Is Session 0 wasted playtime?

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Over on another thread, someone made an interesting statement. He said he's opposed to Session 0 as a concept because campaigns often don't make it off the ground. I guess this means that the session is wasted in his mind.

I never used to do Session 0 for anything, but now I swear by them. It's far too easy to throw an idea out there (let's play commandos in North Africa!) and then muddle around cobbling together the necessary toolkit to make the game happen. Interest wanes because people don't have specifics to latch onto. With Session 0, everything is established in a systematic, organized manner. Appropriately done, Session 0 makes Session 1 (and beyond) run without a hitch.

Sure, it seems as if Session 0 takes up time that'd be more fun playing, but essentially, we were all doing Session 0 before Session 0 had a name. At some point, we had to sit at a table and hash out the particulars of a proposed game, make characters, and otherwise participate in group prep. And I don't know about anyone else, but if there's an hour or more left at the end of a productive Session 0, I'll often start to play right then and there.
 
I like to start playing in the first session, so “session 0” stuff should hopefully fill no more than about half the session and then we get a half-session worth of play in to entice the players to come back for session 2.

That’s one of the reasons I prefer games where character creation is pretty quick (and make tools and shortcuts to make it even quicker). Ideally IMO even a table of 6 total n00bs should be able to create characters, get an orientation on the system and setting, and actually start playing within about 60-90 minutes of sitting down at the table. The idea of spending 2-3 hours (or more) on setup and background stuff and then not getting any actual play in is a huge turnoff for me, on both sides of the table.

And yes, I have sat through “session 0” games where the GM does a huge lore dump about their setting and everybody generates detailed characters with a bunch of backstory hooks and connections to the other PCs and we’re all promised it’s going to be super-awesome and immersive and then “session 1” never happens, or if it does only half the players from session 0 actually show up so most of what was established can’t actually be used and it’s flat and disappointing and quickly fizzles. It’s frustrating and annoying, and almost certainly what put me off the “session 0” concept.
 
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Sure, it seems as if Session 0 takes up time that'd be more fun playing, but essentially, we were all doing Session 0 before Session 0 had a name. At some point, we had to sit at a table and hash out the particulars of a proposed game, make characters, and otherwise participate in group prep. And I don't know about anyone else, but if there's an hour or more left at the end of a productive Session 0, I'll often start to play right then and there.

I agree that it's not a new thing at all. To me, "Session 0" is just a name for the pre-game process that every game has in some form or another. It doesn't mean that's all you can do for that session, especially if there isn't much to go over.
 
I never used to do Session 0 for anything, but now I swear by them. It's far too easy to throw an idea out there (let's play commandos in North Africa!) and then muddle around cobbling together the necessary toolkit to make the game happen. Interest wanes because people don't have specifics to latch onto. With Session 0, everything is established in a systematic, organized manner. Appropriately done, Session 0 makes Session 1 (and beyond) run without a hitch.

Sure, it seems as if Session 0 takes up time that'd be more fun playing, but essentially, we were all doing Session 0 before Session 0 had a name. At some point, we had to sit at a table and hash out the particulars of a proposed game, make characters, and otherwise participate in group prep. And I don't know about anyone else, but if there's an hour or more left at the end of a productive Session 0, I'll often start to play right then and there.

Like Turkey Lurkie Turkey Lurkie, I think it depends a lot on the group--but also on the game. Systems that have lengthy or complex character creation probably do require session 0 or its equivalent. Systems where you can create a character in 5 minutes tops, like The Black Hack, not so much. There's also the question of play-style: do you like to play or gm characters with developed backstories that provide strong goals and motivations, or do you prefer fairly blank slates that develop during play? If your preference is for the latter, then session 0 is less important.

I don't quite understand the argument that you are making in the section I bolded. You seem to be suggesting that the gm floats a general idea, like commandos in North Africa, works on the game for a while, and then comes back to start it--but player interest in it has evaporated. I'm not sure how session 0 is a fix for that.
  • If the gm has to kitbash a system or something similar for the game, then session 0 isn't going to occur until after that process is over--there won't be any way to generate characters without knowing the system. So there's still time for interest to wane.
  • If the "cobbing together" is fleshing out the setting, figuring out some missions, NPCs, etc., then probably that won't happen until after session 0--or if it happens before, there is still the issue of the gap between the original floating of the idea and session 0 and the subsequent session 1.
I guess spending more time discussing the setting and game early on could increase player knowledge and buy in, so they'd be more willing to wait for the necessary development work.
 
