Inverting Clues, Finding Ideas

As I’ve been practicing my Daily Game Prep, in which I roll on a random table to see what tiny prep task I will perform, a frequent result has been, “Write a clue.”

Initially, I was happily adding clues to my Mystamyr game and seeking to enrich the adventures by making meaningful decisions more accessible using the Three Clue Rule. Over time, I discovered that some days I just didn’t have any ideas for an existing game.

My solution was to start making up clues. Once I had a pad of three random clues, I realised that I could use the Three Clue Rule to help me create interesting adventures.

The Three Clue Rule, as propounded by The Alexandrian is simple:

For any conclusion you want the PCs to make, include at least three clues.

In other words, if you want the player characters to realise some fact about the adventure then you need to seed the scenes with at least three clues which all point towards that conclusion.

Why three? Because the PCs will probably miss the first; ignore the second; and misinterpret the third before making some incredible leap of logic that gets them where you wanted them to go all along.

I’m kidding, of course. But if you think of each clue as a plan (the PCs will find A, conclude B, and go to C), then when you have three clues you’ve not only got a plan — you’ve also got two backup plans. And when you realize that your plans never survive contact with the players, the need for those backup plans becomes clear.

Three Clue Rule, The Alexandrian (2008)

The corollary is essentially true: if you’ve given the player characters three clues, they will very likely form a conclusion. I realised that this is also true for me as a GM, especially after experiencing the creative sparks that fly when running a solo mystery adventure.

I’ve discovered it is quite fun to grab a random clue and then imagine what it might be pointing towards. From here, having come up with a creative conclusion, I can work on two more clues which would support the hypothesis. Armed with three clues to an entertaining conclusion, I have found it’s an enjoyable pastime to then build an adventure around that idea.

An example: The player characters find a dead body that smells strongly of sweet cinnamon. What could it mean? An obvious conclusion might be that the body was killed by a baker but it’s a bit prosaic. What if the person drowned in a vat of hot cinnamon-spiced icing, the kind of pink goo-ey stuff I sometimes enjoy?

Now I have a murder mystery and a rather weird clue. What two other clues might point to the death in the vat of cinnamon-spiced icing? Let’s imagine the body was found naked and an additional post-mortem will point to death by drowning, the lungs being filled with pinkish liquid that has solidified. There are also severe scolds on the exposed areas of flesh.

From here I am left thinking about the location of the murder and how I can point towards a bakery with a large vat for the making of icing – I mean, industrial-size. And so on.

The example is perhaps too ridiculous and fanciful but I hope the point is made. We can get some interesting creative play just from taking a random clue and picking out some possible conclusions suggested by it. Then, applying the Three Clue Rule to suggest some further clues, we can see what kind of an adventure might be suggested. Let imagination run wild from there.

Game on!

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