Across the Screen #0: Premise and Session Zero


Arguments at the table are seldom fun. Less so with alcohol.

Welcome to the first installment of Across the Screen. Here we will discuss the best practices of being a GM, being a player, and how to understand that sometimes iron barrier of the screen. This advice is geared towards maximizing harmony and minimizing issues that can bring conflict to your game table.

For the “first” entry, I will discuss “session zero”. To avoid confusion, let me explain. A session zero is something that happens before the first actual session of play, and is meant to be a discussion of characters, the campaign setting, and also of expectations of storytelling methods and game table behavior.

This may not be new advice to anyone who follows the hobby as I do, but a session zero is probably the number one way to avoid conflict at the gaming table. Rather than to create characters in a vacuum, the group can discuss the campaign, characters made for it, and the ramifications of choices that could impact gaming sessions for years ahead.

For example:

  • Will the game delve into risky issues like suicide and moral relativism? You probably want to ask if that will be alright with everyone.
  • Will you allow electronics at the table? That’s a very new and pressing issue. Sometimes it can work out if the electronics are a part of the game (character sheets, initiative tracking, real time virtual mapping, etc), but other times it can be an avenue for distracted players.
  • Are there expectations from the people at the table regarding the play area? Who pays for food? Are there any diet restrictions. If you spend as much time together as most campaigns demand, this will be important.
  • Character creation is especially important. Sometimes it is a good idea to talk not only about character concepts, but character behavior and interaction as well. Are you, as a player, making a lone wolf that would sell out his family for a modest sum? That may not be the thrust of a campaign of mostly heroic characters trying to save the world.

I can and will speak at great lengths about any of these expectations and topics of discussion, and I may even have missed some other equally important topics, but I want to briefly highlight them to show that it is vital that these things be explored. You are going to share a relatively small space with a group of people who are all pretending to be one or more people/creatures.

It’s natural that expectations may not mesh, because we are all people with idiosyncrasies. But you can at least predict future issues if you talk about them. It may be doubly important to express expectations if there are new members in the group, or if most of the group are meeting for the first time. In this case, session zero is very critical to the understanding of the group dynamic that will eventually form over what will hopefully be dozens of sessions.

And the session zero isn’t even the last word on open communication. Even with this handy method, there will be issues that will arise further into a campaign.

Next entry we will discuss solid player rules that can help you understand your role in the group dynamics.




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