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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nine While Nine

Everyone has heard of the Rule of Threes, and although which rule is open to debate, most peoples' thoughts will turn to the belief that disasters and/or celebrity deaths happen in triplicate. Regardless, three is a very powerful number, mathematically, scientifically, and mystically.

See what I did there? I used the Writing Rule of Three to enforce my point. Orators and rhetoricians have used threes to great effect:
  • "Never, never, never give up." -- Winston Churchill
  • "Read my lips: No New Taxes" -- George H.W. Bush (special double emphasis version)
  • "If today I stand here as a revolutionary, it is as a revolutionary against the Revolution." -- Adolph Hitler
(Note to contextualists: I'm not suggesting anything political by listing Churchill, Bush, and Hitler in the same paragraph. These were simply the first that came to my mind.)

Threes are very popular, and very powerful. So much so that a 2nd Edition AD&D game setting called Planescape created a world where the rule became the law, and then expanded upon this by making two other laws, thus forming a perfect triad of cosmological law:
  1. The first principle, the Rule-of-Three, says simply that things tend to happen in threes. The principles which govern the planes are themselves subject to this rule.
  2. The second principle is the Unity of Rings, and notes that many things on the planes are circular, coming back around to where they started. This is true geographically as well as philosophically
  3. The third principle is the Center of All, and states that there is a center of everything — or, rather, wherever a person happens to be is the center of the multiverse... from their own perspective, at least. As most planes are functionally infinite, disproving anyone's centricity would be impossible. In Planescape, this is meant philosophically just as much as it is meant in terms of multiversal geography.
A great deal of this philosophy carried over into, as you might expect, Third Edition D&D.
  1. Saving Throws: Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.
  2. Base Attack Bonus: Good, Average, Poor.
  3. Core Books: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual.

But when I created my "The Light, the Dark, and the Gray" post (again, note the three), I realized how the two axes of Ethics (law vs chaos) and morality (good vs evil) created nine possible alignments, When I started looking, I found nines everywhere! Which makes sense when you think about it, because nine is really just three in triplicate.

  • As previously stated, nine alignments: Lawful Good, Lawful Neutral, Lawful Evil; Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, Chaotic Evil; Neutral Good, True Neutral, and Neutral Evil.
  • Nine size categories: Fine, Diminutive, Tiny, Small, Medium, Large, Huge, Gargantuan, Colossal.
  • There are actually nine forms of unique dice used in D&D. In addition to the standard d4, d6, d8, d10, d12 and d20, there is the d3 (half a d6 and used for unarmed strikes), the d2 (half a d4 and used for several small-size weapons) and the d1, aka the single point of damage that sneaks in through a variety of different means, usually through wording like "damage may not be reduced below 1 hit point."
  • Important weapon data: Simple, Martial, or Exotic? Smashing, Bludgeoning, or Piercing? Damage, Critical multiplier, and Range.
  • Before Third edition introduced zero-level cantrips and orisons, spells went from level (power) one to level nine. Everyone knows that all the best spells are ninth level.
  • And I know this last one will be met with suspicion, when you look at my Compass Rose of Character Classes, there are nine distinct positions.
No doubt some of you are thinking, "This is all very well and good, Palette, but where are you going with this?" Which is a fair question, because I'm wondering that myself. I honestly don't know what my thesis is, other than "there sure are a lot of nines around here." Sometimes the answer comes to me as I write, but sadly not in this case.

Since I have to force a conclusion here, I will end with this: D&D has, from the beginning, been about numbers and symbolism. I think it would be neat to create a campaign world -- even an entire cosmology -- where the Law of Nine was apparent and important. However, I don't know how I'd do that without making it just a multiple of the Law of Three.

But this isn't just an excuse to pad my postcount with blogfodder. I actually am working on a campaign world, more for fun than anything else, and I'll try to work Nines into it somehow. If you have any ideas on how to implement this, please leave a comment below... I'd love to see what similarly deranged minds can come up with.

Now playing: Sisters of Mercy - Nine While Nine
via FoxyTunes

1 comment:

  1. My favorite D&D numbers thing, aside from the Rule of Threes in Planescape (yay, Planescape!) is in Eberron. Almost every significant arrangement of things, whether planes or moons or dwarf clans, has a dozen present plus one absent element. This is after the creator of the setting, Keith Baker -- the "baker's dozen" of 13.

    Michael Stackpole did things with nines in his "Age of Discovery" trilogy (which I find lends itself well to 3.5, especially with the Book of 9 Swords, and my friends have been urging me to finish my conversion already). Nine gods, with nine months named after them, and an empire that was broken apart into nine principalities, each with one of the gods as their patron. Nine heavens and nine hells. People tended to talk and think in nines: enneads instead of decades, nine recognized fighting styles, the apologetic phrase "nine thousand apologies," the belief that travelers should go in groups of nine, and that 81 is especially significant thanks to being nine nines. There's even a cycle of 729 years (9*9*9), called the "centenco" by one culture, that the most significant events have historically occurred upon. Nines are everywhere... and crap starts hitting the fan when a tenth element starts cropping up, in various significant ways.


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