Tag Archives: The One Ring

Running One-Shot or Demo RPG Games

I’ve run my share of demo RPG games for old-school games like King Arthur Pendragon and Stormbringer as well as newer systems including multiple TinyD6 games and The One Ring.

For a time, I was part of a group that held one-off sessions for a different game every month. The glory days.

While I enjoy campaign play as much as the next person, there’s always something that draws me to cracking open a new game, rolling up characters, and taking a new set of rules or setting out for a spin.

Not every player likes one-shot sessions, which surprised me at first, but I guess some folks want to get into a character and see them progress either as a person or just “level up”.

For me, sometimes a one-shot is just the thing.

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about running successful one-off RPG sessions (and I think you’ll find a lot of it holds true for campaigns as well).

Nothing universe-shattering, but I hope these thoughts aid your games or even help you bring new players to one of your favorites!

Set Expectations

Make sure your players know what to expect. Failing to set proper expectations can result in anything from disappointment to outright disaster.

Find out player time constraints if not prearranged, and consider your planned content. Make sure you’ll have enough time to hit the major plot points.

If the content could be offensive to folks, provide a warning. Also, word to the wise, avoid scary or messy props. You don’t want to get punched or puked on.

At least, I think you don’t?

If you don’t want folks checking their phones in the middle of the game, make sure they have that guidance. If you are planning regular stretching, snack, and bathroom breaks, let the players know so they can wait for the foreordained moment.

Above all, set the appropriate social contract. Personal attacks are NEVER ok. Are there any other lines in the sand you need to draw? If you’ve never used the x-card, it can be appropriate when you’re running games at cons or for any group you don’t know. Use your best judgment.

Do What Your Players Want

If everyone enjoys character creation, don’t set them up with pregens. If you aren’t sure how they feel, ask! This may not make sense for games with involved setup, but talk about it.

Talk with players about what kind of game they want to play. Sometimes the group just wants to focus on comic relief and tell jokes, and other times they may be in the mood for a serious or darker game. Try to oblige as possible within constraints of the rules and setting, and if that isn’t possible, maybe you’re playing the wrong game for the group.

Don’t Do What Your Players’ Characters Want

It’s human nature to struggle. Make sure to seed conflict and difficulty into the session. If a risk of character death doesn’t exist in a one-shot, you may be doing it wrong.

I’m not saying TPKs and broad use of GM fiat are necessary. Just don’t make things too easy. That way lies boredom, one of a gamemaster’s worst enemies.

Minimize Up-Front Explanation

When you’re going to run a multi-session campaign, it may be ok to do something of an info dump during the initial sessions. For a one-time game, you’ll have to keep this to a bare minimum.

Instead, keep your session tight and introduce rules and setting as much as possible through the course of the game. Does this mean you don’t tell the players about the Camarilla if you’re playing Vampire the Masquerade or about Uther’s more arbitrary/mistrustful tendencies in Pendragon?

Maybe. If it’s central to the adventure, find a way to work it into a conversation with an NPC so the game can get going.

Don’t skip telling folks what type of dice they need. I’m just saying that if you’re playing a Fantasy Flight RPG with all those custom dice, you may just want to guide them through the roll resolutions and gloss over the 17 pages of dice rules (or don’t play a game with 17 pages of dice rules).

Another helpful option for more complex games is to download or create rules cheat sheets for players. Give them something to refer to while they are planning action. While they are great for many folks, I don’t always love cheat sheets. Some players can get too focused on the tool and miss what’s going on in the game.

Me. I do this. Ugh, I’m the worst.

Anyway, know thy players.

Keep The Story Tight

Most games either have a couple strong themes or they are more generic and can work for a variety of scenarios. In either case, stick to a strong idea even if you have to develop it yourself.

When playing Planet Mercenary, it’s mayhem and next-grunt-up comedic violence. When it’s Pendragon, you’re talking chivalry and romance. For a game like Tiny Frontiers: Revised, pick a micro setting and run with one of the adventure prompts or develop something fun on your own. Same for Savage Worlds, select a setting you like that’s thematic and shows off the rules.

Nothing will kill a one-shot faster than giving too many options to inexperienced players. Sandbox games can work great, as long as you have veteran players and they understand the setting.

An alternative, if your game supports it, is to involve the characters in some quick worldbuilding and plotline creation. Tough to do in limited time, but I’ve seen it work. There are toolkits to support this approach if your game doesn’t do it out of the box. I even have one I’m thinking about developing.

Sample The Game

Some micro RPGs and minimalist systems lend themselves to covering everything in the one-shot format.

When talking about a 400+ page core book (see Pathfinder, Shadowrun, Zweihander, Mage, and countless others), you won’t show everything. Still, if the game contains combat, make sure there is an encounter so players can see how fighting works. If there is sneaking, make sure they have cause to sneak. Basic mechanics are a must, as is direct use of primary abilities.

When the title has special or unique mechanics, make sure they take center stage. The One Ring’s hope and shadow and travel rules are good examples.

If the central concept of the game involves characters taking control of the narrative at times, make sure they do that. Horror/madness aspects, etc. should all be built in if relevant.

Pacing

There are entire series of articles, dialogs, and diatribes about pacing in RPGs as a whole.

