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Running Session Zeros

by Mike on 5 April 2021

Both Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and Tasha's Cauldron of Everything describe running a session zero for your D&D games. This article summarizes one approach for session zero sessions to help you baseline your D&D campaigns for both you and your players. While the books above go into more depth, hopefully this article gives you an idea of the basics.

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What Is a Session Zero?

A session zero is a game session run before a larger campaign in which you and your players talk about the upcoming campaign before you actually run it. Session zeros are intended to get you and your players all on the same page about the game you plan to play, and the campaign you plan to experience. Some DMs go in with little prepared, maybe not even knowing what campaign the group will play. Others, like me, have a good idea what campaign we'll be playing and want to baseline the principals and story of the game with the players.

Session zeros help everyone manage their expectations about what the game is and what it is not. It helps tie the characters to one another, to the world in which they exist, and to the main story of the campaign. It helps everyone understand what kind of game you'll be playing and helps define the boundaries of that game.

Session zeros are a huge benefit when running longer campaigns.

The Session Zero Checklist

When you're running a session zero, here's a list of things you likely want to go over during the session.

You may have other things you want to go over before your campaign begins. This is the time to do it.

Session Zero Campaign One-pager

When I prepare for a new campaign, I like to put together a single page campaign worksheet so my players can quickly internalize what I'm planning for the campaign. You can see my example campaign one-pagers below:

I've designed these guides with the following principles.

You can build your own one-page campaign guide from these principles and examples for your own campaigns.

Session 0.5

Once we've gotten past the main part of a session zero, I like to run a short session with the characters. I like to start strong and bring the characters right into the campaign with a fun short adventure and a good hook for what's to come. If the characters begin at 1st level (they almost always do in my campaigns), I like to give them a small challenge, some opportunity for roleplaying, and then level them to 2nd level before the real adventure begins.

Setting Expectations

When everyone's on the same page about a game and a campaign, campaigns run much smoother and everyone has a great time. If players come to the table without any expectations defined, they'll bring their own and a mismatch in expectations isn't fun for anyone.

Take the time to plan and run a session zero before your next big game and get everyone off on a grand adventure leading off on the right foot.

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This work includes material taken from by Michael E. Shea available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.

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