====== Running 1-shots ====== Re: Guidelines for a One-Shot ? Reply #1 on: May 24, 2007, 08:38:16 AM ?

I’m talented at improvising a game with no prep, so when a GM doesn’t show I am always the default GM running a one-shot. Here are the tactics I’ve learned for improvising a one-shot over the years:

  1. If the players want to use their pre-existing characters and just want a break from the campaign look over the character sheets and find one skill/attribute that the character hasn’t had a chance to use/shine with in the normal campaign. Make a note of it and jot down some ideas to let the player use that trait in a cool way. Do the same thing with characters made from scratch, but also note the common skills such as everyone made a character with the driving skill. If you see a common trend throw in a scene where the party uses those skills collectively (such as a huge multi-car on the expressway going in the wrong direction car chase for all of those driving skills).

  2. Brainstorm a bad guy. Have him make an appearance early, do something that clearly establishes him as the bad guy, and then keep him out of the story until the climax. This doesn’t mean he has to walk up to the PCs and kick one in the groin and then run away for the opening scene (I am so tempted to try that in game now after writing it Cheesy), but that you establish his evil presence early in the story. The PCs come to a destroyed village and the sole survivor tells them about the dreaded barbarian Bob and how he killed everyone and stole a huge treasure. The PCs are shown security camera footage of a robbery with a clear shot of the gang leader having his mask ripped off by a would-be hero who the criminals slaughter with gunfire. Just make it clear that this guy is the antagonist. And why not have him appear again until the climax? If the PCs kill/defeat/befriend him for anyone reason before the climax you just lost an easy to work with key element. Use a character sheet from one of your other games and make minor adjustments to suit your needs.

  3. One-shots are easy to do in five acts.

    • Act I - Intro: Establish the villain and the main problem. Get the PCs
    • together somehow (railroad the PCs forming a party if needed, such as
    • just saying at the beginning “You are all part of the same precinct.”
    • and move on quickly). Make the objective clear.
    • Act II - Complicate things. That simple quest to get the sword of the
    • former King is actually a lot tougher than originally suspected because
    • you’ll need to venture into Hades first in order to answer his riddle
    • that reveals its location. The only map with the secret hiding place of
    • the Pharaoh’s treasure is lost. It starts raining omelettes. Use your
    • imagination.
    • Act III - The twist. The sword isn’t an actual sword, but instead it was
    • a code for the last living heir of the former king who must take the
    • throne in his place. The Pharaoh’s treasure if removed will cause the
    • land to suffer and the people will befall into great misery. The
    • omelettes are made of a low-cholesterol egg substitute with an
    • unforeseen side effect that it explodes when put in contact with bacon,
    • and it just started raining bacon. Just add something that doesn’t
    • obliterate all the work that the characters have done so far, but that
    • does require a revision to their original plan.
    • Act IV - The climax. Make it big, and make it special. Pull out all of
    • the stops and go to town with it.
    • Act V - The resolution. Praise the PCs if they win, mourn them if they
    • die horribly, but make sure to have some form of closure at the end.
  4. Before the game begins, make a speech and then take a break. Tell the players that you are running things off the top of your head and that if they go with the flow that they will enjoy it more. Improvised one-shots work better if everyone is on the same page before the session begins. So ask the players to take a 30 minute break to talk with each other about how they are going to play their characters while you work on getting your mental notes together on paper. Don’t try to do full prep work, just get a basic game plan together and work with it from there.

With an hour for character creation and a half hour for gathering your notes you should be okay to run for the rest of the night. Go for the rock star effect with only two caveats - if using characters from an existing campaign don’t give any items or gifts to the PCs unless they will be used that night in game so as not unbalance the PC for the actual campaign, and if using one-shot characters drop really powerful items into their laps if it will provide a quick cinematic solution to an in-game problem.

Of course scrap all of the above if you are having fun with a different approach. Smiley

====== Notes ====== /downloads//Whimsy Cards.pdf
/3rdParty/dreamdict.html FIXME link to guild   /3rdParty/phantomislands.html FIXME link to guild
/3rdParty/prophecy.html FIXME link to guild
* Have one or more players summarize the session’s events, NPC names, and details out loud to the group at the end of each session. Hearing the information will help you (and everyone else) remember it better. * Have you or a player summarize out loud what happened last session for the group at the beginning of each session. * Write what happened each session in a short story or journal type format. * Put a dry erase board on the table.

