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Running a D&D Session 0

One of the best things you can do to ensure your Dungeons and Dragons campaign runs smoothly, is to run a Session 0 before your first campaign session. So many of the most frequent D&D problems can often be addressed and resolved before they ever occur - and a Session 0 is usually the best way to do this.

Beyond solving problems, a Session 0 also offers you the opportunity to share some of your world with your players before the campaign ever starts. This helps to get your players more invested in your world, and hopefully leaves them excited for your first campaign session. Good times, right?

What should you include in your Session 0, then, to try and make the most of it? This will depend slightly on the nature of your group, how well your players know each other outside of the game, and the kind of game you want to run - but here are a few pointers to get you started.

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How you run DnD

Everybody (whether a player or a DM) has their own style of DnD. One person may enjoy combat heavy sessions; building up XP and progressing through the levels - while another may prefer roleplay and exploration; trying to push the boundaries of the world and get a feel for the characters within it. Still another may enjoy solving mysteries, or finding sweet loot to make their character more powerful.

Then there's the question of the tone of the campaign - some people enjoy high-realism games, where you have to pay close attention to encumbrance or rations or whatnot, whereas others really couldn't care less about that side of things.

The point here is not that any one approach is better than any other (who am I to say what kind of D&D should float your boat?!) but rather that players should know what kind of campaign they're getting themselves into ahead of time.

During Session 0 then, it's a good idea to give your players a heads up about your DMing style - how serious or silly you are, how much you stick with the rules as written or are happy to bend them in favour of the rule of cool etc. That way, you can (hopefully) head off any potentially awkward encounters with rules lawyers before they happen!


Linked to the style of D&D campaigns you tend to run, it's also worth giving your players a heads up about any homebrew you intend to include in your campaign. I tend to create a lot of homebrew monsters and items that my players come across - so it's worth letting them know in advance if you do this. This isn't to say that you should let them see the stat blocks of enemies in advance or anything - but just to say that if they know the Monster Manual(*) inside out, to not be surprised if the enemies they face aren't always exactly what they're expecting.

As well as homebrew Monsters and items, you should also make clear any important homebrew rules you intend to include. Again, this doesn't have to be a super in-depth explanation of every rule tweak you're making - but if there's anything major (like changing death saves, for example) then players should absolutely be made aware of it in advance.

What's ok at your table

As part of that same discussion, it's also a good idea to talk with your players about what scenarios they are/ are not happy to roleplay within the campaign. If you're playing with a group of friends who know each other well, this may not be necessary - but if you're playing with strangers, it can avoid some of those D&D horror stories where people get emotionally triggered by having to roleplay deeply traumatising scenarios.

As a rule of thumb, I usually make clear that I'm not prepared to include any sexual violence in my campaigns, as the chances are (sadly) just too high that one of my players will be triggered by that (and also because that would be awkward as hell for me to roleplay as DM!).

Beyond that, I will mention to my players that if there's anything else they'd like taken off the table, they can message me about it privately between Session 0 and Session 1. That way ensures that I get a heads up to make sure the campaign doesn't go in that direction, while also maintaining my player's privacy so they don't have to raise anything in front of the other players.

Background to the world

It can be disorientating as a player to just be let loose in a world without any background knowledge about it. Let's be real, by the time they become adventurers, your players' characters will have been living in this world for years, so it is reasonable to assume that they will have at least some understanding of the kingdoms, organisations and factions within it.

Again, you don't want to give away all your plot points here - but a loose overview of some of the factors at play will both let your players build characters that make sense within the world (and, therefore, hopefully will give them more interesting backstories that you can draw on as the campaign unfolds) and also help to get them more engaged in that world from the outset.

With this background to the world introduced, your players can then set about building their players. Doing this during the Session 0 should make for a more balanced party, as collective decisions can then be made about races and classes - and it also gives your players the chance to weave their backstories together (which should help them to roleplay and engage with each other's characters from the outset).

They can also talk with you about ideas for their backstories and how best to tie them into the world you've created (thereby giving them a role in the worldbuilding process as well). This process of character creation doesn't necessarily need to be completed during Session 0 - if you have time between then and Session 1, then they can always complete it then instead. But if the process is started together, then you as DM should have enough of an idea of the different backstories to start to build stakes for each of your players into your story.


Eurgh. Scheduling problems are probably the biggest issue that any Dungeons and Dragons campaign is likely to face. Take any group of three or more individuals, and trying to organise diaries to find times that suit everyone can be a bit of a nightmare. Session 0 at least gives you a space to discuss this issue.

As DM, you effectively get to make the call of whether you're willing to run a session without everybody present, and how such a session will run. I strongly suggest that you tell your players you will continue to run sessions even if one or two people are missing, as otherwise it's just too easy to go weeks or months between sessions, which can kill any momentum your campaign has.

Whether you choose to let those PCs fade into the background on weeks they're not there, or have them head off on an errand, or have them played by you, or by another player, is up to you and the player who's gonna miss the session - but cancelling a session because one or two people can't make it is not a great option and should be avoided if possible.

If the storyline for the upcoming session really necessitates the missing player's character being there, or if it's the climax to a part of the campaign or whatnot, then maybe I'll run a spin-off one-shot instead of the campaign so those who can make it will still get their D&D fix. This isn't really necessary, and can take a lot of extra prep work - but it's a nice option if you've got the time!

Again, where you draw the lines here is largely up to you - but having a conversation with your party at the outset will make this a much easier issue to navigate, and gives you all a chance to set some expectations. Session 0 is a perfect time to broach this conversation, then - but it can absolutely be revisited as the campaign unfolds if circumstances change.

So, there you go. I hope I've persuaded you of the benefits of a Session 0. If you've never tried one before, give it a go for your next campaign and see the positive effects it can have on your sessions!


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