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Thread: Ask a GM [05/04/09]: Questions to flesh out a PC

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    Ask a GM [05/04/09]: Questions to flesh out a PC

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    Envikin asks,

    Beyond the physical description, ability points, and powers that go on a character sheet, what questions do you ask your players about their characters. What questions give you plot points later in the game. What questions get the players to think longer about the kind of person they are playing and make a character more than 1 dimensional. Or do you get them to grow as the campaign grows?
    Robert A. Howard
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    I usually like to wait and see how the players roleplay their PCs. Let them grow the character as the campaign progresses. I like to use what I see the players doing with their characters to help create the encounters that they come across. That, along with little bits that I can get from a player's background that they create for thier character, allow for lots of future plot twists in the game.

    Now, if the character is going to be used in just one particular campaign, then I usually don't worry as much about it as I would if the character is going to be used over and over. Especially one that is starting from the begining at level 1. In the case of a level 1 character, I definately have to wait and see how the player developes the PC as they progress through the game. I am not big on telling people what their characters are like. If you tell them what their character is like, you have now just taken alot of thier abillity to roleplay away.
    Last edited by cplmac; 04-27-2009 at 11:06 PM.

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    I too take a wait and see approach. Making a character is fun, but everyone approaches it from a million different angles. Going in, I like to give my players enough background for them to create a character that will fit within the setting I am running, but then I set them loose to see what they will do.

    Asking them a bunch of questions in the process will definitely yield hooks I can pull into my game's story; but some folks just don't want to think about it that fast. I respect that and take what they give me, be it a sheet with a name and stats, or a six page background written for the character. Then I start my work.

    Folks who don't get into writing a lengthy background can still be worked into the game, but you do it by paying attention to what they do and say at the table and weave that into the plots. This gives them just as much GM attention in the long run, and does not stick them with having to do more work than they might before the game.

    So, none really... but I certainly welcome people who put extra effort into their characters without questions from me!
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    My questions tend to spring up organically from the character concept and are very free form. Most RPG books have a number of suggested questions, I would start with those to get the creative juices flowing and then just talk the character's background out. What I generally want to know about the character (and what I want the player to ferret out) is what their motivation is for pursuing their profession and course in life up to the point that the character first enters center stage. And, I want the player to develop something beyond a typical personality archetype and have thought about some of the major events that happened in the character's life to make the character the way he or she is. Beyond that, I encourage the players to further develop their back-story as the game goes on.
    Robert A. Howard
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    I do like to ask why they want a particular skill set.

    For example, if they have a good roleplaying reason for a druid to have disguise, I will let them take ranks in disguise as a class skill for their first level (say they live in a culture that will hunt down and imprison or kill druids). I justify this under the assumption that their first surge in points for skills is there to reflect their life experience up until that point.
    Last edited by DM_Running_Farland_3.5; 05-04-2009 at 01:24 PM.
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    Backgrounds as tools

    Id say a brief summary of their character's background / history if they have developed one. Allowing you an insight as to why they may be on said adventure, and being the DM allowing you to pry deeper into their character makeup and toy with their general character personality / story line by introducing relevent or irrelevent characters, events, omens, or inuendos into your campaings that suggest somthing deeper, leading to all sorts of plot tangents.

    A general synopsis of the character's background IMO is a important key to a long term group and adventure. It give s the DM a look at the inner workings and the possible whys of a character's being.
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    This is a tough question. I would say the best way to create background and character history is once the player picks a class, to have them truly understand their race. Their upbringing, beliefs, and surroundings as an(example: Dwarf). Then have them apply that to the class that they chose. As a (Dwarf) how do you think you would handle being a barbarian? How would it for example be different from the way your barbarian would act as opposed to an elf who played a barbarian? Once you have that I think the morality along with everything else should fall into place. Kind of like making your player do method acting.

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    I've always viewed a character, be it a PC or NPC, as being more than a collection of attributes, feats, talents, proficiencies, traits, skills and/or class, and so forth. My player's understand this. They know that I value a good character background. It doesn't have to be a richly detailed 10 page biography as to how their character grew up. It simply needs to have 3 or 4 events that helped direct their character towards becoming the fledgling hero the player is intending to play. Usually, I get the 3 or 4 events, plus they give me names, professions, and personality descriptions of one or two important people...mentors that helped shape their characters or taught them some important facet of their character, such as a wizard's mentor. The only other thing I get them to think about, is what motivates their character. Beyond that, everything else gets fleshed out as we play.

