Running your own One-Shot D&D Adventures

Todd Kenreck: A fully fledged D&D campaign can be intensely rewarding for players and for dungeon masters as well, but one shot adventure is sometimes the only thing you have time for. Not only is that great for a group of friends to just try out some new characters but also if there's a group of strangers that you're meeting for the first time and playing D&D at a hobby shop or at a convention. That's why I'm talking to Mike Mearls about the advantages and the freedom that comes with a really good one shot adventure.

Mike Mearls: When I'm running a one shot, I love to run one shots. I love campaigns but one shots are really fun because with a one shot, you have an excuse to let the party make really big mistakes that would derail a campaign but really fun in the context of a one shot. So I ran a one shot just a couple weeks ago at Gary Con, I have a dungeon I've run a couple times. One of the key parts of it is you meet this devil who's imprisoned in a statue and you have the opportunity ... He uses telepathy to reach out to members of the party and offer them a bargain, like let me go and I'll give you something cool and if you let me go and pledge your soul to me, I'll give you something even cooler right. And that can kinda be disrupted ... The party tension could be disrupted in a long going campaign.

Though I like doing that stuff in ongoing campaigns also, but I think players are more likely to dive into it because why not? This character after two to four hours, this character doesn't exist anymore so why not do the fun thing? I would always suggest for a one shot, try to focus on one interesting thing or a small number of really interesting things then otherwise, try to keep everything really simple. I find dungeons are fantastic for one shots and I usually start them as here's a preamble, I'll just kind of due a little narration for a minute. The idea behind that is, it's something familiar, so you're not spending a lot of time upfront explaining things to the players, they just know hey we need to go into this dungeon, someone's lost in here or trapped and find them, or oh, there's someone we're trying to chase down whose in this dungeon, let's go find them.

So you give the players a pretty clear through line. It's also something where you can kind of drop clues in as you explore the dungeon. You're exploring the dungeon, you find oh, there's a troll here that's been slain and it's clear oh, the guy or after must have killed this troll 'cause we recognize he's a fire mage. So clearly someone used a lot of fire in here, or we're trying to rescue someone, so we capture the goblin and he ... Oh, I saw that guy in purple robes, he got dragged that way, like okay now we know that's who we're after. That's who we're trying to rescue. And so within that familiar context then build in some really wacky things. Things that might otherwise bust your campaign, an easy thing. Put in a deck of many things. Just do that, right? Draw a boring bog standard dungeon with just whatever and I usually like level three ... We'll do pre-gen's don't ask people to make up characters unless you have all day and you don't mind watching people make characters for an hour, right?

I like level three, I usually aim for a party of 4 to 8. So I have pre-generated characters. Our website if you go to the page that has the downloadable character sheet, has levels one 1 to 10 of a bunch of different characters you can download, or use D&D Beyond, that's what I use. I make a bunch of characters in D&D Beyond, I just print them out so I've got them and so, level three's nice 'cause it gives players ... Every class has picked its sub class so you have some flavor, but it's simple enough that ... Especially experienced players they can hop right in. If you have new players, you can just slide them a fighter and they're good to go, even at level three it's pretty straight forward, and then yeah, just do something in that dungeon.

Keep it pretty straight forward so you're not spending a lot of time explaining things to players. Give them puzzles. Give them things that encourage the players to interact with each other because basically it might strangers sitting at a table, so that's a fun thing to play with too, it makes things a little more social. And then from there, again find one to three things that are really kind of unique that maybe someone wouldn't do in their regular campaign. I was not kidding about the deck of many things, you find a shrine in this dungeon and there's the deck of many things sitting there, who wants to draw, right? And then it's fun and I think the players are a little more eager to, oh yeah sure I'll take more risk. Why not, right? This character again, goes away at the end of the session so why not? Let's be a little more daring, have a little more fun.

And I really like puzzles and traps that are basically puzzles because it gets the players talking back and forth and it really lets them make their mark on the adventure, and that's the final point. Very simply advice but something very straight forward, in a one shot, if you have a dungeon, have multiple entrances to the dungeon and reward players for being engaged like, okay you're outside the dungeon and it's kind of like the side of a hill, oh let's explore around the hill, what's around here, oh there's a chance you could find something and find the secret way in. Players like feeling like they're breaking the rules, especially within a one shot right? The worst one is just where it's very linear. And again that's where dungeons nice, you can give players a lot of choices without you as DM being overwhelmed by where are the players going to go in water deep? I need to know the entire city.

It's more okay, we enter the dungeon oh, we're at an intersection, which way do we go? And then the players feel like their making choices and then the nice thing is ... What I do, I have about three or so standard dungeons I built that I bring to every convention, so people just want to play some D&D. I just run one of those dungeons, I know them like the back of my hand now so it's pretty easy for me to run, and it's funny. It's entertaining for me as a DM 'cause it's different every time. Groups make different decisions, they come up with different things. I don't feel like I'm just running the same route thing and I'm bored with it, so.

Todd Kenreck: Thank you Mike Mearls for being on the show. D&D Beyond is the official fifth edition digital tool set for D&D. I'm Todd Kenreck, thank you for watching.



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