Managing Expectations (Why Session 0 is Important)
Special thanks to our friends at Arcane Eye for helping out with this post!
Making sure you are on the same page as your players is an incredibly important practice that enables your campaign to be built on a solid foundation.
Session 0 is where you get together with your players, not to play, but to set expectations for your table and campaign. There are a number of ways to run a Session 0; here is a tried and true template we have used on numerous campaigns:
Making sure everybody at the table respects each other’s time and fun is very important. Campaigns can run for weeks, months or even years. Some players have different ideas of what getting together for a night of gaming looks like so it is very crucial to set ground rules.
The topics in this section are likely going to be the heaviest, but you and your players will be glad you set expectations for these upfront.
- Alcohol: Do you allow others to indulge at your table? If so, is there a limit/expectation for players to be aware of?
- Phones/laptops at the table: Are you using laptops and D&D Beyond or Roll20? Or are you playing with battlemaps and paper character sheets? Are players expected to put their phones on silent and keep them away while playing?
- Game schedule and player absence: When will you be playing? How long will you be playing? What happens when a player or players can’t make it?
- Snack schedule: Is there a rotating snack schedule? Is the DM exempt? Or is Inspiration given if you bring snacks?
- Unacceptable behavior: What are off-limit topics at your table? Is murder hoboing allowed? Can players steal from one another?
This is where things start to get a bit more fun. If you come into Session 0 with a plan for your campaign, this is a great opportunity to brief your players about the setting. If you are still working on the setting, this can be a great opportunity to see what type of game your players want to play. It’s important to tailor the style to what your players enjoy. If you force a roleplay heavy narrative but your players told you they only want combat scenarios, the group may fall apart.
- Campaign setting: Are you playing a prewritten module? If not, are you playing in an established fantasy world or a homebrew world? What is the vibe of this world? (grim horror, high fantasy, low fantasy, urban, swashbucklin’ pirate adventure, etc.)
- Type of game: Is this going to be a classic tale of adventurers saving the realm? Will it be a Game of Thrones-style political situation? Or are your adventurers going to be put to the test with some gritty realism?
- Allowed sources: What sources are allowed? Are there any restrictions on classes, races, or backgrounds? Are there any implications of being a certain class or race in your world?
- Leveling characters: Will you be using XP or milestone leveling? What level will players start at? What level will the campaign go to?
I truly believe in keeping house rules in a “GM Binder” so that you have a collective source of all the customized rules you run at your table. This is a great opportunity to introduce players to this binder and let them read it over. If they have any questions they can ask you before play begins.
- House rules or optional rules: Are there any house or optional rules that you play with that your players should be aware of?
- Omitted rules: Are there any official rules that you or your players are not personally fond of?
How to use this template
At the end of the day, this template is meant to provide a framework for your Session 0. If you have already played with a table before and know how people react to certain subjects or behaviors, feel free to skip those sections. On the other hand, if you are playing with strangers you might want to introduce yourselves and discuss your past D&D experiences on top of what is provided in the template.
D&D is really all about having fun and telling a collective story. Making sure everybody has an idea of how to make everyone feel at home and included is the best way to set up a conducive environment for some good D&D.
Do you have any Session 0 tips that you have used in the past? Feel free to share them in the comments below!