Make Three

Make Three is a light, diceless mechanics system for supporting narrativist, story-telling-style role-play. It uses elements from Over the Edge and Amber Diceless.

Character Generation

In Make Three, you describe characters terms of their traits, features, and attributes. You are given four points' worth of traits automatically. You then take twelve points and spend them on features and attribute points for your character.


You describe your character by writing up one to five traits, though three is the recommended and default number. A trait is written as any word or short phrase that describes a major aspect of the character. One of the traits is the main trait and worth two points in action resolution. The others are worth one point each.

Example 1: James Bond –
+2: secret agent
+1: jet-setter
+1: playboy

Example 2: Patrick Skulder –
+2: secret agent
+1: paranormal investigator
+1: martial artist

You can spend one or two of your twelve points to give your character one or two extra traits, or you can add one or two points to your twelve by giving your character one or two fewer traits, but three is the recommended number.


The available features are:

You can spend one to three points on whatever features you choose. If you do not spend anything on a feature, your character has a normal, ordinary level of that feature.

You can also gain points by giving your character a negative score, a penalty, in any features you choose, -1 to -3 points in any feature.

Example: Patrick Skulder –
+2: secret agent
+1: paranormal investigator
+1: martial artist

-1: size
+1: endurance
+2: perception
+1: psychic sensitivity

It costs a total of three points to give Skulder these features, four for the positive ones, minus one for being undersized.


There are three kinds of attributes: Effort, Focus, and Power.

For every one of the twelve character points you spend on an attribute, you get three attribute points. The average human has nine points in each attribute, and so costs three character points for each attribute.

Example: Patrick Skulder with average attributes –
+2: secret agent
+1: paranormal investigator
+1: martial artist

-1: size
+1: endurance
+2: perception
+1: psychic sensitivity

Effort: 9 ________________
Focus: 9 ________________
Power: 9 ________________

This uses up all twelve points. We used three on features and three on each attribute.

We are building a character sheet. The line after each attribute score is for writing in the current value after you spend or regain points.

Normally, you spend only one attribute point at a time. You can spend two or three at a time by spending one or two more points on the attribute.

Suppose we want Skulder to be able to spend two Power points at a time. We have already spent all twelve points, so we need to take a point from somewhere else. We decide to spend only two character points on Effort instead of the normal three. This means the effort score is only six, since each character point buys three points of effort score:

Patrick Skulder with high Power output –
+2: secret agent
+1: paranormal investigator
+1: martial artist

-1: size
+1: endurance
+2: perception
+1: psychic sensitivity

Effort: 6 ________________
Focus: 9 ________________
Power: 9 ________________, 2/use

Normally, you regain all your attributes with eight hours' sleep. (This is pro-rated. You regain up to half your attributes with four hours' sleep, etc. Twice as much rest will do, if you can't get sleep.) But, for every point you spend on an attribute, you halve the time it takes to recover it. Skulder could recover all his Power in just four hours' sleep if we spent another point on it.

Contrariwise, you can get a point back by doubling the recovery time, so it takes two nights' sleep to fully recover. So we could get a point back for Skulder if we make him take twice as long to recover Effort. Then we could spend that point on high-speed Power recovery for him:

Patrick Skulder with high Power output and recovery, low Effort recovery –
+2: secret agent
+1: paranormal investigator
+1: martial artist

-1: size
+1: endurance
+2: perception
+1: psychic sensitivity

Effort: 6 ________________, 16 hr recover
Focus: 9 ________________
Power: 9 ________________, 2/use, 4 hr recover

Skulder is all chi and no horsepower.

Example Character

Here is another example character, with a full character sheet, including backstory and full trait descriptions:

Enid Littlesmith, Paranormal Investigator –
+2: paranormal investigator
+1: wealthy
+1: prepared

+1: endurance
+1: intelligence
+1: perception

Effort: 9 ________________
Focus: 12 ________________
Power: 6 ________________

Tall, rangy caucasian woman, 54 years old, 70 kg (154 lbs), 154 cm (5'9")

Languages: English, French.

Mrs. Enid Littlesmith is a mundane human. She was born Enid Dietrich, daughter of a mechanical engineer. Her father made a hobby of stage magic. From him, Enid learned about the world of the bizarre and occult, and how much flim-flam there is in it. She also learned how lots of the flim-flam works, and has since expanded her knowledge.

She married Edward Littlesmith and became his partner, running a business as estate auctioneers and antique dealers. Shortly after their twenty-fifth anniversary, though, he died. She found that the fun had gone out of her job, and, since she was wealthy enough, she retired early, in her mid-fifties.

Now, she travels. It's one of her main hobbies. She's not hugely wealthy, but she can always afford good clothes, good hotel rooms, good rental cars, etc. She takes a cruise ever year or so.

