Every time a group of players get together for the first time there is that first session known as session zero. This can be a great experience for new GMs or players alike and it can also show players and GMs just what they need to work on before the game really gets into motion. It is important for both GMs and players to prepare a little for session zero so I think I’ll talk about what a new GM should expect when preparing for session zero and then next week move on to the players.
Session zero for GMs is a big deal because this is where you set player expectation, help everyone make their characters and find out the tone of your party. With that being said the first thing you have to be ready for in session zero is explaining the rules! As a GM it is not necessarily your job to be a lawyer or a babysitter, but reading an entire RPG is a high entry barrier for a player. The fact that you have decided to be a GM makes you a very special bread of RPG player that can read a book full of rules and get excited about it. That being said not everyone is like that. Whenever I explain rules for games I like to integrate it in my character creation. Let’s take DnD for instance just because it is a giant in the industry (whether we like it or not). I usually start with base characteristics, strength, intelligence, and what have you. I can then talk about the d20 being the thing you roll to pass or fail. Then I reveal that characteristics start as the modifiers for the dice, and after that I move into race, classes, and proficiency. That’s pretty much the base rules of Dnd minus class specific things and combat rules. From there I’ll talk about combat weapons, etc, and most importantly have all the little necessary blurbs that players can read and use to form their own opinions. That is a lightly detailed explanation for how I run session zero for DnD but it applies for other games as well. Keeping players interested while explaining rules is hard and I find this helps a lot.
My next tip for session zero is to make a clean space. I know this shouldn’t need to be said but I feel like I need to. My house gets thoroughly cleaned about as many times as I have players come over for games. Make sure that people can feel comfortable in your home eating, going to the bathroom, and sitting at your table. If you have overly excited dogs like I do then let them play when people come over but put them outside or in a kennel before the action really starts. If players are drinking water or using utensils then there has to be clean dishes to use and most importantly if you have guests coming over they’ll probably have to go to the bathroom once or even twice a session. Just because your comfortable in your home does not mean it is comfortable for other people so be sure to clean up a bit. The same goes for a gamestore! It’s cool to play at your LGS but if it is going to be loud, cramped, poorly ventilated, or smelly and unhygienic then go somewhere else. The environment you play in will have a critical affect on your players and should not be overlooked.
Establish your dice etiquette! I know this sounds silly but your players will grab whatever branch they can when they start to fall, and if it is a matter of life and death then dice etiquette will come into play. Make sure that you consider a few aspects of dice etiquette because if a dice falls off of the table and lands on a natural twenty, or a natural one, you will get two totally different reactions. Make sure you consider what to do if a player “drops a dice accidentally,” a dice falls off of the table, or if a dice lands on an edge. Establishing these rules will save you some major headaches in the future, trust me.
Alright the next big thing that you should decide is a little unnecessary for playing a game and it is off the table too, but there is a reason that people put being a GM on their resumes. Being the GM is almost always synonymous with being the leader of your group off the table. What I mean by that is you have to organize the play time, the space, any party drama, any snacks, and anything else that will end up on the table. So think of a good way to get everyone organized. I like to make my session dates concrete so that players can plan around future sessions. If everyone knows that the game will be on the first and third Saturday of each month then they can give that expectation to everyone around them and plan accordingly. That being said other people plan in different ways. Just be sure to talk it out and find a good schedule and be prepared on how you want to organize. Also think of ways to schedule snacks and other commitment aspects to your game. Just having protocols on these things is good for party drama.
Try not to give players any homework. Some people love to play RPGs and they take that home with them. I am one of those people (big surprise) but my wife I would say is not. When I was at my last session that I was playing with my friends I was completely surprised. We were at a very tense point in our story and I had been thinking about my next move for two weeks. As soon as the session started I was ready to act, but we had to recap our session because the other players were not crazy people. Some people do not take the game home with them and if you give them homework then they may not do it. That being said you might have a party that loves taking the game home with them and if that is the case then go nuts! If you do not know if the party is into that though, then try to avoid it especially with new and or casual players.
That’s just about all I can think of that is good for most gaming systems. It is always good to be prepared when trying to start an RPG party so always think about what needs to be established pregame when starting session zero.
Thank you for reading my article about session zero for GMs! Next week I will write another post for players and session zero. If you liked my article then be sure to use our links down below to read more article and to share this one. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, and Patreon @nblogcollective. Good luck with your session zero and as always,