Dming Tips: Hosting a One Off

Hello everyone! Before starting my topic a big shout out to Jon for reading most of my posts, commenting on most, and continuing the conversations :). Comments and feedback is what makes blogging fun, so thanks man!

Right, so today I am going to discuss how to approach DMing a One off adventure, from the perspective of a new DM. Thanks to Mickey Panda for yet another excellent topic idea!

One important thing you have decided, which will make you DMing job much easier, is the time frame for your adventure, a one off. This means the adventure, and therefore story arc, should be completed within a single session.

Before going further you now need to decide what is your time frame for this one off? Is a weekend marathon, an 5 hour session, a lengthy 12 hour session in a single night?

You also need to think who will be playing in your group. Often when I DM one offs is have a group of mixed ages, with a trend towards inexperience with roleplaying. This then effects what I plan for my adventure.

Finally, you need to think what is your goal for this adventure. Is it to give you and your friends a taste of D&D? Is it to experiment with a specific genre?

One of my best friends, Logan, remembers his favorite time playing D&D as a one off I did in celebration of Halloween. The party explored a haunted plantation, with many of the party members dying in a gory manner by various horror tropes. The party entered into the game presuming that death loomed around the corner, and so they just had a great time with this. Even for experienced parties one offs can be a nice break to try something new, or even give someone a chance to try DMing without the commitment of a full campaign.


Since I have talked to Mickey a bit I am going to make a presumption that she is considering dipping her toes into the D&D world, and has been drafted as a DM. First of all, good for you! DMing is the hardest, but also most rewarding job in D&D.

One thing I would consider is buying the starter box for what ever D&D edition you are considering. These boxes often have most of the rules, dice, some premade characters, and a simple yet fun beginning adventure created to be played in about a session.

The one in the third edition box looked something like this:

Adventure Begins

These starter boxes are a great way to start, as they are much cheaper then the Players Handbook and Monster Manual. If you decide D&D isn’t for you then you haven’t spent too much money.

The issue with this method is that these starter boxes often are not useful once you begin playing more. Players will want to make their own characters, and you will want to expand beyond the basic dungeon.

If you already have a strong suspicion that you will like D&D and want to continue with it then I would instead start with the Player’s Handbook and Monster Manual. From there you can begin planning your one off.

Keeping in mind your time frame I think on average most one offs will only have roughly 3-5 combat encounters, 1-2 social, and maybe 1 trap. This is enough content that gives you a feel for the game, but is still doable in a short time frame.

Using this formula, you can then begin to think about the story for your adventure. I can’t give many more specifics without knowing your exact time frame and style (horror, adventure, dungeons, wilderness, ect.). I will leave you with these last few tips.

-Have the story complete by the end of the session; however, feel free to leave some loose ends. This could entice your players to play more, or give you a future jumping off point.

-When planning encounters try to make each counter have a different thing that needs something special, such as an emphasis or ranged fighting, magic, weird terrain, ect. Feel free to plan less encounters, but really make each one fun.

-Leave your players wanting more. If you feel like your adventure is a bit short that is fine, its better at the end for everyone to wish there was more to do, then to wish it had ended an few hours ago.

-Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, especially if its your first time DMing.

Well I hope that helps! Please do tell me how your game goes :)!



4 thoughts on “Dming Tips: Hosting a One Off

  1. Ya Jake, I think you really nailed it with a few points there. I’ve only done a handful of one-offs before but I really share many of your thoughts. These are concepts that I find transcend beyond D&D too. My experience running campaigns, leagues and tournaments for miniature games has taught me one thing is nothing else: understand your audience! It might be the level of complexity, time investment, genre for the storyline, etc. If you want your group to have fun make sure to cater the adventure to them, not to you.


  2. Thanks for writing this article! I will definitely be taking these tips into consideration for my one off! I happen to convince more friends to play the one off so I’m going to have a full party of 5! XD I love the suggestion of the balance of encounters; that balance was what I was still unsure off. I still have lots of time to prep – we decided to do it in the new year after all the stresses of the end of the year dies out. Thank you for your suggestions and I will for sure let you know how the campaign goes. ~MickeyPanda


    1. Balancing and variety within encounters is definitely one of the fine arts of DMing, I think all DMs (myself included) can look at several occasions we messed up with either balance or variety. That being said, creating balanced and interesting encounters it a great topic for me to write about :). I was lazy last week and got nothing written, so I have a few things to write first, but I will definitely put it on the “write as soon as possible” list :).

      To hold you off I would say you want to have a variety of encounters, I try to work in at least one social encounter, one more traditional combat, and one interesting/ different combat every session (these usually include elements that help a variety of PCs shine). For example, the Charismatic PC gets to strut their stuff during the social encounter, the combat oriented players shine during combat, and during the weird combat, perhaps the party is fighting in a room that is icy, so suddenly the more Dexterous characters will do great while heavy slow fighters have trouble keeping balance, and Acrobatics can be great. I will talk about this more in depth either this or next week :).

      Thanks for taking the time to comment always love to see more discussion on the blog!


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