Ready, Set, Game! – in Search of the One Hour One Shot

Earlier this year, in preparing to fulfil my regular gig as D101 Games‘ stall monkey at UK Games Expo, I sketched out a demo adventure for the Fate game Hunters of Alexandria. It was designed to play in 30-45 minutes for 1-3 players in a crowded convention hall, and although it never got the chance to hit the table at the Expo, it’s just been released as a free download. It’s made me think about an idea I think we should all try to make happen – the One Hour One Shot (1H1S) RPG Game.

At the same time, Baz from the Smart Party podcast has been mulling over some prep for a 1 hour demo of Blades in the Dark… I can’t give you more details but watch out for it, because what I’ve seen of it looks really good!


The key resource that keeps the RPG entry point high for the casual potential gamer isn’t money (you don’t even need to have your own dice) or exposure (pretty much everyone knows what D&D is these days), it’s time. How can you sell a hobby that involves 3 hours of your time every week? Even if you’re going to restrict yourself to one-shot / episodic games at conventions and meetups like Go Play Leeds, this means an informal commitment of one 4 hour session every month. That isn’t easy to get your head around if you’re not sure if you’ll like the game.

At the same time, more people are playing board games – and geeky board games – than ever before. I have seen copies of Pandemic on the shelves of some of my least geeky friends’ bookshelves; board games are mainstream now.

Also, aren’t there lots of games you want to try out? If you allocate even a short, sharp 4 hour session to each of them, you’ll be here forever working your way through them. One hour, though – even the busiest gamer can spare an hour, surely…


At the moment this is early in the design stages, so I’m not exactly an expert, but I’ve got a few ideas of how the 1H1S game might look:

  • simple, grabby pregens that give an easy idea of what they can do in the setting and game
  • a really tight structure – 3-4 scenes that showcase the setting and what the PCs do
  • an opportunity to learn the rules. Think about the first level of a well-written videogame, and how it teaches you to jump and move around before you learn to shoot; an attempt to walk through the core mechanics in a logical way
  • leave them hungry. Add hooks to further adventure, an obvious way out that they can lead on to if they want more. Aim to leave them wanting to know what else happens to their character, and how they can continue the game
  • really clear social structure. Some of this will come out in the way the GM (who we’ll assume has played RPGs before) presents it, but also with clear guidance. The social setup of a tabletop RPG is arcane if you haven’t played one before, and your players need as much help as you can get. Even games that explicitly spell out the social structure of play such as PBTA games get misinterpreted, and we’ve all been in games where the loudest player gets to hog screen time

What next?

Well, I guess the next step for me is to actually get on and prep some 1 hour demos. I’m confident that Bite does what it says on the tin and is a possible model for Fate or similar games, but I’d like to write the same for some of those games I haven’t played enough of, too – especially ones with interesting rules twists like 7th Sea or Dogs in the Vineyard. What else is out there? Have you run any 1H1S games, succesfully or otherwise? Let me know in the comments!


  1. This is EXACTLY what I do with my “Choose Your Adventure” set up which I take to non-RPG conventions (SciFi, Anime etc.)

    At the recent WynterCon convention in Eastbourne, it was the requirment of the RPG area and there were, in fact, five GMs running this sort of game. Apart from me there was a GM doing 5th Ed, another one doing “One Dice” games, Golden Sky Stories and the last was doing stuff I wasn’t familiar with. But all one hour demos with pregens.

    I use my own lightweight “Code” games for most genres but The Black Hack for D&D and The Cthulhu Hack for horror.

    I have a variety of scenarios but my typical one for my “Code” games is Intro – brawl with thugs – investigation – brawl with bosses. I’ve run the same scenario with the same players with different “skins” and they don’t notice it’s the same.

    I’m enjoying taking our hobby our to the masses but – apart from WynterCon – generally on my own. I can’t hit every event and I’d love to co-ordinate with other GM’s on a missionary programme.



  2. I’m currently thinking about a very short one-shot to draw new players into the hobby; found some great ideas here.

    One scenario collection I’m finding inspiring is “Minions” for Call of Cthulhu, seemingly out of print:

    Some of these scenarios are just two pages in length, including a handout. Seasoned players may look down on them because of their brevity. Also, the first of the 15 mini scenarios is probably the worst, leaving a bad impression on the cursory reader.

    Me, I think they fit well with what you’re describing above, they can teach the rudiments of CoC play: a hook, one handout, an investigation (though often only one step) and then a confrontation or dilemma. Maybe I’ll be using the second one, “Six Foot Plot”, with Cthulhu Dark rules.



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