Setting the Stage and Expectations of Your Players and Yourself
Sep 27 , 2022
Somehow, the stars aligned and you managed to get a bunch of friends together to play some Dungeons and Dragons. Believe me, that alone is no small task. Arranging schedules in this day and age can be stressful, and Dungeons and Dragons can be an intimidating game for new players. There are all those funny looking dice, there’s note taking and paperwork, and that’s assuming it’s even a setting or style of game that they even want to play. Getting a group of five or so people to even agree on what toppings to have on a pizza can be a challenge. How do you get everyone to feel like this is what they want to invest the next several months playing? Well, my friends, let me introduce you to the concept of Session 0.
A Session 0 is a preparation session. This is a chance for you as the DM to ask questions, and more importantly, it’s a chance for the players to ask questions and set boundaries. Every table is different, I’d argue that nobody plays Dungeons and Dragons the same way. Everyone has some kind of homebrew rules the DM thinks are more fun than the ones in the book. One example is “what happens on a natural 1 and a natural 20?” Some DMs will say a natural 20 hits automatically, while some will just count them to hit as 20 plus your modifiers. What about damage? Will it be double damage or double the damage dice? Each could mean very different things. If it’s double damage, roll the die and multiply that by 2. But if it’s double the damage dice, instead of that greataxe doing 1d12, it’s now 2d12. There are some homebrew rules where if a player manages to roll a 20, they roll again and the multiplier increases. If they manage to get 3 natural 20’s, it’s an instant kill, even on the Big Bad Evil Guy. Going over these kinds of house rules prevents arguments in the long run.
A Session 0 is also a good time to mention any personal dietary restrictions. Let’s face it, you’re going to be sitting around the table for a while. You’re going to need food and drinks, and this is a good time to have that dreaded pizza argument before it interferes with the game. There’s always going to be that one person who refuses to eat pizza cut into squares. Or worse, the guy who is adamant against pineapple on any pizza in their presence. It’s also a good time to talk about food and drink etiquette. Some people don’t like having sodas and wrappers all over the game table.
Some games these days are done online. Session 0 is a great time to go over how and which system everyone is going to use. If everyone is going to play on Roll20, it’s a good idea to make sure that everyone has an account and knows the basics of how the system works. Not everyone is going to know every command in the system, but it is important to figure out how to roll, how to calculate damage, how to move your pieces, etc. It’s also good for the DM to know how to run a game online. It’s not always intuitive. How do you get the maps on screen? How do you populate those maps? How do you do initiative order? How do you keep track of damage?
Next up is for the DM to explain what kind of game they intend to run. DnD covers many genres. Is this going to be a dungeon crawl with lots of combat, or is it going to be more roleplay heavy with lots of scenes of players talking to each other in funny accents? Is it going to have a lot of puzzles that need teamwork? Will it be a murder mystery? The point is that everyone needs to be on board with the game everyone else wants to play. We’re not asking for 100% agreement or everyone walks, but there has to be an understanding of what everyone is getting themselves into. Avoid conflicts now while everyone is still friends.
In terms of content, it becomes very important to have boundaries. There are certain images some players just don’t want to have. The word “triggering” can be a loaded word these days, but the truth is, you don’t always know everything about your friends. Maybe there is some kind of trauma, and you don’t want to be the person that makes them uncomfortable. This is the kind of thing that ends friendships. Dungeons and Dragons often deals with some dark imagery. It’s a game full of monsters, demons, and evil. Scenes of ritual murders, defaced corpses, and outright madness are not uncommon.
The DM and the players have to sit down in a comfortable atmosphere where everyone has veto power. If someone says, “Under no circumstances do I want to see dead children” then the discussion is over. Maybe Curse of Strahd isn’t the game to play and it’s time to pick another, or don’t put your homebrew game in Ravenloft. Sometimes the solution really is as simple as editing that piece out of the adventure. Is seeing that dead kid really where you want to put your foot down and say it’s important to the story? Is it worth losing a player or potentially losing a friend?
All these things need to be discussed, because Dungeons and Dragons is unlike any other game. It’s not a board game that is over and done within an hour. It can be several hours at a time. It’s collective storytelling and improvisation. You’ll be surprised how invested players will get in their characters, because those characters are an extension of themselves. It’s important to acknowledge that and act accordingly. The game table should be a positive and safe environment with no bullying or harassment allowed.
I firmly believe in doing a Session 0. It’s a chance to set the tone and introduce this sandbox of a world you’re inviting your friends to play in. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to help each other come up with character concepts and how they all interact. It’s also a good time to let everyone know what kinds of characters are not welcome.
You and your friends are doing more than rolling dice, you’re building a world that belongs to all players. With that, everyone’s feelings, ideas, concerns, and boundaries are valid. This world doesn’t belong to just one person, it belongs to everyone at the table. The rules are there for structure, but the magic happens when everyone there just can’t stop playing. Everyone is having so much fun that they need to know what happens next.
This is why I love this hobby.