Nowadays I'm big on the 7+/-2 rule of game design construction. (Again, a psychological rule-of-thumb for how many things people can store in short term memory at once -- and therefore, I think, the maximum number of options anyone should have at one step in a character development process.)


Now, there's something else that just burbled up at me: I'll call it a rule of "Max 3 repetitions" until I come up with something snappier.

Here's the basic idea, again arising from some psychological experiments. It seems as if things repeating 3 times takes up the same mental space as things repeating infinitely. For example, there's a polling experiment referred to as a "Beauty-Contest Experiment" where people pick a number, and the winner is the one who guesses two-thirds the average. People who don't think about it at all pick a random number (average 50). People who realize that's what happens randomly pick two-thirds of that (33). People who can frame that line of reasoning as common, pick two-thirds of that (22).

And then the next most common selection group is to pick zero (0). That is, if people take a third step in this process, they assume the reasoning continues infinitely, reducing their guess to the limit of zero.


Here's some other places this pops up. Quite a number of more primitive languages have words for "one, two, many". That is, anything beyond 2 they just lump all together with a word that means "many" (3 and infinity holding the same mental space for them). Also, you many notice that all professional jokes are written in a pattern of 1-2-(pause)-3. I think that's because after 2 repetition beats, our minds fall into the pattern, assume it goes on regularly and indefinitely, and are then kicked out of the repetition with the pattern-breaking punch line (on the 3). End result: laughter.

Okay, so what's got to do with game play? Well, don't do the same thing more than 3 times because then we're all bored with it. I might recommend not having the same monster or kind of encounter happen more than 3 times (I picked up on this in an old Gygax module today -- there's one single place in the adventure where the same basic encounter might happen two dozen times in sequence. Whoops.) Also, don't let someone use a "special ability" more than 3 times in any day because then it's inherently not "special" or "magical" anymore. So with that I'm thinking that 3E spontaneous healing, or 4E healing surges (6/day by everyone) are superfluous. More than 3 times per day is for mundane stuff (sword blows, arrow shots), no more than 3 times for day for anything you want to feel magical (spells & supernatural powers).

One thing you'll find in any piece of literature (book, comic book, etc.) is that practically no one uses the same power or move more than once in any fight. Certainly not more than 3 times, then it gets boring for everyone. That basically happened automatically in OD&D and 1E with the very limited number of spell slots that wizards & clerics had. Being able to duplicate spell slots (e.g., fill all spell slots of one level with the same spell) would be an exploit that would really break the game experience, I think (and fortunately I never saw it in play). Spontaneous casting in the d20 System falls down the same hole pretty badly.


I got used to asking Gary minor questions on the ENWorld forums (or sometimes by email). Last night I was reading one of his old adventures again, and woke up this morning thinking, "Oh, I really need to ask Gary how he'd handle such-and-such in an actual game session," along with questions about map scale, possibly swapped illustrations, etc.

And then I realized that I can't anymore. Freakin' bummer.


Gygax Died Today

Yeah, dammit. Gary Gygax died today -- he would have turned 70 this July.

So at this point I have to mourn and salute the guy. No one had a greater impact on my personality and interests than Gygax. Everything that I know about gaming, number systems, probability, statistics, logic, ancient and classical history, technology, languages, acting, the military, comparative religion, literature, fiction and nonfiction writing, vocabulary, reading for pleasure, philosophy, nature, biology, physics -- and general intellectual curiousity -- has its origins in his works and writing.

He was one of those Renaissance men who knew a ridiculous amount about everything, and utilized all of it in his creation of fantasy worlds and systems. I clearly remember reading his books at a young age, feeling that he was speaking directly to me, and lighting a white-hot fire to know more about everything he was talking about. He made it addictive to know stuff.

A lot of people can recognize him as the founder of RPG's, but he was more than that. Here's a secret that you may or may not know -- in every video game company I know of, behind the scenes, all the game designers and engineers play D&D. It's ultimately the root of every computer game, in any genre, that's been made to date. Gygax spawned not just RPG's, but the whole idea that games could be an important part of your life and a big industry to boot, video games included.

I never met Gary, but a number of times I did correspond with him by email, and he was suprisingly generous with his time and insights. That's a guy who really was unique and you won't see another one like him, I don't think, ever. We'll miss him pretty badly.