GeekDad explores five more great ‘D&D’ one-shots
Some of the best content coming out for Dungeons & Dragons right now is in the plethora of printed and downloadable D&D one-shots available from multiple publishers around the world. Last year I set three new Dungeon Masters the task of testing some out, and it seemed to work well. So I decided to do the same this year, adding a brand new DM to the mix. I also had a cheeky look at a one myself.
Below I compare cost, quality, and resources required, and get some first hand feedback from my merry band of Dungeon Masters.
Numerous RPG and gaming publishers are catching onto the insatiable appetite for cool and exciting D&D one-shots. Whether your regular DM wants a break, a new group wants to test out player dynamics, or you can only get your friends together for a one-off game, there are many reasons you might be looking for a single session adventure. Having a pre-made, proven, and tested story to throw at your players is a priceless commodity.
Personally, I run a weekly Waterdeep Dragon Heist campaign with one group of players, as well as another group who meets far less regularly for whom I also sometimes DM. The weekly game takes up most of my allotted preparation time (i.e., the fleeting moments my children are simultaneously asleep), so when my other group meets we need a reliable supply of ready-to-play, easy-to-prepare D&D one-shots.
WotC did come close to fulfilling this requirement when they released Tales From the Yawning Portal, but all of the adventures in that book are likely to take more than one 4-hour session to play and do require quite a lot of pre-game preparation from the Dungeon Master. But thankfully publishers like Kobold Press, Sly Flourish, Frog God Games, and the DM’s Guild all have collections of ready-made D&D one-shots that are user friendly, professionally put together, and, most importantly, fun.
DM’s Guild – The Madhouse of Tasha’s Kiss
The DM’s Guild is a great place to search for peer-created content. From the WotC releases that support the children’s charity Extra Life, such as Kenko’s Way and the Lost Laboratory of Kwalish, to any of the thousands of additional character or class options that other DMs have submitted, you can find it all here.
So if you’re looking for single session D&D one-shots, this may well be the place to start. But with so much available where do you even begin? Well, you can’t go far wrong with Jeff C. Stevens’ latest offering The Madhouse of Tasha’s Kiss. It’s a single session adventure for a party of four to five characters between 3rd to 10th level. It even comes with scaling guidelines and suggestions to help DMs adjust it for their specific group.
Price: $3.95 (PDF version)
DM Feedback: I gave this adventure to one of our returning Dungeon Masters to run. Previously they had only DM’d two sessions and this was a bit of a challenge for them; luckily they’d been studying the DM’s Guide and were quite familiar with it. In all it took about an hour to prepare and took a little over four-and-a-half hours to play. Which is only slightly longer than the source material suggests, and could be down to having to spend some time checking over the madness and restoration rules mid-game.
As for quality, the adventure is clearly set out. There are four sections, each with an estimated time for how long it should take to run through, and the maps are all simple but effective. The illustrations throughout this supplement really helped our DM visualize what he was describing to us. The text boxes all made sense and were easy to follow, and the guidance for scaling and adjusting encounter difficulty based on character level was straightforward.
In all, this is quite a dark and creepy story, and some of the highlights of this session came from roleplaying the madness that characters pick up as they go through the adventure. However, the standout moment was an encounter with the Chimaera Chron—a weird creature made up of all different aspects that mirrored our party. We essentially had to defeat distorted versions of each other one-by-one in order to kill it. It was great fun.
Frog God Games The City That Dripped Blood
Frog God Games produce a variety of first class RPG content, which is widely available as PDF downloads via DriveThruRPG. From Pathfinder supplements to Swords & Wizardry and D&D one-shots, Frog God Games are constantly updating their offering and delivering content for all the most popular RPG platforms. The City That Dripped Blood is a single one-shot adventure suitable for a party of level 4 characters. It takes place in an ancient, abandoned, desert ruin that is ruled over by evil vampires desperate to drink the blood of heroes.
Additional Resources: 5th edition Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual
Price: $7.99 (PDF version)
DM Feedback: Another returning DM took the reins for The City the Dripped Blood and they were excited to get in the DM’s seat once again. This was only the second time they’d run a session and I think they found this adventure quite tricky to get to grips with. However, once they’d read the whole source material—at 14 pages plus appendixes it’s quite a hefty tome for a one-shot—they realized it didn’t take too much preparation, just sound knowledge of what was going to happen.
The session lasted four hours, which is exactly how long the author suggests and, although we missed out some encounters and didn’t explore every room in the city, our DM was very pleased with how the game went. This adventure has more of an open-world style and feel to it than the other one-shots and the focus is on exploring the city. This means players can easily get sidetracked or wander off the beaten track, which we did, but there are plenty of “events” which the DM can choose to run at specific times if they need to rally everyone together.
Kobold Press Creature Codex Lairs and 12 Peculiar Towers
Since the beginning of 5th Edition, Kobold Press has released a number of excellent collections of D&D one-shots including Prepared, Prepared 2, and Eldritch Lairs. Now, following on from those well-received collections they have released Creature Codex Lairs and 12 Peculiar Towers. Both books contain a selection of great locations and unusual battlegrounds, complete with short adventures with quest-hooks, terrain maps, and treasures to entice your players.
