In praise of one-off sessions

Throwing together a one-off game for an evening is something that the group I used play with used to do a lot.
Or rather, Tim used to do it a lot. I used to do it a bit. Other players used to do it sometimes. Tim was our hero GM, really. Hail Tim!

But I digress - making up a one-off game, that would last just one night, is what I want to blog about here.

I've got an ulterior motive here - I've become Tim. I'd like to get to play now and then, but I seem to be the only person in my gaming group who runs games.
Just like with Tim, I suspect that's because I volunteer to do so, and other GMs don't feel the need to step up.

Low investment

If your one-off game goes a bit wrong, who cares? You only spent an evening on it, and you still got to muck about with your mates.

You only have one evening, so the game needs to be quite simple, too. Don't try to have a complex plot, cause it'll be harder to show it in just a few hours of play. Keep the number of encounters to a minimum. Have just one villain, and a few minions. Don't have too many puzzles.

Cut to the chase

Get the game into the action as soon as you can. I've already blogged on where I got it wrong with one of my own one-off sessions. Here's what I learned

  • Maybe start in media res
  • Don't get bogged down in details - move on quickly, jump to the end of the journey
  • Don't use challenging encounters as a warm up

  • Also, my desire to start with the action has led me to a way of doing things that works quite well if you have a day or so of notice: tell the players up front what the adventure set up is going to be, and ask them why their character is going to be there.
    For example: The adventure will be taking place in the castle of Baron Vileness, who is hated by the locals for his harsh taxes and bad behaviour. He often abducts pretty young folk and abuses them. He is said to have vast reserves of treasure and magical artefacts.
    Why does your character want to break into the castle, and what are they planning to do there?

    This lets the players think up their own characters' motives, which may only overlap with the other characters' motives in that they're both trying to get into Castle Vileness and get something from it.
    Armed with the players input, I then tweak the adventure to give them what they want.
    You get to steer the players into your adventure, but they control their characters' motivations.

    Why is this good for one-session games? Because we start the session at Castle Vileness, with everyone already knowing why they want to be there and what they have to do.

    Building on short games

    One-off adventures are the best start. When you've never GMed before, or if you don't GM very often (hint, hint), it's far less daunting to run a game for a few hours, than it is to think about how a game will last weeks of multiple sessions and need an interlocking story and game-world and so on.
    A short story is far easier to write than a novel - and a novel is easier to write than a whole game multiverse.

    The setting that I use for my games is actually the result of a couple of decades idle thought, and collaberation from the other GMs.
    What I actually have written down is tiny compared to the time it's taken. I'm actually very lazy - it just looks like I've done loads of work.

    I've been watching Star Trek's original series - and it's really clear that each episode is adding to a galaxy that was rather sketchy to start off with. Ideas change and mutate over the course of the first season - but it doesn't matter! Each episode is self-contained.

    So if you feel the urge to make up a whole complex multiverse, then don't try to do that before you start playing - the short games will build that game world as you go along.

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