Session Zero Guide
Every RPG campaign should start with some form of a session zero. It sets the guidelines on expectations and what everyone in the group wants to get out of the game. By setting a couple of ground rules first it will pay dividends later. I have collected several online resources and put them into one cohesive document for your use. I may be a bit exhaustive for every groups needs, but deleting thoughts is easy enough.
Who?: Name out your players for introduction
What System?: What do you plan on playing?
When is Session Zero?: Pick a few dates and times that might work well for the group.
Where: In-home? Online?
Required Items: Players Handbook? Dice? Internet? Headphones with push-to-talk option.
My Dungeon Master Style
It is my opinion that there is not a lot of leeway when saying what type of DM style you are going to use. You know what you know, everything else needs to be learned on the way. It's just not realistic offer an option to your players that you won't be able to deliver. That being said, describe your DM style. You don't have to be as elaborate as the mine below, but make sure your players understand what they are getting into. It's possible that they may not be into miniatures and want theater of the mind. If players do want stealth and intrigue and you are better at combat heavy, just note that you will work on it as you play. This is a learned process, so admitting faults is okay. As a matter of fact, it's critical.
Examples: I have been DMing for 5 years now and I have learned a few things about my style that I would like to point out right out of the gate. I say this not to scare you off, but be honest about my abilities, what I bring to the table, and to ultimately make sure you are good with my play style.
If you’ve met me you know that I LOVE creating RPG maps for my games. Because of this I typically have a good amount of tactical combat maps using a grid structure. This doesn’t mean that all sessions/maps are combat in my sessions, but I certainly like to throw some dice down.
In this campaign, I aim to build on my DM abilities and create an open-ended world where you are free to adventure, conqueror and explore. I invite you to talk to me about exciting ideas you have. I may not have thought of them and it would be fun to play. I want to create together and feedback is extremely important. I will have fun if YOU have fun. Seriously.
I enjoy RP and love when players use voices for their characters. It is not a requirement, but urge you to try voices. I will as well, even if I’m very good at it!
During each session we will have 1 formal break. Other times, I will need an additional break probably because you ruined my campaign plans and I need a moment to think it through. Also, I am a Dad and husband with the occasional interruptions. I'll give you that same respect.
I will help you in any way possible. Just ask. I am a wealth of knowledge in this game since I’ve done it for a while, but I should note that I am NOT a rules lawyer and it is YOUR job to know YOUR character. If someone knows the rule GREAT. If not, I will make a ruling and we will continue playing. Also, if you know the rule, say it respectfully. I love when people are helpful with the rules, but jerks are jerks. Also, I invited you because I knew you weren’t a jerk. But still, don’t be a jerk!
Describe your expectations as a DM and what you expect from your players. This is really important. Playing RPG games is fun, but it can also sometimes be work, too.
Examples: As the DM, you can expect me to create an engaging storyline to the best of my ability as well as to organize each session. That all being said, as a player, I expect you to:
Active Player: Be an active player to help promote the storyline of the RPG game we are playing together. I feed off of your energy. If you are confused about the storyline, just ask me or the other plays to clarify. Feel free to help with group storyline notes, because keeping up with important storyline notes is your job.
Scheduling: Please help schedule sessions by responding to emails/texts. Of course, life happens, and if you need to bow out of playing let me know as soon as you can. It takes time for me to rebalance encounters and tailor the story for your characters.
In-Person Snacks: Bring snacks or in some way support the cause. I signed up to create a story and host. While food is certainly part of hosting, I am managing quite a bit of stuff as DM. Chips or even drinks are helpful to feed the belly of hungry RPG adventurers.
Communicate Problems: There may be difficult topics, such as evil actions, in-game racial differences, power struggles, sexual intrigue, and the like, but ultimately I gauge my success on if the players had fun. If you didn’t have fun, we need to have a conversation about the issue. I can easily remove any topics from a game, but please recognize heroes rise from the ashes of tragedy. If there is a person or topic that makes you uncomfortable, it is YOUR job to let me know so that I can assist in eliminating that topic so we can all focus on enjoying the game.
Session Zero Questionnaire
A questionnaire is not necessary, but it can be helpful to have a group discussion on the answers. Below is a sample of questions that could create important discussions in a group.
Question 1: Game Schedule
Schedule: What is your time commitment to this game?
- Showing up is the first step to success, plus, I just met you, so I’m here for now… and that’s a good thing!
- I have work/life issues that typically come up during certain time periods. Otherwise I’m happy to circle an additional number...
- I am interested in shorter episodic storylines vs. open-ended seemingly never-ending campaigns. I can confidently say I am interested at least a winter or 6-month group of sessions and then as a group, we can decide where to go from there.
- I am confident in an open-ended campaign and as a group, we’ll decide when we should be wrapping it up.
- There is some other concern that cute quotes won’t help with.
Question 2-8: Play Style
Please rate your interests during gaming sessions. Remember, not all of these can be done at once, but in theory, can/will take place over the course of the entire campaign.
Tactical Combat? Such as using miniatures on the game board with maps to fight.
- I'm a pacifist.
- When it's critical to the plot.
- Some battle is good.
- I like having a combat scenario during each session.
- Let the bodies hit the floor.
Large-scale combat? Do you like commanding an army and not exactly your character.
- I'd prefer just skills checks or narration.
- Maybe, if my character has a significant role in it.
- No Opinion/Occasionally.
