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Write One-Shot RPG Campaigns! (GM Tips w/ Matt Mercer)

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One-shots can be fun and handy for trying out new characters, tactics, and more. Critical Role's Matthew Mercer outlines a basic structure to designing your own one-shot, and gives some tips to make them better. Subscribe to Geek and Sundry: http://goo.gl/B62jl Join our community at: http://geekandsundry.com/community Twitter: http://twitter.com/geekandsundry Facebook: http://facebook.com/geekandsundry Instagram: http://instagram.com/geekandsundry Google+: http://plus.google.com/+GeekandSundry
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Text Comments (591)
Daltygaming 2 (4 days ago)
I did this one one shot where we had 2 campaigns running at the same time so we got all the participating memebers of the party to have a civil war in the story and each character from both campaigns fought. One side was have restrictions on adventures adventuring and the other side was allowing the adventures to still able to do what they do without restrictions
wesley vanroose (8 days ago)
Your guys are the best, thank you for the tutorials😊
SherlockHolmesGaming (12 days ago)
What a god
Drakus Edge (13 days ago)
Doing my first dm session ever in 2 weeks with a one shot and this helped so much, once again geek and sundry / Mr Mercer saving the day!
MaruderSlayer (16 days ago)
As for intro to one-shot or even many of them why not set up guild of mercenaries, you as a DM could make like 5, or more if you feel like it, characters, and players could put more should they see fit. If one shots are your thing this could make some of them make long-lasting impact on the world, so that when you pick different mercenaries next week for next quest they've been hired for they can see that this moron Jake burned their favourite tavern by accident, screw you Jake! Or maybe something more dramatic and insanely impactful like that evil guy a few months ago wanted to make lifespan of every "civilized" race the same, and party decided to team up with him instead of fighting him off, so now there's kinda... shortage of elves as everyone lives for 200 years or so. Best of all - no intro needed really. "Head of the Guild picked you, fine team, for the next quest and so you go on to another adventure". It's a nice midlle of a road approach to one shots.
MindlessExpress (19 days ago)
I'm running a game for my mom whose neve replayed before, anyone have tips on creating a quest (Zelda esk) game that doesn't rely too much on battles? And would be simple and fun for. A first time player (It'll be between my mom and my sister whose played before)
William Niederriter (19 days ago)
Really helpful
Levente Csik (20 days ago)
I gave them some XP and gold and said. You guys were hired by a noblemen to slay a bandit leader. Easiest group binding ever :D
CreeperOfMines (21 days ago)
Started my own campaign in a tavern. They burned the place down around ten minutes into starting
Rabidsandwich (21 days ago)
this is basically playing a short story vs. playing a novel.
Jeremy Allen (24 days ago)
Is there a rule that says the GM can't run a character whilst GMing? Or is it some kind of gaming faux pas I'm not aware of?
RoninOfDeath (26 days ago)
I recently got invited to play a one shot by someone who wanted a break from his usual players in his current campaign's universe. We were told that we were going to be hired to escort a shipment from one location to another. Despite the fact that we were asked to come up with out group's background of how we became this group of mercenaries a lot of us just want to do the whole meeting for the first time thing. We got two very different clerics in the party that sound like they may be at odds with each other and the PCs want them to be forced into this job without knowing the other.
Kate Bi-shop (30 days ago)
Matt's salty about not playing
Zelda lover 200 (1 month ago)
0:32 - 0:36 me
Mannyadock (1 month ago)
Best plot hook I ever read is "you are in a tavern, which is on fire, set by a dragon, roll initiative"
Benny Jay (1 month ago)
I know I'm over 18 months late to this video, but OMG, Matt Mercer, you are so fun to watch, listen to and learn from! 😆 I'm wanting to write my first RPG and this has helped a lot. Many thanks from a new Aussie fan. 🇦🇺
Eeks Games (1 month ago)
Amazing video. Thanks.
