Quizzical Questionnaire Query

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Quizzical Questionnaire Query

Post  ZamuelNow on Tue Dec 02, 2014 3:21 pm

Many of us use Dan's questionnaire to help flesh out our or our player's characters.  However, there are times when it is inadequate in its default form.  What ways do you as a player or GM tend to alter the questionnaire to suit you?



"How are your values connected to your character’s values?" is automatically thrown out by default.  It's of no use to me as a GM and as a player I tend to play character different from myself.  "What would your character dive into fire to obtain?" is odd since I find it to be a very good question for the GM to plan around the character but the way it's answered sometimes comes off incredibly vague.

The two questions I most like adding in are "What is this character's favorite food?" and "What does this character do in their spare time?" since what they do is focus on a character wholly outside of save the world duty.  It forces a wholly different train of thought and opens up worldbuilding options.
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Re: Quizzical Questionnaire Query

Post  Stairc -Dan Felder on Tue Dec 02, 2014 7:52 pm

I'll be very interested to read the responses to this thread.

Regarding those two questions, I often get questions about them myself. This is a good chance to clarify.

The questionnaire was designed with two goals in mind.

1) To produce information useful to a GM that can allow the GM to sculpt adventures around the player's characters.

2) To provide prompts for players to use when creating characters to think about and develop their concepts in ways that will lend to great interactive stories.

"How are your values connected to your character’s values?"

This question is rather limited for point 1 and very valuable for point 2. It's also one of the hardest questions for many players to answer. It's designed to encourage players to find a common link between what they feel is valuable in life and what their characters value. It's designed to create empathy between the player and his character. You might be portraying a character very different from yourself, but if you're able to empathize with the character you're portraying - it creates a more genuine emotional link between you and your character.

Additionally, many character concepts are initially cardboard cutouts. "He'd a vicious, bloodthirsty warlock out for power" sounds like it might be fun to play, but doesn't have much depth. It tends to lead itself to repetition in how it's portrayed. However, this prompt encourages players to develop or explore a side of the character that they can agree with. Perhaps both have a driving desire to leave a mark on the universe and are afraid of being forgotten, or believe that society stifles individuality, or both disdain the black-and-white Lawful Stupid righteous domination of religious zealots. Provoking those points of empathy can lead to far more interesting and meaningful characters.

On the other hand, if the character is rather close to you, the question provokes you to think about what you value and instills that in the character itself. It imbues principles and identity in what otherwise might be a list of backstory events. It creates an inner core of beliefs where there might otherwise be an empty space of unspoken assumptions.

It can be a difficult question to answer. However, when approached seriously, I think this is one of the more valuable questions on the list for creating an emotionally meaningful campaign. If you just want to hit stuff and be a badass without much worry about a deep roleplaying experience (which is entirely legitimate, not all campaigns are meant to be works of art) then many of the questions are going to be of limited value.

"What would your character dive into fire to obtain?"

This one can often produce vague answers, but it's excellent at starting a conversation and simply thinking about the question helps the players' character creation process in subtle ways. I recommend working with players, asking follow-up questions and so on after the initial responses to a questionnaire are submitted. Players might go through several drafts, as they often have in my campaigns, as the GM asks for more details on certain areas or points out things that seem contradictory.

The two questions I most like adding in are "What is this character's favorite food?" and "What does this character do in their spare time?" since what they do is focus on a character wholly outside of save the world duty.  It forces a wholly different train of thought and opens up worldbuilding options.

I like the, "What does this character do in their spare time" question - for the reasons you state. The favorite food question seems more arbitrary and not as expressive of the character though.

For reference, I think it'd be cool to include some of the final drafts I've gotten for my campaigns.


Cyrus Mori (Played by Nehiel)

Nathan Skye (played by Lapis Lazily)

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Re: Quizzical Questionnaire Query

Post  ZamuelNow on Tue Dec 02, 2014 9:24 pm

Oh dang it, I accidentally edited this post instead of quoting it in a reply. I'm so sorry... Quote almost all of it in the next one though. Really, really sorry.

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Re: Quizzical Questionnaire Query

Post  Stairc -Dan Felder on Tue Dec 02, 2014 10:35 pm

I'd be very interested in developing and improving the questionnaire. I put it together for a single campaign with particular players and it worked beautifully. I'd like to see it refined and improved. I think several aspects of it might be redundant in particular.