Creature Codex Lairs
This compilation contains nine D&D one-shots that take between two and five hours to play and are suitable for level 1-10. Each one is a complete short adventure based around a specific monster’s lair and is ideal for a one-shot session.
Additional Resources: This collection of short adventures is designed around monsters found in Kobold Press’ Creature Codex and Tome of Beasts. But if you don’t own those books they can be played using just the 5th edition Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual, by switching out some of the monsters.
DM Feedback: A brand new DM took charge for the Creature Codex Lairs one-shot and they chose the Ice Maiden’s Kiss, a Snow Hag’s lair suitable for four 7th level characters. Like all of the Kobold Press books it was easy to follow, required little to no additional preparation, and was really fun. Perfect for a first time Dungeon Master.
The story was a seemingly straightforward rescue mission. But it had the added element of being set in a winter tundra. This was an interesting location and gave an added dimension to the one-shot. The monsters in this adventure come from both of Kobold Press’ bestiaries, and as we had those books on-hand our new DM decided to use them. Alternatively the monsters could have been switched for a Hag from the Monster Manual with adjusted spells, and a polar bear, but that might not have been so effective.
The Ice Hag and Ursa Polaris were a really cool combination and the encounters took us all by surprise. But the highlight of this session was when the small boat we were navigating the frigid shore on was beset by ghouls, and our gnome barbarian was thrown overboard into the chilling waters. We only just rescued him, barely preventing our newbie DM from killing a PC on their first ever session.
12 Peculiar Towers
This collection contains a dozen unique dungeons, all based around perilous, strange, and wonderful towers. All ideal D&D one-shots. With adventures suitable for players from 1st to 15th level, you’ll find lighthouses, wizard’s towers, and a master thief’s hideout intricately detailed in easy-to-read isometric maps.
Additional Resources: Like the Creature Codex Lairs, the adventures in 12 Peculair Towers use monsters from both the Creature Codex and Tome of Beasts, as well as the Monster Manual.
DM Feedback: As Dungeon Master I am a sucker for a cool tower, so took the reins for The Spire of the Sun God from 12 Peculiar Towers. The adventure sees the heroes try to reclaim a sealed-off holy site by passing the tests of the jilted Sun God.
This was a really great D&D one-shot and could easily be slotted into an on-going campaign. It took, at most, five minutes of preparation to get ready, as everything I needed was right there in the book, including the stat block for a new monster the Gilded Aposate. The only changes I made were to swap out two devils which weren’t from the Monster Manual with ones that were. This was a straightforward substitute and didn’t seem to affect the narrative at all.
The session lasted just over three hours, which, looking through the rest of 12 Peculiar Towers, I think is fairly standard. The tests in the tower featured all three elements of D&D: exploration, roleplay, and combat, and my players really enjoyed the mix. The highlight was seeing our pious dwarf cleric of Moradin struggle with having to embrace the joyous rituals of a different deity. Never before has the song Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles been sung in such a sad and somber manner!
Sly Flourish’s Fantastic Adventures
If you consider yourself a true D&D fan, chances are you’ve already come across Mike Shea, AKA Sly Flourish. From the Lazy Dungeon Master to the excellent campaign guides for existing pre-made material, and regular columns for D&D Beyond, Mike Shea really knows his stuff and delivers top quality content for DMs new and old. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, he’s just released Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, the follow up to his hugely popular previous book, which helps DMs to speed up and rationalize their game preparation. He has also released Fantastic Adventures, a collection of short D&D one-shots, perfect for a last minute game.
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. After trialing The Crashed Palace last year, this year we explored The Well of the Black Sun.
Additional Resources: 5th edition Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual.
DM Feedback: The DM that took on The Well of the Black Sun had quite a lot of experience behind the DM screen and found this adventure to be really well constructed and intuitive to run. It takes place in Deepfathom Well and is based around an investigation into strange occurrences in the mine there.
All of the details and information presented in this adventure are concise and easy to follow. The list of NPCs and “secrets and clues” really help DMs get to grips with what to expect from running the one-shot and help steer the direction of the adventure. This isn’t always the case with published adventures, but author Mike Shea clearly understands what tools and resources a DM needs to run a fun session and all of the adventures in this collection are similarly well put together.
The highlight of this adventure was an encounter with a Black Pudding in the Voidwater Caverns, while one of our party was mesmerized by the mysterious chemical liquid in the cavern and could only squawk like a chicken as we fought to save their life. We all really enjoyed The Well of the Black Sun and are already fighting over who gets to run the next Fantastic Adventure.
The options for well-constructed and memorable D&D one-shots are clearly varied and many. Whether looking for inspiration for an ongoing campaign, single one-off games, or entire collections of D&D one-shots, Dungeons & Dragons fans can choose from any number of RPG publishers.
The only question that remains now is: How I am ever going to get the time to fit in all the great D&D one-shots my ever-growing army of Dungeon Masters have planned?
Disclaimer: GeekDad received review copies of each of these D&D one-shots and adventure compilations.