Session 0: good or bad or whatever?

Discussion in 'Roleplaying Games' started by Necrozius, Feb 12, 2018.

  1. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    DISCLAIMER: the following is, like, just my opinion, man. I'm not one of those people who are, like: "do it this way or you're a moron". I'm a nobody, I've never written or done anything of value in the hobby "community". So if anything that I say makes your monocle pop out and shakes your jowls in anger, take a deep breath and just realize that I'm just some random jerk on the internet who doesn't know SHIT.

    K moving on.

    For any long-term campaigns that I've run, including a Session 0 has proven to be beneficial to me for the following reasons:
    • People make characters together, giving them a chance to fill in any gaps for party "balance". We avoid too much overlap.
    • People discuss what their expectations are about the campaign's themes, style and mood. This includes me.
    • We figure out how the characters are grouped together, as vaguely or as detailed as we desire. Saves us some time and it even allows a bit of shared backstories creating greater party unity.
    • We might even indulge in some sacrilegious collaborative world creation. After session zero, though, that stops and the GM goes hog wild. The players just help set the stage.
    For some, however, this is a colossal waste of time for all sorts of reasons:
    • all that stuff should happen through play, not through meta-gamey magical tea parties.
    • the GM is wearing the viking hat and so the players should shut up and roll with the punches
    • "true" campaigns are supposed to be highly lethal so why bother with anything more than the most superficial character bonds and shared backstories?
    • Fuck balance etc...
    • "Collaborative" and "world" should never be in the same sentence spoken by a GM, ever.
    It is interesting to me, but not surprising, that techniques that work super well for me are unused or even despised by other GMs out there.

    I'm interested to hear what other people think of Session Zero, or how they run it themselves. My mind won't change: I love Session Zero as a concept (perhaps not for every single campaign ever). But I like to expand my mind with other opinions!

    So how about it? Do you like using the Session Zero Technique? What sorts of activities do you set out to accomplish with it, assuming that you do use it?
     
  2. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Science Ninja Moderator

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    hey, you're a "Well Known Member" of The RPG Pub! That makes you somebody!
     
  3. Dumarest

    Dumarest ¡Californio y vaquero!

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    I will just say it depends on (1) your group and (2) your game. If you all know each other and have played together, and especially have played the particular game together, it's probably a waste of game time. However, if some are not familiar with each other or the game, it could be beneficial. I think it would be particularly beneficial to make sure everyone is interested in pursuing something similar. For instance, for a superhero game I would want to make sure everyone is on board for the tone of the campaign so nobody rolls up a sad antihero albino vampire in a long leather coat when the rest of us are playing true blue heroes in colorful spandex union suits. Let's get that problem out of the way before we even start playing. Sometimes a player will have to drop out if he's not on board with the premise. The guy who wants to play a displaced ronin in King Arthur's court, for instance, may need to come up with a new idea or just sit this game out.
     
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  4. dragoner

    dragoner unknown known

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    We're all mad here ...

    The only sort of fool that doesn't know they are a fool, is a pompous fool; so you're cool.

    It's been a long time since a true "session zero" where I have been GM, though having been a player, I just went through this for a CoC game, mostly the GM did what she thought was good, threw out some leads, gave a little advice.

    As far as "party balance" it's usually just because one starship doesn't need two ace pilots, if I was playing some Mythras or something, I'd let everyone be what they want and figure it out from there.
     
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  5. K_Peterson

    K_Peterson Elder Thing

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    These (edited) points are vital to me, during a Session 0.
    Making characters together, and discussing how they're all related to one another is very important for the campaigns I run. It helps to minimize nonsensical groups, and bond the PCs together - either with a common goal, or a linked background. And it can help to introduce new characters (should the original ones die or go insane...).

    I typically present the theme or campaign premise to the players, so that they have a baseline to work from. I reserve the right to refuse any character concepts that make no sense for the campaign. It's important, for me, that the characters are fleshed-out people - not two-dimensional caricatures or archetypes.
     
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  6. noman

    noman Vaguely Sinister

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    I'm already triggered. :tongue:

    Handled through email, before we hit the table. :dice:

    You know who else was interested in greater party unity... :clown:

    Heretic! :clown:
    Different games, different gamestyles, run and operated by different personalities. Variance is expected, if not required, for good gaming.

    This hobby would be crap if everybody did the same thing in the same way for the same reasons. This is Magical Elf Games, man! Not chess. :ooh:

    BadWrongFun is a fiction.

