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D&D: One-Shots – Burning It All To The Ground For Fun

4 Minute Read
Jan 23 2021

There’s nothing quite as liberating for a DM like running a One-shot just to see what happens. Especially when you get out your narrative matchsticks.

One-Shot adventures are a fantastic aspect of D&D. Whether you’re looking to introduce people to the game, or are looking for something different from your normal campaign–there’s a lot that you can mine from a good one-shot. So let’s talk about One-Shots.

One-shots, or one-shot adventures–or if you really want the full version, are single-shot adventures constructed for a role-playing game, in this case Dungeons and Dragons–which, if that’s the case, look at how fancy you are taking the time to read things in today’s get up and go, always-on, wi-fi (which doesn’t stand for wireless-fidelity as you might think) world. You probably listen to youtube tutorials at normal playback speed and aren’t continually surprised when the world isn’t pitch-shifted up a step and a half from being played back more rapidly. Well, here’s a YouTube video for you: Mike Mearls talking one-shots.

Now that we’re here: One-Shots are fantastic. Mike Mearls says it, I say it–any DM who’s been playing a while can tell you how delightful one-shots are for any gaming group. You might have the perfect ongoing campaign that meets weekly plays for 4-6 hours and always has a great time. But even then, life happens. People get sick or are suspected of knocking over the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand casinos in Las Vegas, and they have to go into hiding.

Or you might just want to shake up your routine and try something different. Maybe a new book came out and people want to play with some of the new rules in it. Or maybe you want to try a bunch of fights where you kick the door in and just slay some orcs or something, to take a break from politics, intrigue, and hot springs episodes.

What do you do with your hot springs episodes?

Whatever the reason, One-Shots are useful. They’re a great way to get new players into the game, they can take the pressure off of your group, and more importantly, they let players and DMs feel free to take risks. Mearls talks about it in the video–characters might refuse a deal with a devil because their player knows they’re going to be playing that character for the next several months to a year, barring a fourth installment in the Ocean’s series.


But with a one-shot, you’ve got the freedom to try new things. And that’s what I want to talk about–how playing in a one-shot can benefit your general roleplaying outlook. For me, it all comes down to taking risks, making mistakes, and giving yourself permission to not be perfect. See the reason I like one-shots is that we know there’s an end to them. And with that short 2-6 hour timer, you want to make the most out of your character. You don’t care about trading with a Devil for some extra power or picking the bone-handled wand up off of that definitely evil and blood-stained altar because you know there’s an end in sight. We want our characters to see things you people wouldn’t believe.

Go ahead, pick a card

Same goes for DMs. You can pull out the stops and try things like, throwing a mind flayer at a 4th level party to see what happens. Or setting up a punishing encounter that involves a rising tide of lava and the only way to escape is on flying ostrich.

You’d be surprised at how many of my campaigns end up this way

Mearls even mentions trying to throw in something like the Deck of Many Things, and watching what happens. Here’s the thing though: that can lead to a lot of fun, even if the game you’re playing isn’t over at the end of the night. There’s a lot to be gained from taking risks and changing the consequences. Sure, maybe your Fighter made a bargain with a fiend for power, and now you’re being pursued by devilish assassins–but that’s the sort of thing we want at our tables, right?


This doesn’t happen if you just put down your drink and get out of the chair when the nice half-orc asks you to move

We want that drama and the action and opportunities for adventure that comes with consequences–it can just feel harder to make the decisions that lead to those consequences. And I get that–nobody wants to willingly make a bad decision. We want to be cool heroes who we are in control of. If the DM forced a bargain with a fiend on you, you’d be rightfully upset. Conversely though, if it’s “you brought this on yourself” that too feels a little off when you know you have to deal with what’s coming.

That’s where it comes down to figuring out what serves the character and the “story” of the character. If you want to have an interesting arc, you’ve got to make interesting decisions. And playing in one-shots is a great way to practice, whether you’re a player or a DM. I’m not saying go burn down everything (though that is the title of the article) but do remember that just because your character isn’t winning, doesn’t mean you, the player, have to lose. That’s part of what makes D&D so amazing.

Happy Adventuring!

Author: Adam Harrison
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