View Full Version : One Shot Ideas

2011-04-20, 02:07 PM
Okay, so I might be running up to two one shot games fairly soon. I need ideas, preferably for literally single sessions. It will almost certainly be low level by necessity (there may be a few new players, for one thing). I'll probably be making characters for people to pick from to save valuable time.

But, ideas. I need some, and I know there's no place better to ask. I'm looking for stuff to run in D&D 3.5, but feel free to mention any ideas at all, so long as they could be run as one shot games. Don't want to hog advice when we could share ideas.

There's always the classic, "you meet a shady guy in a tavern, apparently a dragon is terrorising the town with the help of goblins and orcs, go remove them", and variations thereof.

I could go for a "they've dug too deep in Moria" type thing, see how I can mess with expectations (looking at random pages from tvtropes may help for once!).

I could talk to the other DM and see about pitting the groups against one another (though I think we'd both better tone down our houseruling if this is the case, because we tend to run things rather differently), perhaps in the context of fueding guilds or houses of some sort.

Beyond those I'm kinda stuck, so let the thread proper begin!

Kol Korran
2011-04-21, 01:13 PM
there used to be an adventures archives at the WOTC, but i can't find it.

some ideas that may be fun to try:
1) the haunted house. all the party are from the same town, and some of the town's children have ran to that old house/ crumbling keep. knowing you are the PCs are the only ones with experience. there can be some low level critters, some "traps" (floor falling in, wall crumbling on you). maybe a small group of intelligent creatures (goblins led by a gnoll?), and something protecting the children- perhaps a ghost that wants the party to solve some small mystery or undo a wrong before it lets the children go.

2) the marauders are attacking! the session begins with some celebrations, when lots of marauders attack the village, meansly minions plus a few tougher ones. once the PCs and the villagers run them off, it is apparent that they've taken off with "the chief's staff/tobacco pouch/wife/child/hamster. so they send the party after the marauders, to their island. a bit of sneaking, and they find they worship the evil hag and her pet grick (which i think is in one of the above mentioned adventures). a bit of subterfuge, a bit of combat, and quick rowing home. what do you think?

hope this helped.

2011-04-21, 10:57 PM
The king has been kidnapped by Ninjas.

Are you a bad enough dude to save the king?

2011-04-21, 11:12 PM

Obviously this demands heavy player involvement (otherwise it is just a railroad), and could warrant a bit of shortening. However if your sessions are actually reasonably long (read as: not an hour and a half of which maybe half an hour consists of actual gaming and not screwing around) it might be doable in a single session with no shortening.

Lord Ruby34
2011-04-22, 01:33 AM
I've had an idea rattling around for a commoner one-shot. At point buy 15 with 6's to start out. The "adventure" would involve going to the next town over for some reason, maybe to delver a message about some orcs attacking your village. This is a super low powered campaign, so you might not want to run it against new players.

2011-04-22, 09:42 AM
Right, ideas. Here's an idea or two. (http://geekcentricity.com/2010/10/200-hooks-of-plotting.html)

2011-04-22, 10:42 AM
I did one once that was a twist on the "you lost your memory" idea. Simple quest, 4 - 6 people, all of whom lost their memory in a crazy magical accident. A local dungeon has a magical well/river/wheel/etc. that can do awesome stuff (like restore lost memories).

I did a couple of other things to make it more interesting than a simple macguffin hunt.

mechanics change and plot

1: I created a game mechanic where people could randomly get pieces of their memory back when they did something particularly awesome (It was basically a new skill called "insight" where they could roll to check their memory, dc always 25 and they only had 5 points in the skill, but if they did something awesome like land a crit, get a major piece of plot info, or any other really important thing, I'd give them a +10 circumstance on an immediate insight roll).

2: Each character had a written up life history in 6 parts that went back to childhood (very vague so as to not constrain roleplaying). Most of this life story dealt with things that happened immediately before the accident that made them all lose their memory.

3: The life story fleshed out interactions between the characters making it so that they were all interconnected. The connections were that they were all trying to kill each other.

(I set everything up so that anyone could pick any class (i.e. I premade 2 of each class, one that was supposed to be used and a second if someone didn't want to use the class made for their part).


The wizard character was a member of an evil cult trying to destroy the religion of the cleric and paladin characters.To do this, he had hired thief to kill cleric and get the message pouch that cleric was carrying.

Thief was an assassin who knew that ranger was hunting him, but had been hired to kill cleric by wizard. He's the only person who knows about wizard's involvement.

Cleric was trying to bring a message to his order's church in the game's starting town. He doesn't know this until the end. If they figure out to leave the message tube with the holy symbol on it in the church, then in 2d4 days someone from the church decides they aren't coming back and tries to open it (magic required to do so) and cleric's quest is completed regardless of whether he knows it or not. Cleric did not know the contents of the message tube.

Paladin was cleric's bodyguard, but he knew the contents of cleric's message pouch (which was unknown to thief/wizard and would spoil their plans if he survived). Paladin also knew someone wanted cleric dead, but had not told cleric (at least hadn't in the backstory).

