D&D: Running One-Shot Adventures is the Best and Here’s Why
One-shot adventures are a fantastic way to play D&D without having to worry too much about what happens next.
Whether you’re just getting started with D&D, or you’ve been a dab hand for a while now, there’s one thing that always makes for a fun little shakeup. One-shot adventures. What’s a one-shot? Well, these 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, Candlekeep Mysteries, or Journeys through the Radiant Citadel 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.
They’re great when a new book comes out with a new subclass or new feats. Anything you want to try out, without worrying that you’re somehow stuck playing the same character for the next however many months. 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.
The 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 a 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, more powerful magic items in the DMG/on D&D Beyond. People will tell you never to 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.
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.