Any activity involving a group of people requires communication, trust, and understanding, which is especially true for a creative venture like a tabletop roleplaying game. There’s a wide variety of games, an infinite number of ways to play a roleplaying game, and every group is different. It is essential to sit down as a group and discuss various aspects of the game you’re about to play for all of these reasons. This discussion is typically called “Session 0” by veteran tabletop gamers.
What is “Session 0”?
Typically “Session 0” is the first meeting you have with your tabletop group, typically conducted by the person organizing/running the game. This meeting is also the first time players gathered together for newer groups, which can be awkward. Let’s face it: Most of us who play tabletop games can be shy and a little uncomfortable. I’m an introvert, and so are most of the people I play with, but meeting my group for the first time gives me a little anxiety.
One common mistake groups make assuming everyone is on the same page when playing a tabletop roleplaying game. Due to the variety of games and styles, you may be sitting at a table with a group of people who have significant differences in how players participate in the game, which is why Session 0 is important. You spend time discussing everything that matters for the game to avoid any drama down the road. We only want the “good kind” of drama in a game, not the kind where players get their feelings hurt, and no one wants to play with each other anymore. If you run a game, you need to learn how your players like to have fun. If you are a player in the game, you need to tell the game master the style of play you enjoy and listen to how your fellow group members like to have fun.
Session 0 isn’t just about the game..
Session 0 is a good time for the group to get to know each other. It’s better to play with friends than strangers! I’m super awkward all the time, and one of my stranger habits is making an outline of or an agenda for practical social gatherings. For example, if I am going on a date with someone, I’ll be the guy that brings a list of questions to ask (yeah, I know….It’s slightly embarrassing).
For session 0 I’ll have a list of questions designed to break the ice with the players, such as:
- What do you do for work?
- Are you married, do you have kids?
- What hobbies do you like outside of tabletop gaming?
- What movies do you like?
- What type of snacks do you like? (I like this question because I like to make food for my games).
Getting down to business
I immediately dive into the game after getting past the “getting to know you” phase. I like running story-focused games, so I want to explain my games in terms of themes and story arcs, which helps my players understand how I approach my games. If I’m running a rules-heavy game, I take time to discuss any house rules, and I ask the players how familiar they are with the system. I always have someone new to tabletop games in my group, so I try to explain everything as if everyone in the group has never played. That can be a bit tedious for veteran players, but I do it to make sure everyone understands my interpretation of the rules equally. In general, it is critical to discuss:
- The basic rules framework. When do you “roll” for something? What does a success mean, versus a failure?
- Any house rules I use for the game, and “why” I use those house rules.
- The appropriate etiquette for asking a rules question (note: I really hate rules lawyers).
- What level of creativity is allowed within the framework of the rules?
Discussing the story, setting, and concept of the game is just as important as the rules. Your players will be playing pretend, and they are going to need to understand the world of the game. Typically I will discuss things like:
- Why I am choosing the setting.
- The history of the world.
- Common cultures, religions, traditions, etc.
- How the economic systems work.
- If applicable, the supernatural aspects of the game and how it works (like magic).
The most important thing I discuss with my games is understanding everyone’s boundaries. Every stage of Session 0 is a discussion, where I listen to my players and address any questions/concerns, but I also clearly state my boundaries. For example, I’m not comfortable with racism (or bigotry ) in my games, even if it’s something that makes sense for the setting. You will likely have players who have similar boundaries. Be open and honest with the entire group about your comfort level. Listen and respect your fellow players as well. Session 0 is a discussion, not a speech, and everyone needs to be heard. With every participant of the tabletop game on the same page, it’s only going to make the experience that much more fun for everyone!