Problems You Run Into In Your RPG, But Could Have Been Addressed During Session Zero

“We’re going to use this system for the next game. Here’s the pitch. Cool? Cool.”

Player1: I made a quarter tiefling, quarter human, quarter gnome, quarter dragonborn, necromancer paladin.

GM: :sigh:

Player1: Hey! How come we don’t get any magic items in this game? We’re playing D&D, right? What gives? WHat a dumb adventure!

GM: :sigh:

Have you run into some of these same issues with your game?

Have you thought, “damn, if I only had a session zero to help set expectations around the table perhaps we would all be enjoying ourselves a bit more.” - OR - “if only I covered this ahead of time in my session zero…but I totally didn’t think of it.”

Let us all put an end to assumptions and failed expectations. Let us come together and help lay out some possible details that will help us all enjoy playing rpg’s.

We’ll try to consolidate suggestions, questions, advice all into one helpful document so that others can reap the positive rewards of our labor…:cough: I mean wisdom. What say you?

Suggest below, and I’ll try and put a brief statement here in a list…or something.

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In my session zeroes, I usually include and/or establish (in no particular order):

  1. expectations for the game; what are we playing? dungeon crawling, exploration, social drama, political intrigue, etc. Could also be, “What game/edition are we playing?” if that hadn’t been decided previously
  2. expectations for game play; please pay attention, no phones, etc
  3. the “no go” zones; example, no hurting children, etc. Likewise, I remind my players about the X card for gameplay.
  4. what do the players really want to do in this campaign?
  5. house rules.
  6. acceptable resources for the game; example, what books are allowed for character creation?
  7. character creation; I don’t mind if the players work on stuff beforehand but I’ve always felt like making characters and building the team should happen at the game table. I kinda picked that habit up while running Vampire the Masquerade chronicles back in the day. The more we do together before the story starts, the easier it is for us to get into the story and drama once the game starts.

I probably have a few more ideas. I’ll check my notes and add any I find from past campaigns.

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Pretty confident this has been in die roll, but may be relevant to this topic.

I agree with the above from Akodoken. I’m a HUGE fan of group char gen. It’s not a silly trust issue or anything, I trust my group (fool that I am), but I have so many moments of people “hey, it might be cool if…” and just riffing on each other. Being from the same place. Meeting each other during that event, etc.

Oh, and the quarter/ quarter/ quarter/ quarter. I’m not a 5e player, so I’ll roll back to the ol’ Complete Book of Humanoids. You want a weird 25%/25%/25%/25%? I’ll go… Aarakocra, Centaur, Pixie, Giantkin. Maybe Ranger? Bard? Ranger/Bard?

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Maybe this thread should be titled…

Problems I Run Into In My RPG But Could Have Been Addressed During Session Zero

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Hehe, almost everything on my list came from an issue.

During my Starfinder campaign, two of the players decided they were really interested in crafting and building a business. However, we were playing the Dead Suns AP, the storyline isn’t really condusive to those aspects of gameplay. So now I include a line item in our Session Zero, “Will there be time/opportunity for crafting and/or establishing businesses?”

Acceptable resources came up because we have played several D&D 5E campaigns and there is a lot of great material out there from 3PP, and some broken/poorly written material as well. I have seen some truly insane OP spells from 3PP, that when sprung on us at the table make everyone go, “Whoa, WTH!?!”

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Wait. This is a horror game? I hate horror. I thought this was a version of Toon! You guys don’t mind if my character goes all gonzo comedy do you? I promise i won’t ruin it for the rest of you guys hehehe…

Wait, my character died? That sucks. I thought when you said gritty, you meant I should spend a lot of time on my character’s nitty gritty backstory details. I spent a week writing those 10 pages, and now he’s dead after 30 minutes of play. You suck.

Wait, why is everyone talking about kissing and making out? I don’t want that stuff in my games! I want to kill vampires. You said I could play a mortal in the game! You suck!

Wait, I have to make shit up? I thought you were going to make everything up and my role was to tell you what I rolled and you tell me what happens. I’m here to passively take in the story you have made up. I work a stressful/busy job, I don’t want to think up stuff here. You suck!

Wait, why do we spend all this time talking with everyone? I made a 6 Charisma Barbarian so I could kill monsters and steal their stuff. I feel like my character is a waste. You suck!

etc

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Honestly even when I have a session zero and address various points I’ll still have players ask me if they can do that thing anyway. Usually they want to play weird races or use supplements I said no to at the get go.

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I should have asked my players to wear clothes during Roll20 with video on.

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How well do you know those players? Randos on the internet?

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This is why I’m loathe to recruit randos to my games. Especially since I’m trying to organize a regular game for my Eldest and the local talent pool is incredibly shallow.

