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A Quick Guide to Convention One-Shots

Written by Paul Rehac - Published on April 9, 2014

After a millennia or two (in game time, of course) I’m back with a few tips and tricks to share with you guys. For this article I’ve chosen to start with a topic that has recently become particularly important to me: Constructing a one-shot. As “resident DM” of my local game group, I’ve been running a number of one-shots lately, and this past February I found myself signed up to run three games at my local Gaming Convention. Planning and preparing for a single game for either a con or just your friends can be a bit stressful, and difficult to begin. There are two major questions I’ll be answering in this article: “How long should the one-shot be?”  and “can I do anything other than combat?” So, without further ado, let’s jump in!


What’s the Time?

Sad as it might be, you generally can’t expect players to want to sit down for more than three hours for a one-shot. Now, obviously this isn’t always true. For groups of dedicated players or friends a game running four to five hours, or even more, can run smoothly without more than the average number of distractions. However, most conventions only schedule you for 3 hour slots, and it’s always best to aim low — that way you can always go over, if you need to. So, for this guide we’re going to assume that you’re planning your game to be three hours long. It’s a solid amount of time that can give you space for more than enough gameplay without dragging things out too far.


Two hours down, four kobolds dead.

Dungeons and Dragons is not famous for its fast and light combat system. Because of this, I tend to try to avoid too much combat in any session of a game — this is especially important for a one-shot. If you’re running a hack-n-slash or a dungeon crawl, that’s one thing, but the element that’s going to get players to walk away wanting more and more is the immersion that you can provide as a DM. Why are your characters doing what they’re doing? What resolution can you offer them? These are the first questions you should be answering when you write out a game. When creating any one-shot I usually like to break it up like this:

  • 1 and a half hours: Introductions, Getting acquainted with the characters, settling down, and interlude. Here you provide them with the setting, the quest, and maybe a little roleplaying and puzzle-solving. One or two minor combats in this section wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

  • 1 hour: Boss Fight. You should set out a solid hour for the big fight at the end of the session. The system takes a fair amount of time to get through tougher fights, and if your boss is satisfying it should definitely not go by in a flash.

  • Half an Hour: The Resolution. Here the players revel in their triumph, they take their treasures, and they return home. If they were sent on a mission, this is also the time to have them return to their employers, and to be given a solid conclusion.


Hopefully this helps when you’re sitting down, getting ready for your next convention. Stay tuned: Next Week we’re talk treasure!


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Written by Paul Rehac

Paul Rehac

Hey! Paul here. I’m a writer and a gamer — have been for almost ten years now! As a dungeonmaster I focus primarily on storytelling and immersion, and do my best to make every game as captivating as possible. As a player I’m all about the character and the roleplay, and I’m more than content to never roll a die.

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2 Responses to “A Quick Guide to Convention One-Shots”
  1. MythicParty says:

    Guys, here’s a quick resource for finding cons near you:


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