I was fascinated with TTRPGs long before I ever started playing them myself. I devoured (and still indulge in) D&D streams like Critical Role and Dimension 20, and real-play podcasts like The Adventure Zone and The Broadswords. My fiancé and I put together character builds for fun in our free time. Suffice it to say, I’m obsessed. Here, I’m going to round up the best one shot RPGs currently available.
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My first D&D campaign was a gateway into one-shot RPGs — my DM would incorporate new mechanics into spin-off sessions while our regular campaign was on hiatus, and I’ve played with a handful of fascinating systems as a result.
This week, we’ve collected the ten best one-shot RPGs to add to your arsenal. Our recommendations are designed to help you take a quick break from your main campaign, ease yourself into the genre, or introduce a fun new entry to your usual gaming routine.
Let’s get started!
What are One-Shot TTRPGs?
One-shot TTRPGs are, by definition, tabletop roleplaying games designed to be played and completed in a single session. You’ll experience an entire adventure in the span of 3–5 hours (or less, depending on the game and the people you’re playing with).
Mechanics can vary wildly between games — some require a complete set of dice, others require none at all. Some are very roleplay-heavy, others rely more on the rules with a bit of improv sprinkled on top. Whatever your preference may be, there’s likely a good option out there for you.
10 Best One-Shot Games (TTRPGs) for 2021
Without further ado, here are our picks for the ten best one-shot RPGs!
1. Lasers & Feelings
The Best One-Shot Game Overall
Designer: John Harper | Players: n/a | Cost: Free | GM Required? Yes
Lasers & Feelings is an RPG about fast-paced space action. You and your crew explore the stars aboard the scout ship Raptor until things go terribly awry and you have to undertake a dangerous new adventure without your beloved captain.
The game requires only a single d6 (a regular six-sided die) and the game’s free PDF, though it’s helpful if each of the players has their own resources. Players choose a number between 2–5, rolling for “Lasers” (actions based on logic and science) or “Feelings” (actions based on intuition and emotion). You succeed or fail depending on whether you roll above or below your chosen numbers, and roleplay proceeds with appropriate consequences. The lack of too much fancy math keeps things simple and fluid, letting you complete one action and move straight to the next.
Lasers & Feelings is a quick-play RPG designed for single-session gameplay. Complete your character’s stated goals throughout a single adventure, then roll up new characters and a new story and begin again!
2. Honey Heist
The Best One-Shot Game for Beginners
Designer: Grant Howitt | Players: 2–6 | Cost: Free (name your own price) | GM Required? Yes
Honey Heist is an excellent one-page RPG that thrives off its simple premise: you’re a bear about to take on an epic, Ocean’s Eleven-style heist.
The goal is to carry out your heist as seamlessly as possible. The decisions you make attribute points to your “Bear” and “Criminal” stats. Stacking up too many points in either stat is a bad idea, as becoming too “Criminal” means you betray your crew in pursuit of a life of crime, and going full “Bear” means you go on a wild rampage and ruin your carefully planned heist.
3. Dungeons & Dragons
The Best One-Shot Game for Advanced Players
Designer: Wizards of the Coast | Players: n/a | Cost: Price Varies | GM Required? Yes
Dungeons & Dragons might seem a little unfair to include on this list, as it’s widely known to support expansive, long-term campaigns that can last for years. That doesn’t mean it’s not equipped to handle one-shots, however, and there’s no shortage of resources available for players looking for a quick game.
Beware the startup costs — D&D is notoriously expensive to get into, as you’ll need a copy of the Player’s Handbook and a full set of dice just to get started (plus the Dungeon Master’s Guide for aspiring DMs, and maybe even the Monster Manual). If you’re not in a situation where you can share books with your fellow players, it can be difficult to get everyone the supplies they need to get started.
Once you have those supplies, though, you’re set for life. The rules and mechanics outlined in these books will carry you through pretty much any adventure, and there are plenty to be had. Pre-written one-shots are available online (here’s an example, though there are plenty more elsewhere), or you can purchase the recently-published Candlekeep Mysteries, a series of one-shots compiled by Wizards of the Coast.
4. Executive Decision
The Best One-Shot Game for Roleplay
Designer: Greg Stolze | Players: 3–6 | Cost: Free | GM Required? Yes
Executive Decision is the perfect game for friends who love to argue politics. You play as US Cabinet members at the onset of a national crisis, each trying their best to convince the President to take a particular course of action.
It’s a bit more complicated than it seems, however. Each Cabinet member has a handful of hidden agendas they’re trying to promote. If the President makes a decision that favors their agendas, they get additional points at the end of the game. Overplay your hand, however, and the President won’t trust you.
Executive Decision is a real-time game that unfolds over 1–2 hours (depending on the scenario you’ve chosen). At specified intervals, the GM will step in with a new complication that the players must consider, keeping you on your toes as you try to hold your own in the political world.
