Session #0: The Game Before the Game

pink Star Here text

You might be thinking, “Session 0? That doesn’t make any sense! The first number in a series should be one!” And you’re half correct. Although the first game session should be #1, there’s always some prep work to do before you start the campaign, and this is popularly dubbed in the DnD community as “session zero.”

Since every GM (Game Master) runs their game a little differently, everyone has different things they like to cover in this precursor session. Today, I’m going to cover my personal Session 0 Essentials.

In March’s blog post, we talked about laying the laws of your land–not just the DnD game rules, but the general guidelines to follow in your particular campaign. Are there any uncommon changes that you’ve made to the base game that players might not know off the bat? Is your DM style more of player-driven sandbox, letting them explore as they see fit, or more like a subway, confined to the tracks going in a specific direction? (My preference is a mixture of both, but that’s a story for another day–this day, in fact).

Other things to think about: How will experience work? Will there be leveling up in this campaign? How many sessions will the plot cover? Do you award inspiration points? In a previous game I played in, the DM gave an inspiration point to whoever recalled the most about our last session and could explain to the rest of us what happened in case we forgot. I loved this feature! It made everyone more likely to pay attention and be present, even if they weren’t the one acting at that moment. I was never that person, because I have the memory of a pea (even with note-taking), but that person was the true MVP! You could also assign a person to be the scribe of the group, for their own goodwill or for a reward of some kind. The world is your oyster–that is, if your world has oysters. I have to say this every time now, it’s a meme at this point.

black marker on notebook

I don’t know why more DnD blogs don’t cover this, because it’s super important! How often will you all be meeting to play? Once a week? Once every two weeks? If you are all set to play every Tuesday at 7pm, and one member works every Tuesday night, you’ll know early on that either you need to change the meeting time, or that player is not a good fit for the campaign. If you don’t establish a gaming schedule early on, the campaign is bound to dwindle off. The players will only be as enthused about it as you are, so be upfront about availability early on.

In the same vein, be upfront about duration. How long do you think your sessions will be? This can be flexible, but do you have a ballpark in mind? Personally, when sessions go longer than two hours, I know my creativity–and overall brain function–begin to decline. My friends know that I am a grandma in essence, so we to start around 7-8PM and finish by around 10PM, so any longer than that and my roleplaying will suffer. If a player says they’re available Tuesday at 7, but have to be somewhere by 8, that might not make for a very long or intense session. If your sessions only take an hour, however (I envy you; it can sometimes take 30-45 minutes for us to start), then you know that will be fine. What are your expectations?

Other things to think about: Will you be playing in-person or virtually (using Discord or another program). If playing in-person, will you rotate houses, or will it always be at the same location? And most importantly: who is in charge of the DnD snacks? Salty, crunchy snacks are my favorite!

Arguably the most important goal of Session #0: creating your characters! Although this could be done by everyone on their own time, there are so many benefits to doing it as a group. Such as:

  1. Group bonding! If this is a new DnD group, even if you’re all already friends outside of playing, you will quickly discover the dynamics of how you all might interact in-game! The more you know about each other in real life, the better partners you will be (even if your characters hate each other in-game).
  2. Broadening Skill Sets: In one campaign I played, we all accidentally picked magic classes, leaving us at a high disadvantage when it came to physical attacks and defense. Our one (1) paladin was not enough to protect us. It was a war zone. Convincing your players to cover a bunch of bases skill-wise will make things more varied and interesting for them, and easier for you, since you won’t have to worry about a random battle featuring one (1) goblin accidentally killing the whole party.
  3. Insider Knowledge: As the DM, it’s essential you know everyone’s characters inside-and-out so you can prepare, but it’s wonderful to have the players be in-the-know, too! Not that you should give away all of your secret plans, but the players don’t have to be limited to things only their characters would know. It can be a great way to get characters to bond. In one game I played, two players realized their characters were the only ones who could speak a certain language, so they would occasionally have their characters whisper to each other and gossip. Even if the rest of our characters couldn’t tell what they were saying, it was hilarious to hear their dialogue out loud (in plain English, for us humans). Little colorful moments like that really make a game memorable and fun.

A productive Session #0 can make for a smooth-sailing campaign. It’s all about front-loading prepwork so you can have twice as much fun later!

Until next time, players. Let the good dice roll! ⚀⚁⚂