The Verodus Campaign Setting > Character Questionnaire
This Character Questionnaire is designed to help a player quickly build a character description, as well as to challenge a player to think about a character more deeply than he or she might otherwise — even before the first roleplaying session. While this list is long, you will find that it will help you create a well-rounded character with surprisingly little effort, as well as without any floundering around a gaming table as you try to translate a character sheet into a believable person.
The Character Questionnaire began as my own personal character sheet and grew over the years. After finding myself repeating the same conversations as I helped my players avoid parties of cardboard cutouts, I finally decided to introduce a version of my personal sheet to the group solely as a time-saver. It turned out to be a very useful move. In its current form, this questionnaire is heavily based on what I use to teach creative writing and work with authors.
You do not have to fill this questionnaire out. All I ask is that you look it over and use it to get a feel for your character.
That said, if you do wish to fill it out and get it back to me, you will gain an in-game benefit equal to the care you took with answering the questions. This may result in bonus items, additional minor abilities, free rituals, and so on, normally drawn from something you write as part of your backstory. The more I can use for a plot and flesh out the world, the more I will reward you.
A character sheet normally has space for height and weight, and perhaps a few other details. That still leaves a lot of ground to cover. Hair and eye color don’t normally shape who a person is; on the other hand, scars, an accent, or six fingers on your right hand can certainly tell help tell a story.
Adapt Stats to Description
Your character attributes can say a lot about you. If you have a high Strength, are you impressively muscled? Or are you endowed with divinely-granted prowess despite your slight stature? Is your low Constitution due to being ravaged by sickness as a child? Sometimes your appearance can even hide your true nature, such as when a heavy-set man turns out to have a high Dexterity — and uses it to get the drop on his enemies.
Profession and Personal History
Leave off clothing and equipment for the moment; your chosen course in life is going to affect your basic appearance before anything else. What is your chosen role in life? If it is different from how you grew up, how has that change affected you?
A farmer who becomes a soldier is rougher and usually stronger than the city-born merchant’s boy who fights beside him; the merchant’s son will likely have paler skin and may prefer to be clean-shaven. A wizard might well be stereotypically bookish; but a wizard who once scraped by on the streets before catching the eye of a teacher will look very different from a pampered noble scion who never worked a day in his life.
Race and Custom
Your choice of race will have an obvious impact on your appearance, but things don’t end there. Different races have different customs; different cultures have different attitudes that separate — or even transcend — the racial boundaries of the world.
A city elf looks as different from a forest elf as might happen with any other race. A character raised among another race will adopt similar preferences on appearance, such as a dwarf raised among humans who prefers to be completely clean-shaven. Think about what you prefer based on where you come from; even something as simple as a haircut can speak volumes about a character’s personality, to say nothing of tattoos, a slave or criminal brand, or how your people mark a child born on Tuesdays.
Nobody likes the smelly gamer, but your character might be from a place with a lower respect for hygiene — or might be obsessive about appearance. Are you sloppy or neat? Are you always asking the wizard to use prestidigitation on you? Does bathing make your barbarian soul weak?
They say clothing makes the man. It’s certainly something often ignored in an RPG, or at best given cursory attention. What does your clothing say about you?
Fashion and Class
No, not character class. We’re talking the social variety here. Where would your clothing make you stand out? In the country? In a rich neighborhood? A poor one? Do you wear a particular style, or are your bags packed for all occasions? What is the style of your homeland, and how does it differ depending on who or where you are?
Do you have a particular sigil or other symbol to display, such as on a tabard or shield? What does it mean? If you don’t have one, do you wish to gain one — either your own, the symbol of a group, or the seal of a lord and patron?
Your habits and mannerisms can create a distinct impression — rightly or wrongly. What would someone notice when meeting you for the first time?
Do you have a particular habit based on your religion, such as praying facing north while standing on one foot? Or due to your profession, such as constantly sharpening your blades or reading your spellbook?
How does your attitude affect your actions? Do you walk confidently, either from arrogance or innocence? If you stick to the shadows, why don’t you want to be noticed? Are you a smooth talker, or do you get tongue-tied around the opposite sex?
Speech and Body Language
Do you have an accent? A stutter? Are you more familiar with a different dialect of the local language than your allies? Do you slouch or always fiddle with your grandmother’s necklace?
Note: Adopting a particular style of talking or body language when narrating a character can be hard for many players, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell your fellow players what they hear; after all, you don’t need to dress in armor for them to know your character is ready for battle. Just remind them that your accent is getting thicker as you fight in battle, or that you swear in other languages when stressed.
Now that we know the hows, it’s time to look at the whys. Why does your character act the way he or she does? How does your character see the world?
Your character isn’t just copied from the description of race or class in your rulebook. He or she is a person: hopes, dreams, motivations, a destiny, and possibly quite a few skeletons in his closet of holding.
