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French Vanilla or Mint Mocha? Fleshing out your Character

Piggy-backing a bit on yesterday’s Johnny’s Five, one tool that I’ve found useful in fleshing out characters is to ask one question at the beginning of each session and let the players answer it (and answer it myself for NPCs).


The questions are generally “every day” type of stuff, things that have little impact on mechanics (unless you’re playing an RPG that includes mechanics for such things) but really help to establish a character’s personality and mannerisms.


Examples include:


– Does your character drink coffee in the morning? If so, how does she take it? Doe she prefer tea, an energy drink, milk or something else?


– Is your character an early bird or a night owl?


– How does your character dress for work?


– What’s your character’s favorite comfort food?


– What’s your character’s favorite pastime?


– Is your character neat and tidy, a clutter bug, or an outright pig?


– Does your character belong to a particular religion? How religious is he?


Answering these questions not only help to color a character, but also gives roleplaying tips. A character that drinks regular coffee will be satisfied with purchasing it from the local convenience store or street vendor; a character that enjoys a specialty coffee, such as a mint mocha, will need to go to a coffeehouse. Over time, the street vendor/barista and other regular customers may become secondary characters in their own right.


As another example, an early bird might have read the newspaper, gone for a morning jog, and meticulously picked out his attire before meeting the rest of the party for breakfast. A night owl, on the other hand, may show up in whatever was handy and a baseball cap after waking up already ten minutes late.


This is a great technique for players that like to establish their characters during play. One question a session isn’t a big deal, and after a few sessions a character will have a lot of interesting quirks to play off of. Give it a try and see if it improves your game.

Walt Ciechanowski

About  Walt Ciechanowski

Walt’s been a game master ever since he accidentally picked up the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set in 1982. He became a freelance RPG writer in 2005 and is currently the Victoriana Line Developer for Cubicle 7. Walt lives in Springfield, PA with his wife Helena and their three children, Leianna, Stephen, and Zoe.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "French Vanilla or Mint Mocha? Fleshing out your Character"

#1 Comment By John Arcadian On April 8, 2009 @ 9:00 am

– Does your character drink coffee in the morning? If so, how does she take it? Doe she prefer tea, an energy drink, milk or something else?
My last character drank tea, jasmine with a hint of desert spice.

– Is your character an early bird or a night owl?
Night owl.

– How does your character dress for work?
In white pants, a waist covering tabbard, a white face covering headwrap and a length of thin rope around his torso.

– What’s your character’s favorite comfort food?

– What’s your character’s favorite pastime?
Generally, being alone to contemplate the mysteries of the universe.

– Is your character neat and tidy, a clutter bug, or an outright pig?
Very tidy. He always cleans his kills.

– Does your character belong to a particular religion? How religious is he?
He was a hadji of Perosian Taeosianism (a mixture of middle eastern religions in the world setting.) He was mildly religious, but then found his path leading him to Hadj.

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On April 8, 2009 @ 10:04 am

I like this type of gradual character thought and revelation. I know that one of my old characters, Kogor, benefited from a meme going around when I was playing him– something about “what was his last dream”. When I worked it into the session, I found motivation and an interesting new direction for him.

#3 Comment By valadil On April 8, 2009 @ 11:25 am

If my game weren’t ending next week I’d totally start using this. It looks like a great way to sketch out those mundane aspects that are often ignored.

#4 Comment By deadlytoque On April 8, 2009 @ 3:18 pm

This reminds me of the character generation system in Dread. In that game, the GM makes up a set of questionnaires, usually 13 questions long, and hand them out to the players. It allow the GM to get the players thinking about their characters, and also allows them to seed information (eg: You have a nasty scar; where is it, and what caused it?; You are on this mission because you are a specialist in what kind of medicine?).

As a lawyer, it also reminds me of examination-in-chief questions (when you are questioning your own witness). That said, in an x-in-c, you would never “limit” your questions. You wouldn’t say “French Vanilla or Mint Mocha?”; you would say “Tell me about your morning routine.” By going more broad, you allow the witness to tell the story in their own words, and hit the points that -they- think are highlights. If you want more specific information, you still ask “open” questions, like “And what can you tell me about what you were drinking?”

#5 Comment By Ash On April 11, 2009 @ 9:12 pm

These are some great ideas for character development. If you’ll pardon the self-promotion, I invite people interested in fleshing out their PCs or NPCs to visit Ash’s Guide to RPG Personality and Background.

#6 Comment By Bercilac On May 2, 2009 @ 10:43 pm

Great tip! I’ll suggest this one to my DM, particularly since one of the players hasn’t fleshed out his character that much. I quite like the point that these tiny points can evolve into entire sub-plots of their own. “Someone torched my favourite bar, where all we half-orcs go to escape the discrimination of living in an Elven city. Heads are gonna roll.”

My spellcheck (enabled for the internet) picks up “orcs,” “Elven,” and “spellcheck.” It does not pick up “gonna.” For shame.

#7 Comment By emiliaemilia On November 4, 2009 @ 9:41 am

hi mr. Walt Ciechanowski. you’ve got polish surname but however i’ll write english cause i don’t know if you know polish. In game or book, i don’t know, called “The Imperial Age: True20 Edition” you used my work on the cover. you dind’t even ask me for permission or tell me a bout it – you just stole this. now we’re gonna have to think what to do about it… here you can see my works to prove that i’m the owner of this pic -> http://e-m-i-l-a.deviantart.com

please give me some contact to yourself. here’s my email: milka.emilka@buziaczek.pl

#8 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On October 26, 2011 @ 10:34 am

emiliaemilia – I apologize for not responding. As you can tell from the time stamp, I didn’t see your comment for quite some time!

Unfortunately, in spite of my name I don’t speak Polish, although I do visit the local Polish neighborhood deli on occasion! :)

As to your question/concerns, I was not involved in the art/layout for the book, but I understand that Adamant procured it from a stock art collection. I did contact Adamant after seeing your comment and learned that they had already contacted you and the matter is resolved, which I’m happy to hear.

It’s unfortunate that you chose to post this publicly rather than use the “Contact Us” link (especially since your comment had nothing to do with Gnome Stew), whereupon I’d have been made immediately aware of your concern and addressed it years ago.