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DnD One Shot Ideas

DnD One Shot Ideas

D&D One Shot Story Ideas

There are many roles a one-shot can play in your tabletop RPG group. Sometimes a new GM wants to get behind the screen, or maybe a long-standing game needs a little interlude between the major plot arcs. In any case, you might not have a ton of time to prepare this single-session adventure.

 

In this article, we’ll be looking at the process of creating a full adventure from a combination of just 4 ingredients. By the end, you’ll have a full 10,000 adventure seeds for your next one-shot! Hell, you’re even free to use this method in all of your adventure planning, especially when you find yourself short on prep time. (Here, we’ll only be discussing plotting for a one-shot, but you can also check out this article on running a successful one-shot.)

Style, Setting, and Tone

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of plotting out your one-shot, you should ask for some input from your players. Ask my players?! Yes! Since adventures are primarily made for the enjoyment of your players, a one-shot should absolutely take their input into account. Obviously, running a game should also be fun for you, the GM, too. But the grand performance is always more for the audience than the cast.

 

If this one-shot is taking place as part of a larger campaign, then the Style, and Setting are pretty much already set. Shifting from the usual Tone of your games, however, can be a great benefit of a one-shot! Although these three attributes overlap in some ways, having them worked out before you start planning will make your work so much easier.

 

Style describes the type of gameplay your players prefer: combat-heavy hack n’ slash, exploration and high adventure, or pure acting and roleplaying. Most groups prefer a mix of these elements. It’s especially worth noting that, for the sake of time, one-shots can’t really afford more than two solid combats. So if your group is on the hack n’ slash side, each combat needs feel significant and include some really cool elements (location, circumstances, tactics, etc.).

 

Setting could be a specific campaign setting that already exists - Forgotten Realms, Star Wars, Cthulhu - or you might just keep it very general: low/high fantasy, modern, sci-fi, steampunk, etc. Deciding on the Setting shapes a lot of what your one-shot may or may not include. How common is magic, if it exists at all? What level of technology do people have in this world? Again, these elements can always be mixed to suit your group. Don’t feel that you have to be limited by the standard components of each setting. If you want to make a Western-style game that includes occult magic or a humongous mechanized spider, go for it!

 

Tone corresponds to the “feel” of your game. Although Call of Cthulhu is a specific setting, the tone of that setting is most definitely horror. But you could equally well have a horror tone while playing in a D&D Setting: Ravenloft, for example.

 

Other tones include: Intrigue, Pulp, Mystery, Heist, Drama/Romance, Noir, Tragedy, or Superheroes. Elements of these Tones can also be combined, but in general you’ll end up with a single, dominant Tone. Settling on a Tone will help you flesh out the details of your one-shot. By reminding yourself “The players should be feeling very tense now because the heist is in motion but there is X, Y, Z that could go wrong,” your imagination sparks with possible complications that could arise!

 

Over 9,000 Adventure Seeds

The previous articlein this series covered four things you need for your one-shot plot. I’m developing that idea a little more fully here, but it’s the same process. As always, these components might be mixed, but it’s a good idea to have a dominant option from each category as a guide. Remember, successful one-shots need to be SIMPLE. Mixing too many elements together will cause your plot to lose coherence, or make you unable to finish in a single session.

 

The 4 Components: 1)The Heart of your plot - the main problem or conflict faced by the characters - along with three ingredients to flesh it out. 2) The Way the plot presents itself - the cause, form, or means of the Heart. 3) The Villain, and 4)the Motive of the Villain.

 

Below are lists of 10 suggestions for each of these components. By choosing, or rolling, just one option from each list, there are a whopping 104 - 10,000 - unique adventure seeds for your one-shot! Each entry on these lists is generic so they can all work with any setting. Some of the combinations might work more naturally than others, but don’t let that be a limitation! Your imagination will start firing every which way once you have all four of these.

The Heart

The Heart is the primary conflict, problem, or challenge faced by the party. It’s the situation that needs to be dealt with, confronted, overcome. You need to limit the scope of your Heart. If you have Takedown as your plot’s Heart, it wouldn’t be a good idea to choose a large government or kingdom as the target of the takedown. That kind of adventure would probably be much more complex than you can resolve in a one-shot.

 

D10

The Heart of Your Plot - Primary Conflict or Problem for the Characters

1

Corruption - an environment/region/planet is dying or changing for the worse

2

Hijacked - a boat/train/caravan/starship is off-course or commandeered

3

The Score - characters want cash, a specific item, a bounty, or important information

4

Taken - someone important (to the characters) is missing, abducted, or killed

5

Old Evil - a nefarious person/creature/magic/technology is (may become) active again

6

Guard - a person/object/location needs protection

7

Journey - characters need to travel through or escape a hazardous area

8

Takedown - a person/creature/group must be removed from power (dead or alive)

9

Race - characters are competing to do/find something or get somewhere first

10

Stuck - characters are detained or are otherwise prevented from traveling

 

Where There’s a Plot, There’s a Way

Now that there’s a problem for our players/characters, we need a way that the conflict manifests or presents itself to the characters. While it’s easy to point to a villain and say “He did it,” that’s not what we’re talking about here. What form does the conflict take? We need a means by which the Villain tries to accomplish their goal, or what the characters will have to struggle against if there’s no specific Villain. A necromancer might have a horde of Minions in the form of zombies or skeletons for their Way, but she may also be using spells of Entropy to cause crops to decay. Those make for different adventures already. The Way guides your ideas about how players can resolve the problem presented by the Heart.

