Write One-Shot RPG Campaigns! (GM Tips w/ Matt Mercer)



hello my name is Mattie mercer I'm a voice actor in the dungeon master for critical role here at geek and sundry and today's episode of GM tips revolves around some ideas on writing an all encapsulated story for a single game session otherwise known as the one-shot now I've found one shots extremely fun and handy whether it be a bite-sized introduction to a new game system or people top games in general for a group of players or is a fun break in a long-running game to allow new characters to be tried out or hell letting someone else GM for one so the usual GM can actually play here I will outline a basic structure for designing your own one shot that you can then take alter and customize however you see fit I recommend first getting an idea of the kind of characters the players wish to play now these decisions can easily inform your design at the intent is for everyone to have fun so ask around or even host a character creation meetup and advance the one shot if possible sometimes folks might prefer to choose from pre-existing characters you've already created so then you can spend some time building a few pre-made characters to have available for selection at the start of the session next up what do you want to be the theme or style of the game if you know the players well consider what kind of adventure they would be into if not ask them what kind of adventure they all enjoy and would look forward to do they love something dungeon del V with trapped monsters do they prefer intrigue in social subterfuge and intense political game do they love noir lag mysteries and then fold in a convoluted plot today each prefer a different style really guys really high no it's ok it's really really helped me here once you have a style chosen or a good mix depending think of a corresponding plot hook now this is where most one shot can quickly fall apart eat a good strong easily read flog hook because this is supposed to be an all-inclusive full arc story in a single session you don't want your party wandering for how-to bit wondering what the hell they're supposed to do so now find a way to have the meat of the story grab them early with a strong inciting incident for instance as they are drinking in the tavern own the western wall explodes in a shower of splinters as a Mack in same Torah talk school begins Gordon and customers resort after slaying the creature it is tougher a series of strange markings in the normally defiled beasts they appear deliberate are chains and wreaths look at them and why or during a celebration surrounding the maiden voyage of a major trade ship an assassin attempts display a member of the party as well as two other officials involve of the trade ships company when the Kaos dies down ring on the assassins hand holds the crest of a particular novel house and so on now decide who or what the big bad is you want to design a climax to your story that is both thrilling and worth the toil in getting to it design a fun villain for the invention that fits the theme if the climax your story the monster hunt to give an interesting and dangerous monster that can be responsible for inciting incidents whether directly or indirectly and a unique battleground that will test their capabilities if it's a showdown with a mastermind why don't they do their dastardly deeds and what resources do they have at their disposal manpower traps and weaponry that would challenge the party now if it's a race against time what unstoppable calamity or ungodly entity is barreling toward them and what is the key to them stopping its arrival hmm now time to fill in the middle design a handful of key NPCs that would contain information on the story and the characters within it list a few key tidbits of information they would know and can offer the party should they ask or pay accordingly perhaps give me a few items they can help the party with now know where these NPCs might be found but know that you can have them in show up pretty much wherever you want to keep the story going now means how the party might meet them in a moonlit clearing but they've circumvented it at the same NPC meet them at the cave entrance or be found wounded partway into the dungeon now designed a few social encounters with NPCs of dubious intent perhaps bring agents looking to use both sides of the struggle and allow the players a chance to make an alliance or an enemy prepare possible combat scenarios in case these situations go south which they always design some challenges that are tailored to the player characters abilities someone made a charismatic face man offer some opportunities them to lie or persuade their way deeper into the story someone make a roguish spy they're in some hidden traps and locks doorways to give them some much-needed utility within the party dynamic so unmake up Brutus strong woman consider a few chances for feats of strength to save the day now try your best to allow each player a moment or two to really shine also come up with a list of possible loot or equipment the party can discover so you can marry them to specific story beats and locations or just tailor them on the fly depending on what they do you can also create key locations where major story beats can occur to tie your inciting incident to the climax of the story now give yourself a couple of written sentences of description to really set the scene with each locale underlying their importance if you want can even design a few backup not necessary locales just have in your back pocket to enable easier player exploration I would also recommend dodging the you are all strangers and meet in a bar intro it's awkward time-consuming it's rarely fun I mean talk with the players about ways they can already maybe know each other in the story or they could always be a band of adventurers when they start if you must make them strangers consider a way to have them all drawn together definitely and forced to become allies very quickly maybe they were each summoned by a missus by a mysterious matron each selected for some unknown purpose that kind of thing and finally they can step keep it moving I can't tell you enough how many times I've written an elaborate one shot that found the party had only discovered one-fourth of the story beats by about the middle of our allotted time to play so try your best to keep the story rolling when the players seem to lull or become confused with the appearance of an NPC sooner than expected to help nudge the group forward or have them discover another clue that's further points in the direction of the next story beat even just atmospheric tension can help keep the story driving forward like growing thunder coming from a mysterious arcane storm for extra credit prepares some fun short epilogue for each character describing their victorious sunset or vicious death now mind you this structure works for pretty much any story on your RPG game not just one shot you could elongate and expand on any of these elements to flesh out the entire arc and please feel free to come well I hope you've had a wonderful time watching I hope the tips on this episode of been handy to you in some way shape or form thank you so much for watching you can find me on kicking somebody's critical roles twitch Thursdays at 7 p.m. Pacific time and I'll see you on the Internet Oh [Applause]

