D&D 4e One-Shots: Putting it into Action

S1052251As a result of playing four very different one-shot games at DC Game Day, I condensed my thoughts about one-shots into one simple rule:

Everything important on the character sheet should come up during play.

It’s an easy thing to say, but not so easy to put into practice. However, I got a chance recently to plan a one-shot 4e game to be run on National Library Game Day. While I didn’t end up running the 4th level “advanced” game out of Dungeon Delve (all the players were new to 4e or close to it), I still got to go through the process of creating characters for the game.

In some one-shot games, the adventure is formed around the characters, as they all have links to each other and inform the story. Others, like the RPGA games, are more generic because you show up with a character. The adventure I was to run was a little bit of both: it was a non-tailored adventure of 3 linked encounters, and we also wanted to give people options of what to play. However, since they were going to be new or newish players, we had to provide the characters.

I made six 4th level characters. When making them I tried to follow the following principles:

  • Don’t give them any items that granted them resistance to an attack type that wasn’t present in the encounter. This included both not giving them items of cold resistance if there were no cold attacks and no items that helped against grabs if none of the monsters usually grabbed.
  • Try and give them powers and feats that worked with the other characters’ powers and feats. There was a Rogue in the party, so I gave the Sorcerer the feat that gave bonuses to attacking flanked targets at range.
  • Give each character options for different scenarios that will probably come up. In other words, don’t make it so a character is specifically “stuck” in an encounter. I like, for higher levels, giving a few consumables to help out. While the Fighter may always want to be hacking apart a single bad guy in melee, he also has a jar of alchemist’s fire in case they’re just out of reach (and conveniently bunched up.)
  • At the same time, don’t “metagame” your own adventure to let the PCs automatically win. Your job as the DM, especially so for a one-shot, is to make it fun for the players, which involves a certain amount of challenge and expense. Giving everyone “+1 Gnollslayer Bows” in your adventure with Gnolls means there won’t be a challenge. Giving one character a one use “wound a Gnoll” item, on the other hand, means the player will have an important choice of when and where to use it.

That may sound like a lot, but it was easier than you might think. You, as the DM, should know what’s coming anyway, it’s just taking that knowledge back to the character level.

There’s plenty more to be said about planning and developing one-shot games, but those will come in later posts.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.


  1. I also ran an intro game for our library on National Library Game Day. I would definitely agree with all of the above points.

    One more thing – I designed the characters using the D&D Character Builder, but I customized the sheets to remove a lot of the irrelevant information. If you’re trying to get people into the hobby, it seems important to not overwhelm them. They can learn all the extra crunchy bits once they’ve started playing in a real group.

    Overall, it was a great success – we had 3 game tables, with kids ages 8-15, plus a few moms & dads. Definitely worth it!

  2. That’s great advice, Chris, thanks! And glad to hear that your National Library Game Day was a success!

  3. The thing I never see in 4E one shots is anything that isn’t combat. I know it’s hard to induce RP for characters no one has an investment in but often there isn’t even dialog. What I would like to fill one with is something awesome from this edition, skill challenges.
    To further your point, why have skills on a character sheet if you won’t use them. For an introductory or demo game it’s part of the system that should be exhibited. For an educational exercise such as library day its a great problem solving game. For jst a normal game though this not only breaks up the chain of combats but also can add story, RP, somethi g for the non-combat oriented players and most important an entertaining encounter the doesn’t require having learned pages of rules.