Creating a One Shot

Ahead of my campaign starting, our group is going to have a session with about half the members missing. The three options for this day are as follows. Don’t meet up, play a different board game, or let me run a one-shot adventure as practice for my campaign. I would prefer to go with the last option, but what should I do for it?

First and foremost, for those that don’t know, a one-shot adventure is a game of D&D designed to be done in a single session. No or limited ongoing implications, fast and fun, wrapped up in a bow in one sitting. It allows for players to try out new characters and for DMs to try out new… anything they want really. No long lasting consequences mean if things go pear shaped everyone can laugh it off.

So What About My One Shot?

There are several paths that can be taken when sitting down for a one-shot. The first, very common, option is to find a pre-written one. Plenty of them exist online, just a matter of finding the one you like. The other much more difficult option is to design your own. Lots can go wrong with this approach, but that is half the point of a one-shot. Of course you can also hybridize these approaches. Find an existing one-shot and edit it to your liking. But I am going with the “design your own” method.

The primary reason for this is that for my eventual campaign I am using my own setting, and I want a practice run in that setting. But also, I want the challenge and freedom that comes with making my own one-shot.

The Nitty Gritty

After some thought, I have broken the one shot down into something of a 3 act structure. I didn’t realize it was a 3 act structure until I was writing this, but it works out to that. Each of the “acts” will see the party faced with an entirely different set of problems to solve and decisions to make.

act 1

The first act sees my players on a ship heading to the new uncharted island. let my players introduce themselves and get their bearings. Meet the crew, see the other adventuring party, notice those clouds on the horizon… wait. A squall suddenly hits the ship. Now for the first bit of “conflict” each of the players will take turns describing how they use their skills to try and help the situation. This is something I am stealing from a D&D twitch stream I am watching. But it does not matter how well the players do, the ship is going to run aground on a deserted part of the island.

So what is the point if the players can’t effect the outcome? Based on how well they do they may get certain perks in the rest of the adventure. Maybe they did enough that the captain gives them each a healing potion, or maybe less of the crew is injured and can be more helpful latter on. I won’t punish my players for messing upĀ this part, but I will reward them for doing well.

act 2

This act is fairly short. Ship is a wreck and most of the crew isn’t going anywhere for a while. So they need to make contact with the main settlement on the island for aid. That means someone needs to go and get the help. There are two adventuring groups, my players and a more seasoned and of higher level NPC adventurers. My group now has a choice, either go for help or stay and keep the sailors safe. Whatever they don’t do the more seasoned adventures will do (and probably better). This is a branching path and determines which of two third acts I use.

act 3

If the players decide to go for help, I will have them do some survival based checks to navigate the island (if they did well enough in act 1 a map may have survived). But the culmination will be a big fight with something nasty before they can get to the aid they need. weather they ambush it or it ambushes them will be determined by how they proceeded to this point.

If the players decide to play bodyguard they will have to post a watch. Over the course of several “days” they will have chances of seeing what is about to happen coming, or losing supplies if they fail too badly. With all of this culminating in a Goblin raid. However, if they players did well enough in act 1 (or helped enough in the “downtime” days) the sailors won’t just be dead weight. They did have a ship after all, and ships have cannons.