Scenario/situation construction theory?

Hi, so I’m new to OSR/NSR and interested in understanding scenario/situation construction theory. Can someone break it down for me or provide a link of some sort? Perhaps, I’m asking the wrong question or the right question in the wrong way? I’m open to learn and understand. Please help an old geezer out. Thanks!


Not saying this is the OSR/NSR approach, but generally speaking these are things I try to keep in mind that I’ve gleaned from various blog posts and ttrpg rulesets.

  1. Information, lean towards giving the players more info than less.
  2. Choices, don’t have only one way to solve a problem.
  3. Consequences, choices have meaning and impact if they have consequence.

In terms of difficulty:

  1. Variety, don’t try to match the difficulty to the players.
  2. More dangerous = more foreshadowing, not fun to have an instant kill trap that you had no idea about.

Another note on consequences, try to have variety.

  • Immediate/direct impact on the players (gaining a new item, finding a key)
  • Local impact (information on the location the players are at, nearby area)
  • Global impact (large scope, setting, world stuff)

Here’s some other links I’ve found useful:

Hope this helps answer your questions!


Thank you. I appreciate the primer and I will read the articles. I’ll come back with questions. You can be sure of that :wink:

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Good stuff! I think this covers a lot.

The things I wanted to say it that to often seems like there’s no real scenario, just a location to interact with. That is to say that there is no immediate way adventure design thinks about what the story will be, who the big boss is, what story-beats need to happen. Instead the focus is on the story that emerges through gameplay. Because the rules are light(ish) in most OSR systems this is easy to roll with. As said above, consequences to actions drive the story.

Thinking out of the box is encouraged, even if that would destroy elaborate GM plans (ideally you shouldn’t even have these). If through sheer luck or clever fictional positioning the characters are able to take out a powerful NPC/monster that you were counting on to harass them that is okay.

With pro-active players they will start to be the active movers and shakers in the game world. They will become a faction that NPC’s react to rather than passively waiting what happens and then reacting. Scenario-design usually is out of the window with that, because they are unpredictable.

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Interesting. Coming from the storygame side of the track, @TheBeardedBelgian, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I haven’t actually read the previously mentions blog posts yet, I hope to get to the today. One question I have is how to make the choices that the PCs make relevant to the PCs, besides the fact that they players are the ones making the choices? I mean, there tend not to be flags on PC character sheets. Right?

@levigilbert, what does meaning and impact mean in your case? Like how do you determine that?

(Apologies if I’m being to pedantic. It’s an autism thing.)

First off: Make the consequences to their actions relevant. They keep robbing caravans? They are wanted. They slew the dragon? They are heroes. They stole the dragon’s egg? Once the dragon wakes, she’s gonna be pissed! They crossed an underworld figure? Everywhere the cartel is, they are being watched and threatened. They made a loan? Someone’s collecting. They have lots of loot? People come asking for it (investments, patronages, etc.). These things keep building upon each other.

Also, you can bring in some story-game elements. I like to use Countdown Clocks. Sorcerer’s Bangs are pretty valuable too in this aspect.


Excellent! Makes perfect sense.

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Good question!

I would say that I’m thinking about what is meaningful to the players and their characters.

  • What do they care about?
  • What are their goals?

For impact let’s give the example of a player character finding a magical sword.

Initially this is just direct impact on the player. They get some immediate benefit of a better weapon that does more damage. If I want to add some local impact maybe where they find the sword etched in the wall it says “The key to the mountain” and the sword opens a door to some dungeon in a local mountain. Then if I wanted to have a global impact maybe the sword is an omen to the dwarves in the mountain to reclaim their homeland or something like that.

Ideally each of these would tie to the characters interests/goals.

Hopefully that helps a bit. It’s definitely challenging and I don’t claim to be good at doing these things, but I think they help to create a good experience.

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This is great. I really appreciate it!

Another question. How do you determine the player/PCs interests and goals? The question may seem simplistic, but most OSR games don’t support that type of thing, as far as I know. I mean, I’m sure there are tools that could be imported? Or is it just a conversation with the player? Or both?

If it’s imported or created tools, what tools do you use?

I would just ask the players. Also during play if they get excited about certain things or ask about certain stuff that might clue you in to something they’re interested in.

In typical fantasy games it’s fair to say they are interested in:

  • treasure
  • solving mysteries
  • exploring

Also what’s on their character sheet. If they’re playing a wizard they might be interested in magic, finding scrolls, doing wizard stuff. If they’re playing a thief give them stuff to steal, etc.


Thanks a lot! Very helpful!

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Not in particular for (O/N)SR but I’ve written two articles about the fish tank and how it can be used to create mysteries and intrigues. It’s a sandboxy style, but without the focus on places, but relations between factions and their agendas.

Other than that, the Five Room Dungeon is pretty common. The links in this article are good to follow up on, as well.

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I wrote a blog post called The Iron Lich Situation about setting up a campaign with a simple concept and using it to inform character creation. It is very much inspired by the use of Situation in Burning Wheel; these are examples of BW campaigns I had ready to roll.

Hope those are helpful.

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