Tips For Running One-Shot Games

by Mike Shea on 11 May 2009

Dungeons and Dragons is a game meant to be played week by week over a long period of time. Sometimes, however, we just want to play some quick D&D with some friends. Maybe we have a group that only gets together once every couple of months. Maybe our regular group could use a side-track for a night or two. Maybe two of your five players aren't able to show up next time and you don't want to play your main story without them.

All of this leads to the one-shot game, a game with some pre-generated characters and a one-night adventure.

The Newbie DM recently discussed his challenges running a Paragon-tier one-shot game. Having recently ran my own level 26th pre-gen game, I too saw the difficulties in running a high level game with pre-generated one-shot characters. Today we'll discuss some tips for making these one-shot games better.

Use Low Level One-Shot Games for New Players

If you have more than one new player at your table, consider running a lower level - even level one - one-shot game instead of a higher level game. As a DM, you may want to experiment at the higher tiers and some of your experienced players may want this as well, but new players will have a hard enough time understanding the mechanics of 4th edition without having to learn about paragon paths, epic destinies, and dozens of powers and feats. The level of your one-shot game should be proportional to the experience level of your players.

Use Known Character Classes for One-Shot Games

Again, playing those new character classes in the Players Handbook 2 may seem like a great way to use a one-shot game, but probably not at higher levels. A good experienced player may be able to understand the mechanics of a higher-level Avenger but only of they took the time to read it through before they show up at the table.

If you're a DM generating characters for your players, avoid complicated character classes that will not be well understood. Stick to the core classes from the Players Handbook for players who will be seeing their characters for the first time at the table. If a player is interested in running one of the new character types, tell them they can either run that class by building the character themselves or play one of the core classes if they'd rather not.

Select Simple Feats and Powers

If you're generating pre-gen characters for your players, stick to the most basic and direct powers and feats. Always-on feats like weapon focus, weapon specialization, weapon training, and feats that boost defenses are much easier to manage than feats that require thought to use effectively. Complicated powers may offer some truly outstanding effects at the table but only if well understood. For pre-gen characters, stick to direct and powerful powers that are easy to understand.

Use the Dungeon Delve

The Dungeon Delve sourcebook is quickly becoming my favorite 4th Edition sourcebooks. It has some excellent one-shot adventures that will fill two to four hours and already have the detailed encounter designs needed to run such an adventure. Each of these micro-adventures work very well for one-shot games and, with their extensive use of D&D Dungeon Tiles, they're easy to set up and run.

House Rule your Monsters

The easiest way to speed up a one-shot game and still make it challenging is to apply some house rules to your monsters. Currently I have three favorite house rules for speeding up combat at Paragon tier and above:

  1. Monsters have 75% of their published hitpoints.
  2. Monsters, including minions, deal +1/2 level in damage.
  3. Solo monsters have the following resistances: Stun removes one standard action; Daze removes one minor action.
These rules will speed up the battles, increase the threat to the players, and ensure that high-level solo monsters aren't completely incapacitated by stuns and dazes.

Hopefully, with these simple rules, a good DM can build and run fun, fast, and exciting one-shot adventures at any level of D&D 4th Edition.

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the Lazy Dungeon Master. You can also support this site by using these links to purchase the D&D Starter Set, Players Handbook, Monster Manual, or Dungeon Master's Guide. Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.