decided to run a new game. What’s the first thing you do? Get everyone
together, talk about what the game is going to be about, and make sure everyone
designs their characters to fit not only the theme and the setting, but into a
cohesive whole with each other? Maybe you design the campaign milieu by
In Ye Olde Days,
the GM would create a campaign setting, and then put up his shingle. If there
was anything unusual about making characters for that setting, you would know
A notice would usually contain
the system being used, and any restriction, such as “AD&D: No elves.” And
that would be enough.
days, what usually happened was that the GM (most often a DM) created a
setting, populated it, and left it open for players to explore. In this way,
players created the stories of their characters, and it really was the PCs’
stories, not the DM’s story. Moreover, you didn’t need to know what the world
would be like in order to create characters – rangers, for instance, gained
bonuses against all “giant class creatures”. They didn’t have to choose a
modern systems, the players need to know things about the world even to create
characters; in Ye Olden Days, learning about the world was part of actual play.
Now, you may
be a fan of Session 0. You may enjoy creating the world together. You may enjoy
deciding what story you are going to tell before you experience it through
play. If you do enjoy these things, then, by all means, continue to do them. No
one’s advice should trump your enjoyment of the game. Not even mine. Maybe
especially not mine.
some things you should keep in mind, though.
(1) Every detail you add to the world in
Session 0 is a detail that can no longer be discovered through play.
If you’ve decided that the world is the giant corpse of a god floating in space,
that is now something you already know going into play. Your characters
may discover it, and you
to be surprised, but you already know it. You are fooling no one.
If you are,
as I am, an aficionado of Goodman Games’ Dungeon Crawl Classics
, you will
note how the DCC core rules emphasize that the unknown in the world is what
grants it mystery, and thereby makes it compelling.
Telling the players details ahead of time, or
forcing them to make them up, can certainly be problematic in this regard.
(2) You are, perforce, creating more
work for the GM.
Each detail added is a detail that the GM must take into account, and then fit
into a cohesive whole. There is simply no way that the GM is going to be an
expert in everything the group comes up with. There is likewise no way that the
group is going to provide all the details the GM needs.
Yes, this will absolutely stretch the GM in
new directions….just keep in mind that those new directions all require work to
bring to fruition.
(3) And the game milieu will be weaker as a
Let’s say that you play once a month. In Ye Olden Days, while Sarah was
running her campaign, I could be devising mine. Having regular contact with the
gaming group, I might know that B.A. is into Egyptian mythology, and do enough
research to include it in the milieu. I might take six months, a year, or
longer whipping things into shape before presenting a ready-to-play game to my
friends. Let’s say that I do the same, but cram it into two months, just to
make sure that what I am trying to say here is clear.
instead, I have Session 0 in August, and I have to be ready to run in
September. Because I don’t know what the group input will be, my planning to
this point is going to be pretty sparse. There is simply no way to develop, in
one month, what I could have done in two.
Not only has
the players’ ability to explore been damaged by having discussed the parameters
of the world beforehand, but the world that they have available to them is by
necessity smaller, less textured, or both.
(4) You don't need buy-in to the story if you don't try to force the PCs to do what you want.
The setting belongs to the GM. The story belongs to the players.
If the story that the players want to tell is how they destroyed the GM's setting, so be it.
The setting really only belongs to the GM where the players haven't encountered it. Thereafter, it belongs to events at the table. Nothing is sacrosanct. There is nothing the GM must preserve at the expense of the players. If they can find a clever way to bend the world to their will, it must bend.
Wait a minute, chum…What if I want
to tell a particular story?
If you are
going to run, say, an Adventure Path such as Savage Tide
, then Session
0 makes perfect sense. There is no work to do to create the milieu, and you
really are trying to get buy-in to a particular game. On the other hand, all
Session 0 is doing is providing you a chance to make your sales pitch, and
wasting a game day that could have been Session 1 if you had just sent the
group an email.
So, what do you recommend then?
Session 0, take a page from Dungeon Crawl Classics
Session 0-Level. If Session 0 really is about creating characters that fit into
the world and have a reason to adventure together, then the zero-level funnel
accomplishes that handily. It also allows you to actually play
get together….and it opens up exploration of the world through play.
All of the
benefits. None of the pitfalls.
Goodman, you cunning devil!