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Running a One-Shot at a Convention

I spent a large part of the past couple of weeks preparing for the Adventurer’s League sessions I ran at the fabulous Tabletop Scotland in Perth over the weekend of 24th/25th August.

Now, I’ve run a fair number of one-shot adventures before and, apart from the slightly stricter conditions that Adventurer’s League brings, I feel I’ve become reasonably experienced in doing so. But what have I learned along the way? What does the first time convention Dungeon Master need to know?

The answer is, I don’t know. At least, I don’t know it all. All I know is what works for me. So, in the interest of sharing (it’s caring after all) I thought I’d document some of the things I’ve learned (usually the hard way) over the years.

Make sure it fits into the time slot

Seems like a no brainer, right? However, this is probably your biggest challenge with a convention adventure. Not only are you trying to avoid overrunning, you also don’t want to run the risk of finishing an hour early and having disappointed players wandering around. Granted, the latter is a marginally more satisfying experience than the former given that at least the adventure was complete but ideally you want to fill the time.

Sit down and break your adventure into scenes or locations. Next to these scenes, mark down how long you think each scene will take to play out. Allow 15 minutes at the start for introductions, questions, correcting character sheets etc and also 5 mins at the end for clear up.

Once you have the total time worked out, you’ll have a better idea where you need to expand or trim the content to meet the session time.

Some Adventurer’s League content has timings already noted in the module content, which is helpful. It’s a good pattern to adopt with other one-shots that you might run.

Know your mid-point

Once you know how long the adventure is likely to take, you can work out what the half way point of the adventure is. If you get to half way through your allotted time slot and you’ve not reached that point or you’re way ahead of schedule, then you need to think of possibly adding in or cutting out an encounter to ensure that the adventure more closely fits the time slot.

Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.

If you are providing pre-gens, make sure to take a note of passive perception, armour class and hit points ahead of the session. If you have more pre-gens than you need, still do this and just score out the entries for the unused pre-gens at the table.

Read the adventure all the way through at least twice so that you know it inside out. Print off a separate copy of any maps and annotate them with what is in each room – monsters, traps, things of interest. Bullet points will do. Having a separate, annotated copies of any maps will save a lot of time-consuming flicking back and forward during the session.

If you are running an Adventurers League module and you don’t know the Average Party Level in advance of the session then make sure to note down the opponents you’ll need to consider at different levels of party strength.

Keep your enemies close

If you own the D&D monster cards then pull them out of the pack in advance. If possible, group all of the opponents for each encounter together using a paperclip or keep them in the same plastic sleeve. If you don’t have the monster cards, but do have access to D&D Beyond then try and print off the stat blocks and keep them grouped by encounter. If the adventure provides the stat blocks then either copy or detach them from the adventure where possible, in order to save you having to flick back and forward through the booklet.


Finally, relax. That’s easier said than done of course. I didn’t sleep a wink the night before the first day at Tabletop Scotland. Partly this was down to the astonishing heat but the lions share of my insomnia was probably caused by performance anxiety.

The fact of the matter is that you’re a better DM than you think you are. Even if you’re inexperienced, most con games will feature players who are even less experienced than you are. There were a lot of pre-gen characters at my tables at Tabletop Scotland. So relax. You’re going to smash it.

Ask for feedback

Ask for feedback after each session. It will make you a better Dungeon Master. The best feedback will often come from other DMs who are playing in your game as players. Don’t be afraid to ask and to learn.

Return of the DM View All

I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.

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