One-Night Dungeon
November 18, 2009 5:26 PM   Subscribe

I need a good idea for a one-night D&D game!

I would like to be able to run a fun, well-plotted, and varied, but short, D&D scenario, that could be played start-to-finish in one session of several hours. Something I could use to introduce new people to the concept of RPGs, or just run as a pick-up game some evening. Ideally it would be a scenario even playable by just one person.

It should have a mixture of things; talking to NPCs, doing some problem-solving, some skill use, and some combat. And it would be great if there were several different ways to play through it; a stealthy character could sneak around through things, a brute could bash his way along, etc. A clever 'twist' is always good! Something more interesting than "Go into this cave and kill the kobolds" I can adapt other rules systems, it doesn't have to be D&D. A published module, with maps and stuff, would be great, but if you remember playing something like this and just give me a summary of the story and the unfolding plot, I can add the paperwork! Thanks for any help!
posted by The otter lady to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Just a small piece, but if you really want it to happen in "a few hours" you should probably pre-make a bunch of characters, print out sheets with pretty pictures of each, and let players pick one, rather than rolling new ones. Time-wasteful.

The pictures will help with new players. "Oooh, I wanna be the sexy elf chick!"
posted by rokusan at 5:28 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

You will probably find what you want somewhere on the Wikipedia list of official TSR D&D modules. I doubt you will be disappointed by any of them.

If you have a decent knowledge of D&D updating a module to the current edition should not be very hard, and most of the modules will come with premade characters (updating the characters for the current ruleset will probably be the most labor-intensive part, if you go that route).
posted by idiopath at 5:34 PM on November 18, 2009

Oops, I meant to mention many of the modules on the above page have links for a free download of an electronic version of the module.
posted by idiopath at 5:35 PM on November 18, 2009

I will check out the lists, idiopath! Thanks! Most of the TSR modules were pretty long; we played a bunch of them and it usually took several sessions to get through them. I remember some little mini-modules, about 10in by 5 in, cardstock covers and just a few pages inside, they were cheap... I don't know who made them but that's more the length I'm looking for.

And rokusan, that's a great idea! I will definitely do that!
posted by The otter lady at 6:02 PM on November 18, 2009

One of the best role-playing sessions I ever experienced was a one-shot in which all the players were randomly assigned pre-created characters with pre-rolled stats and defined backgrounds/personalities/motives. We wasted no time dithering over what kind of characters we wanted to play and jumped right into the the story.

So I whole-heartedly agree with rokusan's suggestion to pre-roll characters. Agree with including pictures and would also add that you should include a *brief* (100-200 word) synopsis of each character's background, personality, and motives.

Although it's extra prep work for you the DM, the upside for you of pre-creating the characters (besides saving all that time otherwise wasted fucking around with character creation) is that you can ensure that the characters have the right mix of skills, abilities, and equipment to tackle whatever it is you're planning to throw at them, and DON'T have anything that could function as a deux ex machina to bypass your cleverist puzzles.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:06 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, and do you have miniatures and a grid mat? That makes visualizing combat scenes much easier and thus easier/faster to play.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:08 PM on November 18, 2009

The mini-modules you're recalling were put out by Alderac (AEG) way back in 3.0 days. I found some for sale pretty cheap here.
posted by nulledge at 6:39 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Apparently someone's also posted those mini-adventures on scribd too.
posted by nulledge at 6:41 PM on November 18, 2009

If you plan to do this more than once, that exactly what Dungeon Delve was made for.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 6:43 PM on November 18, 2009

I did something like this in college. Basically, a bunch of us who were regular gamers were sick of our girlfriends (yes, we actually had them-- crazy, huh? what were they thinking?) bugging us about what the heck were we doing every Sunday night with those dice, anyway? So I wrote a quick-and-easy "Zombies Attack Our College" adventure for gamers and non-gamers alike, and pre-generated a bunch of archetype characters-- the hippie, the skater chick, the physics nerd, the women's studies major, etc. ad nauseam. They were all essentially the equivalent of the classic level-zero man(or woman)-at arms, but I gave each character a skill or ability that could come in handy (the only one I remember is that the skater kid was the only character with an actual weapon proficiency-- in skateboards, of course).

The adventure itself was pretty simple-- fight off the first wave of zombies, interact with the kindly old lady who cleaned the dorms to find out where the zombies were coming from, go to the source of the zombies (the college president's house, naturally) fight a few more zombies, solve a couple of puzzles to find the boss's secret lair, then fight the boss, the end.

Descriptions were easy because it was places and NPC's we were all familiar with, plus zombies-- and everyone knows what you mean when you say zombies.

