As I continue my preparations for an upcoming D&D campaign, set in my original world, Telia, I’ve come across an interesting challenge. In other settings, where a guide or sourcebook properly defines every culture and piece of the map, players can easily figure out their character’s place in the world, but when the world itself isn’t ready yet, how do you help the players figure out their origin?
I mentioned before that I gave my players the liberty of choosing and creating their own home, but I’ve come to realise I’m the only one who really knows how the pieces fit together in the world, how the nations relate, how the regions work and the cultures mingle, so it’s not really the easiest thing in the world for the players to just drop Playerland on the map.
So, as the world creator and Dungeon Master I should help them find their home, to take their ideas for their character, my knowledge and mix them all together to create that wonderful little traumatic home that pushes their character to become an adventurer. Because let’s face it, if you’re willing to jump down a dark hole in the ground looking for treasure, there must be something wrong with you, fundamentally…
Which gave me an idea. One of the methods you can use to help players figure out their character backgrounds, potential dramatic encounters, enemies and allies is to give them a questionnaire. A few standard questions to spark their creativity and make it certain that there is something really wrong with their characters, because again, dungeoneering is not for the mentally stable. It just isn’t.
But the trick with the geographical questionnaire is to keep things vague. I wouldn’t ask if they lived near the Stonefeather Sierra or if they had contact with the marauding Shatterspine Dwarf clan that lives under Mount Thunderspire, the southernmost tip of the sierra. The player won’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
Where did you live as a child? A town, a city, you moved around. How was the most common weather? Always cold, rainy, moderate. Were there mountains nearby where you lived as child? Yes, No.
Once you’re through with the childhood, you move on to their adult years, as they could have moved from one place to another.
And once you figure those out, you can ask class-specific questions. In my case, for example, there is a city dedicated to the study and pursuit of magic, all forms of it, including Divine magic. So, a question I would have for a Cleric could be: “Did you study with a mentor at your abbey, did you learn on your own, or did you attend an organised school?” Just because divine magic comes from faith doesn’t mean a novice doesn’t need to learn how to tap into that energy, how to establish that sacred link with their deity.
Every little detail the players offers helps cement them in the world you’ve created. In my case, it lets me know the continent they hail from and the country. On their class, I know where they’ve been, where they could have settled at a given point in time, and I can tell the player all about it.
By the end of this questionnaire, the player will have a firmer grasp on the nations and regions their character lived in, which will then feed into their character background when they move on to another questionnaire or just sit down to create their origin story.
Better still, once they know where they come from, they can offer their aid in adding new details to their homes, such as festivals, important places, interesting people. In helping the players find their place in the world you get another mind you can probe for cool information.