It’s easy to ditch the setting if you’re prepping a one-shot; but part of the joy of a #TTRPG is exploring a fantastic world, isn’t it? As to what extent can you get this feeling in a one-shot, there are a few approaches. You could spend the first half-hour explaining the setting and context for your players, but that would be rubbish. How can you show setting through play, without sacrificing pace? Well, here’s one method.
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You Need A Village
Set up a small, coherent, manageable place for your one-shot. A village is the right size for this – give it an obvious theme, and link it to the plot. Show how your inciting incident affects it – the terrible plots of the big bad should have affected the villagers, and let the PCs witness this.
Describe the overall setting, then quickly zoom in – nobody cares about the last 200 years of Gloranthan history, show how it works in the tribal village. Show what the broo raids have done to them, and how the tribal elders respond. Describe the priest of Orlanth and what he wants to do about it, and what the leader of the clan wants. That’s enough.
Have Background NPCs
The town guard who stops you on the way into the city? The goblin who you capture who promises to give you the code word to get into the secret lair? Make them actual characters; have a distinctive quirk prepped, and something about the setting to bed them into it. They know about the village, they know about what’s happening, and they can (briefly) show this in their dealings with the players.
Don’t overthink it, but try to ground them in the world they are in, and give them a secret or clue they can reveal through play. In any RPG, players will always want to talk to the landlady of the tavern/cantina/diner – give her some useful advice to give them, and some facts about the setting to communicate.
Talk About the Village
As the PCs venture out from your safe place into danger, have the village (or other previously-introduced setting element) talked about. Have the goblin shaman soliloquise about the great beer at the tavern when they raid it with their army, or the space pirates talk of the great cache of Unobtanium hidden in the space station they’re planning to raid.
Have your antagonists – and your encounters in the dangerous places – draw back to the setting, and to the strictly defined setting you’ve made. This keeps the setting in mind without interrupting the action.
Go Back To The Village
After they’ve done “the thing,” go back to the village. Show the impact on the place that they’ve had on the place you showed them at the start – and on the NPCs you showed them. Let them get back to the tavern’s landlady, and get her to show the impact of the tomb being cleared out. You’ll close the circle of the setting linked to the one-shot, and show your setting as something mobile.
So, a set of advice to embed setting into your game. I’ve previously been on record saying that I don’t like tightly-defined settings, so your “what year is it?” Glorantha game where you want to explore the intricate relationship between Yelm and Orlanth may not work with these… but let me know!