16 Jan Session Zero – Table Rules & OOC
Table Rules & OOC
There can be a lot of distractions and hurdles that can negatively impact your tabletop sessions. It may be a good idea to set some table rules for your group to avoid unwanted interruptions or uncomfortable situations. Also, consider coming up with some effective ways of streamlining your tabletop play with some delegation and player assignment for various tasks.
Yay, more rules! Now, don’t confuse these with the mentioned rulings we went over in the Expectations post that we’ve already gone over. Table rules will help cover any general player rules from an out-of-game stand point and session zero is the idle time to figure them out. Setting table rules can be a tremendous help to everyone for all sessions to come. Table rules can be carried over and utilized for more than your current or upcoming campaign, as they basically act like guidelines for your group’s members to follow while everyone is playing, GMs included. Mutually agreeing upon these rules can help keep everyone on track and remove most potential distractions, arguments, and disagreements among your group. Let’s look at some examples of what could constitute for table rules.
There can be a lot of distractions in today’s busy world and TTRPGs can serve as a means of taking a break from that chaos, temporarily. So, let’s start off with phones. Everyone’s got one in their face, you may even have one lighting up your beautiful face right now as you read this! Phones are great, but they’re a distraction from effectively playing and other group members may not enjoy the constant delays and catching-up that accompany constant phone usage from others at the table. These aptly nicknamed phonies can quickly suck the life out of a great session. Using a phone for your character sheet or checking some rules can be okay, if permitted ahead of time, but keeping phone usage to a minimum is generally a good table rule to have. Keep in mind, everyone is generally playing to have some fun, so don’t go off the deep end and completely ban phones or something that may not be realistic for people who may rely on a phone call for real life situations, emergencies, etc. Needless to say, phones can cause problems if everyone is distracted and not on the same page. I digress, let’s continue.
With the mention of phones and the potential disruption to the game they pose, you may also want to think over the amount of electronic devices that grace the table. Using technology can streamline a lot of different aspects and clear up some space, but perhaps the leap into a collective imagination can be accompanied by just pen and paper. (A useless side note, pencil and paper always seemed more accurate to my experiences.) This can be challenging for a lot of players, especially for some GMs who rely on the magical power of computers to do all the heavy lifting, from notes to digital maps being displayed on a built-in TV in the table. Always play the way that works best for you, but if your group has never tried a purely pen and paper session or campaign, consider giving it a try. Spin up a one shot session and see how it goes, it may surprise everyone. It may help with immersion and cause less distractions.
Let’s look at some other potential scenarios and issues that could require some table rules. Are the numbers on those weird dice unreadable? What about potentially touchy subjects like real-world politics or political references? Would certain types or mention of religion, in-game or real world references, possibly upset any players or be best left alone? How about establishing a line or limit when it comes to obscene acts or inappropriate roleplaying aspects – especially if one or more group members are not comfortable with them? Can new players join or be invited by one of the group without warning (definitely check with the GM beforehand with doing this, at the very least)? Cutting down on metagaming can be difficult and certainly takes some practice, but having a table rule for actively, and collectively, pointing out and discouraging metagaming can help decrease the metagaming urges during play. Any potential scenarios or issues should to be dealt with as early as possible to avoid taking away from the game and to keep group members from becoming upset or uncomfortable.
Be respectful and follow the set table rules to the best of your ability to ensure everyone will enjoy their time when playing. If there are any issues, exceptions, or amendments needed, temporary or otherwise, don’t be afraid to bring it up with the GM or the group. Find a good balance of what table rules will work best for everyone in your group. Creating an enjoyable and efficient environment for playing can be very beneficial! And as usual, it’s good practice to write these down and make them accessible to the entire group.
Out Of Character (OOC)
Here, we’re going to tie up some loose ends and further layout some potential benefits you’ll want to have covered ahead of time to further streamline the processes that may currently be bogging down the game. A quick side note on out of character while we’re here, it’s generally a helpful table rule to declare when you’re talking about something or addressing someone as a player and not as a character, assuming there’s a good amount of character roleplaying going on. The less confusions the better. Let’s look at some of the administrative style tasks and planning that should be taken care of before starting a campaign.
First and foremost, work out the session schedule and play times well in advanced of starting so everyone in the group has the opportunity to schedule their time accordingly. Compromising with everyone on which times work best for the entire group is like it’s own side quest. If there’s any reason why TTRPGs never get traction with some groups and players, it’s because of scheduling conflicts, last minute cancellations, and players having to leave the group for whatever reasons. People have lives and that typically comes first, so be accommodating when it comes time to figure out a schedule for your group. Also, just a heads up, be prepare to possibly participate in the great scheduling simulator that is finding compatible session times for your group. Be sure to decide what will happen with a player’s character when they are absent from a session. Generally this is done between the player and the GM working something out, but there are plenty of clever alternatives that can involve the group as well.
Now, the GM has a lot on their plate in terms of running the game and trying to manage several different aspects of the game at once, both to the player’s knowledge and unbeknownst to the players. It may be beneficial, especially for new GMs, if everyone chipped in and lent a hand when and where they can. GMs can delegate some tasks that will both streamline the game and help with the basic tasks in order for the GM to focus on more crucial aspects behind the scenes. This goes beyond the basic duties and responsibilities that each player should already be on top of, like knowing their spells, taking sufficient notes for their characters, etc. Some examples to consider: delegate initiatives to a player to manage and track or make it a group task, each player knowing who they go after. This can impede on stealthy creatures who have yet to enter the initiative, so keep that in mind. There are also several effective methods for tracking initiatives (which will be touched on in another post), but having a clear and quick initiative order can speed up combat quite a bit. Assigning a leadership role within the group to make decisions or establish a means of character democracy to help keep the group on track. Staying on track may also help avoid straying too close to the murderhoboing that is so tempting for some players. However, if murderhoboing is the aim of the campaign and the GM is cool with it, go for it! If the GM is not cool with murderhoboing, we’ll try and provide some methods of dealing with and discouraging such playstyles in another post.
Assigning a player, or a character in game, to keep track of and manage loot by means of collecting and distributing the bulk for the group when needed. This has its obvious potential drawbacks with less than truthful or greedy players or characters, but can also help streamline the game and keep the focus from slowing or halting. A side note and suggestion for GMs that can serve as a time saver, consider distributing loot would be withholding all loot until the end of the dungeon or area and then dealing it out afterwards to keep the pacing and combat fluid – with the exception of important story-related or combat enhancing items (primarily just focus on withholding the currency and basic treasures as they can be cumbersome to track repeatedly). Snacks! Let the group determine among themselves, if this applies to your group, who brings snacks or drinks for sessions while the GM can focus on preparing and setting up before each session. Players can even designate a single player to keep track of events within the game, a master note taker, if you will. The list of mundane yet important tasks goes on and on, but each small thing the GM doesn’t have to juggle or stop to reiterate can help alleviate a lot of game pacing issues. Some of these may take some practice or alterations to find what works best, so don’t be afraid to experiment now in order to save time and frustration down the road. There are so many factors that can make or break game pacing in TTRPGs and a lot of it relies on both the GM and the players. Find a good balance and rhythm for your group, if the GM would like the help.
All in all, the real endgame of TTRPGs is to have fun and enjoy the experience. Everything here is just a suggestion, including the notion of ever even having a session zero at all. Hopefully some helpful ideas have been brought to light to serve as inspiration for improving your future sessions and overall group dynamic. Always do what works best for your group and adventure on!
More Session Zero posts.