68 thoughts on “What’s your favorite RPG for one-shots?

  1. My go-to crowd pleasers to run are currently Sagas of the Icelanders and Mutant: Year Zero (as you know, yawn, new material please). I think I could run a decent Urban Shadows as well. It’s on my try list! But it’s not as tightly built for instant drama. Oh, Durance as well.

    I’ll play pretty much whatever. I think the facilitator needs a firm hand on the tiller if they’re gonna try PbtA though: setup can meander unless you have a really good eye for drama.

    Least favorite one shot involves anything in the Shadowrun zip code of mathiness.

  2. < ![CDATA[My go-to crowd pleasers to run are currently Sagas of the Icelanders and Mutant: Year Zero (as you know, yawn, new material please). I think I could run a decent Urban Shadows as well. It’s on my try list! But it’s not as tightly built for instant drama. Oh, Durance as well.
    I’ll play pretty much whatever. I think the facilitator needs a firm hand on the tiller if they’re gonna try PbtA though: setup can meander unless you have a really good eye for drama.
    Least favorite one shot involves anything in the Shadowrun zip code of mathiness.]]>

  3. We use Ryuutama for this. Each of us has a recurrent character to use whatever the setting for that day’s story, and two universes – a canon and a counter-canon dreamlandsy place – so we can rotate GMs.

  4. < ![CDATA[We use Ryuutama for this. Each of us has a recurrent character to use whatever the setting for that day’s story, and two universes – a canon and a counter-canon dreamlandsy place – so we can rotate GMs.]]>

  5. I’m mostly a one shot GM and became a GM thanks to Numenera, so I’ve got probably a dozen or so oneshots I could run at the drop of a hat in the Strange, Numenera, or Cypher System. 

    When I’m really asked to run a game with zero prep or supplies, I go for Lasers & Feelings, especially with new people. Such an easy system, have players roll to find out what the big tension is, make silly names, and go. SO fun, and perfect for shorter time commitments too.

  6. < ![CDATA[I'm mostly a one shot GM and became a GM thanks to Numenera, so I've got probably a dozen or so oneshots I could run at the drop of a hat in the Strange, Numenera, or Cypher System.  When I'm really asked to run a game with zero prep or supplies, I go for Lasers & Feelings, especially with new people. Such an easy system, have players roll to find out what the big tension is, make silly names, and go. SO fun, and perfect for shorter time commitments too.]]>

  7. < ![CDATA[Darcy Ross Aside: I'd love to see a post (not necessarily here) from you about why you like Cypher in general. Unless you've already done it, in case point me that way if you can, please!]]>

  8. < ![CDATA[Torchbearer: Dungeons, self-contained and straightforward. octaNe and Capes: Collaborative and requiring virtually no prep and just some massaging from me to  be a lot of fun.]]>

  9. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing my MYZ secret sauce: very quick character and situation creation, mostly procedural content, very satisfying to experience both modes of play, proprietary rich dice are fun to roll.]]>

  10. Yeah, MYZ rocked as a one shot (Paul ran it) left me wanting to play more of it and felt like a complete session. So much engagement – even when it wasn’t “my turn”. 

    These days I’m running Edge of the Empire and Urban Shadows as one-shots.
    Having experience with these two makes it zero-work for me, this lets me get into the fictional nooks & crannies. I also have player Touchables (TM) at the table for both games that have gone over extremely well.

  11. < ![CDATA[Yeah, MYZ rocked as a one shot (Paul ran it) left me wanting to play more of it and felt like a complete session. So much engagement - even when it wasn't "my turn".  These days I'm running Edge of the Empire and Urban Shadows as one-shots. Having experience with these two makes it zero-work for me, this lets me get into the fictional nooks & crannies. I also have player Touchables (TM) at the table for both games that have gone over extremely well.]]>

  12. >:) You know, our D&D game debut with my Touchables!

    In EotE I have ships from the Armada game and the opening scene is a ship battle. The ships become range markers for game mechanics but folks across 5 games so far love the ships!

    Urban Shadows I have a city map (Kansas City or NOLA) and a deck of portrait cards clipped from magazines/pintrest.

  13. < ![CDATA[>🙂 You know, our D&D game debut with my Touchables!
    In EotE I have ships from the Armada game and the opening scene is a ship battle. The ships become range markers for game mechanics but folks across 5 games so far love the ships!
    Urban Shadows I have a city map (Kansas City or NOLA) and a deck of portrait cards clipped from magazines/pintrest.]]>

  14. Depends on the group. If they understand GUMSHOE mechanics or love thrillers, Nights Black Agents. It’s fun to run, players that love thrillers really get into it, and what they use Preparedness for is always amusing.

