RPGBOT.Podcast S2E10 – Session 0

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss Session 0. We discuss pitching game ideas, establishing expectations, TTRPG safety tools, and collaborative character creation. We recommend and discuss some helpful tools like pre-game surveys, the “X Card”, improv games, and tools like Decuma and Curse of Strahd’s Tarokka deck.

Special thanks to @Winglady14 on Twitter and on the RPGBOT.Discord for the question of the week this week.

If you’ve enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts, and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick, free way to support the podcast, and helps us reach new listeners.

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 

Welcome to the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James, looking for Game Master. With me is Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler 

Hi, everybody,

Randall 

And random Powell.

Random 

Good evening.

Randall 

All right, Tyler. What’s happening?

Tyler 

Well, today we’re going to talk about session 0. So we started this podcast way… what, six months ago now with episode 0, which was actually a reference to the concept of session 0. If you haven’t heard of session 0 before, it’s essentially the game before you actually start playing your game. And this has become an increasingly popular tool in the tabletop role playing game space over the past several years, because it’s a great way to set expectations for your group, to solve a lot of potential social problems before they can become problems, and in general, just ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable gaming experience once the game gets started. So we’re going to talk about how to do it, some best practices, some examples of things you can do, and then potentially some tools that you can bring in to make your session 0 more successful.

Randall 

And to be clear with this, right, the idea of a session 0… If you have the time, like you can get everybody together, you can spend an hour or two working through all this making sure everybody’s gonna be happy. And then you can walk away, put together your campaign and come back and play it. Vice versa. If folks have kind of agreed to a lot of things offline, if you do some of these things asynchronously, it’s still valuable to have this in-person conversation to kind of get everybody going,

Random 

I think that you will find no argument from any of us that a session 0 is always a good idea. If you are with a group that maybe only one person is new, you know, you’re bringing someone to an existing game and you’re like between adventures, maybe the session zero is half an hour, an hour at the start of what will be a play session, that’s fine, too. As long as everyone has that expectation. Like we’re going to get into really one of the most important things for a session 0 is that basically the entire point is setting expectations. And then a little bit of getting to know each other. Whether that is something short, maybe we’re just like, at the end of a campaign and we want the same group to play again, with a different system, a different adventure, or whether that’s, I’m going to pull four randos out of the internet, and we’re going to sit down. I definitely think that one of those is gonna require a lot more finesse in how you do your session 0. In both cases, I would say absolutely do one, and just go in with the expectations.

Randall 

And if you have been listening to this podcast for six months, you should have a pretty good idea of how to find at least one random on the internet.

Random 

I would do a rim shot, but it wouldn’t translate well on the microphone. So listeners, you are saved.

Randall 

Good news. So what do we want to accomplish in session 0? I’ve invited you all to come play a D&D. Here’s Pathfinder 2.

Random 

Next campaign you start I’m playing a Cleric of Sigmar and you can’t stop me.

Tyler 

So there are some things you should hit. Short, bulleted list. So the first thing you want to do is you want to establish what game you’re playing, a general idea of what story will be told during your campaign, how long it’s going to run, what the characters should be, and you want to go over some… basically social guidelines, safety tools you might want to use, a kind of a social contract with your group, setting expectations for everyone’s behavior. Figuring out scheduling is a wonderful thing to figure out in session 0 unless you’ve already got that established ahead of time. Basically, no one should be surprised when you show up at session one, like if someone shows up and says, Oh, I built a character for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay because I thought that’s what we were doing, but we’re playing D&D, so like I… clearly I have messed this up. Those are the kinds of issues you want to head off in session 0. First thing I generally recommend in your session 0 is… well, let’s see, I should add this to the bulleted list you should figure out who’s going to DM during your session 0. DM, GM, whoever is going to run the game essentially. In a lot of cases, you might figure that out beforehand. Someone might volunteer and say hey, I would really like to run the next game or maybe everyone at the table says yeah, we all want to try, so let’s come in basically have a bake off and figure out whose idea sounds the most fun to the party. I recommend starting your session 0 with an elevator pitch, essentially. You want to hit a few things in your elevator pitch. What is the setting? What is the defining conflict of the story? What is the party’s role in that conflict? What is the general tone of the game? And generally, you want to have multiple options when you do this elevator pitch. If only one person is going to DM, bring three maybe and at least one of them will generally stand out as something that people want to play. Like just as an example of an elevator pitch, we could say, like if the DM wants to run Red Hand of Doom next, we could say it’s set in a generic fantasy setting. We can use any setting we want. The defining conflict is war with hobgoblins. The party’s role in that conflict is fighting against those hobgoblins. The tone of the game is basically however we want to play it. And then your other options could be, like, maybe we do a Scooby Doo murder mystery or something.

Random 

I really enjoy that you and I separately reinvented this wheel. As part of my class, an exercise that I would do. This might be an interesting exercise if, say you have a group and no one wants to DM or no one wants to GM is basically like sort of a little writer’s block breaking exercise. You know, I would say every story requires three character- three characteristics: a setting, a conflict, a character. At least one character. I would then basically have all of the kids right down a setting, gather all those papers up, shuffle them, redistribute. Here’s a setting. Write a conflict for it. Shuffle, redistribute, again, write a character that exists, who was going to interact with that conflict in that setting. Shuffle up, redistribute, and then I would have them roleplay them. And there was more to the exercise. The things in his elevator pitch are so critical to any story, that if you just look at literature, movies, those are the things that people engage with. And so that’s why they’re so critical to start your your session 0 with and it’s why it’s so critical to bring them into an elevator pitch.

