Every tabletop RPG game (TTRPG) I’ve ever run or played in has always started with everyone making their characters as a group. During this process, we’d always talk about our characters and what the game would entail. It was years before I found out that this was not normal and that there’s a name for this process, it’s called “session 0”.
Session 0 is essentially when everyone gets together to talk about the upcoming game. This could be a long-term campaign, a short-term one-shot, or anything in-between. The entire group gets together and talks about their characters, the type of game they want to play, or even what system they want to play.
Session 0’s can be much more than that as well. My group always rolls their characters up at this time and we’ll do a bit of world building together as well. This time can be whatever you and your group want or need, but my biggest advice for running a TTRPG is to always have a session 0.
Check out a post I wrote a while ago that goes into much more detail about what a session 0 entails.
Make Sure the Game is For Everyone
What the Group Wants to Play
The best reason for running a session 0 is to ensure that everyone invited to play in the game is going to enjoy it. If the group hasn’t discussed what system or type of game they want to play talk about it!
A huge benefit to having everyone make their characters – or discuss what they will be making – is that the group can ensure that their intended character will have a reason to be part of the group. There’s nothing worse than having a group of 3 people and 1 loner that will never mesh well.
If there’s a theme or something that the players or the GM really wants to include, that should be brought up during session 0 as well. The GM deserves to make a game they want and the players deserve to play in a game that they find fun.
Discuss What You Don’t Want to Include
Session 0 is a great time to also talk about what will not be included in the game. This could be anything from mechanics that you don’t enjoy, topics the group finds boring, or clichés and tropes that everyone would like to avoid. Every person at the table should leave the session knowing what will and won’t be included or allowed at the table.
For example, I’m currently running a D&D 5e game where I completely changed how halfling society works compared to the Player’s Handbook. This and some other changes I made to standard D&D lore and mechanics were all brought up in session 0.
Changes like the one I just mentioned can be made for any reason, but any major change that will impact the game should always be discussed upfront.
Table Etiquette and Expectations
Mysty Vander wrote a great post on how a session 0 helps avoid moments where a player will feel uncomfortable or upset by topics or themes in the campaign. Guidelines and table etiquette should absolutely be discussed during session 0 to ensure that everyone is having fun.
Every table has their own rules. At one table PvP or pickpocketing might be allowed, but at another killing, each other is allowed. Use session 0 to go over what is and isn’t allowed in the game.
If there are expectations of the players in terms of behavior or house rules those should be addressed at the session 0 as well. Be respectful of everyone you’re playing with and be respectful of the place you’re playing at.
I’ve mentioned Apocalypse World in many different posts at this point, but the game forces the entire group to sit down and do a session 0. At this point the players and GM talk about the world: what happened, who did what, why did everything happen? The entire group start to build the world together.
I love this mechanic and made sure to include it a bit when we started our D&D 5e campaign. I’d already made the world, but we went over why the group was together in the first place. They basically built session 1 for me. It was awesome; they loved it because it was their story and I loved it because it saved me a lot of work.
Make your players’ ideas influence the game world and the story from the beginning.
Create a Party that Works Together
In every TTRPG that includes a party system, you’re hoping that the group is going to play nicely with each other. I’ve heard many horror stories where the characters just don’t work together. This can cause problems for the game and make it unenjoyable to play.
Instead, during session 0 be clear that the entire group needs a reason to be adventuring together. Every character must have a reason are with the group. This has significantly helped the group dynamic of every one of my games since I began enforcing this rule.
In games like D&D 5e where having a mechanically well-balanced party is an advantage your group may want to use the session 0 to create characters that will fill out the various niches of the system you’re playing in. I’ve written a post on this before that’s focused on D&D 5e party composition.
Session 0 For Short-Term Games
Typically I don’t do a formal session 0 for short-term games like one-shots. Instead, I’ll send out a quick e-mail or text to everyone in the group. This message includes when we’re playing, what we’ll be playing, and what they need to do before we play.
However, if you’re playing with a group that’s new to the game or hasn’t played together before, you may want to run a session 0 even for a 2-3 session game. Everyone should know what the rules of the game are and what’s expected of them.
Speaking of one-shots, you could even use your session 0 for a short-term game to having people suggest a specific one-shot that they’d like to play or run.
You could even do a quick session 0 the same night as session 1. Have everyone show up an hour or so early and talk about their “dos and don’ts” and create characters together. Session 0 can be as quick or lengthy as your group wants it to be.
Session 0 For Long-Term Campaigns
I find that long-term campaigns are where session 0’s are the most necessary. The initial intention of a long-term campaign is that the group will play together regularly for months or even years to finish their story.
Session 0 will help the group decide what the game will be like and if they’ll enjoy playing together. It’s easier for everyone to back-out of a game before the first session if you know you’ll not enjoy playing with the group.
It’s also easier for the group to find a replacement for you that will enjoy the game more. No one wants to feel trapped playing in a game they don’t enjoy for years. Think of session 0 as a “trial run”.
A long-term campaign will involve a lot of commitment out of everyone at the table. This is the time for everyone to address their expectations of each other and set a schedule that they can commit to.
What Does a Session 0 Look Like?
I mentioned before that session 0 can be as long or as short as the group needs it to be. Typically they are a bit shorter than a regular session would be, but there’s no harm in them being longer. The primary goal of this time is to ensure that everyone’s voice has been heard.
If you’re still a bit confused about what session 0 could look like; here’s what a session 0 for my group typically entails:
- Talk about day/time and how often the group will meet – if not previously decided upon.
- The GM explains what the world is and what the overarching themes of the game could potentially be.
- Players can give feedback about this or field questions about it.
- The GM or host discusses any rules, responsibilities, and etiquette that will be expected of everyone.
- Now the group will talk about the character(s) they’d like to play and see how they work together.
- The GM can talk about limitations for player characters at this point.
- If the group is rolling for stats they could do so at this time as well.
- Any final thoughts or concerns are addressed at this point and the players can either build their characters or do whatever they want.
I think most of my session 0’s last about an hour or so now. This is primarily due to the fact that I play with the same 5-6 people whenever we play TTRPGs. However, it’s always valuable to learn about the game before we play it, especially if it’s a new GM or game system.
Session 0’s have helped me to avoid horror stories in every game I’ve run. If everyone knows the rules and agrees upon the rules there will hopefully be fewer issues down the road.
Session 0 should not be the last time you or anyone else in the group can voice their concerns or make suggestions for the game. The GM should always be open to hearing feedback or respecting a player’s wishes. It’s an easy way to ensure that everyone is fun and playing the game they all want to play.
There’s always value to running a session 0 even if you don’t think the group needs one. While you may not need one, there may be someone in the group that would greatly benefit from one.