“Plot Plot Plot Plot Plot, and that is the reason you must go into the dungeon and fight the monsters.”
Sometimes you just don’t have time for a long campaign. Sometimes you don’t want to play a Tolkien-esque long story about the struggle against the forces of darkness, and would rather have a short and sweet little story about clearing out a cave of kobolds before they steal all of a village’s autumn harvest.
This is when the One-Shot comes into play.
One-Shots are short little stories that take anywhere between 2-4 hours to complete. They are self-contained stories designed to be played once and done, without a lingering story or campaign afterward.
But what makes a good one-shot, and why would someone play a one-shot when campaigns are available? Good question!
Let’s take a long at that, and also hit on some options for published One-Shot adventures for Pathfinder that you could try for your next game night!
Table of Contents
Why Play A One-Shot Adventure?
For a long time in my life as a gamer, I really hated the idea of One-Shots. I thought “Why would I want to get emotionally invested in something that was going to end so soon?”
To me, it felt like reading a short story and having that story cut off before the ending. Over time though, I have grown to enjoy them a great deal.
One-Shots are often really great for newer players. Oftentimes they will have a varied selection of encounters to show off what a game can do, or highlight a specific theme.
These are most often run at conventions or special events to drum up support for a new module or adventure about to be published.
Oftentimes, you can catch One-Shots being run by established streamers on Twitch or Youtube because of their self-contained and quick nature. The low prep time and quick engageability mean they can be put together quickly for a night of fun.
One-Shots can also be a good break for a GM who is suffering a bit of burnout. Maybe they want to run something different for an evening, or someone else wants to try their hand running a game to change stuff up.
Finally, a One-Shot doesn’t necessarily have to stay a One-Shot. Many games have a history of using a one-off event as a springboard for more fun. Maybe you really enjoy the themes and the concepts of the one-shot and want to explore them more.
Perhaps there is a character that you really enjoy that you want to keep playing? Maybe you want to just keep having fun with a specific NPC?
One-Shots are a great break from the Norm that will add some spice and variety to your games and gaming group.
What makes A Good One-Shot?
Just like a short story is different from a novel, and a novel is different from a series of novels, so too are One-Shots very different from your average campaigns.
Below are some of the things to look for when choosing a published one-shot, or designing your own one-shot from the ground up.
Most One-Shots are very self-contained. They have an obvious beginning, middle/climax, and end. Some will even skip past a good deal of the “soft roleplay” at the beginning of an adventure, getting straight to the action in a Tabletop version of “In Medias Res.” Hence the cliche statement that opened this article above.
This will also often lead to a self-contained ending. Normally when a one-shot ends, the vast majority of the story will wrap up with little to no hanging plot threads.
The Villains get punished, the heroes are rewarded, and everything is typically wrapped up in a nice little bow.
Sometimes published one-shots will tie into other published adventures, leaving open options for sequel adventures. These are a rarity though, with most one-shots will be wrapped up rather quickly.
Site-Based adventures are adventures that are centered on a specific site, or kicked off by an event at a specific site. A good example of this is a singular dungeon, castle, forest, town, etc. around which the narrative takes place.
Most one-shots are site-based in nature. Mostly because it is easier to tell a self-contained story that takes place in a singular spot rather than a sprawling one.
It saves time to not have to handwave travel times or railroad people from one place to another.
One-shot adventures almost universally need to have a clear goal in mind when starting out. Rescue the Prince(ss), kill the monsters, find the treasure, uncover the spy. All of these goals are clear-cut and readily apparent.
The goals of the one-shot don’t have to be easy to accomplish, or even have a straightforward solution. “Save the King from the Hidden Assassin” can be as easy as passing a perception test to find the hidden rogue with the poison dagger, or as hard as making sure the local chef isn’t a known poisoner-based off who has seen him cook.
Either way, the end goals the party needs to accomplish need to be apparent, or you might waste a great deal of time.
Going with the above idea of trying to not waste time, most of the issues addressed in the one-shot’s narrative will probably involve a ticking clock issue. That is, there is a limited amount of in-game time for the party to complete the adventure before failure.
Maybe by a specific point in the adventure a spell will go off, or an army will invade, or the ninjas concealed in the shadows will pounce!
(Every game is improved by more pirates or ninjas. I don’t make the rules.)
This will often keep the characters “on task” to keep the one-shot moving toward the goal. In some instances, the GM could even actually keep a stopwatch on the table as a clear reminder to the players that time is running out.
Finally, most one-shots will have most if not all of the randomly generated things (treasure, xp, enemies) pre-generated. This will help to make sure the GM is not having to slow down gameplay to roll things up while the players are waiting.
In a literal sense, almost everything is done already, so prep time is just a matter of reading the book and possibly introducing the system to new players. This makes life much easier for the GM.
What Are Some Published Pathfinder One-Shot Adventures?
Paizo has a few adventures they advertise as “One-Shots” for their players to try out. These are official products from Paizo you can get from their website store.
A Pirate story on the high seas, this adventure involves 4 pre-generated characters with backstory ties to a recently deceased pirate captain. It involves puzzle solving, combat, and intriguing roleplay opportunities for your characters.
It is digital only, with no print versions on the market. It was designed for digital games run through Discord or other chat programs.
Invited to dinner at a prestigious hunting lodge, the player characters are confronted with a strange meal and an invite to a exotic hunting expedition the next day. The host has unsavory plans for his guests…
This adventure one-shot comes with another set of 4 pre-generated characters and is designed to showcase the Ancestry rules in Pathfinder. It has more of a combat focus than Sundered Waves, but also highlights some of the roleplaying opportunities at the dinner party scene.
When down time turns into action time. The players are taking some time after an adventure to rest and recuperate when all hell breaks loose! Almost literally…
Head Shot the Rot comes with 4 pregened characters and is designed to showcase Pathfinder Guns & Gears content. Guns and Gears is all about Firearms, Steam, and clockpunk.
Evil Cults, Noble Intrigue, and assassins of a dark and evil nature. Mark of the Mantis is all about finding the right moment to either do away with this mettling noble while breaking into the mansion that they are hiding in.
Mark of the Mantis is all about infiltration and being sneaky. It comes with 4 more pregened characters with ties to the Red Mantis Assassins Guild and a hired merc with a chip on their shoulder.
Paizo also offers smaller PDFs called Bounties. These are short encounters designed to be completed in 1 to 2 hours or play. These can be done standalone, or can be dropped into any current campaign.
Bounties are great for GMs attempting to explore new rules options, or add some spice to their games. They are almost like Mini-one-shots to be used by a GM like a chef uses fancy spices. They can also be used to showcase certain rules or rulesets for players to use in game.
Happy Adventuring, Pathfinders!