If you’d like more detail, I recommend reading what Justin Alexander has to say on pacing for starters. I’m not going to attempt to duplicate that knowledge here, but I will say this: pacing is vital in one-offs. I’ve outlined a few of the component elements above, but I’ll to boil it down to what makes the most sense to me in a one-off session.

Don’t let your players get bored.

If everyone loves the role-play elements, they might have a great time discussing reactions to a philosophical quandary you’ve placed before them for some time.

If your players are action-oriented, make sure to keep the action flowing.

When you inevitably have a mix of role-play and “roll-play”, then you’ll have to use more tools from your GM toolbox to keep things moving along.

The key is to keep an eye on the group and minimize time where people seem disengaged.

Have Fun

This shouldn’t be the last point, but somehow it is.

Don’t forget, if you’re having fun, odds are the players will be too. If it’s clear to them that you aren’t enjoying yourself, that mood can rub off on the whole group.

A little Leadership 101 for you: a leader (this means you, gamemaster) tends to influence those around her/him like Patrick Stewart in a room of Trekkies. He can’t help it, but you can bet he’s aware. You can bet Sir Pat knows that if “Captain Picard” loses his cool on a group of fans, it will result in a negative experience for all involved.

Make sure to use your GM influence with proper intent. Be aware of your own feelings and use them to the advantage of the game. Keep them in check otherwise.

A great storyteller having fun will always attract players. I learned this watching my friends Alan B. and Mike S. pack their living rooms with diverse players repeatedly through the years.

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Thank you: Ben, Michael, Brett, Alan, Tyler, and the others who saw this article at varying stages of completion and helped me mold it into something I hope was worth your time. Your contributions were amazing, and any remaining silliness is just an artifact of my weird and possibly disturbed psyche.

Please share your stories of running one-shots with me in the comments or on Twitter. I’d love to see your ideas on running the format or just some fun stories from your one-off games.

RPG Review: The One Ring

Will Rambles

The One Ring RPG has the distinction of being the first game I ran a long campaign of for anyone other than my kids after my return to role-playing. In a previous life, my favorite RPG campaign to run had been AD&D 2e in the Planescape setting. Something about Planescape always spoke to me.

I played in tons of different systems growing up and one of my favorites while I was still in high school was Middle Earth Role-Playing (MERP). When I came back to gaming, I immediately started looking into the possibility of getting my hands on some MERP books and was disappointed to find it out of print. Luckily, someone kind and thoughtful pointed me to The One Ring (TOR), and I politely declined and continued to pine for MERP. It wasn’t until I played in a one-off session of Ring that I saw the real potential of the system.

The rest is history. I ran TOR for nearly a year meeting a little less frequently than I might have liked, but I had a great time, and I hope the players did as well.

I’ve run one-off sessions here and there for other folks, and you can rest assured when the Moria box set comes out later this year, I’ll be among the first lining up for a copy.

The Review

The original release of TOR was a slipcased version with two books. I’m reviewing the current single hardcover volume.


1.) Size and Production Quality 

The core The One Ring book is hardbound and has good binding. The pages are semigloss and full color. It looks very nice with good call outs and is appealing overall. Also, at 336 pages, it feels good in your hands.

My biggest complaint about the entire game has got to be the organization of the layout. In my experience, this is not the area where Cubicle 7 games shine. Finding what you’re looking for isn’t always easy in a TOR book. In fact, since I was running this game regularly, I found myself adding more and more stickie notes, and doing more advanced note writing so I wouldn’t get caught thumbing through the book for some detail in-game.

At any rate, for $29.99 you can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG. It’s a decent price. The hardbound copy is available pretty much anywhere you usually buy games or also from C7 directly. I recommend your FLGS (friendly local game shop).

7/10


2.) Art

I love the art in The One Ring. The core book cover is ok, but the interior art really speaks to me. Much of it is full color, there is plenty (who am I kidding though, there could always be more), and each piece is super evocative of Middle Earth.

9/10


3.) Content and Rules

Fantastic. Amazing. Wonderful.

So much effort here to be faithful to the source material and create rules and mechanics that evoke Middle Earth. MERP doesn’t hold a candle in any regard except for the fact that they did have more content, but TOR is catching up fast! I won’t spoil them all, but I love the opposition of the hope and shadow attributes for characters. The adventuring and fellowship phases of the game take place over seasons of the year so the more cinematic and action-packed portions of the game can take place while also allowing for social interactions and time for travel.  In other news, TOR has the most exciting and innovative travel system I’ve ever seen in an RPG.

10/10


4.) Game Master Section

Quite a lot going on here for a GM. While it isn’t the crunchiest game you could run, Ring does have some rules. It’s no minimalist or storygame style of RPG. The GM sections are useful. They guide you to create sessions for your players that evoke Tolkien’s world. Additionally, there is a campaign section detailing all the major event taking place in Middle-earth both before and during the game timeline. This allows for rumors and ideas to reach the characters even if they aren’t taking part in these events directly.

8/10


5.) Pre-made Adventure

The Marsh-Bell is an in-depth fourteen-page adventure that’s great for starting characters. They’ll enjoy some familiar sights from The Hobbit, meet some familiar dwarves, risk danger, get to test some of their skill at fighting and riddling, and see the travel rules. All-in-all, it’s a solid introduction to the game.

8/10


Total Score: 42/50

This is not a bad score by any means. I own (and preorder) every book in the series as they are released. My single regret is that I don’t have more time to run TOR. It’s a game and a world I could explore endlessly.