Zamuel wrote:From a player side (and technically as a GM), I tend to always compare differences between myself and my characters so that sometimes the counterpoint is what fuels them.  I tend to actively avoid self inserts but I can usually empathize with many characters.  As a GM, well...I find the question a little redundant.  What do you hope to gain by playing *this* character? and Why do you, as a player, want to play in this campaign? What are your favorite parts of roleplaying? already exist.  I rather ask my players a greater variety of questions than ask the same question multiple times unless clarification is needed.  Players who lack empathy for their own character...or the game world around them...don't seem like they'd be the type to be swayed by a questionnaire.

You're underestimating the value of writing prompts. Players often create characters that are more shallow than they initially appear, or don't suit their playstyle well, or are built off a clever gimmick but don't provide an emotional connection. I've had many players that normally can't build characters that seem to work well in a campaign, and often initially struggle mightily in attempting to answer the questions, and the questionnaire guides them to characters that are fulfilling to play.

Additionally, for a deep and meaningful story experience, I think it's essential to have your values connected to your character's values on *some* level at least. Otherwise your character's internal struggles never line up with your own. People often look down on any form of self-insertion (not saying you do, simply bringing it up), but I think the question, "What would my character think is the right thing to do?" Is less emotionally compelling than, "What do I think is the right thing to do?" Experiencing a genuine dilemma that you yourself are torn about versus trying to figure out what your made-up character would do is a different experience. If you're a highly skilled Roleplayer and can hack your brain to feeling exactly how your character feels about thing, even when you normally feel the opposite, great. If not, like most of us aren't, it helps to consciously find common ground.

Also, while I think the questions are redundant in places, I don't think those quoted ones are good examples. "What do you hope to gain by playing this character" exists to get players to think about the RPG process more deeply. They're asked to justify their choice in character and playing this character will leave them with something meaningful. Perhaps it's an emotional experience they want to explore, perhaps it's improving their roleplaying skills, in any case it helps push players to thinking about their characters less as convenient windows to the roleplaying world and as an opportunity to gain something by playing them. When taken seriously, this question makes players take the character creation process and the campaign itself more seriously.

"Why do you as a player want to play in this campaign" only makes sense in the context of knowing what the specific campaign is. This helps GMs figure out what the player expectations for the campaign are going in. If a GM recruits people for an evil campaign with the premise that the heroes are trying to take down a group of heroes, it's possible that the excited players are picturing being big bad campaign-villain power level guys commanding armies of minions and laying siege to a kingdom... While the GM had in mind the players acting more like a terrorist group living from hideout to hideout. A GM needs to understand the player expectations, because otherwise he might be creating a great campaign for the wrong audience - and unfulfilled expectations are as dissatisfying as excitedly ordering sushi at a restaurant and being presented with a great hamburger and fries. You ordered sushi, so the hamburger is a disappointment on that level. It wasn't what you expected.

I have a reputation for running sold-out D&D summer camps at a local game store. Every year I'd done extremely silly and over-the-top 5-session campaigns over the course of a 5-day week. Over half the people in every camp had been to a previous one, sometimes several previous ones. One time, I decided to have the entire campaign take place in a super-dungeon that the players would play through over the course of all five days. I'd run the dungeon before as a 14-hour one-shot for my home groups and I knew it was awesome.

The players liked it, but many were talking to their friends about "normally it's a lot more fun than this" - and talking about all the insane things we normally did at the camp (exploding pink flamingos, delivering christmas gifts on the back of a good-turned Tiamat to all the children in the world and so on). The new campers seemed bewildered, because that sounded ridiculous and they were having a great time, but it seriously disappointed the old campers.

I decided to end the dungeon early and improvised a quick 2-session finale. I'd had little time to prepare, but it was ridiculous and over the top and absolutely in the style of the previous campaigns they were used to. They LOVED it.

"What are your favorite parts of roleplaying?" Is a sub-element of the player expectations. It's less to do with what players expect the campaign to be like, why they signed up, and more with what style of thing they like doing. This can affect the execution of how you set up your campaign, and which events you steer to which players. Players might be signing up to be evil overlords, but one player might prefer political intrigue and devising grand diplomatic games while another player might love kicking ass in combat. Another player might love interacting with and exploring a huge cast of interesting characters. These are different and important things to understand about your players, and if you spot contradictions with their favorite activities played against the way they've built their character - this can help point it out. For example, a fantastic player and co-designer Kindulas. In his second campaign with me, he built a character that fascinated him as a sadistic, sociopathic mastermind character. However, his favorite parts of roleplaying involved emotionally connecting with NPCs. Clearly, this wasn't going to work - but it took us about 10 sessions to figure it out. It was only after the fact, when we were figuring out why he wasn't having any fun, that we realized the contradiction. We didn't have a questionnaire to point things out back then.


