[RPG] What makes a system poorly suited for one-shot games


Some systems (like Microscope or Fiasco) are commonly used for one-shot games, that is, games that take place in a single session.

I never seem to hear of certain systems (like D&D or Dogs in the Vineyard) being used for one-shot games.

What makes a system poorly suited for one-shot games?

Best Answer

There are a couple of criteria that would make a game system unsuitable for a one-shot:

  1. The game has a high learning curve and you are likely to get players who have never played
    • The World of Synnibarr is often seen as an insanely complex system that is difficult to understand (they have an equation for how hard you can exhale, for one). I'm sure there are more moderate examples, but expecting a new player to quickly grasp complex systems like this would probably mean that they won't get it and won't have a good time.
  2. The type of scenarios typically run for the system don't fit within one session
    • This is more important for when you have a limited amount of time at a convention. A typical Dungeons & Dragons 4e session involves 3 encounters over the course of four hours or so, especially if you had new players. If you have only two hours for a one-shot, then you will have to cut it short and risk creating an unsatisfying or "incomplete" game (then again, D&D Encounters, the organized play system at the time, featured one hour blocks with only one encounter planned)
  3. You want to have players create characters during game time (rather than use pregens or ask for character creation ahead of time) but that would eat up too much of the allotted time for a one shot and leave little time for playing the game
    • A friend of mine played in a game of Aces & Eights where they spent 3 out of 4 hours creating characters, when he had expected to play a scenario the whole time. Either character creation should have been advertised up front as a feature of the one-shot or a system with faster character creation should have been chosen (or just used pregens).

In pretty much all of these cases, there are ways to make a system still work in a one-shot. I've played one-shots where we've ignored half the rules to lower the learning curve and speed up the gameplay. I've played games where half the time was spent making characters, but that was advertised in the description and players were interested in seeing how that worked.

I don't know that there is any system that is truly ill-suited for a one-shot. It's really just the expected type of scenario that might be.

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