Session 13.5

I’m not saying I invented the term “Session Zero”. I don’t have the data to support that statement. I can say that I referred to sessions by number early in my career, and that my post about Session Zero predates, often by several years, almost everything you can find about it with an online search, and I leave it to my readers to draw any conclusions.

And while Session Zero is great at putting everybody on the same page before a campaign begins, its relevance fades as the campaign progresses. Over time, things change. Characters evolve. The plot makes unexpected swerves. Some people leave and others join, both in-game and out. The players’ impression of the campaign halfway through is not (and should not be) the same as it was before they made their first initiative roll. For long-running games, Session Zero and its decisions disappear ever more into the background, and sometimes it serves the table to take a step back, look at what’s happening, and make any necessary course corrections.

That’s where Session 13.5 comes in. Session 13.5 is the mid-campaign intermission. Think of a campaign as a season of a television show, with twenty-six episodes. Session thirteen is the midway point, right before a winter break during which the show goes off the air for a month. Often there’s a cliffhanger, or the end of a major arc and the beginning of another. Session 13.5 occurs between sessions thirteen and fourteen, and it’s an opportunity to make sure everybody is still on the same page and the campaign is still what the players want it to be. Essentially, it’s Session Zero for the second half of a campaign.

Not that it has to happen after exactly thirteen sessions, or exactly at the campaign midpoint. “Session 13.5” is just an easier name than “Session Zero but at a Point Higher Than Zero.” It can happen whenever there’s a major change, like the end of a storyline or a shift in available players. I can recall having one such session during The Great Tower of Oldechi, when we lost several players at once due to various circumstances and gained several more. It happened two years into a three-year campaign, and we definitely needed it to figure out what we were doing. But you don’t need a pressing reason for a metagame session. You can just decide you want to have a discussion among the players about the campaign.

During Session 13.5, you can go over the same steps as in Session Zero, but the details of those steps differ:

Character Generation. Is everybody still enjoying their characters? Some character concepts survive an entire campaign and others don’t. Rather than stew in dissatisfaction with a character who isn’t working as intended, this is a time for a concerned player to bring up their problem and discuss solutions with the table. Or, if a character has taken an unexpected change in direction, it’s time to make sure everybody is fine with what’s happening and perhaps help shape the campaign around it. This is when it’s appropriate to say “I think my character might want to switch to using ranged attacks more after his brush with death” or “my character’s rivalry with yours isn’t as fun as I thought it would be, so maybe we should have some dramatic reconciliation soon” or even “this sorcerer isn’t working for me, and we do need more healing, so I want to swap out for something totally new.” This can all happen at any time, but Session 13.5 creates a forum specifically for it.

It’s important to be open to solutions that don’t mesh with the rules as written, especially with retraining class features. Consider a player who picked up an archery-based fighter early in the campaign. After thirteen weeks, he might realize he’s bored by taking the same attack action round after round. He would prefer playing an eldritch knight. Or perhaps a new book came out, and the player only recently learned about the arcane archer. By the rules, he can’t suddenly switch his archetype. But the DM can work a quest into the campaign, one that lets the character trade one archetype for another. By doing this at a designated reset point like Session 13.5, it takes the disruption out of the change and rolls it into any planned mid-campaign shift. It also takes some of the shame out of the request—it’s not always easy for a player to admit he’s not happy with his character.

Setting Discussion. What parts of the campaign are or aren’t working? While it might seem like a great idea to make the players explore the Mines of Moria for narrative purposes, after five sessions without sunlight they might be done with dungeons for the foreseeable future. Or, if the characters heard about the king’s death and they think something suspicious is afoot, the players can just say “we want the next arc to be about the royal succession”. This is why it’s important to put Session 13.5 in a narrative gap, so you can pivot more easily without disrupting anything already in place.

A note for players: this is a great time to let the DM know what you love about the campaign. “Less of this, please” tells the DM to do something different, but “more of this, please” tells them exactly what to do. It’s more direct, it’s a quicker path to getting what you want, and it’s so much fun to hear.

Survey Results. Does the game itself still meet your expectations? In Session Zero, I recommend that players and the DM fill out surveys to collectively understand what sort of game they want to play. In Session 13.5 you can return to the survey to make sure you’re still doing it. Maybe the players asked for an urban game, but a few plots brought the campaign into the wilderness and it’s time to get back to the original campaign concept. Maybe the story got a little too dark, or not dark enough, and the second act can bring things in line. Now with the wisdom of experience, make sure everybody’s still playing the game they want.

But don’t treat the campaign survey like some ineffable gospel. If the players agreed on a light-hearted game, but over the course of the campaign they’ve intentionally delved more and more into mature topics, that doesn’t necessarily mean they played wrong. Campaigns evolve over time, and sometimes they stray from their original stated goals. They’re allowed to do that. Use Session 13.5 to discuss where the campaign is and where it’s going, and don’t hold it against the players if what they want to do now isn’t the same as what they wanted to do months ago. Reorient the game around what people want to play, not the other way around.

Player Meeting. Are there any changes to the player lineup? The space between arcs is the perfect time to say farewell to certain players and introduce new ones. Like a television show’s cast changing between seasons, sometimes real-life situations preclude somebody from participating for the entire life of a campaign. If you can plan the end of a storyline around a player’s departure, you can give them a meaningful sendoff and know exactly when you’ll have a spot at your table for somebody else. For a new player, Session 13.5 is essentially their Session Zero, and you can bring them up to speed while you’re talking about the game with everybody else. It’s much smoother than just dropping a new character in the party in the middle of a forest and hoping everything works out, especially if the player knows the party needs a backup healer before they’re halfway through building their berserker.

Session 13.5 is not a test. It’s not a performance review. It’s an out-of-character conversation about what the campaign is, what it was, and what it could be. It’s a breather episode for the players rather than the characters, a chance to get together and talk about the game without worrying about how the healer is going to die today. Just as with Session Zero, the whole point is to get the players interested, unified, and ready to dive right in for the next stage of your campaign. If Session Zero is the campaign trailer, Session 13.5 is the commercial with an ominous narrator who says “This fall…everything changes.”

Or it stays the same. It’s your campaign.

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