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?
10. If the adventure doesn’t provide them already, seriously consider creating pre-generated characters for your players. There’s a good chance that your one-shot players will not be familiar with the system, and even if they are, time is usually too precious while running a one-shot to spend it on a lot of character generation. Other benefits are left as an exercise to the reader.
I agree with Roger on the pregens, with a caveat: some players are really anal about designing their own characters. In this case, tell the player what you need and give him a timeframe to generate a character (preferably prior to the session, so you have time to digest and make necessary changes).
Other things that have worked for me:
1. Evaluate the appropriateness of the scenario. If you can’t summarize the key plot points in a sentence or two, chances are it’ll take longer than a single evening to finish. Combat eats up time. If there are a lot of combat encounters, it’ll be more difficult to finish.
2.Figure out what’s filler. If you’re running short on time, being able to skip or handwave an encounter or two should help speed things up.
3. Make sure the players are willing to see it to the end. If your one-shot takes less time than your usual session, that’s perfect. If it’s going to run a little long, make sure everyone’s okay with that (especially if you’re playing on a weeknight).
4. Ask yourself “what if?” questions while reading the adventure. This will enable you to prep when players do something unexpected.
5. Take shortcuts when appropriate. If the PCs are encountering mooks, let the mooks fall with a single hit. If the players have to piece a puzzle together, don’t let them spin wheels for too long.
6. Start on time. If you need four hours to complete the adventure and it’s a four hour session, don’t waste 45 minutes chatting or waiting for the last player to arrive.
7. Draw up a cheat sheet of the most-used mechanics.
Never wait for the last player. Guess what … he ain’t comin’.
And if he does show up late, it’s because …
a) There was a legitimate, excuseable real-life reason that is understandable by everyone at the table, and it’s easy enough to get him into the game at that point. And if you can’t get him in, he’ll understand, cuz he’s a gamer too.
b) He’s just plain inconsiderate of everyone else, and he wasn’t worth waiting for anyway.
Share the load: If you have a player who knows the rules, use them to answer rules questions while you worry about the virtual world.
Prepare in advance: If you can, get the background and mechanics info out there before the session. This isn’t so easy in a convention environment, but it’s good for at-home games.
I have 3 more tips:
I know that it’s not always feasible but if you can manage it, it can make a world of difference.
Solid advice! I’m definitely keeping this stuff in mind for the one-shot I’m running tomorrow.
Damned fine suggestions — thank you!
For convention one-shots, pregens are absolutely essential. One of the events my group walked out of at last year’s GenCon is a perfect example of why this is so important.
It was a WEG Star Wars event, and we started by customizing semi-pregen characters. I picked the pilot, and most of my customization went to picking skills. I forgot how many SW vehicles were repulsorlift craft, and didn’t put any points into that piloting skill. And what do we spend the whole adventure riding around in? Repulsorlift craft, of course! It was fucking weak.