Session Zero

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How does one conduct a successful session zero?

I thought I'd post an open question to the forums since I've seen it referenced many times, but never seen the details for how conduct one successfully.  If that means that my search fu isn't strong enough, someone please link the thread where it was discussed.

I am aware that you want to set ground rules, expectations, and the tone for the game, but I would like some specifics on what questions you would ask to do such, especially from you Gm's who have been doing this a while.

The main things to establish and come to a consensus on:

* What kind of game are we wanting? ie high or low fantasy, dark and gritty, light and comical, etc. Make sure everyone is on the same page as to what this means (high fantasy might be Lord of the Rings to one person but is Disk World to another).

* What topics are off limits? Things like ****, murder, sex, drug use, etc. For me if a game involves children coming to harm, I'm out. Again, making sure everyone understands and agrees to these limits is key.

* Style of play. This is a little different than asking for the theme or tone of the game. It's more like, is it PCs vs the DM? How much control over the world do the players have? Are we keeping meticulous notes or is it more free form when dealing with the world around the PCs? These are things that can come up naturally, you don't have to list them all off, but it is better to know if this is a rules-lite game up front then to suddenly be told "No, you didn't write "food" on your character sheet so now you are starving."

Again, none of this has to be a checklist. It is more talking and making sure everyone is on the same page. If a disagreement or question comes up in-game, err on the side of fun and then talk about the issue later.
I generally have a hierarchy of discussion points that goes Game > Premise/Tone/Theme > Setting > Types of Adventures > Party > Characters. I come with my own ideas of what those things might be, but they're just that - ideas - until the players agree it's something they want to do. They can and do counter with their own ideas or add onto ideas already given. With everyone's own ideas in the mix, there's more incentive for them to be engaged to see where those ideas go.

In doing it in this particular order, you end up with characters appropriate to the party, which is appropriate to the types of adventures the group will be going on which is appropriate to the setting which is appropriate to the premise/tone/theme which is appropriate to the game. You get the idea. Many games start out with players making characters and backstories then showing up to play, leading to all the "hilarity" of the paladin and drow assassin, the traveling freak show, the tour group with secrets and no context with which to trust one another, and other potential pitfalls that arise from a lack of collaboration when it comes to the game's expectations.

To add to merb101's topics, you might consider discussing:


  • Level of optimization

  • How much mundane will be in your heroic fantasy

  • Pacing of the game

  • Level of collaboration and narrative control the players have during play

  • Level of granularity

  • Whether the adventures will be plot-based or not

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

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Keep it specific. Avoid getting into vague terms like "story-based," "roleplaying," and "challenging." Drill down and find out what people really want to experience and really want to avoid.

One key thing to work out in advance is how individuals want to handle death of a character, and whether character death is something the DM is planning to have occur. Not everyone likes characters dying, though most people have circumstances under which it is acceptable. Some expect their characters to die a lot. Some assume a character can be raised, and others really dislike being raised. Work all this out in advance, and I highly recommend letting everyone go with their own preference. It's unlikely that everyone will feel the same way. However they feel, ask that they be prepared in whatever way necessary (and assist you in preparing) for continuing play as quickly as possible after character death.

I recommend against using the game to enforce behavior. The whole point of Session 0 is to minimize the chance that players will exhibit undesireable behavior. However, many groups like there to be in-game repercussions for bad behavior. I recommend working all these out up front, partly because I hope people will realize how ridiculous it is to punish players via a game.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Someone read my mind; I had the thought to write a similar topic, because the idea of a Session Zero a good one, but had some questions.

For example - my gaming group meets once a month to play (except for one member, we are all married, and except for two of the marrieds (the couple that actually plays together!!) we all have at least 2 kids, so time is a premium. Basically, we meet to PLAY, not meet to meet about playing.

Is online media a socially acceptable way to conduct a Session Zero? Like, via a FB group or something?
So many PCs, so little time...
FB groups are a great idea for any gaming group to discuss these things, or flush out other stuff once the game gets going.
Is online media a socially acceptable way to conduct a Session Zero? Like, via a FB group or something?



Sure. Google+ Hangouts are good for that.

With my regular group, even I wouldn't spend a whole 4-hour session on it. There's already familiarity and trust there. Since we always start a game off with a dungeon anyway, it's very easy to just put a dungeon in front of us and change whatever details are necessary to bring it in line with our collective vision once we've spent some time talking about the game during Session Zero. A good dungeon is a beautiful thing.

If we're talking about a totally new group, I'd spend the whole session on it. I would really want to know if we were going be on the same page before committing to a regular game.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I usually use them to establish the setting. How does it stack up against the default stereotypes and that sort of things. I also use it to run through house rules, and have the PCs build characters. The first bits of your backstory, and maybe how you know the other PCs. 

Ill also do all that other "optimization level, books allowed" stuff the others are talking about.


It helps me to have a bulleted agenda with topics to start conversations on. Once we seem done on the topic move to the next. 

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"