Addonexus (1 month ago)
Here's how i managed a campaign, not a one shot tho. I had two players who wanted to play a modern take on D&D with just human races and another player who really wanted to play standard. I told them both i was on it, went missing for 5 days and rewrote the entire players handbook and monster manual, turning the entire game into a steampunk apocalypse with standard and home-brew races. Right at the rise of civilization and the God of Slaughter, Gruumush, Created a new race of beings that ended the industrial revolution by stomping out most of civilization. A handful of cities are built in sewers of old ones, so here is where we started. The Gensai rouge had a contact he was supposed to meet to get a deal, he was burning some time playing poker at the bar with a few other people, the town drunk, two commoners, and our Tiefling Gunslinger who is also a complete stranger. (we actually used cards for them and the NPC's. I rigged the deck for the rouge to win which would trigger a fight dialogue, which was broken up by the bartender) While wasting away and playing cards, a woman slaps around her drunken husband and tells him their daughter is missing. The Gunslinger takes this as an opportunity to swipe the coin on the table and slip away to carry out his mission, the same mission from the same contact the Rouge was dealing with. The rouge takes up the chance to save the child and finds himself fighting several goblins alone when a dungeneering Gunslinger Dragonborn who had been traveling the sewers comes to his aid expecting a reward. When the fight is over, the dragonborn finds himself unconscious due to a sleep potion, and the rouge loots him and leaves, takes the reward and sells the dragonborn's items. In the meantime, the Tiefling tried to slip through the vents and into the prison and release his target, which was his job. The vent gave out midway and a failed DEX check has the tiefling lost in the underdark city of thieves. The party is now split in 3 completely different directions. Two of them are racing to finish a job faster than the other, completely derailed and trying to regain focus. The other is waking up and ready to reclaim what he's owed. How they'll come together and how they'll fall apart is going to be interesting to say the least. They technically DID meet in the standard tavern, but i tried to make it creative, lol. I let them pick their own themes and then combined the themes, so i think in that aspect i did good :)
Addonexus (1 month ago)
The rouge was given an enchanted item by the King for saving the child, he does not know yet what the enchantment is. I have planned for this to be enchanted by a god which abandoned him years ago and tricked him into killing his own family. (Main goal of this character is to kill said god) Since it's the god of illusion, the enchantment is quite interesting. Each time the weapon goes out of the vision of everyone, it becomes ethereal. When the weapon is next seen it becomes a completely different item If you don't want the weapon to change you cant stash it away out of sight. each time the weapon is revealed the player rolls a d20 for luck on what it will become, which doesnt have to be a weapon. This will force the player to be creative in a pinch with what random piece of equipment i give him.
Iwant Cookies (1 month ago)
If I let my players dm every one will Die
Mychal Sanders (1 month ago)
Me: Tried to DM a simple one shot about a missing princess trapped in a tower in the woods, loosely based on Rapunzel with a hint of A New Hope thrown in. Players: Spent 40 minutes shopping in town Dad: Interrogates, tortures, and tries to murder the innocent bartender at the tavern where they met Me: Really guys? I've given you a kidnapped princess and the exploded ruins of a castle at the edge of town where someThING destroyed the walls and took away their beloved king's daughter and you're haggling for a shovel at the store? Next time you neophobic lobsters will meet in the woods with no buildings and no purchasable goods.
Danny Dunlap (1 month ago)
They say DM's are god, but Matt Mercer is God of DM's...
Vince Evans (1 month ago)
Having all the party members selected by a core NPC makes the most sense. Think cough cough LoTR or The Hobbit. Most movies have “the chosen one” . Star Wars, the dark crystal. Exc exc.
DysBie Offical (2 months ago)
Guys i have good idea maybe you can use in one shot game Your Party is hired by a caravan they stuck in a town and they has no choice to but choose your party goes to forest when you are in forest have some tension like you heard wolfs howling Then wolfs attack you and have them fight woth wolfes Then have them set a camp and recovery.Later when they wake up they see 3or4 caravan riders are lost and your party needs to head the one of the caravans and have them encounter with whisperer of forest(this guy can hypnotize peoples and lead them)after that your campaign is finished Have fun.
