There are several ways to play D&D to accommodate different play lengths. There are pros and cons to all of them, but each style has certain strengths and weaknesses to keep in mind when creating your adventures. Let’s start with the most versatile and forgiving format you could play D&D in; the one shot.
A one shot adventure is a story that can be played out in a single play session. Unlike the other styles of play that tell a story over several sessions, you only have the handful of hours to complete the story arc. This limits the depth of the story and how much spotlight time you can give the individual players, but it’s not the end of the world when things are blown off the rails.
I actually run one shot adventures often, and wish I had more opportunities to do so. Because in spite of the extreme limitations of the format, you can do anything in it. That is not hyperbole either, you have far more creative freedom in a one shot adventure than in the other formats. I have had players roll up 20th level characters to kick a god in the face. I’ve given them the ability to grab a monster of CR 10 or less to kill off heroes attacking their dungeon. Having the freedom to make anything a threat and have your players be anyone is insane once you realize the stories it opens up for you.
It can be terrifying to try a home-brew mechanic or feel out certain themes. Testing them out in a stand alone session is great, because if it doesn’t work out it was only a single session that burned to the ground and not a year of story telling. If the mechanic works well you can always adopt it in your regular game, but it is nice to not stress out if the mechanic or theme in question is going to ruin the game in some unforeseen way.
Lore Drop & Foreshadowing
It can be really frustrating when a player can’t make a session forcing you to postpone the campaign, but I’ve started using them as an opportunity to expand the story. Instead of having them play their regular characters, have them pick up a band of characters somewhere else in your world dealing with some adjacent problem, or foreshadow a problem that they’ll face in the future. I’ve used one shots to expand the lore of a certain culture, present NPCs early just to have them appear again in the main campaign, and even have had the players they played in the one shot show up in the main story arc as NPCs.
I hope this inspired you to run a few quick one shots of your own 🙂 Thank you for reading and stay awesome.