5. Dungeon World
The Best One-Shot Game for Mechanics
Designer: Sage LaTorra, Adam Koebel | Players: n/a | Cost: $10–25 (price varies by version) | GM Required? Yes
Dungeon World is another fantasy-based RPG, this time built around Powered by the Apocalypse. Settle down with your friends and a set of intriguing new rules that let you live out the adventure of your dreams.
The mechanics are easy to learn, making this an excellent segue for players that are new to TTRPGs but are interested in diving into more complex rules. It’s also designed for a certain level of customization, meaning that you can easily deconstruct the base materials for a more personalized adventure that fits your ideal vision.
6. All Outta Bubblegum
The Most Replayable One-Shot Game
Designer: Jeffrey Grant, Michael Sullivan | Players: n/a | Cost: Free | GM Required? Yes
You have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And, well…
All Outta Bubblegum is a high-speed, super chaotic RPG designed to be as silly as it sounds. At the start of the game, players are given eight sticks of bubblegum (though the rules state you can simply track your numbers on paper if you must). Throughout your adventure, you’ll roll a d10 to either chew bubblegum or kick ass, with the outcome depending on the number you rolled and how many sticks of bubblegum you have left. When you’re all outta bubblegum…well, I’ll let you figure out what happens next.
All Outta Bubblegum is designed for short, single sessions. You’ll definitely want to play more than once, though, so be sure to stock up on your gum before gathering your friends.
The Best Horror One-Shot Game
Designer: Epidiah Ravachol | Players: n/a | Cost: $0–24 (price varies by version) | GM Required? Yes
Dread is a game governed by an overwhelming sense of despair. You need very little to adventure in the fatal, haunting world of Dread — your only guides are your imagination and a set of Jenga blocks.
Yep, that’s the gimmick. Rather than rolling dice, the outcomes of your actions will depend on pulling from a Jenga tower. Having the nerve to pull a block guarantees success, but refusing to pull a block results in failure. The stakes get more dangerous as the game progresses, with each decision making the tower less stable and bringing you closer to the doom that awaits you when it falls.
Each session of Dread is only intended to last as long as the tower stands. You can make up your own adventures using the basic rules (available for free here) or purchase a complete adventure (available in PDF or softcover here).
The Best Competitive One-Shot Game
Designer: Greg Costikyan, Dan Gelber, Eric Goldberg, Allen Varney | Players: n/a | Cost: Price Varies | GM Required? Yes
Paranoia casts you as a Troubleshooter (i.e., someone who literally shoots trouble) for the organization known as Alpha Complex. You’ll be tasked with taking down a variety of threats while avoiding becoming a threat yourself. The best part is there’s a competitive spin to Paranoia — players are encouraged to turn on each other even as they’re meant to be working together!
Paranoia has a distinct tone that appeals particularly to Portal fans. It’s got the same lighthearted humor, and Alpha Complex carries the same progress-for-progress’s-sake, classifying-employees-as-expendable-for-tax-purposes, icy indifference as Aperture Science. Any wrong move can lead your employer to write your name on their kill list. This one is definitely worth trying out!
9. Lady Blackbird
The Most Thematic One-Shot Game
Designer: John Harper | Players: 3–6 | Cost: Free | GM Required? Yes
If you’d told a younger version of me that there was a game out there with adventure, romance, intrigue, and steampunk pirates, I’d probably have gotten into TTRPGs a lot sooner.
The story follows Lady Blackbird, a woman on the run from an arranged marriage in the hopes of reuniting with her pirate king lover. While on her journey, however, her ship is captured by an Imperial cruiser, and they don’t have long before the commander discovers their secret.
Lady Blackbird is a short adventure designed for immediate, no prep gameplay. Even the GM has all of the information they’ll need on hand, meaning everyone can jump straight into the game whenever they’re ready to give it a shot.
The Most Ridiculous One-Shot Game
Designer: Jason Morningstar | Players: 3–5 | Cost: $25 | GM Required? No
Fiasco advertises itself as “a game about powerful ambition and poor impulse control,” which surprisingly tells you about as much as you need to know. The game is designed to spiral rapidly out of control in a hilarious tale of a caper gone wrong. The setting and exact setup vary depending on the version you’re playing, but random dice rolls ensure that things will be slightly different each time you play.
The game is largely based on improvisational storytelling, as each player narrates their role as the game unfolds. There are two Acts and an Aftermath, the results of which are determined by dice rolls. You’re expected to tell your side of the story and use your dice to determine the outcome of the other players’, leading to ridiculous consequences.
Fiasco is designed to be played in a single session lasting 1–3 hours. It requires very little setup and no GM, meaning that everyone can join in on the fun time and time again!
High Ground View
That’s it for our list of the ten best one-shot games — thanks for reading! If you have any suggestions for games or genres you’d like us to cover in the future, please let us know in the comments. Don’t forget to subscribe to our email list for more tabletop recommendations!