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What is a "Session 0"?

  1. When is it done?
  2. What does it contain?
  3. Is it recommended, if not mandatory?
  4. What is each person's role (DM/GM, players, etc.)?
  5. What topics are best discussed there?

Usually with my groups, we go directly to the meat of the game right after the character creation, but I see a lot of answers that basically say "you should have a session 0", but it's never explained what it is made of, so it's kind of an enigma for me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/104691/… I'm actually surprised there aren't more duplicates. \$\endgroup\$ – Carl Kevinson Aug 16 '17 at 14:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CarlKevinson I don't think it's a duplicate because I really ask what is a "session 0". From what I read in the various answers, there are several subjects to discuss, including the GM/players expectations. The question you link restrict itself to those expectations. While it seems aligning expectations is the major component of the session 0, answers below tell that it's not limited to that, those parts are relevant to this question, and make the question you link a "related", yes, but not a duplicate. \$\endgroup\$ – Olivier Grégoire Aug 16 '17 at 15:08
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Session 0 is a planning session where the gaming group collaboratively lays the groundwork for a new campaign. Often, this session involves the group deciding the game/campaign they want to play, managing expectations, establishing house rules, determining setting details, and creating characters. Session 0 provides a meeting for the gaming group to agree on what kind of game everyone wants to play.

1. When is it done?

Session 0 is done before the first session of play (hence the name). Some games designed as pick-up games, like Tenra Bansho Zero and Fate Core, actually have some Sessions 0 activities baked into typical play so you can start playing right away.

2. What does it contain?

While it differs from game to game, Session 0 usually involves the group meeting to discuss and establish the following.

  • Game rules set to be played
  • Table rules (table etiquette, behavior expectations, bringing up topics that players feel uncomfortable with, etc)
  • House rules (changes from the core rules set, homebrew material, etc)
  • Campaign expectations (Do we want to play an intrigue campaign? Dungeon crawler? An epic campaign?)
  • Setting
  • Character creation

3. Is it recommended, if not mandatory?

Session 0 is recommended because tabletop RPGs are ultimately a collaborative entertainment activity. Everyone is there to have fun and Session 0 gives the group an opportunity to establish what kind of game everyone wants to play.

Session 0 might not be necessary for some games and groups. For example, my groups usually work out these details in Discord or Skype before the first play session rather than schedule an entire session for it. I've seen some conduct Session 0 activities at a lunch. A well established group might not need a Session 0.

4. What is each person's role (DM/GM, players, etc.)?

Roles depend on the game and group. From my experience, the GM is usually the individual responsible for spearheading topics and managing the session. From his interests and the interests of the players, he establishes a draft of a campaign and house rules to show to the players. The players provide feedback and then express what kind of game they are interested in. There's back and forth among the group before finally an agreement is made.

It's important to note that everyone should have a chance to provide input during Session 0. It generally should not be a one-sided affair.

5. What topics are best discussed there?

The specific topics depend heavily on the game. Necessary topics in one group might not be necessary in a gaming group where everyone is playing a very familiar game and setting.

This reddit post for D&D 5E provides an excellent example of possible topics discussed in a Session 0.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In addition to directly game related issues, session 0 also tends to be where you discuss food and drink. Is the host providing snacks and beverages, or will people bring their own food? If the host is providing things, will they be compensated for it or not? You wouldn't believe the amount of drama that occurs over this issue. \$\endgroup\$ – Cronax Aug 17 '17 at 12:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer seems to avoid mentioning that the GM and the host (who might be the same person) may not be interested in GM'ing or hosting other than some narrow already-determined combination(s) of rules, campaign, and acceptable PC types. While in theory yes games are ultimately collaborative and people are there to have fun, many hosts don't want to host a game they aren't interested in in their home, and may GMs are only willing to GM games they know, own, and/or like, and may have only be offering to GM a game style and/or campaign world they want to GM, for PC types that make sense, etc. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz Sep 15 at 18:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ In section two, the matter of "who hosts, and who brings snacks/pizza/beverages" is often also discussed in general terms. ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 16 at 13:27
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My experience as a player is that a session 0 as far as I have experienced, is a session which normally happens before the main campaign which allows the DM and the players to meet and discuss the lore of the world and any house rules or homebrew content that the DM or players may want to use within the Campaign, it is also a time to discuss character concepts and the like.

This session basically makes sure that everyone, including the DM is on the same page and knows how the campaign is going to playout, whether it is going to be more serious in nature, NSFW or a more light hearted style of campaign.

This of course is all slightly subjective as each DM may run each session 0 different but it is a common trend in D&D and RPG games.

