D&D: Running One-Shot Adventures is the Best and Here’s Why
One-shot adventures are a time-honored part of D&D. They can open the doors to whole other worlds of adventures. You should run one today!
If you are just starting off in D&D, odds are good these days you found your way there via watching other people play. Thanks to livestreaming’s popularity, D&D has exploded. And while that is great, one thing that those streams don’t always show off are one-shot adventures. One shot adventures are short, single-session adventures that aren’t meant to be whole campaigns.
Like a short story, or a single issue comic book, these adventures tell a concise, complete story. By the end of it, you’ll save the dragon from the princess, find the lost treasure, and maybe make some friends along the way. If you’ve ever played from one of D&D’s anthology adventures like Ghosts of Saltmarsh or Candlekeep Mysteries, you’re familiar with this kind of adventure.
They tend to be more episodic stories. A one-shot doesn’t need to end on a cliffhanger, or set up whatever comes next. And because they end so quickly and cleanly, one-shots are a great way to shake things up. Maybe a new book came out. Like, say, the upcoming Journeys through the Radiant Citadel, which features 13 short adventures. Or maybe you found a new character subclass you want to try. Maybe you just want a break from your typical playstyle, whatever it is.
Whatever the case, a one shot is a great way to explore how the other parties live.
Playing in a One-Shot
One-shot adventures take a lot of pressure off the players and DM. Because it’s a single session, maaaybe two, nobody has to worry about being stuck with something they don’t like. This means it’s a great time for players and DMs to take risks. Both in terms of what they play and in terms of how they play.
In fact, you might find playing in a one-shot can benefit your general roleplaying outlook. It all comes down to taking risks, making mistakes, and giving yourself permission to not be perfect. With that short 2-6 hour timer, you want to wring every drop you can out of your character.
In a campaign you expect to play for months, you might not take a risk on something like “making a deal with a devil” or “touching the evil wand on the evil altar” because you don’t want to be stuck dealing with that. But when you’re done at the end of the night? Go for it. We want our characters to see things you people wouldn’t believe.
Same goes for DMs. You can pull out the stops and try things like throwing a higher level monster 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.
Get to the Fun Toys
You can even throw in something like the Deck of Many Things, and watch what happens. In fact, a one-shot adventure is a great time to play with the weirder, powerful magic items in the DMG/on D&D Beyond. People will tell you never use a Deck of Many Things because it’ll ruin your campaign. Can’t ruin it if it’s over by the end of the night though.
Same goes for things like the Hand and/or Eye of Vecna or the Tarrasque. Use all the fun tools in your toolbox that you’d never otherwise get to.
And here’s the best thing. That can lead to a lot of fun, even when 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?
Be Bold, Be Big
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. On the face of it, 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. Don’t go burn down everything… 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 RPGs so amazing.
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