First impressions are important. Session zero is a great way to make a good first impression in the world of rpgs. But what exactly is a session zero? It’s a more free form game play session where the players discuss the campaign they will be participating in. This includes character choices, expectations of both the players and GM, and playtesting. By these elements combined, players work together to ensure the game starts as smoothly as possible. So how do we get to this smooth start? Let’s look at each of the individual cogs that make a well oiled campaign machine.
Every good game starts with a base, and in rpgs players are that base. So it stands to reason that to start a good game we must start with the players. Every session zero should begin with players discussing what character they want to play. From a mechanical standpoint, this avoids the party focusing too much on one role. For example, a party full of barbarians sounds fun, until the GM throws any sort of social challenge your way. By diversifying your party you can ensure that each part of the game is enjoyable.
This also applies to the party dynamics from a roleplaying perspective. If one player wants to play as chaotic evil, it may not mesh well with another player who wants to play as lawful good. By discussing and changing characters before they’re set, you can avoid future problems that may slow the game down with arguments. This can not only solve problems before they start, but also create new opportunities. Players can work together to mold their backstories together. Think of Vex and Vax from Critical Role. If characters have relationships before the game starts it makes it easier for the GM to gather the party, and helps party cohesion in general.
Once the characters are good to go, then comes a frank discussion between all players and the GMs. This is when everything needs to be laid out on the table as far as expectations go. If the players want just a meat grinder killfest, your story focused GM isn’t going to have fun. Likewise, if your GM wants a serious emotional tone and your players want to joke around then they are going to clash poorly. For example, I’m sure that Matt Mercer would pull his hair out trying to run more than one game with the Adventure Zone boys. By compromising and setting up the tone of the campaign ahead of time you can ensure that everyone has a great time. After all that’s why we’re here, right?
Once the expectations have been set, and the characters have been made, it’s time to get to the game. But a session zero game is a bit more free flowing than a normal game. The idea behind it is you want to play a one shot out, but keep it detached from the campaign so that mistakes can be made and dealt with.Say you’re playing as a dragonborn fighter and you walk through town. You interact with people in a gruff manner, perhaps a Scottish accent. But after twenty minutes of this you feel something is off.
Session zero lets you change your character on the fly, adjusting his attitude, accent, or mindset. You may even play a bit more and realize this isn’t the exact incarnation of the character you want. You may mold them into a different race, or gender even. You may even decide to chuck the whole design and start from scratch. That’s alright! That’s exactly what a session zero is for.
Session zero is definitely the best way to kick off the campaign. It lets you work out the kinks in a noncommittal environment that is open to discussion and change. You can even make a big event out of it. After all, it is the start of a new game, we’re allowed to throw a little hype behind it, right? Plus the feeling of everyone digging through the books, finding new fun builds, and bringing those ideas to life is one of my favorite feelings that this game brings me. What about you? What do you do for your session zero? No matter how you start your game, make sure to start it rolling high!