HOW TO DM – SESSION 0

Hello everyone! In this week’s installment of How To DM, I’d like to talk about the importance of Session 0.

Frankly, once I started running them, I never looked back. I think they are absolutely critical to running a fun and successful campaign,  

But I’ve seen a lot of questions online recently about what is a Session 0 exactly? Beyond rolling up characters, what do you talk about? How do you run one?

So, let’s talk about Session 0’s on in this week’s How To DM!

It’s Not Just Your Game: I see this comment all the time – “Hey, man, it’s you’re game. Do whatever you want, and they’ll deal”. I think this is absolutely the wrong attitude to have. Roleplaying games are an exercise in cooperative storytelling; they’re not designed for DM’s to live out their novel-writing fantasies. We can design whatever game we want, but – if your group doesn’t find it fun – you’ll soon be playing with yourself (pun intended).

I think having player input from the very beginning might be even more important now that so many games have moved online. Online play has made it even easier to find pickup games where no one really knows anyone in the beginning. I DM regularly for Adventurer’s League at my local, and I only knew one player previously before we all sat down.

A good Session 0 gives everyone a chance to meet one another and have some input as to what type of game they want to play. There are a lot of new players out there that are going to look to their DM for advice on how to build characters. A Session 0 gives everyone a chance to set expectations, and it will keep you from having someone show up with something that doesn’t fit your world.

Tell Them About Your World: Most of us don’t play “stock” D&D. Take them time to explain to your players how your homebrewed world, or even your version of the Forgotten Realms, is different. The more information they have up front, the less headache you’ll have as a DM later. For example, if you’re old school and have your drow and duergar tucked away in the Underdark and unknown to the surface world, they need to know that…because I can guarantee someone is going to want to play one.

Tell Them About Your Game: If you’re going to change or modify existing rules – or add homebrewed rules of your own – you owe it to your players to tell them up front. Don’t spring things on them. You never know; they may surprise you with some feedback that makes your changes even better. Some of the worst arguments I’ve seen in game are when the DM makes a ruling on the fly that fundamentally changes a rule. Your players will start to lose confidence in your game if you do that too many times. Session 0 is a great time to hash all of those issues out so that everyone is on the same page.

Listen to Their Feedback: If given the opportunity, your players will tell you what kind of game they are interested in playing. Why spend hours designing intricate puzzles if your group hates them? Why waste time writing intricate backstories for each of your NPC’s when your group wants a more “beer and pretzels/monster of the week” experience? Are they Lord of the Rings, or are they Game of Thrones?

Like I said earlier, this is not our game as DM’s; this is our game as participants in a cooperative story game. Don’t run this risk of half of your players dropping out because the game isn’t what they expected and isn’t fun for them.

Another added bonus to doing it this way is that it will help you enormously when designing your campaign, and a good campaign is so much effort, anything that makes it easier on us as DM’s is a good thing!

Keep It Relaxed: A Session 0 shouldn’t be like the quarterly numbers meeting at an Applebees’. Once you’ve clued them in on your world and game, sit back and moderate the discussion. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers and make spot rulings. Take notes; give it some thought. I’ve never had a bad response to “You know what? I’ve never thought about that. Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you”.

What tips, tricks and advice do you folks have? Put them in the comments below, so we can all share in the info. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next week for another installment on How To DM!

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