Adapt Stats to Description
You’ve looked at your physical stats, but now look at the mental side as well. A high Intelligence may mean you are clever but have no formal learning; or you may be the opposite, with a lot of book-smarts but little skill at solving problems your books don’t cover. Wisdom might not include self-awareness or the ability to philosophize about the nature of the soul. And, of course, Charisma is your force of personality — an ugly midget might have the same charisma as a supermodel.
External vs. Internal
What they see might not be what they get. What about the “real you” might come off as something completely different to everyone else?
A man with a naturally blank expression might seem hostile or bored; a woman raised to be a demure lady may seem timid and delicate. You might be loud and boisterous simply because you’re used to a loud city, and don’t know why those monks are giving you dark looks as they try to meditate. You might not realize that not everyone is as fascinated with the minutiae of historical facts as you are, and so come across as a know-it-all looking for attention.
The things that drive you will help shape how you approach the world and those you meet in it; but character motivations aren’t always world-shaking. (That comes in a later section.)
Are you out for gold? Do you simply want people to think you’re a mercenary rather than know your true purpose? If slighted, will you challenge that person to a duel, ignore him, or simply steal his purse and draw a mustache on his face (or shave the real thing) while he’s sleeping? Will you always donate to the poor orphan’s fund? Do you enjoy writing love poems to random women you meet? Are you interested in collecting tales in every tavern you pass through?
No one is perfect, including — and especially — a hero. What’s your problem, anyway?
Something is Always Wrong
What comes off as wrong — or just plain weird — to those around you? Are you aware of it, or is it everyone else who’s strange? Does it interfere in your life? How or why? Is it something that you can — or perhaps even must — overcome in the future?
Neuroses, Psychoses, and Weirdoses
Those who become heroes are a breed apart, but they still have to function. Try to avoid problems that would make a real-life person be committed to a mental ward, or — even worse! — annoy everyone at the table.
You’re going places — and even if you don’t really know where just yet, you know it’s going to happen.
What is Driving You?
Did your village burn down? Were you orphaned? Did the love of your life die? Did all of these happen in the same afternoon? What are you going to do about it? Everyone has something that drives them, whether revenge, idealism, charity, or the pure thrill of danger.
What is Worth Fighting For?
Anyone can be driven to do something, but it may take a special cause to take up arms and risk danger. What drives you to risk your life as an adventurer? Is it something ahead of you? Do you protect what’s behind you? Are you easily roused to anger or do you take a more cautious route? What are your buttons — and how many people know how to push them?
What is Worth Dying For?
At some point, the life of a hero can require him to lay down his life for someone or something else. What could cause this to happen for you? Do you know that you’re willing to make this sacrifice, or will you only realize it when the time comes? Does anyone even suspect that you would be willing to die for something, or do most people see you as a scoundrel simply out for himself?
What is Worth Living For?
Dying is pretty easy. Living with the consequences of your actions? That’s harder. What hardships are you willing to endure for the sake of your goals?
What Makes You a Hero?
Not everyone starts out as a hero; not everyone’s good at it, either. You could be the greatest swordsman in the land, yet only willing to look beyond your own pleasures when forced to by circumstance — or a nagging conscience. What makes you hero-material? If you’re not there yet, what will make you a hero in the future?
How Will You Grow?
All characters grow and change. How will it happen to you? Will you in fact never become a hero? Are you destined for greatness, or infamy as a traitor and an NPC?
Note: A player who wishes to build a character that becomes a villainous NPC should discuss the matter in secret with the GM, as well as prepare a replacement character for when the first goes over to the Dark Side. This can create a definite feeling of betrayal and loss among the other players, but don’t ruin the surprise ahead of time!
You may not know the meaning of fear, but it always knows the meaning of you.
An ordinary fear is something that makes your character more natural. This is a phobia that has little effect on the game and probably no effect on the overall plot. Just because it’s ordinary doesn’t mean it’s a rational fear, of course. You may think it completely ordinary, for instance, to be terrified of bunnies.
An extraordinary fear is a driving force for character growth, and likely has an impact on the plot. It may tie into your overall character destiny, or it may be an obstacle to overcome in order to reach your goals. It could be the fear of losing yourself to a fatal flaw, such as bloodlust or a lycanthropic curse. It could be the fear of losing someone you love.
An ordinary fear is something you are afraid of; an extraordinary fear is usually something you are afraid of being without.
You know who you are now — but there’s still more to tell. Where are you from? Who do you hang out with? How do you interact with the world?
When they write your biography, where will they begin?
How were you raised? On a desert farm by your aunt and uncle? In a palace, adopted by a king? Were you raised by werewolves? Did you actually have a fairly typical and non-tragic upbringing in a loving family? Who and what set you on the path to being the person you are today?
What was expected of you while you were growing up, and did that change with adulthood? Did you fulfill these expectations, or were you a disappointment? Have you continued in that vein, or are you trying to start a new life?
