Borrowed mechanics – 20 Questions for Player Characters in D&D

Once again stealing some ideas from another blog, but going in an entirely different direction, Gnome Stew had a recent post about using twenty questions to help build up a character for roleplaying.
Now, the basis for that post was Amber, a diceless system that’s pretty popular. I’ve never played that though.

I have, however, played both Legend of the Five Rings and 7th Sea, across several editions. The twenty questions idea is a great mechanic for building up the character backstory after you’ve built them mechanically (at least from my experience with L5R).
Now that the latest edition of L5R using the questions as a focus for the character generation process (I’m actually surprised it took this long to do), the questions are an even more useful tool for engaging with players and getting them connected to the world and their character.

So let’s go ahead and borrow the idea, and see if we can make a version for D&D.
This is likely going to tread on the Character Chronicle idea found in the Wildemount book (and with Sword Coast and the North, and Icewind Dale versions found elsewhere), but I’m trying to make this a bit more generic, and focus on the roleplay.

I’ll try and make it tie in to Traits, Ideals, Bonds and Flaws as best as I can.

So, what are the questions themselves? I’ll compare the different questions across all the editions, since they change a small bit, though generally they remain the same.

1st edition and 2nd edition3rd edition
1 What Clan does your character belong to?1 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
2 How would you describe your character?2 How would others describe your character?
3 Is your character a samurai or a shugenja? (Or bushi/shugenja in 2nd edition)3 Is your character a bushi, shugenja, monk or courtier?
4 What about your character’s family?4 What Family does your character belong to?
5 What is your character’s main motivation?5 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
6 Who is the one person your character trusts most?6 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
7 What is your character’s greatest strength? Greatest weakness?7 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
8 What does your character think of bushido?8 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
9 What is your character’s own opinion of his Clan?9 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
10 Does your character have any prejudices?10 Same as 1st and 2nd edition (but mysteriously swapped with question 11)
11 Is your character married?11 Same as 1st and 2nd edition (but mysteriously swapped with question 10)
12 To whom does your character owe the most loyalty?12 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
13 What are your character’s favourite (and least favourite) things?13 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
14 Does your character have any recurring mannerisms?14 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
15 What about your character’s psychology?15 What about your character’s emotions?
16 How would your character handle an insubordinate servant?16 How would your character handle a subordinate’s improper behaviour?
17 How would your character’s parents describe him?17 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
18 What are your character’s highest ambitions?18 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
19 How religious is your character?19 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
20 If you could, what advice would you give your character?20 Same as 1st and 2nd edition
4th edition5th edition
1 What Clan does your character belong to?1 Same as 4th edition
2 What Family does your character belong to?2 Same as 4th edition
3 Is your character a bushi, a shugenja, or a courtier?3 What is your character’s school, and what role does that fall into?
4 How would others describe your character’s appearance?4 Does your character stand out within their school?
5 What is your character’s primary motivation?5 Who is your lord and what is your character’s duty to them?
6 Who is the person your character trusts most in the world?6 What does your character long for, and how might this impede their duty?
7 What is your character’s greatest strength and weakness?7 What is your character’s relationship with their Clan?
8 What does your character think of bushido?8 Same as 4th edition
9 What is your character’s opinion of his Clan?9 What is your character’s greatest accomplishment so far?
10 Is your character married?10 What holds your character back the most in life?
11 Does your character have any prejudices?11 What activity most makes your character feel at peace?
12 To whom does your character owe the most loyalty?12 What concern, fear, or foible troubles your character the most?
13 What are your character’s favourite and least favourite things?13 Who has your character learned the most from during their life?
14 Does your character have any recurring mannerisms?14 What do people notice upon first encountering your character?
15 What about your character’s emotions?15 How does your character react to stressful situations?
16 How would your character handle a subordinate’s improper behaviour?16 What are your character’s existing relationships with other clans, Families, organisations and traditions?
17 How would your character’s parents describe him?17 Same as 4th edition
18 What is your character’s highest ambition?18 Who was your character named to honour?
19 How religious is your character?19 What is your character’s personal name?
20 How will your character die?20 How should your character die?

So, obviously, the biggest change was between 4th and 5th edition (along with the proprietary dice). The questions there from one to eight have an actual effect upon the character sheet by changing numbers, after that they’re useful for roleplay and for in play effects.
Before 5th edition, many of the questions do have a bearing on the character as built, but the questions themselves are kept so separate that you could easily hit the rules for character building and make a completely different character to the one described in the twenty questions.

Confusing right?

So, let’s think about porting some of this over to D&D. I’ll also be stealing liberally from this Imgur post, since it covers a nice bit of what I want in sixteen questions.

A Game of 20 Questions for D&D
1What is your character’s personal name? Were they named to honour anyone?
2What is your character’s relationship with their family? Do they have any close friends? Any fierce rivals?
3Where did your character grow up? How did their environment inform or change them?
4What did your character aspire to as a child? What did they most fear?
5What made your character stand out before they began adventuring?
6Who has your character learned the most from during their life?
7Why did your character become an adventurer?
8What is your character’s primary short-term motivation?
9What is your character’s primary long-term motivation?
10Does your character have a code of behaviour that they live by? Where did it come from?
11What concern, fear, or foible most troubles your character?
12How does your character react to stressful situations?
13What activity most makes your character feel at peace? Do they have a hobby? Are they religious?
14What do people notice upon first encountering your character? Do they have any unique mannerisms?
15How would recent acquaintances describe your character?
16How would close friends or family describe your character?
17How would their bitterest rival describe your character?
18How would your character handle difficult behaviour in someone else?
19What is your character’s deepest secret?
20How does your character think their adventures will come to an end?

I think that will do. I’m going to add it to my Session Zero package for when I run another game (or even when I next build a character).

And if you want some further reading on the topic, or have even more questions at your disposal, check out these thirty questions or go really mad with three hundred and eighty questions from Roleplaying Tips.

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