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Rule Of Three / Tabletop Games

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The Rule of Three in tabletop games.


  • The game The Dark Eye — especially in its third(!) edition (it's now into its fifth) was fond of using the (more or less completely alliterative) triad for titles. Most famous examples probably are Tempel, Türme und Tavernen (temples, towers and taverns) and Kirchen, Kulte, Ordenskrieger (churches, cults, templars). Over time, it grated on the editors' nerves, and they promised to stop using them for the fourth edition. They maintained it for a while but ultimately succumbed to temptation, though, as titles such as Söldner, Skalden, Steppenelfen (soldiers, skalds, prairie elves), Granden, Gaukler und Gelehrte (nobles, buskers and scholars) or Krieger, Krämer und Kultisten (warriors, merchants and cultists) prove.
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  • Dogs in the Vineyard is geared for groups of about three PCs, and Three In Authority is one of the most powerful rituals against demons (a two-PC group can pull it off with help from the NPC town elder).
  • In Dungeon, a board game published by TSR and developed by, among others, Gary Gygax, to open a door, you have to roll for it three times. After the third time, you can just go through.
  • Dungeons & Dragons for special defences: Fortitude, Reflex, Will.
    • The physical stats: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution. The mental stats: Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma.
    • The alignments: Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic, and Good, Neutral, Evil. Put together into the alignment spectrum and there are nine options.
  • Rather than using it as a trope, the Dungeons & Dragons setting Planescape and its video game spinoff Planescape: Torment explicitly mention the Rule Of Three in-story as a principle with cosmic validity. (Everything involves the number 3 somehow. There are even three cosmic principles.) Since the world(s) of Planescape are shaped by belief, it's not impossible that that's true. If enough people believe it's nonsense, it won't be...
    • There are enough Flat Earth Atheists like Morte to disbelieve it, yet the rule persists for the reason that Morte gives, that minds have a tendency to create patterns. This tendency is perhaps stronger than belief, which is why the rule can be widely debunked yet the evidence of it still appears.
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    • One NPC adopts this principle and runs with it clear off the field. Calling himself "Rule of Three," he's an information broker who requires things in sets of three as his payment, and gives three true answers to any question. As a second character is known to associate with another of the three cosmic principles, it's suspected a third is out there somewhere as well, because... well, Rule Of Three.
  • In the Living Greyhawk campaign, a magic item spoke three prophesies of destruction that the players could attempt to prevent.
  • In Nomine has the three Realms, Corporeal, Ethereal and Celestial, which each have a type of Force associated with them, also there are three main types of supernatural beings, angels, demons, and ethereals.
  • Magic: The Gathering blocks are released in three sets. Furthermore, Wizards of the Coast have their own "rule of three" — the first set establishes core concepts and mechanics, the second set develops them further, and the third introduces some new twist. For example, the third set of the artifact-based block Mirrodin presented effects that produced or used all five colors of mana, the third set of the legendary-based block Kamigawa gave the Epic spells and rewarded large hand sizes, and the third set of the land-based block Zendikar introduced the massive and colorless Eldrazi.
    • The "One for Three" cycle of cards from the first core sets that cost one mana of it's color's mana type. Grating the caster 3 of something related to the color (Damage, Life, or most famously, card draw).
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    • The "charm" cycle. One card does one of three things.
    • Effects are often printed in three-card "vertical cycles": a common card with a weak version of an effect, an uncommon card with a stronger version and a rare card with the strongest version. For example, the Apocalypse expansion included Bloodfire Dwarf at common, Bloodfire Kavu at uncommon and Bloodfire Colossus at rare.
  • Shadowrun 3rd Edition supplement Magic in the Shadows. If a free spirit's true name is spoken three times in succession, the spirit has to appear before the speaker.
  • Invoked in Unknown Armies. Threes tend to come up a lot in its Post Modern Magic, especially in ritual magic. 333 in particular has great mystical significance because it's the number of seats in the Invisible Clergy, the ascended mortals/gods that personify humanity.
  • White Wolf's Storyteller/Storytelling systems use the Rule Of Three extensively:
    • three sets of three attributes, usually physical (strength, dexterity, stamina), social (charisma, manipulation, appearance), and mental (intelligence, wits, perception), and three kinds of abilities (talents, skills and knowledge). The rest can vary depending of the individual games, but the Rule Of Three is also prominent in several:
    • In the New World of Darkness the three attribute groups are divided in another way, each with three traits in it like the main groups; power (strength, intelligence, and presence), finesse (dexterity, wits, manipulation), and resistance (stamina, resolve, composure).
      • The demo for Changeling: The Lost has Blue Jenny, who if her real name is spoken in her presence three times, her Keeper will be summoned. Hence the reason for her getting the motley's help retrieving what's actually her diary.
      • In Mage: The Awakening, mage tradition dictates that a mage owes three favours to any mage who acquires their soul stone (a piece of their soul distilled into physical form for power).
    • In Old World of Darkness:
      • In Vampire: The Masquerade, each Clan has three favored Disciplines its members can learn more easily, and drinking the blood of one vampire three times, on three different nights, gives this vampire power over the drinker. Also, vampires have three virtues to fight their three different flavors of frenzy.
      • In Mage: The Ascension, the Resonance of a mage's magick is defined by three types of specific resonances: Dynamic, Entropic, and Static. This is linked to the cosmology of the Old World of Darkness (see below). Relatedly, they face three kinds of main foes: the Technocrats (linked to Stasis), the Nephandi (liked to Entropy) and the Marauders (linked to Dynamism).
      • In Changeling: The Dreaming, changelings can be of three general ages: childlings, wilders, and grumps. And since the setting is about mythos and fairytales, there are MANY occurrences of the Rule Of Three.
      • Werewolf: The Apocalypse introduced the cosmology detailed below, and also gives players three major traits that determine their werewolf character's place in the Garou Nation and what Gifts they can learn: tribe, auspice, and breed. Werewolves, and most other shapeshifters, have three breeds.
      • Over the course of the various editions of the various games, a somewhat unified and coherent cosmology emerged, with three major entities or forces: the destructive Wyrm, the creative Wyld, and the stabilizing Weaver, none of which are inherently evil (all in all, it's similar to the hinduist Trimurti). They play a major role in Werewolf: The Apocalypse (where they first appeared) and Mage: The Ascension (the Tradition mages that players usually roleplay are, in a way, balancing the three against three kinds of extremists). Supplements that delved into the deeper aspects of the Triat (the common name used for the trinity of Wyrm, Weaver, and Wyld) would reveal that each of the three has three more specific aspects. The most well-known are the aspects of the Wyrm known as the Eater-of-Souls, the Beast-of-War, and the Defiler.
    • The Trinity Universe setting. Three games: Adventure!, Aberrant, and Aeon (later renamed Trinity). Three "classes" of character: paramorphs (or Daredevils), eximorphs (or Stalwarts) and psychomorphs (or Mesmerists). The actual mechanics show the same divisions as other Storyteller systems. Each stat doesn't have three skills though. But oh well.
    • Exalted, while using almost the same system as the Old World of Darkness, subverts expectations by running its setting on the number five instead. Indeed, that the Lunar Exalted use the Rule Of Three anyway makes them stick out incongruously, though that is justified: they used to have five castes and so forth, but their long exposure to the Wyld (unshapable chaos outside Creation) has thrown them out of whack.


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