A while back I dropped an article talking about a prep method I used, called 3-3-3 Quick Prep. It’s a method composed mostly of bullet points to give some minimal structure to a game but allow for improvisation at the table. There were some requests in the comments to show some examples of it in play. Well, I am more than happy to oblige and dug up some old quick prep examples as well as making sure to detail some for the game I’m currently running.

If you want some more background on the method, check out the original article. Otherwise, on with the show!

Example 1: A Typical Dungeon Crawler

When I was running a D&D 3.5 game set in Eberron, I used this technique a lot. The nature of the group was one that lead to a lot of unique ideas, and I encouraged their going off script, but that meant I had to keep up with lots of odd things. I’d make a sheet with bullet point notes to figure out what kinds of things I could whip in (based on the ongoing story and the nature of that mission. Here is a very typical adventure that was a short introductory dungeon crawl.

Jungle Temple

Possible Order/Plot (This was the likely order of events, but I wanted to keep it open to prevent railroading. If the PCs took the hooks, this is how it would go down.)

  • Meet House Cannith quest giver, pays to retrieve artifact, arranges transport.
  • Travel via airship to jungle locale. Dropped off in clearing. Travel to temple.
  • Find hole where temple was. Find destroyed temple in sinkhole. Find temple looted.
  • Pursue through tunnels. Find emerald claw

Places (I briefly detailed evocative elements about areas so I could do recall them during the game.)

  • Cannith Meeting Room
  • Airship Egatalia (small, privateer)
  • Jungle Clearing/trail – a jungle clearing big enough for the airship to hover over and the small trail leading to the temple
  • Sinkhole/Ruined Temple – dark, musty, light shafts filter down, find ruined and cracked rooms askance and askew, artifact is gone
    - fountain room (water gushing out)
    - top of ziggurat (broken statues)
    - treasure room (with giant croc)
  • Tunnels – winding tunnels that are mostly linear, draw as needed, a few doors
  • Final fight cave – a large cave where the group can encounter the emerald claw

Fights

  • Jungle Clearing – other adventuring party, can be negotiated past. Only include if early stages are dragging.
  • Angry Creature  – Giant Crocodile pg 271 MM
  • Emerald Claw Squad (blood of vol priest 228 Eberron Book, 3 schlock 1st level fighters)

NPCs (Very few needed for this one, so I kept it light.)

  • Luyun D’cannith – Quest giver (quiet, nervous, wants power and is planning to use the artifact as leverage for political gain)
  • Paloma Nalworth – Airship Captain (brash, drunk, scarred)
  • Halldor – Blood of vol priest (not much known yet, white long hair)

Traps

  • Ruined traps in most places in temple, a few in hallways if needed.
  • Fusilade of darts and arrow trap (d20 Srd)

Rewards

  • ~300 in gold can be found in the ruins
  • Bracer of natural armor +1 can be found on the priest and one of the fighters
  • Weapons on the fighters, etc.
  • The artifact (Mcguffin for the sake of game, some kind of ancient key, figure it out as you go along)

 

When I was planning this out, I wanted a quick adventure to meet up to a published adventure I was going to be running and get the group up to level. I went pretty standard with the prep route, knowing I could modify as I went along. I didn’t need too much more than this and played off of the group’s leanings in the game. I made notations to things I might need to reference later, but played it pretty loose and fast. These notes came from an old text file and were copied almost directly.

 

One of the beautiful things about using 3-3-3 for a dungeon crawl is that the categories can be pretty static. I know most adventures will include the same types of elements, so all I have to do to make a new adventure is change out the ingredients.

 

Example 2: A Less Typical Adventure

Game

This is a 3-3-3 prep example from a different game. This is one for a bank heist they tried. At this point, I’d written up a lot of generic stat blocks for my games, so I didn’t bother with as much notation.

The Bank Heist

    Places

    • Kundarik Bank (Dungeon 147, aundarian job)
    • Portal Room
    • Mror Hold
    • Vault 101E – The place where the files are stored.

    Fights

    • Guards at bank
    • Manticore (SRD)
    • Slaughterstone Behemoth and Eviscerator in the MMIII. On page 160

    NPCs (I had no idea how the PCs would proceed, so I wanted at least names and a few small descriptive elements. My group tends to say things like" I go looking for someone a bit shady who looks poor. I want to bribe them.” With minimal details on the NPCs, I can reinforce the group’s ideas by matching Sorjaris to the NPC type they went looking for.)

