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Anatomy of a One-Shot

Last week our D&D night was a special one-shot session that still took place in our regular campaign continuity. One of our players was moving away, so we wanted to play one last time before he left. Fortunately, we happened to be directly between chapters and not buried in some dungeon, but I didn't want to start the next chapter since the moving player wouldn't get to see any of it anyway. It took some brainstorming, but I was able to weave together enough loose ends and dormant plot hooks into a cohesive and fun night, while still remaining relevant to the long-term campaign!

In my opinion, when you run a one-shot that takes place as part of your regular campaign, it's a great opportunity for the DM to:
• Expand on NPC personalities and their relationships to the party
• Sprinkle plot hooks, clues and hints that you might neglect during a busy "real" session
• Let the players really guide the night and do what they want; it's not part of the "real" plot or storyline so let them have fun! It's a perfect time to look back at what silly/unexpected things the players really latched onto and had fun with, and focus on those things for a few hours.

Previous Events

A while back, the party fought off a rampaging Umber Hulk and saved some innocent civilians. However, the highlight of that night wasn't their heroics, but instead how they saw a little cart on the official map labeled Meat on a Stick. Being typical D&D players, the instantly fixated on this random little stand and, after some improvised vendor dialogue, purchased the "franchise" and started elaborate plans to turn it into a lucrative business. (Players. Sigh.)

In a different incident, a local inn a short distance away from town was ransacked by bandits and mostly destroyed about a year ago. The players fought off the bandits but were too late to save the innkeep & workers. Since then it's been cleaned up but abandoned. The party purchased the deed to turn it into Meat on a Stick's headquarters.

The party is also in an ongoing war with local thieves guild The Last Laugh, having thwarted their efforts on numerous occasions. Both sides hate the other.

What I decided to go with as the basis for the session was the Grand Opening of Meat on a Stick, rebuilt on the old, destroyed inn. I let them pretty much design the layout and floorplan of the restaurant themselves (which was a lot of fun for everyone), working with a big supply of D&D tiles on the table. I then had the NPC author of our campaign newspaper arrive and suggest they hold a grand opening event, so he could write a restaurant review in the newspaper. Naturally there would need to be important city dignitaries and officials at such an important grand opening...

Two encounters is a perfect amount for a one-shot night, and this worked out perfectly - one encounter would be the party getting the required meat for the night (huge, rare animals captured and brought back by their ogre chef), in a huge melee right in the restaurant's backyard. The other encounter was a surprise ambush by the Last Laugh during the meal, a dual purpose assault to both injure/kill the PC's and to damage their reputation by killing the dignitaries.

This led to some great creative goofiness as the party came up with insane ideas for entertaining the guests, such as enchanting all the cutlery to sing songs and serving all sorts of bizarre, exotic meat (dire lion chops, portal drake stew and phase spider pudding were all on the menu).

There was also some nice individual roleplaying time as the players got to play their characters in non-combat situations, and expand on their individual quirks and personalities a bit. The barbarian decided that he wasn't going to serve anyone and acted as the bouncer. Meanwhile, the warforged cleric took the opportunity to chat up the mayor about the many benefits of establishing an all-construct city guard. Additionally, they got to interact and chat with important NPC's who, though they had met them before, had never really received equal table time with the party. Important NPC's who will soon play major roles in the campaign...

The Last Laugh's attack caught the party completely off-guard, and was surprisingly emotional, as it was the first time the thieves guild had proactively attacked the party instead of vice versa. Since Meat on a Stick was the party's precious baby, they took the attack very, very personally. It was also very interesting watching the party actually be concerned about property damage and such for the first time EVER.

At the end of the night, Meat on a Stick had gone from a funny running joke to an actual, in-game thing, many essential NPC's had been fleshed out, and the Last Laugh hate was stronger than ever. In retrospect, it's probably good to run sessions like this once in a while, to let the players' actions dictate the night's events, tie up loose ends and plant some nice plot/story hooks for the future.


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