Randall 

One thing I’ll say we’re talking about identifying a Game Master or Dungeon Master. If you have somebody who is part of the group, wants to run the game. That’s fantastic. One of the things you should still talk about is how much time does that person have available to get ready every week. And the reason I’m calling calling this out, especially for a relatively inexperienced group, maybe it’s that person’s first time being a DM. If they’re saying I have this great idea for a homebrew campaign, and I work 60 hours a week and I’ve got a family, you have to look at that person and say, “No, for all of us, please, you can’t do this.” And that’s what I think having a good conversation about what are some published modules that you think would be fun? And there’s nothing that says you can’t take a published module and work off it a little bit, but you always have a great foundation to come back to. The other thing is there’s a lot of great third party resources. We had Jonathan Nelson on from AAW Games where they publish the idea of the mini dungeons, where it’s essentially like a purchasable one shot. They’re constantly putting out free ones for the new ones that are getting published. You can string together a campaign with a set of these so that if you’re, if you’re in trouble, if you don’t have something you can pull it. But having an understanding that we’re going to use these materials and getting folks to buy in to either playing that published module, or to occasionally use these things which we can just pick up, you know, on the fly. I think that’s going to lead to a more successful campaign as you go.

Tyler 

Yeah, that’s another thing that should be discussed in your session zero. What happens if the DM doesn’t have a chance to prepare for the game? And what happens if the DM is absent or some other player is absent? That’s one of those kinds of social contract things that you want to establish during your session 0. Yeah, how do you handle absences? Do you have someone drive your character if you can’t make it? Is your character conspicuously absent? Who fills in if the DM can’t make it, if at all? Like maybe you just say DM can’t make it. Board game night. Maybe you have a side campaign running if the DM is… they can only make some portion of the games maybe. There are very few wrong answers to any of these questions, so it’s really important to discuss these during session 0 to figure it out.

Randall 

And to give specific examples. So with the group that Tyler and I play in every week, it is fairly common that somebody can’t make it. More often we, like, so one we’re pretty flexible. We’ll shift to different nights. And we’ve socially all agreed that we reach out we try if we can do it we do if we can’t we can’t. When we can’t we do try to like let’s get online and do virtual tabletop like board game simulator. What am I thinking of? What’s it called?

Random 

Tabletop Simulator?

Randall 

Tabletop Simulator! I was so close three times. Or StarCraft, like have a Starcraft night. But for us, what works really well is just trying to hold the slot so that we don’t get in the habit of giving up that time.

Tyler 

Yeah, absolutely. And our ability to hold that slot because we’re we’re willing to both play something else and to shift around depending on the day if we need to. That has actually made it really easy for us to keep the game running long term even though we do have fairly busy schedules these days.

Randall 

Got to play some Pathfinder too, that was a lot of fun.

Tyler 

We sure did.

Randall 

Because we did do like we did a couple of one shots. We had a game on the side to play.

Tyler 

Yeah, there’s some really good free Pathfinder one shots from Paizo that they publish something new every year for free RPG day, which is actually coming up pretty soon, so keep an eye out for that. But yeah, the Pathfinder one shots are great to try Pathfinder if you hadn’t had a chance, and there’s a lot of other RPGs that will have free one shots that are just like, here is a one or two session game to try something out. And it’s a great way to experiment and fill time when your regular group can’t all be in place.

Random 

If you want to try something. On the wacky side, you want to write your own story Dungeons, the Dragoning 40k seventh edition. It’s a time.

Tyler 

It’s something. Sometime we should just tell stories about the strangest system we’ve played. But that is a different episode for a different day.

Randall 

I feel like the recommendation that you just made is, you know, this exists.

Random  

If you’re like, oh, we suddenly have like two weeks that we’re going to be missing somebody, particularly the DM, why not give that a shot? It’s certainly going to be an experience that no one else will have done.

Randall 

It’s got all the words. Like all the words were in there.

Random 

It has all the words.

Tyler 

That was intentional. The full title is Dungeons, the Dragoning 40k Seventh Edition,

Random 

Yep.

Tyler 

which was the names of all of the big RPGs at the time, cobbled together into what somehow accidentally turned out to be a surprisingly robust rule set. There’s Gun Kata.

Randall 

Alright, so we have picked a game. We’ve picked a DM or GM, we’ve picked a setting, and we’ve chosen the general conflict, maybe a little bit of that is reserved, but we kind of have an idea of what we’re getting into as far as where the campaign’s going to go. There’s a couple of things that you brought up that I think are worth reviewing. So one is the tone of the game. Like, are we group people? Do we want to laugh? Or do we want to like get really serious and like, you know, when we’re in a fight, I’m going to bear down and I’m going to threaten that Goblin and the DM is going to call things back to me. Do we want to be really RP heavy? Or like, you know, the Wizard pulls a pepper out of his mouth, takes a bite, looks deep into the eyes of the ogre, and says, “You’re on fire.” Like is that, is that the thing that we want to do? Or do we just want to say like, you know, I’m gonna use dissident whispers, please make a wisdom saving throw, you have failed, haha. Those are both fun, and depending on who you have around the table, having an understanding of one, like, what are you comfortable with? And then two, what do you enjoy? Because it could be the case, you might say, “Look, I’m a little introverted. But when when you folks get into this, I love it. Like, it’s amazing, you should keep doing it.” Having that conversation at session zero, lets everybody know, kind of what’s welcome, what gets people going. And maybe the things that just because I’m not participating doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it.

