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Most Important Questions to Ask at Session 0

Retreater

Legend
It looks like I'm going to be taking over GMing duties tonight, starting a completely new game for my friends. I'm trying to organize my thoughts before our meeting, and I'm wanting to make sure I don't leave out anything important.

I've known these guys for decades, so I don't think content-related questions need to come up. Also, I already have the date and time for our regular games, so that's not an important question.

We're not even at the point where we know what game system, campaign style, etc., that we're going to play.

What would you make sure you ask?
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Seems as though system and genre/style seem like good starting points. You said this is tonight, so I don't know if you have time for this, but it might be a good idea to have some smallish number (3-5) of ideas for everyone else to choose among. IME it's easier to choose quickly if there are limited possibilities.

I might ask if there's anything specific content-wise the other people specifically don't want now.
 

payn

Hero
It sounds like what you were doing wasn't working, so I'd try and find out what will? Playing fantasy supers instead of fantasy Vietnam? Maybe skipping fantasy this time and trying a new genre? Shake it up.
 

hopeless

Adventurer
I assume you have a list of games you can run so ask them using an abbreviated list of those games to see which one they might like the most and go with the most popular?

Then ask them what their favourite tv series, movie or book is.

When you do your session zero go over your opening plot that was inspired by their answers to the above and see how they respond to that?

For example I'd mention I have Savage Worlds, d&d 5e, Traveller, Star Wars which would you like to play?

I once ran a Savage Worlds game based on the Sundered Isles meets Lost where their passenger plane crash landed on what appears to be a shattered world held aloft and orbiting its molten core with no idea what had happened.

So since you know them maybe you have a better idea about what they'd like to play?
 

Retreater

Legend
So since you know them maybe you have a better idea about what they'd like to play?
Yes, kind of.
The issue is that I know what they'll say doesn't line up to what they want to actually play. They'll say "deep plot, mystery, political intrigue, etc." but then they won't take notes, won't pay attention during sessions, etc.
So something lighthearted and action-oriented would probably be the best fit.
 

hopeless

Adventurer
So ask them about their favourite tv series, book and movie and use that to guide your choice?

One example I tried was using Leverage meets star wars, never got far with that but another person I played with started a Star Wars game that came across very much like that so you never know where you can get the inspiration from!
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I've known these guys for decades, so I don't think content-related questions need to come up. Also, I already have the date and time for our regular games, so that's not an important question.
I’d go over that stuff anyway just to be sure. If it’s a foregone conclusion, then it will only take a second to ask and get answers.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It looks like I'm going to be taking over GMing duties tonight, starting a completely new game for my friends
First question: how did this situation arise? Is it simply your "turn" to GM; or did your friends punt the last GM and ask you to do it; or is it that nobody else wants to GM at all?
I'm trying to organize my thoughts before our meeting, and I'm wanting to make sure I don't leave out anything important.

I've known these guys for decades, so I don't think content-related questions need to come up. Also, I already have the date and time for our regular games, so that's not an important question.

We're not even at the point where we know what game system, campaign style, etc., that we're going to play.

What would you make sure you ask?
If it's just your turn coming up in a rotating-GM set-up then you'll have to ask and-or reach agreement on a bunch of these sort of questions, starting with - as you note - rules system, style, expected length, etc.

But if you've been asked (or volun-told) to GM and-or you're stuck doing it because no-one else wants to then IMO those shots are entirely yours to call. So don't ask. Tell.

Along the lines of: "You guys want me to GM? Fine. Here's what we're playing, here's the parameters <explain if needed>, here's the system <introduce and-or explain if needed>. Start rolling up yer characters." That way you-as-GM are ready to rock right away and you can all just get on with it rather than losing an evening in a discussion that could end up with you feeling pressured into running something you're less interested in.
 

Retreater

Legend
First question: how did this situation arise? Is it simply your "turn" to GM; or did your friends punt the last GM and ask you to do it; or is it that nobody else wants to GM at all?
Can we say 2.5? (Punting the last GM, who doesn't want to do it - and no one else wants to either.)

But if you've been asked (or volun-told) to GM and-or you're stuck doing it because no-one else wants to then IMO those shots are entirely yours to call. So don't ask. Tell.

