A one shot gaming session is a great way to rejuvenate a gaming group. They’re easy to run. There’s no long term commitment involved. You don’t need an overarching, mega story or long-lasting consequences for your players’ actions.
Running a one shot is also a great tool if you are new to game mastering and are considering hosting a game more permanently. It will give you a taste of how it feels to run a game and the kind of work it takes to be successful in it.
One shots can bring seasonality, celebrations, and excitement to your gaming table all year. In this article we discuss several celebratory events we can use to liven up our game nights.
If you’re not looking for ideas and you just want a list of resources, we’ve got some suggestions for you here.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.
Bond with Your Players through a One Shot
One shots in D&D or other TTRPGs are one of the best opportunities for you to grow as a DM and bond with your players. Not only do they give you a chance to stretch a bit from your usual campaign, but they can also be an awesome opportunity to do a test run with a new player at your table, sample a new minigame or system mechanic you are considering incorporating into your main campaign, or give your players a bit of a lighthearted break from the problems and difficulties in your primary game.
They can also be celebratory and make your players feel special and valued. Let’s take a look.
1) Celebrate a Birthday
How incredibly special will your table humans feel that you’ve prepped a one shot JUST for their birthday? Talk about an awesome gift.
When running this, you might consider giving the birthday person a “gift” in game that they could somehow bring to your main campaign, if possible. And here’s a bonus: every time your player uses or talks about the item, everyone will recall your very fun mini-adventure together and that you took the time and effort to make them feel special.
2) Use a One Shot to Juice up a Lame Holiday
Not trying to offend, but I am annually disappointed by smaller holidays, including St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and even the Fourth of July. Not to mention the literally hundreds of smaller celebrations that are officially recognized on every day of the year. I realize a lot of my holiday disappointment stems from my own antisocial tendencies, but running a one shot using some of the theming from the season can make it a memorable, special occasion. Who knows–maybe it will even become a yearly tradition for your group.
Let me give you an example.
December 1st, amongst many much, MUCH (seriously, look) more important and serious occasions, is National Peppermint Bark Day.
A One Shot Brainstorm:
Just off the top of my head, I think we would have to arrange for eating peppermint bark, as well as some peppermint hot cocoa or mochas. Maybe you want the session to be kid friendly, silly, or lighthearted. What if you show your players a creepy, shut down candy factory, only to find that one of the workers set traps, Home Alone style, to drive it out of business? You find it’s because he’s been shorted out his candy payment for the month and he has nothing but vengeance in his cold, licorice-bitter heart.
If that’s too goofy for your golden path, min/max table, try this instead:
There’s been a fire at a local peppermint farm, and arson is strongly suspected. Several suspicious figures were apprehended at the scene of the crime. A dead body lies at the edge of the property, mutilated. A fistful of peppermint leaves are found blocking his windpipe. The captain of the guard has requested your players’ team to solve the crime, because there have been bouts of street violence he must attend to himself right now. (Related, of course.) As your players approach the farm, perhaps they see another suspect fleeing. Cue a chase scene.
My point is, even for a candy holiday, there are lots you could do. You know your players, and you can tailor it to what you think they’d be the most excited over. My table? They’d want a mix of version one and two, and preferably some gambling in there, too.
3) Try a New System or Setting You’re Excited About
Finally, your favorite Sci-fi movie has released a tabletop ruleset. Perhaps there’s an older game you’ve always been curious about.
You want to try it, but maybe your players are really attached to your current system, or aren’t as enamored with those xenomorphs as you are. Well, that’s alright. A one shot is a great compromise.
Adapting a Different Ruleset to Your Table
If the ruleset is very different from what your table is used to, you have a couple of options. The first is to simply use your current mechanics in a different setting. For example, let’s say you’re in love with the idea of running an Aliens game, but don’t want to get into the details of changing from 5e. Just adapt the enemies to something similar from 5e and move on with your life. Everyone will already know the rules, and it will be great fun.
