Newbie GM wrestling with Tier and reduced effect

Question from a newbie Blades GM: When your players are operating against another faction, How consistently do y’all reduce Effect for PC actions? Always? In certain circumstances? When don’t you?

For instance, using the “War in Crow’s Foot” starting situation: A T-0 crew will take on the T-2 Lampblacks or Red Sashes. Does this mean that all their actions against either faction will start at Limited, Zero, or negative effect? If you choose the Assassins option to take out Mylera’s contact at the Iruvian Consulate (T-3), then your best starting effect is Zero? I get that it’s hard to punch above your weight class, but this seems a bit extreme. Am I missing something? Do I just need to embrace it?


I try to set the “difficulty” when setting up a scene: If there’s T0 guards, it’s one guy with a crowbar. If there’s T3 guards there’s 5 well paid guards with guns and knives.
That way you don’t have to worry about it during the roll because it will come more naturally when considering position and effect.

For me it’s two-fold. First, like tubal above me mentions, simply portraying the resources a faction has goes a long way. There’s some guidelines for the scale of a gang based on the Tier of the parent faction in the magnitude table, but of course, keep in mind that someone like the Red Sashes doesn’t just have one gang of troops.

In addition though, i simply look at the fiction, and what makes sense. This is of course very easy to just say, so let’s give some examples.

Firing a tier 1 shitty street pistol against a tier 4 hull? probably reduced, if not no effect, but it doesn’t make the hull more dangerous, so it wouldn’t affect position.

Now you’re in a firefight with a line three-deep of imperial military, and all you have is your tier 2 plate-under-the-shirt? Less effect (more of them than you) AND a very bad position.

These also have the natural effect of giving the players clear dominant factors to change with set-up rolls and the like. Maybe make a roll to find a weak spot in that hull armor, acquire some armor-piercing rounds as an asset, etc.

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As I prep up for GMing my first game, I was wondering that as well.

A Lurk gets fine lockpicks, and so can pick locks a Tier above themselves with no reduced effect - sounds good, better Tier means better locks, for which you need better tools.

But a Cutter gets a fine weapon, so what does that mean? On a 1-on-1 fight, do you pit the player’s Crew’s Tier with the opposing faction’s Tier to determine effect, with the idea that Tier represents armor/weapon qualities and training, such that a Tier 0 Cutter could face an average Tier 1 guard on equal footing, but would face reduced effect against a Tier 2 one? And if not, and do something in the line of what Tubal suggests, how do you factor in the Cutter’s fine weapon?

@gnombient, I’ve had the same question for several session. After two years of playing, I came to this conclusion: I do not ever count quality/Tier as a dominant factor (see page 25) when I have a starting crew with Tier 0. So, you’re fighting against the Spirit Wardens (Tier IV)? No problem: probably you will have limited effect because of the Tier, but you will not constantly have zero effect. Note you can still try to balance the effect let’s say working on other factors, like attacking a Spirit Warden five against one.

I believe that Tier isn’t meant to be a strict mechanic slavishly applied to every roll. It’s a guideline to help define relative strength in NPC/PC interactions.

If a faction is Tier 4, that’s the overall rating for the faction and represents the best they’ve got - but it doesn’t mean that every piece of equipment or every person in the faction is that strong.

If some tier 1 PCs raid the mansion lair of a tier 3 faction, you should deal with the tier mechanic based on your honest depiction of the world. Is every lock in the house the best they can get? Probably not. Maybe the front door lock is Tier 3 but all the interior locks are not worth considering – except the safe and the door to the master bedroom.
You can probably ignore Tier as a factor in rolls involving the servants (and maybe even against the faction’s leader that you surprise in his dressing gown), but you probably want to use it when the elite bodyguards, alerted by his cries, burst into the room. Especially if they brought their hull.

A lot of playbooks have fine gear and special abilities that enhance their effective tier rating in certain situations. When the tough parts of the story show up, with obstacles where you feel Tier matters, you can guide players through using those items, pushing for effect, using set-up actions, and finding in-story means to level the playing field.

I think the biggest thing to remember is that this stuff isn’t about hard math. It’s about reflecting the story through the mechanics.

That said, I suppose part of figuring out your story and your world is working out how much and how often you and your players believe Tier makes a difference.


Hey all, thanks for your responses. It’s encouraging to see that others have grappled with the same thing, and the general fiction-first range of replies have been very helpful.

For what it’s worth: my players (also new to Blades) are a crew of Shadows (Leech, Lurk, Hound) who are planning to steal the stolen leviathan hunter’s map book from the Wraiths (p. 297). Your responses give me plenty of food for thought as I contemplate the Wraiths’ defenses.

Thanks again!

I’m gonna give a very non-canonical answer here.

I’ve always thought Tier is a bad abstraction and deos not fulfill its purpose. Summing up scale, money (and Equipment quality), training in only one number is good for listing the factions in a table, but it poses (at least for me) more practical problems than it gives solutions.

So I got rid of it. Or rather, I analyse the description of a faction I use and give it two numbers, each from 0 to 3, so the addition gives a 0 to 6 number, as for Tier (but the result would not always be the same number as the original Tier). Those numbers are: Size and Quality (which derives from how rich the faction is)m which are what is important in play.
Size: Small gang, medium gang, big gang, huge gang
Quality : Poor, normal, Fine, Exceptionnal. It’s more realistic than having seven level of quality in the same setting.

So say, the Red Sashes have Fine Swords and Training but they go by small teams, so that’s why they are Tier II (0+2). Their bosses will be Sword Masters, so Exceptionnal, but it does not raise the whole faction. While the Skovland refugees can assemble mobs (huge), but with only Poor Equipment, so they are 3+0= Tier III (some mob leaders will have normal or even fine Equipment). The Imperial army can field whole battalions (huge) and has the best weapons, so 3+3=VI, good, but does not when three drunken soldiers get into a bar fight, even with their standard regulation sword (normal), of course they are not so powerful.

By dividing Tier into playable concepts, it makes it easier to manage.

The PCs are Tier 0 at the beginning, even if they have one fine piece of equipment or two. So they don’t really go by the numbers I described, but hey, they are the fragging heroes. When you play, the four levels of size and quality is more than enough to do a realistic fiction, more in fact than the unrealistic Tier abstraction.


Tier may directly improve Quality, but it it doesn’t directly effect the other two factors: Scale and Potency. Tier 0 crews can usually get an edge by using group actions and setups to up their effect. Earning Potency can often be done with good fiction or taking time to execute a plan:

A Hound might get potency by shooting a Salamander’s gas canister
A Leech’s drug could possibly have potency when spiked into Lyssa’s food
A Spider could negotiate with potency when using evidence acquired from their network