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. I am getting ready for my own GM and it is a one shot. This is my first time GM ing and second time playing d&d…. almost all of the group are new in this game.
    hope I can give them some fun…

  2. 4:05 More than once, the DM made a session lighter on combat because we were only three players. This made us kind of bloodthirsty so we went rampaging like beasts (as much as two spellcasters and one archer can) during the one fight we got.

  3. I like giving the party options to win Npcs favour. That way the NPC can return at the climax to aid the party. It's especially useful if the party is low level and you need to balance the climax.

  4. One idea that I have is based on a custom setting that I made.

    The pcs at different moments would receive each one a letter inviting them to the capital for a job and the promise of more work if they succeed on their quest. They receive instructions to arrive at a specific day and hour at the library of the capital, which is built like a temple.

    The point is that, in my setting, the librarian that gives them jobs is an important character that always manages to get knowledge and intel on anything, and looks for ways to prevent possible crisis or destruction by sending adventurers to fight against evil enemies or retreiving powerful and dangerous magic items so the peace that is already on the land can last longer.

    The point would be that he would give them difderent jobs and tasks to acomplish, and pay them in gold and contacts. Instead of telling them what to do, he would give them a contact or an idea of what they have to find (I'm writing a novel and the mc is sent to retrieve a book that was stolen but it so happens is not going to be that simple and that is not a normal book yet he wasn't informed of it's contents, as an example) and let them resolve it.

    I believe this would be a good way to have several one shot adventures with a similar party.

  5. “Or hell. Letting someone else GM for once so the usual GM can actually play”. The exact reason I’m watching this. Just recently started playing and now a group I’m in wants to play but the usual GM wants to play.

  6. One of my own questions away from a campaign, I am still VERY new to Dming….talking like….a little over a year now. And I am not used to a group larger than 3-4. And im getting ready to plan something to atleast begin with for about 7-8 players. How would I go about doing that?

  7. You're amazing Matt! Let's see if I have the tenacity to follow through with my first one-shit.. Sorry! one-shot! 😛
    I find it hard to create a good introduction-followed-by-an-incentive.. If you could upload a handy-dandy guide to that, that would be awesome!
    Regards, Mr. Me

  8. To all GM Experts. I had the idea of a one-shot, that begins with everyone waking up in a Labyrinth, that they have to escape. What do you think of it

  9. The players are brought together by answering an advertisement for needed adventurers. Before the game, ask each player why thier character thought they would be the perfect fit for this assembling group.

