Since its inception, Dungeons & Dragons has been the breeding ground for thousands of published adventures. Among the many adventures of the fifth edition that have been published, some serve as perfectly isolated quests for individual encounter adventures, better known as “one shots”. These are adventures designed to be completed from start to finish in a single gaming session, usually lasting between three and four hours.
However, such published adventures are rarely described as one-shots, as they are usually part of a framework of a larger campaign story. Today we’ll take a look at some published adventures that serve perfectly as one-shots. These adventures are perfect bite-sized portions of D&D: whether you want to serve your players with a change of pace or introduce a few friends to the wonders of Dungeons & Dragons. In case it wasn’t obvious, there are obvious spoilers ahead.
6 Cragmaw Hideout
Cragmaw Hideout is an adventure for four to six first level characters. It’s the name of the first adventure site you visit in the Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign (aka the Starter Kit). This adventure includes a goblin ambush, following tracks, some interesting traps, a fight with a bugbear boss and a prisoner rescue. It’s a standard dungeon trump that harks back to the earliest days of D&D.
For this reason, it is a perfect opportunity to introduce new players to the game. Cragmaw Hideout has all the essential elements you would expect from a D&D game: exploration, role-playing and combat. The interplay between the goblin leader Yeemik, who wants to be head of the clan, and the current head of the bugbear clan Klarg shows the depth of what monsters are capable of in D&D. After Yeemik loses to you, he threatens the prisoner’s life and tries to get the PCs (player characters) to kill Klarg. Furthermore, there is a great water catcher in the dungeon that is just hilarious.
5 fire finger
Firefinger is a fairly deadly adventure for four to six 3rd or 4th level characters. This is an adventure location in the wilderness of Chult, during the adventures of Tomb of Annihilation. Firefinger itself is a stone tower that rises 300 feet above the ground. The adventure includes stealth, a tower climb, creepy crawlies, pterodactyl humans and the threat of death from a very, very steep fall.
The pterodactyl people, called pterafolk, pose a threat to anyone who wants to pass through the jungles of the continent. They carry their prey to the top of the tower where they sleep, drop them from the towering heights for their own amusement, then feast on the crushed remains. Here, PCs are summoned to recover a magical item of value from Azaka Stormfang, a woman with her own dark secrets. This adventure can be hacked and cut at great peril, or it can be played as a stealth mission to retrieve the mask without drawing the attention of the pterafolk.
Gnomengarde is a heavy role-playing adventure for four to six 1st or 2nd level characters. This adventure can be found in Dragon of Icespire Peak as one of the first available missions in the campaign. The Gnomengarde Gnomes are a relaxed, if a little eccentric, people who are currently struggling with a murderer’s intrusion into their home. In the past ten days, two gnomes have suddenly disappeared. This adventure features intrigue, mystery solving, heavy role-playing, traps and dangers, and a mad king.
The perpetrator of the crimes is, of course, a mimic. Therefore, you will need to do a lot of research to properly identify the shape-shifting creature. Along the way, you’ll need to convince Gnomengarde’s gnomes that they aren’t shape-shifters themselves, while also avoiding their numerous contraptions, some of which aren’t that useful. All in all, this is an inspired adventure that’s better if you’re not that interested in combat.
3 Book of the Raven
Book of the Raven is a mysterious adventure for four to six third level characters. This adventure can be found in the annals of Candlekeep Mysteries, a one-shot collection that can be organized into a larger story using Candlekeep’s mystical library location. It’s best to start this adventure in the hamlet of Wytchway, if you run it in one go, where a raven mysteriously delivers a book to the PCs. This adventure features ghostly ghosts, cursed items, the undead, heavy exploration, a surprising twist and a (possibly) difficult battle.
Book of the Raven is perfect if you are more than anything interested in exploring and immersing yourself in a world. In addition, it can host a very difficult and climactic battle encounter, should you want to work in a conduit to the shadow transition. A simple addition would be that an ally of the Scarlet Sash went mysteriously missing after visiting Haarn’s Mausoleum. The weather ravens would pay handsomely for information about his whereabouts (he probably died in the Shadowfell).
2 salvage operation
Salvage Operation is a battle game for four to six 3rd or 4th level characters. This adventure can be found as a singleton adventure in the Ghosts of Saltmarsh campaign book. Salvage Operation features a touch of mystery, naval dungeon exploration, tons of combat, spiders and spider people, team problem solving, and an edge-of-your-seat climax with a kraken.
This is the best adventure to play if your players just want to hack and defeat some monsters. You can summarize how the PCs were hired for their current jobs and then zoom in on the adventure as their rowboat approaches the abandoned ship known as the Emperor. Best of all, the ending of the adventure delivers a real adrenaline rush as the PCs take the initiative in an attempt to escape from the ship with their loot, all before the Emperor is completely sunk by an attacking kraken.
1 Camp Righteous
Camp Righteous is a puzzle adventure for four to six characters of the 3rd or 4th level, found in the jungles of Chult in the Tomb of Annihilation campaign. This adventure includes some exploration, an important riddle, curious animals, tough problem solving, a hilarious and potentially terrifying goblin ambush, traps and dangers (both magical and mundane), and a big chance at a TPK. You can easily turn Camp Righteous into a one-shot by telling the PCs that they were sent here on a mission from the Flaming Fist to recover the artifact in the House of Man and Crocodile.
This is arguably the hardest of the one shots here, if not for no other reason than that it’s impossible to hack and slash your way to victory. Instead, you and your players will have to put on your thinking caps to really discern how best to brave this dastardly death trap. Honestly, to say that this one shot is the equivalent of turning the Tomb of Horrors into a one-off shot is pretty accurate. Any DM interested in running this one chance should warn their players in advance that there’s a reasonable chance this adventure will end in a frustrating TPK. However, Camp Righteous is still mentioned for its puzzle-based nature. After all, puzzles are an important part of D&D – but there are no hard feelings if you change your mind about the importance of puzzles after doing this.
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