Session Zero Part 5: Family, Habits, and Other Personal Bits

Adriaen Brouwer - The Smokers (1636) mini

“Well met, fellow adventurer!” says the old dwarf.   He motions you toward a well-worn oak stool. “Please sit, sit. Now before we discuss the details of this job, tell me a bit about yourself.  You come with quite a reputation.”

In previous parts, you built your character basics: Race, Ability Scores, Background, and finally Class.  You defined what your character looks like.  Now we transition to your early life.  Ultimately, what I am looking for in each section is one or two interesting hooks that I grab onto and get into the game.  I also look for situation bonuses I can give to players that support their backgrounds, because players love situation bonuses!

Section 8: Family and Growing Up

This section really promotes players building their character’s family and friends, and tying them to the setting.  This is a perfect time for players to really influence the world and its recent history. DMs need to be flexible and accommodating to player agency.  Let players define elements of the world: forests, political parties, farm towns, labor guilds, small coastal island, are all examples of things players might want to have access to.  Even in a published adventure or campaign setting, there is always room to let players add to it.

I do have two points of caution:

  • Craft close-ended questions.  If you have too many open-ended questions, it will really slow down Session Zero progress, especially with a lot of players building characters.  Provide “guided choices” that players can easily override.  Give them a limited number of choices, then remind them they can answer however they wish.  The choices are suggestions, not the only answers.
  • Incentivise key questions.  For elements that are or might be important to the story, give players gold rolls.  Players will almost always choose to roll for gold and accept an answer from the table, than craft one on their own and receive no gold.  Also, when crafting your own questions, be generous and allow them to roll for more gold.  If you feel a 1d20 or 1d10 gold option is too expensive, lower the amounts.  Players even find rolling for 1d4 gold more entertaining than without.

Right or wrong, an attitude may spawn during this process.   Players may want to steer answers so that the DM does not have the “ammunition” to use against the character in the game and thus player.  I do not believe in the “old school” philosophy that it is a DM versus the Player’s world. Of course, your table dynamic and knowledge of your player’s play-style are key here.

  • DM tip: A fun tactic to counter the “ammunition” behavior is to take away their “rolled gold” to gain that advantage.  Players will usually not want to pay gold to get the answers they want, flaws or no flaws.

8 - Family and Growing Up

For Reference, here is the Lifestyle Expenses Chart (PHB pgs. 157-158) to help your players define their family’s social class.

8 - Family and Growing Up - Lifestyle

Section 9: Personal Habits

This section starts to get into the quirks, habits, and mental biases that characters have picked up and developed.   What I really like about these questions is the table interaction potential.

9 - Personal Info and Habits9 - Personal Info and Habits Part 2

I pulled these tables from the fantastic AEG Toolbox 3rd Edition d20 book.

9 - Personal Info and Habits - Quirks Table

9 - Personal Info and Habits - Fears Table

Next time, we’ll dig into character’s opinions and beliefs.

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