Friday, April 13, 2012

Big List of Character Questions

  • This is a post about roleplaying, but it could also be about any type of storybuilding, or even analyzing real-world situations. It's just a bunch of things to think about; any question can have multiple answers, or none. The answers might go on for pages, or be a single word long. I have tried to make the questions as broad as possible, rather than specific.
  • This is, so far, just what I've come up with off the top of my head.
  • Feedback welcome, of course; I'm sure I have forgotten lots of things.
  • The idea behind this List Of Questions, by the way, is not to force anyone to write a multipage essay about their character. It's to know the character that well, to have a character that well developed, that they can answer (or you can answer for them) any of those questions with no more than a minute's thought. If you can't, then sit down and think some more.
  • I'm not at all saying that I've reached this level of development with all of my characters. But it's a goal to aim for, and a better starting point than googling "roleplay 101".
  • List, obviously as will be seen, is not limited to human characters.

"Who are you? What do you want? Why are you here? Where are you going?"

This was originally part of a response I wrote to someone in WoW, who has been asking me how to roleplay. I have answered before, but apparently not in enough detail.

(Q: "I have been rping with my friend and I noticed it was starting to get abit boring, and was going to ask what elements make a roleplay entertaining. Or what would help to make it more interesting?")

((Long post below the jump.))

A: (The following is what I sent, and then I went back later to write the Big List Of Questions.)

Honestly the thing that makes rp most interesting is chemistry oocly between the people involved. I don't mean romantic or sexual. If you can talk to them for hours, you can probably rp with them at length as well.

You need to be creative, you need to learn the lore of the universe you're rping in, and you need to be able to make stuff up that FITS the lore (because all universes big enough to roleplay in are by definition incomplete), and in order to do this you should have a broad knowledge of the genres surrounding your universe.

For example - if you're RPing in the Avatar universe, you need to know not just the element-bending lore, but also it's a good idea to have background knowledge of the laws of physics and specifically how they are bent in that universe and how they are NOT EVER bent (Waterbenders can't *create* water for example).

In WoW, it's not just belf lore that's important, but also the knowledge of WHERE that lore comes from, and where the entire elves-swords-dragons genre has its roots - partly in Tolkien, partly in all those cheesy Tolkien ripoffs that started to arise in the '70s, and some thoughts on elves that other people such as the creators of D&D and Forgotten Realms, and Terry Pratchett in Lords and Ladies, and a great many others have had.

You need, really, to be the kind of person, and to be rping with the kind of person, who can sit around and say, for example, "Hey, there are no outhouses in Silvermoon City. I wonder what they do with it all? Do they have plumbing? Nightsoil wagons? Magical solutions?" You need to be able to look at every little detail in the world, and ask WHY, over and over and over again, like a two-year-old.

Interest is in the details. That's why so many copycat formula-fantasy (or mystery, or vampire, or Western, or whatever) books have ended up with one print run, a brief zombie stint in used bookstores, and then end up in landfills or recycled into toilet paper. And RP is comparable to writing a story - because that's what you're doing.

You're not saying "who would I be if I lived in this universe?" - that's BORING. You're saying, in successful RP and story-making, "what kind of people live in this world? Why are they like that?" And then you're picking one, and asking him*, in the back of your mind as you drive to work, or when you're half asleep, or when, in a game, you're running him through his quests - "Who are you? What do you want?** Why? Where did you come from? Where did your parents/progenitor/elements/etc come from? Where do you live? Who built it? What are the current residents like?"

* Reply originally addressed to someone who would only play male characters
** Shamelessly stolen from Babylon 5. Not that the words are copyrighted, but it sounds cooler in a Vorlon/First One voice.
 (Babylon 5 .wav files from here: )

Who are you? What do you want?


