Session Zero, or Session 0, is the zeroth session of a pen-and-paper campaign. It is used to clarify the expectations of the players and the game master, to set the tone of the campaign, and to talk about characters, ideas, and visions. Such a session before the start of the campaign is almost always useful. This prevents misunderstandings and allows you to clarify which things are okay in this group and which are not in advance.
In a Session Zero, you should discuss:
- The premise and tone of the campaign
- The characters
The premise and tone of the campaign
The game master should always introduce the campaign he or she wants to run in Session 0. This includes both the rulebook used and what type of pen-and-paper tone they want. There are deadly Dungeons & Dragons rounds and fun Call of Cuthulu campaigns. The important thing is that all players want the same page. There are players who want to roleplay seriously, some who only like combat and dungeon crawling, and some who like to crack jokes and make light of situations.
None of these three types of players play pen-and-paper incorrectly. But maybe they should play in different groups or campaigns. Some players want to play 8 hours at a time, others can only manage 3. Some players want a sandbox campaign, others want to be railroaded. Session Zeros are great for clarifying what you expect from the next sessions, so there are no unpleasant surprises once the game starts.
We’ve probably all played in groups where you just quickly built a character, without much preparation. This can work well. However, it is often better to prepare and discuss the characters in session 0. This way you avoid showing up with a Gunslinger to a prehistoric setting with dinosaurs. Also you can avoid having all players using the same class. This gives the game master the opportunity to prevent character ideas that don’t fit into the campaign or players choosing abilities that are too strong or too weak.
A well-designed and mixed party is often the key to success in many pen-and-paper games. And any party gets better once you’ve talked it through in Session Zero. You can also lay the groundwork for later roleplaying through your backstory, such as characters already knowing each other or maybe even being related.
In order for everyone to have fun playing pen-and-paper, you should make sure that no one feels uncomfortable at your table. Session Zero is also perfect for this. Here it is possible to talk openly about what individual players definitely do not want to have in the campaign. This can vary from player to player. And no one should be ashamed to communicate what they don’t want.
Some groups have no problem roleplaying serious topics. Other players have traumas or fears that should be avoided. Talk about it! For example, I never act out sex scenes or roll for the outcome. I just skip to a moment after sex. Other players have problems with all romantic roleplaying or with torture, violence, or with charm spells. Either you leave the unwanted topics out of your campaign, or you may have to find other players. However, this is still better than someone being confronted with unpleasant or traumatic situations in the middle of the game.
Session 0: Conclusion
A session zero is always useful. After running one, all players will have a better idea of the campaign ahead of them. You’ll have more rounded set of characters after Session 0, and you won’t have to worry about situations in the game that you don’t like at all. However, my request to all you is this: do take time to talk even during your campaigns. Express what you like and what you don’t like. This is the only way to improve the game experience for everyone involved.
Now that you know how your Session 0 will go, you can start your first big campaign right away with a starter set!