How to Set Up a Seasonal One Shot Worthy of the Scrapbook

Grab your dice and prepare for an epic journey into the realms of imagination. Today we delve into the captivating world of running a seasonal one shot for D&D, where stories unfurl like autumn leaves and heroes rise like winter’s first snow. Gather your party and let’s embark on an unforgettable quest together!

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.

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Seasonal One Shot for Tabletop Roleplaying Games

Let’s talk about prepping a one shot with a particular theme or holiday in mind. These gaming sessions can be easy to prepare and incredibly memorable for everyone involved. And if you need help getting started with game prep or specifically preparing a one shot, take a look at our two-part article series on prepping properly for Dungeons and Dragons, and how to prep for a one shot session.

If you’re not sure you should take a break from your primary campaign for a quick new story, be sure to check out our article on five ways a one shot can make your players happier.

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What You’ve Done Already for your D&D One Shot

You found a one shot (or wrote one) that you’re excited about. You skimmed through it, maybe took notes, or if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ve just locked it in your mind palace and you’re ready to go.

Now with a little psychology and elbow grease, let’s transform your standard one shot into something truly magical.

If you haven’t found anything yet, and are looking for a wintry, Christmastime inspired adventure, I suggest you check out DMDave. He has a few really fun adventures with a holiday theme. Kobold Alone is free, but he also has a pack of three adventures inspired by popular stories if you want a bit more variety.

What You Need Next

You’ll of course require a group with a good attitude, a place to play, and your brain. That’s it.

You don’t need a fancy studio to play in with a $10,000 gaming table or lighting fx with built in 7.1 sound. Your imaginations and attitudes go way further than any of that ever can.

I know of a particular, very popular Dungeons & Dragons stream that started out with next to nothing. They had fun and loved each other, even in their sweltering California studio with no air conditioning. Their joy and affection for the game is what made it magical to watch. Their fancy table and the effects they enjoy now? Sure, that’s all fun. But that’s not really why we watch, is it?

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Transform a Standard One Shot Into a Magical Holiday Experience

The difference between a standard one shot and a seasonal game session lies in the details. During winter holidays, are you including festive music, lights, and snowy landscapes? Perhaps for an autumn game, gourds are carved and lit from within. These decorative ideas within your physical or imaginative play space are what make a session feel unique and full of holiday vibes.

The Environment

Don’t be afraid to show your players super weird new places in a one shot. If they don’t like it, it’s gone after the session.

If you’re fortunate enough to have your own place, or even a special dedicated room for playing games, that’s excellent. If not, though, the good news is that you can control your environment to an extent even if you are playing at your local game store.

Below are a few ideas for you to help you elevate your game from normal to memorable, and I encourage you to put in some effort. Do as many of the non-negotiable items as you can, but don’t stress yourself out. Ultimately, your excitement and your players’ attitudes are still the most important part of the game.

Music

I use Syrinscape (not a sponsor or anything, I just think it’s fun and affordable). I also use a ton of YouTube. I like Michael Ghelfi, but there’s tons of premade playlists available. I like it for sound effects, too. Need wolves howling? Easy. Need crowds of people screaming? Got it. Need horses running for a race? Check. Need fire and glass breaking? No problem!

Make sure to check out our article on free music resources for you D&D game here.

Your Attire

You don’t need to be dressed in a full costume, though that is fun. But you should do something to indicate the session is special or important. I have a funeral coming up in my main game (my players are clueless to this) and I plan on wearing what I would actually wear to a funeral. A little bit can go a long way.

The Table

If you’re playing online, you should be able to adjust your virtual environment, but if not, just skip this one. Something as simple as a tablecloth can be impactful for changing the mood. Doing a one shot in the summertime, where the players are going to fight against giant insects? Why not a red gingham tablecloth?

Is your session going to be super spooky? Maybe some fake spiderwebs are in order. I can’t cover my table, because it has a TV in it. If you’re in the same boat, get a cool picture up on that display.

Digital Seasonal Images

May I suggest a Patreon or two for your viewing pleasure? I currently back Animated Dungeon Maps, but there’s also Dynamic Dungeons, who I backed for a long time. Both have solid offerings. There are plenty of free options for you too, though. Below are a couple of 16:9 seasonal images you’re welcome to grab and use if you need one.

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Negotiables: Include for your Seasonal One Shot, if You Can

Play Space

If you can play at home or in a private space, a string of lights or a different lamp than usual can change the feel of your room very quickly. It doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult. Just making a small change from the usual will make it exciting for your players.

When I ran “The Darkest House” by Monte Cook, I turned the main lights down very low each night and had red lights twinkling along the ceiling. It was spooky and effective.

Your Group’s Attire

Certain holidays, like Halloween, lend itself to this a little more easily, but if you have a group of talented cosplayers, maybe this is already your norm. In which case, please, share your Instagram or other social media in the comments below. We’d love to see you all dressed up!

My group isn’t really into themed attire, but we’ll put on something a little special for an event. One of my players likes to wear themed leggings each week. I will wear something dark and brooding if a favored NPC is in serious danger or if a very large battle is likely to take place.

When setting up a seasonal one shot, consider how your environment can impact gameplay. Make sure your players can see their character sheets.

The Food

You can Google for food and recipes that sound good to you, and that you feel comfortable making. You’ll need to talk to your group to decide who is bringing what, and organize the fun details.

I will, however, use this opportunity to suggest one of the best cookbooks I’ve found: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Official Cookbook. I am something of a cookbook collector, and this one has performed as well as any fancy James Beard/Alton Brown/Paul Hollywood/Julia Child level iteration. It would be especially fun to use for a Star Wars or space-themed gaming session.

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During and After Your Seasonal One Shot: Player Expectations

Set your expectations clearly and early. This is crucial for a good, long-lasting game (and relationships in general). If everyone knows what to expect outside of the game itself, no one should leave disappointed.

Player Feedback

There’s a chance your players will want something you did for this event to become permanent. Ask they what they liked and didn’t like. I know it takes guts, but we need that feedback in order to get better and make the game more fun for everyone involved. If our players love something, should we make it part of every week? That depends. If my players asked me to dress in a costume every week, that would be a hard no from me. But changing the lighting? Organizing more food? Sure. Why not? It’s fun, our game time is special, and we should make it as celebratory as we want.

D&D one shots can be a great way to inject new life and enthusiasm into a gaming group.
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Closing Thoughts

Running a seasonal one shot for D&D, or any other TTRPG system can be the best gift you can give to a group of players. Facilitating an enthusiastic, themed game day is memorable and likely to bring your players back for more.

What favorite traditions do you have for setting up seasonal one shots? I’d love to read about them in the comments below.

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Love, Malice. I hope you enjoyed the article! I'm here if you have any questions. Feel free to leave a comment below!

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