DM Tip #9: Session Zero
I am almost embarrassed to say that it took me a long time to figure this one out, but since I have embraced it, it has made a monumental difference in how my role playing games flow and how well the characters interact with each other. It is particularly useful when you have players that are new to the game, or if you are venturing off the well trod path of D&D and into the realms of other role playing games.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself as you probably want to know what I mean by Session Zero. Session Zero is the get-together you have before you actually start playing the game. It is a time to gather the players and let them build their characters as a group. Players can form bonds before they ever start the adventure, giving reasons why this rag tag band of adventurers are together in the first place, thus replacing the tired cliché of “you all meet in a tavern”.
I run a lot of Session Zeros, primarily because I tend to run a lot of RPGs that most folks have probably never played before. Once the characters have been made, I use the remaining time to give them all a feel for the mechanics of the game. It is basically a short 30-minute encounter with a little follow-up to let them see how the dice rolls function, what their skills can do, and to give them that jumping off point so that there are fewer questions about the mundanes of rules and dice once the real adventure starts.
Take your Session Zero as an opportunity to let the players help guide the game, allowing their decisions in character creation as a team to determine some elements of your campaign. Do not use this as an excuse to railroad the players into fitting a mold of some sort, all to make your job as the DM easier. You can offer helpful suggestions, such as, “You guys might want to have at least one rogue in the group” or “This one is gonna be a lot of fighting, so make sure someone can heal damage”. It is best if you offer up these kinds of suggestions at the start of the session. You want the players to play the type of character they want, and you don’t want to have them second guessing the Druid they just spent an hour making because you now tell them that everything will take place in the middle of a dense city.
Since I started doing these Session Zeros, it has made my work as a DM easier and more fun. It has also lead to some of the best group dynamics I have ever had the privilege being a part of. The key thing, as it is with the entire game, is to have fun.