====== Craft ====== ==== GM Do’s & Don’ts ==== Make a decision, quietly to yourself, that this will be the best campaign you’ve ever game mastered. - Ask for your players’ opinions. - Make use of character backgrounds. - Give your players reason to trust you. * Don’t make decisions too quickly. Take your time so your players know you’re considering the issues, and don’t be dismissive or impatient when players bring issues up for your consideration.
* Ask your players for their opinions. (Back to point #1.) Even if you don’t rule in their favor they’ll know you took their needs into consideration.
* Don’t get flustered by mistakes. Don’t rush to cover them up or try to fix them too quickly - remember to carefully consider your decisions.
* Explain your decisions when possible. It makes them seem less arbitrary.
* Consider what will make the game more fun for the players. Make sure your decisions promote an enjoyable game for all. * Be careful when “fudging” (altering) die rolls and other game events. - Allow the party to have free will. - Make sure the party’s actions have an impact on the plot. - Don’t insist on doing everything your way. - Don’t jump to conclusions. - Don’t punish arbitrarily. - Solve problems within the context of the game. Perhaps you believe a player designed his character to take advantage of a loophole in the rules. Or you think that character behavior within the game is unrealistic. - Explain your punishments. - Is it really a problem after all? - Keep your players informed. If players have some idea of what you’re up to, they’re more likely to go along with it and trust you to know what you’re doing. Let them know when you’re going to try some sort of experiment and ask them if it’s okay. If you’re not sure they’ll like something you want to do with their character, talk to them about it. (The more they grow to trust you the less this is likely to be necessary, but better safe than sorry.) - Be flexible. If the party tries something you weren’t expecting, let them. - Be in control from the start. No walking over me - Make sure your game promotes the kind of play you desire. Make sure that your very first game run sets the stage for the kind of game you plan to run. This works for mood as well as type of game. * As an addendum to this one, keep in mind that games tend to “degenerate” in certain directions. Moods will more easily degenerate to the silly, because laughter and funny stories are infectious. Experient point usage will degenerate towards combat, because lack of skill in other areas is less likely to get the party killed. Plot solutions will degenerate towards combat because it’s simpler and easier. These are trends that you need to be aware of. - Handle your mistakes calmly and rationally. - Respect your players. - Communicate, communicate, communicate.

==== Mood Atmosphere ==== “what do I want the players to feel?”.

Work out some generic descriptions of the weather. Make them as detailed and evocative as possible, and use them to enhance or contrast the mood of the game. eg. “The rain pours down onto the darkened cobblestones and drips from the eaves of the small wooden houses. You see no one but a few huddled beggars as you make your way to xyz.” Try to describe light sources, smells, sensations and noises, appeal to all the senses. Insert these whenever you want to make the gameworld seem more vivid, or to evoke a mood.

Work out some generic descriptions of the location of the game world. Devise and note down in point form some basic imagery for your game world - eg. descriptions of the city the game is set in, or the mountain range they are passing through. Include people and animals and minor, mundane mishaps (broken cart wheels, fallen trees on the road etc.). Insert these whenever the PCs are moving around in the world frame. Have them reflect the state of affairs (has there just been a war? Is there famine? Is the market bursting with goods? Are their a lot of soldiers around? etc.)

Devise generic NPCs. Invent a series of normal people of different ages, genders and social classes. Give them names, physical descriptions and a couple personality traits. Wheel them out when the PCs talk to someone you didn’t expect them to, or put them around the place to demonstrate the reality of the PCs actions (eg. the inhabitants of the house they break into). Again, have their situations and concerns reflect the mood/theme/events of the game world. Or for something different have it contrast.

Devise minor encounters. For example, the PCs could be robbed by a common thief, or come across a “domestic dispute”, or a lost child. These events can be inserted to illustrate all sorts of points about the nature of the world, or to take up some time when you need to think, or to break up the more important events of the story. They can be used to add interest to the unexpected actions of the PCs. Make sure they are simple and mundane, otherwise you defeat their purpose of giving you time to think, or of reflecting the normal events of the game world.

kind normal guy who goes nuts and takes horrible bloody revenge on the people who’ve pissed him off

=== Combat === Make your fight scenes (and other dangers) dramatic! Use Bold Strokes of Detail

Instead of detailing lots of small things, concentrate mainly on the bold, meaningful details. Pick details that really say something about the situation. Make sure your details are doing their work, in other words - if a detail doesn’t somehow further the party’s understanding of a situation, then get rid of it.

Try an exercise that most writing teachers put their students through eventually: write a description of a scene, and then go through it crossing out all of the unnecessary words. Cross out anything that’s redundant with other details. Cross out anything that’s strongly implied by other details. Cross out any detail that doesn’t have something meaningful or useful to say about the scene.

==== Encounters ==== Stop matching random encounters to your party. This goes against the natural GM reflex, but it’s a great tool. So often, GMs weigh encounters up so carefully that every single fight leaves the players feeling the exact same ‘That was tough, but we made it’ feeling - which can get pretty old after a few months. What happened to the ‘Aargh! We were totally outmatched’ and ‘Boy, we cleaned the floor with those schmucks’ feelings? Sometimes, a puny NPC will take on a powerful PC without realising the world of pain he or she is letting themselves in for; by the same token, occasionally a very dangerous opponent will show up, and characters who wade in with a ‘Well, I -must- be able to beat this thing, or it wouldn’t be in the module’ attitude are going to be crying pretty soon. That’s life - there’s no such thing as ‘module balance’ in the real world, after all. Using this trick once or twice will encourage your players to evaluate fights before they happen, which ties into the previous techniques and will allow you to get more ‘oomph’ out of your fight scenes.

