Session zeros are awesome. Being an old, I remember a time when they weren’t a thing, and boy, we had so many mis-steps. Beyond lines being crossed, there were very basic things that we missed, like “how long should this campaign be” and “what’s the premise”? Yes, there was a time when you just showed up with a sheet and hoped it would all turn out for the best, and that the GM wouldn’t hit you with “Oh, I decided this would be a low magic campaign and also everyone hates elves” as you sit down with your Elven Wizard. I love a solid Session Zero, and I fully believe they lead to longer, more fulfilling campaigns.
There are great guides out there as to what your session zero should cover, from the game stuff to the safety stuff. There are some things, though, that get left out because they’re boring. People want to talk about the fun stuff, like if characters know each other or if the GM is going to allow third party content. No one wants to talk about spreadsheets.
You need to talk about spreadsheets.
Notes are one of those things that happen accidentally at a table. They honestly shouldn’t be. Notes can be a huge boon to both the players and the GM, since memories get foggy and gaps in play happen.
After you get all the fun and important stuff settled, talk about who’s going to be taking notes. If no one steps up, then talk about that. I’m an avid note-taker, but I know that this isn’t for everyone. This might change how the GM chooses to run the game (fewer subplots, reminding players of critical details) or it might encourage them to record what happened another way (like an actual recording). In a few of the games I GM, no one takes notes, so I use OBS to record the screen and then upload it for everyone later.
Oh, and also important? Where are you keeping the notes?! Decide this, record it somewhere, and keep it pinned. People will keep asking if you don’t.
If there’s any place that a campaign can go haywire, it’s over loot. I’ve lost entire sessions to someone insisting that at some point, we got a certain wand, and yet no one can find it on their sheet, or discovering that more than one person wrote down a critical item as belonging to them.
Even if no one wants to take notes, I’ll often insist that someone keep track of the loot. In my games, we do this via spreadsheet. It’s taken years, but we finally figured out the minimum number of things you want to track per item:
- What was it?
- How much is it worth?
- How many did you get?
- Are we selling it or giving it to someone? Who got it?
- How much gold is everyone getting once we hit the pawn shop?
Can it seem like a lot to keep track of? Sure. But it’s also stopped several arguments about who got what, or the GM insisting we got X when it was accidentally skipped.
Streaming / Recording
This seems like an odd one to bring up, since wouldn’t you discuss this well before session zero? I’ve seen it happen a few times, though: Mid-game, someone says, hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could put this on Twitch… Or, hey, we already have these recordings. Why not put them on YouTube?
This is a good time to get everyone’s feeling on this ever happening. Some people work in jobs where they don’t want their face out there. Some are in precarious personal situations. Some just hate how they sound or look in video.
So get everyone’s feeling on this before anyone starts dreaming, because this is an all-yes/one-no situation.
Audio / Video
And while you’re at it, check everyone’s audio and video. Even if you’re all in-person, things happen [waves frantically at the world circa 2020].
The hardest part of playing TTRPGs isn’t punching above your weight class: it’s scheduling. Life is busy. People work late, get sick, have other obligations. What’s your minimum group size?
Your first instinct might be to say “everyone is here or no one plays,” but that’s the fastest way to a dead game. A more nuanced approach is deciding what the minimum number is, and how you’ll deal with balancing for it. For my games, my minimum tends to be three players, and we balance by tossing in an NPC or two during fights so that I don’t have to redo all of my encounters.
You also need to decide what the missing player was doing. I strongly advise against anything that gives anyone IC reasons to snipe at the missing PC. It already sucks that they didn’t get to play with everyone. There’s no need to rub salt in the wound.
Okay, this one feels dumb and obvious, but if you’re eating together, this one thing can make gathering super complicated. I’ve lost so much time during sessions because someone said “hey, is anyone else hungry…?”
So, during session zero, hash out food.
- Does anyone have any allergies? Food restrictions?
- How about other medical conditions? (Waves in hypoglycemia)
- Are we eating during the game? Or should everyone grab their food beforehand?
- WHERE are we eating (nothing like being told you can’t eat at the game table, only to find out there’s literally nowhere else with a flat, clear surface)
And the dumbest boring thing…
Because people will die on the hill of using physical dice over the VTT roller. Best to know from the beginning, so you can tell them they completely misunderstood what ‘pseudorandom’ means.
Why the boring stuff matters
It can feel like so much of this is silly and pointless, and that it’ll work itself out over time. However, this is the kind of stuff that can derail a session, and I’ve seen some of these things end a really cool campaign well before its time.