  10. Not sure where I heard about it; otherwise, I'd give them credit for posting it, but I heard a really neat way to get player buy-in at an intro. Have each player write 5 rumors about their character. 2 good ones, 2 bad ones, and 1 lie. Collect all of these and hand them out to the other players, maybe keep a few as the DM for NPC knowledge/intrigue. These rumors are what they know about the other players and could drive some interesting roleplaying opportunities. I was planning on doing something like this when running one of the waterdeep campaign settings but I think it might be awesome for one-shots too 🙂

  11. Wait, that's what you're supposed to do with one-shots? I use them for wacky, psychopathic, escapades. The last one I ran ended up with the players throwing the world into anarchy with(extra strength) alchemist's fire they received from Loki and one of them becoming an evil overlord.

  12. I was making a one shot using a D&D module. It was my first time GMing, and the players managed to dodge ALL of the lore info and shit, and then just punched their way in terms of combat. And I was trying to help them out by having some of the enemy NPCs act stupid, or trying to figure out if the mindless creatures actually need orders or not.

  13. i think the hardest thing for me right now is wanting to talk about my campeign and story points but the only people around to talk about are my to be players!

    I have yet to DM a game, but im excited to try it out.

  14. I'm about to play my first ever game of d&d and my friends I'm playing with want me to dm it so I decided to run a one shot so videos like this really help so thank you

  15. I only have one player. I play Pathfinder rather than D&D 5e. Most sessions we take turns as gm. if I start to run out of ideas, he takes over until I have a new idea. this happens several times per session or adventure. I pick up of his idea and he picks up of my ideas.
    Also, since I only have one player, I also use my pc's (we have at least three each gong at once). even as gm, my characters get xp and treasure and so does his. This works because I don't have any plans or notes, and rarely maps. I don't preplan. I make everything up, including encounters and story as I go along. I don't know what' is going to be encountered any more than the player. as a matter of fact, I might roll dice to see if there is and enemy, and then I take time thumb through the Bestiary and look for a creature that might be in that environment and decide then what to have the characters to fight. Everything is made up on the go. nothing is ever planned. if there is a secret door on the map (if I use one), I might not have it there, but somewhere else. so I can't use metagame knowledge cause I don't know anything anyway. we don't roll initiative much, just characters act as an idea pops in our heads for an action to take. infinite spells per day. magic missile 53 times per enounter if the player wants to. no encumberence. you can have 135000 lbs of stuff an not suffer any penalties. magic bags of infinite capacity/volume. 22 swords, 15 tridents, 8 warhammers, ect doesn't matter. as much as you can find space to write it on the character sheet, even in the margins. I don't care about the rules. just want to make stuff up and fight stuff and explore. I don't even keep track of xP earned. when I think it's time to add experience, I will generally just make up a random amount that sounds about right and tell everyone to at 2400 or 5800 or some amount that pops in my mind based on the biggest enemies and challenges and run with it.

  16. You know I loved point 11 purely because you could see Matt subtly mention that in the past he has made the mistake of letting the pace slow but he has learned and improved as a DM. Considering he is often held up on a pedestal as what DMs should strive to be, it is comforting to know that he can have his flaws but learned from them.

  17. I've been having a bit of trouble trying to design a one-shot revolving around a simpler premise, to stretch my legs as a first-time DM and potentially have something that would maybe loosely connect to my group's main game (playing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist)

    The story being that the newest members of Xanathar's guild to know his true identity are being tasked with replacing the most recently deceased Syldar before he notices something has happened. It's configuring combat (and when to do it) that I'm having the most trouble with. Especially with it being most likely that it would be with the Zhentarim.

  18. As a GM, yes, playing a character takes out the thrill of surprise. But instead, make your character something that helps you enjoy the game in a different way, even though the surprise factor is practically nonexistent.
    For example, as GM I made myself a tiefling whose brother was running a cult, aka. the main villain. This made me the provider, the one who gave out important pieces of information, the one who had personally known the villain, and the one who had experienced dealing with this antagonist.
    Only issue? I didn't go to school, meaning I had difficulty recalling things and therefore would be a double-edged sword.
    This gave me thrill as both the GM and a character, since I could limit the amount of information given to the players as well as having an influencer within the party to move things along.

    Long story short? Be creative, and taking out the "surprise part" of a character and the campaign doesn't mean you still can't have fun.

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