Does anyone else do this? I’m pretty sure I picked this tip up in a Dragon magazine several years ago and I’ve been using it ever since. My players always seem to enjoy it as well. Oh yeah, I guess I should probably explain what it is I’m talking about.
This is something that I started doing at the beginning of each gaming session, once the pre-game chatter had died down and everyone was ready to play. I would go around the table, and ask the players interesting questions about their characters. These can be questions about the character’s background, their motivations, their ideals, whatever. The idea is to get the players thinking in character, while at the same time fleshing their characters out, or perhaps sharing something with the group that they have already fleshed out. Sample questions include asking about the character’s parents (are they alive? deceased? If deceased, how did they die?), having the character describe his or her home town, or asking the player to tell you a little bit about a mentor they may have had.
Questions can be general or specific; you can ask the same question of each player or tailor your questions to the individual. For more specific questions, try asking the player about how his or her character came to possess an interesting skill they may have (how did you pick up seamanship? Where and why did you learn to pick locks?). Ask the players how their characters feel about major events taking place in the game world (Kingdom A has recently declared war on kingdom B, how do you feel about this?).
Obviously these questions aren’t intended to have “right” or “wrong” answers, as long as the questions get the players thinking about their characters and, by proxy, like their characters. A lot of the time they will even give you some valuable information regarding future plot hooks and adventure seeds. As players get more familiar with the process you can even leave the whole process almost entirely in their hands. One time I was eager to get right in to the night’s action and was going to skip this process, when one of the players asked: “Aren’t we going to do that warm-up thing? I had something I wanted to share about my character…”