Last year, I started writing about Prep Techniques – ways to structure your prep for a one-shot session to build a good structure for your session. One-shot and short-form play is all about having a clear structure of ideas so you’re not left floundering at the table, and these were designed to encourage that, with practical advice to turn an idea into a ready-to-run set of prep.
I contrast these with Table Techniques, which are things you do during the game that often don’t need any prep beyond creating the conditions for their deployment – Shared Narration is an example of this (well, several examples) – and I’ll be providing more examples of them over the next few months.
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There hasn’t been a full list of my Prep Techniques posts before now, so here’s a summary of what’s here. If you’re just starting prepping a one-shot and not sure what to do first, you could do worse than pick one of these and follow the method described.
The 5-Room Non-Dungeon is Johnn Four’s 5-Room Dungeon method, applied more broadly to give a series of linked scenes. This is a great place to start if you’re beginning running one-shots. I actually think it works better out of the dungeon than for dungeon games.
Three Places is a way to structure investigative, location-based play where you want your players to have genuine choices as to how they approach the problem.
Another one that’s not mine, I did a deep dive of Sly Flourish’s Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master prep method here – even if you don’t use the whole method, the list of unconnected secrets and clues is a great technique to have in your back pocket, or to go through before a session to give things for the players to discover.
Another good way to get started is to write a convention pitch for the game, and use that to focus your thoughts – guidance here. Technique also applies for writing actual convention pitches!
For a more loosely-structured game, where you expect to think on your feet, you need a bag of tricks to throw at the players. The guidance in this post is relevant for PBTA, FitD, and other similar games like Spire and Heart. It’s easy to try and go in raw with these sorts of games, but in my experience having some prep thoughts done beforehand really help to make them sing in a one-shot.
Or for a more simple structure, start by thinking about the Boss Fight and work backwards from there. There’s a couple of examples of this approach here.
I’m not saying there won’t be more Prep Techniques shared in the future, but here’s all there are for now. My focus for the next few months is two things – putting out ready-to-run one-shots for a few systems (most of which are my own con game sessions from over the summer) and Table Techniques, which will give techniques that can be done during play to add interest and excitement to your games. Let me know if there’s anything you’d like to see!