Archive for the The Book of Threes Category

What’s a Paradigm? And why is it shifting?

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on October 23, 2010 by Jeff Russell

Okay, so, despite the continuing blog silence, I have been thinking very hard about The Book of Threes for the past couple weeks, and doing lots of “research” (in other words, reading RPGs that I’d love to get to play, and actually getting some gaming in for once!).

I can tell you right now that the rules as they currently exist are not long for this world. Well, that’s not true. I’ll keep them up as a painful reminder of my first awkward foray into full game design, and in case anyone finds some ideas to milk out of it. I do really like the complex interactions of the three resources and their values as static and dynamic values and that each has multiple game mechanical consequences. I think there’s some interesting “game” there. Hell, they might end up in the Roman social-oriented game I was considering when I first came up with the seed of an idea for three resources as the core of a game.


I am working on a near-complete revision. Like, I’m gonna completely rewrite because the changes will be so significant. Here’s a rundown of what I plan to keep, and what I plan to change, with some cues to the directions I’m going in (as of right now! This is all still nebulous!)

  • Stuff I’m keeping
  1. The core concept. This will still be a mythic-heroic game inspired by Celtic and Germanic myth predominantly revolving around a clan with lots of setting creation/customization
  2. Grudges. For sure. They may function differently, but you will gain mechanical bonuses against people that have shamed/defeated/otherwise besmirched you
  3. Oaths. Again, they may work differently, but this is a fundamental concept.
  4. Conflicting goals between your family, clan, and yourself
  • Stuff I’m changing
  1. The core resolution. Like, totally and completely different. Probably moving to a single die dice pool thing, very likely based on counting 4+’s as ‘hits’ and 3-‘s as ‘misses’
  2. Related to the above, the way characters are created, what their attributes are, et cetera
  3. The three resources. Some of the elements here will remain, there may even still be 3 when I’m done, but they will be very different, and link into whatever the new resolution mechanic is
  4. Clan creation is getting rolled up into character creation, and the whole process will be waaaaay briefer and more focused on interesting starting situation
  5. The awful, terrible GM advice will be rewritten as actual rules and procedure for the GM

If you are interested in getting some ideas of where I’m going and what’s influencing me at the moment, check out Lady Blackbird, Burning Wheel, and Apocalypse World, in roughly descending order of importance to what I think the new conflict resolution will look like. Check out the Smallville RPG for a big influence on my current thoughts on character creation (with a healthy dose of Lady Blackbird and Burning Wheel as well).

I plan to have the conflict resolution thing in a workable, tweakable format this week, maybe by the end of this weekend, with everything else up in the air until I figure out ways to make it interact with that.

Book of Threes Revision Sneak Preview

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on September 2, 2010 by Jeff Russell

Well, it’s amazing how much having a real, face-to-face conversation can do for a design. Despite my lack of discernible activity here on the bloog, the gears they are a-churnin, I’m doing thinking and reading and what not that are all informing where I’m going.

But! To keep this from being a totally content free “don’t go away!” sort of post, here’s a sneak preview of what I’m thinking about right now. I really like the three resources and their interactions. I really like grudges and their interaction with loyalty points. I really like how teamwork focused the conflict resolution is. On the other hand, I do *not* currently really like the conflict resolution rules themselves. I think they need a massive overhaul of some sort. For one thing, they were written when I was all high on In a Wicked Age and Dogs in the Vineyard, without realizing a) exactly why and how they worked the way they did, b) Vincent Baker has since said he’s not totally happy with In a Wicked Age’s mechanics, and c) that these games are no longer the “state of the art” in RPG design. So, I’m fitting these influences into a wider context, and also re-examining the rules with a better and deeper understanding of what I want them to do.

The main issue, as I see it, is one discussed by Vincent Baker in a recent interview and also on his blog (over there in the sidebar, “anyway.”). That issue is when the rules and the fiction fail to interlock properly. Now, roleplayers have a long history of compensating for imperfect reinforcement of rules by fiction and vice versa, but I’ve become convinced that a well designed game will make those elements necessarily interact, not just so that they can interact. I took some steps to do this in my first draft of the conflict resolution rules, but I think I’ll be able to do it better now. I’m not sure how, yet, so suggestions are welcome, but that’s what I’m working on in my brain and notebooks.