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I like very much starting a campaign with '0 level', simple characters, a'la the DCC funnel (an idea that is adaptable to almost any game). But I hate spending a session on character generation and just general futzing around explaining the setting or whatever. To me, that kind of evening sucks all the fun out of the hobby. So, I make sure everyone either has a PC in hand when they show up for the first session, or is willing to grab a pregen and go (easy for the game I run most often, TFT, for which I have literally 1000+ pre-gen character cards).
 
I think I only ever did a formal session 0 once, and that was because I try out a collaborative setting building excercise with the player. Each player took turns placing a virtual Post-it on the Jamboard to build a Wild West town. I think I posted this image before.

games-3.png

It was very effective getting the players engaged and familiar with the setting without any exposition. It was even more effective in cutting down my game prep effort.

Even then it wasn't a full session 0, I had a generic opening scene planned anyway so we got to play for at least half the session.

That said I don't generally have an issue getting players on the same page (one of the main reasons given for session 0), whether it is my regular group or strangers; either my game pitches are clearly expressed or maybe they just very simple. With regulars we often exchange character ideas and possible link over email in advance, or just adjust and retcon things in play until things click.

As a player, I only player I seem to recall only doing the session 0 thing once, for Avatar. I don't think it really solved anything, the link between characters and their motivations remained vague.



Spending a whole session to plan and agree what and how we play feels like a pretty big overhead given how we all live busy lives.
 
Originally I liked the idea of Session 0, but the more I've played since I first heard the concept, I find:

1. It's much better for me to make a campaign pitch
2. I play games where there's going to be a session of chargen to launch the campaign (future players will roll up offline)
3. I run open ended sandbox campaigns and we have new players joining
 
I like very much starting a campaign with '0 level', simple characters, a'la the DCC funnel (an idea that is adaptable to almost any game). But I hate spending a session on character generation and just general futzing around explaining the setting or whatever. To me, that kind of evening sucks all the fun out of the hobby. So, I make sure everyone either has a PC in hand when they show up for the first session, or is willing to grab a pregen and go (easy for the game I run most often, TFT, for which I have literally 1000+ pre-gen character cards).
Sadly I end up liking games with involved chargen... And when starting, it never seems to work out to do the chargen offline. For players joining after the campaign has started, offline chargen has worked out well (though we often don't quite manage to finish before the next session, so a bit of session time gets used for completing something in chargen that's necessary to play - other stuff can just be finished in the next two weeks offline).
 
There are games that mechanical ties between the characters (relationships of various sorts) as well and mechanical involvements with NPCs of various sorts, and possible some shared world/setting building. Those games usefully profit from a more specific session 0.
 
There are games that mechanical ties between the characters (relationships of various sorts) as well and mechanical involvements with NPCs of various sorts, and possible some shared world/setting building. Those games usefully profit from a more specific session 0.
I'll add to that by saying that Session 0 gets it more away from what I want the game to be and more towards what the group wants the game to be. Without it, even though the group agreed to the pitch, sometimes they are not invested once we get in the game because of something they don't like.
 
I'm still not sure what a session 0 is. I do group chargen sessions before we kick off for games with involved chargen. Is that a session 0?
Yes. The GM also usually gives whatever background info about the setting/adventure that the players are expected to know, and probably figures out how the PCs know each other and decided to adventure together and how they got to the “jumping off” point where the first adventure begins.

Some GMs/groups also like to use this time to discuss and hash out “social contract” type stuff - how much graphic content of various types everybody is comfortable with, how much PvP is acceptable, what happens to the character of a player who misses a session, how long the campaign is expected to last, who’s going be responsible for bringing snacks, etc - but that’s optional.
 
I want to state that for most of my 40+ years of playing RPGs I have hardly ever done a session zero. Having said that, I see two times when it has a lot of value.

(1) Getting a new group together. We get to discuss expectations. What kinds of characters, silly versus serious, deadly versus cinematic, that sort of thing. Puts everyone on the same page for the style of the campaign.

(2) Doing something unusual. If I want to run a horror game, or something that isn't like my usual campaigns, I think a session zero has some value. This is where I can explain my concept and be sure that everyone understands the style of the game I hope to run. Horror is the obvious case for me where if everyone doesn't buy into the concept it would totally fall flat, but I'm sure there are others.

Most of the time my campaigns are pretty typical, but if I try something different and a person skips the intro I find those are the times when either players or DM are disappointed with the way the campaign turns out.
 
I've pretty much never used a session zero, but I don't play with strangers usually. The closest I came to a S0 was when I first ran D&D5 to a newly formed group and I asked (told really) the players to think about why/how their characters know each other before thinking about class or race (essentially background first, like I think it should be done). Not ten minutes passed by when the newest player (whose RPG virginity I took then) asked another player "So, what class and race are you going to play?" So, yeah.
 