    If not, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, naturally. It’s the one game I have run one shots for the most. It’s easy for me to pick it up and go with it unprepared. Rules are easy. Everyone expects me to run it. Most players love to have their characters die in gruesome or highly explosive ways…if not both. Death by chainsaw. Near TPK by accidentally shooting a depot of gasoline with an M-60, causing a spark, thus explosion that knocked their helicopter out of the sky (one lived because she was late to the LZ and one died hours later, all others died). TPK for opening the wrong door, releasing hundreds of zombies. Catching a live grenade in the chest. Going through a worm hole to an unknown place instead of facing a planet of hungry zombies. Pushing each other and shooting each other as they climb up an elevator shaft to get away. And many, many more.

  15. < ![CDATA[Depends on the group. If they understand GUMSHOE mechanics or love thrillers, Nights Black Agents. It's fun to run, players that love thrillers really get into it, and what they use Preparedness for is always amusing. If not, All Flesh Must Be Eaten, naturally. It's the one game I have run one shots for the most. It's easy for me to pick it up and go with it unprepared. Rules are easy. Everyone expects me to run it. Most players love to have their characters die in gruesome or highly explosive ways...if not both. Death by chainsaw. Near TPK by accidentally shooting a depot of gasoline with an M-60, causing a spark, thus explosion that knocked their helicopter out of the sky (one lived because she was late to the LZ and one died hours later, all others died). TPK for opening the wrong door, releasing hundreds of zombies. Catching a live grenade in the chest. Going through a worm hole to an unknown place instead of facing a planet of hungry zombies. Pushing each other and shooting each other as they climb up an elevator shaft to get away. And many, many more.]]>

  16. Pretty much every game I run is a one-shot. I am particularly fond of heavy-improvisational games with low- to zero-prep beforehand (other than familiarity with the rules). I could run any of these given 5 minutes warning and access to a speedy printer:

    • With Great Power: (Yeah, I’m biased.) It gets people saying incredible, uncanny things about superheroes quickly.
    • Swords Without Master: Very quick and evocative and the stories always start out seeming random and end up feeling obvious.
    • My Life With Master: As long as the group is up for darkness, tragedy, unrequited love, nothing touches this game.
    • InSpectres: Complete other end of the spectrum: Wacky, hilarious ghost-busting fun with nice mechanical element of building the franchise. I always run 2 to 3 missions in a 4 hour convention slot so they can see the franchise mechanics in action.
    • Companions Tale (in development): A game about listening, building on what has come before, and drawing fun maps.
    • Serial Homicide Unit: (Also biased.) Heart-breaking in the absolute best way. I’ve never had a bad game of the finished version of SHU. You also don’t even need to read the rules beforehand. The audio tracks walk you through the game, step-by-step.
    • The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen: Not a game to play with strangers. A magnificent spectacle of boastful, competetive storytelling.
    • Ganakagok: The sun is about to rise for the very first time, bringing great change to the icy life of your people. Will hope or fear prevail?
    • Heroine: A bit lighter of a story-telling game, about the titular heroine on her journey through a magical otherworld. Think Labyrinth, the Wizard of Oz, or Jupiter Ascending.
    • Monsterhearts: Running a one-shot is challenging, but can be done. The MC and at least half the players need to drive hard for conflict. I’ve made little “jumpstart” cards that enhance the backstory process to prime the situation for quick conflict.
    • Lady Blackbird: Obviously. It’s all the best parts of Firefly and The Empire Strikes Back in a single game!
    • The Sundered Land: My absolute favorite game Powered by the Apocalypse. It has swords, sorcery, characters that start as a couple traits and become people through play. So good!

    Of course, there is also much to be said for the games that work best with a prepared scenario:

    • Sorcerer: I have had a difficult time with Sorcerer, until I finally, finally got the sublime Dictionary of Mu to the table. An “adult” game in the very best sense of the term, it gives back more than you put in. Characters that are at least 90% done are essential, though, as well as a relationship map of NPCs and demons (for me, at least).
    • Mouse Guard: Of all the BWHQ games, this one feels like it best fits into a single-session. The mission structure is pure gold, and most of my written scenarios fit two missions into a 4 hour convention slot.

