It’s a well known concept that’s a game changer once you discover it – everyone looks forward to getting down to business in their TTRPG game, but sometimes it seems like you meet for pizza and chit-chat and talk character ideas for hours instead.
Don’t get me wrong, talking fantasy characters and eating pizza is my version of getting chocolate in my peanut butter. But we also wanna roll. Them. Dice!
A “Session Zero” is a meetup where the goal is to have all the table setting done before everyone parts ways. It’s a remarkably efficient way to have all the fun of making things with your friends, but without the frustration of having it drag on forever and take up valuable dice time. Let’s talk about how to get Session Zero going.
Ideas, Not Plans
I love flights of fantasy, where I use free-association to make up a chain of wild ideas. But that’s a bit much for collaborative gaming, where everyone deserves a turn. So make sure you arrive at your Session Zero with Ideas rather than plans.
Players, this means you can have all the specifics picked out, some, or none. But you’d be willing to keep an open mind and not be committed to any of them. Try to instead fall in love with the idea that conversation will spark even better ideas in your own mind.
I’m not saying borrow the ideas of others, I’m still saying use your own. What’s important is hearing other perspective and reflecting on them. There’s a reason television shows have writer’s rooms where everyone bounces ideas off each other, after all!
As you chow down on pizza, or jelly tarts, take time to listen and not just share. You’ll be surprised how much more three dimensional and full color the coming sessions start to sound as you learn what others expect from them.
Say your friend is intent on making a Durenian beekeeper character, and you forgot that was even possible! Perhaps now your Moonshadow elf will be even more attuned with nature, and will be over the moon when they meet sentient dancing bees.
The End is the Beginning
One of my favorite things about the Cortex system and Tales of Xadia is how impossible it is to predict the ending of a tale. No matter your goal, there is no set scene or location for the finale. So it’s important to have goals!
We detail the mechanics of how to create character goals in The Tales of Xadia Game Handbook, but as far as creativity goes this should be something that your character believes they can achieve. Find a wand, reunite with a love, travel across the wastes, you get the idea.
This is something the Narrator should bring too! In fact, you need to bring more than just a goal to explain to players, you need ideas for multiple endings that you privately jot down.
Narrators, pretend you too are a sort of guiding character, directing the scenes. What are your narrative goals? They should not be events that must simply happen, but rather a spectrum of satisfying feelings you’d like to give your players. Once you have a feeling, write it down in the form of an event. Then write some more! Who knows which characters will choose?
What if everyone gets what they want? What if players choose to make a surprising sacrifice? Make a list, just the broad premise of these endings for the clear overall goal. If the humble goal is to save a goat from a mountain top, say, the list might read like–
The goat is lured down by a magically enticing meal.
Rescue is achieved by a Skywing mage who can safely travel the high-speed winds.
Mysterious winds are diverted away from the mountain with an artifact.
The stubborn hermit who lured the goat is given something he wants.
See all the plot elements that pop up when you make it all up like this? Once you feel you have way more finale ideas than you need, come up with some scene ideas to connect your beginning to these ends. Without giving it all away to the players, of course. That’s for future sessions.
Inspiration for Your Table
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