GM Advice: The Game Master's Rule Of Three


The human brain is a funny little place, with funny little habits. One of those is the psychological fascination with the number three. 

 Three blind mice, three little pigs, three's company, three doors down, three dog night, threesomes, three wolf moon, the three musketeers, the three amigos, the three brothers, the three stooges, and three times a lady.

"In case you hadn't picked up on that yet."

We love it. It is a pleasing figure. It's followed us from childhood, into adulthood and beyond. Three has always been there, lending a helping hand when we need it. It is more than two, less than five, giving us just enough variety without being overbearing.

Three is the magic number, kids. That goes double if you just happen to be a member of that prestigious, decades-old order of sadists and free-thinkers; The Game Master. How does the number three and Game Mastery go together? Lay down a tarp, dear reader, for I may very well blow your mind... creating a gooey mess, thus necessitating the use of a tarp.

 "Maybe a mop, too."

The Rule of Three
The GM's Rule of Three is an optional rule for Game Masters who like to think on their feet, and is painfully simple when you boil right down it. The idea is that when you are running your game, no matter the situation, give your players three options.

If the PCs are in a town or village and want to know what other settlements are around, give them three with varying distances from where they are standing. If they want to know what major features are in the area, have them ask around town and hand them three solutions, like abandoned mines, elven wildlife preserves, or a circle of standing stones on the hill over yonder. If they're in a city, give them three neighborhoods or districts near where their current location.

Skill Checks
But it is more than just geography friends. The rule of three works for just about every aspect of the game. If there is a skill check that needs to be handled, give your players three different skill options. You'll find that the weight of passing or failing the check no longer rests on one or two players' shoulders and more players can participate. This is especially true in social encounters, where you typically have the option of buttering someone up (Diplomacy or Persuasions), lying to them (Bluff of Deception), or straight up threatening them (Intimidation).

Your combats also become a little more robust when using the Rule of Three. When planning encounters, I personally find that it works in my favor to plan three encounters. They need not be all combat either. Mix it up a bit by sandwiching a trap between two combat encounters, or, if you are dealing with kobolds, a combat encounter between two traps. Maybe one of those encounters can be avoided altogether with a few skill checks.

If the party enters the goblin cave, there is a pretty good chance they are going to run into goblins. But if you keep throwing wave after wave of the same creature at them, they're going to get bored quickly, and so are you. A bored GM is not a fun GM.

Apply the Rule of Three and switch those goblins up. A trio of goblins, each with different class levels, will definitely shake things up from the typical base goblin. Allies or underlings of certain creatures likewise keep things interesting, for instance; worgs, goblin dogs, kobolds, or anything that a goblin can train or ally with.

Let's face it, Game Masters love riddles, from the moment we read the Hobbit, to the scene in Labyrinth, we have a problem. But the issue with riddles is that there is usually only a solitary answer, but there doesn't have to be. When you cook up your riddles, give it three different answers, and award them the victory if they get close enough to one of them.

 Roll well, my friends
+Ed The Bard 

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