Ok, so you’ve followed this amazing advice and you’ve now written a couple of absolutely cracking one shots in your favourite system. You’ve also found some suckers to give you some of their free time to play it for you, and all they’re gonna get out of it is a really fun RPG session and warm feeling of having done a favour for a friend, suckers.
Before the Session
Now, you might know all about the importance of a Session 0 when you’re beginning a campaign, and you might. It’s essentially a session before your first session where you ground everyone’s expectations and make sure you’re all on the same page.
You don’t have the time for this, and it’s unnecessary, but what you can do is borrow the concept of what a Session 0 does and apply it to how you build up to your One Shot. Make sure the players are aware of the system, genre, tone and setting before they sit down to play. You can even post a lead into the intro of the campaign, nothing that gives away important plot points, or anything that will happen during the session.
I use Facebook to manage my sessions and as much as I dislike the addictive, pervasive and dishonest nature of the company- it’s hard to get away from how damn useful it is for arranging RPGs.
You can create an event for the session, choose a banner picture that sets the tone, post up a bit of lore to set the scene and discuss who wants to play what character if you have pre-generated characters.
The more work you do to immerse and educate you players the smoother the session will run. Of course the amount of work you have to do changes depending on who you’re running the session for and how well you know them. Sometimes I don’t do any of the above, sometimes I do all of it.
During the Session
So, everyone’s arrived and knows exactly what to expect. If you’ve followed my advice then your characters will have a strong reason to work together and a fitting backstory to boot. Assign characters if this hasn’t already been done and then leave the table.. As I leave I always ask the players a question about their characters that I will want to know when I get back. I think giving the players this time to talk without the GM present is crucial so that when you get back from your break you’re more likely to have a party, rather than individual players.
The question can be as simple and open as ”Do you all know each other?” and “What is your nickname?” or they can be complex and depthful, asking for specific relationship or personal history to really flesh out the character. This will depend on the story, tone and type of organisation the characters are all members of. Ideally it will provide the players some backstory they can refer to during the adventure, which will make it feel less like a one off, help roleplaying and immediately bond the players to their characters.
During the session, time is the greatest thing standing between you and realising your vision. Your players will end up spending far longer in certain sections than you anticipated and totally ignoring content you thought would absorb a lot of time. Always have a clock visible, know when to skip sections and when to use your NPCs to hurry the players along. Also, have notes on the optional sections ready so that if your players are speeding through the adventure you can throw in extra scenes so they don’t rush to an unsatisfying end.
After the Session
Finally, we come to the most important bit of advice. Don’t be forced to end the session because someone needs to leave. Make sure you know what everyone’s hard stop time is and finish it about 10-15 minutes before the first one. This gives the group time to talk, laugh and dissect the adventure. The winding down chat is as crucial for a satisfying end to an adventure as the final boss fight.