New GM? One-Shot for You!
It’s your first time behind the Game Master’s Screen. Roll initiative!
In this article, we’re going to talk about why you should run a one-shot if it’s your first time as a GM. We looked at the fundamentals of running and playing in any one-shot here, but here we’ll get a little more specific about why a one-shot is perfect for a brand-new GM.
“You’ve taken your first steps into a larger world.” Congrats! You’re attempting something challenging, but also very rewarding. Not everyone is willing to step up to the plate, so you’re already ahead of most people. Hopefully you’ve actually played a tabletop RPG before and are fairly familiar with the rules system you’ll be using. (And if no one in your group has ever played before, then at least they won’t know if you screw up a little.) Although I mentioned in the sister-article that flexibility with respect to rules adjudication is very important, you should still be familiar enough with the rules of your chosen system to ensure the game runs smoothly.
Simple, Thrice Simple
I cannot stress this point enough. Keep your adventure SIMPLE. Since it’s your first time in the big chair, you’ll be tempted to create an epic adventure filled with huge battles, a dastardly villain, and plot twists galore. Don’t go there, my friend. Save the epic campaign for later. For now, keep it simple. This is why a one-shot works so well for your first time as a GM. Because of the inherent time-constraint in a one-shot, you can’t have all those epic components. But that’s okay.
A simple plot means you can pull it off a lot easier. Focus on great execution rather than novel storytelling. This is your first time. Breathe. Relax. No one expects a magnum opus on the first go. If you aren’t using a pre-written one-shot module, what’s the heart of your plot? The forest is being corrupted, causing plants and wildlife to go berserk. Boom. The plot doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) be any more complex than that.
Now you need 3 simple ingredients. Naturally, you’ll have some villain that the players will square off against at the end, and this bad guy will have some motive for causing the corruption. Again, simpler is better here. Maybe a fallen druid is collecting heartwood from the oldest trees in the forest to make a special sarcophagus that will bring a deceased love back to life. Viola, you have 1) a reason/source of the corruption (harvested heartwood), 2) a villain (druid), and 3) a simple motive (lost love).
Arrange the 3 Simple Ingredients
Your plot needs a beginning, middle, and end. We already know the end will be the showdown with the villain. The start of the game will have to be something that immediately puts the players into action and on the course of the main plot. Berserk animals attack! Or a nobleman’s child was abducted by animated plants (maybe the druid needs an innocent human heart for the ritual). However, you throw your players into the action, resolving it must reveal an OBVIOUS connection to the main plot.
Next you have the two points of conflict I mentioned in the related article. Again, since there are only two obstacles for the party to overcome in the middle section of the adventure, this allows you to keep things simple. Less memorization and/or rules-referencing for you. If there’s combat, don’t have a bunch of different enemies: one or two types of creatures will be just fine. Unless your players are 100% dungeon-crawlers, stick to just one combat encounter. Combat chews up game time, and you want your first game to reach its conclusion.
For the finale, the party might battle the druid, or maybe the players just have to disrupt the ritual that is nearing completion. The latter option is a little better because the ritual puts the adventure on a timeline. The players have to stop the druid before the new moon, when she can finally perform the ritual to bring back her love. You don’t have to reveal all these details directly to the players, but you can sprinkle in bits of information throughout the session (“It’s two days before a new moon, and the forest is especially dim.”). Now, even though the plot and ingredients are simple, your villain has a strong motivation and you have a few supporting details to give the story more life.
If you’re thinking about taking up the GM’s chair for the first time, a one-shot is exactly the way to go. There’s less to prepare, less to manage, and ultimately less that can go awry. One-shots force the GM to KEEP IT SIMPLE, and that is exactly what you want for your first game. Some things could still go wrong (a few probably will), but since the one-shot will be over at the end of the night, there are no long-term consequences to be worried about. Thus, you learn from your mistakes and are ready for future sessions with the new knowledge and skills you’ve acquired.
And if your group absolutely loved your adventure and are hungry for you to GM again, that’s amazing! Now that you’ve got a little experience in the bank, you can go ahead and plan an adventure that’s a bit longer or more complex (though I’d still advise keeping it pretty simple at first). A good group of players will never balk at a simple story that is well-executed. First-time GMs run into trouble when they try to make the plot too big or have too many moving pieces. Let simplicity be your guide and remember that three ingredients are all you need to get your first game cooking!