You didn’t just form out of nothing; what have you been up to lately? Even a starting character has been around the block at least once; “zero experience” does not mean zero experiences.
How did you get here specifically? Did you just slay a dragon, or was that just a story to impress a barmaid? Were you a mercenary, or a noble knight? Are you out for fun or are you hard up for work? Are you on the run from something? Is it about to catch you? Or are you trying to catch something else?
Organization and Philosophy
Everyone identifies with something, whether a person, a group, or an ideal. Your influences may range from the mythological to the people who raised you, but no matter what it’s important to you — even if you never show it.
Who, or what, are you loyal to? Is your family? Do you owe your life to someone? Are you a member of a guild? Are you a patriot, supporting your home country against its foes?
Training and Support
Who gave you the skills you have now? Did you train with an organization of some kind? If so, do you still belong to it? If so, what are your duties and privileges? If not, why?
What social and religious beliefs do you hold? Do you see the gods (or God) as role models or as capricious beings playing with mortal lives? Do you ascribe to any philosophies — political, social, etc. — that color your perception of the world?
Note: Never be afraid to create content for the GM’s world, so long as you have his or her permission. A good GM learns to outsource creativity for things like this — and will often bring it back into the plot in ways you hadn’t expected.
Stereotypes exist for a reason, as they are normally based in reality. When they aren’t, they’re based on perception. What stereotypes do you believe, and what has been proven wrong for you? Do you actively disbelieve stereotypes whenever you hear them? Have you been stereotyped, and what has that meant for you?
If you are a man, are you a womanizer or a gentleman? If you are a woman, do you want to be treated like a lady or do you hate being reminded that you aren’t “one of the guys”? How do you view genders?
Racial and Ethnic
Traditionally, dwarves can’t stand elves, halflings get along with humans, and nobody likes a goblin. On top of that, people from the country see city-dwellers as uppity money-grubbers; city-dwellers see those in the country as ignorant hillfolk who don’t know the first thing about the real world.
What about you? How do you fit in, and what do you believe?
Classes and Professions
The usual breakdown is that a warrior is a dumb jock, a wizard is an effeminate nerd, and a scoundrel will do anything for money. Sailors are always drunk, merchants will always cheat you, and noblemen are arrogant.
What happens when these stereotypes get broken? What about the fighter who’s an expert in metaphysical philosophy, and the wizard who can bench-press a dwarf? What is your attitude to other characters based on what they do versus who they are?
Religion, Belief, and Exclusive Clubs
People pick their gods because of what they believe; in turn, others make assumptions about them based on that choice. How does it work for you? Do only idiots believe in superstition, or is that a way of life for you? Who do you see as belonging to specific guilds and orders — are some organizations hopelessly corrupt, no matter what anyone else says?
Sometimes, it’s all about who you know — and who you’re going to know.
Connections constantly form and change in any game, and this happens before the first die is rolled. Two characters, whether PCs or NPCs, may have crossed paths before. This may be a good thing, or it may be a hinderance (more on that below). Even if they have never met face-to-face, they may know the same NPC, or they may have been present at the same battle, or attended the same school, or may share the same core beliefs.
You have a connection to at least one of the other party members. Who is it? Have you met that person before, or do you just hit it off at your first introduction? Take turns establishing the nature of your connection, intangible though it may be. It may range from being family to simply attending the same tavern after work, or you may have heard of the other by reputation.
Create at least two NPCs for your GM. One is an ally who may help the party in the future. The other is a potential obstacle, should the story touch on that NPC’s sphere of influence. Feel free to create additional NPCs with your GM’s approval.
Maybe it’s like oil and water. Maybe it’s like oil and flame, or flame and water. Whatever it is, you two just don’t mix like the rest.
Pick another character and work with that player to create a contrast. Again, it may be based on shared history or on opposing beliefs. You highlight your differences rather than pretend that they do not exist.
This contrast is usually based on misconceptions and first impressions rather than an objective fact. You may dislike each other because of who the other appears to be, or the manner in which they are introduced. You might feed off of your belief in stereotypes (as established earlier) or because of rumors you heard about the other person.
In the course of roleplay, these contrasts are explored and overcome, bringing characters closer together — even if, perhaps, some of them will never admit it.
Your choice of contrast should be based on something that allows room for character growth, and should never be so strong that it threatens party cohesion. The contrast you pick can even result from the same connection that you picked earlier. Perhaps male barbarian owes the female bard a debt of honor, but can’t stand being bound to a woman.
The traditional contrast is the honorable paladin and the shifty rogue, but aside from being done to death, this is something that has little room for development. A more interesting situation might be that the paladin respects the rogue for his sound battle tactics, but is uncomfortable working with the womanizing wizard. The contrast then becomes a pure-roleplay aspect that could go in multiple directions without harming the overall plot or the characters’ ability to work together.
The Verodus Campaign Setting > Character Questionnaire