East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Writing fluff


Air_FluffMore talking aloud with myself, in English, about my current project.
In roleplaying games, “Fluff” is the name usually given to the gaming material that describes the setting – as opposed to the “Crunch“, the rules and mechanics of the thing.

Fluff is what I like in games – and what I normally write in gaming books.
After all, to me, roleplaying games is about living adventures in strange and new worlds – rules are for the weak.

Right now, in the early phases of my new work, I’m trying to decide how to present the fluff in my book.

phb1stedThe standard way of going about writing a roleplaying games handbook is to present all the facts (the fluff) and the dynamics (the crunch) in a clear, matter-of-fact language, arranging subjects and topics in a given hierarchy.
Stuff like Player Handbook/Game Master Handbook/Monster Catalog usually adopts this style.
the language is textbook-clear, there’s nothing fancy except occasional character quotes, or other bits of the world that slip in.

Functionality and clarity are paramount.
Some handbooks read like engineering manuals.
To soften the impact, often this sort of handbook includes some fiction, serving both as mood-setting text and as a way to make the approach less dry.

Castle Falkenstein (role-playing game)

Castle Falkenstein (role-playing game) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Probably because I’m a fluff kind of guy, I always loved the way the old Shadowrun handbooks were presented – 100 solid pages of world description, mostly in-character, and through an assortment of “real” documents – including comments posted on newsgroups, forum discussions, bits of news etc.
The crunch came at the end, in a 25-pages appendix.
Similar books were published for Legend of Five Rings, Castle Falkenstein (entirely written as an in-character diary) and many other games.

In this case, the structure of the book itself is subordinated to the approach – the book has two parts, the two parts are written in different styles.


Deadlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another approach is the one used, for instance, in Deadlands – where in-character texts (the Tombstone Epitaph articles, for instance) is but a small part of the handbook, but the whole text has a style and language that is in-tune with the general tone of the setting.
It’s a weird western, it reads like it was written by John Wayne.
This is not the standard format of Savage Worlds games, but it’s not unheard of either.

Both methods are good, in my opinion, because they give the reader (player or game master) a “deep” impression for the setting – the in-character, stats-free pages drag the reader inside the world, the tone and language help the reader get the atmosphere of the setting.

On the downside, the writing has to be very crisp – the reader must have fun reading the text, must feel like he was inside the gaming world, and yet he must be able to get all the important bits, must be able to retrieve important information easily, must get a clear idea of what’s going on.
It’s not easy.

Now I don’t plan to write a 100.000-words volume all in the style of the setting – but I will try and use a number of tricks to present the fluff in a fun, intriguing mode.
I’ll forge documents, make-up learned essays, concoct false letters – I’ll create a scrapbook of sorts.
For the rest, I’ll be as straightforward and plain as possible.il_340x270.619673119_hk3l
This will be lots of work, but – hopefully – fun.

And yes, before you ask – I dream of a special edition that will look like a field notebook filed with scrap paper and clippings.
Maybe with one of those great Midori covers.
Ah, wishful thinking.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

3 thoughts on “Writing fluff

  1. Personally I prefer the first way you mentioned and Shadowrun is one of the best examples you can highlight: a perfect balance between the function (to give informations of the system/rules to the player/master) and the deep involvement (quotes on Jackpoints, newspaper pages…simple things which make the wolrd alive without the “engineering manual” syndrome :D).

    On the other hand, I found, in the handbooks scenery, very few good examples of the second one. Other than for Deadlands, for what system could I find something similar?

    Last but not least:

    “I’ll forge documents, make-up learned essays, concoct false letters – I’ll create a scrapbook of sorts.”

    Follow that way, definitely. It will be intriguing. Good luck!


    • System that mix in-character text and straightforward game rules, while keeping their setting flavor throughout – I’d suggest the Aeonverse series by White Wolf (Trinity, Aberrant and especially Adventure). Also, mentioning Adventure, a lot of games in the pulp genre seem to go for that approach – Hollow Earth Expeditions is a fine example.
      Also, the old Chill probably came close to this sort of approach – which is somewhat popular with horror games.
      This just off the top of my head.


  2. Pingback: Let’s begin | The GreyWorld Blog

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