Are you about to play your first game of Dungeons & Dragons? If so, then congratulations! This can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it’s important to ensure you’re prepared for it. We’ll also provide a handy checklist that you can use as a guide. So let’s get started!
What is a Session Zero?
A Session Zero is a planning session for your Dungeons & Dragons campaign. It’s a chance for the Dungeon Master and players to get on the same page about what kind of game they want to play.
Session Zeroes are important for two reasons:
- First, they help ensure everyone is on the same page about what kind of game they’re playing. Without a Session Zero, you might have some players expecting a light-hearted romp through a fantasy world while others are expecting something more serious.
- Second, a well-run Session Zero can help prevent problems that might arise during the campaign. For example, suppose one player wants their character to be able to kill any other character without consequence. In that case, that’s something that should be discussed and decided upon before the campaign starts.
What to prepare for session 0 D&D:
- Create a character
- Come up with a backstory.
- Understand the basics of the game mechanics
- Familiarize yourself with the setting
- Think about what kind of campaign you want to play
How to Run Session Zero – Checklist
Here’s a checklist of things to do during your session zero.
- Choose your game system. Dungeons & Dragons are the most popular tabletop roleplaying game, but many other options exist. If you’re unsure where to start, check out our list of the best RPG systems.
- Decide on a story type. Do you want to run a campaign with a linear plot or something more open-ended?
- Set some ground rules. This is your chance to set limits on what behavior is acceptable at the table.
- Choose your characters. Everyone will need to create characters if you’re starting a new campaign. This is also a good time to talk about what kind of characters everyone wants to play.
- Get organized. Ensure everyone has a copy of the rules and any other materials they need. Figure out when and where you’ll be meeting and how often.
Session zero is an important step in starting any new D&D campaign. By planning things out ahead of time, you can avoid potential problems later on down the road. And if you’re unsure where to start, our session zero checklists can help point you in the right direction.
Before you start your game, the first thing you’ll need to do is explain what players can expect from the game.
You don’t need to explain every detail of the story. But, the players should understand where their characters find themselves, the idea of the campaign, and other common knowledge they would have in-game.
Dropping players who know nothing about the game can be an obstacle for the other players. They may not want to buy into the game if they don’t understand it. You should explain the game so that your players will have a good idea of what is happening.
You should also get feedback from your players about what they want from the game. That way, you can add these things into the campaign and make it more interesting for them. This will also help to create better stories and adventures for their characters.
You’ll love seeing your players react to including their backstory and playstyle into your game.
When giving your players information about the setting, one size does not fit all. Some groups might want to know every minute detail, while others prefer a broader overview. It’s important to gauge your group and give them the level of detail they’re comfortable with. Nothing is worse than feeling overwhelmed with information or bored because not enough was provided.
A good way to start is by giving a brief world history. Where did it come from? How did the gods come to be? What’s the general state of the world now? This will give your players a good foundation to work off of and something to refer back to if they have questions.
You should also provide a few key locations that will be important to the campaign. This can be anything from a single city to an entire continent. Again, the level of detail is up to you and your group. But, it’s important to at least give a general idea of where things are so that players know where they can go and what kind of people live there.
People of Note
There will inevitably be some NPCs (non-player characters) that play a major role in the campaign. It’s helpful to introduce these characters ahead of time so that players can know who they might encounter on their adventures.
Factions & Organizations
A lot of times, campaigns will revolve around different factions or organizations. If this is the case in your campaign, giving your players a rundown of who these groups are and what they stand for is a good idea. That way, they can make informed decisions about which side they want to be on.
This is also a good opportunity to introduce any major enemies that might be present in the campaign. Knowing who your enemy is and what they’re capable of can be very helpful in planning strategies.
Plot & Story Arcs
Now is the time to start getting into the nitty-gritty of the plot. You don’t need to have everything mapped out from beginning to end. But, it’s helpful to have a general idea of where the story is going. That way, you can start planting seeds for future adventures.
You should also introduce any major story arcs that will be present in the campaign. These are the overarching goals that the players will be working towards throughout the game.
Some examples of common story arcs are:
- defeating the main villain
- uncovering a conspiracy
- finding a lost city/treasure
- rescuing a kidnapped prince/princess
You should also introduce any major NPCs (non-player characters) that will play a role in the campaign. This includes allies, enemies, and anyone else the players might encounter on their adventures.
