Character Questionnaires Tips & Techniques – Part I

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0067

  1. Six Benefits Of Character Questionnaires
  2. Ten Methods & Options For Handling Questionnaires
  3. Avoid Overwhelming Your Players
  4. Custom Questions Vs. Generic
  5. Practical Questions Vs. Inspirational

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. A Neat Home-Made Dungeon Tiles Recipe
  2. Use A CRPG World For Your Pen & Paper Campaign
  3. 6 Miscellaneous GMing Tips

A Brief Word From Johnn

Character Questionnaires

We have so many great tips about character questionnaires that I decided to make it a two part series. The GM Binder tips have been bumped to Issue #69.

Next week we’ll finish up our questionnaire tips as well as provide a list of questions for you to build your own with.

Thanks For The Credits Feedback

Thanks for writing in with your opinions about giving credit to tips submitters. Of the hundred or so responses, no one said they would feel slighted if I rewrote their tips and gave them credit for the submission.

For the sake of ease of organization and time, I’ll include tips credits at the end of each article. As always, your ongoing feedback on this issue and on any issue about this, er, issue, is welcome.

Next Week’s Issue Early

I’m off to Vancouver Island this weekend to do a little gaming with some long-lost friends. So, expect the next issue a little earlier than usual.

I hope you find the time to game this week!


Johnn Four
[email protected]

Character Questionnaires Tips & Techniques – Part I

Six Benefits Of Character Questionnaires

PC questionnaires have a lot of benefits. If you don’t use them in your campaign now, then consider the following things questionnaires can do:

  1. Provide plot hooks for current and future stories.
  2. Encourage roleplaying. There’s more for players to work with during the game, even if it’s just player thoughts the questionnaire provokes rather than information the GM receives.Also, after some development a player will regard their character differently, which can make them more interested and involved. A player who understands their character better will get more enjoyment from your game.
  3. Have the players take their characters more seriously. Who wants to lose a highly developed PC?
  4. Develop your stories, campaign and game world. Use the information the players provide in their answers as ideas to develop all aspects of your game.
  5. Tune your campaign to suit the characters and players better. For example, you may notice a trend in background details that reveals many of the PCs want to achieve fame and fortune and return to their families/enemies as saviors/avengers. You could then tweak your campaign accordingly.
  6. Get the players thinking away from rules: “No longer did we look at the party’s cleric as four zaps of healing each day. We saw the priest of a god forsaken in his homeland; the priest who was cast away merely for keeping his faith.”

Ten Methods & Options For Handling Questionnaires

There is a surprising variety of ways you can deal with character surveys. Pick the type, or types, that best suit your group and GMing style:

  1. Written. Written questionnaire and/or written responses. Put all the questions in a numbered list to be answered on other pages or in other media.Or, if possible, allow space after each question for an answer. This will help you associate questions with their answers in the future–I currently have too many answer sheets floating about in my GM binder without matching questions.
  2. Verbal. You can verbally ask the questions and have your players write out their answers. This lets you off the hook for preparing an organized questionnaire. :)You can also conduct an interview. You ask the questions and take notes on the players’ answers. I’ve done this very successfully using a hand held tape recorder. The tape lets you focus on listening rather than note-taking.Verbal surveys have one distinct advantage over written ones in that they can be dynamic. If an answer needs more details or opens up some interesting possibilities, you can choose to pursue that thread. Or, you can just move on to the next item.Also, players who dislike writing, or who might perceive a questionnaire as an “icky test”, will prefer the verbal method.A conversation gives players instant feedback about their answers as well. They can see you nodding your head or frowning in puzzlement, and they are able to ask questions for clarification.The drawback is that verbal questions usually make more work for you–somebody needs to eventually record the information on paper for your use and campaign consistency.
  3. Phone. This is an excellent method. It lets you do a survey outside of precious game time, it’s private, and there’s not the usual feeling of being rushed that can arise at the game table.
  4. Email, online chat or instant messaging. These methods have many of advantages of written and verbal communication, and have all the benefits of a phone questionnaire. They also create a data history on your computer for instant reference, copying and pasting.
  5. During character creation. Many players prefer developing their characters before the campaign starts, or to use the process as a guide for choosing skills and abilities.This does lengthen character creation though. To offset this, focus on questions that would best help everyone get the story or campaign rolling, and leave the rest for later.
  6. During the campaign. Assuming you’re not playing a one-shot game or a short story, feel free to slowly hand out character questions as the campaign progresses. Some players prefer to “feel out” a character for a session or two before creating a detailed history or family tree. Other players just want to see first if their PC is going to survive…
  7. Homework. Some players enjoy thinking, writing and working on their characters between sessions. This is a perfect way for them to do all three and help you at the same time.
  8. At the start of the session and/or during breaks. Whip out your questionnaire for players who have arrived early, while food is being ordered or prepared, or while you are setting up for the game. Breaks are another great time to do some character development, either one-on-one or in written form.
  9. Privately or publicly. You have a choice of dealing with some or all of your questions as a group or on an individual basis. Group time is pretty valuable though, because it can be the only time everybody is together in one place–so forget the questions and get the game going!However, some questions might be fun for your players to collaborate on and discuss together. For example, perhaps the PCs are all family members, or the group’s common origin might be decided if it wasn’t established at the beginning of the campaign.
  10. Mandatory or optional. Many players show up just to thrash the monsters and collect the gold. A character questionnaire is the last thing they want to do. To avoid upsetting these players, feel free to make your surveys voluntary. One subscriber holds an opt-in “Challenge of the week” for his players that is announced on his campaign web site.You can also put together a questionnaire and make some of its questions optional or ask that “any 5 out of the 10” questions be answered.

