One of the finest ways to introduce folks to the wild worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, DnD one shots are single adventures that can be completed in around one to three sessions. Like any good DnD adventure, a one shot includes a self-contained story arc, detailed locations, and NPCs for players to interact with. However, unlike an ongoing campaign, a one shot requires no long-term commitment, so can also be a good choice for DnD groups that struggle to nail down regular sessions, or Dungeon Masters looking for shorter setup and lighter running commitments.
Being smaller, Dungeons and Dragons one shots require less input both behind and beyond the DM screen. These short adventures are a hands-on way for players to try out different DnD classes, new DnD races, or fresh adventure themes.
As one shots are low stakes (no repercussions will carry over into future sessions, such as character death), they’re also a fun way for DMs to toy around with new DnD settings – such the dread domains of Ravenloft or the cosmic plains of Spelljammer.
If you’re so inclined, they can be a neat way to test your players’ mettle against your latest favourite DnD monster (or even nastier threats) with fewer consequences to plan around. It’s part of the reason why menacing and particularly perilous dungeons like the legendary Tomb of Horrors work so well in the DnD one shot format.
So if you’re looking for a way to introduce players new and old to Dungeons & Dragons, or just fancy a diversion from your ongoing campaign, running your own DnD 5e one shot is the way to go. Whether you’d like to work with a prewritten one shot DnD adventure, or generate your own one shots from scratch, there are options galore – so we’ve compiled this guide as your ideal starting point.
DnD one shot ideas
A great place to start looking for one shot ideas is existing D&D books. DnD publisher Wizards of the Coast has released several adventure anthologies that can easily be chopped up into short, single adventures.
Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel offers a kaleidoscope of colourful adventures set in places inspired by the authors’ cultures. You can find ripping magical yarns hidden between pages in the library of Candlekeep Mysteries. Test your players with a dungeon from the Tales From the Yawning Portal collection, or embark on a pirate adventure from Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
More experienced DMs might want to pick a setting – such as the eternal war of Eberron, the mythical plains of Magic: The Gathering-themed Mythic Odysseys of Theros, or the space-faring reaches of Spelljammer – and craft their own unique one shot adventure there. All these books feature an introductory adventure to get you started in the world, which should throw up plenty of one shot ideas to work with.
Last, but absolutely not least, there are a range of free, purpose-written, official DnD one shots available online direct from Wizards, such as horror dungeon Death House or ice-laden mystery Frozen Sick.
Digital marketplace D&D Beyond is something of a gold mine when it comes to free one shots. In its archives, you can find ‘Encounter of the Week‘ blog posts that offer a wide range of one-off adventures. They also do seasonal or promotional one-offs, such as the free Vecna one shot that was released after Stranger Things season four, or this Valentine’s Day adventure.
In fact, holidays are a great jumping-off point for many one shots. Some of the most popular DnD one shots on digital marketplace DMs Guild are festive – just check out the Gingerbread & Dragons Christmas one shot or this April Fool’s Day one shot. You’ll need to pay for these adventures, but they only cost a few dollars at most.
DnD one shot generator
If you’re looking to build your own one shot adventure from scratch, there are plenty of DnD one shot generators online. One of the keys to building an engaging adventure yourself is keeping things as succinct as possible, and setting up conflicts and goals quickly. That might include tactics like:
- Using a DnD character creator to roll up all your players’ DnD character sheets well in advance
- Starting your one shot directly outside a dungeon
- Spending as little ‘downtime’ as possible in the game getting to know each other’s characters
This unofficial Random Adventure Generator randomly generates one shot DnD structures based around theme, plot, goals, story hooks, villains and every other part of the structure you’ll need to set up a D&D one shot. Just refresh for a whole new adventure.
If you’d prefer a more free-form structure, try the D&D one shot generator at Chaos Gen, which takes a looser approach. Finally, the Random Adventure Outline offers a more story-based approach, with less emphasis on hooks and plot points, and more on narrative inspiration.
Meanwhile, if you’re armed with a full arsenal of DnD dice, Rand Roll offers free ‘quick adventure’ tables for your DnD one shot ideas. These operate in a similar vein to the tables seen in official DnD 5e sourcebooks, in which numerous characters, events and goals are ascribed numbers, and you roll to randomly determine what you select.