Flap Jacks (2 months ago)
Right now I’m working on a one-shot wee the villain is actually the little harmless goblin npc they have been with the whole time
Esther Warrick (2 months ago)
GM-ing for my very first time tomorrow! It's a one-shot steampunk themed game about an airship crew who must navigate a strange new city to find the supplies to fix their crashed airship. Still haven't figured out the climax yet. I'm so excited and so nervous!! Wish me luck!
12neef (2 months ago)
I’m super interested in these one shots. Seems like a great way to get noobs into it and a good exercise for new DMs. Thanks for the ideas.
Joshua Musser (2 months ago)
My first D&D experience was a one shot, but it was an amnesia one. Which was nice, trying to figure out who I was as I was finding out how to play
Twane Kellerman (2 months ago)
Thank you for sharing this advice, it really helps. Now if only I can figure out how I want to end my Coraline meets Lovecraft meets Stranger Things story that doesn't involve all the partymembers dead and eaten by a big monster xD
LordAddiqute (2 months ago)
So I usually am a player, but the usual GM said he wanted to play. So I volunteered to be GM. Now I’m the usual GM because every thought I did a really good job
The Wanderer (2 months ago)
The campaigns my DM uses take place in the same continent, so they usually start a oneshot on a Comission from the Guild a PC formed at the end of the first campaign
Stickgeneral 42 (2 months ago)
my absolute favorite introduction for the players is to have them meet in a bar...fight. a bar fight. you have never, and i mean never, played dnd to its fullest until you see a soon-to-be party busting each other over the heads with tables and using random npcs as weapons
Bricu (2 months ago)
0:33 please show me a D&D series where someone else DM's and we get to see Matt play a character!! I realy want to see that!!!
Moore Mess (3 months ago)
Really guys? Really? 😂😂😂
Michelle M. (3 months ago)
I'm going to be running a session 0/oneshot next Friday as a first-time DM for first-time players; this is exactly what I needed.
Byucknah The Red (3 months ago)
For my sandbox game I am running I shipwrecked my players on an uncharted island after the ship they were aboard, none of them having any real relation to each other, was destroyed in a horrible storm. They wash up ashore as the only known survivors from this incident, teaming up out of necessity for survival and building a bond as they went about exploring and trying to find a way off the island. It was a unique experience for me to run because one of the major things I tested out was having them start with literally no equipment aside from the clothing on their backs. No gold, no weapons, nothing. Just their wits and drive to survive! Needless to say, its been an interesting experience as a whole.
Chaos Tool (3 months ago)
Have you ever done a 1 player campaign? So one gm and one player I imagine it would be something like a single player role playing video game but i have no idea if that would be a good idea
Starcraftgamer97 (3 months ago)
I am going to do a Call of Cthulhu one-shot for Halloween and have very little G.M-ing experience aside from my first D&D campaign I managed to get put together. I'm thinking a sort of Clue meets House on Haunted Hill meets Scooby-Doo meets Cthulhu. Unfortunately I have no idea what I'm doing in terms of a story. I can't pull any knowledge of a story from our D&D session because there hasn't even been a "story" there yet either. I can tell I'm going to have fun with this and be oh so terrified because I don't know how to get this done in 4 hours. Maybe making a sacrifice to dread Cthulhu might help Matt?
ShePlaysIt (3 months ago)
Man I love Matt! XD
Mime0Tron (3 months ago)
Matt: *moves hands* Players: *goes batshit crazy*
John Harrison (3 months ago)
One of my favourite starts is the adventurers are all guests at a wedding. Some know the bride, some the groom but they are at the same table coz they don't really belong.... And my favourite Big Bad is the gnome illusionist who has scared monsters into submission but is actually in over her head...
Crimson Vulpes (3 months ago)
Here's one. You gain a bounty on your head, but you have a chance to pay it off in a short time before it gets ratified. players seek out odd jobs, maybe high pay merc work,
IronTauru (4 months ago)
Thank you, this will help me so much!!
IronTauru (4 months ago)
Im running three one-shots for public and have very little experience with oneshots.
