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.
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
- 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)
- Ruined traps in most places in temple, a few in hallways if needed.
- Fusilade of darts and arrow trap (d20 Srd)
- ~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
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
- Kundarik Bank (Dungeon 147, aundarian job)
- Portal Room
- Mror Hold
- Vault 101E — The place where the files are stored.
- Guards at bank
- Manticore (SRD)
- Slaughterstone Behemoth and Eviscerator in the MMIII. On page 160
- 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
- Spell Turret — web
- Summon — hamatula
- Glyph of warding trap
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 3 (no magic) immovable rods 600
- 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
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.)
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.)
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.