Her other hobby is investigating the paranormal. She often visits places where paranormal things are supposed to happen – staying at haunted houses, attending channeling sessions, talking to people who've seen a Bigfoot or a UFO. She has come to make a hobby of finding the natural or fraudulent causes behind most paranormal events. She has not always found a mundane cause, but that doesn't mean there wasn't one that she missed. She also sometimes assists other investigators, usually with money.

She may be perfectly pleasant to more arcane characters (not realizing what they are), but if they arouse her curiosity, she will investigate doggedly, and if she thinks they are frauds, she will become crisply hostile and really investigate doggedly. She will take some solid convincing, if anyone wants her to believe in serious weirdness, but once convinced, she will not backslide or go to pieces over the sheer strangeness of it all.

Physically, Enid is a tall, lean woman with greying brown hair, worn short. She has a round, cheerful face and grey eyes. To start with, she is a complete rationalist, not believing in anything weird. She is cheerful, brisk, polite, and decent, with an unflapable, bullet-proof personality lacking in vices, phobias, or conspicuous bad habits.

+2: Paranormal Investigator — Enid subscribes to the magazines of several skeptical and debunking organization, as well as some of the fringey publications on the pro side of the question. She knows some stage magic, though she doesn't perform. Her library has books on fringe topics, debunking, and stage magic. She knows the usual ways of faking psychic powers, phenomena mistaken for ghosts and UFOs, and similar debunker lore. Sign: Always carries a small video camera in her handbag.

+1: Wealthy — Enid can't buy a house, or even a car, at the drop of a hat, but she doesn't have to keep track of money for much smaller purchases. However, she does anyway. She got that money by being a good business woman. She knows sloppy or dishonest business practice when she sees it, and will often comment on it. Sign: Dresses a notch better than most of the people around her on any given occasion. Big tipper.

+1: Prepared — As mentioned above, there are no major chinks in Enid's mental health. Nor does she offer a hold for blackmailers. On the physical side, she is in excellent health and quite willing to scramble over rough terrain or endure bad weather. Within sensible limits, she goes prepared and equipped for lots of life's little emergencies. Sign: Carries a large handbag, containing a small video camera, a cell phone, first aid stuff, a flashlight, or (on a successful task resolution) almost any mundane little item that could come in useful at a time like this ... whatever "time like this" it is.

Notice that, although Enid has no "special effects" abilities, she has six Power points. This gives her the chance to develop some "special effects" in the future.

Notice also that Enid's family, friends, home, and contacts are left undescribed. They could have been described, but this way they can be determined later, by mutual agreement of player and GM. Finally, notice that each trait description includes a "sign," an outward indication of the trait.

Task Resolution – Make Three

Make Three is supposed to be mechanics-light. Make a task resolution only when the outcome is dubious. For instance, Enid is described as "Prepared." Of course she has a pen, a hanky, her credit cards, some traveler's checks with her; you don't need to check for that.

Does she have a geiger counter with her? That would generally require a task resolution.

The Rule of Three: Normally, doing a task takes three points from among relevant traits, features, and attributes. Hence "Make Three."

Does Enid have a geiger counter with her? What character attributes would be relevant? She is Prepared (+1) and Intelligent (+1), and she can spend a Focus point (+1) to have had the foresight to bring a geiger counter. She doesn't get the Focus point back until she sleeps or rests; the Preparedness and Intelligence can be re-used immediately.

Since geiger counters are rather expensive, the task could also have been resolved by saying Enid is Prepared (+1) and Wealthy (+1), and spent a Focus point (+1); or Prepared, Intelligent, and Wealthy (+1 each).

Circumstantial Modifiers

Besides points from traits, features, or attributes, you may get or lose points because of favorable or unfavorable circumstances.

Example: Enid only uses her computer for email, word processing, and web browsing. She is faced with the problem of using an unfamiliar piece of software. She is Intelligent (+1) and can spend a Focus point (+1), but that's it. She can get the one additional point she needs if the GM says that there's good documentation handy, or that she can take as much time as she wants, and one of those circumstances is worth a point.

Example: Skulder must translate a note in Spanish. He knows no Spanish at all. But if he spends a Focus point (+1), he can get to 3 if (+1) he has a Spanish dictionary and (+1) he can take as long as he wants.

Example: Now Enid must translate some Spanish. She doesn't know any either. She can spend a Focus point (+1) and has a dictionary (+1), but is actually in a rush (-1). She needs two advantages to make it to 3.


There are two kinds of combat, single combat (one character on another, a duel) and melee (group against group).

Single Combat

In single combat, the character does not need three points to win a round, but more points than the opponent.

Combat divides into rounds. After each round, the character may choose another form of attack, or try to withdraw, or surrender, or whatever.

