Guest Post: The Anatomy Of A One-Shot

353px-Da_Vinci_Vitruve_Luc_ViatourThis is the first post in a guest series on One-Shot RPG adventures. This week’s post comes to you from Ian F. White. Ian can be found online at his site. Without further ado, I turn you over to him! – jw


In my time as both a Player and a GM, I have probably spent the same amount of game time in one-shots as in campaigns; until fairly recently campaigns had outnumbered one-shots.

I joined the Facebook group “Tabletop RPG One Shot Group” about a year ago and have – I hope – improved my preparation and presentation of my one-shot skill-set since then. The reason for me concentrating on One-shots are varied but in the main concern availability for regular campaigns and also the fact that I can try out so many different RPG systems, Players (and GMs).

However, in this article, I am simply concerned with sharing with you a little advice – including an overview my process for planning a one-shot scenario.

The Game System:

Some RPG systems seem better suited to a One-shot than others, due to their genre / setting, rules mechanics, character generation /development procedure, scenario (see below), etc.

A game with a fast character generation system that allows for a starting character to be reasonably powerful, a setting wherein the party are not likely to survive unscathed for very long periods of time without requiring lots of rest and recovery, a game system that flows well without having to refer back to a rulebook every few minutes, or a scenario designed to present a single moral, are all good reasons to run a One-shot.

The Setting:

By ‘Setting’, I mean both the general Genre and the specifics of the Scenario.

When I design a One-shot, I try to find a setting which I feel would suit a one-time session, taking into account such resources as TV, film, boks, graphic novels, etc. Usually those I go for have Action / Adventure as their main genre. I look to present a story which fits the setting as closely as possible.

And because I choose settings and write stories which appeal to me, I hope my enthusiasm invokes interest in potential Players.

The Players:

This is always an awkward point, as the reasons I cited for running One-shots in the first place will affect the availability of players for your game.

Always invite more people than you need because real life issues will always crop up to frustrate your plans. Don’t be disappointed when players say they will play and then have to give back word. If you are over-subscribed, this will not be as bad as if you only invited a few players.

On the flip side, if you have a specific group of players you feel would be perfect for a specific setting / scenario, invite them first.

When you do invite, do so at least one or two weeks before the time of the event. As you get to know the pool of players and their game setting preferences, you may be able to cut this period down, but time will tell.

The Plotline:

As mentioned above, I tend to run Action / Adventure games which contain a lot of physical and mental stress and conflict.

In a One-shot, I tend to have one minor fight and one major fight, interspersed with some other problems and setbacks to be overcome on the way.

The scenario should not be all combat, allow characters to interact with each other, the NPCs and the world around them.

The Player Characters:

If your game system allows for quick character generation, then let the players create their own characters (within guidelines laid down by the GM). They should always be presented to the GM before the game for his approval.

Alternatively, many One-shots come with their own pre-generated characters, build by the GM and tailored to suit his scenario. List their general description for the players to select from either on a first-come, first-served basis, or hand them out randomly, or hand them out to suit players as you think may be best suited.


This is just a brief commentary on suggestions for running a One-shot; there are plenty of resources on various RPG groups / YouTube videos, blog posts, etc., to explore if you want to know how others approach the subject.

Hope you enjoyed it and gleaned something of value.

Happy gaming.

Ian F White.