Dungeons & Dragons Online

Use One-Shots to Build Lore

First time DM and poster. This sub-reddit has been a great source of inspiration for me, so I wanted to share something that could help others. I realized there is potential for one-shots to help shape the history and lore in my party's campaign and my homebrew world. One-shots help fill sessions where scheduling conflicts arise, as many DMs already know. Not everyone can be present for each session, so this is a great incentive for those who can attend the session. I also get to create a framework of world building that the players will encounter without wasting time on details they may never encounter in the main campaign.

Instead of deciding important moments of history myself and writing it in my notes, I've created one-shots where the players' actions shape key events in my world history. I set up the one-shot with fairly strong guidelines (predetermined lvls, classes, races, confined setting, etc.) and a short prologue to define character motivations. This way I still don't give up total control and create a time paradox where the one-shot screws up established events in our main campaign. This may need to be reinforced with your players. The players will have freedom to do what they want within the setting of the one-shot, but I remind them that this will be a one and done experience. These characters are theirs to control for this session only, and I will take the reigns after the session ends to decide any other choices they make to flesh out the history. This actually creates a lot of fun because the players aren't attached to these characters, so risk taking and bold choices can flow easily. It has helped make our inexperienced players feel more comfortable with game mechanics and broadens their experience as well. Most importantly, it created some epic experiences for our sessions!

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An example:
Centuries ago the dwarves in my world were a nomadic mountain-faring society looking for a home. They decided to invade an existing drow city and take it for their own. This is all prologue material. The party (all level 12 dwarves – rogue, barbarian, cleric, ranger) act as scouts ahead of the war party and find a young red dragon is in the mountain pass leading to the underground drow city. I expected them to fight the dragon and then I would write the grand battle into the history of the dwarves in my world. The encounter takes a hard left-turn when the rogue decides to offer an alliance to the dragon offering all the slaves she desires from the drow city in exchange for her assistance in the siege. Two ridiculously high persuasion checks later, a deal is made. Mechanically the dragon would ally with the dwarves if the rogue passed two DC 25 persuasion checks out of three.

Another player is a ranger with a grudge against dragons, and attacks the dragon and the party then makes a run for it. This turns into a mutually-enjoyable pvp match with the dragon as spectator. It could have been a disaster if these were main characters. The dragon demands a show of loyalty, so orders the rogue to kill the ranger. The barbarian can't take it and attacks the dragon and rogue in a grand showdown, but dies with honor. Betrayal, drama, death and glory all follow, with the rogue still alive to make up whatever story he wants and the ranger burned alive in a river of lava. Meanwhile, another player's trickery cleric feigned death during the ranger/rogue fight, so now there is a second survivor who can also make up whatever story he wants. This causes a narrative dispute in dwarven society that still exists in our main campaign, where one faction believes the red dragon was subdued by a charismatic hero, and the other believes a dark deal was made by a duplicitous backstabber who killed his companion. Instead of an origin where dwarves where the all-powerful conquerors, they now have a dark stain on their honor that haunts their society and makes for a much cooler story. Such a mythical origin I would not have made on my own.

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tl,dr: Use self-contained moments from your world's history to invite party collaboration that establishes rich lore and history through one-shots. DMs don't have to write every bit of worldbuilding, use your players to help.

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