Avoid Overwhelming Your Players

If someone handed you one hundred questions to answer about a fictitious person, you might become a little intimidated. Try to make things easy for your players so that character development remains a fun activity:

  1. Ask just a few questions at a time, or one to three per session.
  2. Lump questions into logical groups and have players deal with one group at a time (family, personality, job history, and so on).
  3. Use some multiple choice and true or false questions. A series of open-ended essay questions can be quite fatiguing.
  4. Start with easy questions, lead up to a tough question or two, and then return to some easier questions.
  5. Give a generous deadline, or staggered deadline (“questions 1-5 for next session, 6-10 the session after that”).
  6. Mix-up serious questions (who is your worst enemy?) with lighter questions (what do you keep in your pockets?).

Custom Questions Vs. Generic

Some questions can be given to the whole group at once. For example, who were your parents? Or, what do you fear?However, you can give your players a boost by asking questions that are based solely on their character make-up or from answers to their previous questions. Not only will this make your players feel special, but it shows that you are interested.And it makes plot hooks and character information easier to use in your stories because you will have a greater variety to choose from.

It might be awkward to have every character’s family involved in your current story, for example, but not difficult to include one character’s uncle, another’s employer, one’s greatest fear and another’s skill with a rope.One method for generating custom questionnaires is to explore answers of previous surveys in greater detail.

You can also analyze the character himself for questions:

  • Skills
  • Attributes
  • Race
  • Social class
  • Character class or job
  • Religion

Look for anything that stands out about a character and question it. How did you get to be so strong? What made you become a mercenary? Why did you choose an double-headed axe over a more traditional weapon, like a sword?

Practical Questions Vs. Inspirational

Heather Grove at Welcome to The Burning Void divides her questions into two types: practical and inspirational.Practical questions deal with standard information about the character’s day-to-day life and background. This information doesn’t change much during play and should be handled before the game begins so players have ready answers for fast play.

For example:

  • What is your character’s name?
  • What does he do for a living?
  • What does he do in his free time?
  • Where does he live?
  • What does he own?
  • Does he have family?

Inspirational questions help give players ideas and insight into their character. They are deeper questions that can drive your stories and make characters unique to their players.

For example:

  • Does your character’s family have any secrets? If so, what are they?
  • What does your PC wish he could do that he can’t?
  • What jobs has he had? Why did he leave them?
  • What are his dreams or ambitions?
  • Do he have a best friend? What makes them such good friends?

Some players might prefer practical questions over inspirational ones, or the other way around. Try some of both with your players and see how they react. Which questions are answered first? Which ones do they put a lot of effort into? And so on.

