Template for a session zero

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Since our group has experienced some member changes, and because the last SZ we had was pretty vague, I'm thinking it might be time for this for our table. The question is, what should we talk about? It seems like there's always some issue we forget to mull over during the beginning that leads to arguments later on. Here are a few I know should be discussed:

1. Degree of collaboration
2. Tone (serious-goofy spectrum)
3. Alignment (good guys, bad guys)
4. Mix (amount of game time spent with combat, socializing, etc.)
5. Lethality, including how the heroes treat the villains (Do we go for sanctity of life ala Batman, or give out capital punishment like it's ice cream?)
6. Basic prereqs like level, needed classes/roles, etc.

Likely more. While I know any contract is subject to amendments, for safety's sake there's probably some stuff people should really make sure they define then and there so that people don't feel betrayed later on when an assumption they've made turns out to be wrong. What are the most important baseline expectations to clarify when you first start out?

That's a good start. I think it's really important to talk about the party a bit, how the party fits into the grand scheme of things, what role it plays in the world. Are they holy crusaders fighting an endless slog against the goblin horde in a grimdark world? Or are they temple-raiding pulp action adventurers and thrill-seekers? Sellswords on the high seas as the Elf and Sahuagin armadas clash in the New World? Then everyone makes characters appropriate to the agreed-upon ideas. Encourage them to flesh out a history for the party and bonds between the characters before play. That also gives the DM plenty to work with as far as adventure content ideas.

Level of character optimization might be a good idea, too.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Maybe consider adding "what type of campaign setting/canon are you interested in?"

It took 2 years of playing in Forgotten Realms before I discovered that most of my group REALLY wanted to do DarkSun.

Level of character optimization might be a good idea, too.

Required IMO.
The biggest problem to avoid is that some people don't optimize at all, and some overoptimize. Granted the differences between the two extremes will vary by edition and level, but it always exists. Getting people on the same page now saves a bunch of headaches later.

Similary, i would recommend the following:

Power Level
This is similar to Op level but not quite the same, and again this can be very different based on edition...
A low wealth game will feel very different from one where magic and resources are readily available.

Dark Sun? Eberron? Homebrew?
Get everyone on board here, the last thing you want is to invest your time creating Athas and have your players want to play something akin to LotR.

Splitting Loot/Gear
This sounds silly, but ive found if players set rules on how and when loot gets split before the game starts it can save issues later.
House Rules
These can be either setting specific, or just because you've found a certain rule to be clunky and you've rewritten it. Get them out in the open now so there aren't suprises later.

FWIW [4e designer] baseline assumption was that roughly 70% of your feats would be put towards combat effectiveness, parties would coordinate, and strikers would do 20/40/60 at-will damage+novas. If your party isn't doing that... well, you are below baseline, so yes, you need to optimize slightly to meet baseline. -Alcestis
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