Random 

If you are someone who is like enjoys the aspect of the game, but is maybe a little bit shy, not wanting to get into the character too much, role playing from the third person absolutely fine. You can even set that expectation with your DM in the sessions 0 like, “hey, look, I’m here for it. I love this game, I promise I’m engaging. I’m just gonna do it descriptively or narratively”, rather than “I am Koran, the name of this paladin that I talk about all the time”. And speaking of that paladin, so tone, you touched on some really important things. I have both played in and run games that were very much for friends sitting around the table drinking beer and throwing dice at each other, and very serious role play, moral quandary stuff. They’re both great times. If you are the person who has come out of the session zero running this game, don’t just you know, say here’s the tone of the game. Really solicit feedback from your players about that, because what you may find is that some people really want the roleplay, and some people don’t care so much about the roleplay, and that can be one of the hardest things to balance effectively, is when you have a person who is super into this or even worse, two, who are super into this while like three people or not, because what you’re gonna end up with is these two people who like really end up, through good intentions, hogging the spotlight, because they are trying to get into this role play, or you’re going to end up disappointing them by not providing spotlight. That is a very fine line to walk. That’s one of those things that I would really, really advocate that you hash out like, we want this as a group, this one person wants this, so y’all expect that some of the time I’m just gonna say Bard, good do your thing, so that they can have that experience that they want to enjoy too.

Randall 

I’m actually laughing because in my mind was what you’ve just described, the vivacious ones are like the Barbarian and the Monk. And it’s the Bard in this Sorcerer, where your like, hey, go be faces and they’re like we, we want to open the door. Can you please?

Random 

Maybe this deserves its own episode at some point, but you end up with issues or role playing stats that you don’t have. I had to sort of reason my way into “Why does an eight intelligence Goliath speaks so eloquently?”, and then I’m like, “Okay, well, charisma is really what governs eloquence intelligence, I know the words, I just don’t know how to use them to talk about important concepts, but I can string them together prettily”, totally an adjective, by the way.

Randall 

It is now.

Random 

Maybe that deserves its own conversation at some point. I have run the gamut of characters and let me tell you that having sometimes been that only person who’s like engaging as a Monk, that is a rough time, my guy.

Randall 

That’s actually a good segue to talk about preparing the players. So as a group, how are you going to identify these things, because you might sit at the table, especially if it’s a group of newer players. And it’s like, I think I’d like a serious game, like, I think I want to get into it. And then what you find is all you ever do is crack jokes, and everybody’s having a great time. That’s, that’s perfect. You might think that, look, the RP isn’t really for me, and then you start to do it, and you find it does come natural, and it is a lot of fun, and everybody at the table is having fun with it. And so I say this to say, there are things you can even do in this session zero, just to see how you work together.

Random 

We’ve talked about this concept before, but we’re going to be real formal about it. So yes, and. Yes, and is a, both a mindset, but a literal exercise that you can do. And it’s one of the the intros to improv. One of the core tenants of improv is, with very few exceptions, you should basically never say no to someone. To get into it, you would have an exercise where you just literally someone says something to start, and the next person says yes, and and then continues that sentence and continues the story. And you just keep going, either back and forth if it’s two people or around a table…

Randall 

Random, when did you add a beehive to your bedroom?

Tyler 

What? Oh.

Random 

Phrasing it into a question. That’s an entirely different, what is the object? What gave you the idea to turn that into a question?

Randall 

Well, yeah, Bees first of all, they elicit a response, they give you feeling? And also, I can’t really just point and be like, what are those? Because, you know, audio media and such.

Random 

Probably with a little bit more context and preparation than that, you’re gonna want to introduce this into your session zero. But yes, exactly. Just do that like, as a group just for five minutes. I mean, if you really want like a set of rules, you can like Google it, but it’s basically a single sentence of do that. And just get comfortable with how everyone interacts with each other. Because, honestly, literally nothing is more important for the group having fun than people being comfortable with each other, and with interacting.

Randall 

Yeah, what I’ll call out we talked about you basically say yes to everything but a shortlist of things. We’re gonna dive deep on safety tools in a second. But I think this is a great way to point out that there are certain topics that obviously should be off limits, you shouldn’t be hopping into them, you know, bluntly, if you need certain topics at your table, I question your table. Not to yuck your yum, but maybe a little bit. And then for the, for the places that are a gray area, having that conversation as part of what we’re going to talk about and safety tools, and then practicing it with Yes, and. Because ultimately, we should be able to have fun, we should be able to have laughs, we should be able to do this improv game, without crossing anyone’s lives.

Tyler 

Absolutely. If you’re playing with longtime friends, a lot of times this kind of stuff will be a lot easier, because you’re already frequently very comfortable with the people you’re playing with. If you have new people at the table, if you are the new person at the table, or maybe you’re playing with strangers, a lot of times the threshold for what is safe to do and say at the table is a lot lower because you’re, you’re among people who you aren’t as close to. Yeah, setting the the expectations, doing the Yes, and as a warm up exercise, great, great ways to get everyone comfortable. And if you enjoy it enough, maybe you do before every session to get everyone just kind of warmed up for the role playing during the session.

