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I'm going to GM a session of Dungeon World this saturday. My problem is that the book doesn't really deal with one-shot sessions in any detail. It discusses how to make sessions in great length though.

One shot sessions are very different from regular campaigns in the way that you have a rather strict time frame. How do I account for this?

I have some ideas so far, but I fear that they are going to destroy the "open ended"-ness that DW tries to promote.

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2 Answers 2

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A one-shot session of Dungeon World is pretty trivial, actually. So far, all games of DW I've played have been one-shots. All you need to prepare as DM is a short adventure, typically a dungeon. You don't need to deal with Fronts at all, and setup is the normal quick character-creation process of throwing the playbooks at the players and asking them to fill in the blanks. You just run the game like it's a First Session (p. 177), except that there won't be a second session so you don't have to do the After the First Session exercises. The checklist of goals on page 180 is what you should focus on.

To complete an adventure in a single session, you need either an adventure that you've got a really good handle on how to pace to fit, or design (or borrow) one that has an open-ended, players-decided goal. A dungeon that they can choose to back out of at any time is one example of such an open-ended, player-controlled adventure. Completing an adventure isn't really necessary, but something you can try if you want. The players will have fun regardless of whether the adventure concludes. The worst that can happen is that they ask to play again to find out what happens next, right?

My first experience was with Tony Dowler's Purple Worm Graveyard: we started at the doors of the dungeon, and the objective was to return home with wealth or die trying. As it was a convention game, we could choose at any time to back out and take "home" whatever wealth we'd found. (Not that we couldn't have done the same in a non-convention game, but it was helpful for the DM to say we could do that explicitly so that we could have a satisfying conclusion within the time allotted.) We didn't explore the whole dungeon (and it's not even a very large one), but we had lots of fun, enjoyed the open-ended options of the game just fine, and escaped the dungeon with a satisfying amount of loot and intangible discoveries. In a two-hour session we got through seven chambers, so a budget of 15–30 minutes per room is probably a reasonable rule of thumb when you're drawing a dungeon for a one-shot of DW.

My second experience playing DW (also at a con) was an investigation adventure that involved a town, a mayor with secrets, and a church. We didn't finish the adventure in the time available, but we had a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyed the open-endedness and player agency that DW offers. I would have liked to finish uncovering what was going on with that cult, but it didn't detract from enjoying the play process in the least.

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I'd love to add some knowledge from a DW-guide by John Aergard. It's full title: Dragonslaying on a Timetable: Running Tight 4-Hour Dungeon World One-Shots With Zero Preparation.

Briefly, this is what it's all about:

He makes no preparation whatsoever beforehand. If you're a new GM however, you might want to read through the rulebook a few times :)

He suggests a very strict timing so players get a full Dungeon World experience AND finish an adventure in about 4 hours.

  • 0:00 - Intro. Talk about safety, RPGs, and so forth. Begin making characters and doing Q&A.
  • 0:30 - Characters, setting, and premises have been set. First encounter begins.
  • 2:15 - 1st and 2nd scenes done; take 15 minutes to level up and for bio break.
  • 2:30 - Final scene begins.
  • 3:45 - Final scene done, debrief with the players, thank them for playing.

He uses the players to create the world from scratch.

GM: Barbarian, tell us about these lands you have arrived in.

By having them answer questions about their characters, they make up locations, plots, NPC's, goals, destinations...

GM: Paladin, what is your quest in these lands?

Afterwards, he asks questions to entangle every character with all the information they have already set up.

Paladin: I'm here to prevent the Necromancer from completing her spell. GM: Oh. So Thief, what have you come to steal from the Necromancer? And Wizard, are you still friends with the Necromancer? Where did you first meet her?

Once everything is established, the scenes start. He takes the players through three scenes

  • The First Scene starts the players off with immediate danger.
  • The Second Scene gives them a choice on how to reach the Final Destination
  • The Third Scene features the Big Finale, with an interesting foe in an interesting location.

In the final battle, he makes sure to 'fight back' hard enough so one of the players get to meet Death. He wraps up by having each player tell them a little something about their character 'after the events'.

I think it's a perfect guide to setting up a one-shot with new players, even a new GM. Also, his hints and tips make sure these new players have a firm grasp of what Dungeon World is all about when the game is finished.

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