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Session Zero and Addressing Problem Players. (BTTD)


Nice Fella.
Excerpt from the newsletter Burn the Tavern Down.

This is What We are Here For
I had a request to talk about problem gamers. And I started doing some legwork and research on problem gamers and I have to say wow there is a lot of content out there.
One thing I found missing is a nice Session Zero about the expectations of the game.
During a Session Zero, I not only help people make characters, but I do the following:

Tell About What the World is Like
I explain a bit about the world:
  • How are different races/classes treated.
  • Different regions in the area. (Some people get more
    info than others based on skills.)
  • What's the level of magic: are there are ton of potions
    or are they common.
  • What's the most common threat in the area.
  • Local religions.
You get the idea. I want them going in knowing just some starter information. Maybe I have handouts. A PDF. If I'm feeling frisky, I'll shoot them some audio and ship it to their phones. Maybe stuff only they know.

Figure Out How Often We Play
Have a discussion on the times you are going to play. Weekly? Monthly? What happens if you don't show up? I had a player that would tell me a couple of hours before the game that he wasn't showing: constantly.
I get it; your kid gets sick or a comet hits your garage— totally get it. But he'd be out of town at a wedding.
So I just had a "let's all look at your calendars meetings" and figure it out and get it on the calendar. You can do invitations on your iPhone's calendar and people can accept.
But if you let me know three hours before and you knew . . .not cool. I pulled him aside and said, "Hey, I'm not sure you're understanding the work I'm putting in. It'd be respectful if you let me know ahead of time in the chat, at least three days before." He was cool with that; he honestly didn't know how his absence affected the game.
And you might have an "off month" where maybe December you don't play because there are a million holiday functions. Or you have just board game nights or smaller side quest missions. (Stagnant games tend to die a quick death.)
Never leave a game without knowing the next date. Err on the side of doing that before play starts. Not after. NOT AFTER.

Discuss Why Are We Here
I ask this question: What kind of game do you want to have?
  • Gritty.
  • Unmerciful.
  • Political.
  • Action.
  • Thriller.
  • Combat heavy.
  • Role-playing heavy.
We get people to talk about the game they want to have so we can have it together. For me, I don't do silly, goofy games. You aren't naming your fighter Strongman Strongpants. Things can be funny in game, but speaking as someone who was in a circus for a year, I'm not one to just be a goof or a clown.
If you want to name your character, Bonehead McGee in Fortnite, be my guest. We are getting together to tell a story. Maybe it's a teenage superhero story or maybe it's a something super gritty like Zweihandler (which is 50% off. . . which is crazy right now. the book is massive.) But it's a story and as the storyteller—I just don't want to get mocked.

If we agree that we are here to tell a heroic story, one our characters might not survive, life and death at the ready, then we will have a fun night. Oh, your rogue wants to kill everything that walks including innocents because that's what she'd do? Take a walk.

One tenet to tell your players is: all I want is you to do your best to move the story forward. Your story. Your fellow character's story. The overarching story. Don't impede the story or strangle it. This isn't a GM vs. Player thing. We are in it to tell a story.

And I've been playing RPGs a long time and there is this thing that happens, this tapestry that gets woven over time. When the character saves the day, when all is lost and then somehow the dice falls where they need to land, the monster is slain, the Duke is rescued, and you know that RPGs fall under something ethereally wonderful.

Go for that.

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The session 0 process isn't a bad thing, but it often should start well before first gathering.

I've used various online tools for getting session zero to be more productive, Google forms, google docs, and google sheets can be used to do a lot of the typical session zero setting work, or at least collect ideas before actually meeting in order to make the various setting ideas a shortlist.


Try to start session zero about two weeks before you intend to first play the game.

You want to be able to figure out what everyone wants to play in terms of a setting or style. And you want to help everyone make characters, approve their backstory or character concept, and help players build connections between their characters.

The most deflating thing you can do to a young campaign is spend 3-4 hours doing the book keeping of a game and start play with a vague notion of what you are going to do.

Instead, get the book keeping out of the way, prepare a scenario thoroughly, and start off with a big bang that sets the tone for the whole campaign. There will be time later to slow down and explore, but your first session should make some sort of statement, in the way that the first page of a novel hooks in the reader.

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