    • Shogo – Can provide information about notes
    • Ppl in bank (all could provide obstacles)
      - couple with kid, dwarven
      - old bearded man, hard of hearing
      - young girl and husband (half elf), newlyweds
      - bank teller (marilyn)
      - shifter merc depositing pay
      - mage from Sharn (tcot), coming to pick up item
    • Garallis – The bank manager, dwarf
    • Telnot – lazy, bribable guard, dwarf
    • Sorjaris – A person in xx city who can sell them plans to the bank, human
    • Lanir – Mage willing to sell items of invisibility or stealth. Also can disable wards. Was planning job himself. Elf

    Traps

    • Spell Turret – web
    • arrow   
    • pit   
    • fireblast   
    • Summon – hamatula
    • Glyph of warding trap  

    Plot Points

    • They know they need merrix notes to incriminate him. They know they are in the mror holds.
    • Bust into bank. Shogo can provide some information, but not materiel help.
    • let the group plan, then break
    • provide NPCs and ways into bank. If they want to spend time doing research, remove obstacles based on their ideas/rolls
    • People in bank can be issue if do it during daylight
    • Once into Mror hold, all hell can break loose. If they disable alarms though, they can loot with impunity for a brief time.

    Rewards (This was the big section I knew I needed. I random treasure generated a list and included it in my prep notes. This let me quickly tell them what treasure they found when looting vaults.)

    • merrix’s notes on the lord of blades and xulo
    • masterwork sword    320
      6 letters of credit    6000
    • stone carving, snake, ruby eyes    500
      fine wines and ale    1500
      Scroll of Summon Monster 1    750
    • Immovable Rod    5000
    • 3 emerald    3000
      2 fire opal    2000
      1 blue saphire    1000
      Masterwork full plate    150
    • rierdan crysteel scimitar    1500
      flametouched    1000
    • 10x eberron    900
      10 syberys    2500
      3 khyber (large, makes 2 smaller)    4500
      Cyre university scrolls    3000
    • 15 drow knives    225
      15 claw gauntlets    600
      5 yuanti serpent bow    750
      chitin    320
      dreamhide    700
    • 3 (no magic) immovable rods    600
      platinum    3225
    • 3 poison darts   
      drake helm    32000
    • gaseous form 3rd    5000
      wind wall 3rd    5000
    • art: black velvet mask with numerous citrines (80gp)    80
      art: old masterpiece painting (2,100gp)    2100
      art: solid gold idol (10 lb.) (1,000gp)    1000
    • art: silver ewer (30gp)    30
      medium +2 dragonhide full plate armor (8,950gp)    8950
      medium adamantine dagger (3,002gp)    3002
    • houseward    (Cost 25,000) plot element for white hearth or citadel of winds base
      Coins    6,494

Obviously this one doesn’t follow the 3-3-3 format very closely. I prepped to the things that i knew the game was going to contain, and since this was a bank heist I went heavy on the possible loot. 3-3-3 is about quickly prepping the things you think you’ll need in case you need them, and if the group is doing a bank heist to get a specific item (in this case Merrix’s blackmail notes), then you’d better believe they’re going to develop sticky fingers once inside the vaults.

I planned for all sorts of contingencies, knowing the group was going to take some time to plan out the smartest route. I wanted to have bank patrons if they decided to daylight rob the place disguised as other people. I wanted traps and night time guards and creatures if they tried to dungeon crawl it. I wanted people they could bribe. I wanted to be prepared for any interesting idea they had. Not to be the dick GM and try to foil them, but to make sure they had a good session and didn’t steamroll over an unprepared dungeon master. This was an example where challenge would make the whole thing worthwhile.

Well, the group threw me for a loop and bypassed many things I had planned with a really clever idea. I was glad I hadn’t planned everything out in detail. This quick prep method allowed me to not waste a lot of time looking up the intricacies of every element beforehand. Focusing on the ones that I was sure would come up (like loot) kept things moving forward. Things that didn’t see any play time (like most of the fights and NPCs) were only a few minutes worth of work.