After each round, the loser goes down a damage level for every two points by which they are beaten. There are four damage levels:

If you are Untouched or Up, you can go on fighting next round. If you are Down, you must spend the next round getting Up, if you are able (i.e. not defeated in that round). If you are Out, you are out of the fight. You are not necessarily dead or even seriously injured; that depends on the situation and on the choices made by the characters.


Melee can be done as a collection of single combats, but if you want to make it go faster, use this:

  1. Each character tries to succeed at a combat task, using the Rule of Three.
  2. For each side, the GM counts 1 point for each character that succeeds.
  3. The GM adds 1 additional point for every point by which a winning character went over 3. (So you don't just want to win; you want to win big, as much as possible.)
  4. The GM then adds up the points for both sides and compares. The side with the most points wins, and the bigger the difference, the faster and more decisive the victory. The GM keeps this result secret for the time being.
  5. The GM narrates the story of the battle, with help from the players, using the result from the previous step to guide the outcome.
  6. If, in the course of the battle, the situation changes – new characters enter the fray, for example, or someone comes up with a bright new tactical idea – the combat scores get re-calculated.

Individual characters take damage levels as follows:
The GM reckons the average combat score for each side (the total points calculated above, divided by the number of characters on that side). Each combatant takes damage (if any) according to how they fare against the average foe.

Character Advancement – New Traits

Make Three is not really about character advancement, but if you still want it, you do it by adding new traits. This goes in two stages: first acquire the trait by training, then raise it to +1 if possible. New traits are classed as Easy, Moderate, or Hard.

An Easy trait is as developed as it is going to get. An Easy trait is something you could probably have done with enough favorable modifiers.

With a Moderate trait, you start the trait at 0, so you need to add 3 to it somehow in order to use it. A Moderate trait is something you could not do at all without training. In the examples above, you could translate Spanish text, given intelligence, a dictionary, and time, even if you knew no Spanish. A Moderate trait is harder than that, e.g. understanding spoken Spanish; you are not going to do that without training, if your only other language is English. (You might have a shot at it if you spoke Portuguese or Italian.)

A Hard trait is even worse and starts at -1, so you need to add 4 to it in order to use it.

To bring Moderate or Hard traits up a point, you must play five sessions in which you boost the trait at least twice by adding Effort, Focus, or Power points. Once the trait reaches +1, it can no longer be raised.

There is no upper limit to the number of new traits you can acquire.

Color Traits

If you want to fill out your character in a way that does not comfortably fit with extending the descriptions of the three main traits, you can spend one or two of your twelve points on "color traits." Color traits should rarely or never come in useful in the immediate business of adventuring, but can be used to fill out the non-adventurous aspects of the character's life.

Spending one point, you can buy up to five color traits worth +1 each, though you need not buy them all. Spending two points, you can buy one color trait worth +2 and up to eight color traits worth +1 each.


Lord Peter Wimsey, fictional detective created by Dorothy L. Sayers –

+2: amateur detective (Often works with Detective Inspector Charles Parker of Scotland Yard.)
+1: British aristocrat (Younger brother of the 16th Duke of Denver.)
+1: filthy rich (Owns elegant apartment in Picadilly.)

-1: size (He's a tad short and slightly built.)
+1: agility
-1: nerve (He is a WWI vet and suffers from shell-shock. See Whose Body?)
+2: perception (Essential to his detecting.)
+2: intelligence (Essential to his detecting.)

Effort: 9 ________________
Focus: 12 ________________
Power: 6 ________________

Fair-colored, slightly built caucasian man, 70 kg (154 lbs), 145 cm (5'5")

Languages: English, French, Latin

Spend Power down one point (for Power= 6) and give him color traits.

+1: Rare book expert (First seen in Whose Body?)
+1: Piano playing (First seen in Whose Body?)
+1: Cricket (He plays very well in Murder Must Advertise.)
+1: Horseback riding (He shows it off in Have His Carcass and "The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention.")
(N.B.: Did not buy all five possible.)

Spend it down another (Power=3; Lord Peter has never shown the slightest sign of psychic power) or give him -2: nerve (he has really rotten nerves) and give him a +2 color trait in book collecting, and the option on at least eight lesser color traits, total:

+2: Rare book expert
+1: Piano playing
+1: Cricket
+1: Horseback riding
+1: First in History, Balliol College, Oxford (See esp. Gaudy Night.)
+1: Wine connoisseur (See "The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste.")
+1: Campanology (Formal bell-ringing, shown off in The Nine Tailors.)
+1: Lock-picking (Learned from a reformed safe-cracker. See Strong Poison.)
+1: Major, ret., British Army Intelligence (See Have His Carcass, Gaudy Night.)

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Copyright © Earl Wajenberg, 2011