Some GMs/groups also like to use this time to discuss and hash out “social contract” type stuff - how much graphic content of various types everybody is comfortable with, how much PvP is acceptable, what happens to the character of a player who misses a session, how long the campaign is expected to last, who’s going be responsible for bringing snacks, etc - but that’s optional.
That's actually the stuff I consider vital. It's not as heavy as people sometimes make it out to be. But establishing lines round PvP or how many dick jokes are acceptable etc. helps avoid issues down the line by getting everyone on the same page.

I generally don't use it for character creation; I prefer to do complex gen one on one. And I put my lore/setting dumps in a document so it can be more easily referenced.
 
Nope. I like Session 0's, then again I often have several different campaigns I
want to run and am mostly set up for--so I don't have to take very long to assemble anything, I do that before I pitch a game.

Very few people I play with use them, but I feel they should so we're all on the same page.
 
Yes. The GM also usually gives whatever background info about the setting/adventure that the players are expected to know, and probably figures out how the PCs know each other and decided to adventure together and how they got to the “jumping off” point where the first adventure begins.

Yes, and also discusses who the characters are (e.g. a team of effectives for the Interplanetary Journalists' Guild), what they will do on adventures (rescue journalists in difficulties (including prosecution and imprisonment) and very discreetly abate threats to journalistic freedom and integrity, dealing with the bizarre society and perverse government of each planet of the month — without official authority and immunities, and usually under cover), and who occupies which niches of capability and characterisation.

Session Zero is where you resolve ambiguities and clear up misunderstandings in the campaign specification, brainstorm character concepts, sort out who is covering which capabilities, and contrive that not everybody ends up trying to play the same sort of gruff loner. It goes before or at the beginning of character generation in games, settings, and campaigns in which that stuff is not all a forgone conclusion. How much of it you need depends on how much of the work is done by the choice of rules set, and on how clichéd the campaign is.
 
It certainly feels like it, but when a campaign blows up because everyone is not on the same page, that's wasted time, too. I prefer to do character gen by email ahead of time, do a short session 0, and then go straight into playing. I really think playtime in the first session is important.
 
How often do you use general-purpose RPGs that lack any built-in assumption of what the setting will be and what core activity the PCs will take part in, and that don't provide niche protection for different character types?
I pretty much never use general-purpose rules (unless one counts D&D as one), and I don't believe in niche-protection. I find that players niche-police themselves very much, sometimes making their characters one-trick-ponies even in skill-based systems. I would be ecstatic if the players would come to me with an idea, like 'we all wanna play rogues', 'we are a traveling troupe of performers', even 'we all grew up in the same orphanage', but no.
 
It certainly feels like it, but when a campaign blows up because everyone is not on the same page, that's wasted time, too. I prefer to do character gen by email ahead of time, do a short session 0, and then go straight into playing. I really think playtime in the first session is important.
Almost like in Spacemaster that we are playing now. :tongue:We spent two whole sessions just crunching numbers for our third level characters, and I later got to know that I did it all wrong, because the GM didn't supervise closely enough!
 
I pretty much never use general-purpose rules (unless one counts D&D as one), and I don't believe in niche-protection.


Fair enough. Session Zero is much less needful when you are running a tightly-focussed special-purpose RPG such as D&D that has strong assumptions about the core activity and character classes to define niches and enforce functional specialisation.

When it is not clear from the rules what the PCs will do on adventures, when functional specialisation and cast calculus have to be done manually, and when character generation is more involved, there is greater need for the group to collaborate on collective decisions before starting character generation.
 
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I’ve always liked “Session 0”, hang out, discuss the game and general “you should know” stuff and create players. Ideally actually start the game up to where the first commercial break would be (if that makes sense).

What I don’t like is when it’s a must because character creation itself takes an hour+.
 
I've never been one to do a session 0 in the sense of everyone sitting around the table and doing all that stuff.

But, that isn't to say I don't do "session 0" type stuff. I just find session 0 very much fits in the "could have been an email" level things. Every game I run now has a discord channel for us to keep up with each other between sessions. Almost all the session 0 stuff is easier to do by just dropping messages to each other about ideas for characters, how to tie them together, asking if certain mechanics for the system are being used, asking about the setting, vibe, etc, rather than taking up in person time doing it.
 
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I've never been one to do a session 0 in the sense of everyone sitting around the table and doing all that stuff.