Randall 

And what I would say here, if the group isn’t sure, whether they want to be funny, whether they want to be serious, or they want this to be like brooding and mysterious, like what are they trying to do? Do a run of yes and where you try to keep each of those focuses. And if when you’re trying to be funny if things kind of get like a little dark, or vice versa when you’re trying to keep things serious and the jokes keep coming up. That might be a good hint at what your group is going to be best at,

Tyler 

Absolutely. So we have some tools that we can recommend to help facilitate all of this stuff in addition to Yes, and. So something that got briefly popular in the tabletop RPG podcast scene a couple years ago and kind of dropped off the planet, for some apparent reason, the idea of a pregame survey. So essentially, you have a list of multiple choice or fill in the blank questions that you give to everyone at the table. And you use that to get just a general sense of what everyone’s preferences are for the game. Now this can be part of or before your elevator pitch, or after you’ve already decided on game. We have one on the website that we will link in the show notes that you can ask practical questions like, what do you do when a character dies? You can ask questions like How comfortable are you with graphic depictions of violence? Things like that. So getting like fine tuned granular answers, especially when people can answer them… anonymously isn’t the word I’m looking for. When they can answer them in privacy, so they’re not influenced by a discussion at the table. Like, I actually sent this pregame survey out to the group, Random ran the Rise of the Rune Lords campaign a while ago, and when I wrote this article, I originally I sent it out to the group just to get everyone’s responses, and everyone’s responses were wildly different. Just having like, the simple objective metric of a pregame survey can kind of give you like an average range of where people are going to be comfortable. And then you can find a happy middle point, come to the table and say, “Okay, these are all of the responses,” and you don’t have to say who gave what response, sometimes that can make people uncomfortable, but you can just say like, one person wants to play this game like Mortal Kombat, and one of one person wants to play this game like Adventure Time. So like, we’re gonna have to find some happy middle ground to handle the combat and things like that.

Random 

Ah yes, Adventure Kombat.

Randall 

But what’s maybe worth pointing out here is for certain topics, you won’t be seeking middle ground, you will be seeking lowest bar.

Tyler 

Absolutely.

Randall 

The thing that everybody is comfortable with is the thing that you should be finding. I think places where like middle ground, you have to seek, uh Yoda, roleplaying. Roleplaying is a good example where if somebody is like, look, I don’t want it at the table. I hate it. I’m not here for the role playing, I’m just here for the game. And other people were like, I’m coming in a cape and a hat with a feather. You’re gonna need to find that compromise. But when it comes to, I’ll use graphic depictions of violence as an example. You know, violence against particular groups like these are things where, really you should find a way to keep the bar to keep everybody at the table happy.

Tyler 

So even if you do have outliers in like in that pregame information that you collect, sometimes you can find ways to accommodate outliers. So to draw a pop culture reference, if you’ve watched Firefly, there is a character named Jane who is essentially the, what’s the word I’m looking for, they’re essentially the big dumb fighter. Jane is all about fighting stuff, guns, and getting into trouble. Not a lot of social skills, doesn’t have a lot of speaking lines in the show. But like every once in a while, he’ll have a cool scene and do some cool stuff. But as a character, he’s all about like, “No, I’m, I’m gonna go fight stuff.” So like, if you have someone at the table, who’s there primarily for crunch, they’re there to fight things and kill monsters and get loot and cool stuff like that, that’s totally fine. And maybe you just make that part of the character. And like when you’re in social scenes, you be like, “hey, Jane, what are you doing?”and Jane can be like “I’m standing in the corner looking surly and glaring at people, are like, yeah,” nod and say, “Cool, Jane. Good job.” And that’s totally fine as long as everyone’s having fun. But identifying that potential problem early in the game, or even ideally, before the game starts, you can just fix that before it becomes a problem.

Randall 

Has anyone noticed that Jane always just pulls out a whetstone and start sharpening daggers? Never fights with a dagger, just starts sharpening them.

Random 

I mean, honestly, sharpening a dagger while maintaining perfect eye contact. I’m gonna give you advantage.

Randall 

Yeah, just the ever, the ever going intimidation check. Perfect. So the pregame survey is really cool. We’re going to link it in the show notes. I want to call out a couple of fun things that are on it so that you know what you’re getting into when you click into it. One there’s a section on what happens when a player character dies. And that ranges all the way from disappears from existence gone forever, there’s no opportunity for resurrection or anything of the sort all the way to I loot the body. How much respect will we give?, I loot the body. The other one that I got a good hearty chuckle over is like the lethality of the game. Where one of the options you might give your players, bring a stack of new characters to every session so that you can warm yourself around the pyre which the DM will throw them upon.

Tyler 

The OSR range.

Randall 

Yeah ,I don’t I don’t want to play the game where that’s the option that everybody else is picking.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Randall 

But I love that it’s on the list.

Tyler 

Yes, I tried to cater to a broad range of tastes and also pitch everything in a way that’s not intimidating or off putting to dissuade people from picking answers that they might potentially enjoy.

Randall 

Yeah, you can’t put it like give it all kinds of negative connotation. Fire’s warm and it keeps me warm and I like that this sounds like a great idea.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Randall 

Nevermind the trees. I guess, are we are you ready to hop into safety tools?

Tyler 

Let’s do it. Okay, so there are many, many safety tools that have been created over the course of time for tabletop role playing games. And not every tool is a perfect fit for every group. More than likely, you will pick one, two, maybe three that are a good fit to your group to suit your needs, and that will be plenty. You don’t need to pick everything we’re going to list but we’re going to list some popular examples that are easy to explain in an audio medium. First tool, first tool is just this the question of, “Why?” So the question “why?” can be an excellent safety tool. We talked about the five why’s on the adapting media to a tabletop RPG episode and about how you can dig down on a topic to get progressively more granular information until you figure out like, what is the underlying issue. If someone comes to your table and says, “I would like to use this safety tool while we play this game”, you might very reasonably ask “why?” They might say “I want to use an x-card.”, and you might say “why?”, and they say “because I know the tone of this game is going to come close to issues which I may not be comfortable discussing, so having having a way to pump the brakes on this would make me more comfortable and allow me to enjoy the game more safely.” Questioning the decisions your making, questioning your assumptions, just asking why to things is totally fine, and if you go for the five why’s, if you start asking someone questions, give them the room to say “I’m not comfortable answering that question.”, because one of the reasons safety tools exist is because real people have real world trauma and there may, there may just be things that they just never want to come close to discussing and they’re not comfortable sharing why or what that information is.

