Zeroing in on Session Zero

With our Fantasy AGE game wrapped up. It was time for our group to choose a new game and a new story. The votes were close, but when the smoke cleared, the majority had spoken.

Goin’ Back to Théah

We were returning to Terra, the world of the 7th Sea. This time to the Atabean Sea, where a new jolly band of pirates will set sail on the Corwith Cramer to swash, buckle, and plunder their way to fame!

I’m personally thrilled about this. 7th Sea remains one of my favorite all time settings. And the rules system, despite its brevity and lack of crunch, is one of the more challenging systems to play well. Since our last 7th Sea game ended, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the game, how it works, and what makes it shine. So I’m really eager to put those thoughts into practice with a new crew (only 2 of my regular players were part of the old campaign) and new collection of stories.

Hopefully my GMing skills will be up to the task.

And so, last month we held a session zero to get things kicked off. We needed to make characters, discuss thematics, and just figure out what the players wanted to do.

Does Anyone Else See a Problem Here

This is my third session zero to be held online. And it just feels…off.

Don’t misunderstand, character creation went down just fine. I’ve got a great group of players and, as I expected, they gave me PLENTY to work with. No, I’m talking about a sort of vague disconnect with the medium. I feel like Discord and Roll20 just don’t really offer tools to help facilitate a Session Zero.

For a session zero, in addition to character creation, I generally like to prompt the players for additional information:

  • Character entanglements (relationship links and bonds between their characters; I use a list of options built off of the one on Sly Flourish)
  • A Personal Contact and a Rival (a condensed version of the Serenity RPG 3x3x3 pdf)
  • A Favorite Location in the Base Town (in this case, Aragosta)

But other than flooding the chat field, neither of these programs really have a good way of recording that information, for collecting it, or organizing it.

Part of the problem here should be obvious. The average group might run a single session zero every 6 to 12 months. So there just isn’t a lot of reason to invest resources building tools for a function that would get minimal use.

As I currently work in education, I wonder if a lot of the online tools teachers use to increase participation and student engagement couldn’t be used to make our Session Zeroes more engaging for players and more helpful for GMs too!

  • Padlet seems like a no brainer for this one. It’s basically a big bulletin board of sticky notes that users can leave notes on and organize in a variety of ways. The GM could host a session zero, then return to the site later and collect the information there as needed.
  • Flippity and Kahoot! both allow you to create mini-games that could easily be repurposed into some of the random elements of character creation.
  • And, of course, there’s Google Forms.

Or some combination of these tools. As it is, I think using a virtual presentation (google slides, maybe) that as a hub to string together these online tools in a meaningful way that could make virtual session zeroes a bit more fun and easier to collect information from.

Our 7th Sea game should last through next summer (at least). In the meantime, I may experiment with a few of these to find out what works.

But what about you? What tools do you use (if any) when you host a session zero online? Do you find they enhance the experience, or just drag down the flow? Please report your experiences in the comments section.

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