GM Advice - Session 0: The Most Important Session of Your Campaign

It's hard to replicate the excitement of the first session of a new campaign. It is almost a tangible thing. As you sit behind your screen, feeling confident that you have crafted a story so perfect, it will make Castle Ravenloft look like the Twilight Saga, you smile to yourself. 

 "Can't wait until 50 Shades of Greyhawk"

You settle in, free your eager dice from their crown royal bag (because why would you be using anything else?), and ask your players to introduce their characters. That is when it all spirals hopelessly out of control. The low-magic game of intrigue you had planned is facing the combined wrath of an elven wizard, a gnomish sorcerer, a dwarven gish, and-for good measure-a cyborg... because reasons.

"What? RAW says it's legit!"

There they stand in your perfect campaign world, full of its own pitfalls and perils, sticking out like the sorest of sore thumbs. Thumbs pounded by the twin hammers of ignorance and misinformation. By the time you stem the bleeding from your nose (you know, because of the cerebral hemorrhage you just suffered) you realize all too late that you forgot the most important session of the entire campaign.

Session 0.

"Game Mastering. Not for the weak of mind."

Aside from sounding decadently sexy...

...Session 0... tee-hee...

… Where was I? Ah, yes. Besides the cool-as-balls name, it provides something vitally important for the longevity of you campaign as a whole; a dialogue between yourself (the benevolent overseer) and the players (the murder hobos). If the game is going to flourish, this is vital.


Your players are your game. Without them, you a sad man and/or woman sitting at a table, alone, looking at numbers. At that point, you might as well be an accountant (Ed The Bard in no way looks down upon the noble profession of accounting and has the utmost respect for the brave men and women who risk their lives for dividends and a larger tax returns).

So how should Session 0 go down?

 "Um... Not quite like that."

  1. Lay out on the table what the hell it is you're doing. The setting, the story synopsis, and any restrictions you might have (like NO CYBORGS!). Let them know if you have any weird house rules (like no pants after 8pm), if you are using things like action points or hero points., or the overall level of magic in the campaign.
  1. Have your players roll up their characters. Enlighten them as to the nature of their stats. Are they rolling dice (like the Gods intended), or are you enforcing a strict point buy (like the devil intended), or if there is a particular alignment you would like to focus on/restrict the hell out of.
  1. Hammer out how the party knows each other. Do they know one another? Are they an already established company of grave robbers (a.k.a. Adventurers)? Are any of them related? Are they strangers, brought together by fate? Do they prefer boxers or briefs? This could be an excellent segue into fine-tuning the characters' backstories. It could also be an opportunity to start plotting story threads somewhere down the line.

  2. Finally, find out what your players' expectations for the game will be. What challenges do they want to face? What monsters do they want to fight? Do they want something story-driven, character driven, or more of a kick-in-the-door adventure of the week style game? You players are the single greatest idea generators you could possibly hope for. If you listen, and I mean really listen, they will write the game as they go.

With that out of the way, you are ready for Session 1. You can dive on in like a fat kid at the public pool (with a big splash and a lot of shame). Best yet, there will be no unexpected surprises, no dashed expectations, no whispers of a bloody mutiny...

...Until you accidentally TPK the whole group in the first ambush. Then run. Dear Gods run!

Go forth, from zero to hero,
  +Ed The Bard 

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