I am currently trying to start a campaign with a group of friends and our Session Zero was scheduled for next week.

One of my players has now told me, that he is unsure, if he will be a part of our campaign. I suggested that instead of leaving entirely he became an irregular player, i.e. he will be there when possible, but I will not count on him being there. This is fine for me, as I have 3 other players who will attend regularly. And it won't make a big difference whether a session has 3 or 4 people showing up for it. Of course, I will ask the other players first if this is fine for them as well.

This player has also told me, that he is unable to attend our scheduled Session Zero. This makes me think. If this player decides to only attend on an irregular basis, should I reschedule Session Zero or hold it without him? Should I postpone the start of our campaign for the regularly attending players, so an irregular player can take part in Session Zero? If I reschedule, there is no guarantee, that this player will be able to attend on the rescheduled date. I might have to reschedule multiple times until he can be there.

Other things, on my mind are, that Session Zero might even take 2 evenings for us, as I have a lot of things that I want to discuss with the group. What if he can attend only one of them? I am also planning for him not to be present at the first Session, but to join the group after the regular players and I have played for a few (let's say 3-5) sessions and have become accustomed to each other, as to not overcomplicate things.

The obvious answer would be to talk to the other players, which I will do, when we meet next week. But still I am wondering, what a general best practice would be in such a case. Should Session Zero only include people who want to attend regularly? Should I hold of on starting a campaign so that someone, who isn't as much part of it as the others, can attend Session Zero?

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    \$\begingroup\$ interpersonal dynamic clarification: is this a gaming group who is friends, who've played D&D before, or are you introducing a friend group to the hobby? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 16:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question can elicit answers that draw on the experience of GMs and players who have run into similar situations. I don't think this ought to be closed as opinion based. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 16:39

5 Answers 5


Short and to the point, and this is actually general life advice for a lot of things: If one person is not committed, and assuming they aren't critically important for the thing you are doing, make your plans with and for those, who are committed. Trying to accommodate uncommitted people will only lead to frustration, in the likely case that they never join. It can even lead having whole thing (your RPG campaign here) lose momentum and fall apart.

Also, having been in the shoes of the uncommitted person (unrelated to RPGs but similar activity), it can be frustrating when someone tries to accommodate you, but you know there's a good chance it's in vain, and you will not be able to do the thing at all. I mean, I get it, they want me there, the thing could really use one more person, but there are lot of overlapping priorities in everybody's life.

So just do session zero with three players. Let the fourth player know they can join over video call (or just normal call) between X and Y o'clock, if it's not too much of a hassle.

In general your plan A should always be that infrequent players won't be able to attend. Make a rough plan B if you need to adapt to them showing up, but use your prep time for your regular players and maximizing their (and therefore your own) fun. Until an uncommitted person has proven that when they do say they will show up, they will show up, assume they are likely to cancel or just not show up. After they've proven to be reliable, you can and should start including them in your plan A, but until then do not let them get in the way of prepping for the regular players.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, that is indeed solid advice. The "join over call" thing sadly won't work, as we are already meeting over discord. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 1, 2022 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I should probably add, that even if preparing for people who might not show up is not productive, this should not reflect in your attitude when they are there. If they're invited, they should feel welcome. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 1, 2022 at 19:17

You should continue running your game, and not assume the new player will attend at all

You've written:

One of my players has now told me, that he is unsure, if he will be a part of our campaign. I suggested that instead of leaving entirely he became an irregular player

One interpretation of this is: this person does not want to play in your game at all. You said "oh no, don't drop, you can be an irregular player!" and he agreed to this to avoid having a difficult conversation, but his plan is to show up as infrequently as he can get away with.

In my experience, when someone says things like this, they're never going to show up at all.

It would definitely be an error for you to delay scheduling of your game to try to get him to attend.

Consider recruiting a new fourth player

It is much easier for you to recruit a new player now, than it will be in a few sessions after you've done your Session Zero. If you can get a new player now, at the start of your game, you should do so.

You've written that you're fine running with three players, but it's always better to have a margin in case someone drops. (Or even in case someone can't make a given session.)

You can still have the irregular player join when he can make it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is useful advice for the OP to consider, it doesn't answer the question: Should the OP postpose their session zero? \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 23:04

Address The Topic Of Irregular Players...

...At the Session Zero itself.

If you are committed to having this player show up irregularly, then how you handle that is in itself is something that can and should be talked over at the Session Zero.

I've had irregular players (I described them as "Recurring Guest Stars" or something like that-- I'll show my age, here, as I was thinking of Col. Flagg from MASH) in games before, and I had an intended method for dealing with them which might involve ending one or more sessions early or having them go long so that I could get the narrative to a place convenient for them to enter or exit.

