Skip to main content

Holding a Successful Session Zero


A Dungeons and Dragons campaign is a collaborative storytelling experience. Sure, as the dungeon master, you’ll be creating the world your group adventures in, but the epic tales of terror and intrigue you tell will be created by folks on both sides of the screen.

Today, we’re discussing the fundamental first step of a successful campaign: Starting with a session zero. Specifically, five tips to maximize the success of your campaign’s baby steps.

Holding a session zero has become far more popular as of late. Perhaps it is the push of character’s being integrated into the story, or maybe it’s to discuss what the campaign should be about. Regardless, I’ve been a fan of sessions zeros for quite awhile. They allow both the players and the DM to set expectations about the campaign before it begins. Most of the time, session zeros can solve any problems that may occur during play before they even arise, and they allow the players to participate in the building of the world.

Without further ado, let’s delve in!

1. Before meeting as a group, talk with each player privately

During these conversations, try and ascertain what kind of character each player would like to play. Get them thinking about their character’s race, class, and background before you all meet for session zero. In addition, talk about what they'd like to see in the campaign. Are they searching for a romp through a mega-dungeon? Do they want a high seas adventure filled with sahuagin raiders, flamboyant pirates, and titanic monsters of the depths?

If everyone’s already thought a tad about their characters, and the campaign as a whole, I’ve found that character creation goes incredibly smooth, and is much more enjoyable for everyone involved.

2. Come prepared

Before you ask your players to officially meet for session zero and create their characters, ensure you’re prepared for the process. For a campaign’s session zero, you’ll usually need the following:
  1. Information about the setting. Is the group beginning in the blistering deserts of a land forsaken by the gods, or are they delving into the depths of a jungle crawling with demons and undead? Know and remember this. Most of the time, I create a brief guide for the setting that the players can read if they’d like.
  2. Pencils, dice, and character sheets, as well as a few blank notecards and sheets of paper. The former is for your players, while the latter is for a campaign-building exercise that we’ll discuss soon.
  3. A sharp and open mind. The goal of session zero is to craft a campaign that fits both you and your players. Build on their enthusiasm, include them in the campaign-building process, and take notes on things they’re excited about.

3. Hold a group discussion about the campaign’s focus

Everyone involved in the campaign should have a voice in what it’s primary focus or foci will be. In other words, the campaign’s core pillars should be decided upon by the players, with some input by the dungeon master.

I’ve seen many methods to accomplish this, but my favorite (and what I’ll be using from now on) uses notecards and dice.

Take an arbitrary amount of notecards, and write a genre/theme/mood on each of them. Examples include horror, slapstick, epic, weird, intrigue, tactical, exploration, and episodic. Set these cards on the table. Then, give each player four dice.

Now, have the players put their dice on the theme they want most. The more dice a notecard has on top of it, the more that theme will feature in the campaign. This allows the group to openly discuss what type of campaign they’d like and gives the dungeon master a solid idea of what their group prefers. Make sure to take notes during this portion of session zero. Using the thoughts and ideas that come from this can help make the campaign last AND be enjoyable for everyone at the table.

4. Establish the setting

Before the player’s officially roll up their characters, make sure they understand the world they’ll be playing in. I’ll usually do this by giving an elevator pitch for the world and writing a short setting guide that accompanies by general world guide.

The pitch need not be long, but it should communicate the big ideas of the setting to the players.

In the setting guide, I include the brief pitch of the setting, in addition to small patches of information on iconic locations and characters, character hooks, and a trinket table. This concise packet gives the players enough information to build on using their character's backstories, and for them to feel somewhat connected to the starting location.

5. Allow the players to contribute to the campaign

Once the player characters are created, they’re woven into the world by their backstory, and the campaign is nearly ready to begin, I like to do a bit more campaign-building with the players. To accomplish this, I simply ask players a few, choice questions using a handout. The handout asks:
  • What’s a creature you’d like to face?
  • What’s an ally you’d like to work with?
  • What’s an item you’d like to see?
  • What’s a plot twist you’d like to occur?
  • If you’d like, please name:
    • An organization in the world.
    • A nonplayer character in the world.
    • A villain in the world.
    • A location of great wonder in the world.
Once this is done, I not only have the PC’s backstories to pore over but content that excites and was made by the players!

