One-shot D&D adventures for 5th edition DO exist, and I set three relatively new Dungeon Masters the task of testing some out.
Early in January 2016, fellow GeekDad James Floyd Kelly wrote about the ready-made Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition adventures that were available for Dungeon Masters. Back then Wizards of the Coast had only released a small number of pre-generated content books, all of which are long multi-session campaigns that would take characters on epic journeys through multiple levels. However, as James noted, not every DM is looking for a long, multi-session story that could take months, even years, to complete. Some just want a quick, relatively easy adventure, sometimes for just a single gaming session.
Thankfully, even in the dark, distant days of 2016, my GeekDad colleague was able to find a number of high-quality adventure modules, pointing lucky DMs (myself included) towards the excellent content from Goodman Games, The Folio, and Dungeons on Demand. But now, as we enter the bright shiny future of 2018, there is even more excellent content to choose from should you be searching for short one-shot D&D adventures.
Note: For an updated look at one-shots for 2019 check my latest article that looks at 5 more D&D one-shots
One-Shot D&D Adventures
Perhaps it’s a DMs first time running a game; a massive, sprawling campaign might be far too daunting a task to consider. Maybe your usual DM is unavailable at the last minute and everyone still wants to play? Or is there a group of friends just getting together for a one-off game, with no likelihood or need to continue the story? In each case, premade one-shot D&D adventures offer the perfect solution.
For my gaming group, it was a case that everyone wanted a turn at DMing a game, without having to worry about how it all fit into a wider story. So I recruited them, with their varying degrees of experience, to help check out three alternative sources of one-shot D&D adventures.
Kobold Press: Prepared 2
Prepared 2 is the second collection of one-shot and short adventures from the Kobold Press team. It contains 12 original mini-stories for D&D 5e, complete with maps, detailed stories, and magical item rewards. The 12 adventures are suitable for heroes of varying levels, from 1st to 11th.
Additional resources needed: 5th edition Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual, and the Kobold Press Tome of Beasts (optional).
Price: $5.99 -19.99 for Print and PDF.
DM feedback: I gave this to a first-time Dungeon Master who had never DMed a game before and they picked Assault of the Steel Horde to run. This adventure was for 4th-5th level characters. They found it very easy to get to grips with the story, and there was just enough content to make it a good one-shot adventure, without being over complicated.
The story revolves around a burrowing war-engine (a bit like the Burrowing Bad Boy Bus from classic TMNT). We all really enjoyed the setup, especially the drilling war machine. A particular highlight was when our Genasi Monk tried to attack the drill and managed to set off five successive exploding traps.
According to the DM, there was very little planning or preparation time required. It took one thorough read through of the story, with a few good notes, some cross-referencing of monsters, and they were ready to go. The session took just over three hours to play, which seems to be the case for the other one-shots here. All 12 adventures in this book also come with useful maps and are presented in a straightforward, easy to follow manner.
The next one-shot from Prepared 2 has already been selected, Neither By Sail, Nor By Oar. It’s a nautical adventure and we’re keenly looking forward to seeing how our band of heroes stands up to our new DM’s twisted machinations.
Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Adventures
If you spend any time researching D&D on the internet, chances are you’ve already come across Sly Flourish. From the Lazy Dungeon Master to the excellent campaign guides for existing premade material, Mike Shea really knows his stuff and delivers top quality content for DMs new and old. Fantastic Adventures is his latest offering, funded by hundreds of Kickstarter backers.
The 10 scenarios in this book are designed for four to six characters of 2nd to 5th level and should last between two and four hours each.
Additional resources needed: 5th edition Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual.
DM feedback: The lucky DM who ran one of these one-shot D&D adventures hadn’t run a game since D&D 3rd edition, but they quickly got back into the swing of things thanks to the strong, concise material provided in this book. The team at Sly Flourish really know how to put an adventure together and it clearly shows. The one-shot our DM picked was The Crashed Palace, an exciting quest to help an angelic Deva stop an evil Bearded Devil.
While there is quite a lot of information included to begin with, it is all essential and nothing superfluous is here. What’s particularly useful is the “Secrets and Clues” section, which helps to fill out the story delivering adventure hooks for the party, basically providing useful things for NPCs to say. The story itself is great and delivers a fascinating taste of the wider Planes in D&D, which most of our group hadn’t encountered before. A highlight of our session was an interaction with a spectral devil who almost persuaded our naïve Tabaxi Cleric that they were the herald of the All-Father demanding all the characters be immediately sacrificed.
Planning time was less than half an hour for this one-shot, and our veteran DM was able to put his own unique spin on the story, adding a couple of NPCs from a previous campaign and some interesting celestial treasure. The adventure comes with a map, which is quite basic but has everything required, and the location descriptions are vividly written, perfect for running straight from the book. Like all the one-shots in Fantastic Adventures, options for expanding the story are provided and they can be easily added to an existing campaign if you want.
Our next fantastic adventure will be in The Well of the Black Sun. We excitedly await our exploration into a deep mine, with the battles against the undead and dark powers lurking below.
The Dungeon Masters’ Guild: Encounters Series
The DMs Guild was in its infancy back in January 2016, but now there is so much content it seems impossible to sift through it all. A cursory search for the term “one-shot” delivers multiple results of varying relevance and quality, but there are some stand-out options.
The Encounters series curated by Jeff C. Stevens being one of them. So far this series comprises Encounters in the Savage Frontier, Encounters in the Savage Cities, and Encounters in the Savage Jungles. These generic location encounters are designed to be easily added to any campaign, can be used to introduce new players, as inspiration for a new campaign, or as one-shot D&D adventures. It’s the latter option that we’re interested in here.
Additional resources needed: 5th edition Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Volo’s Guide to Monsters.
DM feedback: Another novice DM took the reins for our next one-shot, which was from Encounters in the Savage Frontier. Looking through the material, there were only a couple of encounters that would be long enough for a whole session, and they choose Sweet Tabitha. This was a much shorter session than the previous two, lasting just under two hours. It was also more roleplay focused than combat, as many of the encounters in this supplement are. However, this made it perfect for our DM who had never run a game before and had only been playing D&D for a very short while.
The adventure needed little to no planning time and our newbie DM found the text boxes and information provided well written and very helpful. The characters were all intuitively set out and enough options were given to cater for most scenarios. The highlight of the session came when our Gnome Druid cast “Speak With Animals” on an upset cow with very full udders that hadn’t been milked in weeks. The cow was able to give us the final clue we needed to solve the mystery of the missing Handlestine family.
The content of the Encounters series is more suited for slotting into existing campaigns rather than for individual standalone sessions, but there is more than enough material in each supplement to fill multiple gaming sessions. Our next one-shot adventure from the Encounters series will be either The Leaning Door or For Whom the Bell Tolls from Encounters in the Savage Cities, both of which look like they would be perfect one-shot sessions.
As you can see, there’s plenty of quality material out there for DMs looking for one-shot D&D adventures. Whether you’ve never DMed before or consider yourself a veteran, you could do much worse than choose one of the three products explored here. Each of my DM recruits was able to pick up and play their chosen adventure with very little planning or preparation needed, and they all now have the taste for running more games. Both Prepared 2 and Fantastic Locations are available in print and PDF, depending on how much you want to pay, but Encounters is only available via download from the DMs Guild.