To illustrate: everyone knows RipperJane is a heartless so- and-so, but when she genuinely proposes killing your wounded bodyguard, it’s brought home in an undeniable fashion. Conversely, Sir Hiram is well-known for being law-abiding; when he insists on detouring from the adventure for an afternoon so that the orcs you just mixed it up with can be delivered to a hospice, a court, and the gallows (in that order), he isn’t just talking the talk any more - he’s really getting a chance to act on his beliefs. You may find that your characters start thinking of ways to avoiding or minimising lethal combat rather than simply wading in, which allows you to make more of the fights they do get into.

How often do your characters get time to rest and recuperate between encounters? What if something nasty was following them, ready to pounce as soon as it saw a weakness? How often do the characters fight in the streets and walk away scott-free? What if the guards were right on top of them as soon as the fight was over?

=== Top Ways To Use Encounters To Build A Compelling Campaign === - Plot development. Not only as the GM, but also from your players’ perspectives. They must feel that something was accomplished and that they have moved closer towards their goal. - World development. - Character development. - NPC development. - Break the mood. “When you see ’em yawn make’em roll initiative” I always say! It’s good to break things up for variety’s sake. If you’re playing a serious story, try an encounter about compassion. For combat intensive sessions try some dry-witted parley with a few friendly NPCs. - Try making some encounters fulfill more than one purpose.

=== Top Ways To More Compelling Encounters === - Choose a compelling location. - Mix-up the weather a bit. - Alter the lighting: - Change the footing. Just like lighting, you can change the ground so that it helps or hinders the party, loose gravel, muddy, sandy, puddles, deep moss, pot holes, slime… - Put the reward on the end of a stick. It’s fun hiding treasure to make it tough and exciting for the characters to find it. But try putting the reward or treasure in plain site on occasion to provide extra and immediate character motivation. For example, hang the treasure from the ceiling well out of arm’s reach, put it at the bottom of a clear pool, have the foe wear it or use it, put writing on the wall for all to see “Here Be Treasure”. Then put something in between the characters and their displayed reward and watch the fur fly. - Put more than one challenge, foe or conflict into the encounter and hit the party from all sides. Panic is a result of feeling overwhelmed. Allowing the players to focus on just one challenge at a time will not overwhelm them, so add additional simultaneous challenges to help create panic: * multiple foes (i.e. another foe drawn in by the sounds of battle) * impending doom (i.e. the ceiling’s slowly dropping) * impending calamity (i.e. she’s tied to a log that’s headed straight for the screaming saw blade) * cut-off the party’s escape * add a time limit (i.e. return before sundown or…) * add bad weather, bad footing and bad lighting!

==== Mechanics ==== === Conversation-based skills. === When one of these skills is used, the GM should determine a difficulty and make a skill roll immediately. The GM should not use the results of this skill roll to determine the success or failure of the attempt. Instead, take the skill roll and base the tone of the conversation and the initial reaction of the NPC on that roll. A successful skill roll means the NPC is favorably disposed to the PC, or is caught off-guard by the character, and might have useful information. A failed roll mean the NPC is wary, has no information, or is downright hostile. After this initial roll, the player’s role-playing skills will determine the outcome of the encounter.

=== Critical Hit Shuffle-Board === Mark a small circle or set a target somewhere on the table surface where you are rolling your die. It should be far enough away so that it is difficult for you to roll the die and have it end up in that circle/target. Tell the players that when you roll a TO HIT die for a monster, any die that lands in the circle is a critical hit, with special damage consequences. And then watch them squirm as you try to hit the target. Don’t do it every roll, but only for special encounters or just now and then for effect.

=== But i’m not dead === Any character killed during a fight could make a Stamina check (or something like that) each round until the combat was over. If he succeeded, then he hung on long enough to be able to talk to any living comrades afterward, for a minute or two anyway. He was beyond saving, of course.

====== Players ====== ==== Game around Players ==== From the Player’s backgrounds, I create long-term ’mini- campaigns.” Perhaps an adventure with the initial hints at 1st level, another one at 4th level, then an adventure that leads directly into one that relates solely to the PC’s background and so on.

Plot. Give them plots where they have to keep someone alive–someone they have to role-play with. Give a succession of situations where if they just kill people they don’t the info they need to complete the mission. Have the plots deal with a variety of combat and non-combat issues.

