For designing/running one-shots, what techniques do you use to adjust the amount of content so that the players get some kind of satisfying end in whatever the allotted time is? For example, not bringing 4 hours of dungeon to beat a big bad in a 2 hour time slot.
How do you adjust for introductory games, where it might be the players' first time encountering the rules?
Any other tips/tricks for "right-sizing" one shots?
I run lots of con games and have kind of gone both ways with it.
On one hand you can be very upfront about the nature of the game - let people know the situation and tell them that they may not make it all the way through or "solve" it or anything like that, or they may get lucky or be smart and get out of the adventure with what they were looking for halfway through.
This can definitely work, but a lot of times I will be running in a Games on Demand fashion at cons where one of the selling points is you get 2 or 4 hours of gaming for dropping in and spending your tickets.
When I know I will definitely need to fill the time and try to get everyone to a specific point I tend to run dungeons that tend to not have things like wandering monsters. I know they are a staple of the game and they bring a lot of surprises, but they also can take a lot of game time. Typical dungeons that I run for cons is things like the One-Page Dungeon "Temple of the Moon Priests", as I've found has just enough content, puzzles, lore, and combat to fill about 3 hours, giving a bit of wiggle room here and there.
That's just me though, I'm sure mileages vary drastically .
It generally depends on the attention span of your players. I've run adventures that died after the group took a break for dinner; the players just went into a food coma and didn't want to continue. On the other hand, I've been in groups that played until the wee hours of the morning.
But I would keep it simple. Plan for two hours, and keep the dungeon relatively small.
Grognard Day: If an old-school D&D player sees his shadow, it means his group will spend six more weeks playing 5E.
The primary lightsaber colors are red, green, and blue. The primary pigment saber colors are cyan, magenta, and yellow.
RIP: Levius Heights, Oscar Schipps, Benvolio Bucket. I wish I could have played you longer.
I've run con games in time slots from 3 to 8 hours.
Depending on the number of players and the amoount of time, I usually go for about 1/3 roleplay, 1/3 dungeon, and 1/3 other exploration, usually mixed well.
That means, in short games I have usually roleplaying at the beginning (introduction of players/characters/setting/NPCs and setting up the adventure), then some exploration (find NPCs/clues/dungeon) and a pretty railroaded dungeon at the end (find the treasure/bad guy/etc.) followed by a short outro phase with some roleplaying.
Longer games use a similar structure, but it's with some other elements mixed in - for example, during the 2nd big phase (exploration) I might have smaller dungeons come up, where items might be found which can be used later. PCs might come back to civilization and have some more roleplaying interaction with NPCs to find more clues, interpret things they learned etc. Phases 1 (intro) and 3 (dungeon adventure) are longer, the dungeon filled with more options and ways to derail players. It all really depends a lot on the dungeon/adventure I run.*
Depending on the time I have, I tend to calculate 15 minutes per hour lost for banter between players, rules clarifications, looking stuff up, toilet/food breaks, and other distracting elements.
* My biggest challenge was running Sailors on the Starless Sea for Dungeon Crawl Classics with 8 players, each with 4 characters (funnel adventures at least have less rules to follow) and 6 of them had never played a pen & paper RPG before. I had 8 hours, with 1 hour scheduled for breaks in between. We did finish just in time, but it was just crazy with so many characters and NPCs at the end battle.
Thanks all, some very helpful stuff in here so far.
Edit: Another question popped in my head - does anyone use "multiple endings" to let slow parties get an accomplishment and still make fast parties happy? Does it work?
If, for some reason, a group turns out to be very slow in progress, I tend to realize that at least half-way through the session. I don't plan for fast and slow groups.
I then usually cut optional rooms, traps or encounters, to speed things up in the dungeon. If they slow down at the end and I can't cut the dungeon without making it feel like a cut version of something good, I tend to give the players a choice: either rush towards the end of the dungeon, so they can do the big final battle or get the treasure and have that sense of accomplishment, or play along and have me narrate the rest of the dungeon as an outro. That rarely happened so far, and almost all groups wanted to rush to the finish and play this out.
Some groups may be less happy with the roleplaying or exploration parts of my games; in that case I speed that up - let players make rolls for conversation and sum it up, or, in the case of slow exploration, I just adjust the map so the players come upon their goal earlier.
If a group indeed manages to be really fast, a "random" () encounter may slow them down a notch, or I take more time roleplaying stuff, etc. Maybe they just find that secret door I wanted to be super secret, but that's a nice digression from the straight path.