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One shot guideline

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It's a case of personal time management over a universal guide. If you want a one shot to be a one session deal then it's up to you as Fatemaster to have scenes end, wrap up or be stretched out before your time runs out.

At my table, I know I have 3 hours of "actually playing the game" time so during a one shot I'll keep an eye on the clock and if I feel the next scene needs to start I'll say something along the lines of "Mr NPC thanks you for your time and makes his farewells, for the rest of the day, nothing out of the ordinary happens, that is until..."

With enough practice, it will seem like natural progression.

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I run a lot of one-shot games at conventions, and even my home games are characterized by a style with minimal preparation and a lot of "off-the-cuff" GMing.  Everyone's games are different, every group is different, and every GM is different.  But that being said, here's some things I've learned/do, which may or may not be useful to you:

1)  Simple main plots: 

I plan for the main plot to only take about half the event time.  That is, if the players knew everything and could go straight from A-B-C to end, if the one-shot is four hours, that process would only take about two hours.  If six, three hours, etc...

For instance, one of the games I run at conventions is based around a gremlin hiring the Fated to help him get his pig farm back from another gremlin who stole it.  If they could see behind the curtain and just plow through the plot in a straight line, it wouldn't take too long.

Using a simple, short plot gives you the flexibility to adjust timing later.

2)  The Twist:  

Simple doesn't have to mean boring.  It just means that there's not a ton of steps required for completion.  In my pig farm game, the Fated come to discover that their employer was less than honest about the situation and the nature of the gremlin who "stole" the farm.  They then have to decide what the right course of action is for them.  

When I want to complicate the plot, I do so by trying to adjust the balance of the decisions.  Sometimes by adding moral factors, other times financial or reward based, etc.  Anything really is fine, so long as it puts the onus on the players making a choice.  Since different players have different priorities, this helps generate intra-party RP.  Especially if you can present the options in a way that adds tension between two (or more) different goals among the group.

3)  Speed bumps:

If the game is running fast, you can slow down the pace by using what I think of as "speed bumps."  These are optional encounters of various types that are generally involved in the story (i.e. they aren't red herrings or random tangents), but they only become drawn out/detailed if there's a need to slow the group down.  

Continuing my pig farm example, I have a few speed bumps of different types:

RP:  One of the ways the Fated may navigate through the Bayou is an old fowl hunter, Walt.  He owns a punt boat with a punt gun, and he's sort of a backwoods "good ole boy."  Talking to Walt about the Bayou is a way to gain some information, but it's also a time sink.

Combat:  There's always the trusty random encounter!  The Bayou is dangerous, and fights in TtB, like most RPGs, take a nice chunk of time to resolve.

Detail:  Sometimes the group is more interested in the main plot than usual, they want to interact more with their employer or discover more about the adversary, etc.  I have a few standardized scenes I can use in response, if the Fated go in that direction.  But importantly, they all dove-tail back into the main story.

4)  The Other Twist:

At this point, the Fated are nearing the end.  They think they understand the situation.  If I'm behind on time and need the game to end, I let their understanding be correct.  But if I need to pump the breaks, I have another twist that I can throw in.  It's important that this plot element has been seeded over the course of the other encounters, so it doesn't seem arbitrary.

In my pig game, the Fated can learn that actually both their employer and his nemesis are bad in their own ways, and they need to decide which "less bad" they can live with.  

4)  The End:

Another opportunity to control the time is to be flexible on how you present your scenario end scene.  My pig game typically involves a boss fight.  If, after everything, the group is still ahead of schedule, the fight is more epic.  If they're behind and I need to speed things up, the fight is less involved or maybe there's no fight at all.  Instead, I provide the Fated with information they can use to unravel things quickly, and if they still just want to fight, it's over fast (maybe the guy is a coward and surrenders after a few rounds, maybe an NPC they related to earlier helps out, etc).

If I find that the end is still too early, there's always the loot...  For instance, in my pig game, a grimoire is involved.  If things are on time, resolving the loot is fast and easy.  But if it's not, the grimoire's own agenda adds another RP encounter and another decision point, when the Fated realize that it may be responsible for the whole mess.  So then do they keep it, or destroy it.


I can't pretend any of these are original to me or particularly earth shattering, but they've been useful tools.  Basically, the goal for these one-shots is a simple story with options of variable importance and length.  Anything that encourages intra-party RP is good, and if they get into analysis paralysis, a quick fight or convenient NPC can help push things along.  Make sure they get a choice in the end, so they feel like their decisions matter.  The story doesn't have to be intricate, it just has to make sense, involve a few memorable moments, and seem responsive to the Fated's goals and actions.     

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