Friday 4 April 2014

Designing a setting: part 2 - Fluff

Finally making my way back to the series I started on the way to Seattle - designing a setting. Several people made very useful comments on the introductory post, and I'll pick up on those in the inevitable articles that happen after the one's I've planned :D

Not taking things in quite the order I listed them at the start, we'll begin with:

Fluff. Fluff is that stuff that isn't essential to your setting in terms of rules, army lists etc. The peripheral writing, the backstory, the art, you name it...You can play in your setting without it...

...well, actually you can't.

Ok. You can. But all you're doing at that point is pitting two sets of statted up miniatures against each other and having a battle.

The best settings, the ones that draw you in, are the ones where the fluff grabs you and draws you in, inspires you. It's the stuff that gets you immersed in the setting, wanting to be a part of it.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Like or loathe the business practices behind it, the Warhammer 40K universe absolutely rolls in fluff on an epic (see what I did there? :D) scale. It might not be your cup of tea, but I guarantee you that it wouldn't sell half as well if people didn't like the backstory.

On a more personal note - I adore the pre- and early Clans setting of Battletech, and all its history. Two particular bits of its story grabbed me - one was the character of "Snow Fire" (after which one of my character's[1] 'Mech's got named), the other the mercenary unit the 12th Vegan Rangers. The latter scored at least in part because it wasn't as well-fleshed out as the more 'famous' units in terms of having books written about it (See? whole books! Fluff! And THEN some!), while having enough tantalising hints dropped to draw me (and a number of other players) in and want to create more in the setting. (We'll come on to sub-creation and open-endedness later in the series.)

And a question: those of you who read this blog and play or intend to play Dux Brit. How much have Andy and my campaign narratives helped to draw you in? (Dux Brit has some other features, setting and campaign wise, that we'll discuss later, but for now... :D)

[1] I'm 20 years the better writer since that story was written. Be gentle :D


  1. "12th Vegan Rangers. The latter scored at least in part because it wasn't as well-fleshed out"

    Was that deliberate Mike? :)

    I agree that fluff can help with providing a base for players to build on for fantasy/SF gaming (or imaginations) which makes it easier to get into

  2. I wholeheartedly agree! Fluff is the inspiration for all my projects. My favorites that evolved from fluff are my scout heavy Crimson Fists from 40k and my latest the Alien Legion for use in 5150. I chose 5150 in part because of Blade Runner and 5th Element and how 5150 New Beginings seems to be the best engine to use. Without the fluff it would only be lasers and flying cars.
    I'd add that LOTR and Star Wars are so loved by fans because JRR and Lucas put so much history and backstory into them, that both worlds breathe and give a perfect sandbox to explore and build upon.

  3. +1 here for 'Vegan' and 'not as well fleshed-out' :-D Well spotted Tamsin!

    Yes, I'm another fan of fluff, you can never have too much. If it's a toss-up between reading an AAR with "Cpl Jones and First section advanced hesitantly towards the German position" or "Bill rolled a two for movement and moved his figures forward", there isn't much contest for me.

    I was another Battletech player back in the day and while the setting was a bit 'old' in its style, it was well thought out and well-supported by novels etc, which kept it very much 'real'. Added to that, was that depending on who was writing the books, you often got opposite perspectives of the same characters/factions.

    Same with Warhammer and 40k, you really can't deny that the back story there was well done and deep, even if it did borrow a lot from Tolkein and others for its 'base'.

  4. A recent example for me: I was thinking about the cancelled CVA-01, TSR-2, and other victims of government attitudes and budget crunches of the 1960s. I then thought it might be fun to wargame with them. But building CVA-01 means you also get the Hawker Siddeley AEW aircraft that was being designed to go with it, and a slightly different Type 82, and if you have the money to build those you're probably fighting different people… and three and a half thousand words later I have the beginnings of a reasonably complex alternate history, coming soon to my blog.

    BattleTech's a great example of a simple and, let's face it, not entirely great game made immersive and enchanting by fluff.

  5. Mobile Frame Zero. On the one hand, it's wargaming with Lego battlemechs and what's not to like about that. But a large part of what drew me into the game is the amount of thought and effort that went into the accompanying fluff. Well worth checking out, especially since the rules (and fluff) are available for free.


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