Floyd Wurst (4 months ago)
0:44 1. Assemble the Player Characters 1:06 2. Define the Style 1:37 3. Create a Plot Hook 2:37 4. Develope a Climax 3:17 5. Flesh out Key NPCs 3:48 6. Prepare Social Encounters 4:05 7. Player tailored Challenges 4:32 8. Loot Rewards 4:41 9. Outline Key Locations 5:01 10. Avoid a Wandering Intro 5:28 11. Keep the Pace Moving 6:00 12. Character Epilogues
Bibble (4 months ago)
He's so hot https://gyazo.com/8a34f7ff58725e99b4b7a7403d9da896
shane pierce (4 months ago)
okay matt your the best dm ive seen on youtube i gotta ask can a dm play with the group as long as he/she is capable of being unbiased? i have been doing this and we have all been able to have fun and ypur much better than i am and im sure you can play unbiased with a group meaning you dont and wont favor your charecter and are just as willing to die with the group. i would really appretiate your input i am new to d&d but its been a lot of fun
DAEsaster (4 months ago)
I like how Strong Woman is now a universal thing. Lady Kima, Yasha, and one of my soon to be players (who's a dude) are al going for the brutish woman and I'm loving the trope.
herban123 (4 months ago)
first time dming soon no experience besides reading the books. oh god this will be fun lol
Schnaufeltier (4 months ago)
omfg this is so helpful!
The Real TK-Dragon! (4 months ago)
I'm attempting to write a one shot that might turn into a two shot if the players mess around too much.
USS_Boom (4 months ago)
a Worn and Tattered man wanderers over and say he needs a hand to save his Friends who went in a Dungeon to kill a Beast and retrieve his Massive Treasure, he gives you the location, (but actually he is a Mage and has controlled the leader of this Dungeon, they have no treasure but like red meat), his Scheme is send in parties of adventurers and let his Killer Mind Controlled Monsters rip them apart & he can just retrieve al the belongings and sell them.
Acer Ng (4 months ago)
Here's a real question. Is it okay to rail road a one shot? Not to the full extent, but it's easy for players to wander off and one shots have limited time.
Jeremy Arcanist (5 months ago)
when he said about what adventure the players would like, I just thought of my own group and they all like sandbox games..... tangents excursions are the real fun..... not real story.... just side quests
Mutsu Hanma (5 months ago)
Hey Matt Quick Question...having about 4-6 players have you ever tried getting 4-6 headphones with loud music and telling 2 stories to the 2 groups of 2 or 3 players and make the story so that the 2/3 people meet up and team up and the other 2 meet up and team up but not all four them have met up yet and the headphones are so that 2 of the players don't listen to what's going on with the other 2 and when they finally meet up they can both RP their characters and have a nice long chat about their adventure and what clues they have found that leads them to this place?!?!?! Just wondering if you're ready to step up your GM skills... *walks away*
McB12329 (5 months ago)
I have a wayward seafaring adventure I'm running soon and have all the players starting imprisoned in the brig on board a pirates ship that took over their merchant ship and that's where it's starting my hardest part is going to be figuring out how to have the game only last 4hrs. Thanks so much for this, you're the best DM alive!
Pryzm (5 months ago)
Matt, Charisma of 25
Julian Martin (5 months ago)
Letting someone else GM so the GM can actually play. That is me 😭. I run a system that nobody uses so finding a player that enjoys the system enough to play enough to feel comfortable GMing is difficult.
Mr Knarf (5 months ago)
*Why did they do their dastardly deeds?*
Tarnax The Villain (5 months ago)
Ummm... I dunno if this is okay, but we regularly take turns.
TheSwamper (5 months ago)
All great tips, but difficult to cram them all into a one-shot. My players can spend an hour just talking in a tavern.
ljaquos (5 months ago)
1:29 Yup. Yup, that's about right.
Kindlesmith80 (5 months ago)
"Hell, letting someone else GM for once so the usual GM can actually play" Aint that the truth XD "Do they each prefer a different style" Oh, I know that feeling. But then the DM needs to have fun too, and campaigns based on pure combat and dungeon delving just isn't my scene (I can play video games for that). basically anything mindless I can turn to video games or board games for with less effort on my part.
