Thursday 14 April 2022


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Calendars aren't my strong suit, but if this is Editorial #52 then I make that a (nearly) full year of doing these things (just conveniently ignoring those weeks that I skipped). I was initially hesitant about having my regular content on a delayed release for non-patrons, but it seems to have worked quite well. The only downside is that I change my mind so quickly that often the ideas I'm sharing are out of date by the time they hit the public blog. 

So let's see if I can make it to 100. 

Ben Milton's Glatisant Newsletter got me onto reading about Blorb Principles for running an RPG. Whether or not this particular style of play suits you, this principle-setting is a useful tool for focusing in on what elements you really want to keep in mind when running or playing a game. Better still, a shared set of principles for the table avoids those issues where the game drastically misses the expectations of one or more players. 

So, yes. Set principles. I think it's worth doing.

But what about this Blorb thing? I'm not going to repeat everything that's been written already, but it largely fits with my own style of play. In particular there's one section that nicely distills something I've never quite managed to put into words before. 

Quoted here (but you should absolutely go and read the full post): 

Three Tiers of Truth

The DM is asked a question like, for example: what’s in the office?

a. Look in the prep. Maybe this room is in there and the text says what is canonically in there, and you’re all set.

b. Otherwise, maybe you have a rule (“default offices have a stapler, a typewriter, a visitor’s chair” etc) or mechanic (such as a random room content table). Use that.

c. If you don’t have that either, make something up. Try to make it something that won’t help or harm the players too much. It can be evocative and build mood, but shouldn’t be 20 angry beholders (or 20 free healing potions). Don’t feel bad: allowing DMs to start small is how we get new DMs. But, patch the hole, or this category of holes, for future sessions. Then over time your DMing will get more and more solid.

Always work in that order, top to bottom, only falling to a lower tier of truth when you have to.

A campaign that’s built on all T2 and T3 truths isn’t as engaging as one that has some solid T1 framework in there (in a cloud, bones of steel), but as you patch holes (as T3 instructs you to) feel free to patch them with mechanics and general solutions (i.e. T2 truths). That’s you building a DM’s toolbox.

Yeah, of course I like the bit that essentially fits into a 3-bullet procedure. I've lingered around the idea of the "impartial GM" before, but never really committed too hard to it. This feels like a good, practical structure to put that idea into practice. 

But of course I need to make some initialism or acronym in order to wedge this into my brain, so I'm remembering the three tiers of truth as:

1: Prep
2: Procedure
3: Patch

The first two should be pretty self-explanatory. 

1: If it's written in your notes then don't change it because of stuff the players have done ahead of encountering it. This goes back to the quantum ogre and beyond, so not much for me to add here. 

2: If it's not in your notes and you have a rule or roll somewhere that's fit for purpose then use that to generate a new truth. All part of the appeal of encounter rolls, reaction rolls, morale checks. The stuff that makes the world feel dynamic and real even outside of the GM's notes. I'll stress here that there's a huge difference between "making a world feel real" and "making a realistic world" but that's one for another day. 

3: This is the one that I want to give more thought to. That essential GMing skill of making shit up when the players do something you weren't prepared for. I've joked before that this is the most important skill to cultivate, but here it's presented in a slightly more specific way.

You're patching a hole. You're here because you didn't prep for it and you don't have a procedure for it. Now that's not innately bad but on reflection I agree with the Blorb principles that if a game has too much of this I start to lose interest. The curtain starts to fall and the world feels a little less like a living place to explore.

The original principles suggest that you change up your prep to that next time a similar situation arises you can draw on one of the higher tiers of truth, but I'm more interested in the immediate patching that occurs in the gameplay.

In the same way that "describing failure" is trickier and more important than "describing success", I'm starting to think that I want to give more thought to the specifics of how I patch those holes that exist outside of the prep and the procedures. The original post has some good advice (don't invent anything too helpful or too harmful) but how about treating it as an opportunity. Just because you're avoiding being especially impactful to the characters doesn't mean you can't have an impact on the players.

Each time I have to patch a hole mid-game I'm going to make something up that checks at least one of the following:

  • Evoke the flavour of the world - the intent being to further solidify their sense of the greater world they're exploring
  • Indulge their senses - shameless attempts at immersion, putting the players right in the minds, ears, and noses of the characters
  • Reinforce something that they've already learned about this place - I'm not 100% sold on this one, as there's a degree of quantum ogre about it, but I also feel like you can never give players too many reminders

So using the original example of the players searching an office that you hadn't planned for, we could patch in three different ways if we were running a game in Bastion:

  • Evoke: The office is a mess. Under the piles of paperwork you can just make out dozens of stacked in-trays and out-trays. The desk is littered with dried up rubber stamps and empty pill bottles. 
  • Indulge: You're hit with the heady smell of correction-fluid, a large bottle of the white chemical spilt on the faded carpet and paperwork scattered throughout. 
  • Reinforce: The office looks abandoned, furnishings thrown to the ground and hastily searched. Presumably whoever looted the other rooms also had a good rummage through here. 

Sure you can shoot for all three at once, but we don't need to apply that level of pressure here. Remember, it's just patching the hole. 



  1. Love this discussion, and I think it really clarifies the difference between the "impartial Referee" approach (which goes 1, 2, 3) favored in the OSR and the "GM as storyteller" approach (which goes 3, 1, 2) favored in the modern 5e zeitgeist. Good stuff.

    One tidbit I'll throw in there - this principle doesn't just apply to determining truth in the game world as relates to questions like "what is in this room?", it also applies to rulings. Unless you're playing AD&D, you tend to start out with a fairly barebones ruleset (aka tier 1) . As you go, you'll make ad hoc rulings (tier 3) for specific situations that aren't covered in the rules - and because you want to be consistent, you'll eventually write these down. Thus tier 3 rulings move to tier 2 rules of thumb, and maybe even to tier 1 house rules. Any GM who wants to be consistent in their rulings will eventually develop a list of house rules of some sort, IMO.