To answer your question as you have laid it out:

  1. Before the start of the campaign

  2. Normally the lore of the campaign, the homebrew and house rules and optional rules that wish to be used. The Character concepts if any.

  3. Not Mandatory but highly reccomended. See my responses below.

  4. To discuss the campaign.

  5. Rules, Lore and Concepts of the campaign.

Why are these important?

Because if you are playing any campaign that you are invested in, you want to spend more time playing rather than debating rules and lore.

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  1. When is it done?

Before you start your game. Actually, normally even before you start your game preparation such as generating characters.

If you didn't have a Session 0 with that group already, it is actually never "too late" to have it, even if you are in the middle of your campaign already. Especially if you notice problems going on (which is very possible if you didn't have a Session 0 already).

  1. What does it contain?

It contains pre-game discussions of what are you all awaiting from the game, what is OK, what is not OK. Session 0 is (mostly) done out-of-character. The Same Page Tool is a good set of guidelines what exactly is it a good idea to discuss, but if you want to discuss something else too, do it!

An incomplete list of what do you probably need to discuss during a Session 0:

  • Are in-party conflicts OK? What to do if one happens? Can PCs leave the party and start to actively play against it?
  • Does the GM have to follow the rules, or can he/she change them on fly if needed? If he/she is allowed to change the rules, what reasons are enough and what are not enough?
  • Can Player Characters die? If yes, can they get killed only by a really stupid action, or can even a minor mistake lead to PC deaths?
  • Do PCs play to win? To tell a story? If they play to win, what defines the victory?
  • Does the GM play against the group or help it to win/tell the story?
  • Is erotic role-play (ERP) OK for you or not?
  • How much of your time do you want to be dedicated to combat, how much to solving puzzles, how much to social scenes?

...and actually many more things!

  1. Is it recommended, if not mandatory?

If you are playing with a stable group of close friends, it is possibly not needed, you already understand intuitively what does each of you want. If you don't know all of your fellow players that well, it is more than recommended to avoid further misunderstanding. If you don't know people you play with at all, definitely have a Session 0.

If your players are completely new to role-playing, though, it is likely that they will just not know the answers to most question. In this case you better have it later when you try many things with them. After each of your gaming sessions you can then ask them what did they like and didn't like, which is actually never a bad idea to ask, no matter the experience level.

  1. What is each person's role (DM/GM, players, etc.)?

It depends. Sometimes GM serves like a "host" of the game and actually dictates what will the game be. You either stay and play as the GM says or opt out. Sometimes your roles don't really differ and you all discuss the game on equal rights, which makes you able to come to some conclusion together. Note that this conclusion may be that some player(s) doesn't (don't) fit in the group and has (have) to leave. It is really much better to understand it earlier than later, when you are already attached to your char and the plot.

If there are players of very different experience levels, perhaps the most experienced will lead the Session 0.

  1. What topics are best discussed there?

See p. 2, but again, the more you discuss, the less the chance to find harsh misunderstanding later. Don't be shy to bring up anything you want to bring up.

There is no full comprehensive list of those things. It cannot exist because of a huge variety of playstyles and potential problems.

If you had problems before, bring up what has caused them so they don't show up in your next game -- because you have solved them in advance, or because you found out that it's impossible and didn't waste your time on a game doomed to be unenjoyable.

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"Session Zero" is, as the name implies, a session of the game that happens before you "really start" playing.