Random 

I would probably never ask past one “why?”, and even one, you know, if someone wants to bring a safety tool to my game, I’m generally just gonna say “Good.” Rather than try and ask them why upfront, given the benefit of the doubt, if someone says I would like an x-card and their x-carding you frequently during sessions, that’s where you get into “Oh, why?”

Randall 

Actually real quick, what is an x card? What are we going to do with an x-card?

Random 

As Tyler mentioned, it’s basically like a red card, a soccer game. It’s just a light little like symbol that you’re going to hold up and say, I know what’s going on…

Randall 

Do i get to chase the DM around the table and like hold it up?

Random 

I mean, if that’s how you want to use your safety tool, right?

Randall 

Okay.

Random 

It I mean, it’s literally as a tool it’s just a thing that you hold up and say, nope, I can’t deal with whatever is going on right now. We’re going to pause, we’re going to come back. I would say give people the benefit of the doubt until it starts becoming a problem. Like I said, if you have someone who’s using it constantly, okay, that that is a conversation that needs to happen offline about why. Maybe there was some miscommunication in your session 0 about what the tone was going to be, and so this is not the game that they want to be playing. Giving people the space to feel safe, often includes don’t badger them, unless it’s bringing down the table.

Randall 

Yeah, I think that’s all about right, and I think people definitely understand. I hope our listeners kind of understand how to take the nuance of some of these topics. In a conversation, if you have a character who says, you know, never introduce a child into the campaign at all whatsoever. That’s a hard line and it might hinder how you develop stories, it might hinder how, like how the world feels that they meet. So that might be a great conversation to have one on one and saying, you know, this is where don’t ask “why?”, because “why?” is hard, because “why?” is probably very specific, and probably very tied to the trauma they’re trying to avoid. But being able to make a commitment, like, “okay, look, I want to have kids in my world, but I promise that will never be violence against children, we will always make sure that they’re well out of the way anytime combat comes up, and we’ll never use them as a pawn in some mechanician that villainous, pulling off. Would that be acceptable?” You know, that’s a great way of taking what was a pretty strict limit, and saying, “I want to honor that, I want to make you feel safe at the table. You know, is this a reasonable compromise?” And if the person says, “No, I want no kids whatsoever”, you can have that, you know, is that something that you could sacrifice in your story? Probably it is, you know, you could probably work around it, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. I think this is where again, like Random pointed out, if these kinds of things are constantly an issue, maybe your table isn’t a right fit, but I think yeah, generally, *sigh* I’d like to think it’s changing. And I do think that the tabletop gaming community gets a better rap then the general gaming community. But, yeah, but let’s all be friendly. Let’s try to make people feel safe and welcome. Let’s let people have a good time.

Tyler 

Yeah, I think I’m going to cede the point on that one saving, “why?” for when the safety tool gets used multiple times, I think that’s better advice than what I gave. I think you guys are definitely right there. And yeah, just the x-card is a great example because the x-card is kind of an emergency brake on whatever’s going on. If something has gotten to the point that you need to use the x-card, maybe the expectations were set badly like you suggested, Randall. So yeah, if the x-card gets used multiple times in a game, that might be when you ask “why?”, recalibrate everyone’s expectations, move further away from those problematic topics, and then the hope for the safety tools is you want to have them and never need them. Having them in place can make players feel a lot more comfortable, and knowing that they have an outlet for like, I need to stop this, I need to step away, do those things. But again, just having them there for safety is the intent.

Random 

And I’m gonna say we gave one or two options here real quick, but if you want a more thorough explanation of some good safety tools, I would really recommend you go and listen to the news episode that we did with, I’m gonna horribly butcher his last name so I’m not even going to try, Caleb, et all. because we had a really good conversation there about that sort of thing. Check that out. We’ll have a list of everything that we want to, you know, make sure that we call it in the show notes. But there’s a lot of good stuff there.

Randall 

Awesome. So I think there’s one more safety tool that I definitely think we should bring up, which is lines and veils. So the idea of lines and veils is getting content from the group, and I’ll argue you shouldn’t solicit specific contact or you shouldn’t solicit specific topics, but telling the group “what are hard lines, which would be unacceptable to cross, and what are the topics where we encroach them, but we’re not going to describe them?”. And I think we’ve talked about this in the past, an example we gave was, like, you know, telling somebody that they walk into an obvious torture chamber. And it’s too gruesome to imagine. If somebody says that torture is a veil topic for them, then that’s a great way of handling it versus walking into describing each individual implement and how its applied, and the people who are like succumbing to it at this very moment, you have broken the veil at that point. And you have kind of violated the agreement you might make with the person. So lines and veils is a great, a great feedback to get from your players so that you understand up front, the things that you shouldn’t cross, and the things that you can touch upon but they would prefer you not to go any deeper on. I think like an obvious fail I feel like we’ve talked about for Tyler, spiders. If I say spider, he knows eight legs. If I say big spider, he knows eight very big legs. That’s as deep as I need to go.

Tyler 

Yeah.

Randall 

I don’t need to talk about venom dripping from fangs, I don’t need to talk about the number of eyeballs, how hairy it is, or anything of the sort. I can avoid all of those things, and honor, wait…uh, I’m sorry Tyler.

Tyler 

Oh, my veil!

Randall 

Which course we’re having this conversation and just obviously don’t do that to your people. But this is a great way to kind of get the list of things that you know you should be avoiding, so that hopefully, for instance, the next card never gets put up.