The Kirby T (5 months ago)
I made a one-shot to introduce my parents to D&D where they had to find some missing children. Preyed on their parental instincts for their plot hook.
Dexis (5 months ago)
“Or maybe, you know, so that the usual gm can play for once.” That’s why I insert myself as an npc in the party. However I have to always be an imbecile to explain why I never interact with puzzles or figure anything out regarding the plot
Wawcke (5 months ago)
I made a one shot campaign once. Except I was one of the playe. gun powder barrel don't like pyromancer I think...
FantaseWolf (5 months ago)
4:00 Clarooottttaaa
Neox1986 (5 months ago)
Matt. You are such a boss. I just started DM`ing my first d&d 5e with heavy influence from you. Got great feedback!
League Arceus (6 months ago)
God, the meet in a bar thing is so true... We did that once and never again. Ended up starting a bar fight and one of the PCs lost a hand in an ensuing sword fight between PCs... before dying trying to explain the situation to guards.. It was awkward.
Toasted Bagel (6 months ago)
tells us to not have players randomly meet in a bar starts his campaign with all his players meeting in a bar *yes I know it's not the same it's a joke*
Stefan Babij (6 months ago)
'Prepare possible combat scenarios in case these situations go south... which... they always generally do' - Matt Mercer2017. Truer words have never been spoken sir
Morganna WolfCry (6 months ago)
Okay I would just like to say I watched this video for the first time the DAY it came out. IT is now a full year later. I have a world of my own, 4 plot archs all going on at the same time in different sections of the world and 2 groups of players exploring from two different sides of the Polyhedral. I would just like to say... "by all means, Go" started it all.
Pen Tagram (6 months ago)
Such a cute Prinz Charming! :D
Francesco Spuntarelli (6 months ago)
When you said the oneshot I trembled..... yep you know I wanted the thrill
Krabman (6 months ago)
Wow, he writes books in real time hahaha Awesome tips!
Gayshipper 333 (6 months ago)
Umm, Matt. You probably won't see this, but I need some help. I'm the DM in this homebrewed campaign I'm working on. The last session wasn't good. No one was really... Into it, so I ended early with one of the party members turned into stone. I was thinking about going back to the end of the previous session, but I'm not sure. Could you tell me what to do? Should I start over, go back, or roll with something none of the party members would really like since it's my ONLY option. Maybe throw in a side quest? Please tell me, I'm nervous and embarissed to try again.
Green Djinn (6 months ago)
I'd say throw in some pretty fun gonzo treasure in there, that you'd probably not even consider in a campaign. Since it is all done in that one session, go ahead and really give them some crazy stuff to mess around with and enjoy.
CautiousAphid (6 months ago)
Holy Moly this guy’s good!!
Thec00ldude 2.0 (6 months ago)
good idea, lots of rogues, lots of knifes and a lot of NPC deaths very dramatic and pretty straight forwards
Johnwestens Norris (6 months ago)
When I start dming I will have my campaign like this. Start with a major moment, say they awake in a cart confined by shackles heading towards a looming tower. Then give them some regular missions when they escape and when the get to a high level then they get into who the grave evil who seeks to destroy the world is. Personally a false prophecy sounds like a good setup, as they usually always come true, but it was forged and they unlesh the great evil they fought they were containing, such as below. Jokeyja the Goliath Barbarian.: At last we found all the gems required to save the world from pulling apart! Pertinta the Halfling Sorcerer: This does bode weirdly for me, shouldn't the gods have saved the world and not us party of Four? Maybe they are just getting lazy. Marzo the Half-Elf Cleric: Don't speak I'll against Dieties. They have heroes in their legends that have saved the world, we are mearly their new champions. Sarafe the Human Rouge: Becoming a savior of the world will attract more people to Me! Jokeyja: Challenge accepted! Sarafe: Oh, I wasn't trying to offer up a challenge. Marzo: Stop, let us save the world. As the gems form together, wind picks up the dust and scraps of whatever else there may be on the floor, getting sucked in the gem, the party hears an evil laugh. Pertinta: I knew something was wrong in these gems! ???: WeLl doNE You HaVe reUnITed aLL Of thE gEms. The voice becomes more clearer as it continues talking. Defoks: You have awakened the god of death and oblivion, Defoks.
