Fluff and crunch

A lot of posts on the network are about fluff vs. crunch or at least use those words a lot. Even I have used both fluff and crunch several times in this blog. There are people out there who think fluff is less important than crunch and when they buy a book that contains way more fluff than crunch they feel ripped off.

So, what are fluff and crunch anyway?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictonary, fluff is one of the following:

  1. down (soft feathers)
  2. something fluffy
  3. something inconsequential
  4. blunder; especially: an actor’s lapse of memory
So, what does has the dictonary to say about crunch?
  1. an act of crunching
  2. a sound made by crunching
  3. a tight or critical situation: as a: a critical point in the buildup of pressure between opposing elements : showdown b: a severe economic squeeze (as on credit) c: shortage <an energy crunch>
  4. a conditioning exercise performed from a supine position by raising and lowering the upper torso without reaching a sitting position
Ok, that doesn’t really help us how both words are used in the roleplaying games context. Fluff usually means, the background, setting, flavor texts. Crunch are the rules, tables, that stuff. And usually people tend to think that fluff is just something you can more easily live without. Sorry, but I have to tell you that these people are wrong.
Why can’t we do away with fluff?
Because fluff is what makes the game. Roleplaying games are games of storytelling and make-believe. In a perfect world we wouldn’t need any rules, our imagination alone would be sufficient. BUT there need to be some rules to make the game more interesting and reduce arguments to the minimum. When children play “indians and cowboys” or something like that they run around shooting each other with their toy guns or their fingers and you often can listen to dialogs like that:
Kid #1: “Bam! Bam! You’re dead! I shot you!”
Kid #2: “No, I am not, you missed me”
Kid #1: “No, I shot you, so you have to lie down and stop moving!”
Kid #2: “I won’t!”
Kid #1: “You will!”
This can go on for a long time and usually it ends in a more physical confrontation that leads to crying and an abrupt end of the game. Ok, I never have witnessed DM and players starting a fist fight over a situation in a gaming session, but given that example you probably know what rules are for. It limits the players and the DM but helps to run the game and dice rolls for example add additional suspense. You never know if you succeed in your actions. But is this why rules (aka crunch) are more important? No, they are necessary but without the fluff it’s all meaningless.
Without the fluff all that remains are the rules. And the rules are in most games 80% combat-related. So you turn roleplaying into wargaming. In my opinion fluff is what makes the game interesting.  

For a long time I couldn’t think of anything that could make someone think fluff is a waste of paper. But if you made your first steps into roleplaying from wargaming or you started with older edition of D&D this probably makes some sense. D&D core books are usually almost fully devoid of fluff and the rules were cleary evolved from wargaming. Early players and DMs were probably to create the fluffy part of gaming themselves.

More modern roleplaying games tend to be more light on the rules (less crunch) and there’s a lot of background and flavor texts (aka fluff). Just look at the White Wolf games. So it’s probably more a question of how you were introduced into the hobby when the like or dislike of fluff is concerned. What do you guys think? Am I completely off track? Is fluff something inconsequential after all? Please leave your comments below.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

2 thoughts on “Fluff and crunch”

  1. I think you meant that modern RPGs have more background and flavor text (aka FLUFF).

    I’m a fluff addict. I think any game can be run on fluff alone and my preference for game design is design before development, which means the fluffy concept comes first and then figure out how to make it work mechanically.

    Unlike crunch, fluff can be carried over to other systems and you can surprised how they can work differently too even though it’s still the same concept.

    My opinions are probably biased but Fluff FTW!

    Questing GMs last blog post..Menacing the Icy Spires

  2. Oops, I corrected that error. Thanks for letting me know. I just should not type down my posts without enough caffeine in my veins… 😉
    I think fluff is just great. 😀

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