Dungeons & Dragons Online

GM’s: Don’t be afraid to get specific when you make your session zero pitch!

Tragically common scenario: a player builds an interesting character that they think will fit into the game the GM is trying to run, discovers that they have misunderstood the GM's idea for what the game will be like, and is now stuck playing a character with a skill-set that is completely incongruous to the gameplay. Eventually this may lead to a disengaged player, tension boiling over, people pointing fingers, posts being made on rpghorror stories, and another fun TTRPG is ruined by miscommunication.

Session zero is supposed to get everyone on the same page. This is the GM's big pitch to the players, and so it's crucial that the GM communicates their vision as best as possible, even if that means getting a little specific or "giving away" early plot details. Imagine if the GM pitched this as the main motivation for action:

"The players will be in a kingdom thrown into disarray by the unexpected death of their nations heirless king"

This adventure hook has a lot of promise, but is vague enough that some players might take different things away from this. You might end up with some characters optimized for combat that pictured a bloody civil war in the future, with the party fighting to survive and thrive as the various lords and nobles of the kingdom turned into warlords vying for control…and then have those hardened soldiers stand around awkwardly as the one player who rolled up a bard pretty much runs through the GM's dense web of political intrigue by themselves. Or vice versa!

Now lets imagine the GM was a little more specific, and added one of the following things about the player's initial motivations onto the first statement:

"Players will be mercenaries, diplomats, or minor nobility working to advance the interests of House Ash, a powerful Noble House from a neighboring nation, in the chaotic times following the death of the heirless king."

"Society is rapidly falling apart and the kingdom is soon the dominion of a series of ruthless warlords with ambitions of conquest, players will be free agents thrown together by chance seeking purpose, safety, or glory in the chaos of the succession wars."

"Players will be agents of the rapidly eroding government on a mission to hold the nation together through this tumultuous time until they can find a way to solve the issue of succession."

"Players will be palace staff who discover evidence of foul play in the king's untimely death, and will be thrust into a situation where they must work to bring the killers to justice while keeping a low profile as the new government transitions into power.

These are four dramatically different stories that the GM can tell, and they all fit under the umbrella of the initial motivation statement. It's not a bad thing, or "railroading" to lay out general guidelines for the kinds of characters that you anticipate will work well with the story. Players will have a more concrete idea of where they should try to fit into the world before they even make their characters and so a lot more likely to build characters they like that advance the GM's vision instead of brush up against it.

This isn't to say you don't want diversity in a party! A social character in a less social game still has an important role to play, but this better informs the player who wants to make that character of what they should expect and helps them prepare to fill that role.

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