 

Example 3: A Deeply Political Game

I once ran a 1920s vampire game set in nearby Akron, Ohio. This was a vastly different game from the other types of games I’d used 3-3-3 with, but it really worked for this environment. Once again, I focused my minimal prep on the elements I knew would be important to the game. There was so little planning on my end. Most of it was reacting to the PCs and what they were going to do. I had to juggle a lot of NPCs and organizations though. I would make up a sheet like this at the beginning of every “real” session. That would let me remember things that went on within the games before and give me a handy cheat sheet for my  notes.

 

Movers and Shakers Active/Plotting (There were many NPCs in this game, so I would determine which of them were currently involved in plotting or relevant to the next session, as much as possible. I would denote their plots/plans so I could keep them in mind. It was also a way to keep track of what had gone on off-screen.)

  • Justin – Working up the sabbat to attack
  • Marcellus, The Current Prince – Trying to marshall the forces. Fighting against the new unions.
  • Lealia, Tremere – Waiting on sabbat to attack so that she can offer aid at just the right time. Preparing Jeb for combat.
  • Trelia – In sewers, trying to search out the last of her brethren

PC Plots At Play (The PCs were plotting lots of things themselves, and we played a lot of that out in one on one conversations between gaming sessions. This was a way to know what was up in the air and make sure to focus on PC plots.)

  • Jacques – Still riling up workers and unionizing. He has been making his illegal childer from the ranks.
  • Brian – No big plots. He has been causing problems for Andrews and the prince. Blew up people in park.
  • Sean Andrews – Losing confidence in the prince. Almost ready to make his move, but he doesn’t have a strong enough power base yet. His meeting with Lealia may shift her help to him. Still on the fence about betrayal.
  • Tony – Recently Sabbatized. Out for blood. Player mentioned he might try to pretend to still be brujah. Sean witnessed his turning though and will likely call a hunt.

Reactions (There were many  organizations and non movers and shakers that could hamper the  PCs and NPCs. I kept track of them here. I kept track of their reactions to various game events in case they needed to come into play. )

    • Police – still on ventrue payroll, keeping things covered up
    • Army Base in Stow – confused about the theft of things and bloody deaths.
    • FBI – Monitoring situation of unrest, but under orders from “a higher up” to not interfere. (Blood bound ghoul politician.)
    • Camarilla – Lost confidence in Marcellus, waiting for city to fall to sabbat.
    • Sabbat – ready to pounce, but still disorganized.
    • Masquerade – Still intact, but Jacques is causing major issues and doing things sloppy.

Places (There was a map of akron with various places. I wouldn’t bother trying to preplan too much place wise, but I would make notes of what had happened last game. In a lot of ways, this 3-3-3 prep was mostly recapping previous games so I could be on top of things with this game.)

      • Edwin Shaw hospital – Tony met with malkavian there, got info on current prince
      • Army base – 2 murders here
      • Stan Hywett – Prince is tightening security
      • Goodyear Plant – Jacques had a meeting there and had to kill to prevent being discovered.
      • Capitol Funding Building – Andrews held secret meeting there.

Random Names (My players loved names in this game, and I had lots of trouble keeping up. Finally, I random generated lists of names and would make notes next to them.)

Name list at beginning of session
Gretchen I. Hill
Karen U. Puckett
Elsie A. Hamilton
Malcolm A. Wagner
Francis C. McNamara
Neal A. Lawrence
Alex A. May
Eric T. Steele
Tim A. Watts
Beth A. Walton

After my notes
Gretchen I. Hill – Girl fed upon by Sean
Karen U. Puckett
Elsie A. Hamilton – Secretary that Jacques Dominated
Malcolm A. Wagner
Francis C. McNamara  – Soldier Brian was attacked by
Neal A. Lawrence  –
Alex A. May  – Young boy who witnessed Tony’s murdering. Blood handprint.
Eric T. Steele – Police officer who tony killed.
Tim A. Watts
Beth A. Walton

This game was really one where the prep/recap helped out. I couldn’t spend a lot of time mucking about in my notes, but the one page recap 3-3-3 notes helped me remember things quickly The Random Names list here was essential to quickly moving things along when the group would go hunting for people to feed on. It also helped up the feeling that the group was interacting with a real and full world. They  might have been vampires hiding amongst mortals, but when they knew the  secretary’s name was Elsie or that the kid they just traumatized could say “May, Alex May sir. Are you a gangster?” before they wiped their bloody hand on his face, they felt like their interactions and roleplaying meant something.