Along the lines of: "You guys want me to GM? Fine. Here's what we're playing, here's the parameters <explain if needed>, here's the system <introduce and-or explain if needed>. Start rolling up yer characters." That way you-as-GM are ready to rock right away and you can all just get on with it rather than losing an evening in a discussion that could end up with you feeling pressured into running something you're less interested in.
Well, that might be, but I still want buy-in. I'm not going to agree to run something I don't want to run, but I want to have them on board.
I'd really want to run WFRPG's Enemy Within - but I don't think that group is cut out for it given the circumstances. I'd rather put time and energy into making a good, light-hearted adventure they'll enjoy than wearing myself out with a deep, immersive campaign that I'm just going to be frustrated with.
 

The big thing I think I forget to ask my players is, "Regardless of your character concept/race/class, what do you actually want to be doing? What types of situations/challenges are going to hold your interest?"

This is different than asking, "What's the campaign about?" ("It's a musical journey!"). The campaign can be "about" saving someone's noble house from ruin, starting your own thieves' guild, or recovering the lost MacGuffin of Epiclandia. But "What's the campaign about?" is less specific than asking them what they want to be doing and the types of challenges that interface with the larger premise.
 
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aco175

Legend
If you get to the part where you are setting up PCs, you get to discuss things like no evil characters or how the group knows each other. This gets to some of the friendly stuff of play that most tables like, but the group may expect something else and there you can address it.
 

hopeless

Adventurer
Or pick up a cheap perhaps free scenario off of drive thru rpg or someplace similar to that and then establish your game using that as the background and your players own characters to see how they react to being dumped there?
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
Sometimes, I'm the one that's excited by a game, or a setting or an idea I had and I find players.

But most of the time, players come to me to play. There's a ton to cover in session 0. But in my opinion, the most important element is find out what they're expectations are. What they're looking for? You want to find out what's they're idea of playing the game, what fantasies they're latching on, what references they have.

I had a coworker coming to me last year asking if I could DM for him, his girlfriend and two of his friends. When I asked him what he was excited about, he basically described a very basic fantasy adventure where they're fighting goblins and orcs in dungeons. He told me "I want whatever Lord of the Ring is". He also said that he was most excited about playing tactically with his friends, finding magic items and going through levels of a dungeons.

I had another coworker approaching me similarly before, and it was obvious that she was expecting something close to Critical Role, so more social encounters, character development and more an actor approach to playing your character.

Obviously, you don't prepare for these two players the same way.
 

hopeless

Adventurer
Oh I don't know about that!
Ask them to describe their character's home town or village then have them located near each other, say for example those from the town end up trekking to the other character's hamlet or village to consult with a local farmer supplying the trader whose caravan they're guarding as their means of employment to be able to reach this settlement.
You learn a prized calf has gone missing with the shepherd supposed to be escorting them to market where they can be paid for and your PCs are employed to help find the missing shepherd.
Cue running across a small group of goblins and eventually discovering an ogre is building an army to invade the settlement they just came from.
Cue adventure and eventually the discovery someone connected to their kingdom is organising an army to seize power.
This ogre merely trying to take advantage not understanding they're spoiling the actual invasion and your PCs have no idea what mess they've just stumbled into...
Does that help?

And yes I agree there's more to this than that, but that was too much fun to not try and think up something!
 

Seems as though system and genre/style seem like good starting points. You said this is tonight, so I don't know if you have time for this, but it might be a good idea to have some smallish number (3-5) of ideas for everyone else to choose among. IME it's easier to choose quickly if there are limited possibilities.
When starting a new campaign, I like to present several options to my players as one-two paragraphs and have them vote on the one they prefer. Each player gets an unlimited amount of regular votes and one-super vote (that counts for 2 votes).

I generally pick the option that gets the most votes, unless it is a campaign that really polarizes the players (half love it, half hate it).
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I wrote this previously, for D&D (though the bones would stand other games). Some example I might personally use are in parentheses.

Session 0
If a new group
  • Social rules (respect the host's location; DM authority in game, everyone equal voice out of game; no PvP)

If first time DMing for the group
  • Quick overview of DMing playstyle (RP heavy, tough encounters but I'm your cheerleader. Give it a try/improvise. Failing forward, and failure just leads to a different branch of the story. Heroic or at least good-adjacent party. Lots of paths – don’t assume you have to follow a hook because I put it there. Don’t assume something is level-appropriate. Mostly serious tone, humor is good but not silly characters. )
  • Materials available (published WotC books, occasionally some UA, may have restrictions/expansions based on setting)
  • Expectations I have for players. (Try to make games, play your character, don’t use metagame knowledge, be respectful)
  • What expectations players have for me?
  • What expectations from players of other players?
  • Settling rules disputes (spend reasonable amount of time in-session (reasonable depending on severity), then will make a ruling to move forward we can continue talking about outside of the session)
  • When we play (every other X night. Will play down one, cancel down two unless it's at the last moment and people are on the way.)

