Blades in the Dark - How Much Lore Should the GM Memorize?

I’m thinking about GMing some Blades in the Dark, but I’m a little intimidated by the sheer amount of setting lore. The main rulebook has tons of details about all the different regions, factions, and major players in the city.

How much of the ‘out of the box’ lore do GMs need to know ahead of time? Does it disrupt play much if the GM has to (for example) look up the existing relationship between, say, the Dimmer Sisters and the Greycoats?

Please let me know what you all thing and if you have any tips or tricks.


Not that much about the setting is predetermined, even the factions — in fact, the vast majority of the factions are nothing more than a name, with a few suggestive bits sprinkled through the text.

The only things you have to know are that the sun is broken, ghosts and demons exist, the city runs on demon blood, and there’s scary stuff outside of the lightning barrier than in.
Pretty much everything else is up to your discretion! Which I know sometimes doesn’t necessarily help, but I would just skim through the setting info, read what interests you, and then work with your players in-session to create the city and world you all want, which may be setting your game not even in Duskwall…!


I think the recommendation in the book is a good one. Somewhere it advises putting a handful of factions that interest you into play, then building from there. You can start with the Dimmer Sisters, Greycoats, and the Silver Nails, say, put them in a situation that’s a few days from cascading into catastrophe, then add factions every so often as new power vacuums appear, new markets open up, and the narrative warrants. That gives you time to build a sense of ‘your’ Doskvol, and what big-picture stuff the group might be interested in exploring.


Basically none of it.

Get your starting situation into play, and whatever factions are needed for that, and when you need more stuff, go to the book.


Short answer: as much as you’re comfortable with.

Longer answer: … it’s complicated.

Not terribly familiar with the setting of BitD, so my advice comes from a generic position: the GM is the final authority over everything in her game.

This means several things:

  1. if using a published setting, the GM needs to decide how much “official” material she will accept as canon.
  2. if the players are familiar with the published setting, the GM needs to decide how much she wants to contradict their preconceived ideas. If she chooses to change or omit something, she should let the players know that things are different. If the players make a false assumption ~ because they read it in a book but the GM changed the details ~ she should give them the benefit of the doubt and inform them of the change, in the moment, and allow them the chance to rethink their choices.
  3. if using a home brew setting ~ or if she significantly alters the published to the point where it’s practically a homemade setting ~ she should make certain the players understand the key differences. Anything that the characters would know that the players do not, she should assume the character knowledge takes precedence and reinforce that knowledge (if and when it’s apparent that the players are making decisions based on bad assumptions).

The challenge with referencing the books during the game is that it can kill momentum. If you have a chance to look up something ~ to validate your memory or verify a particular assumption ~ try to do it when the players are talking among themselves. When you’re actively engaging them, running a fight or a tense situation, is the less ideal time.

If you anticipate using a particular detail in a given session and you’re concerned about sticking to published canon ~ as opposed to making it up ~ try and give yourself enough time before the session to refresh your memory, take notes, and recreate a web of relevant details.


I gotta add, because I didn’t think there was much and now I’ve gotten a chance to look through the book again: there’re only about 20 pages of lore, which makes up an overview of the city primarily to answer why things are weird. A large chunk are “maps,” which aren’t actually maps but sketches of districts (meant to inspire).
The Factions section also is not a strict part of the lore. Again they’re just sketches to give you an idea of what a faction would want, where they might be, who might be involved…don’t feel overwhelmed by what’s there. Use whatever you’d like! There are very few things that have to be in the game!


You need to know exactly enough to ask the players a bunch of questions about what they think would be cool.


There are very few things that have to be in the game!

Basically, if something is referenced by a character ability (like ghosts), it should be in the game. Anything else is for you to pick and choose from, IMO.


Okay. Great. Thanks for reassuring me, everyone!

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Also the world of Blades in the Dark - anything published, could simply be misinformation put out there either by the party mentioned or another party. The only thing true is what your players see with their own eyes…and well…not even that.


And as with all setting aspects in any game, once you start playing, your group’s “instance” of Doskvol is your own. Change whatever you need to, whether by choice or because you didn’t memorize the chapter. It’s fine: if you’re able to maintain a game that feels like Doskvol, that’s what really matters.