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.
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.
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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.
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