Ranger was a member of the king's elite and had been hunting an assassin for the last few months (thief). He wasn't sure who the assassin was, but he had thought that the leader of cleric's order was a likely target (which was why he was with them all earlier).

Fighter was a member of a secret society who was hunting down wizard. He didn't know that wizard was who he was hunting down, but he had figured out that thief was who ranger was after. Fighter also wouldn't have minded if cleric's mission failed as long as it didn't require him to kill cleric or paladin in the process.

Also, everyone's last memory thing, besides giving them important information, "reminded" them that they had magical items x and y that could come in handy. (and thief had poison)

I set it up so that if they got to the memory restoring thing, they had a chance for up to 3 life events returned (based on their roll), which meant they may still not remember everything, but it was also possible that they could remember everything without ever getting to the memory restoring thing.

I've run it twice and both groups enjoyed it. The thing is, you need to get a group that would enjoy playing out the end.

Also, second time I ran it, I had someone who had been in it before. So I modified the fighter character to remember everything, but just be waiting to see how everything plays out to act (i.e. made his motives even more gray).

2011-04-22, 10:45 AM

2011-04-22, 10:52 AM
At the begining leave the room with every player for 5 minutes. To each say "I have nothing to tell you, but please don't tell the others"
Then run a reenactment of "The Power"

2011-04-22, 11:42 AM
there used to be an adventures archives at the WOTC, but i can't find it.

Do you mean this (http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/oa/20030530b&page=1)?
Some are longer; I DMed a few and they were nice: "A Dark and Stormy Knight" is a short dungeon out of nowhere, "The Burning Plague" is a - classic - cave with kobolds and zombies, "Frozen Whispers" a bit scary in a, guess what, frozen forest.

I once run a one-shot that my players liked. It was just a few combat encounters, but with a twist. To cut it short:
The PC wake up in a camp hospital during a siege. The commander of sieging army tells them something like "Last battle went badly, but we rescued you. Now that you are healed, you must try to break into that tower over there".
They fight their way into the tower, but there is something strange; they find their opponents more and more surprised. At the end the PCs understand that they are fighting against their side, and the sieging party capured them and enchanted/charmed they/wiped their memory.

2011-04-22, 12:14 PM
Here's a one shot idea that can work with any game so long as you don't mind the idea of other universes thrown in.

Starts off "Roll initiative. You are all falling. You see bird men looking angry at you close, too close. Then you notice the [describe terrain of wherever they are] far, far below you."

The birdmen are messenger birds (hehe), human size with strong wings and they can talk. But they're fairly ignorant and sort of used as slaves (they'll work for 1 copper a month so long as they're fed). They are actually the good guys, strange though they may be. If the players just sat back and said, I'm not doing a thing, then they'd basically win the campaign hehe. But that's never happened. If someone like that does just start describing the ground closer and closer and get all serious.

Anyways, the reasoning for that. (once it comes up to tell em) Basically you were destined to cross universes to collect a sacred item. Unbeknowest to any of you, you suddenly vanished as you twisted into space and untwisted somewhere else. (they'll probably think it was a teleport)

Anyways, the party can only be there a short period of time. For the longer they remain the more the 2 universes collide (random explosions and portals). Eventually they'll be caught together and destroy all life everywhere.

So it should go that they fight the birds, ride down on them, (if not, say they hit like a meteor but don't have a single scratch, later on tell them its because there matter is from another universe and reacts different with this universe....ya its not perfect, but this is just a one off meant to keep them guessing.

Then interrogate the birds. Then have them go to the main "bad" guy who I call the wizard of oz. He's responsible for hiring the birdmen and he can get them back.

Secondary ending: there are signs (in arcana and religion, both high DCs relative to your PCs levels) that indicated that one who steps in the sacred circle (the portal back) with the mcgufffin (call it whatever fits best) the other universe is destroyed but he gains godlike power.

then end how you want.

There a mystery one off with a good ending and an evil ending.

Hope you enjoyed. I'll be here all night. Try the salad bar.

2011-04-22, 12:23 PM
If your players don't mind playing pregenerated characters, I've been kicking around the idea of setting up a half-combat half-politics campaign where different PCs have mutually exclusive goals - which is to say, they are both cooperating and competing, and they can not all win.

One such idea was to have highly political McGuffin stolen, and while king needs it recovered he has to send a party composed of members from all the competing house holds or else be accused of bias. While the entire party wants to retrieve it (cooperative element) some then want to "accidentally" destroy it, others want to replace it with a fake copy and take the original back to their house, others want to get something from it before they hand it over to the king and they can not all accomplish their character's goals, nor do they know what the other characters' goals are (competitive element).

This sort of game requires a one-shot, however, as you should go into it expecting most PCs to die :smallamused:

2011-04-22, 02:55 PM
One really awesome thing about one-shots is that they are self contained, which means that party dynamics that would not work in campaigns could actually make for a very memorable one off game.

