Character Questionnaires Tips & Techniques – Part II

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0068

  1. Beware Of Asking Tough & Important Questions Too Early
  2. Give Players Enough Information To Work With
  3. Use Questions About Campaign Situations To Help You Plan Better
  4. Reward Players For Their Time & Effort
  5. Set A Deadline
  6. Sources For Questionnaires & Inspiration

Readers’ Tips Summarized

  1. Two GM Conspiracy
  2. Note Passing Tip
  3. Using Dreams As Clues
  4. Put A Dry Erase Board On The Table

A Brief Word From Johnn

Questionnaire Delayed

Because of some last minute questionnaire submissions that I’d like to include for you, and a shortened publishing schedule this week, I thought I’d post the sample questionnaire questions promised in Issue #69 instead. My apologies for the delay.

Warm regards,

Johnn Four
[email protected]

Character Questionnaires Tips & Techniques – Part II

Beware Of Asking Tough & Important Questions Too Early

A tough question can challenge your players. But a tricky question too early might intimidate them, give them writer’s block or make them upset. While you might have lots of easier questions later on in the questionnaire, your players won’t know that and they’ll regard the whole exercise as “work”.This would be especially disastrous if the question was important and you were hoping for detailed, thoughtful answers.

Also, some questions might have a logical sequence that you should follow to make things easier for your players and to generate higher quality answers.So, warm the players up to the subject first with a few lead-in questions. For example, before asking what a PC’s goals are, start with where the character has been. Then ask what motivates him. Those answers will naturally build up to a question about the character’s future. And the players can use their previous replies to fuel their response to the “big question”.

Give Players Enough Information To Work With

The more information your players have to work with, the more specific or detailed their answers will be.For example, you ask where each player’s character is from. If your group is not familiar with your game world and the campaign area, the answers you will receive are going to be very vague, like “a small village”, or “a desert planet”.Try to give as much detailed information that you can make available, and that your players can digest, as possible.

Some ways you can do this are:

  • A short verbal introduction or presentation.
  • Send your players to a campaign or informational web site before game day. Help guide their research by providing specific areas they should read.
  • Lend out player-friendly published materials about your game system or campaign world.
  • Prepare a GM handout.

If you have enough free time before the game, a GM handout might be the best option. And if you can arrange to see the character sheets before the session then you can create extremely useful, customized, information packages for your players that they will definitely enjoy and draw inspiration from.

Here are some ideas for unique information that you can provide to players ahead of time so that they will respond with fabulous answers:

You could look at things like:

  • Region of Origin
  • Race
  • Class or job
  • Knowledge skills

To develop a list of character knowledge about:

  • Interesting locales
  • Important, useful or unusual NPCs
  • Monsters, aliens and other races
  • Regional current events and sources of conflict
  • Legends and lore about great battle sites, lost cities, legendary heroes and incredible treasures

Mike B. of inspired this tip, and he reports another benefit of providing custom information to players before giving them questionnaires:

“Another thing that I’ve noticed is that many times the player will work his PC into some of the background that you give them. For instance, one of my new players has taken it upon himself to go on a quest for the bones of a lost hero, the founder of his family House. Few people can resist writing themselves into the limelight somehow, and this gives the GM more fuel for his imagination and good plot lines to follow with that PC.”

Use Questions About Campaign Situations To Help You Plan Better

Your questions don’t all have to focus on character history, family and personality. You can use questionnaires as a GM tool to help you anticipate in what direction your campaign will head over the next few sessions.For example, you could provide questionnaires about:

  • Hypothetical situations to gauge character reactions for real situations you have planned.
  • Character feelings about different aspects of the campaign (such as villains, story lines, plot hooks). Strong feelings about something can mean future/continued interest in it.
  • Character theories, speculations and assumptions about what’s happening in the story. Depending on your campaign style, use this info to prevent time consuming false leads, or to get great ideas from.

