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Player questions for a session zero (input on setting)

ajdynon

Registered User
Validated User
Okay, planning on a fantasy sandbox game where I intend the players to have a lot of input on the setting. The basic idea is for an exploration-based game, set in an ocean with several island chains, cultures based on places like Indonesia and Hawaii. The islands are remnants of an Atlantis-like empire that got destroyed way back when. I have a couple of ideas for questions I can ask in a session zero to help develop things, can people suggest more?

1. The Great Ocean has many islands and archipelagos, each with their own culture, religion, etc. What is your character's native culture like?

2. Many of the peoples of the Great Ocean have myths concerning the Empire of the Ancients. What have you heard? Were they a great civilisation tragically destroyed, or a cruel empire justly punished by the gods? Do your character's beliefs differ from their native culture's?

3. (Optional) If you have ideas for places or people that you would like to encounter, please suggest them.
 

MatthewJHanson

Registered User
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Another good one is to ask about what threats, obstacles, and dangers are present imminent.

In general, I'd encourage starting small and focusing on the characters. No need to map out all the island from the get-go.
 

Derrick Kapchinsky

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Validated User
I consider these to be important session 0 questions regardless, but I think they’re even more important in a setting where the players have a lot of input.

1) why do your characters care about exploring the ocean (or interacting with the games premise)?

2) why do your characters care about each other?

3) why do your characters continue to travel, or otherwise be, together?
 

Morgan.Arcane

New member
Oh, these are great! I love Session 0s that give the players a lot of input on the setting like this.

If you've never seen it, look into the game Fellowship by Liberi Gothica games. The book's section on the first session gives a lot of good guidance and questions for how to start off. One of the things I really like and steal for all my games is this one:

"Choose another player. Tell us a rumor or superstition your people hold about their people. They cannot tell you whether or not its true."

We've had some great ones at our table, like "Frost Elves' hearts are made of ice, literally, which is why they're so stoic and aloof." It's fun to lay something like that out there and let the players resolve it sooner or later!

I also find questions like "What is your peoples' greatest accomplishment" or "Tell me about your greatest city" are good. You can get free-form and ask individual players more detailed questions at the table based on their responses to drill into things they mentioned. If the dwarves are such great craftsfolk, what have they done that demonstrates it? (It also means you as the GM get new things to knock over later on for dramatic stakes!)
 

g33k

Registered User
Validated User
Who are your people's closest allies? Their greatest rivals? Bitterest foe (and why)?

Same question, but specific to your character: closest person? Rival? Enemy?
 

MoonHunter

Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
RPGnet Member
Validated User
You always want to define the chronicle and the framework of the game. Those are the initial important questions.

You have an idea for the setting (and you will build that). What does the GM see you doing: is there a meta plot, is there a big threat, are we just exploring, are we looking for ruins to loot, are we just supposed to be fishermen who get caught up in some web of intrigue?

Remember there are two things for a framework. First is what you are supposed to be doing and how do we know each other; the second is what you are expecting to do.

What is our group and what are we supposed to be doing? Fishers, Explorers, Lost? Rootless adventurers? A group of explorers from the same island? A bunch of castaways? Slaves that escaped? (note: what you are supposed to be doing is not what you will be doing in the chronicle... though knowing both is handy). What binds us together as a group.

Make sure the group has connections to each other. Even if you just met, you just happen to fit together as group. (Oh you are the big hero? Well I am the sneaky guy who will be helpful but a pain in your butt). But knowing people and having relationships make the gameplay better. Find some internal dramatic tension (Bones and Spock...) After all, if you only roleplay with the GM's NPCs, you are waiting in line and slowing down the game. If you can roleplay with each other, you have something to do while the GM is doing something else.

What are we going to be doing - in general? Nothing is worse than taking the GM at their first word (oh we are doing courtly things) and finding out that you are in a survival situation or you are being dungeon explorers and having a completely useless character.

----------------------

Specifics you should ask around the group: What does your character do? (This is a game, you need to cover the group bases). What is your character's secondary gig (what else are you strong in? "So you are the fighter who does some stealth... okay, well I am the thief who does some fighting on the side.") Make sure the group is somewhat balanced and linked together.

Since this is an island game: How is the group getting around - do we have a boat or are we getting others to carry us. Are we sailors or something else?

Do the gods of one island exist on another island? Are they worshipped on other islands?

Is there any "-ism" that will come up on various islands that we need to be aware of? (for both character creation and player comfort)

Are there any navies or big military out there and does one island militarily dominate a number of islands?

One last thing: I like character foundation work to be done in session zero.
The first post is here. Follow the links to the second and third. (follow the links to find things that are useful.
 

eggdropsoap

Cosmic Egg
Validated User
Question for you: what kind of game is this, character-wise? Is it a capital-A Adventure and the party are inherently allies, with a focus on being interesting but mainly pursuing Adventure together? (Whether it’s the adventure railroad or adventures in a sandbox, the character focus is still on pursuing “Adventure!”?)

Or is this about flawed people with their own reasons to be on this difficult journey, who will have friction and growth between each other in this crucible?

In other words: what’s the camera on? The great deeds and exploration, or on the personal stakes and drama?

I like a lot of the questions above, but I can tell some are good for one kind, some are good for both, and some are only good for the other kind. Which questions you put to your players is a way of building a camera lens on the kind of play you’ll have, so depending on what you’re going for I’d suggest different questions. :)
 

DavetheLost

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Validated User
The Further Afield supplement for Beyond the Wall has a lot of material on collaborative campaign setting building.

Things include having each player go around the table adding a location to the campaign map, and telling whether their character has been there, met someone who was there, or have heard stories about it. Another player later gets to add something about the location. the GM secretly determines how much of this true and what else may be going on. It helps give the players real buy in to the setting.
 

BlackSpike

Registered User
Validated User
Who are your people's closest allies? Their greatest rivals? Bitterest foe (and why)?

Same question, but specific to your character: closest person? Rival? Enemy?
I've mentioned this before but our games use a home-brew we call "The Good, The bad and The Ugly"
Name 3 people your character knows:
1: Good - generally friendly
2: Bad - A rival or enemy
3: Ugly - A complicated relationship

We don't always have them as Major NPCs, and some hardly feature at all, but you can use it for Driving Forces for the PCs.
We don't usually have G/B/U for the Group as a whole, but there is no reason why you can't!

@Derrik has a good point: Why do you come together/Why do you stay together?
 

Michele

Registered User
Validated User
The Further Afield supplement for Beyond the Wall has a lot of material on collaborative campaign setting building.

Things include having each player go around the table adding a location to the campaign map, and telling whether their character has been there, met someone who was there, or have heard stories about it. Another player later gets to add something about the location. the GM secretly determines how much of this true and what else may be going on. It helps give the players real buy in to the setting.
Nice idea in general, and the bold part might be totally necessary with the mechanism proposed by the OP, because:

Master: Ok, so what can you tell me about your nation?
Player A: We're the Westernmost one, farther West there's only ocean, and we have the biggest navy.
Player B: Our navy is the most powerful.
Player C: There's nobody to the West of us.
 
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