Should I share my guide rules with my players?

Hi, this is my first post on the forum!
I’m GMing my first game, and I wanted some advice on what I should share with my players and what I should hold back. We’ve done character and crew creation, and one short character-building scene, but we’ve not gotten into much of the actual play. I’ve done a fair amount of prep work, mostly stocking up on NPCs and narrative hooks, sketching out faction and NPC connections, pre-writing some flavour text, and especially laying foundations for the world and themes for me to jump off from during play. This last one is what I’m asking about; obviously my players will encounter NPCs and factions, but I don’t know whether I should explicitly share with them my “tenets”, the “rules” I’ve made to inform and guide my in-the-moment GMing.

As an example, I was having some trouble with the magic system. I really floundered with the idea of it; unlike the criminal world, the class system, the political tensions, etc., I didn’t find it intuitive enough for it to coalesce into anything I could get a decent grasp on and build off of. I didn’t want to make up fake physics rules for an imaginary world though, so, instead, I made some thematic tenets that would clarify what was relevant for me to ask when magic came up. For instance, one of them is “fear has power, no matter on which side of it you stand”, so if I needed to come up with a ritual off the cuff, I might look at how fear informs the practitioner and/or their target:
this ritual

  • hides a person from your enemies’ view
    it requires
    *three drops of a loved one’s blood (a loss the caster fears),
    *your own tears brought forth in joy (what bolsters the caster and/or invokes their enemies’ fear),
    *and a vial of ghost oil (anchors to mechanics, but keeps to themes of hiding and risk)

I have a dozen or so of these tenets, some to guide how I convey the world, some to guide how I navigate play, but all imperatives impacting the game. So my question is: should I share these with my players? Will that help them to anchor their play in a shared fiction, or will it add confusion and obligation that slows things down and makes the game less fun? Will knowing what I’m working off of clarify what I’m trying to convey, or will it ruin the suspense/surprise of not knowing what the GM is going to do next?

I feel inclined to share most of them, since I want to be very explicit and transparent about why I’m doing what I’m doing and making the calls I’m making, but I also don’t want them to be locked into stuff I came up with, alone, before we started. Y’know, like, sure, I’m putting up streamers and balloons, but the party comes into being when the guests step through the door.

(Also, since at least one of my players probably uses this forum and might see this: shhh, GM-forum-posters confidentiality, no tattling)

(tbc, that’s a joke, it’s fine if you see this)

I’d say share when it’s relevant. I.e. if one character is a Whisper or would have encountered it.
Or if the players ask and it really matters to them to know.
You could also try the question method: this is what I think - what do you think is really going on?

Hi and welcome!

In Blade in the Dark, rituals are not “created of the cuff”. You have to source them, then learn them, and finally only, perform them. The whole process is described, on page 222, with listed questions that show that you have to be open on the requirements with your players.

Player asks: “What must I do to perform the ritual, and what is its price?”
GM answers.


GM asks: “What new belief or fear does knowledge of this ritual and its
attendant occult forces instill in you?” Player answers.

There’s more, but that’s the philosophy: when any player wants to create a ritual, there is an open conversation. But the whole process takes time, the ritual is sourced/created in downtime.

Thanks, Phil! I think I’ll take this advice; I’ll share ideas as-needed and in areas with significant player contribution. I’ve been reticent to ask my players to give input on “big” questions, like “How does magic work?” or “What’s the real power behind these events?” because I don’t want to put them on the spot, but I’m going to try to work up to that. I want to get more comfortable passing the reins.

Thank you for this clarification! I feel pretty comfortable with the rules for creating rituals already, though. By “off the cuff” I here mean “not prepared ahead of the session”. The example is more intended to demonstrate how I employ my tenets in building and maintaining thematic consistency of the fictional world within the narrative than as a literal account of play. The meat of the issue is that rituals are, like many areas of the game, meant to be created collaboratively by the players and GM together. It could benefit from my players and I working from the same conceptual starting point, but it could also benefit from my meta-guides remaining “behind the scenes”, as it were. That’s the decision I’m contemplating at the moment.

It sounds to me like you’re on the right track.

I think sharing the things you’re excited about, especially deep principles you’d like the world to operate from, is a great idea. It lets your players know what you’re hoping to achieve, and what pegs exist that they can hang their own ideas from.

I’ve found that Blades runs better when I approach this sort of thing by bringing it to the table as an idea not yet set in stone. “Hey - I had this idea, and I’m excited about it, and I’m proposing it as part of our Duskvol.” Your players can accept it, offer amendments, or take it and run on to make something new and exciting with you right then and there. It gives everyone a sense of ownership and authorial permission. Also, if you have an as-yet-unspoken tenet, and someone throws an awesome idea in the ring that contradicts it, be prepared to go with the new idea!

The more your players know, the more fun they’ll have getting deeply involved in the world. If they have no clue that the Spirit wardens are hunting for their base, they’ll just bumble along doing whatever, but if you give them rumors or warnings from friends and put a “Wardens find your lair” clock on the table, they’re going to want to deal with that faction and their fiction.

There’s a John Harper actual play video out there where he says something like, “The best part of having a secret is revealing it, so I’m just going to tell you this…” which I think is very much the philosophy he intended for Blades.

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"The best part of having a secret is revealing it, so I’m just going to tell you this…”

Oh, I like that a lot! Also, “pegs that they can hang their own ideas from” is a great way to conceptualise it, that might be a new tenet. Being ready to riff with new ideas is the area I think I’m weakest in, I get very nervous when my players do something I’m not expecting. That’s why I’m trying to rein in my preparatory worldbuilding, so I’m glad this seems to be heading in the right direction.

Just to give a slightly opposing view - I had similar tenets for my longest running game (3 years, 50+ scores). And I kept them secret from the players until a post game Ask Me Anything session.

So, for example, one was “if the characters find magical leather, 50/50 it has a Skov tattoo on it”. I had 2/3 of the crew playing Skovs and one of my main themes was quite how much the Akerosi empire crapped on them. So the actuality wasn’t all leather - it wasn’t shoes and coats for example - but when they went on a train to Iruvia, there were human skin leather curtains protecting the carriages from the Deathlands.

The first time they found a tattoo it was an “ewww” moment. The second and third it was “those Akerosi b*stards”. The tenth time it was “they’ve industrialised this process”.

If I’d told them that tenet in advance it wouldn’t have been half as powerful.

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