Session Zero

IMG_5932If you are new or old DM/GM, there is one thing you must consider before having your players set off on adventure. It’s the underestimated session zero.

A session zero is often considered the night you bring your players together and build those new shiny characters.  These are the heroes that reside in the minds of your players.  The heroes that will set off in whatever enterprise fits their fancy.

They are the Heroes of imagination.  Swinging a sword or casting a holy light to vanquish the undead hordes that are threatening the tiny village, we gather around a table to bring the characters of fables to life.  Sometimes you are the secret Shadowrunner trying to gather vital data from a Mega Corp to help save the lives of those in the barrens, and other times, a galaxy traveling smuggler just trying to get by.

Making the session zero can be the most important and critical step in your new campaign.

It’s not just about making new characters.  It’s about discussing the hidden backgrounds to those new characters.  Your first session is establishing what are each of the players is hoping to accomplish.   This doesn’t always have to be one night and I suggest that session zero be broken into a few nights and gathering around the table with a healthy open discussion.  It’s important to let each players have that moment to talk about what they would like.

It is always my hope that each player will have a background in mind, but, I think we all know that doesn’t always happen.  I work with a lot of new players and asking for a background for a game they may not understand, much less the worlds they are about to travel through can be tough. No worries we will get to that.

Breakdown the various steps.

Step 1:

Before characters start to get created, it is extremely important to find out what types of experiences each player wants.  Have them talk between themselves and begin to take notes on what each one describes as their ultimate adventure.  After all, it’s going to be their story. Those notes are your ticket to providing each of the heroes a lifetime of memories.

Step 2:

Begin sorting out the world portion of the game.  I like to use the homebrew style worlds for the players and let them tell me what type of area they are from and include it in the new world.  I find that players who contribute to the creating of a world are more invested in it.

One word of caution is that the fastest way to turn off a player, is to say no to a character concept they might have.  This is why I let the players help in deciding the world/universe they are in.  Gives players the ability to be a greater part of the world.  No one actually cares that Tabaxi don’t live in your world, so that is why you cannot play one.  Make it their world.

Step 3:

Character creation is the easy part.  Players flip open books and begin reading or they already have a concept in mind. Walk through each character with the players.  Remind the table it doesn’t matter if they all made a smuggler.

Spend time walking them though the process and answer question clearly.  Move around the table and take with each player a bit of your time.  It’s a good idea to limit your time to 5 minutes during the creation stage before rotating to the next player.  Having everyone on the same steps as you continue to rotate your time is helpful to all.  If you have that one or a couple of players who already researched their character or even have it already prepared you can spend some more time on the newer players.   Perhaps ask one of the more experienced players with the system to also help.  This way they are involved and not sitting around waiting for everyone else.

Have each player take a bit of time out and think about what motivates that new character. Why are they out adventuring?  The deeper the background, the more you have to work with to make important parts of the campaign tailored made just for them.

Step 4:

Have the players decide how they are met and why they are in a particular place at the same time. Help them out and refer to those to super awesome notes you were taking from earlier.  You all met in a tavern gets a little cliché.

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Do your best to move away from this as much as possible.  The last group of adventurers all grew up in the same wayward home for orphans but all left to find their way in the world and were called back for the wake of someone they all treasured.  It worked but let the players decide.  It could be a good time to let them roleplay those new characters.

Another example of a highly successful beginning was letting the players make their characters and didn’t let them purchase any equipment.  I told them that would be the first thing they did on game day.  I had them drugged and taken prisoner onboard a star freighter on route to sell them off as slaves.  So how did all meet was taken off the table and everyone had a great time.

Step 5:

Enjoy your newly created world and make sure that each player has their moment to shine.

One last piece of advice I can offer. Over the many years of gathering around the table of adventure, I’ve had many different types of career minded people from all walks of life.  They all come for the same reason.  To be a hero in some grand adventure.

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Doug the accountant faces off against the merciless Space Ork pirates.  His energy sword glows a strange shade of aqua. At his side, laser blaster at the ready, stands Liz, the home-care nurse.   Hidden in the shadows, just out of sight of the Ork’s, lying in wait for the perfect opportunity to leap on the leader with a thin alloy cord, is Ric, the Machinist.

I GM numerous types of games and normally put the books on the table and let the players sort through them.  I explain the premise for each one and make a point of taking extra time with possible new players.   Not everyone is going to want to run across the galaxy to save the princess.

I don’t explain the rules or any of the crunchy stuff but stick to the story based items of intrigue that players will find interesting.   Let them talk among themselves and come to a decision which type of game will make them all happy to play in.

Remember it’s not all those numbers on a page, but the story behind them.

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