Tyler  

So the next thing you want to do in your session zero, you’ve figured out what you’re going to be playing, you’ve established your kind of social contract, you figured out everyone’s expectations, you’ve picked some safety tools potentially to use during your game. So now you get to build characters, and that’s the part that I like a whole lot. We talked about this a lot on the character optimization episode. Build the characters as a party. Optimizing one character in a vacuum is a great way to have everyone show up to the game as like rocket tag wizards. Figure out how the party is going to work together, figure out, like tie people, tie people’s backstories together. Figure out what source materials you’re going to use like which books are okay to use, which books aren’t. If you’re going to consider third party content, homebrew things like that, definitely figure that out before people build characters. Like, if someone shows up to my game with a Blood Hunter without asking me first, I’m gonna have questions. I might be okay with it, but I’d like to be asked as the DM.

Randall 

Yeah, to put that context very specifically, when you talk about what materials can and cannot come to the game, that’s something to work with your DM/GM to make sure that they’re agreeing on what comes in.

Random 

That is one of the things that gets talked about first. Part of that is because it’s the same social group and so we’ve kind of done the rest of session zero a long time ago. Because so many people do get so invested in their character you don’t want someone to get really invested in this concept, and then show up to your game and you say, “Oh, that’s cool. But Archivists are banned, because I have a personal prejudice.” Not that this has ever happened in that order, but Archivists are banned because I personally have a personal prejudice. Especially for new players, the theme of the character, or the concept that you want to build is going to influence where you take it mechanically. They’re going to be invested in that idea. You want to make sure that you don’t have to tell someone to try and change stuff after they’ve already gotten really invested in it. I still remember my first character. It’s been most of 20, 20 years? Has it been all 20 years? Yeah, like, it’s been all of 20 years. I remember my first character, I don’t remember any of the ones for 10 years after that. But that first one? Absolutely. And that’s because you get invested. When you’re doing that, that’s when you then start to think about backstory, personality. We’ve talked a lot about various ways to try and get people engaged in that. Maybe it’s a couple questions, right? Maybe it’s, what are, a thing that a DM has asked me, “What are three things that are, like critically important values for this person?”, and then use that to build that. Okay, well, so I’ve got a general idea for how they want to interact with the world, including how they want to fight in the world, because two very separate things. And now I’m going to actually put that to paper. One of the other fun benefits of doing this in a group setting as part of session zero is that you can both do that, like Tyler was talking about where you can make the party you can make the individual characters have relationships with each other. But you can also optimize the party. Admittedly, Wizard Rogue Cleric Fighter is a little overdone, but it’s really good. And like we’ve talked about in the optimization episode, you want to sort of make sure that you hit a lot of the roles, Defender, Scout, Healer, you want to make sure you hit a lot of those. Or, as long as you’re all together, you can very intentionally say, “No, we’re not going to do that.” I had a game where we were a DM and three Paladins and Pathfinder One, and it was great. The story was, yeah, your Paladin Order dispatched you to go hunt demons in this place full of demons. Go. And we had fun, but you’re only going to be able to do that sort of thing if everyone is there doing this, rather than trying to hash this out on their own.

Randall 

Were you running around like with coconuts banging them together?

Random 

I’m not gonna do this into the microphone, but okay, well, he’ll do it into the microphone. Perfect, thank you.

Randall 

Perfect. And the other thing I’ll say like towards that if you’re going to be an unbalanced party, and you’re doing it as a group consciously making that decision, this is a great time to ask a DM depending on what your system is, “Can we bring in a higher link? Can we bring in, you know, something to back this to maybe like, we’re just gonna have a healer and we’re just gonna let the healer stand up so that we can have fun and play the characters that we want to play?” Because both Pathfinder Two and D&D 5e have systems for this. I think it’s feasible, you can make this happen.

Tyler 

Yeah, absolutely. Figuring that out in your session zero is great timing for that and it’ll solve those social problems days, weeks, months, years in advance.

Randall 

Who’s going to drive the heal robot? I think somebody has to answer this question.

Tyler 

Roll a D4, one of the players at the table was randomly assigned healbot duty for the day, you got to drive the NPC.

Randall 

Quite literally. One thing that I want to bring up because I think it was a lot of fun. So we had Wolf on in Season One, Episode Seven, where we talked about death. And something he said has stuck with me still to this day. Talk about death in your session zero. All right, and occasionally talk about it again. But asking that question before they’ve ever played the character that they’ve developed, potentially before they write down the character. How do you want your character to die?

Tyler 

Yeah, absolutely. That can tell the DM/GM a lot about where you want that character’s story to go. How you want them to go out. If you tell your DM I want this guy to die on the end of a spear in the depths of a dungeon, that’s a very different thing from I want this guy to retire at an old happy age. That tells you wildly different things about the character. And we alluded to touching on death in the pregame survey as one of the things that you want to figure out with the party but yeah, talk about it again, after you’ve built characters, because it’s, it’s much different to think about it, like, there’s the abstract concept of how do we want to handle death? And then there is, here’s my beautiful, perfect character that I’ve built and poured all of my hopes and dreams into. What do you mean, there’s a possibility of death? Sort that out, talk about it again. Yeah, like Wolf and Randall reminded us, talk about it every few sessions, like every plot arc in the game, check in and be like, “Hey, how do you feel about this character? How does the character feel about death?” It’s a defining subject for the game for the character, for the players, and just generally for the tone.

Randall 

And I think it can, as a DM, occasionally reminding your characters they can die, even if not often are they actually dying, they’ll go a long way. It’s good for the game.

Tyler 

Oops.

Random 

The social fix of that, as you know, as opposed to reminding someone by just killing them, the mechanical fix.  I vote the social fix.