  17. < ![CDATA[Pretty much every game I run is a one-shot. I am particularly fond of heavy-improvisational games with low- to zero-prep beforehand (other than familiarity with the rules). I could run any of these given 5 minutes warning and access to a speedy printer: • With Great Power: (Yeah, I'm biased.) It gets people saying incredible, uncanny things about superheroes quickly. • Swords Without Master: Very quick and evocative and the stories always start out seeming random and end up feeling obvious. • My Life With Master: As long as the group is up for darkness, tragedy, unrequited love, nothing touches this game. • InSpectres: Complete other end of the spectrum: Wacky, hilarious ghost-busting fun with nice mechanical element of building the franchise. I always run 2 to 3 missions in a 4 hour convention slot so they can see the franchise mechanics in action. • Companions Tale (in development): A game about listening, building on what has come before, and drawing fun maps. • Serial Homicide Unit: (Also biased.) Heart-breaking in the absolute best way. I've never had a bad game of the finished version of SHU. You also don't even need to read the rules beforehand. The audio tracks walk you through the game, step-by-step.
    • The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen: Not a game to play with strangers. A magnificent spectacle of boastful, competetive storytelling.
    • Ganakagok: The sun is about to rise for the very first time, bringing great change to the icy life of your people. Will hope or fear prevail?
    • Heroine: A bit lighter of a story-telling game, about the titular heroine on her journey through a magical otherworld. Think Labyrinth, the Wizard of Oz, or Jupiter Ascending.
    • Monsterhearts: Running a one-shot is challenging, but can be done. The MC and at least half the players need to drive hard for conflict. I’ve made little “jumpstart” cards that enhance the backstory process to prime the situation for quick conflict.
    • Lady Blackbird: Obviously. It’s all the best parts of Firefly and The Empire Strikes Back in a single game!
    • The Sundered Land: My absolute favorite game Powered by the Apocalypse. It has swords, sorcery, characters that start as a couple traits and become people through play. So good!
    Of course, there is also much to be said for the games that work best with a prepared scenario:
    • Sorcerer: I have had a difficult time with Sorcerer, until I finally, finally got the sublime Dictionary of Mu to the table. An “adult” game in the very best sense of the term, it gives back more than you put in. Characters that are at least 90% done are essential, though, as well as a relationship map of NPCs and demons (for me, at least).
    • Mouse Guard: Of all the BWHQ games, this one feels like it best fits into a single-session. The mission structure is pure gold, and most of my written scenarios fit two missions into a 4 hour convention slot.]]>

  18. I’m pretty much repeating what people just said:

    Psi-Run
    Danger Patrol Pocket Edition
    Mouse Guard
    Serial Homicide Unit

    I split In a Wicked Age into two pieces for a one-shot and that worked pretty well.

    Microscope works well.
    I haven’t tried Dog Eat Dog as a facilitator, but I played it. It was good too.

    There’s a some two player games that are great for this like 14 Days or Murderous Ghosts.

  19. < ![CDATA[I'm pretty much repeating what people just said: Psi-Run Danger Patrol Pocket Edition Mouse Guard Serial Homicide Unit I split In a Wicked Age into two pieces for a one-shot and that worked pretty well. Microscope works well. I haven't tried Dog Eat Dog as a facilitator, but I played it. It was good too. There's a some two player games that are great for this like 14 Days or Murderous Ghosts.]]>

  20. To say “why” to Ryuutama, the reasons would be that 1) it’s easy to get in a day’s travel experience, 2) a visit to a new village or town, and 3) a significant encounter of some kind in an hour and a half. It’s also a good fit for my group as a one shot because every village or town that PCs visit can be created in detail by the players on the fly, which our group enjoys. Encounters lead to similar “filling in” of relevant, playable details by the players.

  21. < ![CDATA[To say "why" to Ryuutama, the reasons would be that 1) it’s easy to get in a day’s travel experience, 2) a visit to a new village or town, and 3) a significant encounter of some kind in an hour and a half. It’s also a good fit for my group as a one shot because every village or town that PCs visit can be created in detail by the players on the fly, which our group enjoys. Encounters lead to similar “filling in” of relevant, playable details by the players.]]>

  22. Mark Delsing I definitely want to get around to writing about my love of Cypher generally, but I don’t think it exists out there yet (except verbally). Will probably write it up for Gnome Stew sometime and shoot you a link!

    As for the one shot advantages:

    Mechanics tend to get out of the way in this system. There’s enough for it to not feel too abstract for me, but not a lot to memorize or clunk over. I find people go from “I don’t know what an RPG is” to rocking out RPing their character sentence (“I am a Cruel Nano (wizard) who Wears a Sheen of Ice”) super fast! They’re like yeah, I’m cruel, I’m a wizard, I do ice stuff. The core mechanic is really core and tight, so they learn quickly to pitch they’re crazy idea, I give it a difficulty level, they convince me their skill in “Doin’ Nano-y Ice Stuff” counts here, and they roll a d20 (maybe spend some Effort). I run for a lot of non-gamers to great success and that thrills me.

    Another mechanical advantage is the GM Intrusion (where I dangle 2XP in front of players to offer a complication) – I use it as a pacing tool a lot, like “Suddenly you hear police sirens behind you – you better get moving!” etc. I think a GM used to fiat-ing things could get the same job done, but as a new GM the GMI makes me feel very empowered to do this sort of thing. Also, it focuses the table instantly and that can be a huge help.

