I was thinking about my all-time favorite one-shot, the Call of Cthulhu scenario “In Media Res” (from Pagan Publishing’s excellent magazine, The Unspeakable Oath), and one of the things I enjoy so much about it is just how brutal it can be.
CoC one-shots are always pretty unforgiving, but this one is doubly so — I don’t want to spoil it (if you like CoC, you should track it down and run it, stat), but it’s entirely reasonable for the party to kill each other in the opening scene. At least in my experience, that sort of gloves-off, bring-the-pain approach isn’t something most GMs get a chance to employ on a regular basis.
That kind of scenario definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s the beauty of one-shots: They free you from all of the many constraints placed on you — and your players — in a campaign game, and let your whole group try things in-game that they’d never consider in their regular adventures.
There are lots of things to love about one-shots, but reminiscing about running “In Media Res” reminded me that this is one of the best things about them. If you’ve never run a scenario like this, I encourage you to do so — if nothing else, it can be quite an experience.
(As an aside, if you’ve been waiting to read other GMs’ adventure notes, your wait is over: Adventure Notes: Read and Share has been updated with links to three downloadable sets of notes and one online archive. My thanks to everyone who sent in their notes!)