In Summary

Kicking your campaign off correctly is key to running a successful, fulfilling campaign. Holding a session zero is a great way to do that. During it, be sure to collaborate with your players and establish the setting that you’ll all be playing in for months and years to come.

Next week, I’ll be beginning a new series of blog posts about published Wizards of the Coast material. I absolutely love to read through adventures and books, pilfering any ideas I think sound great or would work well in my campaign or world. We’ll be starting with fifth edition’s premiere adventure book, Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

Until then, farewell!

Follow RJD20 on TwitterYouTube, and Facebook for more RPG content.

Comments

  1. Replies
    1. I'm glad! I might be doing a follow-up soon. Good luck in your DMing and adventuring.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Most Popular Articles of the Week

D&D Players and DMs, Be Thankful

It’s Wednesday night. The party are faced with a decision: continue toward the lair of one of their vile foes through cramped kobold tunnels, try to enter through a broken lightning rail, or turn back and face the enemies behind them. If they choose correctly, they’ll reach their destination before the mysterious Vaxilidan can complete the domination of those they hold dear. If they choose incorrectly, their loved ones will become horrific husks twisted by aberrant minds and incurable darkness. Of course, they choose the quickest and safest path: through the kobold tunnels! In single file, they crawl and slip their way down the wet passages until they arrive at a hole that leads into an ancient and flooded crypt. Dragon murals line the walls, kobold packs float in the murky water, and the cracks in the ground remind the party of a defeated foe. Their path forward muddied, they decide to delve into the crypt and a wild night of roleplaying and mad speculation ensues: kobold sarcasm and

How to Begin a D&D Campaign

The world is created, the characters are made, and the starting location is set, but how do you begin a Dungeons & Dragons campaign? There are many lines to check off on your list. Is the starting point created? Are all the session zeros finished? Is the initial plot formulated? Is the opening scene ready to go? As I prepare for the start of my next D&D campaign, Caught in Galen, I’m going to help you or anyone else out there itching to begin a campaign correctly complete their pre-campaign checklist. The D&D Campaign’s Starting Point Where will the campaign begin? This is a key question you should know before your players begin to make their characters that I dedicated an entire article to awhile back. Will the party explore the titanic ruins of a dragon empire on a jungle continent? Will they delve into the depths of the Subterrane in chase of a rogue celestial? Will they begin caught in a giant city of an inherently magical population? Know this before anything e

How to Play an Archfey in D&D

Archfey are part of the god-like trio: archfiends, archfey, and great old ones. Each member of this class is unique, from Mephistopheles the Lord of No Mercy and Orcus the Prince of Undeath, to Hyrsam the Prince of Fools to Dendar the Night Serpent. Distinct from even these unique examples, archfey live on the Plane of Faerie, or the Feywild, where they play court and war amongst each other in a land of impossible flora and fauna. Most of the time, they won’t appear directly in your campaign. They’ll be faraway actors, pulling the strings in the background as your party traverses the world. However, what if you would like an archfey or three to become major players? What if you’d like to use Oberon the Green Lord as a villain? Maybe Titania the Summer Queen as an ally? How about your warlock forms a pact with Hyrsam the Prince of Fools? Well, you’ll need to know how to play one. Outlined below are how I see archfey in my world, Eldar. They might be different in your setting

My Take on Matthew Colville’s 5E Action Oriented Monsters

Soaring into a manifest zone on their airship, the Misty Tide, the party erupts into a pocket of the Elemental Plane of Fire high above a sea of bubbling lava. Surrounding them are hissing fire newts mounted upon burning birds, prepared to hijack the airship and release the fire elementals powering it. The airship’s captain screams, “Hold out! We’ll escape ‘ere in a minute, I’ll get us through!” In response, the fiery raiders attack, lead by a striking fire newt warlock. The combat begins, and she thrusts her molten scimitar into the broiling air. The blade soars between each party member, scorching them with ease before reforming in her hands. Later in the combat, she deftly descends atop her burning bird below the airship, narrowly avoiding a blast of eldritch energy. In the struggle’s final moments, she dismounts from her tiny phoenix in a whirl, leaping thirty feet to gouge one of the party members with her scimitar and deal tremendous damage. Ultimately, she fails; the rest of