I also especially needed to get buy-in from the irregular player that I needed some warning before their Guest Appearances, so I could figure all that out.

I felt this was something the other players and the irregular player both would want to weigh in on, so it was discussed at the session zero. My instinct, because of things like that, pushes me strongly to include the irregular player-- at least the part of the session that pertains to that, and to major red-lines of the campaign.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Session Zero issues don't necessarily have to be dealt with face-to-face. Email discussion or similar is valid too. For an issue like 'player might not turn up', this could be a necessity. \$\endgroup\$
    – user56480
    Commented Jul 1, 2022 at 6:38

I want to raise another option that you might not have considered. 3-5 sessions might not seem like a lot of sessions, but it's a lot of sessions. A ton will happen in that time.

Consider having one session zero now, and a lighter session 'zero' again when the new player joins. And, tell everyone in advance that this is the plan. This is a bit of my personal style, but 3-5 sessions is about the point in time where I tend to spend time facilitating a conversation about how the story is going, whether people are happy with it, and what they need from me / each other to continue to enjoy it going forward. If you want to take this approach, consider having such a conversation when the new player joins, to make it clear to everyone that the structure of the campaign should include him and take his enjoyment into account going forward.

This approach takes a lot of the pressure off the decision as to whether you include/exclude him now. The table knows that the first few sessions are for players in attendance; the player in question knows that the table will revise itself to accommodate him when he joins. It'll be a shame if he doesn't get to have a hand in the way the table's habits are built in the first place, but holding another session zero when he joins is a good backstop solution.

On to the details.

I'll start with the most generic possible guidance: every person you intend to fully include in the future should be fully present for session zero. If you're excluding someone, that's not your decision alone - that's the table's. Ask everyone permission first.

Perhaps the most important function of session zero is as a tool for setting the interpersonal and social tone, and describing how people's needs will be accommodated. At each point, the question to ask yourself is less "how does excluding someone change the development of the story?" and more, "what does the exclusion signal to the players about the way our table's social accommodation works?"

People whose contributions are deliberately skipped at the conception of the campaign are less likely to participate fully later on, and are less likely to feel accommodated or intentionally included even many sessions later. Skipping non-attendees at very important moments also sets a particular tone at the table and may make other players cautious to invest too heavily. Be mindful of that, and make sure it matches the culture you want to develop.

So, what does it signal to the players if one of their co-players is excluded from the foundation of the campaign and "basic needs, story and otherwise" discussion because he couldn't make it? The answer will depend a bit on your players, but I have to caution that setting this tone up front would be a bit of a land mine for almost any group I've played in.

Here's a short checklist of 'things you shouldn't forget':

  1. Are these players good friends of each other already?
  2. Are the players aware of the reason one will be excluded from session zero?
  3. Are the other players explicitly comfortable with his exclusion? (Do you have the opportunity to solicit their uninfluenced opinion?)
  4. Do you have a solid plan to materially accommodate the player who is joining several sessions in? (How will he feel included? How will he catch up?)
  5. Is your campaign going to be 'low continuity,' without a significant attendance requirement to understand details as they develop?
  6. Does this group of friends already have experience with the kinds of stories you like to run?

A 'no' answer to any of these questions should give you pause, though it's probably not a dealbreaker. But if you find yourself answering 'no' to a lot of them, you should probably schedule session zero for a time they can all make.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This player first and foremost excluded himself. I tried to give him a third option, to not have to leave our group entirely, as he really wanted to play. I must say I really like your idea of having a second Session Zero. I imagine it as a sort of "End of Chapter 1, start of Chapter 2" kind of moment. Where the whole group can take a breather and after having played together for a bit can evaluate whether we are comfortable including an irregular player in our midst. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 21:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TreeSpawned Then yeah, you're probably in the clear on most social issues. Seems like mostly a question of finding the best way to help him not feel excluded or like he's out of the loop in the future, then, which I'd be hopeful that could do :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Slate
    Commented Jun 30, 2022 at 21:45

Think of their attendance as optional

My experience with noncommittal players who don’t plan on attending regular sessions has been that they are not that interested in the game, and often drop out entirely after a few attendances to pursue other interests, politely citing lack of time. That the player already tells you they will not attend regularly, and is not able to make time for your kick-off session suggests this is also the case with this player.

Of course it is also possible that they would love to attend, and real-world obligations (kids, work etc.) just make it impossible.

I would invite him to attend if he wants, but not inconvenience the entire, dedicated group to accommodate his schedule. Neither would I postpone session zero.

The regular group can fill him in on what was decided in session zero. That is how this table is playing. He is welcome as a guest, but as a guest needs to accept the environment that the actual play group agreed on.


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