Many new players are joining the ranks of D&D with the release of D&D Next. The latest iteration of D&D emphasizes roleplaying and character development more heavily than previous editions. The questionnaire below is helpful for writing character backgrounds. It’s been around for maybe twenty years. The original link seems to have disappeared, but here are the questions:
Character Background Questionnaire
The following questionnaire is being provided to help players develop and organize background information for their characters. You do not need to answer all of these questions, but the more of them that you can, the more clear the character will be in your mind, and the more possible hooks your GM will have for connecting your PC to the campaign world.
Note: This questionnaire is designed for a medieval fantasy campaign. In all of these questions, “you” means “your character.”
Describe yourself as someone meeting you for the first time would see you. Race? Gender? Age? Size? Coloration? Attractiveness? Dress? So you try to emphasize or hide any of these features?
What other details would someone notice on a closer look? Do you have any distinguishing marks (birthmarks, scars, etc.)?
Do you have a distinctive way of speaking? Any mannerisms or other memorable behavior?
Birth & Family
Where and when were you born? Do you know your exact birthdate? Did anything unusual (storms, accidents, deaths, etc.) happen about the same time, with which some people might still associate your birthdate?
Who are your parents? Names? Occupations? Social class? Were they married? Are they still alive?
Do you have any siblings? How many? Gender? Older or younger? Are they still alive?
Do you know any members of your extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins)?
How did you get along with your family?
Education & Work
Did you serve an apprenticeship in order to learn your current profession? For how long?
If you were not an apprentice, how did you learn your trade, skills, etc.? Formal schooling? Informal teachers? Self-taught?
Who was your master or teacher? (Race? Gender? Appearance? Personality?) Is he/she still alive? How were you treated? Are/were you on good terms with your master?
Did your teacher have other apprentices or students? Who were they?
Are you literate? How important are letters, books, etc. to you? Do you carry any writings and/or writing materials with you on your adventures?
Do you have a job other than “adventurer”? Who do you work for? (Or are you self-employed?) How much of your time does this job require?
Who were your friends as a child? As an adolescent? As an adult?
How many of these people are still alive? How many are you still friends with?
Who is/was your best friend? What is the most memorable thing that the two of you ever did together?
What do you look for in a friend?
Have you ever been in love? Was it reciprocated? Do you have (or have you had) a boy-/girlfriend, a lover, or a spouse? More than one? Are you looking for one? What do you look for in a romantic partner?
Attitudes & Beliefs
What are your beliefs about religion and the afterlife? Do you follow any particular god or gods? What appeals to you most about this religion? Least?
Where do the spirits of nature, the elements and the dead fit into these beliefs?
What gods, religions, or priesthoods will you have nothing to do with?
What is your moral code? Under what conditions will you kill? Steal? Lie? Do you have a personal code of behavior about violence? Magic? Sex? Dealing with evil beings?
How committed are you to seeing through something (a task, quest, bargain, etc.) that you have started?
How important are the following to you?: Power? Wealth? Fame? Honor? Family? Friends? Love? Knowledge? Religion? Your job? To what lengths would you go to acquire or preserve these things?
How often do you remember your dreams? How much attention do you pay to them? Do they inspire you? Guide or warn you? Frighten you?
What is your attitude towards magic? People who use it? Fearsome monsters? The unknown in general?
Edges & Flaws
What is you especially good at? What sets you apart from the rest of the world? A skill? An unusual knack? A certain flair of style or wit?
What flaws do you have? Bad habits? Obsessions? Terrible (or embarrassing) secrets?
Do you have any enemies? How much trouble do those conflicts cause you?
Likes & Dislikes
What do you love? (People? Places? Creatures? Kinds of food? Activities? Subjects?)
What do you hate? How do you typically react to these negative stimuli?
What do you fear? What is your worst nightmare?
The Other Player Characters
Note: Many of these questions are best answered in collaboration!
How did you meet the other PCs? How did you become adventuring companions?
What were your first impressions of the other PCs, and how has that impression changed (if any) since then?
What is your relationship with each of them like? What bonds keep you together?
Describe your first encounter with a nonhuman monster. (Not counting player races, animals, etc., that you grew up with–but feel free to mention them, too.)
If you are a spellcaster, describe your first experience with using magic. What were the circumstances? Were you expecting it?
If you have an animal companion or familiar, describe how you acquired it. Describe this ally’s personality, and its attitude towards you (loyal unto death, mischievous, lazy, etc.).
If you have any unusual personal possessions, describe how you acquired them. Is their value practical, monetary, sentimental or some combination of these?
If you wish to add any pre-game history that is not already covered by the questions above, please do so (especially if you are much older than the default starting ages)
Note: I did find some cached links to dead sites and a post dated 2011 on the Corellian League forum with an incomplete version that attributes the questionnaire to Doug Stratton and Tim Emrick.