Whether it’s a quick diversion for your regular group or a dungeon to excite your friends, the one-off adventure is an integral part of the role playing experience. What is a one-off? A one-off adventure is an adventure that doesn’t affect the ongoing story that usually isn’t longer than a single session. The best one-offs have four vital parts: A great hook, an interesting locale, proper length, and an exciting set piece encounter. Let’s take a look at each of these and I’ll give some examples to help your brainstorms.
A Great Hook: You need to entice your players properly. A lame hook will lead to a lame game. Just because the characters and locations in this adventure won’t be seen again doesn’t mean you can be lazy. Trust me; they don’t want to face the nameless wizard in his tower in ‘the mountains’. They’d rather try to stop Immeral Imenethil, eladrin artificer, from making his deadliest creation or seek the temple of the Sun Dragon deep in the southern swamps to find the a legendary blade or to stop the Lizard King, dragonborn warlord, from raising an army of lizardfolk to wipe the nearby village from the map. Give them a good reason to do it and they’ll buy into the adventure and have a blast.
An Interesting Locale: Just as important as a great hook is the setting for your one-off. Again, don’t send them to another wizard’s tower. Tombs, abandoned fortresses, ancient temples to forgotten gods, these are all steps in the right direction. Add some history to liven those places up and you’ve got yourself a great locale. Immeral Imenethil’s workshop is set up in a repurposed dwarven tomb. The Temple of the Sun Dragon is full of reptilian skeletons. The little details make the memories.
Proper Length: There is nothing worse than setting up a game with your friends and having to stop three rooms before the grand finale. It’s important to know just how long you’re going to have and plan for it. More importantly, plan your beginning, middle, and ending (I’ll go more into this later). If you know there’s going to a break in the adventure plan for that too. One last tip, people like to eat every four to five hours.
A Set Piece Encounter: I like to talk a lot about what I call ‘set piece encounters’. Set piece encounters are those big fights, the fights you hint at, the grand finales, the ones your players talk about for years. Every one-off needs one of these, preferably at the end. A well thought, challenging battle will tie the entire adventure together. Unique traps, epic terrain, power elites with deadly bodyguards, and one of a kind solos can all lead to unforgettable battles. When the players finally encounter Immeral, they battle him in his trap laden laboratory, when they meet the Lizard King he battles them with his honor guard by his side.
When you give your players a great adventure, you give them lifetime memories. So, even when it’s just for one night, don’t skimp on your adventures.