Do You Play Differently In a One-Shot?

I’ve been trying to assess  my play style to figure out if I play differently in a one-shot situation than a normal ongoing campaign. Conventional wisdom holds that since a one-shot holds fewer consequences and requires less investment, players might tend to play riskier than would in a long-term campaign. I’m not sure that it’s true.

Many times in a one-shot it feels like I am playing a disposable character. On the plus side it grants the freedom to try out a race or class or combination that I might not ordinarily play. On the downside if you don’t care about your character’s fate, it’s easy to get him killed, or act like a jerk. Thankfully this risk is regularly countered by my own primal need to win (which is an abstract concept in D&D).

I’m now playing in semi-regular campaign. Since I thought it was going to be a one-shot, I thought it would be fun to play an evil paladin. And it has been fun to root against my own character, but at some point I decided I wanted him to live and maybe make a journey towards redemption–which is not generally a 4-6 hour character arc. I came to this realization after I had already been subconsciously playing him like a campaign character and not as a disposable character.

Upon reflection, I think I always play my characters like they’re permanent fixtures in their world. Which leads me to wonder I am normal or weird in this regard? Do you treat one-shot characters different than campaign characters?


3 thoughts on “Do You Play Differently In a One-Shot?

  1. Hmm, an interesting question. I’ve been playing in D&D Encounters, and because I’ve been unable to make it with any regularity, it’s effectively been like playing in a series of one-shots (I’ve played in three sessions so far, and I just made my third character because my second character died).

    I feel like I play with a sense of self-preservation, but I don’t delve into motivations as much as I would in campaign play. I have a character in a short-term mini-campaign, and I’ve got a back story and motivations and long-term goals for her already; I’ve only actually played her once. My characters in Encounters tend to be more mechanically-driven, in that I try to create characters that I know will be useful to the party, first and foremost, because story is light and continuity is nearly nonexistent for me.

    Even in a one-shot, I’d probably try to keep my character alive. I might take more risks, and I’d probably be more inclined to blow dailies, but I never like it when my characters die, even when they’re just numbers on a page.

    Now, I’m usually the DM, and what I find interesting is I often adopt my campaign-play strategy for character building with my NPCs. Most of my NPCs have background and motivations that the PCs never even know about; I just can’t help it. I’m also usually pretty sad when long-term–or even short-term recurring–villains die, because I do tend to grow attached to them. That probably explains why I try to make my villains recur more often than not!

  2. I love one-shots because I can play without fear – it’s not that the character is disposable (if that’s the case why even bother playing the game?) but rather that I’m free from long-term consequences so I can take the character wherever I think he or she needs to go…whether that’s driving off a bridge, quitting their job and moving to Alaska, or leaping in to the dragon’s mouth.

  3. @Brian,

    Interesting, I haven’t thought of it really from the DM perspective, it must be worse..constantly creating characters to be killed.

    I guess disposable was the wrong word. But you’re right. My DM keeps talking about “playing boldly,” and I think there is an attitude that allows one to bolder (riskier?) in a one-shot.

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