My unblorby love of the Three Tiers of Truth

edited July 2019 in Story Games
I think Sandra's Three Tiers of Truth™ are a nice systemization of a possible (and quite wide-spread though not necessarily rigorously follwed) approach to running a game, specifically regarding what to do when in doubt as a GM, e.g. about the contents of a treasure chest:

"1. Is there an answer in the prep? (I.e. what does the prep say is in that treasure chest?). If undefined, fall down to tier two:
2. Is there an answer in the rules? (I.e. do you have a random treasure chest content table?) If undefined, fall down to tier three:
3. Make it up. (Prefer boring/empty/nothing.) Forgive yourself, but try to patch the hole for future sessions by creating a new rule, table, or be better at creating specific content."

(Source: An Invitation for 2097, Jeph, Thanuir...)

I concur with the hierarchical structure regarding what to do first, second, and last, but I personally value each tier equally, deviating from blorb play which ranks the tiers from I (most desirable) to III (least desirable).

I love each Tier.

Tier I is awesome because it provides a robust framework for the rest of the game and some prep just offers unparalleled quality: Detailed maps and props that took me or some creative genius on the net hours to make, outstanding modules brimming with great ideas, my own prep perfectly encapsulating my own tastes and creativity, you name it! I love it when the work has already been done and/or quality prep comes into play!

Tier II is fantastic because it surprises me as a GM: Random wilderness encounters that lead to TPKs, treasure so unexpectedly rich that cashing in becomes its own challenge, reaction rolls which make for strange allies. I love it when the game throws out curveballs and I wouldn't have half the fun running the game without them!

Tier III is wonderful because it challenges me as a GM and forces me and my homebrew game to grow! I get to impartially judge complex situations, flex my creative muscle, make rulings which make everyone at the table nod, and design and refine my rules. I love it when a good on-the-spot ruling affirms our values and I like it when the game creates new mechanical needs I can then design for.

It's with Tier III that I deviate the most from Sandra's concept because I do not "prefer boring/empty/nothing" so as to minimize the impact of having to make things up. Impartiality is crucial, but beyond that I am happy to get creative, and "good enough" works for me during the game (and can be refined later, if desired):

I want my rulings to make sense to the players (e.g. by falling back on established things) and I want probabilites, if I use them, to be in the right ballpark (1-in-6 vs. 1-in-20 etc.). Above all, I want to be an impartial judge -- and rulings give me a chance to demonstrate my approach to GMing and thereby affirm and teach our values.

I think The Three Tiers of Truth are an inspiring and refreshingly radical position (born of illusionist trauma which I've been through myself) and I applaud their single-minded focus and aesthetic purity. I would play in such a game in a heartbeat but I prefer to run my own games a bit differently, i.e. less blorbily, but I do think there is plenty of common ground.

Best wishes,

[Edited to cross-out some stuff at the beginning.]


  • Safe & Boring means as non-salient as possible, not as unentertaining as possible. The reason is that we want to keep prep priorities separate from running priorities.
    Also can't say that I'm stoked about tearing the blorb apart. My dream is for blorby play to be a clear and reliable shorthand so that people can find good DMs. I wish I could but it's too late
  • The thing I was trying to get at in this thread is that you can have tremendous amounts of fun with Tier-3 wallpaper. But maybe that in order to have that kind of fun with it, it's also necessary to hold it back from becoming salient, because otherwise it starts to overrun the facts established by Tiers 1 and 2.
  • Yes, my "improvising brain" will run over! I'll daydream out loud instead of following procedure!
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