The experience of Keeping and playing MoN requires a significant commitment from everyone involved. A baseline non-play session before commencing the campaign provides an opportunity for you and your players to discuss the campaign while aligning your goals and expectations for the collaboration. You may approach your Session Zero with a specific campaign conception in mind (Classic or Pulp, for example) or you may be exploring your player’s interests and deciding together. Even if you have an idea of what sort of campaign you want to Keep, a Session Zero should be approached as dialogue aiming to form an optimal consensus to ensure everyone has fun. By agreeing to a shared vision of the campaign, both players and Keeper will feel much more comfortable committing to an extended effort. If you’ve never run a Session Zero before, particularly before such an expansive campaign, here are some topics you can address with your players:
- Campaign One-Liner – A pitch to let them know what’s in store. The description on the back cover of the campaign book can work very nicely. If you feel more ambitious, you can present a more detailed summary on a single page for prospective player review.
- Call of Cthulhu (or Pulp Cthulhu) – A brief summary of the Keeper’s interpretation of the setting, its key characteristics, and features. A good time to check in with players about rules knowledge and provide resources helpful resources, as needed. If playing with CoC naive gamers, be sure to highlight differences between other popular RPGs and this setting. For example, not every combat need be won, and there will be no shame in a well-timed retreat.
- Death and Insanity – A key difference to highlight and emphasize for players new to CoC. Check here for some thoughts on approaching this topic.
- Mythos – This can be a particularly useful topic to discuss for new CoC players, or you may choose to remain vague and allow them to discover the horrors of Mythos. Can be helpful to remind some players that even if they are Mythos gurus in real life, their PCs may know nothing. Again, this can be particularly useful if playing with mixed CoC experience levels.
- Brief period overview – A good opportunity to discuss whether historical accuracy and detail will be important for everyone or not.
- Group Comfort – Can relate to #3 and #4. Discuss the table’s feelings and preferences about horror, violence, racial issues, and sexually charged topics, and how they may potentially arise in the campaign, particularly with respect to troublesome pulp tropes. Players can identify sensitive subject matter for them and you can introduce techniques for player safety and comfort. Monte Cook’s “Consent in Gaming” delves into this important topic in much greater detail.
- Character Creation – Session zero fun stuff. For new players, provide some thoughts as to what sort of characters and skills will be useful and fun to play in MoN, as well as house rules for character generation. Group can break up for character creation or collaborate as players to allow character integration and cohesion.
- Back-up Character – Revisit the high-risk of the campaign and add some discussion (and/or generation) of reserve PCs for later use.
- Discuss House Rules – If playing with a new group, it may be useful to discuss key topics, such as Luck use, spells, tomes, as well as table’s preferences regarding maps and theater of the mind (especially combat)
- Play Setting & Schedule – Will you be playing in-person, online, or both? Will sessions be weekly, monthly, or randomly scheduled? Discuss group’s preferences for changing plans, cancellations, and missing players.
- Inter-session Play – Do you want to provide roleplaying opportunities outside of sessions, such as correspondence between character and NPCs, or run individual side adventures? This is a good time to determine player interest.
An effective Session Zero will generate player enthusiasm and serve to align expectations. You can assess its results by running a short session with the PCs. If you plan on starting with the Peru Prologue, running from Bar Cordano through the exciting encounter at the Museum provides a strong start, offering excellent opportunities for roleplaying, player interaction, and combat. Checking in with everyone after this preliminary session, allows you to tweak any issues and fully dive into the excitement during your next session.
What other topics did you and your group address during your session zero?