Tyler 

So there’s some other things that you might talk about at this point while you’re building characters. Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and Eberron: Rising from the Last War introduced a system for party patrons to D&D. The One Ring has it built in just as a core rule, every every group has a patron for the party. If you want to have that as part of your game, maybe you set that up early in the game and you say like we are level one adventurers hired by some patron, that can be a huge plot point. Opting to use those systems early in the game can be really meaningful. Part of it’s going to depend on the elevator pitch you get from your DM, like if they say, “We’re going to run Icewind Dale”, and your party says, “Can we have a group patron?”, like, well, this is a published module, that’s not really a thing. Maybe that’s a problem. Or maybe the DM just say, “Sure. Your patron is the speaker of one of the towns in 10 Towns, roll a d10.”

Randall 

Good Mead, Good Mead.

Tyler 

Yeah, speaker of Good Mead. They’ve got a mead hall. It’s great.

Randall 

It’s a wonderful place.

Random 

Are you sure it’s not good?

Randall 

Good Mead, Great Town. That’s what we always say.

Tyler 

We should write that on the mead hall with the ashes of the other buildings that have burned down. So anyway,

Randall 

That we allowed to be burned down?

Tyler 

Our weekly game’s going great.

Random 

One other fun thing I do you want to bring up. If you are someone who is perhaps creatively challenged, I will say like myself, using a tool to generate this sort of stuff can be really helpful. So DECHEMA is a very cool sort of writing prompt, basically a foundation from which to expand some story. And you can, we’ll have stuff in show notes. But basically, you use a tarot deck to generate prompts that the players then expand on. And if you have played or run Strahd, this may seem oddly familiar to you. And I will say that having played Strahd and seen something like that playing out, first off, it was a) the only session I ever missed and b) apparently the best one. So I’ll take that with a grain of oww but we were…

Randall 

Thinking comes in bats. But anyway, keep going.

Random 

We were talking about that Teraoka reading for the entire campaign that went on for like two years. Having that sort of stuff built into the front is going to be a really handy way to make it so that people can say okay, wait, so you remember what with this, we had talked about the Hierophant was going to mean this, but what if we take that and just twist it a little bit?

Randall 

Let’s actually stop for a second, I want to be very clear. So what is what is DECHEMA going to do or what is the Taraoka reading in Ravenloft going to do for us? What does it establish?

Tyler 

So it helps you establish inter party relationships, setting details, location information, and like Random said it’s a series of prompts. So you might get questions like your character has a crush on someone in the party. Who is it? Why? Everybody has to answer that question around the table. And I don’t think that’s actually one of the questions. That’s just what popped in my head for some reason, but…

Randall 

Okay, and then a bottle comes out and we’re gonna spin that around and that’ll be okay.

Tyler 

That’s a very different role playing game.

Randall 

Okay, put that off to the side. No. Okay, so cool. So it’s like a scaffolding to introduce randomization, to even help us build the backstory and the relationships for the inner party and then our interaction with the world. And so we were talking about yeah, build a backstory and do it with your other party members. If you’re having a hard time doing it a tool like DECHEMA for a general game, or specifically within Ravenloft, the Taraoka reading can really help you nail that down so that it feels alive for the rest of the game.

Tyler 

Exactly. It’s a really cool tool. It’s available on Drive Thru RPG as a PDF, Golden Lasso Games. The woman who runs it is very cool and runs another podcast that I like called Happy Jacks. I strongly recommend them. They’ve been around for a while, and they talk a lot about a lot of cool stuff.

Randall 

And we will have links to all of these things in the show notes. So if you want to hear more about it, take a look at that right now. I think we did it. And we do have a question of the week this week this week. Our question of the week this week comes to us comes to us from winged Lady 14 on Twitter. What advice would you have for playing a long live race or character who is proficient in history if you as a player are unfamiliar with the world lore?

Tyler 

Oh, that’s a fun question.

Random 

That is a fun question. The short answer is basically going to be prompt your DM a lot. Even if you are familiar with setting lore like Faerun lore or Eberron lore. That doesn’t mean you’re familiar with the lore of your DM’s game. If you have a character who’s proficient answer, even if you have a character who is a history buff, don’t think that just because you know things, that this is going to be a good chance for you to start spouting. And in fact, there’s two ways that I would handle this. I would do upfront, either talk to your DM about it and say, “I have this character who’s going to know a lot about history. I personally know a little bit about Faerun, I can look stuff up if you want me to. But realistically, what I’m probably going to do is just I’m going to make a lot of checks. And then I’m going to let you take over and say what I know.” Because I’ve alluded to this before, towards the end of story arcs my players in Rise of the Ruin Lords would just ask me “and what other 20 pages of lore did Paizo write for you that you’re never going to get to tell us?”, because they do. And getting to expound on some of that is awesome. Like, oh, yeah, you, you remember that you saw this old journal in a library 20 years ago, you remember talking to this human 300 years ago, you know, now their great, great, great, great, great, grand niece is the queen, you know, something like that. Basically, if you are someone who is proficient and interested in history, I would try and downplay that, unless you want to work with your DM behind the scenes for them to feed you information. Because that’s basically the two things is like, hey, DM, I’m going to do this a lot. Do you want to talk? Or do you want me to talk? That’s how I would take it.

Randall 

I think that’s fantastic. What I would say is if you’re at a roleplay heavy table, looking at your DM and basically say, put up the guard rails for me, and let them say kind of hear the facts, let you take it away and have some fun with like, you know, expanding out the lower and like, if you’re playing a fun game, add some silliness to it. Have a great time with it. And I’m going to go to this when you read The Hobbit the first time, there’s this tone early in the book, where they’re talking about, I think it was one of the hobbits killed an orc captain and invented the game of golf all at the same time. Do you remember this? Am I the only? Yeah?

