When you’re going to GM a one-shot, there are nine steps you can take to make sure things go smoothly.
1. Read the whole scenario. Whether you wrote the adventure or are using a published scenario, read it through in its entirety.
2. Read it again. Reading the adventure a second time helps to ensure that a) you caught everything and b) you notice things you might need to tweak, change or put extra effort into for your group.
3. Jot down a few notes. As you read through the scenario (both times), take notes on the timing of scripted events, changes you want to make, elements you want to play up for your group — anything you want to be reminded of when you’re actually running the adventure.
4. Create props. One-shots really shine when you’re able to incorporate a prop or two. With a published scenario, this might just be photocopying and cutting out the handouts that it comes with, but any one-shot — published or homebrewed — will benefit from some extra effort in the props department.
5. Prep anything that’s specific to your GMing style. This could be reading scripted NPC dialogue aloud a few times to get it just right, marking the pages of rules you always need to reference — in short, anything you need to prep that’s not already part of the module itself.
6. Prepare to introduce the system. If your one-shot uses a system your players aren’t familiar with, plan to briefly (very briefly — nothing is more dull than sitting down to play and getting a rules lecture instead) introduce the rules before play. A good way to do this is to hand everyone their characters and then go over the salient character-related mechanics before starting the adventure.
7. Consider the ambience of your gaming space. Some scenarios benefit from setting the stage a bit, and you can get as elaborate as you like with this step. You can also skip it entirely, particularly if you’ve created some kickass props in step four.
8. Get all your ducks in a row. When you sit down to play, every tool you need should be at hand, and contingency items should be waiting in the wings. This means printing out the characters, having a stock of pens and pencils handy, making sure you have a spare set of dice or two, putting your props in order, having books you might need within easy reach — all the stuff you don’t want to waste time doing after the adventure begins.
This is particularly important with one-shots because there’s an implied time constraint (and with convention scenarios, an actual one): the adventure should be completed within one evening of play.
9. Got some spare time? Read the scenario again. You can’t read a one-shot too often — every read-through will improve your familiarity with the scenario, and reduce the number of times you need to look things up or otherwise break momentum.
If you’ve run one-shots before, what are your favorite tricks and tips for ensuring that the session goes well?