Leona Vivalis towers over her party members, with sable hair and violent eyes…
We all remember our roleplaying first game and trying to come up with a way to quickly introduce our characters. Young Adult Fantasy, and many older adult titles, have us trained to describe them in terms of their looks: striking eyes, bold hair, maybe the glint of their weapon of choice. But does that really give the other players cues for interacting with them?
Below I offer 3 questions I use to open my campaigns that have nothing to do with elvish good looks.
What are your pronouns?
This one may seem obvious, but sometimes it’s all in how you ask. I remember the first time I was at a con so many years ago and a GM asked “male or female?” when I told them what class I’d chosen. It felt like a revolution had happened. I present femme, so before this point it was assumed by everyone I’d be playing a female character.
Similarly, when the 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons books dropped, my brothers and I immediately noticed how they switched off pronouns when giving character examples. It was new and unique, but all of that feels dated, now. Relegated to my preteen and teenage years.
Now when I run a game, I ask for the characters’ name, class, pronouns, and race (if applicable to the rules system). It also opens up my players to flesh out their presentation in-game. My RPGs are played first person, so when I address or talk about a character, I try to stick to those pronouns and use their names only.
These identifiers don’t have to come into your game as a point of interaction with NPCs at all, but as a collaborative experience, it’s important to understand and respect your players and their characters.
How do you enter the room?
The tavern is classic. It’s tried and true. You’re players are in the tavern. How did they get there? Leave the answers up to them, prompting where necessary.
Did they throw open the door, try to slip in unnoticed? Does everyone there know their name? Are they a stranger? Maybe they’re uncomfortable in bars, because they’re usually at home taking care of mom. This question easily leads to other character development and narrative questions.
Can they hold their ale? Does this lead to an adventure, or just the other players learning a little too much about each other’s backstories? Who else is listening to the conversation at their trestle table?
How did you get yourself in this situation?
When I Game Mastered a pacifast session of Dungeons & Dragons, all of the characters woke up in jail. My first question: “How did you get here?”
Just that simple. There may have been some edits necessary, and one character woke up completely hungover with no memory (“roll to remember” is a fun dynamic to insert here), but it immediately put everyone into their characters’ mindset.
Let me know what questions you ask to get your players ready to interact with each other as characters!