My Perfect Session Zero

8 Aug, 2020, updated 27 Oct, 2020 checklists

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:

An X-Card

©️ 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:

  1. Don’t accidentally discriminate on race/gender/sexuality
  2. 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?
  3. 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):

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.

If I give mine first it at least gets people thinking:

And then ask the players, what are yours?

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.



Now, my perfect Sunday…

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