lyWhat is a Session Zero?
In RPGs a session zero is the first session of a new group/adventure. You might be thinking “but wouldn’t that make it session one?” no, but I can understand why someone might think that. But a session zero does not involve playing your character, and a surprising minimum of rolling dice (if any even get rolled).
In session zero several things are decided upon as a group. First and foremost players create their characters. Now with more experienced players they may already have a fully fleshed out character going into session zero. But even these characters may have some last minute tweaking to fit the setting.
But more importantly the group decides on boundaries. What topics are off limits for the story? Are people fine with Non-Player Characters (NPCs) flirting with them? Are players fine with other player’s characters flirting with them? How gory can the descriptions get? Any off limit topics (typical examples include slavery, rape, racism).
So this is called “Session Zero” because it is when the players all decide how the game will be played. But what concerns need to be addressed in my game?
My Session Zero
The first concern would normally be covering what topics are taboo/expected in the campaign. And some amount of that will take place, but I am going to be DMing for an established group that has been playing together for… over a year now? As such we have a pretty good idea of our personal limits around such things, but making them black and white would still be helpful.
Next on the list is finalizing characters. Everyone in my group is fairly experienced in making characters, but I have a few things that make character creation non-vanilla. First and foremost I am starting my group at level 3 rather than level 1. Several reasons for this, first is because most classes don’t unlock the interesting features until level 3. This way the players are starting with some interesting abilities and more power than it takes to clear a basement of giant rats.
Next is some of the available options for my players. Of which I have two restrictions. My first restriction is that they aren’t allowed to use options from the latest set of optional rules: Spelljammer. The reasons are simple. First it is a very fantasy sci-fi setting that doesn’t fit the world I am going for. Secondly is that I have not gotten the chance to read it and so don’t know how to balance for the options within. The other restriction is if a player wants to use an option that has a “legacy” version (usually a race) we need to discuss if they can use the legacy version or need to use the “updated” version.
And finally are the extra goodies I am giving each character from the word go. First is a bonus feat. For those that don’t know feats are special bonus abilities a character cha pick up. For instance a character might be such a good cook that their food actually has healing properties. Or maybe you have a special connection to a place of power that gives you some bonus spells. Or perhaps you are simply telepathic. whatever the specific feat it adds a bit of spice to a character that can help make them the player’s own. And for the final bit of flavor for each character I am allowing them one common magic item each.
The next step is to make the players feel like a part of the world. This comes in two flavors: personal connections and shaping the world. For personal connections I have a simple rule: I want each character to have a positive history with at least one other character. This way we can start off with some friend groups in the party rather than a bunch of strangers. As for shaping the world, this isn’t just my story. If the players want an element to be present on the island I will try to incorporate it. But more importantly, they decide where they came from, whether that be a preexisting setting or a custom made one. This can give me plot hooks to draw upon latter down the line. It also starts the players off with some investment in the world.
I have a few house rules that I will be informing my players about, how flanking will work for instance. But Wizards of the Coast has been putting out playtest materials with new rules that look interesting. As such I will be discussing with my players about which of these rules we will be integrating into our game.
Your Session Zero
I may have laid out how I will handle session zero for my up coming campaign, but that is far from the only way to handle it. There are as many ways to handle a session zero as there are groups playing table top RPGs, and you will need to find the right fit for your group. But there are three important things all successful session zeros have in common. Get the players ready to play, make sure people will be comfortable at the table, and get the players invested in the game. Succeed in these three things, and the fun should naturally follow.