Session Zero for grades 4-5

I’m running an after-school club to teach kids to be DMs, and today’s session will be on running a Session Zero. All the Session Zero handouts I could find online were designed for adults and talked about things like how to handle sexual activity in-game and what the table’s alcohol/drug policy was; this ain’t really where I want to go with ten-year-olds.

So I wrote my own Session Zero handout. It prints out at a single double-sided page, which is a lot, but I can’t really think of what to take out. My plan is to go over this with students and then run a mock session zero with them to show how it works.

Do any of y’all amazing gamers have any advice?

Session Zero

When you’re getting a group ready to play a new campaign, it’s a really good idea to have a Session Zero. This is a time to get together before your first actual session to talk about what you all want from the game in general, and then to plan characters and such together.

Here are some things to talk about and to agree on as a group.

  • Where and when will you play? How often? Make sure everyone’s parents have this information and agree to it!
  • How important is it to show up every time? Some groups really need everyone to commit to being there every time. Some are fine if folks miss a lot of sessions.
  • What’s fun? Some groups just want a lot of combat. Some groups want tons of roleplaying. Some groups want puzzles and silliness. Some want a mix. Talk about what everyone–including the DM–thinks is fun.
  • How serious is the game? Some folks want to be silly and mostly just hang out. Others really want to focus on the game and have no distractions.
  • How heroic are y’all going to be? Some games want everyone to be good. Others are okay with, uh, shady characters. I recommend, based on my experience, against evil characters–they rarely end up being fun for other players–but you should talk about that and come to an agreement.
  • How will you handle player conflicts? It’s important to know what you’ll do if players start feeling frustrated with one another, or with the DM, or the DM with the players. Have a plan for stopping the game and resolving the dispute.
  • How important are the rules? Some groups play exactly by the rules and stop to look things up. Some follow the “rule of cool,” and the DM makes decisions on the spur of the moment.
  • How will you handle rules disagreements? Agreeing on this in advance can avoid stopping the game for a long argument.
  • How is character death handled? Some games are “let the dice fall where they may.” Other players really hate that, and want character death to be rare or nonexistent. Come to an agreement in advance.

Talk about keeping everyone comfortable: no player at the table should feel genuinely upset, bullied, or unsafe.

  • Are there things that should not appear in the game because they make it not fun for a player? If a player has a phobia of spiders, they can let everyone know that, and everyone will respect their wishes not to include spiders in the game.

The DM should let the players know about the campaign:

  • What’s the world like where the game is set? Is it a homebrew world, or a published setting? Is there a particular starting location?
  • What house rules do you use? Are certain backgrounds/classes/races not allowed? Do you have extra ones? Do you have rules about critical hits, or rolling ability scores, or anything else, that the players should know about in advance?

Then there’s the character stuff:

  • Do characters have certain requirements? Maybe everyone needs to start off in a certain location. Maybe everyone needs to be friends with the town’s mayor. Maybe everyone needs to be an elf. This is mostly a DM decision.
  • How will you choose ability scores? Agree on a method together.
  • Should characters start off knowing one another? It can be fun to get everyone together during the first session, but it can also be fun to require every character to already know at least one or two other characters before the game begins.
  • How much background story should characters have? I love to write three or four pages of background for my characters, but other folks like to start knowing very little about their characters. Do you as the DM have a preference?

Often, folks use Session Zero to create characters. That’s a great way to use the time and help players (especially new players!) understand both the rules and the world in which they’ll be playing.