D&D Session Zero – The Formula for a Great Start

Last Updated on November 15, 2023

The Session Zero is a chance for both players and dungeon master (DM) to get on the same page about everything from scheduling and safety tools, to house rules and the style of game you all want to play. 

It’s understandable if you – as a player or DM – are feeling a little overwhelmed.  

In short, a Session Zero is an opportunity for both players and DMs to get on the same page before a campaign begins.

D&D works best when everyone at the table agrees on the kind of story you all want to tell together.  Here is our list of items to cover in your session zero…

Our Session Zero Checklist:

  1. Logistics: When and Where you’ll be playing.
  2. Rules: This is the How of playing.  Determine the ruleset, edition, any House Rules or non-standard rules you’ll use.
  3. Safety/Personal choices: Decide what content is preferred and what is not acceptable.
  4. DM Pitch: The DM can come up with their thoughts on how this campaign will go, see our Example Pitch: Rebellion in the Emerald Wood (click here to view, print, and download the example pitch).
  5. Character Creation: Anything out of bounds should be discussed, party makeup, backstories, names, roleplay voices, and more.

1. Logistics: When, Where and How to Play

One of the most important things about playing D&D is, well, playing D&D.

When… Dates, Times, Options

When you sit down for a Session Zero, one of the most important things to get out of the way first is to settle on how often you’re going to play.

Talk openly and honestly about your schedules, including potential future conflicts with family and work, in order to come up with a schedule that works and, more importantly, everyone can stick to. 

Where… House, Game Store, Online?

I’ve run games of D&D in living rooms, the back rooms of bars after closing time, in a school gymnasium, on a houseboat, and around cramped kitchen tables. I even ran a short campaign in a greenhouse once.

When you sit down for your Session Zero, talk about where everyone is comfortable playing each session. 

Of course, there is always the online option as well.

For this option check out: Foundry VTT, Fantasy Ground, and Roll 20 for your tabletop.

I like to communicate via Discord for both voice and text.

2. Rules of the Campaign

There are a few other real-life concerns that are worth going over during Session Zero.

What’s the DM’s policy on food or drinks at the table? What about phones?

One of the most important things you can do to improve the resilience of your D&D group is to establish rules for what happens when some people can’t make it to a session.

My current group plays D&D 5e on the weeks where everyone is available.

In the somewhat frequent event that one or more of my players is missing we play other, more rules-lite, games. 

Editions, House Rules and Homebrews

Every DM runs D&D a little differently; it’s one of the beautiful things about this hobby. 

Simple things like what ruleset, which edition, and any house rules you might want to include.

In addition to let your players know where you stand on things like dropped dice and metagaming.

You can also talk to your players about the themes and content that they are comfortable with, as well as giving an overview of Safety Tools if you use them.

Speaking of which…

3. Safeguarding and Safety Tools

D&D is a game, and as such should be fun for everyone who plays it (including the DM).

To make sure that your game of D&D is as consistently fun as possible, it can be helpful to choose one or more Safety Tools. 

There are a number of techniques that can help make sure everyone at the table (players and DM) feels comfortable and safe.

It’s also a good idea to introduce and engage with your chosen Safety Tools during Session Zero, rather than use them reactively if and when problems arise. 

Lines and Veils

When the game begins, the DM can ask the players about their Lines and Veils.

A Line is a subject or action that the player doesn’t want to be included in the game at all.

A Veil is a subject or action that should only be described in vague terms.

When the Players and DM have outlined their Lines and Veils, it’s up to everyone else to ensure they’re respected. 

4. For DMs: Pitching Your Game

One of the techniques I make sure I bring to every Session Zero I run is The Pitch.

Before Session Zero begins, think about the type of campaign you want to run.

The possibilities are endless, but the types of games that will resonate with your players certainly aren’t. 

Write two or three short sentences introducing the world, describe the style of play the campaign will involve, and list off a few cultural touchstones that can help your players grasp the tone and themes you’re looking to engage with. 

This can also be a good opportunity to give your players some guidelines to use when choosing their race and class, as well as for deciding on their character’s personality and tone.

Maybe some races are treated differently in your world; dwarves may have disappeared from the world centuries ago; or perhaps all sorcerers are to be captured, or even killed, on-site, by order of the local high elf countess.

Here’s a quick example of a pitch for a campaign.

Campaign Pitch: Rebellion in the Emerald Woods

5. Character Creation

Another huge part of the Session Zero experience is making characters.

Some DMs like it if you show up to Session Zero with a fully-fledged character. Some of them would rather you make a character that explicitly fits within the campaign you’re about to begin. 

The biggest factor here is that it’s tough to roll a character if you don’t know the details of the campaign yet.

I tend to do a Session 0 to give the details, and let my player talk about what their initial thoughts are on characters.  

If we have time we’ll roll them up.  If not, we can do it next session or they can do it on their own.

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