    Finally (for now), their Instant Adventure format for prewritten adventures is a thing of beauty. If anyone else knows folks writing content like this, point me their way! They’ve got a number of design elements that are meant to support the GM taking 5 minutes to look at the adventure, then running it with no prior prep. And the dang thing works. They usually have a bullet point list of key info of what happens in the adventure, then a series of “Keys” which can be rumors/evidence/knowledge/items that the PCs get/experience that are critical to bringing the situation to some kind of resolution. There’s a 2 page spread with nice graphics (often a map of sorts) that lay out different locations/scenes with suggestions of how the PCs could get the “Keys” in that location, or what form the Key might take. It makes for a very modular, flexible adventure that is usually still robust enough to be very satisfying. I love it to tiny, tiny bits and am probably not explaining it super well – check out the free previews on either of the books in the MCG store. “Weird Discoveries” is the Numenera one and “Strange Revelations” is the Strange one (but can TOTALLY be hacked for other genre Cypher System games).

  23. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing I definitely want to get around to writing about my love of Cypher generally, but I don't think it exists out there yet (except verbally). Will probably write it up for Gnome Stew sometime and shoot you a link! As for the one shot advantages: Mechanics tend to get out of the way in this system. There's enough for it to not feel too abstract for me, but not a lot to memorize or clunk over. I find people go from "I don't know what an RPG is" to rocking out RPing their character sentence ("I am a Cruel Nano (wizard) who Wears a Sheen of Ice") super fast! They're like yeah, I'm cruel, I'm a wizard, I do ice stuff. The core mechanic is really core and tight, so they learn quickly to pitch they're crazy idea, I give it a difficulty level, they convince me their skill in "Doin' Nano-y Ice Stuff" counts here, and they roll a d20 (maybe spend some Effort). I run for a lot of non-gamers to great success and that thrills me.
    Another mechanical advantage is the GM Intrusion (where I dangle 2XP in front of players to offer a complication) – I use it as a pacing tool a lot, like “Suddenly you hear police sirens behind you – you better get moving!” etc. I think a GM used to fiat-ing things could get the same job done, but as a new GM the GMI makes me feel very empowered to do this sort of thing. Also, it focuses the table instantly and that can be a huge help.
    Finally (for now), their Instant Adventure format for prewritten adventures is a thing of beauty. If anyone else knows folks writing content like this, point me their way! They’ve got a number of design elements that are meant to support the GM taking 5 minutes to look at the adventure, then running it with no prior prep. And the dang thing works. They usually have a bullet point list of key info of what happens in the adventure, then a series of “Keys” which can be rumors/evidence/knowledge/items that the PCs get/experience that are critical to bringing the situation to some kind of resolution. There’s a 2 page spread with nice graphics (often a map of sorts) that lay out different locations/scenes with suggestions of how the PCs could get the “Keys” in that location, or what form the Key might take. It makes for a very modular, flexible adventure that is usually still robust enough to be very satisfying. I love it to tiny, tiny bits and am probably not explaining it super well – check out the free previews on either of the books in the MCG store. “Weird Discoveries” is the Numenera one and “Strange Revelations” is the Strange one (but can TOTALLY be hacked for other genre Cypher System games).]]>

  24. OSR dungeoncrawling (start at the dungeon entrance if time is short; allow preparation and choice of adventure if there’s plenty of time).

    Reasons: People don’t need to know the rules (and they are simple anyway) and can instead negotiate the fiction. There are two simple goals: get treasure and stay healthy, so there’s a clear purpose of play. The game is robust with respect to player attention and focus: it works fine when there is at least one active player and others tag along or even goof around and it works fine when everyone is focused and on the ball.

    I run OSR games in a persistent world, which makes it more meaningful for me to run a one-shot (since it will affect later play) and more meaningful for players to play again, since they might encounter the consequences of their actions or get to use their previous knowledge of the same dungeon. I don’t know if new or one-time players are interested in this, but I’ll occasionally mention it to them, too.

  25. < ![CDATA[OSR dungeoncrawling (start at the dungeon entrance if time is short; allow preparation and choice of adventure if there's plenty of time). Reasons: People don't need to know the rules (and they are simple anyway) and can instead negotiate the fiction. There are two simple goals: get treasure and stay healthy, so there's a clear purpose of play. The game is robust with respect to player attention and focus: it works fine when there is at least one active player and others tag along or even goof around and it works fine when everyone is focused and on the ball. I run OSR games in a persistent world, which makes it more meaningful for me to run a one-shot (since it will affect later play) and more meaningful for players to play again, since they might encounter the consequences of their actions or get to use their previous knowledge of the same dungeon. I don't know if new or one-time players are interested in this, but I'll occasionally mention it to them, too.]]>