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37

All of these games play excellently as one-shot games. I've run many of these at cons, sometimes as part of my "RPG speed dating" event (Indie by Storm) where I'll run 4-6 games in 4 hours. If I can give you a feel for a game in 40 minutes, then you can have a blast with it in 5 hours! I have updated this answer with other folks' excellent answers, but ...


22

For a one-off, treat it as a short story, rather than a chapter of a trilogy or an episode of a TV series. Here are a few things to keep in mind: Self-contained story. Its plot must resolve to everyone's satisfaction. It's ok if a thread or two are left dangling, but the main story must end. Pick a central theme of your adventure, which can be summed up ...


18

Roll for Shoes It's got technically no character creation (although you might want to name your PC). You collect stats/abilities as you go. The rules, in their entirety, consist of seven lines (eight sentences). The phrasal nature of character abilities can lead to very amusing characters if your group plays that way, though it doesn't have to. Turns are ...


17

Risus: The Anything RPG would fit the bill perfectly: Character creation lasts about 20 seconds if you know what you're doing. Simply divide 10 d6s into three or more clichés and you're done. It's probably 5 minutes or less if you need to explain the rules. The rules are very simple: generally there are just TNs or opposed checks where you pit one cliché ...


13

Your one shot game has to complete itself. It needs a distinct beginning, middle, and end that will all take place in the same ~4-8 hour session. While obvious, this is actually a pretty big deal since a lot of what happens in the game can be considered filler from a storyline perspective. What I mean is that when you're running a campaign, you might ...


12

I have been running my Fate based prototype game in a monthly RPG meetup for well over a year now. By the nature of the event, every game is a one shot, mostly with players of very different levels of RPG experience, who have not played together before. The hardest part turns out to be the world and character creation phases. It is time consuming, ...


11

For this, I usually look for inspiration at series episodes. You'll notice how many good series intersperse "breather" episodes between their "arc story" episodes. Still, those breather episodes always carry small hooks to the main plot, or maybe they introduce new characters, new situations... add into the session things that, looked up front don't seem ...


10

These are all games I've run or played as instant, one-evening games, and had fun with. We greatly enjoyed Fiasco, which is designed for playing in a single evening from beginning to end. The book is somewhat set up to teach the rules as you read, although we found that having one or two players who had already read the rules made things much smoother. ...


10

(Classic) Paranoia is tremendous fun with the right group and only requires minimal preparation. You've done it well if characters have died a few times before the mission begins - this is one reason not to bother with a complex mission. 'Deliver a package' is all you need; often the more innocuous the mission seems the more paranoid the characters become. ...


10

When I've done this before, I look at the example of a television series. During the first season, they have a 'pilot' or a short season. With that in mind, I usually hit these points: Plan for an arc that will be resolved during the scenario, so that even if the game doesn't continue, you have closure. To this point, make the final conflict the final ...


10

I would suggest you back into the level based on the amount of time you're willing to commit to character creation. In my experience, there tends to be a non-linear relationship between character level and time required to create the character from scratch. Let's create a simple model of how long it takes to make a character (assuming players are familiar ...


10

I've run and written con games. I just ran a six hour one-shot of the Feng Shui starter scenario for my group. The biggest thing is making sure there's a fulfilling experience in the time allotted. Here's things to do and to watch out for to run successful one-shots, the "Five P's." Prep You want to either provide pregens or have people do chargen ahead of ...


9

I own but have never run Floating Vagabond, but I've done a lot of Paranoia and I've never seen it take past the first kill for people to "get it" and jump in with both feet. Including a lot of convention games with first-timers that have gone great. I remember fondly one Owlcon where we had a big Paranoia game and one player who was a bit of a... twerp, ...


9

Fiasco is a one-shot a game in which you create and play out a Coen Brothers-esque scenario. It's for three-to-five players, GM-less, has no character sheets, and games last about 2-3 hours. Given your constraints, it will probably be more black comedy than lighthearted, but if the players all agree to keep it lighthearted, it could work out that way. I'd ...