I don’t know why, but the PCs I’ve encountered will role-play with the plain-looking secretary who is shy and flirty or the drunk 7-11 guy with a mohawk for a half hour. Populate the world with interesting people, who seem to have a story, the players will follow.

In short, don’t make vanilla flavored combat – make roleplaying flavored combat.

==== Give players “Buy In” to your world ==== Nobles, rich merchants and kings have a lot of money and lots of land. And, they realize that some wimpy fighter today may become the Hercules of tomorrow. So, they spread some gifts around the adventuring community, including the characters, so when somebody does become powerful, these rich guys can say, “Yes, I know so-and-so. I gave him some land. He’s a friend.”

Sometimes, the characters get land. It may be ownership of a little farm which has a family on it that generates 20 g.p. per month. When they get this land, they usually worry about taxes. But, I assure them, that 20 g.p. is after taxes. Then, they worry about the family getting killed or kidnapped. But, I don’t let that happen. Nope, every game month, a servant shows up with 20 g.p.

Or, maybe a noble gives them a sweet deal on training. “Use my training grounds for free,” he says, “they just sit around otherwise. And, when you come back to town, let me know and we’ll have dinner. And, I’m really interested in stuffed monster heads so drop by when you find one of those and I’ll give you my best offer.”

So, a few months later, the revolution springs up. Now, the character is going to have an opinion. The man on his farm says, “Boss, I’m going to do this dangerous mission.” The characters may say, “Hey, let us take care of that”. If the man dies, they figure, the farm won’t produce that 20 g.p. per month. Or, the noble says, “I’m a bit worried that I might lose my lands or get killed in the revolution, what about you?” The characters say, “Gulp, maybe I’ll build a fort.” Or, if they hear about it from far away, “Maybe I’ll hire and send some mercenaries back there to keep my lands or friends safe.” In the end, the characters are going to put some effort into making sure that the sources of their “free stuff” stay alive.

Over time, with this method, the DM builds up a network of favors. The characters owe favors to NPCs but, also, a lot of NPCs owe favors to the PCs. The favors are in different forms: some promises, some contracts, some vague

==== Motivations ==== Guilt: How would you feel after killing an enemy and then finding well-read love letters from their significant other in their pocket?

Fear: Even in the bleakest setting where death is common, players don’t want to see their characters die. Some don’t even want to see them injured. And some can’t even stand to see them captured. Your players won’t go into that farmhouse? Put a bigger threat outside it. They still have a choice – stay and face the threat or go hide in the farmhouse – but they’ll think that it’s their choice to make. Most of the time, if the external threat is big enough, they’ll run for the farmhouse instead of making a stand. This should always be the motivator of last resort. It’s the most obvious of them all, and sooner or later your players will pick up on it and come to the realization that you’re “herding” them to where you want them to be. Don’t use it unless the others don’t work.

Curiosity: These are the people who, in the situation described above, will want to check out the farmhouse just because it’s there and they heard that something mysterious was inside. If you give these same players the external threat, they may change their minds and decide to investigate the threat instead. These players don’t seem to care that their characters might die, they usually feel that it’s just a game and they can always make another.

Greed: This is what motivates most people. Greed doesn’t have to be evil “money-grubbing”. When people work at jobs that they hate, they do so out of a kind of greed – they want comfort, security and whatever pay that job gives. Most characters, however, take the greed a step further. They want power (whether it be through more powerful weapons or more personal power – through character advancement, say). Or they want money. But this kind of player/character usually wants something. And sometimes they want it so badly that they’ll go after it no matter the risk (of course, it’s always better if the risk seems very small to start with). If these characters won’t go into the farmhouse out of curiosity, that’s when the NPC traveling with them needs to say something like, “Didn’t old man Carvey live there? They say he hid all sorts of (gold/weapons/spellbooks/whatever) before he died.” That’s usually enough to get the greedy ones moving.

====== Crunch vs Cream ====== Mike Harvey wrote:

Crunchy (at least my definition) generally means the rules are objective, intrusive, and player-empowering. Objective mean success/failure is clearly defined and there little room for interpretation. Intrusive means the mechanics are prominent and artificial. Empowering is related to objectivity, and allows players to estimate their chances of success AND know that they have succeeded – GM manipulation is obvious unless done behind a screen. Crunchy mechanics tend to feature lots of numbers, are not afraid of formulas, more complex resolution, and everything is quantified.

Creamy generally means the rules are more subjective, non-intrusive, and non-empowering. Subjective means success and failure is open to interpretation. Nonintrusive means the mechanics are intuitive and more story-based, so they fade into the scenery rather than distract from it. Nonempowering means the mechanics are not easily predicted and it is very difficult to tell if the GM is manipulating them even when everything is in plain sight. Creamy games often use “natural language” mechanics, tend to be freeform, numbers are few and single- digit and rarely plugged into formulas, and resolution tends to be very simple (and often drama-oriented).