I want to run a shadowrun game, but alas, I don't think my players or I have the time or the commitment to have an on-going campaign.

So, a one-shot it is. Or a series of one-shots interspersed throughout the year. But Shadowrun isn't a good system for one-shots. So much of the established flow of the game is getting jobs, dickering over price, investigating both the target and the client, and working above the mission. There's an expected style of play. One-shots plant you in a predefined role squarely in the box that Shadowrun expects you to shoot your way out of.

So, for any generic one-shot:

  • Starting level and skills to match the session, rather than a session to match the player's level.

  • Pre-made characters help a lot. Most people aren't going to spend hours making a character that will live less than hours. And then there's that one guy who looks up a build or can powergame in his sleep and comes in with a death-god.

  • Goals need to be stated. Since they're really not going to be in it for character growth, you have to explicitly tell them why they're here and what constitutes a "win".
  • There has to be a very definitive END. There is no wrapping up next week, no cliffhangers, nothing. The universe effectively ends when people go home. So plan for conflict resolution and some post-action wrap-up eplilog at the end of the night to let the players know how well they did.
  • And it has to be brutally short. No epics. No twisting plot curveballs (which I'm probably too fond of in Shadowrun). Indeed the plot can be all of "someone pulls a gun on you while you're picking up pizza".

All that's basic one-shot requirements. I'm having some trouble with how to stuff the Shadowrun experience into one night.


6 Answers 6


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 a lengthy, multi-stage investigation or setup. Figure out ahead of time how the players will (most likely) try to beat the adventure, using the clues you give them. Use the "Five-room dungeon" model as a guideline.
  • Impose an in-game time limit on the characters, and put pressure on them periodically to get the job done. This is a big one. Remind them every so often that time is moving forward, as they go about planning and doing legwork.
  • Keep the game moving. Players will spend the first three hours of a four hour session preparing for the meet with Mr. Johnson, if you let them. Railroad them over the boring parts, and say, "You're there." instead of asking where they want to be. Let them have more freedom when they get to the interesting parts.
  • Make sure everybody at the table gets a turn, not just the loud ones. Shifting the spotlight from player to player also helps to keep the game moving.
  • Watch your time. Gloss over things, and make the run a little easier, if you're running behind.
  • Make sure combat runs smoothly. I find that using index cards for initiative is a big help. When there's combat involving only some of the party members, keep them short, and try to give non-combatants the spotlight, too, between rounds.
  • If you need to save time, gloss over complicated procedures (particularly hacking) with a single skill roll, or teamwork test.

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 anywhere from 1.5x to 2x a number of characters than players. This becomes integral to the following step because this is the stable of Shadowrunners they choose from - it's important to have a one or two line blurb (the catchphrases/quotes)

  • Design YOUR Mission: Make the one-shot mission you want to run. If it's a one-shot, don't be afraid to throw a little extra cash at your players for the job. Keep it as freeform as possible - design the opposition as a stable as well. Have Mr. Smith tell them the tagline to the mission they have already accepted for the higher rate, but most importantly do not change your core objective - just leave it open to multiple angles.

  • Selection: The crown jewel to all of this is to tell the players the basic idea of their mission and let them pick their characters from the predesigned stable based on the skills they want to use to do the mission.

  • Execution: Cat-and-Mouse on steroids occurs as you have your hivemind to power the NPCs and environment where they have their teamwork (or lack thereof). You've already designed an environment, just not what the reactions will be and this will create an environment rife with what Shadowrunners do best - Improvise the heck out of a problem.

Feel free to do a couple of runs with the same stable when you need a fallback game ("Well, there's only two of you and I have a couple missions. Pick and go.") and eventually you can let them adopt characters when they find a good fit and make the one shots to that stable.


My regular group one-shots Shadowrun all the time, here's how we play it.

  • Serial One-shots: There is no overarching meta plot, but characters are played every time we one-shot. If a player wants to bring in a new character, that is fine.
  • Common Contacts: All of the players have a common pool of contacts, usually at the very least they have the same fixer, to give them various runs to go on.
  • Rotating GM: Each player takes a turn at the GM wheel, and may or may not incorporate story elements from the previous games.
  • You walk into a bar... and Mr. Johnson gives you a run that needs to be completed, soon, and with little planning. You have 6 hours and we'll pay double your normal fee. You in?

We of course also use common story elements including "One of the guys you normally run with is missing, and he still owes you for last week, go find him!" and "Man, the Yakuza really, really, doesn't like you. Good luck!"

