It finally happened. With all my character ideas, I finally managed to find the time and energy to turn those creative forces toward original content I could run myself. In doing so I recently ran my second ever one-shot as a Dungeon Master only this time it was wholly original content.
I had the idea to do a murder mystery/game of Clue when I was discussing potential werewolf lore. The idea was that in a world where hospitality (socially/culturally/legally) matters, there’s also a prevailing believe that you become a werewolf by harboring their kind and giving them aid, whether you know the person to be a werewolf or not.
In this scenario, my three players arrived individually at an inn outside a backwater in an area once rumored to have werewolves. The nearby villagers are your typical superstitious type, but they support the presence of the inn because it keeps strangers from knocking on their doors seeking shelter which they would be obligated to give.
I have always been fascinated with secrets in games. For example, there’s a variant of the board game Risk called Secret Mission where players have secret missions that they must fulfill to win. Having these built-in secrets makes it harder to forge lasting alliances with other players since, unlike with a regular game where everyone is striving openly to dominate the entire board, there’s always the unease of accidentally helping another player win at your expense.
Secrets are difficult to do in a game of D&D since everything happens out in the open for all the players to hear even if their characters aren’t in earshot. Since I wanted that Clue feel, and I didn’t want my players to accidentally metagame, I needed a way to make all my NPCs and my players wary of one another. To this end, I requested my players each have a secret that they wouldn’t want shared with anyone else. My NPCs also had secrets of their own. My intent was to use all these hidden motives and concerns as a wedge to keep everyone pitted against one another and to keep my players from teaming up so quickly that my murder mystery was trivialized.
I think it worked great. Some of their secrets were more trivial than others, but since they were roleplaying them honestly, it really helped to give me another tool to sow chaos and maintain disorder. The entire session was a rapid series of scene changes from one area of the inn to the next as the three players and eight NPCs fell upon one another.
I also feel like the chaos I was able to employ helped make the mystery more interesting. I wasn’t planning to surprise anyone with a particularly well-written or surprising plot. To be honest, I didn’t think I needed anything more than a bare-bones Scooby Doo plot. My goal was always to keep everyone pointing fingers at one another or doubting one another that any inadequacies in the story were made up by the journey to its conclusion. And they did just that.
Coming into this one-shot, I was nervous. I am not a master of D&D 5e rules and I am brand new to running a game. Adding in the anxiety of running something I created, I was worried that I would waste everyone’s evening. But it went well, and I am all the better for it. My sister-in-law’s character was an agent of chaos in her own right, but I managed to stay on my toes and use her character’s blunt actions to further the plot and keep to my overall structure. It is hard to get that kind of experience anywhere other than playing the game with other people. I am even more exciting to work on more original work and hopefully DM again in the future.