    Your OP is awesome, Necro. Noman approves, even if I do things differently :thumbsup:.

    Session Zero is carried out via email once my players accept the premise of my campaign. The details of the campaign has already been explained before this point: system, basic premise of the setting, expected duration, lethality, player agency variables, themes, etc.

    Character creation, suggestions, modifications, player collaboration regarding party makeup, approvals, etc. Are all hashed out by email or phone. The primary reason for this approach is, as you observed, time. Taking time to read the rules and come up with a character has a lower priority than the time spent getting together to actually game. The latter's time is precious, and for that reason, I try to front-load as many aspects of Session Zero as I can before we all sit at the table.

    It's all about time management, yo. :grin:

    Also, not only do we get more time to game, we get more time to eat and drink. :pizza::eat::drink:

    You and Endless should be grateful for the daily struggles I go through to keep from making inappropriate dick jokes based on 'member' titles. :closed:

    Some of us more than others. :gunslinger:
     
  7. Dumarest

    Dumarest ¡Californio y vaquero!

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  8. TristramEvans

    TristramEvans Science Ninja Moderator

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    While I've always liked the concept of "Session Zero", in practice I've had a bad history of many Session Zeros that never actually led to a campaign, for whatever reason. The ability to jump right in and play tends to capture player's attention quicker, IMO, and avoids this issue.

    Nowadays, of course, I primarily run Phaserip, where chargen takes about 10-15 minutes for a group. So session zero only occupies the first little bit of session 1, which is ideal for me.
     
  9. Haffrung

    Haffrung Member

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    This is all important stuff for our group. Even though we've been playing together for years, each campaign is different, with a different setting, race and class restrictions, style of play, etc.

    However, we try to handle it all with emails before the first session. When you only play once every two or three weeks, taking a whole session to do this kind of setup isn't a great use of time.
     
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  10. Bookwyrm

    Bookwyrm Member

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    I like it as a concept but not necessarily, or usually, as a distinct session. The only time we spend a session is when the system is entirely new to most of us. Otherwise we sort of discuss upcoming games at/after RP sessions for the current game, and a bit more online.
     
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  11. Voros

    Voros Doomed Investigator

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    I think it can work well with experienced role players but for newbies nothing will kill their potential interest more than spending an entire session designing a character for instance. There are some who will love it but a lot who won't.

    Having everyone talk about the setting, style of play and expectations is always a good idea of course.
     
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2018
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  12. Dumarest

    Dumarest ¡Californio y vaquero!

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    For new players I always say the best thing is to let them pick a pregenerated character and not worry about knowing the rules but rather just say what they want to try to do and chuck some dice. Seems to work better, at least for me.
     
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  13. Tom B

    Tom B Member

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    I've always found Session 0 to be important. Not necessarily for character creation, but mainly to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the setting and the other characters. Also, I have the players tell me how their characters know each other. This is the time where I've occasionally discovered that someone misunderstood some aspect of the setting.

    I also like to make sure we're on the same page in terms of the tone of the campaign and find out what the characters' immediate goals might be. It's helpful to make sure we understand each other before I start running a campaign.

    If this all goes smoothly and quickly, I might run a short session...mainly to make sure everyone is familiar with the mechanics (if they're new.)
     
  14. Spinachcat

    Spinachcat Legendary Member

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    I prefer to do Session Zero via email.
    I see the value, but I want live sessions to be about actual play.
    At most, I devote an hour of the first session to answering all the questions...of the assmunches who don't read their email.

    But I'm not interested in collaborative world creation. I've earned my bones as a GM and I GM to see what YOUR players do inside MY sandbox and how MY NPCs respond to that in a constant cycle of action/reaction.

    Another reason I do Session Zero via email is I want time to weave the PC's backstory bits into my setting. AKA, you want to play a pirate who became a mage whose brother is a dethroned king. Super cool. I will figure out all the WTF details as it makes sense in the setting.

    I give my players 100 words of backstory, and I devote another 100 words of details. No novels. I don't even allow 1 page anymore. The sacred 1 page is devoted to the campaign background for the players, but EVEN THAT has proven too much and now its in 14 point.

    ...and I've lost nothing of value. Short, sweet, tight and fun is becoming my law.
     
  15. Baeraad

    Baeraad Active Member

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    I think it's a good idea in theory, but it's never worked particularly well for me. Putting the players in a room together still doesn't cause them to interact - it just leads to me trying to juggle paying attention to each one of them in turn. Getting them through chargen one at the time, while keeping them briefed on the decisions made by the other players, works somewhat better.
     
