Do This, First – 5 ways to improve your one-shot during prep

In this post, I gave 5 things to do while running your one-shot to improve it. In this post, I’m going to give 5 tips to do before you play – during your prep, whether its for a convention, meetup, or just as a change of pace from your usual game. I’ve posted before about prep, where I tried to split it into three stages – the advice sits around all these stages, and is applicable if you’re taking a different approach.

Start With Pregens

Thugs by Jonny Gray

An evocative group of pregens can really make your game pop – art by Jonny Gray

Early on in your prep, if it’s a new game in particular, you should be thinking about the characters you’ll have in the game. If this is your first time with the system, you can use this to get your head around the rules as well – character generation usually gives some indication of what different skills and approaches are, and it’ll help when you come to plot out your game.

I wrote more about pregens here, if you want more advice on making strong pregenerated characters.

Get The Rules Right

If I’m running a game for the first time, for all but the simplest games I like to do a one-sheet of notes of the basic rules, just to help me internalize them. Running a one-shot, you’ll usually have to do some teaching of the rules unless you’re running a really popular game, so you need to know them well enough to explain them to your group. Making notes really helps.

If it’s a particularly complex game, I’ll often run myself through a mock-up conflict as well, just to familiarize myself with how combat (especially) flows. I’ll take two or three of the pregens I’ve just made, and try to run them through a quick battle to internalise the structure of actions.

Also, see here for more notes on running crunchy games.

Structure Your Notes

I’ve said it before, looking at published adventures for sample structures for one-shots isn’t a good idea. Preparing a game for publication and preparing it for play are two different things – in fact if I’m running a published adventure I’ll usually write down some bullet points even if I’m going to have the text in front of me.

I talked about a structure for notes here which I know some others have found useful, but really it’s as much as this

  • Have a well-prepared start and (potential) climax
  • Have a list of cool things that can happen between them
  • Have a list of NPCs with any brief notes you’ll need to differentiate them.

The last one is vital for me. I tend to lose track of NPCs when I’m running, and so I over-prep to make sure I know where they are and what their relationship to the plot is.

Check for Skill Matching

Nobody wants to play a game where their character sucks, so first of all, make sure that every pregen is at least broadly competent at the core activity of the adventure. In a Call of Cthulhu game, none of your pregens should have no ways to investigate and follow up leads, and in an F20 game it’s taken as read that everyone can fight well.

But look a bit closer at the secondary skills that your PCs have, and see if there are opportunities to put them into the game. Likewise, look at the challenges you’ve put into each scene and see if there’s an obvious pregen that can show their skills off in that challenge – you can adjust in either direction to help.

I posted about this – the “three-skill trick” here in more detail.

Check for Plot Matching

For one-shots, I’m a huge fan of having a heavy incentive on following the plot for the whole group, but look to make threads that tie individual pregens into the adventure as well. The fighter’s parents were kidnapped when they were a child? Make it the evil baron who did it, so when they meet him in the finale they’ve got a hook to hang on. A pregen has a long-lost sister? Make them a helpful  NPC they’ll meet along the way – or the evil sorceress serving the aforementioned baron.

As with skill matching, this can be done in either direction – but try to find a thread to link each pregen to the plot so that they get a good chance to advance their own personal story as well as that of the game. This helps to ground them in the setting, so things happen before and after the game, and make the one-shot feel more like a slice of something bigger.

Think and Dream

Alongside the 5 tips above, there’s the core activity of prep – thinking of scenes and challenges that make for an exciting game. Give yourself time to think of these – prep can just as well be done in the shower or while out running as you dream and percolate ideas in your head – just remember to write them down before you forget them!

With these, you’ve got a good chance at making any one-shot really sing. If you want tips to do during play, see this post. If you want to listen to me talking about some of these techniques, I was on the Smart Party podcast talking to Gaz about one-shots here.

I’m going to be doing some more system-specific posts over the next few weeks – as always, if there’s something you’d like to see more (or less) of, get in touch in comments here or on twitter (@milnermaths).

