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How to Run a Dungeons & Dragons Session Zero for Kids and Teens

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Lucas Maxwell

Contributor

Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

In the high school library that I manage, we play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve written before for Book Riot on the impact that D&D can have on things like literacy. I have been a Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master for only a short time, but I’ve been fortunate enough to write a book on this topic for the American Library Association & Facet Publishing. What I’ve done since starting is to collect ways to make the game easier to grasp for new players. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to meet with librarians and teachers to talk about this topic amongst many other things related to Dungeons and Dragons.

I was recently very fortunate to speak to an amazing group of 11 year old students and their librarian from another school in the UK. They wanted to jump straight in and start playing but didn’t know where to begin. I think this is one of the hardest hurdles to get over because once you’re in, you’re in.

It was a great, albeit quick Session Zero, which is simply a session you have with your players before the actual game starts. I thought I’d run through how to deliver a great Session Zero with teens in a library setting to ensure your D&D game starts with a bang.

Dungeons and Dragons players sitting around a table
Photo courtesy of Lucas Maxwell, used with students’ permission

Bring Food

This is something that any teen librarian in a public or school setting knows. Food is the key to the hearts and minds of youth. If you are going to run a D&D Session Zero, having snacks is essential. In my mind, it also sets the tone, telling the students that yes, you are going to cover a lot of info, but it’s going to be fun and we are going to be really chilled out about it. This is a great way in, especially if you have new players who have never played D&D before or who might feel uncomfortable being in groups.

Lay Down the Rules

I don’t mean this in a harsh way, but it’s good to set the expecations of the game at every Session Zero. What I mean by this is that you as DM know what you want from the game, but your players might not. It can be hard to convey this verbally because a lot of the “feel” of the game comes along organically as you play. However, there are few things you can establish early on, especially if you have young or new players.

These include: No player vs. player unless it comes up naturally (e.g. a player is magically charmed / confused and attacks a friend). This is my number one rule: I tell the players that this is not a PvP game, you are in this together and you will work together to survive. There are plenty of PvP games out there that they can engage with. If you allow players to pile on other players, it will result in hurt feelings.

This is just one rule; you might have several that you can lay down at a Session Zero or bring up as you play, but it’s better to get them out of the way first. An example of this is, are you going to allow them to drink a potion as a bonus action or will it take a full action? This will become important in the heat of battle.

Provide Character Sheets

Print off character sheets: you will need them. I have so many students asking to create characters that I now have a small stack of blank character sheets at the ready. There are also kid-friendly character sheets for younger players! I would suggest having the D&D Player’s Handbook at the ready: it is essential for any Session Zero.

I love creating characters with the students. My advice is to promote low ability scores. What I mean by this is younger or new players will often get frustrated if their characters don’t have the maximum stats: they want them to be the toughest, smartest creatures alive, and that’s a natural thought to have. However, in my experience, it’s a lot of fun when characters have low ability scores. Failing in D&D can be hilarious, and it’s often the times that the characters fail that are the most memorable. Therefore, I enforce a rule that they have to take the rolls they get when it comes to ability scores.

Discuss Back Stories

I love using back stories in D&D, and getting them down at a Session Zero is essential. You are creating a story together in D&D; the DM works together with the players. It’s a lot of fun in my opinion to let the players develop their own with your guidance. Did they get into trouble as a youth? Were they from a wealthy family? What brings them to the starting town or city? Once you have these, you as a DM can then intertwine their stories with some foreshadowing / stories from your campaign. This will make the game a lot more fun, especially when you get to do a big reveal


The idea of a Session Zero is to have fun and ensure everyone is feeling safe and welcome. I hope your next Session Zero goes well!