Always
  • Overview of setting.
  • Rules and optional rules for this campaign (Point buy, using all WotC official that’s neutral, for FR, or for setting X, milestone XP, variant skills/abilities, possible variant rest, druids/polymorph do not need to have seen creature)
  • Death discussion (on the table/off the table/only named NPCs can kill)
    Character brainstorming and creation. (Don't need to build every character, but everyone should have an idea of the party and where they fit into it.)
  • Players should have a discussion of how they want to do loot. (This goes hand in hand with the no PvP.)

Homebrew only
  • When I'm running a homebrew world, I've only got broad strokes done at session 0, and make the overview very interactive, get ideas of what the players are interested in, where they want their characters to be from and such, so I know where to detail out. I also encourage players to come up with details related to their characters - the knightly order they are part of, who is the beggar-king they trained under, what is the culture of the western dwarves like, etc. Grant some narrative authority with my veto power. Anything they build is something I don't have to, and has automatic buy-in when it comes up in play for the creating player.
Actually, my homebrewing is heavily involved in Session 0, let me post that next because of how intertwined they are for me.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
This is just Session 0 connection to homebrew for me. Interesting on how it connects, but not relevant unless you run a homebrew AND your session 0 is a big influence on it.
Actually, my homebrewing is heavily involved in Session 0, let me post that next because of how intertwined they are for me.
Worldbuilding for me is in a bunch of phases. Here's a "standard" campaign, though it can (and always does) vary based on other aspects, like I'm currently running a frontier/exploration game that definitely modified this.

First phase is very broad strokes, view from 50K feet sort of thing. What I want is things made of plot hooks and awesome. I want players to hear about this without being overwhelmed, and be able to go "I want my character to be from there" or "I want to adventure there". Details are my enemy at this stage.

Then session 0 with the players. Where we discuss the world, what they are interested in, and make characters. I give my players a lot of narrative control around their characters and other things. One player wanted an order of knights that guarded these netherportals where you left behind you old life to join. Easy. Another, a druid, wanted the moon to be the skull of a decapitated god and the land to be their body, so that druidic magic literally was a connection with the divine flesh. A little bit of thought if this interfered with anything else, and then sure, why not. Player buy-in on ideas they come up with is very high.

This gives me big vision ideas about the direction the campaign can go.

From there I will have an idea of the group and how (/if) they know each other, so I can figure out where they are starting. I flesh out the area, adding some details on a moderate-big scale, then more on a smaller scale, and so forth until I have a well fleshed out starting area.

As part of that I'm thinking about what types of questions the uniqueness of this setting is good to answer, stories that fit better here then a generic world, especially giving the nature of our protagonists. I start to work out some ideas for those stories, but really just ideas into "Act II" - none of it is true until it hits the table, but I do want things I can foreshadow and have reasons for why.

So then I work out some starting adventures, flesh out the world for what I need for those, and work out some character arcs to weave in around everything else which also often requires making organizations, understanding politics and tensions, and otherwise adding details to the world.

Then, as the group adventures I pay attention to what the players seem most interested in. I make sure to seed that liberally into adventures, and further flesh out the world both to deal with their explorations and travel as well as to support stories about their goals and to further their character arcs.

In the end, I may have parts of the world untouched, and others crafted in loving detail. But it really happens over the course of campaign, directed by player interest, character actions, and the consequences of them.
 

In a word, expectations.

What we expect from the player (show up on time, every time, personal hygiene, personal habits)

What the player expects from the game (for example, our group bans all PvP, no evil PCs, no power trips, low-power settings, play your own gender, , and so forth: will this fit the player's expectations and interests).
 

The most important things to set up at Session 0 are the hard rules: These are things players must do. These are things players must not do. These are things the DM will always do, these are things the DM will never do. These are the minimum guidelines all people must follow.

There's a lot of fuzzy guidelines, like play style and preferences, that most adults can figure out how to work out over the first couple of sessions. But setting up the absolutes early on ensures no one ends up uncomfortable, or quitting.
 

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