But, that isn't to say I do't do "session 0" type stuff. I just find session 0 very much fits in the "could have been an email" level things. Every game I run now has a discord channel for us to keep up with each other between sessions. Almost all the session 0 stuff is easier to do by just dropping messages to each other about ideas for characters, how to tie them together, asking if certain mechanics for the system are being used, asking about the setting, vibe, etc, rather than taking up in person time doing it.
I am envious that your players discuss the campaign in your discord. Mine mostly just post horny bard memes.
 
I think it's a decent idea in theory but I've never used it formally per se.

If I'm playing online I always put the game's style and tone out beforehand so people already know what they can expect. But if I did have one I'd keep it brief.
 
It's not wasted playtime at all, though I suppose it depends how strictly you interpret "Session 0" as meaning everyone actually sitting at the table. There's a lot of things such as character generation, discussing what everyone wants and expects from the game, what people are not OK with, organising schedules, etc, that I would call "Session 0" but a lot of which can be done by email. Probably the only part of Session 0 that requires everyone to be in a room together is that part of chargen that ensures the party's going to be functional and mesh well.
 
30 minutes to discuss everything? Sure, anything more than that is a waste.

I also have the same feelings about backstory. If it it’s longer than 5-8 sentences, I stop reading

To be fair, I also ran meetings like this as well. At 30 minutes, I’d stop the meeting. My staff eventually got good at giving distilled, well crafted information
 
I always do a session zero at the start of a new game. Mostly this is because I always want to do group character creation and also because we tend to rotate games/genres/tone with each new game. So I explain what play should involve and get the players’ feedback on that so we’re all on the same page.

With the group character generation, I consider that very much a part of play. It’s a chance for everyone to contribute to the setting and to start establishing some of the ideas we’re likely to examine in play.

A lot of times we’ll still have time to play when all that’s done, but if not, then it’s no big deal. It’s certainly not wasted time.

I actually ran a session zero last night for Mothership. We made four PCs and established a lit of details of the setting, as well as how the characters know each other, and what’s brought them to the situation in which the game will start. I’ve gotten feedback and setting details from them that I’ll incorporate into the world… a couple factions, some locations, a previous employer, and some other NPCs. Also, some recent history in the system they’ll be starting in.

We probably could have started playing last night, but I didn’t want to just jam in as much play time as we could… I would rather begin when there’s no time crunch like that.

All in all it went well, and I’m looking forward to the game. The players seem psyched as well.
 
I consider role-playing to be a social experience, so session zero is just a slightly different form of socializing and gaming. It can be useful to help players get mentally settled in the game. As long as it's not done (for some strange reason) expressly to delay the actual game, I enjoy it as part of the process.

I've run into a lot of GMs who feel compelled to drive the pace of play. I think that's great if you're playing a one-shot, especially at a convention. But otherwise, I like to let things breathe a bit, and I'm totally fine with people getting sidetracked into off-topic conversations, as long as everyone is having a good time. What's the rush? There's no destination, here. Yadda yadda the friends we make along the way.
 
I sometimes do a lot of session zero over WhatsApp mainly to introduce the setting and take questions, and I have done a few session zeros on Zoom mainly for the players to know what characters the other players are playing (so the players won't have to travel for a one-hour thing), and I liked doing Session Zero+ for new systems where we all create characters and I start the campaign and run one fight so we all get a feel of the combat system and the PC builds, so the players can tweak their characters if desired.
 
I don't remember a time when I didn't do some sort of pre-game thing, either separate from the first game session or right before it.

I don't do online games, so this only relates to in-person campaigns...

These days I do "Session 0" in a couple of different parts. What that looks like depends on whether it is a new group or an existing one. In general, though, I go over my GMing style, what type of game I am running, behavior rules, etc. with potential new players before I ever let them join a game. If they agree to everything and indicate that it sounds like a fun game, I (usually) let them join in for a session or two, so we can see if it is a good fit. I go over everything again right before the first session, though, and make sure everybody is still buying into everything. Nobody goes into my games without knowing what to expect.
 
It's far too easy to throw an idea out there (let's play commandos in North Africa!) and then muddle around cobbling together the necessary toolkit to make the game happen.

Yeah, that's not a thing that happens at my table. I don't bother pitching a game unless I'm ready to make it happen and have enough ideas to keep it going for a reasonable amount of time. We might have a Session 0 to do group character creation and spitball ideas (or maybe part of a session depending on how involved the process is), but then we're playing the game.

Do I find Session 0 to be wasted playing time? Not when it's done right, because then I get much better play in Session 1 and beyond. The investment's more than justified by the payoff.

Back in the old days, we used to do some of that stuff by email, but I find it's a less efficient process than just talking to each other. Of course, the people I'm playing with are friends, so we enjoy hanging out anyway. That makes any comparison to a work meeting pretty useless.
 
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