This article discusses how to get started creating an RPG one shot by breaking it up into multiple parts during design.
What goes into making a One Shot RPG adventure?
When I say I’m creating a One Shot RPG adventure, I need to define what that entails. What are all of the components that need to be planned and created when making a sci-fi horror RPG adventure? It’s a question I didn’t think of until I started to write this series. Creating an adventure is not just writing a script for the game master to read; the encounters, mechanics, final boss, and NPCs need to be thought of.
Adventure Narrative, Tone, and Goal
The first thing that needs to be decided is what the RPG one shot is about. What will the characters be doing during the game session? Will they be infiltrating a mega-corporation’s headquarters to foil a scummed CEO? Or, will the adventure be about a search-and-rescue mission on a research vessel that has been taken over by genetically engineered creatures—which certainly has a scummed behind the whole thing? The only certainty is that the characters will be dealing with a scummed.
Deciding on what the adventure is about also sets the overall tone of the story. In the first example, infiltrating the headquarters would make the game session feel like a spy movie, filled with stealth segments and espionage. The search-and-rescue mission would feel like a survival horror RPG set on a spaceship.
Where the adventure takes place goes hand and hand with what it is about. The setting is integral to how the adventure plays out and what players can do during role playing moments. If the RPG one shot takes place on a research ship, then the characters are probably stuck on it, they may have to deal with air locks and gravity as they go from room to room, all while trying to keep the hull intact. In the HQ example, they’ll deal with guards, security cameras, and extraction.
As discussed in the previous article, each One Shot RPG is divided into a series of encounters that can be chained together to form the overall story. This means that when designing an adventure, I have to consider what types of encounters the players will be experiencing. Like the overall adventure, an encounter itself is composed of many aspects that need to be considered, such as narrative, mechanics, enemies, and the map.
Each encounter should be centered around a story beat that moves the overall narrative forward. An infiltration of a corporation’s headquarters might include creating a distraction to get employees to leave, sneaking past the guards, finding the server room, locating the data, being ambushed by the scummed CEO, taking them out, and exiting unscathed.
An encounter has to have certain mechanical problems to solve to make it a role playing game instead of an interactive script that’s read as a group. These problems could be dramatic challenges, battles, or a combination of both. Getting employees to vacate the building might require rolling for charisma or persuasion checks against a skeptical manager. Neutralizing the guards might involve stealth checks and dexterity rolls to apply a tranquilizer. Finding the data on the server may require clichéd hacking skills. The scummed CEO could ambush the party, triggering a preemptive strike from the monster unless a character succeeds a spot check. Varying the mechanics for each encounter will make the adventure more interesting, especially if the encounters are different per playthrough.
The creatures that players will fight have to be designed. Because I’m using a custom setting and supporting multiple game systems for One Shot RPG, I can’t simply grab existing monsters and place them into an encounter. The guards that players are sneaking past have to have statistics. The genetically engineered beasts infesting the research vessel have to have their abilities described.
Setting and Map
Each encounter has to take place somewhere, and exist on a game map. That location has to reveal information—through a technique called environmental storytelling—to the players. The research ship is divided up into 9 rooms across two floors. The sleeping quarters have personal items strewn about, showing what type of people the crew were. There’s claw marks in the cafeteria, hinting at the beasts that the players will soon be fighting. The corpses in the engine room reveal the fate of the missing crew members. Details like these have to be thought of when deciding where each encounter will take place.
The scummed are the big bad of each One Shot RPG, the monster-of-the-week players have to stop. When creating a new adventure, I also have to create a new scummed for them to fight.
Scummed’s abilities don’t have to make sense mechanically, but they still have to fit in with the overall narrative. What the scummed does, and what makes it dangerous, has to match the story. The scummed CEO could be able to create earthquakes and bring the city block down, but that wouldn’t be as interesting as if it had the power of persuasion to force loyalty out of people—using innocent interns as human shields. Likewise the scummed on the space ship could have the ability to fire laser beams from its eyes, but it might be more interesting if the genetically engineered beasts came from eggs it lays in the corpses of the crew.
The scummed are people—the scummed are characters. They need to have a unique look, a history, motivations for their actions, and feel like a real person who was twisted into a monster. There’s an entire series on creating characters, and all of those decisions have to be made when designing the adventure’s villain.
If the adventure calls for it, there’ll be NPCs for the characters to interact with. But those don’t come from thin air, and the game master doesn’t have time to create them. That means that I’ll also have to design NPCs to support the story. That skeptical manager from the corporate HQ—who are they, what are their motivations, and what will get them to listen to the players? If that research ship has a surviving crew member, can they accompany the party? What are their abilities?
So I’m not just creating the first One Shot RPG adventure. I’m creating a whole new setting, characters, and story for players to experience.