Many GMs - myself included - like to begin a campaign with a "Session 0": a session where the ground rules of the campaign are laid out plainly before any actual play begins. Some topics of discussion during this session require little tact; things like the campaign setting and rule variants fall into this category. Others, however, are not so easy to address.

One such topic is that of the participants' expectations. Ideally all participants' playstyles, character goals, and metagame desires coincide in a way that helps the campaign run smoothly and ensures that all involved enjoy it. In practice this is rarely the case, but a well-crafted Session 0 can draw the participants as close to this ideal as possible. With that in mind...

What strategies can be employed by a GM during Session 0 to help ensure that campaign participants' expectations align?

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Feel this is off-topic? I'd love to hear your input! \$\endgroup\$
    – Conduit
    Aug 3, 2017 at 14:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Open-ended list question, also primarily opinion-based. Not that I don't think it's a good subject, just that it's not in a form that allows one best answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Aug 3, 2017 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ What specific problems are you having with session 0? \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Aug 3, 2017 at 15:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ "How can I..." Querstions often devolve into opinion wars, so a hefty rephrasing on what the exact problem is might be in order. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    Aug 3, 2017 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would caution this is not a system-agnostic issue. Different games' setup sessions look different and have different issues to address. In D&D you are asking different questions to in Dungeon World or Fate. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 3, 2017 at 16:13

3 Answers 3


I've run about twenty campaigns to varying degrees of success, and I've noticed a definite checklist of things that you want to mark off during 'Session 0'.

  • Discuss Tone and Theme - Probably most important that you as the GM/DM/ST/Whatever set out what kind of game YOU want to run, then get input from the players to collaboratively decide what the themes and tone of the game are going to be

  • Define Boundaries - Very important too is that you spend a very brief moment at a minimum talking about if there's any themes that are off-limits for any of the players. Yes, this is is a 'SJW' style thing, but in games where I've done this, just putting it out there that i'm open to setting boundaries has massively improved the quality of my games.

  • Discuss House Rules & Systems - Go over what's allowed and what's not, and anything unusual you're doing, Like Using the X-Card in conjunction with the above point. You can also quickly define what happens if you made a mistake with a house rule.

  • Create Characters Together - Make it a point to at least discuss what kinds of characters your group wants to play, and work to make them a party that works together. If you can get character sheets together, its even better.

  • Decide who brings snacks - This is personal preference, but go over table rules and who's bringnig food and drinks. My personal rule is the DM doesn't pay.


A good strategy is to use the Same Page Tool, to make sure that your group as a whole understands what to expect. After they know what to expect, just keep asking questions until you are satisfied with what you believe the outcome of your campaign will be.

Creating characters as a group is also helpful. Not only will the group get more comfortable with each other before the actual campaign begins, but you can see how they will play out the campaign later on. Are they min-maxers, team players, selfish, etc..?

Ask questions and have your group answer honestly. The more you talk, the more familiar you get with the players and what they want out of the game.


I would say that talking to your players and simply asking the question; "What are your expectations?" would be a good start. If your players respond with "we wan't lots of combat" then add more encounters. If they respond with "we want a more drama/story" then maybe find a way to make encounters less focused on rolls/dice and try to make them cinematic. Other questions should be dealt with in a similar manner.

Generally speaking, when gaming groups hang out for a while, especially outside of game, one tends to learn the preferences of the others and there is less need for a session zero.


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