The Rule of Three

Making an interesting, evocative  scene that invokes the senses of your players is the holy grail of GMing, and it can be made a bit more achievable by following what I call the “Rule of Three.”

Simply put, the Rule of Three involves picking at least three things to describe to give a bit more realism to a scene or NPC and is particularly useful for improvisation.  It need not be difficult, and just a few words for each thing you pick can go a long way, and it might even inspire you to add even more details.

For a scene or encounter, pick three senses and describe what the characters experience with those senses.  While the sense of sight is the most common sense, don’t forget about sound, smell, taste and touch.  For example, consider the following scene, a high-end potion shop.

“You enter the shop, the bell above the door giving a little ring as the door swings past it.  Sunlight passes through the brightly colored vials on the shelf by the window, spraying the inside of the tidy little shop in multi-hued light.  A strange scent is in the air, like vanilla possibly mixed with sage.”  Here you’ve invoked sound, sight and smell, and maybe even introduced a detail that the PCs might want to follow up on.  What potions are in the vials, and what is causing that unusual aroma?  Perhaps you can use a detail later, such as the big bad that the PCs are following having that same aroma, showing that he or she had recently visited the same shop.

A similar treatment can be applied to NPCs.  Give the NPC at least three traits, either ones that invoke the senses or show some unique or different traits   Take, for instance, the town gravedigger.

“Malaki is advanced in age, his face a deep maze of wrinkles set into weather-beaten skin.  He walks with a perpetual stoop, his spine and legs popping and cracking every few steps.  The cloying stench of dirt and the earth clings to him, somehow comforting.”  With just three small sentences here, we’ve given a ton of information about the NPC.  Obviously, he works outside a lot, doing what is likely manual labor that has taken a toll on his aged body.  By invoking the smell of dirt and the earth, we have even created an unspoken trait that your players’ minds are going to fill in; old Malaki is not likely to be the cleanest of individuals.

By using the Rule of Three, you can easily create well-remembered scenes and NPCs with a minimum of difficulty, even if improvising.  Try it sometime, you might like it.

[tags]Game Mastering,gaming,gming,role playing games,rpgs,world building[/tags]

3 thoughts on “The Rule of Three

Add yours

  1. First off, awesome illustration. Second, that’s a really cool idea, often I can get away with myself when trying to make an NPC feel “real”, but sticking to three things gives just enough without going too deep. Well done, I’m going to try it.


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