Monday, February 1, 2016

The Importance of "Session 0" in Your Tabletop Games

So, you told your group you wanted to run a new campaign. Everyone in your group agreed that a new campaign sounds like a topping idea. You agree on a time and a place for the session, and then you spend the next week fitting together a complicated political drama for your players to get embroiled in. There will be subtle maneuvering, assassination attempts, duplicity, and it will really keep them on their toes. You take a step back, and admire the thing you've created.

Then your players show up. That's when you find out your "party" consists of a chaotic evil necromancer whose motivating goal is to raise an army of the dead to raze the nation to the ground, a gunslinger whose on the trail of the barbarian chief that murdered his father, a ravenous halfling whose chief motivation is seeing how much cheese he can steal from every inn he passes using an obscure 3rd-party class you've never heard of, and a ronin samurai who thinks with his sword instead of any more viable parts of his anatomy.

It's bad enough that no one in this group is really a hero (and at least one of them has no real interest in becoming an adventurer), but they have no connection to the plot, or to each other. Attempting to bring this hodgepodge group together is already going to be a headache and a half, but trying to get them to follow a subtle, political plot is bordering on psychological self-harm.

Fortunately, you can prevent this sort of scenario by making sure you start every campaign with Session 0.

What Is Session 0?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and Session 0 is a DM's best preventative. What you do is sit down with your group, and set all the ground rules for the upcoming campaign. If you want to use point-buy instead of rolling for stats, you bring that up in this session. If you aren't allowing 3rd-party content, this is when you tell players. If you want to make any other blanket rulings, like no evil alignments, no gunslingers, no construct crafters, or no non-core races, this is the time to do it.

Standard dice only.
Once you've laid down the basic rules, and made your pitch for your campaign, you open the table to questions, comments, and discussion. For example, your group might like the idea of doing something different than the average dungeon crawl, but they want to know what you mean when you say "political thriller". Does that mean they should all bring non-combat characters, or does it mean that you're going to be doing more of an urban game? Does it mean you'll be allowing assassins or ninjas for PCs? Does everyone in the party need to be from the same nation? Should they all have background ties to one noble family or another?

There are innumerable questions that can, and should, be asked during Session 0. Here's a list of some of the most basic things you need to cover.

- What system are we using?
- What world is this campaign set in?
- What books will and won't be allowed?
- What are the general themes and overall goal of the campaign?
- What is the method of stat generation?
- What house rules are going to be in-play?

Once you've covered all the basics, you should let players discuss character concepts, both with you and with each other. Ensuring that you're present while this process happens allows you to answer any questions your players have, and it allows you to get an idea of how the party is shaping up. You can also point out deficiencies in party strengths, and warn players that certain concepts, while valid, might not get as much time in the spotlight as they're hoping.

It's Preventative Maintenance On Your Campaign

Session 0 takes a bit of work, but the amount of trouble it will save you down the line is totally worth it. Gone will be the days of your players trying to port in stuff from older editions that have been changed, or taking unusual templates or races without checking in with you first. And, if you're lucky, the players will work together to form a party that has connections, and cohesion. Any problems that do arise can be nipped in the bud, rather than waiting until they've grown a size category or two before trying to tackle them.

Also, before you get your campaign rolling, you might want to check out 4 Common DM Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them), as well as The 5 RPG Characters We Should Stop Playing.

Hopefully you found this week's update helpful, and useful. If you'd like to help support me and my blog so I can give you more content just like this one, then why not stop by my Patreon page today? For as little as $1 a month you can make a big difference. Also, if you want to be sure you're getting all my updates, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter!


  1. I never had a word for it but I have loved and used Session 0 for quite some time now.

  2. Another great post Neal. Keep it up!

  3. This. This right here should be chiseled into stone, and passed down through generations.

  4. Always important to know your players. I'm working on a campaign, and planning player interviews to get an idea of what they want out of the game before I get myself too deep in.

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  6. I'm going to have this chiseled into a stone tablet and have it hung right above my game table.

  7. I skipped this with new players as by having pregen characters and going through classes available when they actually get class levels it was simple enough