Using the Three Clue Rule in content design

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 1:12 am    Post subject: Using the Three Clue Rule in content design Reply with quote

I just read a rather interesting article about designing mystery scenarios for roleplaying games - in particular, how to avoid chokepoints by providing multiple solutions. You can read it here: Three Clue Rule

The article also included an MMO reference, which got me thinking about how it could apply to muds:

"Richard Garriott, the designer of the Ultima computer games and Tabula Rasa, once said that his job as a game designer was to make sure that at least one solution to a problem was possible without preventing the player from finding other solutions on their own. For example, if you find a locked door in an Ultima game then there will be a key for that door somewhere. But you could also hack your way through it; or pick the lock; or pull a cannon up to it and blow it away."

I think this would be an excellent way to approach quest design, or indeed content in general. A few of my quests can be solved in multiple ways, either intentionally (such as locks that can be either picked or broken) or unintentionally, but I feel I could have taken the concept much further - perhaps even incorporated it into a node-based design.
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PostPosted: Sat Dec 31, 2011 10:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I remember reading that a while back and at the time I just had finished reading this,

Going to post the full text as I'm having trouble with the link,


Fuck you and your box text

Posted by Jared Sorensen on March 15th, 2010 at 1:23 pm
Your box text might be incredibly well written and interesting to read on the page but it’s not at all important when you’re playing a game and it’s time to relay that information to the players.

It doesn’t matter.

Investigation is not about taking in every detail and trying to make sense of it. It’s about finding answers to your questions.

There’s a thread on story-cunts and predictably, the host of usual suspects just doesn’t get it. Jesse sees the problem, because he’s an astute guy. From him, re: Gumshoe (which I dislike immensely, so full disclosure there):

“You come into the library, ornate tapestries hang from the wall depicting scenes from the life of Henry the V. Each row of books is headed by an ornately carved statue. The floor itself appears to be made of marble and is inscribed with odd occult runes. The large domed ceiling sports an incredibly detailed map of the stars.”

In most of these kinds of games and in this example, the GM waits for one of the players to pick the right thing to inquire about, then gives him the relevant information. This is ass-backwards.

What should happen is that the players investigate the scene not by finding an answer but by asking a question:

“What are we doing here?”

Look at a police procedural. It’s not a clue by clue scavenger hunt, with bloody footprints leading the way to the next mini-scenario like a trail of breadcrumbs. It’s people searching for the answer to a question and then using that to determine their course of action. The players decide where the story goes based on the evidence. The best part of this is that they won’t ever be wrong. Even if they don’t go to the next obvious place to find the next piece of the puzzle, wherever they go/whatever they do will give them something related to their first inquiry.

Standard investigation game: the players are searching a room for *a* clue. Any clue. The GM gives them a description and the players try and figure out the obvious breadcrumb trail. Sometimes it’s with a search roll or something relevant to the item/location/person being examined (like botany or archeology or library science). If successful, the GM elaborates on the item/person in question, giving them more information that wasn’t originally included in the description. The roll is either binary (yes they find it, no they don’t) or it’s scaled (varying amounts of information tied to the character’s proficiency or die roll or both).

My investigation game: the players ask a specific question and the GM gives them the thing that answers that question. Proficiency determines how much the answer helps to build their case. Example: the players enter a murder scene. What’s the question? Well, in general it’s “Who dunnit?” but that’s too broad. They can begin with a theory or start totally cold. What they need to do is to build a case to support their theory. “How the victim die?” Well that’s known… someone else did the legwork and they just talk to the guy (an easy task because the medical examiner is on their side. “Blunt trauma to the head.” he says, perusing the victim’s crushed skull). The players decide they’re going to go to scene of the crime and ask the next logical question: “What is the murder weapon?” The GM doesn’t give them any more than minimal details about the location until they ask this question and make the appropriate die roll. The players roll well and the GM gives them the murder weapon (a heavy stone paperweight) and a clue about that clue (it has spots of dried blood on it).

Everything is a clue until it’s determined to be irrelevant, nothing is a clue until it’s put into context.

The players can know that yes, this is the murder weapon. The paperweight fits the profile (heavy, hand-held, bludgeoning trauma, available to the victim’s killer). The dried blood is another link in the evidence chain. If they rolled even better you could have more solid evidence (hair fibers stuck to the stone, and/or the paperweight is not on the desk where it should be but is underneath the desk). “Knowing” it was the paperweight doesn’t matter until the case is built. The more facts are known, the more solid the evidence, the more solid the case.

Less is more: too much information is not helpful. Investigation is about discerning what’s important in a sea of noise. Don’t contribute to the noise.

So what if they roll poorly? You can still give them the clue but it’s shaky evidence (“Well, it MIGHT have been this stone paperweight…”) and then the players need to continue exploring that angle (lab tests? fingerprint dusting? smashing gelatin heads and comparing the result to the wound on the victim?). Or you use the lack of evidence as ANOTHER CLUE.

There is an empty space on the desk that catches your eye. Everything is a little dusty but for one roundish spot. The breeze blows in through a window, scattering papers piled on the desk.

This of course leads to a follow up question: “Where is the murder weapon?” Answering this clue will give them the murder weapon but also lead to more questions they can ask, all leading up to the most interesting mysteries:”Who?” and “Why?”

So that’s how I’d do it.

Anyway, at the time I remember that put the three clue article in a very interesting perspective.
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