Running the Exposition Session (or Session Zero) in City of Mist TTRPG
The Exposition Session, or “Session Zero”, is a fundamental part of any City of Mist campaign. This first session outside of the main plot allows everyone to not only create their characters, but also figure out the world they’re creating their characters in. City of Mist is a collaborative narrative at its core, and the Exposition Session starts that collaboration on the right foot.
In today’s video, we’ll be going over how to run a successful Exposition Session step-by-step!
Establish the Series Concept
When beginning a City of Mist campaign, the first thing you need to establish is the series concept. This is a broad question that’s really made up of a bunch of other questions. What type of crew are you? What type of City are you in? What kind of investigations will be at the center of your story?
These questions are answered in a conversation rather than a single statement. Whether you’re running a homebrew or published campaign, you still want your group to talk about what kind of game they want to play. If you don’t figure this out, you could have one player expecting to play a serious crime drama, and another player expecting to play a comedic superhero game.
More often than not, the Master of Ceremonies will be coming in with an idea already of what game they want to play. I myself rarely start GM’ing an RPG without a story in mind or a module picked out. But the MC shouldn’t determine every detail of the series concept. A City of Mist campaign is a story that’s told by every person at the table, so everyone should have a hand in crafting it.
Create Your Crew
To approach the series concept, ask this question first: Who are you as a crew? Are you casual detectives, picking up cases as a side gig to your everyday life? Or maybe you’re a team of thieves and con artists, planning your next heist and dodging the cops along the way? Your crew concept will not only set the tone and the genre of the game you play. It will also determine how your crew investigates a mystery.
Here’s an example. I’ve run the case The Furnace from the City of Mist story arc book Nights of Payne Town with different groups, and each group had a completely unique experience. Without getting into spoilers, the case involves investigating a mysterious new drug that’s hit the streets. My group of casual detectives went about talking to witnesses and running stakeouts in order to deduce the truth. But my other group of mafiosos and criminals saw the new drug as competition and went about shaking down rival gang members. Each found different clues and ran different scenes in the same case because their crew concepts were going about it from completely different angles.
The mechanics of your crew concept will be put down to paper with the shared Crew Theme. For tips on how to fill it out, check out our Crew Theme video. You can also find a list of potential crew concepts starting on page 47 of the City of Mist Player’s Guide.
Create Your City
Another part of the campaign you want to determine during the Exposition Session is what kind of City the PC’s are working in. This will go a long way toward crafting the aesthetic of your game. The default for City of Mist is a generic comic book metropolis, which is why the Districts have broad names like Downtown, the Industrial Zone, or the Old Quarter. However, you could easily set your City of Mist in an existing city. Not going to lie, I’ve certainly thought about taking a page from LA Noire and LA Confidential and setting my game in Los Angeles just so I can drive down Ventura and imagine all the places my crew could investigate.
You also want to determine the general time period your City is in. City of Mist is a noir mystery game at its heart, and we covered in our Playing a Noir Game video how 1930’s true noir, 1980’s neon noir, and modern day noir can have many different aesthetics and themes. Figuring out the time period is also essential to figuring out what technology is at play. If your group is playing a campaign in the 1930’s, you probably shouldn’t play as a hipster computer hacker.
You don’t need to draw out a map and establish every street corner during the Exposition Session. Just having a general idea of the space you’re playing in is enough, and the City will also naturally expand during the campaign.
Create Your Characters
Once you’ve figured out what type of game, City, and crew you’re working with, it’s time to actually create your characters. I love creating characters in a group setting because then players can throw around ideas and bounce them off of each other. Players can also get a better sense of what roles their characters can fill in the group. It’s always great to balance between characters that are good at fighting, talking, investigating, and healing, among other skills.
If you’d like some tips on creating City of Mist characters, you’re in luck! We have a whole playlist of videos dedicated to character creation on our Youtube channel, so be sure to check them out!
A Day in the Life
The final part of a successful Exposition Session is the Day in the Life. This is a short, casual, low-stakes session where the crew talks about what their characters are doing on a normal day in their lives. By playing A Day in the Life, players can flesh out their characters and try out different voices and mannerisms while the MC can ask questions about who they are.
The MC shouldn’t have a story planned out for A Day in the Life. Instead, this is a time for the players to carve out their own corners of the City. To run a Day in the Life successfully, an MC should just ask each player what their character is doing. If they’re each doing their own thing, great! If they’re all together, awesome! Everyone is improvising, so just treat it casually and enjoy the ride.
Everyone is encouraged to ask as many interesting questions as they can about the characters, the crew, and their place in the City. Of course, players have the final word about stuff related to their characters, and details about the crew or the series become part of the canon if everyone agrees on them.
Try to avoid tying up loose ends. You still want some mysteries to keep for the campaign itself, so if someone brings up an urban legend or a mysterious rumor, it’s more fun to discover what it really is during the game.
Day in the Life is also a great opportunity to try out the basic mechanics of the game if this is your group's first campaign in City of Mist. A PC is fixing their broken car? Great, have them Change The Game to remove the jammed-transmission status. Someone is interviewing for a new job or confessing their love? Have them Convince or Take the Risk.
If you want a complete guide on how to run a City of Mist Exposition Session, pick up the City of Mist Player’s Guide. And if you’d like an experience tailored to new groups, check out the City of Mist Starter Set complete with pregen characters, starter case, and a step-by-step guide on how to play the game.
Do you have any tips for running your own Session Zero? Let us know in the comments, on social media, or on the City of Mist Discord. Until then, have fun!