We talked about this in the comments section back in Bickering Gods, but I thought it deserved its own space up top. The question: Do you like character questionnaires? 

A quick google for “RPG character questionnaire” will give you any number of examples. These are the pre-campaign worksheets that GMs will often assign to players. They’re full of questions like, “What does your character want most in life?” and “What is your character’s favorite food?” and “Does your character have any regrets?” Answering these questions can be a useful exercise, resulting in more complex personalities and richer backstories. However, as in today’s example, I think it’s possible to go overboard.

We all want interesting characters, right? The in-depth questionnaire is one strategy for getting them. However, I find that if I’m trying to remember who my childhood friend was and what my special object is and whether there’s something I’m scared of and why I got my distinctive tattoo and if it’s relevant to bring up my internship with a medieval barber, I’ll wind up conveying a schizophrenic character rather than a compelling one. It’s the circus lion swatting at the chair legs. You can’t decide which one to hit, so you sit there and look dumb.

Speaking for myself, I don’t want to know everything about my character when I begin play. I want that backstory to grow and change. I want to discover my character, not invent him. In practice it becomes the choice between preparation on the one hand and flexibility on the other. I suspect this is the same contrast of styles you’ll get when panels of fiction writers debate “do you outline or do you fly by the seat of your pants?”

When it comes to questionnaires, my preference is for 5-10 questions. That’s enough to give a GM some useful story hooks without turning my PC into a full FBI psych profile. What about the rest of you guys though? Do you like a long and involved character questionnaire, a short and punchy one, or none at all? Let’s hear it in the comments!


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