I had a simliar idea to the one chain mentioned above, but a little more complicated. Essentially there is a unifying goal, like they're all trying to escape from a prison complex, or there is an impending disaster that they all know about, and one of them has to survive in order to get a warning to the ones that need to know. On top of that, they each of individual goals that are just as important to each of them, and those goals are in conflict. Finally, each character has a compelling reason for a friendly relationship with two of the other characters, and a reason to distrust and or downright fear the other 2. For example, the dwarf dislikes the elf intensely because his family was brutally murdered by a bunch of wild elves in front of him as a child. He likes the human because they have a shared love of wine, women and gambling and worship the same god. He also gets on great with the gnome because the gnome's goal and his aren't too incompatible and working together will be mutually beneficial, at least until the last step, and he thinks of the halfling as incompetent and unreliable so doesn't trust the halfling to do anything.

If nothing else, this kind of scenario would have great roleplaying opportunities and create a lot of room for fun, even if the non-roleplaying aspects are only slightly fleshed out.

Totally Guy
2011-04-22, 03:19 PM
One such idea was to have highly political McGuffin stolen, and while king needs it recovered he has to send a party composed of members from all the competing house holds or else be accused of bias. While the entire party wants to retrieve it (cooperative element) some then want to "accidentally" destroy it, others want to replace it with a fake copy and take the original back to their house, others want to get something from it before they hand it over to the king and they can not all accomplish their character's goals, nor do they know what the other characters' goals are (competitive element).

I've played in a one shot like this.

The characters were...

The Marchesa - A snooty princess who is secretly a cannibalistic death cultist. Possesses a trunk of valuable personal effects.
Gus the Brown - A valiant, loyal, low born knight. Worships the ground the Marchesa walks on. A loyal body guard.
Pedro - Used to be a knight along with Gus. After his injury he became a tavern owner. But he has a heavy debt to a gang of criminals.
Mr Smiley - A mob enforcer here to collect paymet from pedro.
The Barmaid - Has slept with both Pedro and Mr Smiley. Their secrets could ruin her life with her husband back in town.

We were staying at Pedro's tavern out in the middle of nowhere and we were snowed in during the night.

I played Gus the Brown. And in the end game Mr Smiley killed the Marchesa whilst I was distracted, then my best friend Pedro betrayed me and that gave Smiley the upper hand. I was pushed down the stairs to my death.

It was awesome!

2011-04-22, 04:21 PM
There are lots of ideas, but let's see if we can get a bit more generic here.

1/ Characters.
For a one-session adventure, you need to get the characters together quickly. Any time spent on explaining the characters' presence, is actually wasted. Time is at a premium here.

2/ Standard NPCs
Likewise, there will be no time to introduce NPCs properly. Either use the standard 'princess' or 'paladin', whatever suits you, or steal something that everyone recognises. For me, it would be an episode of 'Allo allo' or 'Firefly', doesn't matter what, as long as everyone knows it.

3/ The twist
Of course, to make an adventure, there needs to be at least one twist. When using generic NPCs, this could be a princess with a fondness of swordplay that surprises the players, or the paladin who wants to be pure but sufers from cowardice, asking the party to help him overcome his weakness, ideas are everywhere. When stealing, you have to be more careful to keep the stolen NPCs intact, but there is still room for maneuver. I remember fondly the session where one of the characters used Murdock's giant bunny suit as a disguise, and almost got deported to the insane asylum. The party was tempted to let him suffer, isn't that what every DM wants?

2011-04-22, 04:39 PM
After thinking some more, I had some other thoughts.

Players have different expectations from single sessions than they have from regular campaigns. You can get away with a lot more, so as long as you start out well, it doesn't matter if you have to fudge it a bit in the end. After all, it's just a single session.

That taken into account, it might work to simply start off with a simple impressive scene. I recently saw a movie called After.Life with Liam Neeson as a very impressive undertaker, and I couldn't help wondering how I would deal with waking up on a metal table being sown together. Starting a session like that might have some drawbacks (mostly having to do with being dead), but it's pretty impressive for the characters. Who knows, it might work. :P

2011-04-25, 12:23 PM
These are great, thanks guys! Now on to the most difficult part: choosing.

2011-04-25, 01:07 PM
I've always wanted to see the rapture in RPG form.

2011-04-25, 01:09 PM
A gang of cowboy-like bandits who are kobolds and ride dire rats across the plains and rob banks.

2011-04-25, 01:32 PM
Play a SLASHER game!

Take system you like(ill say d20 modern, as its fun for these)

Pre gen some horror characters
(Slut, Jock, Hero, Nerd, and Virgin recommended)

Take cheesy horror movie setting(Camp YAG ONNA DYE)

Have everyone roll a pick an index card with the character type written on it.

Once everyone is set, take index cards equal to player number + one or two. Then, write 'you are not the killer' on all but one, that of course says 'you are the killer'.

Begin play. Serial killer who gets the whole party wins!