Book of Threes Best Interests

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on August 18, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, I had a brainwave on how to make “Best Interests” have a little more teeth (and only after writing it down did I realize it’s a solution pretty close to the Burning Wheel system I’m finally getting around to reading).

Not only will it give the best interests more mechanical weight, it will (hopefully) increase the tension of choosing between differing interests. Here’s my thought: you’ve got three best interests (individual, family, and clan) and three resources. So completing interests gives you points in a resource!

The run down (until testing makes me decide to do otherwise) is that fulfilling a clan best interest gives you a wealth point, fulfilling a family interest gives you a loyalty point from one of your family members, and fulfilling an individual best interest gives you a glory point. I’m afraid that the family interest may be getting the short end of the stick here, as the loyalty points with your family members will only come up if you try to get them to help you out in conflicts, but hopefully that will come up in play.

I’m also not positive on how to judge interests “fulfilled” but since all interests are player generated, I’m thinking the GM decides when they’re fulfilled. This is part of a general swing back towards more GM authority that I’m thinking will happen having considered the game  more recently, since I was all high on hippie authority sharing as a brand new concept to me when I wrote the first draft of the game.

I need to give the whole system a good once over before I get the chance to do some real live, in person playtesting sometime in the next month. I am very excite.

Book of Threes Alpha Test Recap

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on July 11, 2010 by Jeff Russell

Okay, sorry this was a bit later than forecasted, but I wanted to collect some thoughts from the first playtest of “The Book of Threes” done on Google Wave.

First off, it taught me a lot about Google Wave, and while I think it’s far superior to a standard forum for RPGs, it still has some shortcomings compared to ‘the real thing’ of sitting at a table with your friends and talking it out in person. That being said, I’m currently participating in 3 Google Wave RPGs, so I would still recommend it if you’re hungry for gaming and the internet is your only outlet.

In the case of Bo3s though, it created some issues with the clan creation section (the only part we did). Turn taking is awkward in an ansynchronous environment where ‘order’ is arbitrary. Also, different people updating at different speeds created a disparity of expectations in how quickly to post. But I’d say the big thing that hurt the clan creation process is that a lot of the back and forth collaborative stuff that would be happening in person was constrained in the online format, making each person’s contribution more self-contained and final, rather than being malleable to fit in with the overall creative vision, which is what the clan creation process was supposed to foster.

On that note, the clan creation rules are too lengthy. I got so caught up in worrying that there would be enough material for a compelling situation off the bat that I forgot my whole inspiration of “In a Wicked Age” and my desire for the setting to come out in play. I think what I will do is make a *much* shorter clan creation process as the standard, and then offer an optional detailed clan creation process for people who really want to flesh out the world before they step into it or to refer to when things come up in play (for example: “I dunno guys, what is the neighboring clan like? You tell me, or roll on this table here”).

Another point about the creation rules that my friend Adam pointed out is that certain aspects of it (like one player naming a type of community and another player fleshing it out) made the whole collaborative process be *too* collaborative. Individual players didn’t feel like they had ‘ownership’ of anything, and maybe other players took what would have been an idea that got them fired up and went in a totally different direction. My goal was to force the players to accommodate each other’s points of interest and to create a world that everyone had buy in with, but I think that I shared out the ownership too much.

One solution to that problem can be gleaned from Archipelago II by Matthjis Holter. This is a great game that I’d love to give playing a try, but reading through it really opened my eyes to some different ways to approach RPG design. And you can get it for free at that link! Seriously worth checking out. At any rate, in it there is the concept of ‘ownership’ since there is not a traditional GM. One player is given authority over an aspect of the game world (like ‘geography’ or ‘religion’ – typically things the group decides will be important to the game) and anybody can suggest things about the world, but the player with ownership can veto ideas relating to his domain.

So, let’s say you have authority over ‘geography’ and I’m like “Man, there are these giant floating mountains, with like plants and stuff growing between them”. You could go “Floating mountains? I don’t think so, all of the terrain has been really harsh and mundane, so let’s not do that. How about some normal jungle mountains that go up really high?”

