World Building Questionnaire

Typically when starting up a new tabletop RPG campaign, my workflow would usually be to create and introduce a setting, explain where the starting off point is, and then do character creation. Once my players had their characters prepared, I would ask them questions such as “Who was your wizardry mentor?” and “What was your character’s hobby as a child?”. While I use this to fish for plot hooks, the biggest reason I do this is to give players prompts to help them sketch out their backstory and personality beyond the character sheets.

From then on I would start formulating a campaign route such that it facilitates character development. Character’s parent’s were killed by goblins? Create a story arc that brings more nuance to the goblins and see where that player goes from there. I really like to see characters develop in personality and morals, and it’s why I’m not a fan of pre-written campaign modules as the main plot is nowhere near as integrated. If you’re the sort that tend to stick to modules, give this a go. It’s great fun.

Anyways, I’m currently starting up a new campaign and I decided to experiment a bit. The very first thing I did was hand the players a questionnaire sheet. It had two paragraphs that explained the bare minimum I could for the premise of the game. Then I dove straight into asking questions. I think it’s risky because at this point the world is a blank canvas with zero thematic consistency – and I just handed the brush temporarily to six players.

But at the same time this allows me to build the world around the player’s backstory rather than the other way around. When it is a world the players had a part in creating, the players create an investment in the world right from the start, rather than asking them to accept it over time.

It does have the risk of the Chekov’s Gun problem whereby players start to think every single detail is significant, and I may have to bring in veto powers as a GM to make sure the world isn’t too wild.

Let’s see how it goes.

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