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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Character Questionnaire

My preferred method to start a campaign is "You all met in prison and this is your second big adventure together." When that's not enough, I really want to know only 5 things from a player regarding their new character. Every other addition and revision and revelation is better to occur in play where it can inform 100 other interactions, as opposed to a mostly-private series of rules the player hasn't realized they've made for themselves until those implicit boundaries prevent them from having fun or being creative in the moment because it feels like a disservice to their OC.

These will refine over time, and these answers may change for the pawn over time.

1. XXXX has found themselves in a situation where they are joined in a group of like-minded people working to a common goal. What was the single most important activity they did the day before they embarked on this path? [This gives us a grounding sense of place, capabilities, social background, without giving hard details about any of these]

2. If XXXX wasn't here in this group having this adventure - if they never walked this path at all - what's the first thing they would be doing tomorrow morning? [This gives us values and ambition without becoming an 'operating system' to default to, and importantly defines them through action i.e. it's not "this or nothing" which is....not a choice.]

3. What is XXXX's "In?" What's their one primary reason for remaining with this group, walking this path? [This begs the player to provide opt-in for this campaign, and does a lot to mitigate the "guy who doesn't want to be here/is too good for everyone/preys on their own allies" thing a bit. It provides a thread that can always be pulled, even if it's not personal enough to DEFINE a person. "My word is bond" is honestly enough here.]

4. What is XXXX's "Out?" What one thing would cause them to lay down their burden? This can be something signaling that their journey on this path is completed, or a line that cannot be crossed and so XXXX must turn back. This should be something concrete and achievable, even if it never comes up. [This does a lot of heavy lifting, from giving players tacit permission to change their character if they're not happy with them, or reminding them of impermanence in this game [including death], to just reminding them there's other choices and other possibilities more interesting than only either Win Forever or Death]

5. What is XXXX's name? If you don't have a name yet, roll or choose one of these that isn't taken yet: 1 Leaf, 2 Star, 3 Heart, 4 Point, 5 Swirl, 6 Cross, 7 Bone, 8 Pie. You should choose what seems an appropriate name or nickname as soon as able, and will be known by this name/symbol until you do so. [Some people struggle with this but every minute dithering is a minute they could be playing and feeling their new baby out, deciding what feels right to call them. No one who nicknames their car for example decides on that nickname before the even enter the dealership.]

I would run for characters with less info than this. I have. I've played with less info than this. But this represents my sweet spot. If I were to add another question in follow-up, for the players who seem really enthused by this, it'd be: What question do you wish I'd asked? Again, I'm only really interested in the answer in-play, but it gives me an insight into where our personal priorities may differ, and represents another constant thread that I can pull at any time for a cool moment.

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