Monday, January 10, 2011

What About the 40k Universe Lends Itself to the Word 'Fluff'?

Ah, the  fluff.  Or back story - even flavor text if you prefer descriptively better and less loaded words.  Its a part of almost all the games we play these days.  From Warmachine to freaking Candy Land and everything in between, there's this need we have to create stories (and I'm using the broadest possible definition) for our games - even if its the barest shred of an idea.  It's just one of those human things.  Even Chess has its own narrative what with the king being the objective and all.  In that same vein, you're deck of playing cards has a pack of royal persons in it too.

Especially Battle Chess
 Sure there are things like Jenga and checkers that seem to defy that trend, but they seem to be the exception to the rule. Then again, who the fuck cares about Jenga and checkers who aren't past the age of 12?  Actually, I have some fond memories of drunken Jenga but that's another set of stories (dear Penthouse Forum...) and you do get kings in checkers.  Anyway, the really memorable games tend to have stories on some level and it's not the kind of thing that you stop enjoying once you get past the Chutes and Ladders stage of your life.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that the universe that Warhammer 40k is set in is a very important part of why I collect and play - why we all collect and play.  And at this point in (real) history, there's never been a better time the story of the game.

When I was a kid, all the access I had to the fluff to get my sci-fi fix for the game I loved came from the rule books and the odd scrap of something in a WD issue.  All of this, of course, helped or hampered by the much more loosey-goosey release schedule of the old days.  Then the 3rd edition codices came out - but lets not dwell on those 50 page chunks of bullshit.

Now we have the Black Library, the RPG games produced by Fantasy Flight and even a few video games.

For the most part, this has been great for everyone - if you need a fluff fix, you have options that don't involve waiting around for a new rulebook or rereading that same two page story for the 100th time.

Now, I say for the most part because there is that tiny part of my brain that misses the kind of wide open magination that the old style fluff lent itself to.  There was this feeling of fragmented arcana surrounding all the stories.  Especially the history.  All the flavor text was extremely brief by today's standards and there was no Black Library cranking out full length novels.  Every bit of information you got about the setting had this feeling of incompleteness to it.  You never knew exactly what was going on.

However, people mature and tastes change.  As much fun as the mystery of the Horus Heresy from the 2nd edition books was, the kind of full information the Black Library series is presenting is very favorable trade off.  Perhaps its part of another aspect of being human - the need to know.

pew pew pew
Back in the day, the only explanation we got on why the Warmaster turned traitor was confined to a few paragraphs in whatever rule book we had.  Now we have a three novel series (and that's only for starters).  Sure, it strips away some of the mystery - but it gives us an opportunity for real drama and, dare I say, real literary analysis?

Ok, maybe that was too far.  But the point is, that the new fluff is much more robust and complex than it used to be and much more interesting as a result.  I like it and it fascinates the part of me still hanging on to that BA in history I never use.

Hmm, somewhere along the line I seemed to have lost my focus.  I really wanted to talk about a specific story but I got caught up in introduction land.  Well, there's always a next time.


  1. Hah! I demand a follow-up then! :p

    PS - I agree, without fluff it's dull, lifeless...and I wouldn't play. Also, I expected an article about the etymology of the word 'fluff' in a 40k context... :(

  2. I want to hear about drunken jenga.

  3. Fluff is definitely important to drawing us in to the hobby and keeping us there. But while novels are excellent at expanding the universe and answering questions people have after reading rule books, it really is the fluff that accompanies the rules that attracts people to specific armies in the first place.

    Also, there are plenty of armies not represented by the novels - which I get - why write novels for a small audience when you could be talking about awesome Space Marines, bro? But it means that fluff and rules do need to be included together to put things in context.

  4. What's that line from Pirates of the Caribbean again? "The world isn't any smaller... there's just less in it?"

    That's sort of how I feel about the GW background these days. I used to write fanfiction. I don't, any more, and that might be because I've grown up and don't need to vent spleen through poorly conceived prose epics any more, or it might be because there's less of that incompleteness that demands completion. Part of me feels that less is somehow more...

  5. I'm not a big fan of the Horus Heresy books. I preferred the mystery. A few books adding a little more detail maybe, but knowing what Captain Fidddlytusk had for breakfast M30.568.11.4 is a bit much.

    Once they finish up the 100th HH book they'll start in on Tales of the Lost Legions no doubt.