The One Shot is a game that last typically for one or two sessions, and is a self enclosed story. For White Wolf games these often present a great opportunity for trying out a new game, or system hacks, or, of course, introducing new players to the game, to the gaming group, or to roleplaying in general. So in this brief blog I am going to look at the types of things that you can do in a One Shot that often a chronicle is not the place for.
One of the things that players often enjoy about ongoing games is that they get to see their character grow and evolve and overcome many different struggles. But in the horror genre, be it slasher films, stalker monsters, or survival horror games like 'Silent Hill' and 'Resident Evil', the excitement is that your character - or the one that you are invested in, in the case of a film - could die at any moment.
In the case of a tabletop game this scenario is a perfect bit of short run fun. The players go into the game knowing that their character can potentially die before the end of the story. This foreknowledge allows for players to not worrying about 'winning', but instead focus on the story, the roleplaying, and just having fun and watch the story unfold.
For new players this is a great ice breaker. The playing field is level, and if they mess up, then it doesn't matter in the long term. It can also be a learning experience that fun can be had in putting their character into danger. The same lesson can also be important for more experienced players. Often players can be too careful when playing, leading to prolonged moments of indecision. A one shot is certainly not the time and place for that type of play, and so it is the perfect chance to teach players about 'playing to lose', and being proactive, even if that means the player knows their character is going into danger. What do i mean by this? Well it is something that Eddy Webb has discussed in relation to LARP, and for tabletop games it is similar as well. Essentially 'playing to lose' means that players should be come to a sort of agreement, that if they put their character into danger, knowingly, a danger that is obvious to the player but for the story would push forward the plot and add drama, then in return they will be rewarded with some chance to roleplay something dramatic, and in turn get the limelight or some form of in game reward. Such dangers could involve the character getting possessed, haunted, seeing visions and driven mad, suffering a gruesome injury, or, if the time is appropriate in the story, then death.
Now that we have considered the way the players of these games can run their characters, how should the ST for this game run the story?
I would suggest a story that has a slowly growing tension. A ever growing threat that leads to an intense few scenes where many, if not all the player characters die. The initial scenes should establish the characters quickly, and their reason for being involved in the story. Perhaps they are the tenants of the block of apartments they are now trapped in, or for some reason they are all drawn to a quiet rural town in the wilderness of Wales. But it is critical that almost all the characters have a reason for being there. The next key scene should establish the threat. Either it is done directly, such as shadowy attack by the slasher, or the monster tries to attack from above before slinking off. Or the threat is done indirectly, to a character's loved one, friend, or group of people that parallel the group (another group of campers is found dead or missing).
With the threat established then the next few key scenes heighten the tension. The characters are allowed to investigate, to be proactive against the threat, and then, at the right moment, remind the players of how dangerous the threat is. Given the scenes where information can be uncovered - and the trick here is not to hold back information that moves the players towards the final confrontation, but make it difficult for the information to be found that saves them - taken together this information will push the story to the finale, where a series of scenes now present the player characters mortal threats, where any number of them will die, and leaves us with a small number of player characters left for the final confrontation and conclusion.
The conclusion should be something nice and dramatic, and given the survival horror nature of the story then all the player characters can in fact die. But there must be some sort of conclusion, so sort of epilogue, that bookends the story.
With the above advice what books are out there that we can make use of for one-shots. Well ideally I would look at using mortal characters for the games. So for cWoD look at the Sorceror book for Mage the Awakening. That book is all about mortals, and mortals who use magic - but not Awakened powers. For there you have a great basis for these types of games. For nWoD, of course there is the main core rulebook, but then there are plenty of other great books to use. Second Sight can allow for the use of players being magic users or psychics. Ghost Stories, Mysterious Places, Glimpses of the Unknown, Reliquary, Midnight Roads, Book of the Dead, Book of Spirits, and Slashers, offer a whole host of options for games for simple mortal characters, perfect for one shots. Building upon this games like Hunter the Vigil, and Hunter the Reckoning, are easy for players to get into, as the game goals are clear and simple. For Vampire, in either incarnation, the classic scenario is playing newly embraced vampires and their first night of survival. For Changeling the Lost it could be the first few nights of escape from the hedge that provides the plot to a one shot.
What types of one shots have you run?