When the Developer Plays: Threefold

Threefold for Modern AGEThere’s a stereotype among game designers and developers that you eventually get so swamped with work you don’t play. I must admit there’s a challenge, but in many cases it’s more that, if you work in games, you love games. You want to have some time in popular games, pick them apart, and see what you can use or devise in reaction to them. It sometimes makes it hard to concentrate. Plus, my working schedule tends to be chaotic. Between all that and some persistent minor but annoying health stuff, I haven’t been as diligent at getting to my weekly game as I would like. Fortunately, I’ve pushed past the fog of it all a bit and am back to my Modern AGE game in the Threefold setting—one which I play in, instead of GMing. This of course speaks to another stereotype: Designers run their games instead of playing characters. This was my situation too, but over the past year I have stuck to playing.

Modern AGE Andrzej

Andrzej, a Sodality protector and nerdy swordsman

Where Have I Seen That Sword Dad Before?

What’s it like to play the game you developed, with the setting you developed? I recommend it to anyone who makes games if you approach it with the right attitude. My group plays on Discord most Sundays, with people I played with in person back in pre-COVID times. I’ve known most of them for over 20 years, and it makes for a comfortable environment, as well as a testament to games’ ability to create and maintain friendships.

On my side, the biggest challenge is learning to relax into my role. By weird coincidence, I randomly created a character who happens to fit the abilities one of Threefold’s iconic characters, Andrzej, perfectly. Andrzej was, incidentally, created as a heroic parody of yours truly by writer H.D. Ingham. After some laughter at the coincidence, I just went with it. Thus, I’m playing Andrzej, a Sodality protector and nerdy swordsman.

Seeing What Works

I know Threefold extremely well, since I invented it, though the writers who worked on it gave it a life beyond anything I could have imagined. That’s the same creative expansion I enjoy coming from my GM, Steve (not Steve Kenson, a different cool Steve) and there’s been nothing so pleasurable and useful from a design perspective as playing Andrzej and exploring worlds Steve expanded and invented based on cues from the Threefold setting. I can see which parts of the setting are the most accessible, and which are a little more challenging to use, and these tend to be a lot different from what you might get out of just reading the book.

As Andrzej, I belong to a Sodality mission with some Aethon adjuncts that specialize in rough and tumble approaches to problems. One of the challenges here is that the Sodality and Aethon are designed to support traditional party play, but that tends to bring a lot of the baggage related to wandering “adventurers” with it. But being a Sodalt means having ideals—they represent mostly legitimate good guys, since they’re part of a multi-planar magical utopian federation of states—and as a group it’s taken time to get there, but we’re starting to lean into it. When it’s time to expand the Sodality, I’ll have to keep this indoctrination aspect in mind.

Right now, we’re engaged in diplomatic negotiations and some quiet investigations on an independent plane that has some relationship with the Nighthost, and who broke off contact with the Vitane (the aforementioned magical federation) because of the Crimson Trident incident, when a branch of the Sodality (the Vitane’s exploratory arm) went rogue. I find it interesting Steve grabbed inspiration from that part of the setting’s history, which Jaym Gates created to give the good guys a spicier backstory. Well, Jaym, it worked—we’re playing with the results. We haven’t met anyone from the Nighthost yet, but we’re dealing with rival diplomats from the alternate earth of Al-Hadiqa. In Threefold, our world, the “primeline,” claims to be the true Earth, and prevents other Earths from accessing other plans as much as it can, but Al-Hadiqa (a plane invented by the late and sorely missed Alejandro Melchor) won’t be limited by the primeline and its enforcers, Aethon. They want a political arrangement with this new plane that shuts us out. Normally, this wouldn’t be particularly alarming for us, but we’ve just come off some operations tracking down a family of soul smugglers who we strongly suspect are allied with this Al-Hadiqa faction. The role of souls in the game, and their role as illicit trade goods, was developed by Neall Raemonn Price, and coincidentally, his adventure for Five and Infinity, The Soul Trade, had some strong similarities to what Steve independently devised. That tells me this is one of the more accessible concepts in the setting and might merit further exploration.

Threefold through the dimensions

Learning What You Don’t Know

Now, I am pretty much the boss of Threefold. I invented the setting and plot its course. What does that mean when I’m playing a character in the setting? Well, I try to keep my mouth shut, and I’m mostly successful. My participation is about having fun through my character, and I also get to enjoy insights about how people use the setting, but Steve is going to have different ideas about what’s happening behind the scenes and how to interpret things—and he’s right. So far where I’ve mostly stumbled is in maintaining a separation between player and character knowledge. Last week Steve said, “Roll to see if you really know that” and he was right to do so. This is a common enough problem for anyone, especially in lore-heavy settings (Threefold is dense with information—you want to give it a few reads because I designed it as if it was already, say, 20 years old, on purpose), but it also tells me it might be a good idea to explicitly describe the knowledge base possessed by members of various factions.

Next Session

Are we on for this Sunday? I hope so. The plane we’re exploring is fascinating. It’s a low-gravity world with mile-high buildings and a floating continent that whips around the primary supercontinent at high speeds. The floating land has a gate that intermittently opens, letting visitors from the Nighthost through. We’ve only heard rumors, and I’m eager to figure out the truth.

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After writing and designing games as a freelancer from 2000 on, Malcolm Sheppard is pleased to join Green Ronin as developer at large: the one who works on any number of games, from the Adventure Gaming Engine to Ork! Malcolm’s experience before Green Ronin includes Exalted, Mage: The Ascension, Onyx Path’s Chronicles of Darkness and Scion lines, as well as Shadowrun and Eclipse Phase. Outside game design, Malcolm’s worked in community development and education, and as a professional historical re-enactor, where he gave large metal swords to children. (They were blunt!) Malcolm lives in semi-rural Ontario, Canada.