Welcome to the Port of Entry Travelers!
The first time I heard about any Dungeons and Dragons campaign in detail, a friend described how their game broke up and they were no longer on speaking terms with some of the players. In the campaign, two player characters began dating. The two characters were happy in the setting. In real life, one of the players expressed that they were having true feelings for this other player, based on what was happening in the game. After finding out that those feelings were not reciprocated, the players were no longer on speaking terms and the campaign dissolved.
I was floored that something happening in a fictional world could break up a real life friendship! How could something that was “just a game” result in real world feelings? It made me nervous to ever play a session for myself. Despite the events that happened, my friend assured me he thought it would be a game that I would enjoy. Once I heard about some co-workers putting together a new adventure, I tentatively agreed. It was then I learned about Session 0.
What is Session 0?
Unlike a typical board game, a TTRPG campaign usually takes place over weeks, months or possibly even years. Players might reference a clue that was dropped in Session 3 or a NPC that was introduced in Session 86. Session 0 is what happens before you sit down to your first Dungeons and Dragons (or other wonderful TTRPG) adventure session.
Traditionally, Session 0 has been used for character creation and a little backstory for the campaign. In future Port of Entry posts, we will discuss these things as well, but this is a post dedicated to Safety Tools. Unlike traditional board games, games based in role play may take you to some weird spaces. Session 0 can be used to help players work together with the DM/GM in order to establish what type of content they want to play or avoid.
What Can I Expect From Session 0?
- When and where are you going to meet?
- How long will your sessions be and will you take breaks throughout play?
- Are food and/or alcohol allowed at the table?
- Will you be using pen and paper or online tools for your sessions?
- How will you generate your character attributes or skills?
- Does anyone need extra dice, tools, or prep prior to play?
- Will social constructs mirror our own world or be something unfamiliar?
- What options are available for character creation?
- Is this a high magic or low magic setting?
- Will your characters know each other prior to Session 1?
- What official, unofficial or homebrewed rules will apply to your game?
- Is it understood that player characters will have secrets from each other? How about the players?
- Are there any house rules or homebrewed mechanics the table should know about prior to the campaign starting?
- Are there any off limit topics during role play?
- Does anyone have any real world fears they do not wish to experience in the game?
- Are your player characters interested in romance?
- Do you have any hard lines you do not want to cross or soft boundaries that you need others to proceed with caution?
- Will you be using consent sheets?
- How do you agree to slow or stop the story if someone would like to?
Note: You may also wish to visit other safety tools such as the TTRPG Safety Toolkit for additional information
What Do I Share During Session 0?
What I typically share at a Session 0 looks something like this: “Hello, I am Berry. I enjoy high fantasy settings with a lot of intrigue and dungeon crawls. I have a processing disorder, which means I may ask a lot of questions. I enjoy all styles of RP but do not wish to explore settings with hurt children or use torture of any kind.”
I feel comfortable sharing all of the information above, I think it helps players get to know what kind of games I am looking for and what to expect from me at the table. Remember, you don’t owe anyone an explanation for why your boundaries exist, but it can help avoid difficulty later on if you have a good idea of what you are looking for in a campaign.
What If Something Changes After Session 0?
For some, Session 0 is held before your adventure starts and they don’t revisit it. For others, like myself, Session 0 is ongoing. If you’re lucky, your campaign may last a long time or even take you on greater adventures than you anticipated. It stands to reason that who you are and what you are comfortable with may change over time and that is ok! Variant J calls it the .5 session, or the things that are talked about between sessions. I encourage others to do this as well. Because sometimes, you can think you’ve covered everything and still end up in the mud. I recommend reading Trauma at the Table for more on this topic.
Remember, It's OK To Walk Away!
It is important to keep in mind that not every game, every setting, or every system is a good fit for a player. For example, Dungeons and Dragons is a very combat heavy game. It has more rules for combat than any other section in its rule books and some dice really only apply to dealing damage! This means, there is likely going to be some level of violence and/or combat in your sessions. If that doesn’t interest you, no worries! There are other games with less combat or even no combat at all. A game like Quest, is more storytelling focused. You can create almost any type of character and you only use a single 20 sided die and sessions are likely more focused on developing a story together than slaying the dragon.
You are also allowed to change your mind. Maybe you get a few sessions into a campaign and realize it is causing more stress than fun, or maybe there is a problematic player or DM/GM, or it’s a different story than the one you were comfortable playing through. You as a person, your safety, and wellness, will always be more important than any cooperative storytelling. I have walked away from tables and I have had others tell me that my gaming style isn’t for them. It’s absolutely alright!
While not all inclusive, I do hope some of these ideas will serve to help you navigate your experiences as a new TTRPG player. While bad pizza is still pretty good pizza, a bad TTRPG game can leave a stank in its wake for years. Take care of yourself, make smart choices, and work together to have a memorable game!