Now is the time to start getting into the meat of the adventure. You don’t need to have everything mapped out from beginning to end. But, it’s helpful to have a general idea of where the story is going. That way, you can start planting seeds for future adventures.
Laws of the Land
It’s also important to establish the laws of the land. What is considered legal and illegal in this world? What are the punishments for breaking the law? This will help players decide their character’s actions and avoid getting into trouble.
Dungeon Master Tips
Now that you have a good foundation for your campaign, it’s time to start thinking about how you want to run things as a Dungeon Master. Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Be Prepared: It’s always a good idea to be prepared before each session. That way, you can hit the ground running and avoid any unnecessary downtime. I like to write down a list of things I need to do before each session and a list of possible things that could happen during the session. That way, I’m never caught off guard and always have something to fall back on if things start to go off the rails.
- Be Flexible: Don’t be afraid to change things on the fly. If something isn’t working or if your players are getting bored, don’t be afraid to mix things up. The best DMs are always adaptable and able to think on their feet.
- Have Fun: Above all else, remember that this is supposed to be fun for everyone involved. So, relax and enjoy yourself. If you’re not having fun, then your players aren’t either.
Last but not least, you should introduce any magic items that will be present in the campaign. Magic items are a great way to add excitement and variety to the game. They can also give players an extra edge when they need it most.
Campaigns are the heart of any D&D game. They provide the structure and story that will shape your experience. Choosing the right campaign is essential to having a good time. Talk to your friends or look online for recommendations. Once you’ve found a few possibilities, do some research on them. Read the synopsis and see if it sounds like something you would enjoy. You can also look up reviews to see what other people think.
Once you’ve found a campaign you like, it’s time to start preparing. First, you need to gather your supplies. You’ll need pens, pencils, paper, dice, and miniatures (if you’re using them). If you don’t have all of these things, don’t worry. Your dungeon master (DM) will likely have some extras that you can use.
Next, you need to create a character. This is the person that you’ll be playing in the game. There are many ways to do this, so talk to your DM about what they recommend. They might have specific rules or guidelines that they want you to follow. Once you’ve created your character, take some time to familiarize yourself with their backstory and personality. This will help you roleplay them more effectively during the game.
Finally, make sure you understand the basic rules of the game. D&D can be complex, so it’s important to know what you’re doing before you jump in. Again, your DM can help with this. They should be able to give you a quick overview of how the game works and answer any questions you have.
The Tone of the Campaign
The tone is one of the most important things to establish before starting a campaign. Do you want your game to be light-hearted and funny? Dark and serious? Somewhere in between? The game’s tone will dictate how you and your players approach it. It’s important to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Otherwise, you might end up with some very unhappy players.
If you’re unsure what tone you want for your game, take some time to think about it. What kind of story do you want to tell? What kinds of challenges do you want your players to face? Once you have a good idea of what you’re going for, talk to your DM about it. They can help you fine-tune your vision and ensure everyone is on board.
Character Creation Guidelines.
You can use the official character sheets, or you can find a variety of online resources to help you create your character. There are five main stats that you’ll need to choose for your character:
- Strength: This measures your character’s physical power.
- Dexterity: This measures your character’s agility and reflexes.
- Constitution: This measures your character’s health and stamina.
- Intelligence: This measures your character’s reasoning and memory.
- Wisdom: This measures your character’s perception and insight.
How the Party Came or Comes Together
The party in any roleplaying game is a group of adventurers who join together for a common purpose. In D&D, this usually means delving into dungeons, slaying monsters, and looting their treasure. The party might be made up of friends who have known each other for years, or it could be strangers who just met at the local tavern. Regardless of how the party came together, there must be a reason for their adventuring together. Maybe they all share the same goal or just need the money. Whatever the reason, ensure everyone is on the same page before starting the game.
How the Players Want to Play
Three main ways to play D&D are Combat, Exploration, and Social. But these can be applied to many other types of roleplaying games. Find out how your players want to play the game. If they like fights, make sure to give them difficult battles. If they want to explore, send them on adventures in uncharted territory. Or, if they prefer roleplaying, put them in tricky social situations or have interesting NPCs for them to interact with.