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "double your normal fee." It's a solid reason for the players to just go-go-go, and since it's a one-shot, it's not like you need to worry about resources getting out of hand. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 9, 2012 at 14:50

Though your question defined requirements for a one-shot, from time to time you may also want to consider turning the traditional Shadowrun "Runners get approached to do X" introduction on its head. I ran a long campaign in which at least half of the adventures started with trouble finding the PCs. A campaign provides advantages in this regard, in that you can have actions PCs have taken in prior adventures lead to enemies wanting to knock them off, etc. But even with one-shot characters you might create situations where the action starts immediately, with no need for up-front PC legwork:

  • The PCs are all members of a mercenary unit. You give the players brief background on the various missions they've handled, to give them some context. They're training out in the Barrens, when suddenly they find themselves ambushed. They have to fight their way out of the ambush, figure out who was behind it, and deliver pain accordingly.
  • The PCs have a mutual friend. This mutual friend staggers into the bar where they're all hanging out, and dies in the arms of one of the PCs, but not before uttering a few cryptic words. The PCs have to unravel the mystery of who killed the friend, and why.
  • Minding their own business, the PCs find themselves in the middle of a firefight between two warring gangs. The PCs have to get out of the war zone in one piece.

Well, I've got a few things I've used to make super-duper-fast Shadowrun missions for pick-up campaigns; not quite the same as a one-shot because I don't have to wrap everything up at the end, but I've got a few quick things.

The Runner's Toolkit may be expensive, but it's got some stuff that's definitely worth it, including PACKS, which allows a degree of character customization without requiring too much system knowledge ("Veteran Gunslinger", for instance, is a PACKS module containing all you need to make a decent gunslinger). Chummer is a pretty good character generator for Windows that includes PACKS integrated, allowing you to churn out several generic archetypes quickly, whether for NPCs or one-shot PCs, plus you can then go in and fine-tune things. I've told newer players to use PACKS as a cheat sheet for what they should have on their characters to be well-rounded.

Make sure your adventures have everything ahead of time; there can be a cliffhanger in your one-shot, but you should try to make sure the players are engaged by the time it comes up, so you want to make sure you've got a general plan; I'd actually map out the scenario you want to use in real-time, allowing a bit of time for tangents and going off path, unless there's not much time allowed.

Calculate how long dice rolls take; I've found that in my group (horribly short attention spans accounted for), we can take up to thirty seconds to get all the numbers together to even do a roll (though if you're using pre-mades and have a reference copy that's great, though my all-digital bookkeeping makes it a mite of a pain), so I calculate combat length accordingly; I try to keep it just enough for everyone to get a taste of the action (so basically but wind it up in no more than five minutes. This means that I can have five different player rolls before getting the numbers down, plus narration, which puts a pretty big limit on how much stuff I can have, so I try to make combats end in the first or second combat turn, but still remain brutal.

I try to make the jobs something pretty simple; before they were made into super-actually-human entities, I sent players on ghoul hunts occasionally (though the more sapient they get the less tasteful I find making strictly antagonistically missions against them), but you could run into qualms if people don't like the subject matter. Basically, I try to make the job something people could have gone to a bulletin board and picked up (and we see stuff like that in-canon, which is a plus, though you do miss the Mr. J. aspect).

Another strategy I like is starting the scenario in media res, skipping all the getting to the location and the basic breaking in or the like (and giving problem/unimaginative players a guideline for what they should be doing, rather than gunbunny'ing) and putting them into the heat of action; for instance when I run the 3rd Ed. quickstart I would skip the whole Hans Brackhaus introduction and just put the players into their infiltration job, describing how they infiltrated the facility as the cleaning crew. Unfortunately, this can strip off a bit of the setting, but I've found putting in flashbacks or narrating the previous motives of the characters can put the mood into place.

Of course, I'm prone to using horribly short things as inspiration; I remember how the Shadowrun video game for Genesis would give you the occasional decision making snapshot where you got to choose from two or three options as events unfold, then immediately deal with any consequences (help someone for potential Karma, or let the people chasing them take them down and potentially do horribly nasty things to them), and I use them all the time, from someone offering grenades to the players for a miniscule fee but potentially being an undercover cop. This might result in stuff too short for a one-shot, but if, for instance, the players jumped the gun and did something they shouldn't have you could have them make up the rest of the allotted time running from KE or the Star.


Anyone who wants to run one-shots should read the Dead of Night rulebook. It's built to be a system entirely for one-shots and it has some advice on how to keep the game moving that's universally applicable.


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