Running Session Zero

Behind the Game Master’s screen. Source

If you’re into any kind of tabletop roleplaying game, Session Zero is a good way to start things off. However, making sure you have an effective Session Zero can be difficult. Getting any group of people on the same page is not an easy task. Here are some tips I’ve picked up from over twenty years of running tabletop games.

5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook. Available on Amazon.

First, as the game master, it’s your responsibility to set a Session Zero and explain that this is not going to be a full game session. Communication is the key for any successful game. Success can be measured in one main thing: Are your players enjoying themselves? That’s really all it boils down to. Everyone at the table should be having a good time and as the game master, much of that responsibility falls on your shoulders.

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Session Zero should be used for a few things, most important of which is determining the tone of your group and the type of game they’re comfortable with playing. Recently, I ran a Session Zero for a Cyberpunk Red game that I plan on running. You can search the archives for my initial impressions of the system. The purpose of the session was to see where everyone’s barometer would be for the content of the game. Cyberpunk Red is a harsh setting, filled with dark, disturbing, and dangerous content. It’s a setting rife with questionable material that can cause your players distress and make the proceedings anything but fun. One of my biggest concerns was what content I would “show” during the game sessions and I wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. Even for game systems like Dungeons and Dragons, there is content available that can be upsetting and disturbing to others. A responsible game master will use a Session Zero to find out where the boundary lines are for their players so they know what they are able to create, even if it is running something from a pre-generated module or adventure

Game Master’s Starter Kit. Available on Amazon

The next concern is getting the characters created. In the case of the Cyberpunk Red game, none of the players (or me) had ever played in the system before, so it was a learning experience. Everyone got a chance to create their characters and we started building potential stories that could be used during the upcoming games. With everyone creating their characters together around the table (or over a digital medium), it makes it much easier to develop the group camaraderie and figure out how this collection of disparate characters decided to become a team. It also presents the game master with the opportunity to bounce ideas off the players for potential story hooks and backstories that can be used later on, which makes the character decisions made during the session more meaningful.

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Session Zero is a more recent concept, only coming to prominence within the last five to ten years in gaming. But it is a useful exercise for anyone seeking to run tabletop games. And it gives the players a voice in how the game will be crafted. At the end of the day, tabletop games are one of the most powerful communal activities we can engage in. If everyone is able to put in their concerns and contribute, it will make the game that much richer and a more impactful experience for all involved.

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