Guest Post: One-Shots v. The Long Game

This is the second post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. This week’s post comes to you from Justin Helmer. Let’s go! – jw

I guess I’ll start with a little background. The first time I had ever played was in 1978 (I know to some of you that was before time began!), my 1st game was a one-shot adventure and I was hooked. Anyway, I digress. Personally, I don’t run a lot of one shots.  Most of my games feature very long, very dark storylines. So my setup can take months to even a year or more.  Lately I’ve run a few one shots (Thinking they may require less setup, less writing, less fuss);  I was wrong in some ways and correct in others.

  1. In a long running adventure, I can take my time to write out storyline and make changes according to what happens in each session.
  2. In a long adventure I can let NPCs (the ‘non-player’ characters) develop over time (one of the most hated NPCs I’ve included was an abusive ex-husband of one Player’s character. It took five or more sessions to develop him into the hated NPC I intended.)
  3. In a long adventure, if players go on a side mission it’s not a big deal. We are going to play the planned adventure next week anyway.
  4. I can adjust the storyline as players try (and mostly succeed) in burning my carefully built world to the ground.

Now for one shots

  1. I find that, boy do you need to have all your ducks in a row beforehand. The whole adventure has to be done before the first dice are thrown. Otherwise you can easily get backed into a corner as game master.
  2. You have to keep players on task due to time constraints. So you have to be ready for those players that may have a tendency to get off-track and end up far afield of the main adventure.
  3. I feel like I have to keep the game more linear than a long adventure (keep the number of side adventures to a minimum).
  4. Monster placement can be a hard task for me as well. Generally, I like to throw in a few random encounters, which in a one-shot, must also be kept to a minimum. So I carefully place monsters to keep the flow of the game moving.

And last, but not least, the considerations when incorporating combat. I feel the challenges must be greater in order to keep the reward equal to that of a long adventure. In a short adventure, I feel that the players should have the opportunity to level up at least twice. Between all of my oneshot adventures, I tend to let players keep their same characters and I run all the one-shots as individual ‘jobs’ for the same group of adventurers so they can keep their own (for lack of a better term) ‘corporation’ moving in a forward direction.

Now I know (or hope!) you’re asking “Well Justin, which do you prefer to run?” For me, it’s still a toss up as dungeon master.  I like the speed and I guess the sense of urgency in a one-shot game. Players tend to take more risks in a one-shot. But I also love the slow, unfolding storyline of a long adventure. Just as long as you have fun, that’s all that really matters anyway!