  • You can have your Session Zero at any time as long as it's before the "actual game" starts - if you've already started making skill checks and roleplaying, you're probably past the point of being able to have a Session Zero. This doesn't mean you can't do something similar and receive some of the benefits, but the point of doing it first is so that you can steer the game in a certain direction, and making a mid-game "course correction" is much harder than starting out in the right direction.
  • Session Zero usually contains a couple of different things. First, it's where you figure out - ideally collaboratively - what kind of game you want to play. And I don't mean "5e D&D" (though that's a tiny part of it) but rather, something more like "I'm interested in a D&D game about Heroes, and people who take the moral highground even when it's not to their advantage. There's no real expectation of the group being a 'party' but I would expect you to be generally willing to work together, though you might at times have strong disagreements." and beyond. This is also where you establish what setting you'll be playing in, what race/class/alignment/whatever restrictions you might have, any "house rules" that will be in play, etc. The second part of Session Zero is making characters once everyone has agreed on what the game is going to be about. While lots of people think of Session Zero as the "chargen session" the actual act of making the characters is probably the less important piece than the "everyone gets on the same page about the game" part. While it's helpful to have everyone in the same room and chatting and bouncing ideas off each other during chargen, this is the less critical piece.
  • I absolutely recommend that you do a Session Zero. It will pay off in spades, and it's a great way to get the game off to the right start. It prevents the whole "I brought my paladin to the game full of chaotic evil characters" or the "My character doesn't want to go on that adventure" problem, as well as deeper stuff like setting the target for stuff like whether doing sub-optimal things in the name of roleplaying is the best or worst idea ever. If you want a game to include a theme of some sort ("This game is about people sacrificing for the greater good") it's much easier to achieve if everyone knows about it up front and can guide the game towards the sorts of situations where this would happen.
  • In terms of roles, the GM should guide the discussion - after all, if they're not willing to run a game, it doesn't matter how badly the rest of the players want to be in it - but ideally, it should be everyone coming together to hash out what they ALL want their game to be. If there isn't a GM, because you are playing a GMless/distributed GM authority game, then the person hosting/responsible for organizing should step in here, because it's valuable to have one person to guide the discussion. Settings, themes, tones, ideas that you want to explore, rules - both social and 'rulebook' rules - heck, even who brings snacks or whether everyone is going to show up fed.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ "ideally collaboratively" I disagree with. Beyond key issues, such as veils and lines, it is not always ideal for the "kind of game" to be figured out collaboratively. If you had said "often collaboratively" or made that assertion sound more opinion based, I'd be ok upvoting this. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Aug 15 '17 at 21:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, but would be better if it were broadened to include more about table conventions, a link to the Same Page Tool (not as a full answer but as an example of some things that can be discussed), and especially a bit about games other than DND, like GMless games. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Aug 16 '17 at 1:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Godskook - Respectfully, I disagree. If you can't come to agreement on this stuff, the game is going to suffer, and the best way to reach an agreement is to work together, rather than have one person dictate their terms. \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Aug 16 '17 at 2:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ SitTechSpec - What sort of stuff would you think would be a good to include about GMless games? Most of my experience with GMless games is shorter form single session experiences, which makes the idea of "Session Zero" a little bit odd. ("Hour zero"?) \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Aug 16 '17 at 2:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Airk I actually think the content is pretty similar/already covered by your excellent section on "I want to play a game about heroes", etc. I would just re-word your last paragraph slightly to account for the fact that there might not be a GM, though there may still be a "host" who knows the game best or took the lead in getting people together. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Aug 16 '17 at 13:58
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Session 0 is a kind of collaborative “character” creation session. While players may still have made many decisions about their characters prior to the session 0, session 0 would be a place to tweak those decisions, perhaps to avoid stepping on each others’ toes, or just to hash out how they know one another.

As the term “session” suggests, this isn’t purely done out-of-character. Roleplaying short scenes of shared backstory (even if it’s just meeting in a tavern) allows players to get a feel for one another’s characters, and it suggests that things are still at a more nebulous stage where changes can be made if there are issues to address or ideas to incorporate. As “session 0,” these changes aren’t even ret-cons, they are just ad hoc adjustments made during the session before things are in any way “set in stone.”

It also allows the players to get to know the world; NPCs can mention concepts, events, people, places, things, organizations, and so on that will be relevant to the story, or even not relevant to the main story but just facets of life in this world that the characters would be aware of and the players ought to be as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Its worth noting that, additionally, Session 0 is the time when a lot of table expectations are established, such as the appropriate level of inter-party conflict. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Aug 15 '17 at 20:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @godskook Normally I would do that even before a session 0, but certainly if that hasn’t yet been done session 0 would be the last good place to do it (any point thereafter being far from ideal). \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 15 '17 at 21:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm with @godskook on this one - building characters and relationships can be part of Session 0, but lore about the world can be shared in written form. The key part of having an in-person Session 0 is setting expectations. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Aug 16 '17 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SirTechSpec to be clear, I don't disagree with anything KRyan has put in his answer. I merely am pointing out additions to his answer that I feel are appropriate to complete his answer. \$\endgroup\$ – godskook Aug 16 '17 at 1:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately, I had to downvote. Session 0 is not the same as character creation session. As @godskook noted, a Session 0 is mainly about discussing expectations of the game. It is better to do it before character creation, so you understand what characters really fit in the story. Character creation can be done in the same evening as the Session 0, but can also be scheduled for later. If you didn't have a Session 0 before, you can do it in the middle of your campaign (better late than never). \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Aug 16 '17 at 13:16
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I recently ran a session 0 which I used to introduce the players to my world and then spent the majority of the session creating player characters with them. I felt like this was the best thing to do with 3 quite new players.

My advice is do it based on the experience of your player. If you try and wait until session 1 with new players I've found you spend 2/3rds of your time fixing up character sheets and rules details that can all be done ahead of time.

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