Session 0

Getting into D&D for the first time can be a little intimidating. (Source: Freaks and Geeks)

Session 0 refers to the pre-session, where the players roll up characters, chat about the world, and build up chemistry. It's a really great way to flesh out your characters with their relationship with the rest of the party, and get to know the world. However, within a social skills group context, there's a lot more to it than that- the session 0 sets up the entire tone of the group, your role as a facilitator, and the ground rules.

The first thing I like to do with my session 0 is do an ice breaker. While I do warm up questions before each game, I like each kid to go around and tell me their name, how long they've been playing D&D, and then a few random questions like what their favorite fruit is, or something unexpected about them. I also chime in on this myself after everyone's gone, and it's a fun, basic icebreaker.

Then, I review the game schedule, any logistical housekeeeping and news, and the rules. See my post on rules for more info, but this is very important, and if a kid is late, I make sure that they get a chance to review them. I've contemplated creating a signed contract for good behavior, but at this point, I don't think that's really necessary for my current groups, but making the rules very clear and open has helped create a table culture and content level that is appropriate and comfortable for all parties.

Following the rules, we discuss the last quarter's plot points. A good review of the world and what's going on serves as a refresher to the kids who are joining from the previous season, and the kids that are just starting. It also builds a lot of enthusiasm, as I recently heard one of my students say, “He's not just making that up- we did that!” I had to stop myself from saying, “Actually, I made all of that up, half of it during the drive here.” But to that kid, they had done that, that history I was recounting was the group's accomplishments, and it was real to him.

After that, I like to ask a warm up question, to set that standard. My usual one for session 0 is this, “What did you like about last quarter, and what would you like to see more of.” This is an absolutely fantastic question that gives me a lot of direction for the campaign, and I can't recommend it enough.

Then we jump into character creation. This is one of my favorite things, as the kids who already have characters sit next to the new kids and walk them through it, and those who aren't doing that just sit and work on optimizing each other's characters- I'll see kids who rarely talk to each other sitting and pointing out spells they could take, or getting excited about the abilities they'll be getting at next level- it creates a really great space for organic conversation and bonding.

Meanwhile, I pull each kid aside and do a brief check in. Our room is blessed with a particularly comfortable couch, so I enjoy having a brief sit down with each kid where I check in with them to make sure things are ok. I usually ask the following questions:

-How they're doing, and if there are there any concerns I need to know about. One kid was in the middle of college applications, so he used this time to tell me that he would be really exhausted most of the time, which gave me the guidance to not have him be a significant player most of the time and give him more elective roles.

-Any thoughts on how the game has been going, and what they've been enjoying.

-Ask them permission for specific plot elements, I/e “Hey, I'm planning on giving your character some interesting dream sequences related to that book, you fine doing some spotlight role playing?” I've never heard a player say no, and it gets them excited about what's coming, and lets them know that I'm thinking about them in particular.

-If there's anything I need to know. I've found this question to be very important, and very often kids won't know when to tell me something important, so creating a space for it is very helpful.

After all of that is done, I have each kid review their character with the group, as a sort of introduction to who they'll be playing. Note that an hour is generally not enough time to fully create a character, so we tell the kids to finish them up at home, but the big things we focus on for our groups is the areas that relate to role playing (ideals, bonds, flaws, etc.) and the core aspects.

The one pitfall with the shorter session 0 is that very often, kids who may be lower functioning may not be able to finish their character sheet in time. If that happens, I usually ask them to come in a little early if they can, and have either my co-facilitator or myself review it and bring it up to speed, while explaining everything to them. I recently had an experience where a player literally had no idea how to play his character, but didn't know how to ask for help- so always make sure you take the time to pay attention to how the kids are using their characters, but don't put too much effort into how they're adhering to the rules. They're there for social skills development, and that's the focus. I've run four sessions in a row with no dice rolls, just the kids navigating a complex dinner party, and it was one of the most effective runs ever, so that should always be the goal.

Would love to hear your thoughts on a session 0, feel free to reach out with any extra suggestions you have.