Tyler 

I don’t remember that detail, but that feels so accurate.

Randall 

Literally, that tone never comes back in that book again, to the point where like, it actually made me a little bit salad, sad. I thought that it was fantastic. I’m saying that to say like, you could add that kind of touch to the game and you can help your DM build the world, if they’re into it. The thing that you can’t do is be like, “Ah yes, I know the history of the castle. And I know in particular, that the switch for the trap is underneath this bookshelf right here.” No, like that’s that’s garbage. You can’t do that. But saying in general, “Yeah, the the folks who built this castle, loved to set elaborate traps, which were diffusible from in the room.” That might be something that your DM would say, “Yeah, I don’t want you to trigger the trap either. You can diffuse it from the room. Let’s go.”

Tyler 

Oh, man, Lord of the Rings is a really good example to draw on actually. So The One Ring is out now, I’ve reading it, it’s really good. And Lord of the Rings has a lot of very long lived races that have been around for a really, really long time. Like one of the potential patrons in The One Ring is a character who’s basically been around since the beginning of the Third Age and they’ve seen like human kingdoms rise and fall and like all this stuff, they’ve been around forever. They’ve seen it all, they know all the things. Characters like that in Lord of the Rings, you can go and talk to them and be like, “Hey, do you know this about this?” “Like I vaguely remember I’ve been around a long time, a lot of this stuff gets jumbled up. Is that sword Glamdring Or or Chris, who knows? It’s one of the two, flip a coin.” So if you’re a super long lived race, like you might reasonably ask yourself where have you been that whole time? Maybe you’re a hermit and you were just living in a tree and had no idea what was going on. Maybe you were making all the gray ships for the elves to sail west in and you were hearing all these stories, so like you’ve been around a long time, you’ve heard snippets of the details, a lot of them are kind of fuzzy because you’re getting them secondhand. So there’s plenty of ways to say, “I’ve been around a long time, but my memory isn’t perfect, or my knowledge isn’t perfect.” And even if it is like, again, very, very long memory, things get kind of jumbled up if you’ve lived for 5000 years, like did this happen in this century or the one after that? Who knows? That’s what history checks are for.

Randall 

I feel like that’s a fun game. Did this happen 1000 years ago, or was had a dream last week? I don’t know.

Tyler 

Oh, and in D&D’s elves the recent changes in the lore have made that even more fuzzy because they’ve gradually started introducing the concept that elves are reincarnated in multiple D&D worlds so like you might, your elf might die of old age and Forgotten Realms and wake up in, in Gray Hawk or Dragonlance or something. And you have like vague dreamlike memories of your past lives, which they use to explain the elf like their bonus proficiencies and stuff. It’s very easy to say yes, my character is 800 years old. I remember a bunch of stuff. Some of its from previous lives and I have some trouble deciding which is which sometimes. So if you roll that on the history check, like your DM might be like “Uhh, you remember the history of a small town in Faerun and I realize we’re playing Aberavon. So you’re just gonna have to deal.”

Randall 

Ah, perfect. And I think the key takeaway that I think everybody hit on is your DM ultimately gets the last say in kind of the shape of the world. But this could be a fun way for you to take the the edges of the painting that they provide, and then kind of fill in the color as we go. So thank you very much for that question. Next episode will be on puzzles in tabletop gaming, and how to actually execute on them. All hail the Leisure Illuminati. I’m Randall James, you can find me at amateurjack.com and on Twitter and Instagram @jackamateur.

Tyler 

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPGBOT.net, Facebook and Twitter at rpgbotdotnet and patreon.com/rpgbot.

Random 

And I’m Random Powell, you will find me desperately trying to get four people to do improv around a table. But when I do that, you probably won’t hear me referring to myself as Harlequin or Harlequint, even though that’s what I usually go by in game places. Indeed, mostly, you’ll find me here contributing to RPGBOT both on the podcast and some articles.

Randall 

Alright, if you enjoyed the show, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick, free way to support the podcast and helps us reach new listeners. You can find links in the show notes. You’ll find the affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes, as well as on RPGBOT.net. Following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. If your question should be the question of the week next week please email podcast@rpgbot.net or message us on Twitter @rpgbotdotnet. Please also consider supporting us on Patreon, where you will find early access to RPGBOT.content, polls for future content and access to the rpgbot…

Tyler 

You almost got threw it!

Random 

We’ll throw dots into anything. Just, just do it.

Tyler 

It’s reflexive at this point.

Randall 

Next week that’s gonna be in the copy as RPGBOT.content. Polls for future content and access to the RPGBOT.discord. Yeah, we have a Discord channel. The folks in there are awesome. You can come hang out with us. You can find that at patreon.com/rpgbot. Golf was a game played by hobbits similar to that of modern day golf. It was invented during the Battle of Greenfield’s when Bandobras Took charged at the goblins and knocked off the head of King Golfimbul. The head flew through the air for 100 yards and went down a rabbit hole.

Random 

Wonderful.

Randall 

Here’s the deal.

Tyler 

A hundred yards. A head.

Randall 

Well, I mean yeah, he’s got a good stroke. He’s been practicing. Here’s the deal, as a kid when I read this, I did not pick up on King Golfimbul.

Tyler 

I can’t blame you.

Randall 

That gave me pause.

Random 

Wow.

Tyler 

I wonder what he was the king of? King of the greens.

Randall 

Masters, truly. All right, we did it.

Tyler 

Good job, everybody. Hey, we did great on time.

Random 

We did.

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