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  16. opaopajr

    opaopajr Well-Known Member

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    These are the benefits that I like best:
    • People discuss what their expectations are about the campaign's themes, style and mood. This includes me.
    • We figure out how the characters are grouped together, as vaguely or as detailed as we desire. Saves us some time and it even allows a bit of shared backstories creating greater party unity.
    But otherwise I find it a waste of gathering time. :tongue: What made sense when younger no longer makes sense now older. My aesthetics is more in line with playing ASAP before I'm issued another another pill by the doctor. :skeleton:
     
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  17. opaopajr

    opaopajr Well-Known Member

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    Yeah, in some ways even kindergarten doesn't end. :clown: Too many smart phones create a critical mass of temptation, in my experience. :gunslinger:
     
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  18. xanther

    xanther Active Member

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    I like Session 0, but let's keep it to under 2 hours. It is really like Session 0 never ends, my players are always talking about this kind of stuff. We also keep it short, we all have full-time jobs and families so game time is precious, we want to play ASAP. As to specifics:

    • People make characters together, giving them a chance to fill in any gaps for party "balance". We avoid too much overlap.
    I try to have adventures where this isn't required. I basically tell players to choose based on what they want. A nice spread of abilities is good and character social skills and intellectual skills are effective in my games, but if you want all fighters, all spell casters go for it...it's all good.

    • People discuss what their expectations are about the campaign's themes, style and mood. This includes me.
    We do this all the time, and I ask them what they are interested in at the end of every adventure.

    • We figure out how the characters are grouped together, as vaguely or as detailed as we desire. Saves us some time and it even allows a bit of shared backstories creating greater party unity.
    Some of my players go into depth, some not. It can evolve during play and I hold no one to any prior decision as long as it hasn't been the basis for something in the game, even then if I can creatively change it, I will. I'm very open about letting players change things primarily because they are all reasonable adults and it is not about avoiding something bad or gaining an advantage; in fact they are more draconian than me for a sense of "realism."

    • We might even indulge in some sacrilegious collaborative world creation. After session zero, though, that stops and the GM goes hog wild. The players just help set the stage.
    I think this is great, my world is not so specific that there is not room for this. That is, there is room for it, they have good ideas that fit with my thinking and views, so it really is all good. Usually player contribution to world building is more during play than in session 0, especially after they get a sense of things.
     
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  19. Charlie D

    Charlie D Well-Known Member

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    Character creation is always scattershot for my group. Some plan way ahead and make a character a week or more before the first game. Some show up and finish as we get rolling. A session 0 sounds great but we really want to game more than make characters and really everyone has a different technique. So I let the players figure it out!

    When we get back to Mongoose Traveller though, the first adventure will be character creation. So that may be a session 0.
     
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  20. The Butcher

    The Butcher Justice Ranger

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    I always do it with new games, where character creation demands more attention and coaching; and sometimes with well-known ones that need a more "gather the party" prelude like WoD supernatural fatsplats.

    But alas, I've had a couple that were not followed by a campaign for whatever reason amd that was mighty frustrating.
     
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  21. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    It really depends on the game and campaign in question. If I am playing B/X D&D, I want to get everyone's characters made in ten minutes (if not before the session) and start playing. For one thing, with 1st-level D&D characters, people might be making their second character within ten minutes of play beginning. Spending a session defining your character and his relationships might be some seriously wasted time.

    On the other hand, I ran a game of Hillfolk this weekend, The session was five hours, and we spent about 75% of it on group character generation. The time we spent on character generation was interesting in of itself, and the prep all added significantly to the fun we had once play started.

    I think a session 0 works best where there is some structure to it. DramaSystem, the system that Hillfolk uses, has a solid step-by-step process for the first session.

    1. The GM briefly encapsulates the series setting and premise.

    2. The GM determines precedence.

    3. First player in precedence order proclaims his name and role in the tribe. Names in Hillfolk are metonyms, recognizable words indicating status, personality, appearance, or other traits.

    4. Second player proclaims her character’s name, role in the tribe, and relationship to the first character. Players notate relationships on the relationship maps.

