My gaming group decided to end our most recent campaign and start up a game of Mutants in the Now . We just completed Session Zero, including character generation, and I now have two weeks to put together the first session. Over the decades, I have started many campaigns, and the first session is always tricky. I have tried several things over the years, but I have settled into some basic requirements for session one. Let’s talk about them.

The First Session

Your first session of a game can wind up being a lot of things. If you and your group are new to the game, this is your first time engaging with the rules. If the setting is new, it will be the first time you as the GM are expressing the setting to the players and the first time their characters are interacting with the world. In most cases, it is the first time the players are embodying their characters. Then on top of all of that, you are trying to run the first story of the campaign and be entertaining enough to have everyone want to do it again.

All in all, it’s a lot.

I will say it’s nearly too much. It’s hard to have a great first session. You wind up pausing and breaking flow to look up rules, or players are searching their character sheets for information. You can’t quite remember all the details of the world. The player’s portrayal of their characters are stiff and lacking dimension (no dig on them, look at the pilot of nearly any TV show, and you will see the same thing). Then at the end of the night, you are not sure if you pulled any of it off, and are hoping that everyone will want to play again. 

All in all, it’s a lot.

Lower Your Expectations

Your first session does not need to be great, it just needs to be good enough. There are future sessions where there will be time for great sessions, amazing stories, etc. Your first session does not need to be that, and in fact shouldn’t be. Your first session should be used to break everything in, get the uncomfortable parts out of the way, and get everyone settling into their characters. Once everyone is familiar with the rules, the setting, and their characters, that is when you can start working towards those great games. 

Set Your First Session Goals

Before you prep your first session, consider what you need to get everyone comfortable with. 

Is this a new system for some or all of you? 

Is this a new setting?

Are these new characters? 

Knowing the answers to these will help you set some goals for your first session. 

New System

If this is a new system, then some of your first session should be dedicated to trying out the rules and building familiarity. Start with the core mechanics of the game. Let them make some skill checks. Have a combat scene. Don’t set the stakes high in terms of combatants, you are not looking to put any characters down, you are looking to exercise the combat rules and get familiar with them. 

If your system has a lot of subsystems, don’t try to get them into the first session, spread them out a bit. Save vehicle combat for the next session. Let the players and yourself get familiar with one set of rules before adding more to the mix.

New Setting

If this is a new setting, keep the focus small. You don’t need to introduce the entire world to the players. Just show them a single town or area. Keep your scope narrow, so that you can manage the details you need to convey and that it is digestible to the players. Be there to answer any questions the players have, to resist hitting them with the setting firehose.

In future sessions, you can expand the world and the information about it as other parts of the game become easier for the characters. My rule of thumb about this is that when the characters are low in power I focus on one area, and as they rise in power I zoom out to show them more of the world and later the universe.

New Characters

Your players need some time to act as their characters in order to get a good feel for them. They need to speak as their character to work on their voice, they need to make decisions and interact with people to work on their personalities. They also need to start figuring out how they interact with each other. 

Your first session should create places for them to do that. Some of those scenes should be with NPCs that you are playing, and some of those scenes should be with the other characters so that they can bond with each other. These scenes can be part of the story you are telling or they can just be spaces with leading questions to get the characters talking to one another. 

Your First Story

Your first session also needs a story – something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Something that the characters can accomplish. I have one word when it comes to the first story…


Resist any urge to be clever or show off in your first story. You and the players are distracted with all the things that we have been talking about above. Rather, go with a simple story and allow it to be the backdrop by which you accomplish all the other goals above. When you get this game off the ground you will have time to show off your storycraft. The first session is not that time. 

The 4-Session Rule

I bring this up because, at the end of your first session, you will want to know how it went. If all goes well it can be a pretty good session, but it is not likely to be great. Resist the urge to consider the session a failure or the game or campaign a failure. My group uses the 4-Session Rule. That is, we do not pass judgment on a game until we have played it for four sessions. 

In four sessions you will have had time to get used to the rules, and get a feel for the world and the characters. At the end of the fourth session ask everyone how they feel about the game. If it is not positive, then consider changing games. Give your game and yourselves a fair chance to find out if you like the game. 

My Mutants in the Now First Session

As I am getting ready to start brainstorming my Mutants in the Now first session, I am thinking of a very simple plot taking place in a single part of the city the campaign is based in (Chicago). What I want to focus on are the two core systems of the game: Dramatic Scenes and Combat. I know I want a decent combat scene so that we can all get used to those rules. 

I also want to create some character interactions with some NPCs and each of the characters, so that I can help the players get comfortable with their characters, and I also want to create a few scenes where I can let the characters chat as a group and bond to each other. I will also prepare some leading questions that I can ask various characters to talk about in different scenes. 

It sounds like a lot of goals but I don’t need to fully accomplish all of them in the first session, I just need to get each of them started, as I have three more sessions to work through things. In order of priority I want to accomplish:

  • Character development
  • Group development
  • Combat
  • Dramatic Situations
 Pilots are rarely the best episode of any series, and your first session is doubtful to be the best session of your campaign. 

KISS That First Session

First sessions of games can be a handful, and we often put too much pressure on “making some magic” happen. Instead, consider your first session or two as the pilot of a TV show. You want to demonstrate what the show is going to be like, but it’s all going to be clumsy and awkward. Pilots are rarely the best episode of any series, and your first session is doubtful to be the best session of your campaign. 

Set some goals to help everyone get comfortable, do your best, and give it a few sessions before you pass judgment on the game. Do that and you can have a far more successful first session. 

How do you handle your first sessions for a game? What are your goals? How do you measure success?