I think a few areas of ownership, or at least the concept that certain things are ‘owned’ by certain players might go a long way towards supporting buy-in to the collaborative creative process. So, maybe each player gets final say over details about their family members (even if the GM gets to control their actions in play) and one guy gets to detail the religion of teh clan, and another guy gets to have authority over the crafts (or whatever). I’m gonna poke around with these ideas and streamline the clan creation process in a lot of other ways. I’ll probably look at character creation again, since I realized taht most of the ‘initial situation’ generation happens from the Character creation already, so I may fine tune that and make the clan creation a subtle background.

A Quick Playtest Update

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 24, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, the online playtest has kicked off and been going strong for a little over a week, and I thought I’d give a progress report. We’re still in the clan creation phase, but it’s working out well. I was afraid that the online format might kill some of the collaborative goodness of the group setting crafting, but so far we’ve had lots of that nonetheless, which is really encouraging. Everybody’s different ideas are inspiring and spinning off everybody else’s, so I couldn’t be happier so far.

In a similar vein, Google Wave is really useful for online RPGs. I’m totally sold. In addition to running this playtest, I’m playing in a friend’s Big Eyes Small Mouth game, and it’s going along swimmingly, even with jumping right into a combat scene. It tailors nicely to a variety of time frames for update availability, and easily supports people jumping in with contributions to different portions (the ‘nested reply’ option, which allows you to reply directly to a specific message in a wave, is particularly good for this).

After some more experience with both games, I’ll probably post my thoughts on using Wave for online games, with some recommendations and such like, but for now, I say go for it if you have any desire to play traditional RPGs online.

Online Playtest

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 15, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, with the revised conflict resolution rules settled as a starting point, I think it’s time to take the leap and start playtesting. But my current environment is barren not only in water, but also gamers.

So I’m going to give Google Wave a try for an online playtest of “The Book of Threes”. If you’re interested in participating, comment here or email me, and I’ll set you up with a Wave account invite. I’m hoping to get the clan and character creation process kicked off sometime next week, depending on how quickly I can get together 4 or 5 folks.

If you have any questions about what would be involved, how the online thing would work, or whatever, let me know.

Revised Conflict Resolution

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 15, 2010 by Jeff Russell

Well, after thinking about the issues raised in Conflict Resolution Conflict, I’ve come to what I think is a workable starting point for moving forward with the core resolution rules for “The Book of Threes”.

I decided to go with letting both sides put forward a set number of dice, and for that number to be equal to the leader’s current Wealth score. This gives wealth something to do as a static value, and ties it directly into conflict resolution, so now all three resources have something to do in conflict.

You can find the revised conflict resolution rules here: Revised Conflict Resolution

ed: the main playtest document now contains this updated section in place of the old one. It was crap anyway. But I’ve left this separate document up for easier reference of the first major change since posting the rules.

Return of Conflict Resolution

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes, Theory on May 10, 2010 by Jeff Russell

So, in an earlier post I talked about some sticking points with conflict resolution as it currently stands in “The Book of Threes”. Right now, I’m having some more fundamental questions about the system than just the number of dice that should be put forward by participants in a round. I’m wondering how much the current conflict resolution rules contribute to what I want the game to be and how players will actually, you know, play the game.

I have a couple concerns in this area, which I want to discuss, and then I’m going to outline what I do like about the rules as they stand. I would love to get comments both on the rules as written, and any suggestions for ways to better achieve my aims.

So, first off, “The Book of Threes” is supposed to be about creating story. That is the main goal of the rules. I don’t want a tactical game that might happen to produce story, or a simulation of fictional physics that also might happen to come up with stories. If you play the rules as written, you should get fun, compelling stories that hit issues the players are interested in and put their characters into situations that provoke thought and emotional response from the players.

A word about what I mean when I say “story” since it is a marvelously vague word. I don’t just mean “a sequence of events logically connected”, nor do I mean something that can or necessarily should be transcribed into fiction. There’s no point in trying to out-fiction fiction with a game. Any player could just write a short story or a novel to scratch that particular itch.