Mathew Mercer (6 months ago)
I love him Mathew mercy’s because is great actor from Re6 and this game is the best he now I so talk about game how did he make it from all the story wow
darkbunny 999 (6 months ago)
Hey Matt... do you need a character sheet and a hug?
Ya Boi Guzma (6 months ago)
Im stealing those hooks
Orelux Tenebrae (6 months ago)
What about a tower defense session... as goblins?
Transatlantic Stardust (6 months ago)
Wow. He is very...attractive
Tyler Hutson (6 months ago)
Thank you for the tips! My best friend and I play a mashup, definitely breaking a few rules but fun, game where she’s the DM for our PC’s. Whenever she needs longer to continue writing the story I’ll make up some one shots for us to play through. Sometimes her siblings join in and we have a blast. The last one we did I had her and her siblings save a town from an onslaught of undead and defeat a necromancer trying to amass more power. (Her brother loves Call of Duty: Zombies so I thought the whole undead thing was a good idea.) I’ll definitely use these tips to further flesh out any more one shots I get to DM!
Team Cyborg (6 months ago)
I personally prefer the "holy crap we're all imprisoned, hey who's this guy in our cell" way of introducing a new player character
just me (6 months ago)
Lol I did a you are strangers in a tavern before, they started a bar fight and our bard seduced the other player character it was the start of something beautiful
sloesty (7 months ago)
Put my players together in my campaign by having them be lone survivors of a sunk boat (or a least as far as they know since they dont kow what happened to the others) Then got them hooked on killing a necromancer because he made a fool of them.
Shane Hamilton (7 months ago)
Thumbnail kinda looks phallic from afar (and especially if you squint your eyes). Not sure if this is intentional, but what I am sure of is that I didn't click it because of this looks-like-a-phallus reason or anything...
Aaron-michael Thomas (7 months ago)
what about splitting the party in to rooms which tackles their strength/ weaknesses so a not so smart barbarian needs to read a simple code to move on. etc etc
MaXplosion1 (7 months ago)
this video is[NOT]pretty salty...
David M (7 months ago)
Keep it simple and make the adventure take place entirely in the tavern where they meet.
Monty Baconeater (7 months ago)
I don't like playing nearly as much as I like DMing...
VinceValentine (7 months ago)
What kind of idiot noble would give an assassin something that could trace back to him? Unless the evidence was planted, but that looks really clumsy...
God-Emperor Trump (7 months ago)
Matt Mercer: "Avoid the, You are all strangers and meet in a bar intro." Fast forward to the beginning of Critical Role Season Two where they're all groups of strangers who meet in a bar.
Bibbedibabbedibu (3 months ago)
Well. to be fair, that's not a oneshot and wasn't designed as one
Silkwesir (7 months ago)
the video title says "Write One-Shot RPG Campaigns!" isn't that a contradiction in terms? i suggest replacing the word "Campaigns" with "Adventures" or "Scenarios"
C.B. Smith (7 months ago)
“Think of an interesting or dangerous monster...” MANBEARPIG. I made a manbearpig campaign by tweaking the wereboar and werebear stats. Group loved it.....my style is apparently adapting bad jokes into campaigns. Next challenge, Patton Oswalt’s Orutis Blamfort joke.
Propane Daddy (7 months ago)
I am a kinky sex wizzowd.
Keith Becker (7 months ago)
Has these tips been written out. For future reference
Caleb Sargent (7 months ago)
See I like to start everyone in some sort of prison. It forces you to get along fast to plot a way out, or introduce them within the same city's with some sort of well known lore of legand and they start a band together to investigate.
Bluedragon 1212 (7 months ago)
Matt you truely a hero

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