 

3-3-3 In Play

The core idea of 3-3-3 is that you write categories for various game elements and add in shorthand bullet points to them. You don’t fret about the details, you just build yourself a skeleton of a game. If you need to move things about, you can. The adventure isn’t so detailed as to be restricting, but it has enough to let you improvise from. The categories that are going to be most relevant to your game are going to be the elements you see the most of. Political games rarely need pre-planned fights, but action and combat games do. 3-3-3 works really well for lists of things that MIGHT come up, like random NPCs or likely loot. Whatever elements you feel are most likely to come up, flesh those ones out more. Throwing in small descriptor words or phrases (much like the tags on our posts) can help you build detailed elements without reverting to reading blocks of text. Page and book notation are also helpful things to add in. Give it a try and see if you can’t use it to run a good game without much prep.

Do you find that 3-3-3- would provide enough to run a game off of or do you feel that you need more than this to feel prepped? What categories would be most relevant to your current game and how many bullet points would you need under those categories?  I’d love to see your take on what your last game looked like if it were prepped with 3-3-3.

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.



7 Responses to 3-3-3 Quick Prep, Examples In Play

  1. Good stuff! I like the flexibility this gives plus I enjoy adding detail to my adventures. Thanks!

  2. @jcftao – Thanks. It’s a nifty little system that follows along with a concept I’ve recently picked up from a book called 4 Hour Body called Minimal Effective Dose. It’s the minimal amount of work for effectiveness. Prepping just enough to keep you from flailing around keeps you free to improvise and react at the table.

  3. @No One In Particular – It strikes me that a template for this might be handy, even though it is something easy to work out. Some people work better with an editable template to work from. So here you go. Copy, paste, and modify as much as you need to build the skeleton of an adventure.

    Category (Examples: NPCs, Plot Points, Places, Items, Rewards, Random Names, Whatever is relevant to your game, etc.)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)

    Category (Examples: NPCs, Plot Points, Places, Items, Rewards, Random Names, Whatever is relevant to your game, etc.)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)

    Category (Examples: NPCs, Plot Points, Places, Items, Rewards, Random Names, Whatever is relevant to your game, etc.)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)
    * Element – details (pg #, descriptive word, GM secret)

  4. Thanks for the follow-up. Improvising is my biggest weakness when it come to running a game. I really think this system will help me out. I can see using it with modules as well. Bullet point out what I need from the module. I look forward to giving it a try. Thanks for the templates as well. I’m one of those people who find them very valuable.

    Chris
    Rocky Mountain Savages

  5. I have been using the 3-3-3 System in my latest games and it has been an enormous help in keeping my thoughts organized. So, thanks again.

  6. @beldar1215 – I’m glad it helps. Improvising is a lot easier to do when you only know enough about what is going on to not be lost. Players will try to fill in a lot of the gaps in the parts of the story they see and if you don’t know exactly what is going to happen either, then you have some free reign to say yes or no to player plans and ideas. I never really thought of doing this with modules, but I can see that working really well.

    @Knight of Roses – Glad it has helped. I got out of the habit of doing this the more modules I ran, and I’m getting back into it in a big way in my current game. I’m thinking of statting out a bunch of “go to adventures” to pick up at a moments notice. It will be less stress than my wing the whole thing games, and it won’t be as constricting as running from modules and having to change things to suit my group’s play style.

  7. Thanks for the article and the templates.

    I have not yet tested the 3-3-3 approach but this is on my (unfortunately ever growing) to-do list along with Prep-Lite.

    I don’t know if I will use it alone though. I think that the 3-3-3 approach can be put to good use for the initial brainstorming when you need to organise your thoughts. I think that it can also be used as a reminder. Once you have designed your scenario, you recapitulate the various elements on a single page that provides a quick and handy reference for your session.

    Though I think I will use the 3-3-3 approach for the initial brainstorming and then design the scenario itself with Prep-Lite, I will try to give the 3-3-3 approach alone a shot.

    Another food for my thought : using the 3-3-3 approach and supplement it with some elements only of the Prep-Lite method.

Add Comment Register



Leave a Reply