#RPGTheoryJuly – 22nd – Loaded Questions

This is another one of those solo play ‘no brainers’. The Oracle has no opinions and it has no bias. There are two points where bias can be introduced and that is asking the question that is best for the character, and not the question that is best for the game and the second is in interpreting the results.

I will talk a bit more about positive bias below.

It is very easy to fall into the trap or more accurately succumb to the temptation of asking the question that is best for your character and not the question that is best for the game. Often the two are in alignment anyway but asking character centric questions can introduce plot armour into your solo games.

Loaded Questions

Loaded questions often have a bias built into the question wording. As a GM we often scatter adverbs and adjectives into our narrative descriptions to try and reinforce our vision of a place or person. Projecting our vision over to other human players will always be imperfect. Adj-scattering is perfectly fine in description but when you start to put it into questions that is when questions become loaded. “How much do you love…?” “How much revulsion do you let show?” funnels the available responses into your questions by presupposing your characters reactions. It is fine in dialogue as the NPC may be fishing for compliments.

In game design loaded questions have their place. In some ways you can start to apply layers of setting into the characters. If you have questions like “How does your character feel about their alien overlords?”, “Does you character know anyone who has betrayed a worker to an Alien Overseer?” These questions attempt to cast the Aliens as the bad guys and hint at a paranoia amongst the class of society that the players will be emerging from. That is fine.

Loaded Questions that May Cause Offence

On the other hand a simple line on the character sheet that says Gender M/F can cause offence. There is an assumption there that there are only two acceptable options and you will choose one or the other.

A more acceptable version may be:


That also works in lots of sci fi games where robots, androids and aliens have absolutely no recognisable gender.

Rolemaster used to have a character sheet that had

Age _____ Appears _____

The idea was for elves to have a real age that could be hundreds or thousands of years old but may appear youthful or no more than middle aged.

That could apply to gender. The last female character I played appeared, dressed and acted as a male. I try not to play females as I have never been one and that is the reason why I also nearly always play humans. So this becomes a viable gender question on the character sheet.


In my Devil’s Staircase Wild West game I don’t even have gender as a character sheet field. Characters records are simple enough to fit on a post-it note and gender had no mechanical impact. The player was welcome to add as much character background and description as they liked to a second post-it. That was where those sorts of details should live and the player can address it as they see fit.

In my FUDGE system character generation is also purely narrative. In this system loaded questions can reinforce the subtleties of the setting. The characters are drawn to London to hear the reading of a will in a 2020 modern London but the world is one in which demons can take human form and magical rituals are real and powerful. We want reasons for ‘adventuring skills’ in people just like you and I. The loaded questions used to inspire the players to create their characters can help build rounded characters.

Positive Bias

Mythic has a mechanic called Chaos which takes the successes or failures of previous scenes as a dice weighting factor and pushes questions towards yes and strong yes answers. The more scenes that end in player failure the greater the Chaos Factor and the more the shift towards yes and strong yes answers. The flaw is that if having a string of tough scenes and the characters in retreat and you emerge finally on to a concourse. Asking the question “Would security have covered this concourse by snipers?” is a valid question and one that could be a likely yes. With Mythic’s Chaos Factor the bias is now more likely to kill the characters than help them.

For a long time I didn’t incorporate chaos into my solo products but I have started to bring it back but via Powered by the Apocalypse’s Clock mechanic. A run of No and… results counts down a Chaos Clock. The Chaos Clock does not bias the oracle roll. When the clock runs down it introduces an Interrupted Scene in Mythic parlance or A Complication in my Oracles. The intention is the same, if the story isn’t moving forward then something has to change.

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