Adding Some Depth
Breaking Down the 20
Very little of the twenty question background explicitly asks players to tell stories, these ones definitely do. No one cares that your character has a memory of baking bread or that they like to whittle. It does not matter one bit. What matters is why they do it. It is the only thing that matters. The best answers often have nothing to do with adventuring, fighting, or conjuring small rodents through magic. They describe a life before these things and outside of it. Boring answers reference a character’s main skill sets. Cartography isn’t a hobby for a scout, it’s part of their job.
14. What are your three most vivid memories?
I really like questions that require more than one answer, and this is one of my favourites. Think of some of your most vivid memories. They might be from dates, from summer camp, from school or sports, or just quiet moments at home. Picking three memories involves picking the three most pivotal moments in a character’s life. These are the moments that shaped them. Ender was bullied in school and grew up with a sociopathic brother, Arthur drew the sword from the stone, and Leia witnessed the destruction of Alderaan. These are events that changed them and shape who they are in the present story. Three is a good number because one is too few and four is too many. It pushes players to be specific, but hopefully prevents one memory from taking precedence over all the others.
The key is that the memories not be boring. if one memory is the brutal slaying of a character’s parents in front of her, and one is a great pizza she had two weeks ago, there’s an issue. The pizza might have been great, but narratively it’s pretty damn boring. The memories that are most vivid should also be the most interesting, no matter how much your character loves pizza.
15. What’s one hobby that you have?
This is probably the most important question. The most. It pushes people to think about what their character does when they’re not casting spells, running around the world, and spoiling the day of villains and villagers alike. What do they do when those things aren’t available? What are they good at that doesn’t relate to their specialty? And it should be something that relates to their specialty. I do social media for a living, and I make videos on social media, but making videos isn’t my hobby. Doing the things in those videos, writing music and gaming, those are my hobbies.
One of the other implications of a hobby is that a character will seek out opportunities to do it. A character who loves cooking might carry spices or talk with chefs on the road. One who loves poker will carry a deck of cards, and a juggler never goes anywhere without their juggling balls.
A hobby can add some necessary depth to any character, whether they’re a 20th century superspy or a dungeon delving adventurer. It gives them something to talk about besides their latest kill, and lets them be fascinated by something in the world. We’ve all met that person who never shuts up about their business or their work life, and let’s be honest, none of us can stand them.
Memories and hobbies are just a few of the ways of fleshing out a character, but I think they’re some of the most important because they can draw out aspects of the character that don’t come out in their career. their friends and allies will likely have something to do with their daily life, and their enemies almost certainly will, but their hobby? Their strongest memories? A PC who can’t move past their career for those needs to get a life.