RP Tool: Question of the Week
In this semi-regular RPG column I’ll be focusing on practical solutions to common problems, as well as suggestions for enriching the game.
The Question of the Week is, basically, this:
After the session ends, one of the players comes up with a question that reflects something that happened in the session, and emails it to everyone. They all answer it during the week, and at the start of their next session, talk a bit a about it. Supreme joy ensues!
This form of question is a useful tool for almost any party, and indeed, a lot of groups already use it. For those who don’t, here’s a few points you should consider:
- It keeps the players interested between sessions. By answering the question, and reading the answers written by the others, the player immerses themselves back into the game, if only for a moment. They have to think about their character and the world, keeping them interested in the story.
- It gives cohesion, something to talk about. A good question can become a “memorable moment”, like most session are (hopefully) full of – something to provide a talking point for the group. It’s a great topic of conversation for your Whatsapp group.
- It’s a way to explore backstory, enrich your character’s motivation, or show character development. For players who are shy or for those who prefer to emphasize the tactical part of the game during the session, it’s a wonderful opportunity to emphasize some RP elements they don’t get to do around the table.
- It allows the GM to infuse the story with new clues or new interpretations; for example, they can answer in the name of an important NPC, giving a glimpse to their inner world, or write a whole “meanwhile” scene, showing what’s going on somewhere off screen. It’s an interesting way to do some worldbuilding and/or create expectations.
- It gives the players a rotating responsibility, or it can be used to give a specific player an ongoing responsibility (The QUESTION MAKER!). Giving players some responsibilities in the game is a great way to keep them engaged, as will be discussed in a future column.
Usually, the GM is responsible for initiating and maintaining the weekly question, but it doesn’t has to be this way. I would recommend having a single responsible player, with the duty (privilege!) sometimes moving between all participants. For example, if a player has a great idea for a question after the last session, they should do the next one (encourage excitement); or you can move the writing duty around, so each player gets a go (getting new view points, keeping things interesting). The GM should participate like everyone else, this should be a group activity.
Here are a few considerations when framing and using the question of the week.
Rewards: The GM can offer some sort of a reward to players who answer the question, for example in the form of an extra Fate point, a Benny (Savage Worlds), or XP (Although I don’t generally recommend using XP; let’s get into it some other time). I personally prefer rewards that are one-time use, the sort of thing that will be used during the next session. You should give a reward in order to encourage the players to sit down and write an answer, so if your party is already naturally disposed to answer the question, you shouldn’t use them (or do give them, but describe them as something extra, “You get this because you guys are cool”). However, note: if you’ll be using them with at least one player, you should use them with all of them.
Rewards can also be used only on special occasions, such as before an important session – like when a boss fight is around the corner, and the GM wants to give the players a little bonus before the fight. The question of the week is a great “excuse” to give the characters a small empowerment in a way that is perceived by the players as fair, since the player had to put some effort into getting it.
Reply all: If you’re not used to hitting reply all on your emails, you should start now. Sometimes a question deserves a private answer, whether between players or a player and a GM, but in most groups that’s the exception to the rule. A big part of the fun in the question of the week is reading the answers of the other players.
Answer your own question: The person who sent the question should answer themselves immediately. When someone answers, it helps the others gather the required will to answer themselves. It also helps making the meaning clear, in case the question was a bit obscure.
Respond and encourage: If you thought someone’s answer was way cool, reply all and tell them about how cool it was. This is your way to encourage the writer and “repay” them for the time and effort invested in the game you all share. Don’t hold back compliments.
The length isn’t important: A 3-sentence answer is as legitimate as 6 paragraphs answer. Every player tends to have their own length and style, but you should remember that an answer that’s too long might not get read. Also, an answer that’s too short might not be very interesting. GM, you should use the information given by the players who submitted good-length answers, make it part of the regular sessions. This will encourage all players to give answers that are at least of reasonable length.
Give a little intro: The email should also include a short intro, in order to introduce the subject matter, explain the rationale for the question, and give an emphasis on what’s important.
Take it easy: If one or two players didn’t answer the question this week, no problem. If they only post it hours before the session, no problem. If it becomes a regular thing with one player, you should ask them about it and try to understand why they don’t like it. If the entire party doesn’t answer, maybe they’re not into it: try much simpler questions and encourage shorter answers. Perhaps they don’t find the question interesting, and you should try a different approach – see next week for some suggestions!
Next time I’ll give a list of suggestions for questions of the week, for a variety of uses. For now, here’s a simple example:
Last sessions we all found out that the actual villain behind the scenes is a possessed spell book. That’s probably not the first time your character was influenced by a piece of text (although that’s probably the first one that’s possessed).
What text had the most influence on your character? A book, an epitaph, a “dead or alive” poster, anything. Something that she read, and had a huge influence on her.
Was this too long? Was it too short? Feel free to comment and criticize.
Based on the original Hebrew post, from the podcast On the Shoulders of Dwarves (על כתפי גמדים).