How about a quick example?
You can adapt enemies for something like this easily. Let’s say you want to recreate the tense, iconic moment in “Aliens” when Ripley is trapped with a face hugger, courtesy of Burke, for your players.
Now, in your mind, what is something that pops up when you think of a similar monster in 5e? There’s loads you could use, but to me, the first thing I think of is an intellect devourer. Just change the names of the skills, and add one special attack for that baby-planting esophagus trick the face huggers like to do, and you’re done.
If you overcomplicate preparing a one shot, it won’t be as fun for you. Here’s what I stick with: prepping the one shot should not take longer than it will take for the players to complete it. They will be doing most of the work. You’re just arranging the field.
4) Experiment: Try a New Minigame or Mechanic
Maybe you want to try to incorporate the incredibly fun gambling system from the town expansion of Shadows of Brimstone into your upcoming city, but you’re not sure if your players will love it as much as you do.
Maybe you read about some homebrew rules for initiative order that you think could make combat a bit more exciting.
Whatever it is, a one shot is a really excellent opportunity to test this out. Not only will it give you a sandbox to play in with your actual players, but it will give you an opportunity to get some feedback from them on whether they enjoy the mechanics or not during play. This is the real gift.
My players love gambling. They love it so much that I can give them an almost infinite amount of money and it doesn’t even matter. I know they will consistently blow almost all of it at the weekly horse races and the other myriad of events I set up for them in Waterdeep’s Field of Triumph.
I’m so confident with this, that I don’t feel like I need to test those minigames out with them in a one shot.
But I did try an initiative idea that tanked in an older game I ran. The concept seemed fun at first to me, but it just wasn’t fun for my players. Here’s what happened.
I had a deck of cards custom printed with loads of excellent enemy artwork on the backs, and a few printed with my players’ portraits. Then, during combat, I’d select a few close fits for the monsters, and grab the player cards. Instead of rolling initiative, I would shuffle this little deck each round.
This made it very interesting from my perspective, as sometimes someone would go twice in a row, or have a really long break between actions; however, my players hated it. They couldn’t plan their moves in advance, and it took a lot of the tactical excitement out of combat for them.
We all know that combat can feel a bit dragging and tedious at times as it is, and the last thing I wanted to do was exacerbate that. After a few sessions, they told me they didn’t like it, so I apologized and we went back to standard initiative rolls.
Had I run this mechanic in a one shot, my players could have told me right after our game, without worrying about upsetting me. And as much as we’d all like to claim that we have perfect communication at our tables, let’s be honest. We’re all human, and when there is some element of emotion and interpersonal relationships going on, sometimes people withhold information. That’s just humanity.
5) Loosen Up and Have Some Fun
Your tabletop game is supposed to be fun. Not just for your players, but for you, too. If you’re bored, tired of the content, feeling insecure about your Dungeon Mastering skills, or feeling generally burnt out, it will reflect in your game, one way or another.
A one shot can be an awesome way for you to reconnect with why you play Dungeons and Dragons in the first place (or your excellent TTRPG of choice).
Since it’s not your usual campaign, there’s not any real pressure to be serious about a new NPC you’ve been building up, or the ramifications of some terrible deed your players have cooked up. There’s no permanence here, so if your players do something ridiculous, they can just cut loose and have fun with it. It gives them a break, too.
I challenge you to schedule a one shot with your group. They will be excited to see something new, and you’ll have fun breaking from the norm for a bit.
Resources to Help You Find a One Shot
If you need resources, I’ve taken the time to put together a list for you. Check it out here.
Some are free, and some are paid. If you have the means, please support the people who have made these adventures if you choose to use one. They deserve to be compensated for their work and creative spirit.
A one shot is a great way to try out something new and bring some fresh excitement to the table. I love a long winding campaign as much as anyone, but some of my favorite memories come from one shot adventures where things just went wild!
Do you have a favorite one shot you’d like to share? I’d love to read about it below.
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