I discuss what I mean by “story” in the “Running the Game” chapter (which I’m afraid might be a horrible mess right now). I’m using a theory of story from Lajos Egri via various game designers, primarily Ron Edwards (Sorceror, Trollbabe, and more) and Vincent Baker (Dogs in the Vineyard, In a Wicked Age, Poison’d, et cetera). As defined by these guys, story has three elements: fit characters, dynamic situations, and premise.

Fit characters are characters that can and will cope with the situations they come into in ways that address the premise. It’s not much of a story to have a peasant wander around and get stomped on by a dragon. A peasant trying to fight a dragon, discovering he’s in no way fit to do that, then pursuing various goals to become able to fight that dragon, though, would be a story.

Dynamic situations are situations that by their nature have to change. They’re not stable. When the characters are introduced to them, they will have to make choices and/or come into conflict. The peasant knowing there’s a dragon out there somewhere isn’t a dynamic situation, necessarily. Learning that the dragon is working his way from village to village towards the peasant’s home village probably would be, though.

Finally, you have premise, which ties the other two together and gives them their meaning. In the sense I’m using it here, premise is the parent of theme. Theme is what you get when premise is addressed. So, if a theme is a statement of some sort of judgement or value (like, say, “ordinary people will do extraordinary things in the face of great danger”), a premise is a pointed question that leads to such statements (“what will ordinary people do when faced with great danger?”). Theme is what you want to work with in a solo work, cos you make all the decisions that will illustrate that theme. In a collaborative work like an RPG, though, part of the fun is not knowing for sure what conclusions you will come to about the story your characters are involved in. But you can select a premise that forces you and your characters to drive towards some kind of answer. As an example, in “Dogs in the Vineyard” the premise encouraged by the rules is “when is violence an appropriate solution to moral issues?”, and the whole game is set up to put the characters in situations where they can do violence to try to sort out moral issues, but to throw up complications that make that question interesting.

So, I went through this little overview here to frame my current concerns about the game. I wrote the rules with the intention of pushing the characters (the creation of which should make them fit) to come up with difficult questions (premises) regarding loyalty, duty, and friendship, and to strongly encourage the GM and players to put them into difficult spots that require making tough choices (dynamic situation). I pulled a lot of what I’ve learned from reading some really impressive games together to try to arrive at these goals.

Right now, though, as I mentioned above, I’m afraid that the conflict resolution rules as such don’t push these goals specifically enough. I like the way that oaths, grudges, and loyalty points give incentives to work with other people, and how the personal interests, family interests, and clan interests create unstable situations that generate conflict, and how the acquisition of glory points is an incentive to get into trouble with other people. But as for the actual conflict resolution rules, do they do enough to force you to make difficult choices and to be used to address the kind of conflicts that the other rules encourage. The tension between getting what you want and risking injury is good, I think, but I worry that the conflict rules themselves are just something that are there because I felt like I should have them.

Ideally, I don’t want the rules just to be something that doesn’t get in the way of fun, exciting play, but rather something that *creates* fun, exciting play. I want them to push the players in directions they might not go on their own, because if they don’t, you might as well just be doing group improv.

Related to this is an issue that Vincent Baker talks about a lot on his blog anyway a lot, which is the rules meaningfully addressing the shared fiction of the game. The canonical example is “+1 bonus for height advantage”. The only way this rule makes any sense at all is if the players around the table have a clear picture in their head which characters could be said to be ‘on the high ground’, which you only really get when everybody is communicating and paying attention. In this instance, the fictional situation that everybody is imagining actually has bearing on the game rules, rather than it only going the other way (you rolled a 19, so that orc just got hit with your sword).

I worry that my rules as written don’t do enough to reinforce a connection with the in-game fiction. Sure, the traits are supposed to be used based on how your character is doing something, and abilities based on what specifically he’s doing, but if a player can just go “I’ll use D8s since I want to get glory vs his D12s, and my ability ‘Expert Swordsman’ because it has the highest rating” and then just roll the dice and not pay attention to what the actions in the fiction are, then I haven’t done my job. The rule that each rounds described events are decided and done at the end of the round is an attempt to force the players to have some idea of what’s going on fictionally before rolling into the next round, but a rule that just says “do this” without anything else depending on you doing it isn’t very helpful.