The questionnaire tends to help but I've seen interesting shifts from the character starting point.

Not sure what this means. Can you clarify?

I've been recently wondering if the problem is the wording.  More than one have been a bit too literal about fire itself as opposed to the root of the question, "What would you risk your life for?"

Definitely a good idea, but I worry that many players would have to honestly answer "treasure". Players risk their lives all the time in most campaigns. The question should be improved, but I don't think that's the way to do it. Perhaps, "What would you sacrifice everything to obtain?" But that could have problems as well...

Intriguingly, it is. I treat it as a bit of a creative palette cleanser, though in retrospect I probably ask it too late in the questionnaire for that purpose.  Actually, that's a point to make.  The questionnaire may be better served if a few of the questions are shuffled.

Interesting point, but I think it backfires. You can just take a break from the questionnaire and play minesweeper as a palette cleanser. This isn't a time-based medium where you need to tightly control engagement. Ideally, players will be thinking about these questions and developing their answers over several days at least, perhaps a week. It definitely seems out of place with the other questions, which is intentional I assume as a palette cleanser, but I don't think that's so important to have here.

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Re: Quizzical Questionnaire Query

Post  ZamuelNow on Tue Dec 02, 2014 11:57 pm

Stairc -Dan Felder wrote:You're underestimating the value of writing prompts.

I disagree since I hold the questionnaire as a whole as valuable.

Not sure what this means. Can you clarify?

I think it's less of a direct cause and effect from the questionnaire itself but I've noticed some characters shift pretty drastically from the questionnaire answers. I want to say it's just changes in response to the campaign direction but it hasn't seemed that cut and dry. It's something I'll be watching.

You can just take a break from the questionnaire and play minesweeper as a palette cleanser. This isn't a time-based medium where you need to tightly control engagement.

Is it? It's very much an issue of test taking skills where people will get stuck on a question and struggle rather than come back later. They may take a break but come back to that same question and get stuck again. It's people as opposed to the structure itself.
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Re: Quizzical Questionnaire Query

Post  Stairc -Dan Felder on Wed Dec 03, 2014 12:18 am

ZamuelNow wrote:
Stairc -Dan Felder wrote:You're underestimating the value of writing prompts.

I disagree since I hold the questionnaire as a whole as valuable.

I can tell you do. I still think you're underestimating just how valuable writing prompts are, despite already thinking they're valuable. Smile

I could be wrong here, but the section I was responding to seemed to talk about how people that don't naturally empathize with their characters won't be convinced to by a questionnaire. In reality, lots of people don't empathize with their characters for the same reason they don't know anything about their character's parents - it never came up in their thought process. It never occurred to them to try to find common ground between what they personally value and what their drunken dwarf beserker values.

I think it's less of a direct cause and effect from the questionnaire itself but I've noticed some characters shift pretty drastically from the questionnaire answers.  I want to say it's just changes in response to the campaign direction but it hasn't seemed that cut and dry.  It's something I'll be watching.

One of the points of the questionnaire is that it's used as a character-building tool, not just something to be filled out on the assumption that your character is already done. It's meant to provoke players to create character concepts that can answer the questions and fit what they care about. Often contradictions or dramatic shifts happen due to the explorations of the questionnaire, which I view as a really cool thing - as long as a GM makes sure a player isn't ditching a great concept for some reason.

You can just take a break from the questionnaire and play minesweeper as a palette cleanser. This isn't a time-based medium where you need to tightly control engagement.
Is it?  It's very much an issue of test taking skills where people will get stuck on a question and struggle rather than come back later.  They may take a break but come back to that same question and get stuck again.    It's people as opposed to the structure itself.


If I've gotten stuck on question 4 and the food question is question 5, how does this help me? I had to move on to a different question with the idea I'd come back to the previous one to get that palette cleanser anyway. If question 6 is the problem, question 5 can't help me.

I don't see how it's solving the issue. Doesn't encouraging players to read the questions and think about them for several days, to discuss them with the GM pre-campaign and take a break and come back later if they're stuck... Do the same thing as a meaningless food question?

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