Thursday, January 11, 2018
I Don't Believe in the Session Zero
One of the things that I've been seeing a lot of role-playing advocates proselytizing lately is the idea of a session zero, a session where players first get together to learn about the world and the sorts of characters they will be playing. I imagine that there are some people out there who have friends and players that are willing to indulge them in such a session - Lord knows that I read enough people talking about their session zeroes - but I have a hard time envisioning the people that I have played with ever being willing to partake in such a lackluster session. Don't take me the wrong way. The idea that you would sit down with your players and describe your world to them as they make characters that would fit in it, and that would work with each other, is a dream I would very much endorse. I've just never known anyone willing to take that sort of time to be involved in a session like that. It's too boring and our lives are filled with too much that requires our attention for such a session. We have kids, jobs, and countless other hobbies that take up our time. Sitting around listening to one person telling the rest of us how the world works and what our places in it will be isn't how I would spend my day off; and I couldn't imagine asking anyone else to do that either.
If I don't use a session zero then what do I use?
When I first started running Dungeons & Dragons I tended to attempt to cram all the world information in while they were building their characters and then launch into the adventure. I quickly came to realize that it was a waste of time on my part. There's too much going on for them to retain anything important and often the only thing that matters is that they have a character ready to go and a connection to the other players. The world, and their place in it, will come as they play.
So over the years I have begun to cull anything that isn't immediately relevant to them. The world, as far as they're concerned, is what is within their vicinity. The town and their connections to the world around them (family, teachers, and so on) are all I worry about establishing. Then I read them the short - like a single paragraph long - introduction to the adventure I would like them to play. After that I just let them go. They are the ones that will develop the story as they adventure in the world and shape it around them
In the last couple of years I've also started using pre-generated characters and a one page Quick Reference Guide that I give them during that first session. Using pre-generated characters eliminates that opportunity for that first session to bog down and allows me to get right into the adventure as soon as they come up with names and connections (something that typically takes about five to ten minutes); and the Quick Reference Guide allows me to give them a rough idea of what's around them without haranguing them. This has significantly sped up how quickly we can get to adventuring and has allowed us to get to the "good stuff," as my Lovely Bride calls it, in that first session.
So what about you cats? What do you do?
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