    5. Third player proclaims his character’s name, role in the tribe, and relationship to all other proclaimed characters.

    6. According to precedence, remaining players repeat step five.

    7. In the established order of precedence, players proclaim their desires.

    8. In the same order, the players define their dramatic poles.
    9. GM chooses a new precedence order.

    10. First player in the new precedence order defines what his character wants from any other player’s character.

    11. The player of the other character defines why they can’t get it.

    12. Both players adjust the statement as needed to reflect the first character’s understanding of the situation.

    13. Repeat steps 10-12 for each player in precedence.

    14. Repeat steps 9-12 until all characters are named as objects of at least two other characters wants (Any unaddressed relationships are defined during play).

    15. Each player ranks his character’s action types, sorting them into Strong, Middling and weak.

    16. Players apply “How I do it” descriptors to the Strong action types.

    17. Based on what they now know about their characters, especially their dramatic poles, players complete the statement, “My story is of a man/woman who…”

    18. With a renewed order of precedence and an initial scene framing, play begins.

    Having a solid structure, and one in which people took turns, meant that the session wasn't pointless noodling. Everyone was engaged, and we went through the process. And when we started actually playing, we hit the ground running.

    If a session 0 involves people needing to make creative choices, it is also important to avoid putting people on the spot. If a player needs to make a choice at some point in the session, I interpret it as that player getting to make the final call on that particular item, but all the players can toss out suggestions for them to consider.

    In Hillfolk, a player might blank out when asked what their character's relationship to another character is, and the more pressure that player feels, the longer they blank out. However, if all the other players are throwing out ideas on potential relationships with other characters, it takes the pressure off. The player can just go with someone else's suggestions, or their rejection of the suggestions may inspire them to realize what they really want.

    If you want to have a session 0, make sure it is just as focused and interactive an experience as if the game was being played.
     
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  22. Necrozius

    Necrozius Well-Known Member

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    Awesome replies everyone, thanks for sharing. This was exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for. Very interesting takes on the subject, I have to say!
     
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  23. PolarBlues

    PolarBlues Member

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    I see the reasoning for a Session 0 but frankly it does not appeal to me on the basis that:
    • Time is precious. If I am going to make the arrangements to meet up to play, I want to play and not just talk about playing.
    • In theory Session 0 is an investment for the longer campaign, but you never really know which games will develop into longer campaigns. Often games just naturally run out of steam after a few session, or even the first, and of course events get in the way, people drop in, people drop out, GM lose interest. Doesn't feel like a great investment to me.
    • I'm NOT convinced that people, myself included, are always that self-aware. I mean it's easy enough to recognise when you are having fun, it's much, much harder to isolate the specific, complex combination of factors that contributed to the sense of fun. That's where hardcore, Forge-style roleplaying theory could potentially help, but serious, who's got the patience?

    What I would advocate is a lot of flexibility over the characters during the first few session in allowing player to adjust the stats a bit after playing a bit or tweaking their background. Personally I also think players should feel free to drop their current character and create a new one any time they stop enjoying themselves, without having to wait for the character to die or anything weird like that, but there seems to be resistance around that concept, not sure why.

    (Edited to add an all important missing "NOT" which was kind of critical to the whole meaning of the sentence).
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
  24. noman

    noman Vaguely Sinister

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    These are excellent points, especially the first point regarding the probability of a campaign going into stasis and being abandoned.

    ^ This.

    I allow my players a good deal of flexibility with their characters, even if it somewhat disrupts the campaign's plot.
     
  25. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    I always allow stat tinkering in the early session. Most of the time, the abilities people want to trade out are the ones they never used, so it isn't like they every actually manifested in the game. In those case, there it doesn't even really count as a retcon.
     
  26. K_Peterson

    K_Peterson Elder Thing

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    I should say that Session 0 in my campaigns rarely takes an entire session. I don't run very complex systems, so we're usually done with the process within 30 minutes, and Session 1 starts and takes up the rest of the time.

    I always email campaign background and try to spark discussion ahead of time. But it seems rare that all the players will get involved before the first session.
     
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  27. Bookwyrm

    Bookwyrm Member

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    Yes. I think this can help a lot. What looks good on the page can feel different in play.

    This also makes sense. In some cases it might mean letting the old character become a NPC, if they've become plot-critical in a way not easily transferred right away to another character.
     
  28. opaopajr

    opaopajr Well-Known Member

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    I'd normally be so flexible in PC tinkering or swapping mid-play. But I've had too many alt-aholics at my tables, when either I GM or play. It's honestly a disruptive habit because, IME, there is no PC or campaign investiture at that point.

