I Hate Fluff

The concept of “fluff” as it is applied to TTRPG’s is one of those unspoken premises that gets tossed around without any conversation. I don’t use the term because I reject the premise. The premise being that the “crunch” is where the game is at. The “fluff” is there to provide context or thematic elements but doesn’t matter very much in the overall experience of the game.

This premise is false as it relates to TTRPG. If you are running, designing a game where the mechanisms are all that matter and the narrative elements are interchangeable with other narrative elements then you are playing a board game, a miniatures skirmish/war game a card game or some hybrid of those things. You are not playing a role playing game.

The fundamental element of a role playing game is that you are asking a question like, “What would it feel like to live in a world where dragons and wizards are real?” The rules serve the question. If your game produces the same emotional impact when the question changes to, “What would it feel like to live in a dystopian future where androids, cyborgs were real and corporations annexed government. Instead of living in Cleveland, we lived in the Progressive Insurance Development Zone.” If your game in Faerun has the same emotional experience as your game in dystopian Cleveland then that is not a RPG, or at least not a very good one.

The mechanisms of an RPG are important. Hugely important. They help to set boundaries and resolve conflict. When they are based on and informed by the narrative elements of the game, help to build and release emotional tension. The experience of a role playing game requires playing a role in a fictional setting with fictional enemies and obstacles. If the mechanisms do not serve the fiction then you have a bad game.

In the parlance of our times: The fluff determines what crunch you deploy to resolve the conflict in the game. The fluff is what makes it a role playing game and not just a game.

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