Wondering how to write a one shot? (I mean probably – that’s why you clicked on this article!) Well, you know me, I love a template: so here’s MY template for writing how to write a DnD one shot – or one for any other RPG! You can even expand it to D&D adventures and beyond, if you like!

Planning a one shot in brief:

So, to plan a one shot, I divide the action into the following six sections.

  1. Setting
  2. Problem
  3. Investigation
  4. Complication
  5. Climax
  6. Epilogue

How to plan a one shot – the more detailed version

So this can actually be divided into

The opening section

In 1) Setting you set up expectations for your one shot. This often involves establishing genre and tone, but you might also introduce some of the themes your one shot deals with. Often the Problem is foreshadowed here in some way.

In the 2) Problem section, your party will somehow get the plot hook. In a book, this might be the inciting incident. In an RPG, it might be simple (an NPC hires the party for a quest) or complicated (somehow the party is in such a mess that they have to accept!) Typical quest types involve gathering or finding lost items, saving or escorting Princesses, clearing dungeons, or dispatching big bads. They may also involve solving puzzles, or even murders!

During the 3) Investigation section, the party attempts to – well, solve the problem! In a murder mystery, they’ll run around collecting clues and interrogating witnesses. In a gathering quest, they may have to travel (with all the inherent dangers) and get information before they know where their target is. Of course, there may be people who want to prevent the party from succeeding, other parties in competition, or even just monsters who fancy a snack. That means lots of encounters – social, exploration, and combat.

But of course, there should be a Complication. This is often a twist, but it may simply be an upping of the stakes. For example, the party is sure they have the right suspect, but then that person ends up dead! Or the PCs find the big bad, only to discover that they’ve just opened a portal to Avernus and the room is filling up with demons! The complication can be a very short section that ushers in the climax, or it can be longer. That really depends on the kind of complication you choose. It should, though, ALWAYS up the stakes for your players!

The overcoming of the final battle is the Climax. This may be a final boss battle, an epic chess game, or the Poirot moment where the killer is finally named. Either way, it should feel DRAMATIC – the most dramatic moment in the one shot. All the plot threads you’ve spun should come together here. If there were unanswered questions, this is where they should be answered. That’s one of the reasons why villain monologues are so popular at this moment!

And the Epilogue? It’s often brushed off by DMs as unimportant, but in terms of fulfilling your players, the epilogue of a one shot is one of the most important things! This is where you re-iterate what the stakes were, and the personal impact the characters have had on the NPC’s lives. It’s where you show the players what they’ve been striving for. And finally, it’s about how each character has changed the world, and perhaps in that process, been changed themselves!

How do YOU like to plan one shots? 

Want a handy checklist for creating a one-shot? Download this free printable worksheet!