Tuesday, October 26, 2021

D&D 5e: Short Campaigns and One Shots

D&D hardback adventure covers

About 6 months ago (already?), I suggested that running one of the long hardback adventures from Wizards of the Coast may not be the best idea for a new Dungeon Master. You can watch the video for all the details, but to summarize:

  • The Wizards hardbacks are often long intricate plots involving a large number of NPCs.
  • You have to read and digest a couple hundred pages (at least) to fully understand everything going on and be able to foreshadow events (which generally is not done well in the adventure itself).
  • They span as many as 10 to 15 levels of play, which is a lot of game to bite off for your first campaign.
  • It's a lot just to learn to run the game much less keep 200+ pages of heavy plot in your noggin.
  • Short episodic adventures give the DM much more freedom to improvise with much less preparation.

Instead, I suggested perhaps a more short-form campaign would be a better choice. Prepping smaller 3 to 5 session modules and one-shots (single session length) adventures might be better for the new DM. A sorter length (5 to 7 levels) is also a better introduction to the challenges of game mastering.

There are a few exception. If you are a new DM and you haven't run the D&D Essentials Kit or the Starter Set adventures, those are both amazing introductory (and relatively short) adventures. The Dragon of Icespire Peak (Essentials Kit) is a little more modular and has more bite-sized chunks for the newer DM, but the Lost Mine of Phandelver (Starter Set) is also a very well done scenario with a plot arc the underlies all the encounters. Together, they can be used to introduce a new group of players to the Sword Coast (Forgotten Realms). Tales from the Yawning Portal, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, and Candlekeep Mysteries also contain shorter length adventures that are self-contained.

But, that's not what I'm here to talk about.

Short Campaigns and One Shots


This topic resurfaced because I was asked on social media, "What are some good one-shot or short multi-session adventures that can span a number of levels?" 

Boy, howdy... there are lots. I do have some recommendations for publishers I've enjoyed. I've come to prefer the more episodic "monster of the week" style campaign because you're not locked into a really long plot arc that the players may lose interest in over time. Smaller adventures are over in 3 to 5 sessions and if one of them just isn't working out, you can scrub that particular mission without feeling like you lost $50 and tons of prep work. Just move on to the next episode.

Horror Shorts


For my first recommendation, I wrote out a list of One-Shot Halloween adventures a few years ago. These are great 1 to 2 session length adventures, but they are largely horror themed, so I wanted to include a broader variety of adventure types for this post.

Tales of the Old Margreve
Tales of the Old Margreve


Tales of the Old Margreve is not a full campaign, but more a collection of short adventures centered on a particular region of Kobold Press' Midgard campaign setting. Three of the adventures are directly linked and can be run as a part of a plot arc, but the rest are are just nice little 1 to 3 session vignettes that can be dropped into almost any campaign. Hollow was a nice starter adventure to set the tone. The introductory adventure leans toward the horror theme as well, but most of the book involves forces of the fey as opposed to forces of darkness.

Prepared - A Dozen One Shots for Fifth Edition

Prepared #1 and Prepared #2


Sticking with Kobold Press for a moment, the Prepared series is a wonderful collection of short adventures intended to be dropped into a campaign with a very small amount of prep work. They're all just a handful of pages, so one could read them on a Friday afternoon in preparation for a Friday night game, and the adventures span from level 1 to 15, so there is almost always something that you can mine for your campaign.

Quests of Doom


The Quests of Doom series from Frog God Games is written to emulate an "old school" play style found in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. These adventures are not only available for D&D 5th Edition, but Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry as well. The writers include notables such as Ed Greenwood, Matt Finch, Skip Williams, and Jim Ward. The Darkening of Namjan Forest is one of my favorites and will cause your players to poop their pants when they encounter shadows everywhere!

Fifth Edition Fantasy cover
Fifth Edition Fantasy


Known for their old school Dungeon Crawl Classics line of adventures and DCC RPG, Goodman Games also produced Fifth Edition Fantasy which is another series of relatively short adventures that can be dropped into any 5th Edition campaign. The adventures can run anywhere from roughly 16 to 24 pages and usually completed in just a few sessions. 

Dungeons On Demand


Dan Coleman Productions puts out the Dungeons On Demand series. These short adventures can be bought individually or as bundled collections at a discount. Dan uses maps with friendly iconography that allow the DM to easily see where the most important points of interest, clues, encounters and other details are at a glance. These are also collections where you can reasonably read most of the adventures the day of your game and still run them proficiently that night.

Assault on Blacktooth Ridge

5th Edition Adventures


Last but certainly not least is Troll Lord Games 5th Edition Adventures series. The Troll Lords are know for releasing the Castles & Crusades RPG back in 2004, arguably the first "Old School Revival" RPGs. Their 5th Edition line is largely translations of the C&C adventures over the years, but sometimes with additional content that did not appear in the originals. Two of the absolute best campaign starters are A1 Assault on Blacktooth Ridge and A0 The Rising Knight

In Summary


This list really only scratches the surface of what's out there, and it is likely I will need to create another follow up list highlighting adventures from the DMsGuild.com... but that may have to wait for another day. In the meantime, check out Nothing Unusual Here -- a weird little tale about a village and its unusual fondness for their pet dwarf pigs. I hope this is a good start for those looking for short adventures for their home brew game.

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