I used the Palladium rules system because at the time we were playing a Rifts campaign (I think), which was simple enough.

It was a little work to put the thing together, but everyone seemed to have a pretty good time. The Coors Party Ball helped, I think.

But yeah, my advice would be to write something really simple set in a place the non-gamers are familiar with, use NPC's they're familiar with, and pre-generate your characters.

Worked for me!
posted by dersins at 7:11 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Don't underestimate the amount of time this stuff takes with new gamers. There is not going to be a lot you can really do in one night. Short and simple: an item has been stolen from the local temple. Some say Mad Cleric 1 ran off with it; but is mysterious Cleric 2 hiding something? One of the locals saw him messing around at the mausoleum last night. Enter the player characters!
posted by flavor at 7:40 PM on November 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Dungeon Delve is a nice little collection of three-encounter mini-adventures, one for each adventurer level. Given that new players are likely to take longer, I'd suggest adding a little "interacting in town" section to the beginning.

The downside is that these are essentially "go and kill the kobolds" adventures, although they do have D&D 4e's emphasis on interesting environmental hazards. Still, they might serve as kind of a combat-oriented foundation over which you can lay some social interaction.

Going in a widely different direction, the edition of Call of Cthulhu I own -- I think it's the latest -- has two or three adventures in the back that seem pretty short to me. They're much more open-ended and organic in design, about as far from "go and kill the kobolds" as you can get.
posted by lore at 8:35 PM on November 18, 2009

Dungeon magazine is your friend. They have short, smart, gorgeously-illustrated adventures in every issue. [pause to get link] ... And are defunct. But you can buy past issues, and in fact the awesome kuo-toa story in this issue was the one I was thinking of, "Zenith Trajectory." A lot of conversation with tricksy NPCs, a lot of battles under weird conditions, and neat imagery.
posted by Methylviolet at 8:37 PM on November 18, 2009

Hmm, not defunct, but run by WotC now.
posted by Methylviolet at 9:42 PM on November 18, 2009

I always wanted to do something 'real time.' D&D is basic free formed storytelling. Give them characters, have them add something or a couple of somethings to 'personalize' and give them connection/caring for their characters.

It doesn't have to be a hack and slash - it can be: princess/significant person kidnapped, and you have 2 hours (real time) to find them. Keep it fast and dynamic; let them roll dice and just make up the results you want.
posted by filmgeek at 9:47 PM on November 18, 2009

Disclaimer: I haven't played pen-and-paper RPGs since 2nd edition AD&D. (I've played quite a few CRPGs, though, including the entire AD&D-based Neverwinter Nights series.)

I think the pregenerated characters are a perfect idea. You might want to restrict the character classes to fighters and thieves, though—clerics and wizards (and the more exotic classes) require significantly more technical knowledge to play at all, let alone effectively. And if you have a bunch of different classes, you'll have to explain different rules and systems to every player, which wastes time.

You're trying to introduce them to the basic concept of playing a role in a collaborative, unfolding story (with an element of chance), give them some familiarity with the game world and the rhythm of the game, and hopefully get them excited about playing again and learning more. Stick to the basics—don't underestimate how intimidating a character sheet full of unfamiliar numbers and acronyms is going to be to a brand-new player.

With that said, a few ideas:
  • There's a werewolf preying on a small village. The PCs have to figure out who it is (the werewolf lives in the village, and may not know they're the werewolf) and deal with them (which could mean killing them, curing them, or something else). (I'm totally ripping this off from some old Ravenloft module.)
  • The party has been invited to an evening party at the home of a wealthy but eccentric noble/wizard (perhaps as thanks for some noble deed—or perhaps the PCs are meeting for the first time, in a House on Haunted Hill type scenario). The other guests are equally eccentric; the house is eccentric (sprawling and maze-like, full of improbable angles and weird sounds and inexplicable things/happenings—I'm thinking of "The Sword" from the original Thief game). The host disappears; things get weird (and perhaps violent). The players can interact with diverse and entertaining NPCs (the eccentric guests), explore a varied dungeon-like environment, and work as a team to figure out what the hell's going on and achieve their goal. (Exactly what that goal is, I don't know. Escape? Complete some task assigned by the host?) I'm also thinking (and, yes, I am ripping off all of these ideas) of the first palace scene in Temple of Doom—things are strange enough at dinner to indicate that something is off; then the heroes stumble into the creepy bowels of the place and things really start getting weird.
  • The party has been tasked to escort someone of importance through a wilderness region. Trekking through the forest, they stumble into a hidden valley/town/whatever inhabited by some kind of intelligent, fantastic beings. These beings are intensely secretive and distrustful of mundane creatures, and do not wish their settlement to be known. Through magical means, they prevent the PCs from leaving in order to protect their secret. They players must escape, either through violence, stealth (acquire the key/code/secret to escape through theft or eavesdropping), or diplomacy (convince the beings to let them go if they can perform some great favor—perhaps the players were able to find the settlement in the first place because the beings' [magical invisibility field is failing|elder thaumaturges are stricken with a strange disease], and the players must find a way to [repair the magical device|cure the disease]?).

