Running a sandbox TTRPG campaign: Session 0 and character creation

Almost ready to go!

Everyone has their own Session 0 and character creation practices, but there are at least three steps that should be addressed when initiating a sandbox TTRPG campaign: group motivation, character creation, and initial direction.

Before proceeding, make sure to review part 1 of the “Running a Sandbox TTRPG Campaign” series titled “Planning the Campaign.”

Assuming that everyone in your group is familiar with the fundamentals of the world you are about to venture into, here are the three steps to cover:

Step 1: Group motivation and starting point

Before delving into character creation, it is crucial to establish a compelling, common motivation for the entire group. What are the player characters aiming to accomplish, and why are they coming together? This shared motivation should serve as the catalyst that binds the characters, fosters exploration, and enables them to embrace risks. For example, in our recent Twilight 2000 game, the group’s collective motivation was to locate the current headquarters of the Finnish Army and actively participate in the conflict.

Step 2: Character creation

The basic rules of whatever system you are using apply for character creation, but the big idea is that the characters must somehow fit together, and the composition of their group should make sense within the context of narrative and the group’s shared motivation.

The most crucial starting point is to create a clear and understandable goal for the group and its characters, ensuring that these goals and motivations do not conflict too much. Whether the players are solving a murder or traveling through a war-torn landscape, make sure that they have a strong motivation to act. Game masters can provide these motivations or allow players to develop them. This and the previous step are already very much storytelling, so feel free to enjoy these parts 😉

Step 3: Starting location and initial direction

You now have a group of player characters with a strong and clear motivation to do whatever they want. So, it’s time to take out your map and rumors.

As a group, decide where your players will start, why they are there, and what they want to do next. This is where the rumors you created come into play. Provide your players with a list of rumors and ask them, “What do you want to do?” There will likely be plenty of discussion as the web of motivations, rumors, and the events in your world begins to build towards a story created by the entire group, not just the game master.

Conclusion of session 0 and character creation

By the end of Session 0, you should have a group of player characters that have made decisions about their first adventure. The player characters have a clear goal, and the next step is to pla and run a session!