 

 

 

D10

The Way - Cause, Form, or Means of the Main Conflict

1

Theft - a person, object, technology is stolen

2

Government - laws, bureaucracy, intelligence agencies, or military might

3

Magic/Technology - powerful, unknown, or unconventional technology or magic

4

Guile - trickery, stealth, deception, illusion, manipulation

5

Minions - servants do the dirty work (perhaps unwittingly) for some master/cause

6

Natural - natural dangers, forces, or creatures

7

Entropy - deterioration, mechanical failure, the slow decay of time

8

Otherworldly - influence/interference/invasion from other worlds/dimensions/planes

9

Ideology - religious, cultural, philosophical conquest

10

Puzzle - a mystery, sleuthing, traps, labyrinth, riddles

Despicable, Heinous, Desperate Villains

Villains take many forms. Usually, the antagonist of an adventure will be a person or organization that is trying to accomplish something. For our purposes, the Villain can take almost any form that makes sense for your game: it’s not merely limited to some humanoid in a dark cloak. Nature might be considered the Villain in a desert adventure where the party has to contend with sandstorms, giant worms, and the oppressive heat. A Villain in the form of an ideological movement or culture war might have a figurehead, but that person probably isn’t in total control of the movement itself. Such movements often have a momentum of their own, regardless of who actually leads it. For a 20th-level D&D party, taking on a Kaiju would make an epic one-shot. At lower levels, one of these massive creatures might just be passing through the area and the adventure takes place around, on, or inside of it!

 

D10

The Villain - Who or What is Working Against the Characters

1

Nature - non-personal, does not discriminate between “good” and “evil”

2

Noble - aristocrat, corporate executive, government official with money/power/influence

3

Alien Mind - a being with strange/puzzling motives: a deity, artificial intelligence

4

Monster - a person/creature that causes death, destruction, and mayhem

5

The Dead - ghosts, restless spirits, ancestors, an ancient curse

6

The Obsessed - a person/group pursuing a goal at all costs

7

Puppetmaster - a person/group who exercises complete control of others

8

Hive - group with non-individual consciousness

9

Kaiju - a titanic creature/robot/war machine which the party cannot feasibly fight

10

Traitor - a former ally/friend of the characters who now betrays them

Motive

What motivates the villain to do what they do? Of all the lists, this one is the most simplified. What motivates people or groups is a vast catalogue of needs, desires, fears, ambitions, aspirations, the list goes on. Definitely don’t limit yourself to this list if you have an idea of your own that fits better with your other components.

 

Some villains may not have a Motive in the strict sense. Nature is often not attributed with a motive, but you could think of a hurricane or aggressive wildlife as a structural or balancing response of an ecosystem. And the “Alien Mind” Villain is meant to have a motive that is obscure or puzzling to the players (if not the GM!). Who knows what would motivate a “true” Artificial Intelligence? Its experience of consciousness might be fantastically different from our own.

 

In any case, play with the motivation, massage it, or even choose two Motives! (I don’t really recommend that last idea for a one-shot though.) For those weird cases above, you could choose the motive that seems a best-fit, even if it’s left vague. Remember, one-shots are SIMPLE, don’t stress over it too much.

 

D10

The Motive- The Reason or Motivation for the Villain’s Actions

1

Zealous - unshakable belief in a creed, ideology, philosophy, or ideal

2

Restoration - return something to “life”: person, place, group, technology, magic

3

Love - personal emotional connection to a person, object, country

4

Honor - duty to a code, person, organization

5

Revenge - enmity against a person/group for a past injustice

6

Greater Good - belief that “all” will benefit

7

Control - an increase in power: wealth, political influence, martial might, magic, etc.

8

Thrill - being the best at a skill/activity, or just for the fun of it

9

Order - there is a natural structure, hierarchy, or balance that must be maintained

10

Mayhem - some villains just want to watch the world burn; nihilism

Putting It All Together (AKA: Concluding Remarks)

*Darth Vader’s Voice* With our four tables complete, we can now cast the d10s, and with our combined results we shall rule the one-shot! *Normal Voice* But seriously, once you’ve either rolled or just choose which of these components you want to combine, you have the bones of your adventure. All you need to do is pack on the flesh.

 

Ask yourself questions about your components. Why does Sir Poncypants want to wed the King’s daughter? Is she next in line to the throne? Is he a spy, probing the kingdom for weaknesses? Is it pure love, but the King is just standing in the way? Answers to these questions will be summoned up from the depths of your imagination. Think of tropes, and then flip ‘em on their heads. Soon you’ll start to connect them with your other components. Remember, this is only the seed of your awesome one-shot adventure. That seed needs a little of your time and attention to sprout and grow into something magnificent.

 

Wishing you grand adventures!

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