Oh my God; I think I might be a nerd.
posted by ixohoxi at 9:56 PM on November 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

I like yours better ixohoxi :)

On the pre-generated characters, I agree that it could be a great idea. For my part, I am no longer running games for new players where I provide the characters. A well run D&D game takes a lot of time and love, and not only from the DM. PCs share a lot of responsibility when it comes to creating a truly great game, and I think the best place to start with this responsibility is their characters.

Not everybody has their own books - especially people you'd like to casually introduce would never buy the (rather expensive) books just for an introduction. That's why there are PDFs of these things. Some people (wink wink) - or other, well known places - can provide them. New players in my games receive the PHB, if they need it, the character sheet PDF, and encouraging instructions that they are to learn how to generate their character, review the basics of combat in the combat chapter, and drinks on me if they also bring a 1-2 page outline of their character's personality.
posted by flavor at 12:00 AM on November 19, 2009

Caster classes are significantly simpler in 4th edition than any of the previous editions, ixohoxi, I wouldn't worry about that. Really any of the classes in the PHB1 are pretty simple, especially at low levels.
posted by dagnyscott at 7:12 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

Focus a lot of your energy on creating at least one NPC that is really interactive with the PCs and who is more than just a computer game style questgiver. Players riffing with an NPC who might not even be that important is some of the biggest "hook" to pen and paper I can think of. Bonus points if the NPC is funny, and not exactly as they seem. My own DM skills are shaky (can never mention to maintain a whole "world") and I can never hold a game together, but people still mention funny interactions with NPCs of mine from more than five years ago.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:51 AM on November 19, 2009

My husband and I are in the process of planning a very similar game to play with my siblings and a friend at Christmas. Here are our plans so far:
1) There will be two experienced players at the table and three newbies. One of the experienced players will DM and the other one will play and help the other players.
2) We're adapting a pre-published Level 1 adventure from Dungeon magazine that has some nice environmental hazards/puzzles and a couple of combat encounters. However I will say that in a game populated by mostly newbies, expect that a single session may only give you time for maybe 2 combat encounters plus exploration. Maybe only 1 encounter depending how hard it is.
3) We're pre-rolling a party of four characters. I'm going to make up packets for each character that includes their character sheet, printed index cards with their powers (yes, we're playing 4th edition), and an appropriate number of dice (for example, this rogue has an attack that does 3d8 damage, so I give the rogue 3 d8s and one of everything else, etc). Ideally, I'm going to do at least a bit of color-coordination to help them tell the dice apart ("Roll your d20 - that's the blue one.") If I have time I'm also going to include a "combat shortcuts" sheet with the rules, customized for the prerolled character ("To attack, roll the blue d20 and add 5 to the result. The DM will tell you if you hit the monster. If you hit, roll one of your red d8s to determine your damage.") Alternately I may do some strategic highlighting on the character sheets. What I'm trying to do is eliminate as many of the "wait, which number do I add here?" confusion points as possible.
4) If there aren't enough people to fill all the roles needed, you can always make up some sort of helpful "Lockpicks of Great Thievery" type items that the party could be given or lent by an NPC for the purposes of that particular quest.
5) I'm still fairly new myself and I find that having minis and a mat really help. Especially if you have easily distinguishable ones for each player. You can do colored glass stones or whatever for monsters.

That said, if you aren't wedded to D&D and depending on the potential players, you might want to dress up some existing stuff in a completely different package- change the names of some pre-done stuff, and you can have Harry Potter RPG and the orcs are now Death Eaters and instead of lockpicks you have Alohomora. The "Zombies Attack Our College" thing referenced above is also a great idea. Also, don't be afraid to veer away from the high fantasy setting into a more wacky and humorous place if it works for the group- the DM Guide might warn against naming your NPCs things like "Tim the Enchanter," but honestly, if Tim the Enchanter sounded like Tim Gunn and told the party to "Make it work!" when giving the quest, I would be vastly entertained by him. *g*
posted by oblique red at 9:27 AM on November 19, 2009 [1 favorite]

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