    Of course, I run very gritty games, and it's not uncommon for my player's to lose a character or two throughout the course of the campaign. I tend to require less background info from those characters, allowing the player to make up background as the game moves forward.

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    Generally I will brief the players about the area they live in. Then as they think about the character they want to play i ask them to tell me what their character did to earn a living prior to this moment. Then we go into the building of the character. Currently I am using skills rather than levels. Older characters get more points to buy their skills. Older characters also get the negative effects of aging sooner.

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    All I really ask of a character is that they provide a valid reason their character would be in the area we're going to play in. I'm more than willing to work with people to find out what that reason is and provide options for them. Also, traits in Exalted are rated 1 to 5, so I tend to ask that they have a reason for every trait rated at 3 or higher. This is because a trait rated at 3 (such as Athletics or Medicine) means the character is good enough to make a career out of using that skill. 5 is the pinnacle of human achievement, so I understandably (I think) want to know how you got that good.

    I also like to ask that players not make loner characters, or those that refuse to work in groups and/or trust no one (in the group or otherwise).
    Games: Exalted 2e pre-errata (hiatus), Recruiting for a Sci-Fi/Fantasy game (System TBD) in SF south bay area
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    I like to ask questions at character creation. I like it even more if players will give me an extended written background. This is all because i want the game to be tailored to my PCs, and if I have this information at the start, its easier to pull in plot and story points from the information they have given me, or design adventures and plot hooks specific to their desires.

    My favorite questions are regarding:

    • Family - are parents or siblings alive? are they on good terms?
    • Other than family, who are their allies? who do they trust?
    • If the player is willing, give me an enemy, too - an old grudge, perhaps
    • I love to ask for the PCs most treasured possession. This will often prompt a great story about how they got it.
    • some sort of personality question - how would they react in situation X - like if they rescue/find a child orphaned by a monster attack, or if they walk into a tavern full of nothing but cloaked, mysterious individuals brooding at their respective tables.

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    change is for sure, growth is optional

    I always encourage players to flush out characters. I give out starting points to individual players who do this, and i give out bonuses to the group to divide up as they see fit if they make a set of characters that works well together. This alone is worth it... as without some sort of connection beyond 'you meet in a bar, trust each other implicitly, and decide to kill and loot' , there's a lot less chance of good roleplaying and character interaction.

    The questions i ask are what is their upbringing - farm, city, etc. What background do they come from - parents vocation, social class, etc. I also try and get them to take a code of conduct - what will you do or not do in situations - torture, unarmed foe, lying, etc. Their species and origin location also add perspective and i encourage players to adopt those outlooks... rewarding them in places where they really dig deep for good roleplaying of those views.

    That said, a lot of players don't like to waste starting points on flavor and character depth... and they are so typical that it may as well have been a duplicate of their last. Thats fine, don't pressure them, but find a way with the rest of the group to fit that in.

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    I use a riddle from BGII, it forces a player to think about how their character would think and how they think other characters think.

    "You and your sibling are trapped in separate cages. You can not see each other or talk to each other and there is no way out of the cage. In the cage is a button, if you press it and your sibling does not they die and you go free. If they press it and you do not they goes free and you die. If you both press it you both die. If neither of you press it you both die."
    What does your character do?

    I ask it at the start of the first game and remind people of it when they start losing their grip on their character. The answer isn't important, so much as thinking about the answer that is important.

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    People they know families, friends, enemies, acquaintances, etc.
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    It could be my experience with WoD and White Wolf, but i always insist that the characters come up with the concept of character before ever generating stats. In some cases, when i start campaigns where the characters are children, their personality comes out, grows, and changes with the unfolding campaign. In other instances, when characters start in their late teens, early twenties... i usually bring up family background, life experiences including what brought them to become a wizard, barbarian, bard, etc. Did they have a mentor, what were they like, what influences did they bring to the table? Also to round out the character, i ask for likes, dislikes, and why, personal habits, and even mannerisms. This is all optional of course, but it does act as an effective tool to help the player visualize the pc.
    'Justice, like lightning, ever should appear to few men's ruin, but to all men's fear.'

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