Reward Players For Their Time & Effort

For some players, the questionnaire is its own reward. They enjoy the exploration process and learning more about their character.For other players though, they might like some encouragement or a thank you in some tangible form for their time and effort. Here are a few ideas that will not unbalance your campaign:

  • A small experience point, skill point or character point award.
  • Allow free character additions that are based on the answers (within reason), such as pets, useful allies, a windfall, and so on.
  • Don’t kill off the family members, dependants and allies that the players create.
  • Use the plot hooks and story ideas they provide.
  • Hand out campaign or world secrets that are naturally or logically revealed by the responses.
  • Give future considerations. Allow characters to draw upon resources and knowledge they established in their answers (with your approval) during the game. Create stories that specifically involve this kind of information.
  • Give them additional, customized information based directly on their answers.

Set A Deadline

If you have any form of takeaway questionnaire a deadline is crucial. It lets everyone know exactly how long they have to procrastinate. :)Without a deadline, the questionnaire process can get dragged out because real life tends to change priorities away from the game table.Also, if you use game time for questionnaires, set time limits to help players pace themselves.

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Tip Request For Issue #70: “Dealing With Absentee Players”

What do you do when a player doesn’t show up? It’s happened to all of us, and can put us in a tough spot on game night. Do you go ahead with the session? What do you do with the absentee player’s PC? Have you developed house rules or policies about this?

And, do you have any tips on preventing absenteeism in the first place? Rewards for attendance, penalties for no-shows, and so on.

Finally, some GMs, like those in the military, have no option but to deal with regular absenteeism. Do you have any advice for them on creating a flexible campaign structure or gaming style to accommodate this?

Send your tips and advice 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!

Two GM Conspiracy

From Eric F.

Work with another GM.

One of my fondest game memories was when my friend and I both ran games (with no overlap of players) that were two teams working against one another.

His game was on Fridays, and mine was on Saturdays. He played in my game, and I played in his. None of the players knew what was going on, and it worked like a charm. One player in his game decided he wanted to infiltrate the rival group, so we let him in on the secret, and he joined my game, as well.

The two groups finally met face-to-face at the climax of the game. Both sets of players gathered on Friday to play through the final portion of the campaign, with my friend and I splitting the GMing duties, and periodically tagging off to one another.

It was a lot of fun, and expanded the gaming circles for both groups–my friend and I had previously been the only crossover.

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Note Passing Tip

From Mark W.

I was just trying to think of a way to pass a note to one player without everyone else saying “Hey the GM is passing a note to John, there must be something going on!” and I came up with a pretty clever solution.

Take a 3?x5? card for each player, and fold it in half along the long axis, making a 3?x2.5? tent. Write the character’s name on the outside. Whenever you need to pass a note, have _all_ the players hand in their name cards. You can write a post-it note to the player(s) involved, stick it on the inside of the tent and pass them back. For protective coloration purposes, you should probably put post-its in several cards, to diffuse any suspicion.

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Using Dreams As Clues

From Arthur D.

I found that a great way to deliver clues was by writing out ?mystic dreams? for my characters, an idea I got from one of the GM e-zines I?m reading.

I buried the clues in the dream imagery, and had a different dream for every character. Though the dreams were mostly all linked, they were deeply personalized for the characters? own back-stories, setting tone and that good old ?sense of wonder.?

They arrived for the first gaming session and found the dream documents waiting for them in their envelopes. When play started they quickly began discussing their dreams and comparing notes. This had the advantage of driving role- playing very directly, and this for a first session of a new group who?d never played much less met each other before!

They all loved the fact that their characters were having ?True Dreams? which is super in a heroic fantasy context, and it drew them deeper into their sense of character. I had one player tell me it had the hair on the back of his neck standing up!

And hey, it allowed the writer side of me off the leash, using all manner of techniques like symbols, simile, metaphor, and divine colloquy. I am going to make these types of out of game tools a regular part of my campaign, because it was an even more powerful GM tool than I had expected.

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Put A Dry Erase Board On The Table

From Line Walker


I’ve considered placing a white/dry erase board on top of the table, to use as it’s surface. I have yet to try it out, but it ought to cut down on the clutter of paper on the table (Just write on the table), which seems to distract my players, and it make it easier for me to ad-lib maps directly on the table if they head in a direction I hadn’t expected…