For my recent birthday, my wife gave me the most wonderful surprise: she prepared and a ran a magnificent little one-shot for me and our siblings. There is so much to say about this experience, I am going to do my best to organize it in an effective way.
Intimidated with the idea of learning a whole RPG system for her one-shot, my wife created her own simple, fast-and-loose system. It did everything a system needs to do to deliver a fun and rewarding experience, and it could easily be customized to any setting.
Our characters were defined by some vague attributes intended to guide us in our roleplaying. In the case of this one-shot, a college major, minor, and extracurricular activity and a quirk (mine were Mathematics, Dance, Rocketry, and speaking in rhyme, respectively).
From this background, she gave us each a power or two and an item (mine were perfect trajectory estimation and rapid math and shoes that allowed me to jump extremely high).
We also each chose a teacher from high school who would be our “Spirit Guide” during the session.
My wife did not completely eschew the timeless tradition of dice-rolling randomness. We each had a d10 and whenever we took an action that had a reasonable chance of failure, she asked for a roll. She checked the result against her table with outcomes including Magnificent Success (10), Success, Embarrassing Success, Failure, Damaging Failure, Catastrophic Failure (1). She would provide appropriate modifiers based on her perception of our chance of success.
Additionally, if we ever rolled the last digit of our graduation year, the outcome would be augmented by some extra mayhem, in this case card from the Planet Mercenary Mayhem deck.
My wife did an excellent job of preparing a one-shot that turned out to be fun, rewarding, and memorable. I’m going to try to touch on some things that I think made it effective.
Not wanting to worry too much about maps and explanations, my wife set the game in a place we all knew well, our old High School. This meant that without any explanation, we all knew the map and appearance. For the sake of the game, she shook things up with doors that led where they shouldn’t and demons roaming this hellish version of the school.
We all appeared on the football field where the principal of the school during our time there informed us that as the best and brightest of the high school alumni we had been called upon to retrieve the three runes that had been claimed by the demons of the netherschool in an attempt to break through to our world. The demons with the runes were presented as athletic, presidential, and musical.
We went first to the main gym, where a basketball demon wanted a trophy so he could be seen as a winner. I challenged him to a dunking competition, during which time the others came up with a better plan (I can’t remember if we ended up giving him the stolen trophy or the dumbell with which to complete the word WNNER on his jersey) and we walked away with the rune we were after.
After a brief trip to the cafeteria to get plastic cutlery for our plastimancer’s 3D printer (we’re aware that kind of plastic wouldn’t work), we were diverted into a puzzle room, which our sculptor solved by completing the eyeless tiger statue while eye of the tiger played. From there, we proceeded to the old student council room where we encountered prom preparing triplets after matching up high school dances with season. Our attempts to get the rune we were after down from the disco ball without them noticing were comical, resulted in some injury (I lost my power of trajectory estimation), but ultimately succeeded, causing them to vanish before they could attack us.
Our next destination was the auditorium. On the way, the main corridor of the school was unexpectedly divided by a large room that contains a puzzle in which we each had to find the ring associated with our character and put it on the statue hand at the center of the room. It was an amusing and effective puzzle that made for a change of pace on our way.
Outside the auditorium, we disagreed on how to enter, so our fledgling GM was treated to a three way party split. Three of us dealt with a puzzle in which we could access the giant violin case in which we stood through a normal size violin case in the middle room. After shrinking and unshrinking myself by with the violin case, our violinist shrunk his violin by handing it to himself up through the lid, giving him the key to the violin shaped lock (not the intended solution, but excellently managed).
Meanwhile, the other two quickly reunited, the one finding the other under the influence of two curses (think the party game, “Curses!”) with a book glued in each hand (Dr. Suess and Shakespeare, if a remember right). She picked up the third book (A Separate Peace, I think), receiving her own curse (always rhyming?). Eventually they managed to guess each others’ curses, thus breaking them and allowing them to put the books down. It turned out the books were a trap and not at all related to opening the unlocked door.
Each having overcome our puzzles, our groups reunited in the auditorium. Three of us at the back of the rows of seats, which churned like a meat grinder, discouraging is from advancing in the stage where a banshee with many arms, a director’s wand in each, sung painfully badly. The others entered unnoticed behind him, on stage, but dared not approach, seeing his flailing wands cutting his own clothes to ribbons.
For my part, I cheered him on, hoping to flatter him and keep his attention, meanwhile, the other group prepared to pose as his prop support, allowing them to get near enough to steal the rune on his back, banishing him as well.
With all three runes in our possession, we returned to the football field where, despite some suspicions, we returned them to the principal and returned to our world.
Observations in no particular order:
- Her dungeon was completely nonlinear. We entered from a different end than she expected and it caused us no problems. We could have defeated the bosses in any order.
- Her puzzles were modular enough that she could drop them anywhere in the school behind a door leading somewhere unexpected. This allowed her to flexibly choose the appropriate next puzzle at any given time. She did not use all of her puzzles.
- She originally intended our adventure to be somewhat more deadly, allowing us to respawn in the detention room, but it seems she didn’t have the heart to kill us. I think given the tone of our adventure, this was the right choice.
- Her time management was excellent, we never felt bored it like we were waiting. Her simple mechanics helped with this, but she was also quick on her feet and well organized.
- The fact that we all knew the map saved a lot of confusion and communication. Very efficient, but most tables can’t count on this extent of shared experience.
- She was primarily inspired in her approach by the GM Showcase series , it served her well in this context.
- I married the greatest woman in the world.