Three Questions in Action

July 3, 2015

Someone on rpg.net asked about how the “three questions” work:

What kinds of conflicts make sense for this game?

What kinds of characters make sense for this game?

What kinds of outcomes make sense for this game?

It’s important to recognize “this game” isn’t just the specific ruleset, or a setting, it is for this particular campaign we’re going to run.  Good game design and text either locks these answers in and makes them clear to you in play, OR it gives you tools to create the answers as a group before you start playing.

I’m gearing up to play a Star Wars hack of Shadow of Yesterday, and given how “Star Wars” can mean a lot of things to a lot of people, these 3 questions are actually pretty useful to answer.

Let’s start with the raw premise:

10 years after the prequels, a few half trained apprentices are on the run, seeking the last remaining Jedi to train from.  Half of this is a diaspora story – what traditions do you preserve, what do you change, how do you survive?  The other half is martial arts story – proving yourself, finding lost techniques, comraderie vs. rivalry.

What kinds of conflicts make sense for this game?

There’s the easy kind of conflict to point to – being hunted by the Empire, though that’s more of a pressure builder than necessarily a core conflict.  What’s more interesting is the idea of the rivalries between the survivors, the struggle to prove oneself, and the issue of which parts of history you hold onto vs. let go of.

The hinge points are idealism, traditions, and secret techniques to bring this all out.

What kinds of characters make sense for this game?

On the surface, we’re talking about inexperienced Jedi or Force users.  Capable enough to survive these last 10 years, but not so capable as to be “full fledged” in their own right.  Equally as important – these characters are still exploring what their ideology or world view is – maybe it’s “set” in their mind, but… they’re about to have to put it to the test and see where they really stand.

So this fits perfectly with the martial arts story parallel here.

What kinds of outcomes make sense for this game?

The primary point of this kind of game is the transformation of the characters – rites of passage, making choices about where the older folks are right, full of crap, or only halfway right and how they themselves want to live.  The choices might be a process of maturation or a process of bad choices and regret.

The outcomes that make that happen are what people do about traditions, about ideals, about learning or not learning specific techniques.  For a parallel – take a look at Avatar the Last Airbender – nearly all of the themes, the issue of training and tradition, ideals and self development – all of those appear in that story as well.

Original trilogy Star Wars isn’t too far from this by the second and third movies – Luke’s path to success is effectively rejecting every tradition given to him – staying at home, abandoning his friends at Yoda’s behest, joining Vader, fighting and killing in domination, etc.  Pretty much the only value he ends up sticking with is Obi Wan’s “Trust the Force” (over everything else).


See how all 3 of those questions fit together? We ended up hammering these together in about 45 minutes of discussion from being unsure what to play at all.

It wasn’t a deep theoretical discussion as much as, “Hey, what about Star Wars? Like 10 years after the prequels?  Scattered surviving Jedi apprentices?” “Oh, yeah! What if part of the conflict is that some are hardcore about the Jedi way, others are doubtful?”

We bounced it back and forth to get those ideas together and now everyone is working on characters.

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