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Tip Request For Issue #69: “Putting Together The Ultimate GM Binder”

TIP REQUEST FOR ISSUE #69: “Putting Together The Ultimate GM Binder”

Next week will feature part two of the questionnaire tips, which bumps the GM Binder tips to issue #69. Any more tips on how you organize your notes and binders are welcome!

Send along any tips, charts, forms or pages to: [email protected]


Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

A Neat Home-Made Dungeon Tiles Recipe

From Philip

Regarding one of your old issues, and props to use with miniatures. We use miniatures a great deal, so we include model trees, etc. to make the effect much more enjoyable visually.

To preclude any arguments about movement during combat, etc. I have manufactured my own “dungeon” tiles, which can be used for above or below ground situations.

I used some old hardboard (about 3mm thick), cut into squares & rectangles of various sizes. After scratching one side I then covered it with a thin layer of builder’s filler (you know the stuff they use to fix holes in walls etc), then using the edge of a ruler I made a grid pattern of 1? squares.

After this it is a simple step to paint the tiles grey or green (or whatever), then put a wash of a darker colour over the top which brings up the lines. You now have eye-catching terrain to move your miniatures around on without any arguments about who can move where or how far.

Also everybody has a better spatial relationship so their actions are more believable as a result. (These tiles are so good that a friend of mine who has been DMing for years wants to borrow them all of the time!)

If this method seems like too much hard work, why not go down to your local material (cloth) shop, buy some nice green, brown, grey or whatever coloured felt, cotton etc takes your fancy, and draw lines in a grid pattern to achieve the same effect as above.

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Use A CRPG World For Your Pen & Paper Campaign

From Darrel V.

I play a game online called Ultima Online. I am trying to get a role playing scenario going. Do you have any ideas, or even a web site, that incorporates the role playing aspect for Ultima Online. [Johnn: through Darrel’s request we have a great tip idea. Take your favorite computer roleplaying game world and convert it into your pen & paper campaign world.

If you know of a site that discusses Ultima Online roleplaying, let me know and I’ll pass the tip along to Darrel. Thanks.]

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6 Miscellaneous GMing Tips

From Rhiaghnoz

  1. Use PITs To Get Lazy Roleplayers Going. If you have lazy (non-regular-gamer) players you have to club together with a stick, and who are afraid of the Brain- Pen-Paper-Roleplay combination to think up a PC, use
    PITs:P Player
    I Inventiveness / Imagination
    T Trigger
    sAn example: At the end of the session, a wise, revered, and trustworthy person asks the PCs “Where did you grow up? Please tell me, I want to know all about you.” and the session ends.Ask your players to come up with notes and contact you about them so next session they’ll be able to talk with the NPC about their pasts.
  2. Trigger Random Ideas With Random Words. For unexpected ideas in worldwriting, storywriting and winging-it, use Pictionary word cards or any ‘random’ word/info source. Put a random word on a page, put it in your world’s context, and write any ideas around it, connected by lines. Each time you hit something that your world, adventure, etc. needs fleshed out, mark it to brainstorm about later. Also mark anything you need to do research for.
  3. Compare Your World To The Real World, And Vice Versa. In order to create a realistic world, be critical. Ask yourself “What would happen here if something like that would happen?” Think logically, yet out of ALL earthly boundaries (for example, do not use earthly calendars).Keep ‘explaining’ your world to yourself, finding possible reasons for anything, twisting science to fit into your world. Research things like history facts and basic psychology to come up with logical solutions and consequences to what was, is, and will be in your world.
  4. Treat Monsters Like NPC’s. Just a few are zombies, and even they would not lack as much personality as some GMs’ NPCs I’ve been bored with.
  5. Use Wineglasses Filled With Counters To Represent Hit Points. Gives overview for players & GM. When PCs have a lot of Hit Points, use this only when they have a set number or percentage left.
  6. Use Subtle Smells In Play. When you (secretly) fart or stink in any way, wing-in something appropriate (from gruesome horror to PC vulgarity).Air refreshing sprays could be nice for flowery sweet encounters, so you won’t have to describe the -indescribable- smell.Use a particular aerosol can /scentfor a very special person in your world.Be SUBTLE; don’t overdo it, a puff = enough. Otherwise the Gas Beast the PCs encounter next will be farting and burping flowery fumes. Try explaining THAT to your -suffocating- players.