And Now, The List

Who are you?
  • What are you?
    • What did you evolve from?
    • If you didn't evolve, were you created?
      • By whom?
        • Where did they come from?
What do you want?
  • Why do you want that?
    • And why is that?
      • And why is that?
        • And why is that?
  • What else do you want?
    • Why do you want that?
      • And why is that?
        • And why is that?
          • And why is that?
  • Which of your wants conflict with others?
What do you need?
  • How is that different from what you want?
    • Do you understand that it is?
      • Why not?
Where were you born/hatched/budded/replicated?
  • Was this normal for your species?
    • Why not?
  • Did your parents/progenitor/programmer/etc come from there?
    • And what were their parents/progenitor/programmer/etc like?
      • Who were they?
      • What did/do they want?
        • Why?
      • And what were their parents/progenitor/programmer/etc like?
        • Who were they?
        • What did they want?
          • Why?
Where do you live?
  • How far is it from where you were born?
  • What did you encounter on the journey?
    • Can you go back?
  • Who built it?
    • What happened to them?
  • What are the current residents like?
    • Why?
  • How do they deal with food?
    • Are there a lot of people not getting enough for whatever reason?
    • What do you eat?
      • Is this normal for your species?
        • Do you eat another intelligent species?
          • How do they feel about this?
  • Where does the water come from?
    • Have there been wars over it?
      • Yes there have, don't be ridiculous.
  • What's the weather like?
    • Basically you should pause here and go search for “30 days of worldbuilding”.
  • How do they deal with sewage?
  • What other problems are there for them to deal with?
    • Which of those are unique to this place?
What social class are you?
  • What social class do you feel you should be?
    • Why?
    • Do you deserve it?
    • Why aren't you there?
  • Can you afford your daily needs?
    • Do you also support other people?
      • Lots of them?
      • Why? (Subjects, servants, dependents, hivemembers)
    • Why not?
How does the government work?
  • Of course you have one, otherwise it's not a society.
  • How long has it been this way?
    • Why?
      • What happened to the last regime?
        • Why?
Who are your enemies?
  • Are they really?
    • Why?
    • Since when?
  • Are any of them secretly your friends or trade partners?
  • Do they consider you their enemy?
  • Are there current active hostilities?
    • Official or unofficial?
      • Will they be switching between unofficial and official anytime soon?
        • Why?
        • Have they done so recently?
          • Why?
Who are your gods?
  • Why?
    • How do you know?
  • Where did they come from?
    • Are you allowed to inquire about them?
  • Are they active in your day to day life?
    • Why not?
    • How often do miracles occur?
  • Are they benevolent or malevolent toward you and your people?
  • Are they good or evil?
    • Those actually were completely separate questions.
      • Or were they?
  • How do they act toward your allies?
  • How do they act toward your enemies?
  • Do they know who you are?
    • Have they ever spoken to you?
  • What is their priesthood like?
    • Are there oracles and prophets?
      • How accurate are they?
        • How often?
  • Do you have faith in them?
    • Why?
Whom do you love? (Family, friends, allies, enemies, lovers, spouses, nemeses, etc.)
  • Why?
  • Do they love you?
    • Are you hoping or trying to change this answer?
  • Have you become estranged from them?
    • Are you trying to?
  • Do you and they have the same definition of "love"?
  • Who else do you love?
    • Which would you sacrifice to save the others?
      • Why?
    • Which would you not sacrifice, even to save all the others?
      • Why?
  • Is this normal for your species?
    • Why not?
Does your species have genders?
    • How many?
    • Do you identify as a particular one?
      • Which one?
        • Why?
        • Was it assigned or did you choose it?
        • Does it match your reproductive sex?
          • Has the answer to this question changed over the course of your life?
          • Does your species commonly assign genders based on sex organs?
            • How important are gender roles to your society?
              • Do you violate the norms?
                • How does this affect your life?
        • Has the answer to this question changed over the course of your life?
          • Is this normal for your species?
      • How important is it to you?
    • Does your society care about the genders of your mates?
      • Is your orientation contrary to what your society prescribes?
        • How has this affected your life?
        • Do you have to pretend that it is?
          • What are the consequences if you don't?
Are you physically able to do the things you need to do?
  • If not, is assistance available?
  • How does this affect your life?
    • Are you dying?
      • Well, obviously everyone is, unless they're immortal.
        • Are you dying in the foreseeable future?
      • How do you plan to prevent this?
        • Or not?
  • Are you more able than most people? (athlete, superhero, player character)
    • Do you use your powers to help or harm people?
  • How does your society view different ability levels?
Are you mentally able to do the things you need to do?
  • Are you more or less intelligent than others of your species?
    • How does your society feel about this?
  • Are you smarter or more charismatic than most people? (wizard, celebrity, player character)
    • Do you use your powers to help or harm people?
  • Do you have any mental disabilities?
    • How do you deal with them?
    • Do you have any non-disabling mental conditions?
      • Do you need to hide them?
          • Can you?
    • Do you have any quirks?
      • Yes you do.
        • What are they?
          • How do other people react to them?

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