- Love it!
Role-playing? Whether you use voices or not, do you like to have discourse and social interactions from your character’s perspective?
- I’ll just let me sword do the talking.
- Meh! I will RP when I have to, but not my favorite.
- I’ll tell you what my character wants to do or say. I am didn’t sign of the theater
- Yes, like RP, but don’t expect voices or at least a good one.
- I am Aragorn!
Puzzles & riddles? What is your interest in puzzles and riddles?
- >I am not good at them and they make me feel stupid.
- Occasionally they are fun, but not too often.
- I enjoy them all sporadically.
- Sure, but if I get confused, can my character make a check instead?
- I LOVE them. Give me that fantasy Rubik's cube!
Exploration? Do you want to explore a grueling journey of the landscape or exit stage left to cut to the action?
- Let’s just end the scene and get there. I don’t want to talk about how it rained the whole time.
- Sure, have a cutscene if there is something important.
- The journey is part of getting there.
- Gritty realism is really important and I know you like to say “This is a war of attrition.”
Politics? Do you like Game of Thrones? I’m not good enough to weave that storyline. But you can pit yourself against nations and the like.
- I prefer a simpler storyline that doesn’t make me think too terribly much.
- I like multiple threads that give me many decisions to make
- I want a complex web of characters that make my head spin.
Crafting? Rules are made to be broken and you want to create something powerful. Throw away the rulebook and let’s work to create world-changing powerful artifacts, armies, etc.
- I am not looking for that kind of power in my campaign.
- Sure, if it’s relevant to the campaign. We need to feel more powerful as we level anyway.
- I am a Dwarven Norse blacksmith ready to make Thor’s hammer and command an army of my creation.
Question 9: Setting Style
- Fantasy - High? Let’s get our Harry Potter On
- Fantasy - Low? Magic should be there but is limited.
- Modern Fantasy?
- Steampunk? Magic should be a significant part of technology
- Something else?
Question 10: Thoughts on Character Death
- PCs should rarely die unless agreed upon between player and story-teller (DM)
- PCs death should be avoided and be fixable by godly intervention or spells.
- Death happens and is only a poor die-roll away. You did mention creating a family tree...
- The more gruesome the better! I brought a second character I’ve been literally “dying” to play.
Question 11: Evil Characters
Let’s talk about party alignments. There are MANY ways this campaign can be played. If a player decides to play an Evil PC...?
- Players should not be allowed to play evil PCs. It ruins the game and invites PvP.
- That's fun and interesting, I think..? As long as we work together because I don't like PvP.
- If my character is good I won't get along. So, no..? Or maybe we should all be evil?
- Only if it fits the storyline, but not as a starting alignment.
- If they want, but if I find out I will deal with them in character.
- No. Evil PCs will ruin my game.
Question 12: Late or No-show players
If one or more players can’t play or shows up late we should?
- Play on. We all agreed to play and it's a bummer they aren’t there.
- Start without them. We’ll catch them up when they get here.
- Wait until they are there? Play video games/socialize/drink beer in the meantime.
- Reschedule the session if they can’t be there.
- Something else?
Character Specifics - Part 1
Questions 13-17: Character Specifics
The Game Expectations are a seriously important part of making a game work smoothly as everyone understands what we are now doing. Now that we have discussed the big issues that can derail an RPG group and we are at character creation.
Attributes: Let’s talk about starting Attributes. Would you like to?
- Point Buy?
- Standard Array?
- What if my rolls are terrible?
- What are attributes?
Races: What Races are available?
- Standard Races
- Standard Plus Homebrew Races
- Whatever the DM has planned in your campaign is fine.
- Oh, you're not being a racist, you mean there are other types of humanoids in this game...?
Classes: What classes are available?
- Anything in the official books.
- Anything in the books, as well as Unearthed Arcana playtest material.
- I would like to work with the DM to create a homebrew class?
Experience: How do you want to do experience? I typically use levels as a reward for completing chapter markers.
- I want experience based on monsters/treasure after each session.
- Chapter markers are fine. If I feel like it’s been a while, I won’t hesitate to ask.
Starting Level: What level are we starting?
- Level 1-2 newbies? We should level quickly, please.
- Level 3 so that our characters are hardy and character details are readily envisioned.
- Higher levels, because groups never get that high and I want that challenge.
Character Specifics - Part 2
Step 1: Background
Write at least 5 background or concept elements that you feel are important to the image of your character. They could be physical description, important life events, personality, etc. Do you have family that is alive? Are parents alive? Siblings? Children? Where? What is your profession? How do you make money? What formed your character's perspective?
Step 2: Major Goals
List at least 2 major goals of your character. One should be an initial interest. The other should be something that your character would like to learn about or see developed over the course of the campaign.
Step 3: Secrets
List at least 2 secrets about your character. One is a secret that your character knows. The other is a secret that involves your character but they might not know about yet. This will help me develop a storyline surrounding your character.
Step 4: Connections
Describe 3 people tied to your character. They can be friends/allies/contacts or whatever you want. At least one should be enemies of some sort.
Step 5: Memories & Mannerisms
Describe 3 memories, mannerisms, or quirks that your character has. They don’t have to be elaborate, they just have to create some sort of role-playing anchor so as to know how to play your characters social interactions. You will often see this come out when I ask players, not what do YOU do, but “What would your character do?”
And that's it! You are now ready to play your game. Go have fun and roll some dice!