There are different types of PvP. Some people might steal from other players or make NPCs turn against each other for their own gain. Sometimes this can lead to arguments outside of the game. If you want to avoid this, you can establish that PvP is allowed only if everyone agrees. You can also choose not to allow PvP, which can cause problems since some people might want to fight. Another option is to let players decide on a case-by-case basis whether they want to have a PvP battle.
If you have specific house rules, make sure your players know them ahead of playing. This will help prevent arguments in the future. For example, if you don’t allow D&D 5e’s Feats, but a player wants to pick one once they reach 4th level, that ruins their fun.
Another example is if I’m playing a game where flanking doesn’t confer an advantage on attack rolls. Instead, it gives +1 to melee attack rolls.
Besides what everyone usually expects from the game, like rules and characters, you should also talk about what is allowed at the table. This includes topics, jokes, and behaviors that are okay and not okay. It’s important to discuss this during your Session 0, so everyone is on the same page.
Understanding That D&D is a Game
It may sound obvious. But, it’s easy to confuse the in-game activities of a character or NPC with those of the player or GM. When the dragon consumes your character’s family, the GM most likely isn’t out to get you specifically. That is just how events unfold from time to time. Just remember that D&D is a game and not an indication of your interest in being attacked by an axe.
The most challenging monster in all Dungeons & Dragons and other TTRPGs isn’t a wizard, dragon, archdevil, god, or interstellar entity. No. The greatest adversary of all tabletop roleplaying games is putting together the schedules of four to six people to have one night off to play together.
Campaign & Session Length
If you’re the GM, inform your players about how many sessions the game should last. Also, everyone should state their willingness to play for a certain amount of time during a session. The average length of a D&D session is usually three to five hours. However, if you have a longer day available or can only play for a few hours while the kids are at practice, make all of this clear during your Session Zero.
Where will you be playing your game? At school? At someone’s house? At a local gaming store or cafe?
Make sure everyone knows where to meet. If you’re playing at someone’s house, it won’t be a problem. But if you meet at a different place for your Session Zero, like a game store, make sure everyone knows where to go.
What’s Physically Allowed at the Table
Many tables do not mind if players eat or drink at the table, as long as they do not make a mess. However, you should still make sure that everyone is okay with this before you start playing.
Another thing to consider is whether players are allowed to use their phones or not. Phones can be very distracting, which is why many GMs ban their use during play. But it is also important to find out if someone needs to keep their phone on hand for any reason.
Missing a Session
Some players will miss a session at some point. This can be for many reasons, such as things coming up, unexpected schedules, or emergencies. It is just a fact of life. So, discuss with the players what you all are okay with if someone misses a session. Many tables have the GM control the missing player’s character for the session. But just as many tables have the character split off from the party for the game. Make sure to clear whatever you decide with all the players.
Canceling a Session
If many players miss a session, it might be best to cancel the whole thing. If the GM can’t make it, it’s hard to have the session. That said if the GM misses a session, that gives players a chance to run a one-shot game.
Safeguarding and Safety Tools
There are some situations that players might find uncomfortable during a D&D game. This can include violence towards animals, body horror, or anything else that makes someone feel unsafe. If this happens, you can use your game’s safety tools to ensure everyone is comfortable again. This includes having a list of potentially disturbing content ahead of time or stopping the game altogether if things get too rough.
Lines and Veils
The DM can ask the players about their Lines and Veils at the beginning of the game. A Line is a subject or action the player doesn’t want to be included in the game. A Veil is a subject or action that should only be described in vague terms. Once everyone has agreed on their Lines and Veils, everyone else needs to respect them.
The X Card
If someone feels uncomfortable with anything happening in the game, they can show an X Card. This will mean that the rest of the group should stop doing that thing or replace it. There is a lot of discussion about different safety tools for games and what works best for different people.
There are some things you shouldn’t talk about during table conversation. This includes what kind of content is allowed in the game. Make sure you figure this out before playing. If someone is uncomfortable with a topic, don’t bring it up at the table. Remember that players are different and may have their own reasons for avoiding certain topics.
If you can take some time during Session Zero to figure out when and where the game will take place and set some House Rules, it will help you during the rest of the game. You should also Pitch Your Game to the players so they know what to expect. Finally, help them Create Characters that fit into the game. There are many ways to do Session Zero, so find one that works for you.
Hi! I'm Richard Baker, a miniature painter who has been painting for about ten years. My website is packed with great advice that I've learned from both books and personal experience on building and painting miniatures.