My Perfect Session Zero
8 Aug, 2020, updated 27 Oct, 2020
This is a post I’m going to write and re-write. It will never be finished, as, if nothing else, when it gets too long, no player will want to answer all the questions and then it’ll be useless.
Updated: September 2020.
It’s also aimed at myself, and is not intended any other sources, which I also recommend:
©️ John Stavropoulos
Fundamentally, most of the “How do I resolve this problem in my group?” questions from GMs on
/r/rpg come down to (IMO):
My player(s) want to play a game like X and I want to play a game like Y
Sometimes this is “they think it should be played” but, same difference.
Not counting of course
/r/rpghorrorstories. This won’t help that, but if nothing else, if I can have a checklist (oh BOY I love checklists) maybe I can achieve the following:
- Don’t accidentally discriminate on race/gender/sexuality
- Be sure my players and I want the same kind of game. Is it a horror game? Is it a comedy? How gonzo are we going?
- Make a ‘social contract’ for want of a better word, how much effort are we all going to put in?
So to hit #1, I think a statement, either in the game, or in my #lfg advert:
And just to say, this is for LGBT-friendly folks who think Black Lives Matter.
Is that enough? I’m not listing all the protected characteristics that I don’t want to discriminate against. And I’m not listing my pronouns, although my username on Discord will typically be showing them already. However I think it’s a strong hint: this is a pro-diversity group. I doubt someone would turn up to game with that description and start calling people snowflakes.
If you don’t like that, then fuck off.
©️ Aaron Reynolds.
Anyway, then I’d probably repeat that in the Session Zero itself. Followed shortly with:
I want to learn, please tell me if I fail in this.
I have many privileges and I’m really bad at remembering them. I already know this. And if I can ask a player to do the initiative tracking, then I can ask them to tell me if all the NPCs for the last two sessions have been guys.
These next ones are from a conversation with Koan Mandala:
You mind if I stop to look up the rules? I’ll make a ruling if it takes too long, but I want to get it right.
Edit: This misquote wasn’t “menacing enough”, sorry KM!
There are no rules lookups. I make rulings and if it’s a bad one we make amends next session
If I’m running something new, I want to get it right first, so I know which bits I can be looser with. I don’t want to (unintentionally) house-rule a game without trying to follow the rules first. But I’m very easy to distract with a “what’s the correct rule” question - although on D&D I’ll just see what turns up on the stackexchange for it.
Players should not (without up-front agreement):
- play psychopaths or sociopaths (“but i’m Chaotic Good”)
- split (or not join) the party
- go round seducing NPCs (or PCs)
They had a much longer list but I’ve picked the ones that speak out to me the most.
Lines and Veils (the X card)
I originally started off with “what are your taboos?” but actually I like the lines and veils idea.
- Lines: a hard limit, these shouldn’t be seen at the table at all.
- Veils: okay this can happen, but I don’t want to describe it in detail. The ‘camera’ zooms out, fades to black, whatever.
If I give mine first it at least gets people thinking:
- No sex please, I’m British 🇬🇧. Seriously, I’m not a prude, but I don’t think I can do it tastefully. A line, I don’t even want to cover characters hitting on each other right now.
- No sexual harrassment. Same.
- Micro-aggressions are Veiled. I didn’t even know this phrase a year ago 😔. But I’d veil these. “The farmer treats you dismissively” sets that he’s close-minded but I don’t want to act it out.
- No torture.
And then ask the players, what are yours?
- Is swearing okay? If not, I’m fucked.
I mention it finally here, but would like to discuss it first, you don’t need to explain your reasons for Lines and Veils. It Is Not Up For Debate. There is a crucial difference of asking “what do you mean by that?”. I’ve realised that’s important so I can be sure I’m following someone’s wishes.
Worth noting Monte Cook’s (free) PDF I linked to above also includes an actual checklist to go through, but I won’t use that. It’s too formal, and (despite it literally says this is not the case) I think players would then feel it’s too final.
- Combat / Investigation
- roll-play / role-play
- VTT / ToTM
- Here are the tools we’re using, do those work for you? Seriously, I don’t even know how roll20 and discord and all the others or IRL might be a problem or not. Maybe we’re playing in person and you can’t see the map well on a big table. But rather than trying to think of all these things - I should just ask!
- How’s background music? I learnt this week those on the autistic spectrum can be distracted by it. Certainly I can be, so I’m using it in moderation. But again, never would think to ask, so on the list.
- Push-To-Talk on voice. You might think this is just a good rule, but also again for those with concentration/distraction issues.
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Now, my perfect Sunday…