My group has been badgering me to run an RPG for a while. We’ve had attendance issues for the last few weeks and trying to run a consistent game was an exercise in futility. So I told them I’d run a one-shot since one of the regulars was going to be missing and we were getting a few people that were from out of town visiting. So a one-shot made the most sense.
I’ve ran more one-shots than I care to admit. I’m not saying that one-shots are bad, but most of my one-shots have been due to starting a long game and never getting past the first session before attendance becomes an issue. My group doesn’t like to run a game with any player missing. Other groups don’t mind when one or two are gone but we’re picky and there is nothing wrong with either mentality. I wasn’t going to make the mistake of trying to run a long game and waste a night character creation for a long game that wasn’t going to happen. This was going to be a self contained one-shot.
A friend of mine lent me the new Iron Kingdoms RPG but the system was new to everyone. It wouldn’t make sense to teach everyone a new game because by the time we were done learning it would be time to go home. Mind you, we are working with a four hour time block. So I went with my fallback RPG, FATE. For those who don’t know, FATE is made by Evil Hat and is one of the simplest and most story-driven RPGs out there. I can make a fully fleshed out character in about two minutes and a newbie (with a solid character concept going in) could do it in maybe 10. It’s very rules light and fluff/story heavy. If you don’t know it check it out here. You can pick up an electronic version of the new core book for as little as $5. It’s a great deal.
Another problem that one-shots have is that a lot of GMs (myself included) try to run a one-shot like a normal long term game. That is a mistake that will make the one-shot less fun. When you are pressed for time the GM should do a little extra prep to get going asap.
1. Anything a GM can do to get a the game going sooner, he should do.
I highly suggest that the GM make the characters. The players aren’t going to be emotionally attached to anything they make that night anyway if they know it’s going to be a one-shot. The other problem with having the players make their own character is that unless you tell them specifically, they won’t know what they are going to be fighting. Nothing sucks more than having an enchanter in the group fighting mindless undead (it happened to one of my PCs once, and he was pretty bored for the day). If the GM knows what general direction he’s going (and he should) then he can make the PC’s the perfect group for the job. So GMs, don’t be afraid to make the characters. You can get to playing faster and your players most likely won’t mind.
2. Have a basic plot ready and know your end scene.
As for the story I find it better to have it somewhat railroaded. If you do it in a sandbox, you run the risk of not accomplishing anything story-wise and that tends to leave a bad taste in the player’s mouth. The game I ran only had the following as my story line.
“The PC’s are bounty hunters that have crossed a couple of borders illegally to find a bounty that is worth way more than it should be for a serial killer. But hey, easy money is easy money, right?”
I like to improvise a lot in my games, but for GMs not comfortable with a lot of improvisation they would want something more along the lines of what my game ended up turning into.
“The PC’s are bounty hunters who jumped a few borders illegally to hunt down a bounty in the equivalent of the Vatican City. The bounty is for a serial killer who is killing aristocrats and nobles and he keeps a body part from each victim. The killer is collecting prosthetics from these people because he found a buyer willing to pay a lot for these magical limbs. The buyer is a deranged scientist that lives below the city and wants the limbs for evil experiments.”
So I had my story ready. I knew how I wanted it to end, with a big confrontation with the buyer and his minions. The step before that would be to confront the killer and find out who the buyer is. How to catch the killer I was going to leave to the PC’s. This gives the story some freedom with a solid ending point. When doing a one-shot I find it very helpful to have an end scene in mind. This gives you something to aim for. I’ve found when doing a game and having no end scene in mind is like going for a drive with no destination in mind. How do you know when the drive is over? You’ll just keep going and going till you get bored. If you keep playing till you get bored then you’re gonna have a bad time. Always have an ending in mind. It’s better to get to a good ending early in the night than to not get to an ending.
3. Don’t be afraid to end the scene/adventure at a good point early on. Don’t drag a scene/story on just because you need to fill time.
So after I made the PC’s and handed them out the the players we were ready to rock and roll. The night went pretty much as expected. Since I had made the PC’s it was easy for me to throw challenges at them that I knew they would be ok on and that would give each individual time to shine. I didn’t run into any major problems until the end of the night. The party had followed the bread crumbs (sometimes I had to force feed them) and they were facing down the killer and the buyer.
The killer made them an offer to join him and they could get a cut. I figured the usual heroic spirit would take over. I was wrong. The PC’s took him up on the offer and became bad guys. Mostly because they thought they were going to die at the hands of the bad guys if a fight broke out. Well not one to tell them they can’t do that (and you should never make decisions for the players because they didn’t do what you expected, that’s just bad planning on your part) they joined the Evil League of Evil and Naughtiness. No big fight. Just a contract signed in blood. Kinda anti climatic.
4. Always keep your final scene in mind throughout the game. Never forget what exactly you are going for.
I dun goofed. I forgot my final scene. I thought it was simply to get them to each other. Bad guys and good guys would meet and do what comes naturally, but instead I didn’t remember that the final scene was a big fight. So I stopped too early and gave them an out and they took it. We still had fun (which is always the most important thing), but we didn’t have really any combat or resolution at all. For some groups that’s fine, but for mine it was a bit of a let down.
When it comes to running one-shots, GMs need to make different things more important than if he was running a long term game.
GM’s should try to do as much as they can to have the game ready to go before the players get there. That includes (if the players are ok with it) making the characters ahead of time for them.
Have as much of the plot as you need to run the game. Have something going in but not too much detail or you’ll end up railroading them completely. Leave some room for player decision, but have a solid destination in mind and keep that end scene in mind throughout the game.
It’s ok to finish a scene or story when it has reached a satisfying conclusion. When looking at a scene ask “What is the question this scene will answer?” Once that question for the scene is answered then end it and move on. If you finish your game quickly and end up with extra time at the end of the night that’s ok.
Never forget your ending scene/destination. This will keep your game on track and keep the story moving forward.