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After a particularly bad session with lots of PVP. I questioned the group about this. Me…“I thought we agreed no pvp in session zero because of new players?”
Answer…" we did, but your expectations were unrealistic! "
Me… “OH…ok”

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Good addition, pvp vs no pvp. I forgot that is on my list too but it’s usually just “no pvp”. There’s not usually a place for it in my games BUT if it just has to happen, we don’t flesh it out. We usually do some opposed skill checks and then describe how the character thrashed each other until they sorted whatever they needed to sort.

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Both, mostly people not knowing how to use roll20. Kind of funny

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PVP can have some value but only in certain cases. I for one don’t much care for it while DMing or playing. I feel that an adventuring party should build a team that helps and covers for each other. If an adventure calls for everyone for themselves, ok but make sure this is a session zero topic.
It can also be a real turn off for new players.

Let me clarify. A little friendly competition can add fun and build comarodery. This should not lead to, in party fighting and hard feelings.

Unless the game mechanics really support pvp, like burning wheel. But yes I’m with you guys. No PvP in my D&D type games.

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I don’t have a playbook or set of instructions to share, but I love Session Zeroes so much that I struggle running one-shots – I really like taking the time up-front to level-set on a bunch of different fronts.

Some stuff I do to get a shared understanding and buy-in from the players at the table:

  • Use CATS (Concept, Aim, Tone, Subject Matter) to start the discussion. This can be a focused and fairly short discussion if you know the group well and are pretty confident that you know people’s ‘buttons,’ and such, or it can be a wide-ranging conversation that covers the system you’re using, the media and other touchstones you’re using as inspirations, and the ‘meta’ aim of the session / campaign. Is this expected to run in one session? Will it be a long-term / ongoing game? Will it be episodic or serial in nature? Is the game about the characters, the story, the setting?
  • Lines and Veils, X-card or other safety tools discussion.
  • Odds and ends, like covering the system mechanics, strengths and weaknesses at a high level, answering questions about it, etc.

Then the big one, that takes up most of the time:

  • Generate the PCs together. I try to go into that session with a number of questions to ask of them once they have the basics done. These are meant to help wire it all together – their relationships, their ties to the setting, to NPCs that get created or that I present during the proceedings, etc.
  • If the game calls for it, do some world building as well. This is all down to whether you’re running an established setting, have one of your own, or are looking to fully build the world like some PbtA and Fate games do. YMMV and all that.

In the Rad-Hack game I ran a session zero for yesterday, I had some people who are big on building the world from the ground up ask if we could use Decuma to build the setting. I had some very explicit things I wanted to do with the game, so I said no. But! Then I asked a crap ton of questions (a dozen maybe?) of each player so they would all have a strong voice in what the world was like. It worked really well. I was able to keep my main goal intact, and they got to heavily color the campaign coloring book.

(I wanted to run a post-apocalyptic game where the PCs’ community has just been destroyed by a terrible warlord, and where they have to strike out across the Atomic Radlands to hopefully find a new home on the other side. We stuck to that, and then they were able to define what their community was like, their roles in it, who was responsible for the warlord’s attack, how they got away, and what they hoped was waiting for them across the Radlands. As a result, we’re all pretty stoked about the game. Session Zero took what could have been a very lightweight one-shot and turned it into a game that I think we’re going to want to play 6-8+ sessions of. We’ll see!)

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Additional thought, especially if you are playing with randos or semi-randos… Session Zero let’s you “check the tech.” You can spell out the tools you’ll be using, test bandwidth and gear (GET AND USE A HEADSET), and generally see how long it takes to get everything rolling once everyone is online.

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(D&D 5E)
I’ve tried to lay out expectations, themes, and restrictions during session zero, but it has always resulted in premise rejection and the players making whatever the hell they want and me dealing with anthropomorphic furry supers…

Kinda why I have given up on 5E.

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I’ve seen this issue mentioned in a couple of posts… But, I started running an AD&D campaign and the hardest lesson was realizing that some of us were playing one game, others were playing another.

It came out at the table, during a combat, that some of us (the DM and one player) were using Armor Class adjustments on weapons. Two of the other players were not. This was the 10th session in.

“Why are you using your crossbow? You should be using the bastard sword.”
“Because of the AC adjustment. The sword can’t cut through, but the crossbow can pierce.”
“What are you talking about?”
“The Armor Class adjustment. Sword gets a minus against this AC and can’t hit it.”
“Who the hell uses Armor Class adjustments?!?!?”
(The DM and player) “We have been since we started.”
“Well, I would have run already if I knew I couldn’t hit it! NOBODY uses those.” (throws Players Handbook across table)

Very awkward situation that lead to me tabling a whole list of rules to vote up/down before we continued on. After a very late session 0, the game has hummed along fairly smoothly for 2 years.

I could go on to elaborate why this happened, but chalk it up to coming back to Dungeon Mastering after a 30 year layoff. By the way, if was REALLY hard setting up encounters that 1st level players could survive using Armor Class adjustments. They couldn’t hit anything! Getting rid of them skews game balance WAY more in the players favor, but frees up prep time for other stuff.

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