    It tempts the bad behavior 'so why not crash and burn and watch the suckers try to pick up the pieces while strolling in with my new toy?' And I've seen otherwise great players succumb to that temptation. So, from sad experience, I stand in Kyle Aaron's mom's camp "you get what you get and don't complain," -- you're naturally allowed to chargen at the beginning in certain systems that allow or favor it. I have no reason to set up otherwise good people to fail.

    ("But can't they just behave as an adult?," you may ask? Yes, wouldn't we all, throughout life. :brokenheart: Wouldn't we all... :wink: That's why rules and judges came about!)
     
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  29. Warthur

    Warthur Member

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    I dislike the term "session zero" because I figure that it doesn't need to eat up an entire session, especially if the character generation system is brief.

    But I do like the general idea and I particularly prefer it if everyone makes their characters together rather than scuttling off to do it by themselves. Not because I'm worried about cheating or anything like that, more to discourage people from getting too invested in any particular PC concept they have before they have a chance to talk it out with the other players and see if it'll fly as a member of the party.
     
  30. Charlie D

    Charlie D Well-Known Member

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    I can see both sides, both wanting to let the players tinker with their characters and having them roll with what they role. I've actually offered a small tinker to a player who seemed to be struggling but he said no. He is old school and wanted to finish with what he started. I can respect that decision.
     
  31. Ladybird

    Ladybird Let the galaxy LOVE

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    Yeah, it builds up group cohesion from the start, so you're not going in entirely blind. I've found many players will come with a concept, and that's cool, but they're not so wedded to it as if they'd built an entire character.

    But I also think the mechanical bits of character design should be "flexible" for the first few sessions, so you can see what works and what doesn't, mechanically or thematically, especially in games with finite advancement advancement opportunities (D&D 3.x or later, frex). What looks good in chargen might not work at the table.
     
  32. Dumarest

    Dumarest ¡Californio y vaquero!

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    Red flag right there. :devil:
     
  33. The Butcher

    The Butcher Justice Ranger

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    Ok, I wanna hear this. Your players build characters with no concept whatsoever? Not even “grim barbarian from the frigid north” or “miserly dwarf with a heart of gold”?
     
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  34. Ladybird

    Ladybird Let the galaxy LOVE

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    I disagree, I think it helps cut down on later decision paralysis if players have some idea of what sort of character they're like to play in vague terms, and then the group can hash out the details of the characters to find some consensus. But how deep you should wish for really depends on the relative mechanical depth of the system; my default concepts for a couple of games would vary between "talky human magic user" (Shadowrun, no random choices) or "dwarf" (WFRP, quite a bit of randomness).
     
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  35. daniel_ream

    daniel_ream Active Member

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    I do this for every game I run, although it's rarely so formal as a "Session Zero"; it's more sitting around with beers or whatever kibbitzing about the type of game we'd like to play and converging to something people agree on on.

    Smallville/Cortex+ Dramatic works the same way.

    I'm a filthy hippy storygamer and I have no use for Forge theory. It's a bunch of pop psych navel gazing. The real problem isn't a lack of self-awareness, it's a lack of honesty. No player is going to tell you "I want to sit quietly for two and a half hours, then start chucking molotov cocktails at anything that moves because I'm bored and want to kick the anthill", even if that's exactly what they do every session while rejecting any opportunities to do anything but.
    No rule or judge can cure "asshole". If someone doesn't want to play the game the rest of you are playing, why are you playing with him? Would you continue to play a board game with someone who reliably flipped the board and ruined the game for everyone else any time he wasn't winning?

    That's exactly how Maelstrom Storytelling works, actually. Although to be fair everyone starts with total amnesia, so.
     
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  36. clash bowley

    clash bowley Member

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    I run mostly my own games, and a big part of them is association building before chargen. You build the association you work for (company, church, secret cabal, nobleman's retinue, whatever) before creating characters that work for it. Because the players design the association, what they put into it are basically them telling me 'we want a lot of THIS in the game!" or "Don't bother doing this!" so that's all good. I understand that the 'you all meet at the tavern' works for most people. It doesn't work for me, but these associations are mostly optional but recommended. Some games also have a component of collaborative world building that I like. I am happy to run those sorts of games! They get me out of any lazy thinking habits! In spite of this insane democratic streak, my games are otherwise pretty much traditional in structure.
     
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  37. Baulderstone

    Baulderstone Legendary Member

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    That's what I like about allowing player ideas in. I have my own personal inclinations when putting a setting together. It's nice to get some other people's ideas in there as well. It can make a world feel a little more lived in if it has some ideas I never would have put in there.
     
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