Niente mantelli!!!

Danilo Moretti, a fellow RPG blogger from Italy has asked my permission to translate some of my posts into Italian and post them onto his blogs. I accepted his request, of course, and you can now read the italian translation of my “No capes!” post at his blog bash-gdr.com, a blog dedicated to the italian version of the BASH! superheroes RPG.

His other blog, justplaywith.it is a blog discussing pen and paper RPG game design (dissertations, reviews of indie games etc.) and is focussed on an RPG (Fenomena) that he’ll tentatively publish via Inspired Device in 2009.

So, if you speak Italian (or are not afraid of using Google translation), please check his blogs out.

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.

No capes!

Capes, costumes, secret identities are the common tropes of the superhero genre. But there are people who think that adult men and women clad in skintight spandex suits with masks and fancy capes just look silly. Recent superhero movies have done away with skintight suits in most cases (and replaced them with leather suits for example) and the superhero cartoon “The Incredibles” gave us a lot of arguments why capes are just evil!

So, can you pull of a superhero campaign without some of the most common superhero tropes? Sure. Look at the superheroes TV show “Heroes“. There you have people with incredible powers but no capes, no costumes, no secret identities, no silly names. In my opinion the premise of “Heroes” could make a great base for a superhero campaign.

  • Origins
    Most (if not all) characters have the same origin. Let’s just go the X-Men/Heroes route and they all have some genetic mutations that give them super powers. Call them mutants or homo superior, whatever tickles your fancy. Another possible origin could be super powers that are caused by nano bots in the supers’ bloodstream (like in the computer game “Deus Ex”). Whatever it is it should be grounded in natural science. No magic, no aliens, no gods!
  • Secrecy
    Superpowers are real, there are heroes and villains, but the majority of the world has not taken notice of them. Most supers keep their powers secret in fear of being repressed by normals or not to become a guinea pig for ruthless scientists who want to find out the secret of their powers.
  • It’s the world as we know it
    You don’t need to make changes to the world as we know it. Everything is pretty much the same, there are just a few people starting to dicover their emerging powers. Perhaps add in a secret organization that controls supers (like the Company in “Heroes”)
  • Start small
    If I would start a Heroes-inspired campaign I would probably use Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Edition. A good starting power level would be around 5 or 6. During the campaign you of course can rise that level as it suits the story.
  • Grey is better than white
    As we’ve seen in Heroes, most “heroes” have their bad sides. No one is 100% perfect like most Golden Age heroes. The player characters should have some flaws too. Let even the villains have some redeeming qualities.
  • Not everyone is super
    A PL 5 or 6 campaign should allow you to add people without any super powers to the team. It could be someone like Hiro’s friend Ando or Dr. Suresh, the scientist, who is trying to find and help these special individuals.  
It could also be interesting to let the players create their characters without any powers first. So they start like normal humans and the GM grants them some powers during the first adventure. So the players have to find out what their powers are first.         

The character concept should always be viable without the powers. Nathan Petrelli from Heroes for example was (and still is)  a politician first before he even knew about his flying ability, Sylar was a watchmaker, Hiro a corporate employee, Clair Bennett is still going to school. Keep that in mind when you create characters. A superhero that is focused on his super powers alone without any other skills is not recommended for that kind of campaign.

I am still trying to convince my gaming group that we should do a superhero campaign. Perhaps if we go the “Heroes” way, I can win them over. 🙂
 
Note: The ChattyDM is hosting this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. The topic is “Super Heroes in RPGs” and this post is my contribution.

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