Session 0: Expectations Matter

Text Reads: Session 0 over an ocean at night

An often talked about (and overlooked) aspect of a burgeoning new campaign is the pre-adventure session, frequently known as Session 0.  While it can seem unnecessary in the excitement of starting to tell a new story with your friends at the table, utilizing Session Zero to answer some foundational questions is a great way to alleviate potential roadblocks several game sessions later.

There are many topics that can be discussed during this time, but some common questions to answer are as follows:

1. What is the world setting in which gameplay takes place
2. What is the tone or theme of the adventure, world, and setting?
3. What are some topics that should not be introduced during gameplay?

These questions and others like it assist the players in creating a character that appropriately fits the planned adventure or setting.  It also allows the DM to avoid content that will turn away or even trigger past trauma in their players.  Let’s review the questions presented above in greater detail.

What is the world setting in which gameplay takes place?
This is an important question, because it allows a player to create a character that will fall within a relative level of expectation for the setting provided.  A fourth-wall breaking, top 40 hits crooning Kenku bard whose feather pattern resembles a circus clown is going to feel painfully out of place within the harsh, sunless wastes of Barovia within popular module Curse of Strahd.  Alternatively, a common ‘Edge Lord’ trope character or player likely isn’t going to enjoy their time spent in an adventure set within Santa’s workshop, where magic essence is extracted from sugary gum drops.  (Talk to Rory, if that sounds like something you’d like to try!)  By answering this question, you set your players up for success!

What is the tone or theme of the adventure, world, and/or settings?
While similar to the previous question, this assists the players in understanding how the adventure is typically going to play.  Is the tone of the table light-hearted and fun, or is it expected that the events that unfold and the interactions be taken with a level of realism and gravity?  Does the adventure plan to explore the character’s (playable and non-playable) morality and faith, or is this a Monster of the Week setting with less focus on role-play in favor of exploration or combat?  Not every setting or tone is suitable for every player, and by letting someone know in advance what to expect they can decide if they want to join.  It is much better for someone to step away before the adventure starts than to write them out of the game midway through exploring a treacherous dungeon!

What are some topics that should not be introduced during gameplay?
One of the best things a DM can do for their players is provide engaging and compelling content.  For us to best do so, it is paramount that we know what (if any) topics should be avoided when creating content.  Additionally, sometimes role-play can take the table to some interesting or unexpected places.  Knowing what areas to avoid allow us to explore our game and cast of characters freely, and increases engagement from all who are present.  Some players do not enjoy having romance in their games, or may have real world triggers that might make them uncomfortable to experience during role-play.

If you are interested in additional methods you can take to ensure the safety of the table, please see my review of the TTRPG Safety Toolkit.

This may all seem like a lot to discuss, but it is far less daunting in practice.  For simplicity sake, here is an example of something I would say during a standard Session 0:

“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 torture of any kind.”

This is both quick and concise.  It describes what I am comfortable playing, what limitations I might face at the table, and also sets some general boundaries to keep me safe during a game.

What do you think is important to cover in Session 0?  Let me know on twitter!


Gray kitten looking over a couple of sets of dice
Photo Credit: Variant Berry

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