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Blorb Principles

Never Prep Plot

Blorb is a prep-focused playstyle, and prep is central, but never prep plot.

Do prep entities. Places, enemies, friends, items, rewards. Porte-Monstre-Trésor.

What happens should be emergent, not prewritten. Events should be things that might happen (from mechanics, dice rolls etc), not always will happen, or, worse, that the DM could choose to have happen.

No Paper after Seeing Rock

When you play Paper Scissor Stone it’s obviously cheating to act a little bit slowly and select paper after seeing rock. Both people need to select simultaneously.

If you secretly write down your selection in advance, you don’t have to be as precise with the timing. Your selection is committed long before you saw that rock.

Even to the point that it’s enough for one person to write down their selection, as long as they write it down before the other person announces their selection.

Blorb is based on this. That’s why you need to write “this room has 3d6 skeletons” before the player characters go there. No quantum keeps. You’ve got to let them make real choices.

Three Tiers of Truth

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

  1. Look in the prep. Maybe this room is in there and the text says what is canonically in there, and you’re all set.
  2. 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.
  3. If you don’t have that either, make something up. Try to make it something that won’t help or harm the player characters 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.

Wallpaper Salience

Things with points and sharp ends are extra important to have prepped. It’s OK to improvise things on the flavor layer like names, wallpaper, colors etc. This is why you see so much OSR stuff that’s just a terse list of enemies and their HD pretty much. That’s the least-improvisable part.

When I place a bandit captain in the prep, I make sure that her statblock, or a reference to it, is listed. If I have a good idea for her name, her clothes, some traits, that’s all fine to write down but the stats need to be carved into granite first thing.

Now, let’s say they find a potion that lets them teleport through green walls. All of a sudden you are going to need a wallpaper color table for rooms where your prep don’t already say what color the wallpaper is. But until they have such a potion, that is an area where you can have some slack in your prep.

A game where all the wallpaper is improvised isn’t going to be satisfyingly blorby. Again, some bones of steel are necessary in that cloud of description. So prep at least some wallpaper level stuff if you can. But you don’t need much.

Salience Time Zoom

Time passes at the speed necessary for us participants (players and DM) to answer the questions that arise in play. “I cast Detect Magic as a ritual, what do I find?” “I look in the desk drawer, what’s there?” “We leave the village and head towards the nearest big city, what happens?”

This isn’t “cutting” (I don’t like movie metaphors) but it’s, uh, fast-forwarding. Or slowing down, as needed. The DM shouldn’t try to pace the game dramatically, just keep the Q&A mindset when it comes to time. If they say “We wait for someone to arrive”, ask them for how long they would be willing to wait. So you know how many encounter checks, rations etc to charge.

Prepping is Different from Running

A good prepper might think of things like theme, fairness, balance, things being evocative etc but once you start running, all those thoughts need to go out the window.

A prepper might think long and hard how many wolves are appropriate in the forest for a good and fun game play experience or a nice interesting exploratory simmy experience but once you’re running, you’re committed. You can’t go around changing that stuff!

Things can happen in the game that are too boring, too unbalanced, too easy, too hard but that’s gonna have to be OK.

Blorb isn’t primarily gamist (it’s not balanced enough for that, some regions are way too easy and some way too hard) but it is well suited to gamism in some ways.

The game is the players vs the module (whether that’s homebrew or not). The DM is the referee, not the opponent.

The maker of the module needs to have a completely different mindset than the runner of the module.

It’s similar to puzzle makers. It’s easy to make an unsolvable puzzle, here’s one: 7E-&qz?-K>~mkW%s#sDumX~0gn%SmP=ZOCd7. That’s no fun. The idea for a puzzle maker is to make one that’s the sweetspot between too hard and too easy to be a challenge. That’s kind of the sweet spot for a module writer, too. Not necessarily challenge-based but, uh, interesting, meaningful, lots of toys to play with.

In the board game Zendo, once you’ve selected a rule and started adjudicating it, you are not allowed to change that rule until the round is over. Newer editions of Zendo have you mark your rule on a hidden card instead of keeping it in your head to safeguard against this game-breaking cheat.

Diegetical Mechanics

Having a blorby committed prep allows you to use, uh, let’s call it “diegetical mechanics”. Symbolic mechanics are the mechanics we all know and love like “Roll 15 or higher on a d20”, “You get 40 xp” etc.

Diegetic mechanics are things that are all about the characters action in the game world. The DM has access to notes that say things like: “If they pull the left lever, there will be cake. If they pull the right lever, they will die.” “Annie does not want to talk about Sarah.” “The cursed figurine is hidden under the t-shirts in the bedroom drawer.”

I’m not slagging games like Spirit of the Century that were made to be more “pick-up” and you don’t have to prep them because instead of the DM having written down where the figurine is, the players can make rolls to see if their characters find the figurine or not. That’s all fine. For them. This is blorb.

We have the gloracle (a glorious oracle of dice and prep), and, thanks to the Three Tiers of Truth principle and the Wallpaper Salience principle, we can easily sketch out a rich game world to explore. Modules and stuff really help too♥︎

With the gloracle, we can resolve these situations by talking it out, by having the players say “I tie a rope around the right lever but make sure to keep it slack until I am outside the room.” “Annie, how are you feeling? Do you want some water?” “I’m in the living room, trying to measure out the book case—does the depth of it seem to match up with the wall?”

In the 90s, and especially throughout the 00s and the 10s, there was this trend turning things that easily could’ve been diegetical mechanics into symbolic mechanics. Like the “scratch one use of Adventuring Gear™” mechanics in Dungeon World or the Usage Dice in The Black Hack. I’m not on board with that trend.

Not every genre is about meticulous inventory—you can run an office romantic drama without knowing exactly how many staplers are on every desk—but for situations when gear is important, it’s one of the few moments where what the player should be caring about matches with what the character should be caring about.

The same is true generally for diegetical mechanics. You get transported to the game world:

You get to be there, if only for a few moments, instead of pushing distant and numb “press skill marked A” buttons from 10000′ away.