Originally reviewed at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/13/tabletop-review-one-shot/
One of the delightful things about reviewing role-playing games is getting to see what is out there and, sometimes, finding a gem or at least something that is intriguing. I first was intrigued by the title of this game, which in its complete form is One Shot: A Roleplaying Game of Sacrifice and Vengeance for Two Players, and the fact that it comes with its own soundtrack. Also, it is mercifully short and to the point compared to most role-playing games. The clear layout and straightforward writing also contribute to its ease of use. So, what’s it like?
One Shot is essentially a scenario with very basic rules to facilitate its play. It is not really a role-playing game in the traditional sense (cue arguments over what a role-playing game is…). It is quite unconventional, and I like that a lot. The premise is that one player will create and play a character who has been wronged by someone, and that wrong is going to be corrected with a bullet. This character is simply called “the Shooter”. For him or her, vengeance is on the menu, and it is best served very, very cold. The other player (it’s only a two player scenario) will basically act in the role most approximating game master, being in control of everything but the Shooter. They will control objects or resources, or the Shooter’s three relationships that he or she chooses and writes up on the character sheet. These relationships are close but varied, like parents or friends or something like that. Basically, the Shooter is maneuvering to get to the target, the one who must die, and the other player represents everything in their way. Friends may try to convince the Shooter to let go, parents may take the Shooter out for dinner and ask what’s wrong, the Shooter’s old high school baseball coach may stop by and say “Hey, a little bird told me you were feeling down. Let’s go out and grab a beer.” (the Shooter is over 21 at this point presumably).
However, the Shooter must continue on, pursuing the goal, the shot, the kill. The scenario rules leave it open as to how the Shooter wants to end things, it explicitly states that the ending is up to the Shooter. I wasn’t sure if the Shooter was allowed to walk away from the kill, but I got the impression that they weren’t. Once the moment finally comes, I think the target must die… at least, that’s how it is intended to go.
This Must Be A Game For Cigarettes
The language of the game is very interesting, and half of the PDF is dedicated to narrative, a flavor story to go along with the brief guidelines. I say guidelines, and not rules, because really, there are very few rules; everything is up to the two players except the initial premise of vengeance and that the Shooter must have a chance to take the shot at the end. The resolution mechanism is a single six-sided die, fitting with the simplicity of the scenario. If a five or higher is rolled, that is a success. Lower than five means that the Shooter will be confronted with a complication: some material object is needed or is in the way, someone wants to talk the Shooter down or otherwise sidetrack them, the Shooter becomes unstable or otherwise can’t think clearly or focus. These are all examples of complications. There are brief sections on the concept of the game, the goals for the Shooter, the goals for the “Forces” (everything besides the Shooter), and just a few tips for gameplay and setting. That’s it! It’s pretty cool, actually, that the game is so focused and seems to hammer home these ideas, and I really like it. I imagine both players sitting across a table from each other in a dim room, smoking cigarettes and watching the smoke curl up into the darkness while they play through the scenario. The guidelines and flavor text combine to give the reader a keen sense of the game. It’s highly thematic.
The soundtrack is another aspect I was very interested in, as I’ve only reviewed one other game that came with a soundtrack (that would be a soundtrack for Far West) and I really like the idea. As a composer myself, I am heartened to see music being thought about as having the potential to heighten the dramatic effect or immersion in the theme of a game. It’s great when game developers want a composer to write music just for their game, almost like incidental music for a play. This soundtrack clocks in at over an hour, with nineteen tracks… that’s a lot of music for one scenario!
This soundtrack is nice, as the tracks range in style from edgy to sentimental, and are of generally high quality. Listening to the soundtrack on its own is missing the purpose, as it will seem rather dull most likely; music that is meant to be in the background has to have the ability to be present but not distracting, and I think this music accomplishes that quite well. At times, it can feel like a track repeats the same simple motif over and over, and some of the instruments can sound very robotic and rather like the composer, Mr. Morris, was using a notation program like Finale or some other MIDI sequencer without much alteration. Unfortunately, this leaves some entire tracks and some parts of tracks bereft of that feeling of drama and utter humanity that otherwise pervades the game and the other music. Still, the soundtrack is a nice effort, and I think many feelings were successfully captured in it that might come up during the game. Tracks such as “Wet Sidewalks”, which is full of rain storm and late-night traffic sounds, seem to evoke the conflict within the Shooter, and the bleakness of the whole situation. Another track, “How Things Should Have Been”, is a departure from the foreboding sound of most of the other pieces, and possibly represents a happier time and place, where vengeance could have been as far away as the moon and all right with the world.
What do I think about this game/module? I love it. I think the idea is cool, as the focus and direction of the game combine for a powerful punch of thematic suspense, drama, and horror. The only downsides I see are that it only supports two players and the resolution mechanism is extremely simple. Part of me wants to ask, why even have a resolution mechanism? Essentially, it only serves to randomly determine where complications will arise. Anyway, the soundtrack is cool, the layout and artwork are good (some really cool photos!), and it all just fits together neatly. It’s not pretending to be the next big game, it’s not over-reaching to be a comprehensive behemoth, it simply is what it is. If you’ve got yourself and one other player who would really dig a deeply thematic game with all the elements of an awesome revenge thriller, this title should be of interest to you. Cheers to Tracy Barnett, Tim Morris, and the team who put this product together, I think you guys did a great job. Thank you for… dare I say it? Innovation in the world of RPGs and creating something truly different!