Thursday, 7 April 2011

A-Z Challenge: F – Fluff

When it comes to RPG writing there’s a not-so fine line between purple prose and bone dry instruction manual writing. Same goes for an ingratiating buddy-buddy tone or lofty academic superiority. Lurking beyond all that is the ever-present spectre, the worry that you might commit the sin of ‘RPG’ fiction. Part of the problem is that even after twenty-odd years of the hobby’s existence it’s still not clear what RPG writing is. I mean it’s not fiction, but it’s not exactly straight up non-fiction either.

For me the best RPG writing explains the rules clearly and inspires at the same time. It sends my imagination over the edge, gets me excited about the setting, the possibilities of the game. Most important of all it makes me want to play.

In writing Redwald I’ve tried to hit a tone that fits the setting, and I’ve tried to seed enough setting flavour to inspire, without going over the top. I’ve also tried my best to avoid canon. As a GM I find nothing can ruin a setting for me quicker than canon, and obsessive encyclopedic detail. That’s why, as best as I can, when adding historical, political, social, and mythological detail to the setting I’ve tried to a) spread it over the rules in small bite-sized bits and b) sometimes make it contradictory, or obviously untrue. Most of all I’ve tried to only make it a suggested or implied background. To give the referee choices and suggestions rather than fact and setting canon. For example take this entry from the bestiary for the Werewulf . . .

Little is known about these beast men, some believe they are trapped in the twisted form that is half-man, half-beast, others that they can change at will from man to beast, or to man-beast. Ancient Saga’s tell of warriors who transform when in a berserk rage, and other tales claim that they live their lives as normal men, but for once a month when the moon is full and they change into beasts.

The bestiary entries are peppered with geographical information such as in the Niht Genga entry . . .

There are now only three tribes remaining. One tribe lives deep in the wild forest on the border of Eastlund Seaxe but their numbers are few and they have thirty warriors at most. Another tribe lives in the marshes of Southlund Seaxe and are on the brink of destruction with only ten or so warriors left. The most numerous tribe live under the mountains of Westlund Seaxe and even though their warriors number in the hundreds, between the Dragons and Dweorgas that they share the mountains with and the powerful Westlund Seax nearby, their fate is as precarious as their less numerous kin.

. . . that I hope give the referee’s information they might find handy (where the players are likely to encounter Niht Genga), but isn’t set in stone, isn’t canon. A referee can always throw in a lost tribe of Night Genga somewhere else.
Another way I’ve tried to do this is with the magic items. Each one is associated with a myth, story, or a bit of history that if a referee wants can be used as setting background, but if they don’t like the details outlined then by the very nature of them being folk tales and myths means they’re easy to ignore because everyone knows it’s just a fairy tale. Either way, just because it’s written in the book doesn’t mean that’s how it happened in the history of your Redwald.


  1. I agree about the pitfalls. Sometimes its hard to know when the right balance is struck--partially because the audience your aiming for is diverse and wants different things. Hell, I want different things from rpg books and different times. I greatly enjoy the highly detailed Tekumel Sourcebook, but I wouldn't want a 1/10 that detail in a Greyhawk book.

  2. Your City blog posts are, I think, a great example of doing it right. Just the pictures and titles/captions alone are often enough to spark an adventure idea. Combined with the semi-journalistic tone of the posts the whole thing gives a great feel and flavour without bogging down in detail.

  3. Thanks, Lee. It's actually something I occasionally agonize--probably more than I should over a blog post. :)