Story game Big Three Questions and the OSR/NSR version

I’ve never really understood how rpg rules are supposed to incentivise anything, unless I like get money or chocolate or something for doing what the book says.

I think the problem with those big three questions is knowing what they’re about. What’s the ‘game’. In an OSR sphere to some degree (and in an FKR sphere to a much greater degree) the game is the shared activity, greater than the sum of the book’s parts (if there even is a book).

You can’t really answer those questions about a game by that definition. And if you answer them about eg a source book or system (if there is one) they’ll necessarily be incomplete, as the source material and system are in that context only supporting parts.

So, to try reframe the questions to a play-centric stance:

  1. Do we want our game to be about something specific, or are we happy letting it go wherever it goes?

  2. If so, what? Are we all on board with it?

  3. Are there any rules or other tools that would benefit us in achieving that?


I think you are correct. Though I think this of the word game is different then the expectation from the frame and context of the original three questions.

IF we define “game” as being the specific instance of people gathering together to play together and no other “game” can be exactly the same because it’s different a different time where the people have different experiences (even if it’s only a week later). Yes, then these three questions do not make sense in that context with that definition of “game”.

But if you substitute “game” to mean game text or source book or system. I think you have the context for these questions. The context is making the assumption that the game text CAN answer these questions. That the game text has that capability.

I generally prefer to as efficient (read: little) work as possible. So I prefer game texts that supply and support this effort. That means I want game texts that can answer these questions. I generally avoid game texts and games where the responsibility of creating all the support is done by the players (or player/gm/referee/etc).

So to look at your three play-centric questions:

To me, this should absolutely be answered by the game text. I vastly prefer focused games that are about something and that have game text support for that thing. The decision about what “we” want to play is done by choosing the game text that matches what we want to play.

Again absolutely should be decided as we choose what game text we want to play together.

This is why we choose the game text that we choose.

These are not questions you answer after you choose a game text. These are questions you answer before you choose a game text. These are questions the game text should help you answer.

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I think this is a major cultural difference. In the story games space there is an assumption that you will select a game text that will support a specific type of play. And if that text does not exist then you can make it.

In the OSR space the assumption is often that the game text is incomplete and/or that the rules contained in the book are optional and that each group will remix parts of various texts to their specific taste.

For this reason I think the OSR would ask the three questions about a specific game mechanic, procedure, or ruling not about a text as a whole. In fact that is a lot of what you find on OSR blogs.


I think you’re right, but it’s also because there is an unspoken answer to a lot of these questions already in OSR spaces. People know what kind of game they want to play already, in broad strokes, and then they can customize down to the narrower experience they are looking for. Story games have a wider possible set of answers, and they may be different depending on the week.

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Yes, totally.

I think this relates to the fact that a lot of story games presume short campaigns where OSR suggests long, open world, often open table campaigns with multiple tiers and modes of play.

At least that is the promise of the old school for me.

Right, so combining some things.
OSR/POSR/NSR game texts intentionally don’t include words/space/things on the original three questions because:

  1. The answers are already implicitly answered
  2. The expectation is that you will create your own rule set from multiple sources, so one game text is knowingly not enough
  3. Play culture is communicated by learning from someone else via talking, blogs, playing with them. It is not communicated in game texts.

I’d say yes and no.

I think with a lot of story games one might be able to say that the community knows what they want to play already as well. There’s actually quite a few variants a sort of Story - OSR/Classic - Trad Triangle with a lot of blending in between even (but don’t quote me on that - it’s a random whimsy or perhaps hope that I haven’t really checked out).

On the other hand I suspect it’s also a bit of a fiction that the Classic based styles know the game they want to play. That’s generally been my bent lately though - my personal hobby horse. Scene look monolithic form the outside of course, but from the go Caltech-style trad naturally evolves from the fruitful voids of OD&D because Gygax and Arneson didn’t really articulate their procedure and goals. A) Because they didn’t know (which to be fair how could they - birthing something new into the world) B) Because they couldn’t agree (Likely though they were much more friendly in 1974) C)Because it evolved as they were writing D&D. Point being that similar frission from an intended style or ignorance of an intended style is pretty common.

There’s always customization, but I think the stronger tradition of referee control and world design, the claim of most classic/OSR systems to be mechanically universal, the shared game culture of “emergent fiction” (This is of course what a buddy of mine today called one of the Wittgenstein’s ladders of OSR theory maxims - a phrase I like and agree with as far as my addled booze ravaged mind grasps it), that accepts the game itself may change genre due to a focus on player choice as a directing agent, and finally that the focus of the game is on player victory over challenges rather then genre emulation. The game at its core is about success over and in the referee’s world (something that a good referee is rooting for - I myself am constantly applauding my players cunning and dedication to creatively overcoming whatever I can imagine).


This has been my experience.

Masterfully articulated.

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