bear asking for help.||Character flashback about putting spirits to rest and not every spirit is evil or to be feared.||Party recovers girl’s body from well and buries it in grandmothers open grave…discover traces of digging and corpses gone.|
|Outside mound (thule attack)||Combat with the thule||Character flashback to war and almost dying.||Possessed teddy bear gives hint about a cult of necromancers behind the undead attack and party returns to the keep.|
After I fill out the table for the general plot arc of the one-shot session (or campaign session), I do additional tables for any locations that may be needed. For example, in the one-shot session diagramed above involved going into the forest, I would do a second table in the same manner, and write out the basic concepts of the forest along with any details and scenery that would be included. After the tables are done, I spend about a hour adding monster stat blocks to my notes and adapting the monsters to fit my setting and combat encounters.
The Player Characters:
I usually give players a description of how to make their characters, including which source books I allow, the standard array for stat points as found in the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Player Handbook, and what I allow above and beyond basic starting gear. I also use a quick character generator to allow pre-fab characters for players that have a class and race concept they wish to play.
Start of the One shot or Campaign Session:
For roughly the first half hour of a session, I talk with the players, to give them the basic setting, mood, and theme of the session. I also explain the type of behavior I expect from players, including things like group cooperation, character development, story-telling, general respect, sharing the spotlight, etc. I also ask the players what they expect or would like to see included in the session, and I adapt my session notes to include their suggestions as much as possible.
After the session, I spend about ten minutes or so asking each player the following two questions to get their feedback. Firstly: “What scene or event was the highlight of this session for your character and for you as a player?” Secondly: “In what areas do you feel that I, as a DM, could improve?”
This is just a brief commentary on preparation for one-shots and campaigns from my own personal experience. I hope everyone was able to take something valuable from this article, and will continue to explore the wonderful realm of role-playing games, as well as the community that has grown around Facebook, YouTube, and the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group.