There are a category of questions in RPGS which are both tremendously potent and tremendously annoying to me. I refer to them as “crutch” questions because they are incredibly useful if you haven’t considered them before, but are potentially banal and technical if you already have.
A great example might be something about a character’s essential nature, such as “What would you kill for?”. If you don’t have a solid purchase on the character, then that can be a really interesting question to chew on to help you understand your character.
However, once you know the character, the question changes a bit. It’s still interesting, but because you know the character well enough that the answers come easily, but the answer will also probably be more nuanced than it would have been previously. The better you know your character, the more aware you are of the things that make them human, the things that make it very hard for a real question to have a single, simple answer.
And that’s where the problem comes in – when the question is used initially then they idea is to get a clear answer which you can draw conclusions from. When creating from nothing, it’s useful, but once you’re past it, it’s reductive.
This would not be too big deal, except that newer games often hang mechanics off these questions and ideas. And they’re right to do so – starting from a blank piece of paper, it’s a fast way to get you to something meaningful and toothy, and though it may offer no route any deeper, that’s still not a bad bar to hit.
Which is why this is far from a clear cut issue. Crutch questions are absolutely a useful tool in the right situation, and if your in the position where they’re unwelcome, then you’re probably already doing ok, so it’s hardly a world-ender of a problem.
It’s something I have to admit bothers me disproportionately, largely because that space where they’re impediments is my *personal* sweet spot, so I can end up chafing in the face of them.
Anyway, I made a passing comment about this on Twitter, and realized it really wouldn’t make any sense without a longer explanation,
1 – Unless you really prefer that kind of clarity in a character.