Everyone is Awesome – Review: Mythic D6

Mythic D6 is a game from Khepera Publishing, Jerry D. Grayson’s publishing house that also produces ATLANTIS: Second Age, HELLAS, and soon-to-be-kickstarted Godsend Agenda. All of his games are good-looking, action-adventure games, and quite a few of them use the Omni System, a straightforward D20-based resolution. Mythic D6 does not – it uses a dice pool system (of D6, as you’d expect), and comes as a “Multi-Genre” master book (which includes a sample setting) and an expanding series of campaign supplements .

The Fluff

Mythic D6 coverMythic’s central concept is that it’s a game for playing superheroes. In a snappy forward, it lays out the author’s view that action-adventure roleplaying is really all about telling stories of superheroes – that the PCs stand shoulders above normal men and women by virtue of extraordinary powers. The power level it seems to be pitched at is low/street-level superheroes, and this is relevant – most supers games aim a bit higher for PC power level, and add lower-level heroes as an option, which is usually a less than exciting option since, well, they aren’t as powerful. Mythic makes the default level fairly low, and centres itself solidly around this.

Apart from street-level supers, it’s spawned two supplementary campaign settings so far – Bastion, an afro-centric post-apocalypse sword and sorcery setting, and Terra Oblivion, an eco-activism steampunky pulp adventure (technically it’s probably either ecopunk or, well, fishpunk, but I’m going to resist taking the -punk nomenclature any further).

It also comes with a setting in the book, Project: Mythic, aimed at modern-day low-level supers, that stands out as a great set-up for one-shot play. Otherworldly creatures are invading the normal world through breaches or Shallowings, and PCs as agents of the Institute are dispatched to close these breaches and defeat whatever monsters have leaked forth from them. For a one-shot, it’s a nice tight mission structure, both different and familiar enough from similar genres to make for a good con game or one-shot.

The Crunch

At its heart Mythic is a D6 dice pool system, where you’re counting rolls of 4 and above as successes and hoping to beat a target number. One of your dice is a Wild Die, which can explode on a 6 and give you a critical failure on a 1, and the system is all unified around this dice pool rolling – there’s ‘pips’ that can be used to graduate between whole dice, and auto-successes that can be taken without rolling, but everything hangs around the dice pool. PCs have archetypes that grant them limited-use bonuses (which usually let them double a skill for a roll), and an array of powers from an extensive power list, including separate subsystems for magic and gadgeteering.

As far as complexity goes, the powers are relatively straightforward – they each have a number of options of Enhancements and Limitations that can add or subtract to them. From a cursory read, I’d say that if a player really wanted to make a game-breakingly powerful character, they could – this isn’t an interlocking cogs-and-bolts game, but it tries to model the powers with the minimum of fuss. I’m fine with that – for a one-shot, you’ll be using pregens anyway, and the selection in the book are a great mixture and (crucially) all look straightforward to play.

The rules have all the usual stuff for skills and combat, and two features that I’m becoming more and more attached to in games. The first is an Aggravation Pool, a resource the GM has that can be spent (like the Hero Points players have) to boost enemies and increase the challenge. Like in 2D20 with its Doom Pool, in play I’d have this pile of dice right out in front of me where everyone can see it. The second is rules for Events – non-combat skill challenges that are tackled in stages, like rescuing civilians from a burning building. These are excellently explained and presented, and will be great in one-shots for big, cinematic scenes and interesting use of powers. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking – and blogging– about these recently, and these rules are a great, flexible subsystem.

The One-Shot

There’s a lot to recommend Mythic as a one-shot. A system that’s simple to pick up but with enough depth and complexity to reward players who like to dig into it a bit, and that supports the genre it follows well. Settings that provide automatic hooks and are easy to grasp but with enough interest to hold attention.

In multi-genre books, the included setting is often a bit of an afterthought, but Project: Mythic is engaging, inspiring and deep. As well as an obvious mission structure to get the players involved, it’s got ready-made plot for any one-shot you might need (deal with this Shallowing) that still provides a big range of options for play. Mythic D6 (and Bastion and Terra Oblivion) are certainly going to see some play at cons, face to face or virtual, in the future.