8

A few suggestions, all of wich are free: Lady Blackbird, sort of a cross between steampunk and Firefly, a game and scenario in one with pregenerated characters (and the possibility of making your own) Archipelago II - a rules-light game inspired by the Earthsea chronicles. Risus - bills itself as the "anything rpg". These three are all easy to learn and ...


8

I've One-upped all of the answers that are already here. You have two issues, how to create an adventure quickly, and how to keep the workload down. Pregenerated characters are a good idea.. BUT you may want to get the PCs to build them just to save your own workload. To compromise- give the PCs some guidelines: "you are all playing dwarves" or "Arcane ...


8

I'm not sure there's a system that particularly supports this, but the scenario setup that immediately leaps to mind is providing backstory to the players individually before the game. Tell the group that time is a concern, so in the day or so before the game you're going to individually contact each one to explain the backstory that leads up to the game; ...


8

I run one-shot Shadowrun missions at conventions. A couple of things I can offer: Use pre-generated characters. If certain characters are critical for mission success, make sure they get played, or NPC'd. Some missions are more flexible than others. Keep the mission simple. It can have a big plot twist, or a dark, oppressive tone, but it shouldn't involve ...


8

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 ...


8

Many of the systems I like, GURPS, Harnmaster, Champions don't a lot of players familiar with them in the rural area I live. So I rely on the following to get them up to speed. I ask them what kind of character they want to play in general terms and then go back and forth until we define it in the system that we are playing. I run a single combat encounter ...


7

I have to chime in with a game that nobody has mentioned yet: Og, Unearthed Edition. It is summed up best by these words from the back of the book: You are a caveman. You know those cavemen who invented fire, the wheel and civilization? You're not that kind of caveman. The level of hilarity achieved in games of Og is vastly out of proportion to the ...


7

(Editing in Adam's excellent rating system.) The one-page GHOST/ECHO RPG+++ 1Shot+++ GM+++ Play+++ from the same designer of Lady Blackbird is great fun -- I played it with my parents and it worked well. It's based on the Otherkind Dice system by Vincent Baker which is a precursor of Apocalypse World which one of your other respondants mentioned, but it ...


7

For the first time running any system, especially for a one shot I would recommend pre-gens. If it were an extended campaign, the first session of the game should be everyone sitting together and making a cohesive party, however you don't want to make them get invested in characters that won't matter (and waste the night you could be making the one-shot ...


6

Here is my short list of games that make a good one-shot: InSpectres Zombie Cinema My Life with Master PTA (Prime Time Adventures) (this works pretty good for a one shot) Toon 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars (space marine game a la Starship Troopers) I have played all these successfully.


6

Adam Dray's list is excellent, almost most (all) require the GM to have read the game in advance. None should require knowing the rules "in and out". I will note that many of them require the GM to be a bit pushy if you're going to squeeze in a whole game in 5 hours if your players tend to mosey through their games. For example, Shock is technically ...


6

A lot of the games listed above are pretty great. You might also want to try these as well: Murderous Ghosts is a light-weight game that doesn't require preparation, as it's sort of in a choose your own adventure format, and can be just about as short as you want it to be (there's a narratively sound escape hatch of everybody dies). It's a 2 person game, ...


6

Og Unearthed Edition: Pro simple Humor enforced by players being prohibited from using words other than those the character ca use during session almost everyone grasps the "caveman and dinosaurs" setting, despite its surreality Con Some players frustrated by limited vocabulary System is too simple for some players no support publications Either d6 ...


6

First of all, Shadowrun one shots can easily become a fallback game, so don't discount it. Yes, it does need some episodical content for the temporary closure but what you need to do has a vital amount of prep time so don't start it if you're not going to finish it. Build a Stable: Don't want your players to be upset about the luck of the draw? Make ...


6

Wow, just wow. I have the game you're looking for, it's downloadable for free, it's called Great Orc Gods, and it features every single thing you asked for. The only problem with it is that the game has a really low replayability (because it quickly becomes repetitive) so you'll be soon in search of something else. Luckily for us my answer won't be the only ...


5

I've had quite a lot of difficulty with jumping into high-level characters in a campaign. One of the hardest parts to master is the idea of synergy. With a long-running campaign, characters grow together as their fitness equations generally include support from each other. That support shapes the direction of growth. I have three recommendations that I've ...



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