You can’t always have everyone at your games when you want. Sometimes life happens and people need to reschedule. What if you don’t want to play without them, but you don’t want to pull out an entire oneshot for the day?
Compromise with the Dream One Shot.
I’ve done this process a few times now. When someone can’t play, I pull from parts of the story and let them experience it as a vision. They’re like interlude chapters in a novel, or sitcoms told from a minor character’s perspective. They’re self contained stories that take place in your world, creating opportunities to explore the story in new ways.
The first time I tried it, things went really well. There’s something here worth exploring. I fleshed it out into a useful tool to enhance the stories in ongoing campaigns. They’re self contained one shots that happen in world. They can be dreams, magical journals, vivid memories, or mystical visions.
Why it Works
Quick to Flesh Out
When you’re strapped for time on a last minute change of plans, you need a session that leans on what’s established. Using a one shot in your story lets you use your world, and your players can just use their regular characters. This way you don’t have to spend time creating the context and driving buy-in typical one shots need.
Showcases your Worldbuilding
These sessions are also great ways to flesh out context and backstory.
Your world is probably stuffed to the brim with cool backstories, compelling world building, and engaging NPC motivations that make your world rich and complex. These details can often be left in the shadows, acting as the stage crew to your production, rarely taking the spotlight. Sometimes you may indulge with a large info dump on your players, but that never feels as satisfying as you want. These one shots finally give you an outlet to flaunt your stuff.
These one shots offer the chance to frame your world in radically different ways. Your main villain may have a nuanced backstory that needs to be shared, but monologing is so cliche. Instead, you can let your players jump into a dream and live the key moments that made your antagonist the big bad. Maybe you have a large war that shaped the political landscape of your world. A simple vision may let them see those pivotal moments first hand. Perhaps there’s another group of movers and shakers in your world that you can let your players somehow mind swap and see through their eyes.
Lets Players Experiment
These dream oneshots provide lower risk opportunities to let players experiment with their characters. Dreams imply there are no lasting consequences – they’re not real. This means your character can try more niche spells since the risk to failure is lower. They can also explore new perspectives for their characters. It’s less real than the “waking” story, so maybe the rogue can try out what it would be like to actually trust someone. It’s a safer space, and that can make it easier for players to test new waters.
How it Works
You’ve got to try these out in your game. Here’s how I do it.
Identify a Cool Part of your World
There’s something in your world that you’re just itching to tell your players about. With these one shots, you’ll not only show them, but let them engage with it. Find that amazing backstory, that interesting character origin story, the intricate political landscape, or that new monster you’ve been crafting. Find that one thing and let that be the focus of your one shot.
Flesh it out with Story Beats
Find 3 interesting moments that illustrate your Cool Part and use that to develop your scenarios for the one shot. Think of it like the 5 paragraph persuasive essay. You know this thing is one of the greatest works of genius in the multiverse, these 3 scenes will prove it. Think about the scenes that shaped the antagonist, or the decisive moments that determined the outcome of a war, or the cataclysm that created the astral rift in the land. These scenes will serve as your session’s backdrop.
Find your Dramatic Questions
These are Dream One Shots. This means that even if your players engage in the story, they will have minimal impact on the world. How do you find meaningful choices in your scenes? Strict railroading isn’t very fun, even when these stories imply a more restricted session.
Works of historical fiction tell compelling stories with the backdrop of some of the most pivotal moments in history. The protagonists don’t often affect the outcome of history, rather they overcome internal conflicts that come from the history explored. The decision points focus inward. These sessions are essentially historical fiction stories in your world, and they provide an opportunity for your characters to explore their beliefs, morals, and principals when their lives aren’t on the line.
While your character’s may not be able to change the macro story beats, they may be able to leave their mark with micro actions. I love time paradox stories, where the past only worked because you went back in time to make it happen. Think Harry Potter’s Time Turner Arc. Maybe your characters chose to save the child from the burning wagon. It’s a great way to give meaningful actions to support their internal decisions. Plus, next time they see that character in the real story, they’ll have a deeper ownership to their story.
Try it Out
I love these one shots. They let me explore different perspectives within the story. I can flesh out all the cool worldbuilding bits that lived behind the scenes. It gives my players the chance to take ownership of the fabric of the story, leaving their mark through the internal conflicts they confront throughout the session. Plus, since the adventure pulls on the things you’re already familiar with, it’s often much quicker to prep for them than a random one shot.
Try it out, let me know how it goes.