So, if you take a look at the rules, or already have done so, I would like to hear back two main points: do the conflict resolution rules as written (or with tweaks major or minor) a) contribute to addressing premise and otherwise creating an engaging story, and b) require the players to be paying attention to the fictional environment and actions of the characters? If not, please tell me why so I can fix them!

Conflict Resolution

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 8, 2010 by Jeff Russell

Okay, so, I’ve been posting some stuff about the game over at this thread on the Forge, both to try to target some hard-core design oriented folks and to draw traffic towards the blog and game 🙂 At any rate, a commenter over there pointed out a glaring deficiency with the conflict resolution rules as written, and then proposed a great solution for one part of it, and some potential solutions for the other, that I wanted to hash out here.

Okay, so first off, the easy part. It was brought to my attention that the ‘aggressor’ despite his name, actually usually gets little to do in the conflict, and has little effect on the direction of the conflict unless his roll is super good. Which is lame. So, I probably need to change the whole ‘only put forward your highest die’ thing. That’s the hard part I’m gonna get onto next. But whatever change I make to that, there’s a simpler and I think better way to handle ‘the aggressor’. Usually, a conflict is gonna have one party or another who says “okay, let’s do this! No more pussy footing around, I want to force the issue!” That guy’s gonna be the aggressor. I might need to put in something for if two guys both simultaneously say they want to go for it, but I think that’s gonna be pretty rare. So the aggressor is whoever initiates the conflict in round one, and thereafter whoever scores a partial success is the aggressor in the next round. Easy, and it makes sense. It also keeps the ‘back and forth’ feel I wanted to get.

Now the hard part. So, as alluded to above, right now it sucks to be the aggressor. Rolling the highest die, especially against an opponent with a dice pool of any size, makes it really easy to get hosed. So, I think the aggressor needs to have the option to a) put forward more than 1 die, and b) decide which dice go out there. I don’t want it to just be ‘as many dice as you want’ as it currently is with the responder, because then an aggressor with larger dice can just decide the contest in round one by putting forward gobs of high dice. I also think that the current responder rules prioritize super committing in round one to get a decisive outcome, rather than the tactical use of dice over multiple rounds like I want to have.

So, I see three (heh) options here right now. I would love to hear more if y’all have some suggestions.

  • First, assign an arbitrary value of dice you can use per round (3 is tempting)
  • Second, you can assign 1 die per person on your side
  • Third, some value based on a characteristic. I’m leaning towards your current ‘wealth’ value to give it some in-game use as a static value

Okay, with the arbitrary value, this muzzles large groups somewhat, and I think would give more power to larger dice size than currently exists (3d12 are usually going to be higher than 3d8). This might fit the ‘uphill fight’ against stronger traits that I want to have, but it also might make using lower traits darn near impossible to actually gain anything.

With 1 die per person, we have the opposite effect. Larger groups of minimally skilled guys become more effective than small groups of skilled guys. Which might be okay, but I don’t know. It would also mess with my ‘minion’ rules where you just have a named NPC and his goons represented as ‘an ability’. It would, however, emphasize the role of allies somewhat more, which is a core concept for the design.

Finally, with a characteristic, this adds a bit more ‘crunch’ to the character traits/resources/abilities/whatever. Loyalty and glory both have something to do in conflicts, and I kind of wanted Wealth to have a more direct effect than just buying abilities. This would also give your wealth sitting there on your sheet something to do besides bribe other characters and save up for ability purchasing at the end of the chapter. It doesn’t really have any flavor justification at all (all of the armbands and rings I have make me super effective!) but from a resource-interaction standpoint, it has some appeal.

Finally, d4s might just be totally worthless. That same commenter pointed out that a d4 is half a d8, but a d8 is two thirds of a d12, so there’s an uneven spread there. On the other hand, d6 might be too close. Curse you Euclidean space for not allowing a d9!

So, I end this post with a question: which method makes sense to you? Or do you have a better suggestion?

Name Day

Posted in Projects, RPGs, The Book of Threes on May 6, 2010 by Jeff Russell

It’s decided!

I’m going to go ahead and go with Tyler’s suggestion of “The Book of Threes” until it dies or I find a better one. So feel free to throw down with any suggestions or to tell me that’s crap, but “The Book of Threes” is the new working title.
Beats the Annuvin out of “Celto-Germania”.