Campaign Fluff Tools

Tonight I had planned to write an Adventure Prep post for this week’s game, but I don’t have a lot of time and will do it Tuesday evening. Instead I’m whipping up a short post on some Fluffy tools I use to better create a sense of immersion in our games.

One of the walls of my basement gaming room features 2 very useful props.

1) A large Vinyl map of Ptolus, the city where the campaign is based. It’s available from Fiery Dragon Productions. Whenever I plan an adventure I use it to place the action and I refer to it during gaming sessions. Getting up and pointing to specific parts when needed adds a nice dimension and engages the players who crane their necks to have a look. It’s quite large (31” X 47”), looks great on my wall and it features a reference grid (A to O on the horizontal and 1 to 10 on the vertical) that allows to find key streets, buildings and landmarks.

2) A whiteboard where I write campaign specific info grouped in 3 categories (these info are also copied in our Google Group). Here’s a rundown of the three:

Points of interests: Buildings and neighborhoods where characters have interacted with key NPCs and organizations.

Plot Hooks:
Any or all NPCs or objects the players have interacted with that could be revisited (at their initiative or mine) in a future adventure. When players seem interested about something, I note it down and add it there.

Rumours and News: Rumours, hints and red herrings about the current and future games. Writing them are a blast because they act like a brainstorm for present and future adventure ideas.

As an example I thought I’d share what is written on the board this week (Although it’s technically readable if you click the image)

Points of Interests:

  • Keepers of the Veil: A militant Undead-Fighting organization
  • Pale Tower: A tower where most of the Celestials of Ptolus Live
  • Khatru Manor: A Militaristic Noble House, Cixi is part of that House
  • Iridithil’s House: The Elven Sanctuary of Ptolus, Homebase of Aravar and Lillie.
  • Knights of the Pale: A militant Demon-Fighting organization Cruguer would like to join.
  • House Dallimothan: A Dragon-friendly Noble House. Home of Plantagonox, my pet NPC.

Rumours and News:

  • Unkillable Troll in the Sewers
  • Killraven (crime Syndicate) dragon trains Ratmen Rogues
  • New Drug Competes with Shivel (another drug) in Warrens.
  • Fighting Seen on Spire (Foreshadowing of things to come)
  • House Wars: Khatru vs Rau (Following this, the prisonner was a House Rau noble, a Pirate Noble House)
  • Vladaam seen in Necropolis (The Vladaams are the über Evil Noble family)

Plot Hooks:

  • Troll in Sewer
  • “Rescued” Rau Noble
  • Lillie’s Spriggans
  • Joining the Knights of the Pale
  • Plantagonox’s missions.
  • Cixi’s Homeworld
  • Slavers under Ptolus?
  • Objects of note
  • Onyx Orb of the Trees
  • The Ratskull gem
  • The Demon’s horn in Amber

What kind of fluff tools do you use?


  1. Interesting that your whiteboard is in english.

  2. Yeah, Fancy that…I was going to say “I’ll translate it” when I realized it was in English…

  3. Hehe! Most of our group won’t make the difference whether it’s written in English or French.

    I mean we’ve read so many stuff in English that the language switch does not register anymore. I often tell my girlfriend “read this” and she looks at me and say “It’s in English”… Oops sorry, I did not noticed… 🙂

  4. Dave The Game says:

    And it’s guarded by a colossal red dragon!

    My game is just transitioning from being centralized to being more open, so the rumors/seeds are only starting to pop up now. It’s the second session in a row that I’ve asked where the party wants to head next, and if they don’t respond, I’m going to continue to choose an adventure for them…

  5. Nobody messes with my Whiteboard! (Except my 4 year old girl, who’s immune to Red Dragons and Daddy’s Casting of the Command spell apparently)

    Freeform rails-free adventures don’t work as well as their proponents on forums scream they do. The DO work when the DM is an improv god (or it’s about Star Wars IV… sorry Fang couldn’t resist).

    The type of players also influences the viability of such campaign models. Take-charge-storytellers could basically drive a game for quite a while.

    In my case (I’m no Improv god) What I do is use Rumours and Plot hooks during in-between-game discussions with the players. This helps me shape the adventures I prepare in the next session. I feel it’s an acceptable form of rail-roads since they are player approved.

  6. I know this thread is six months dead, but I’m reading the archives and I have a thought on this.

    Freeform rails-free adventures don’t work as well as their proponents on forums scream they do. The DO work when the DM is an improv god (or it’s about Star Wars IV… sorry Fang couldn’t resist).

    There are a few other situations where freeform rails free adventures work pretty well. I will mention that in all of the below, it can take a gamer who hasn’t played in a freeform style a game or two to get into what’s going on. F’rex if all they’ve ever done was played kick down the doors dungeon crawls, intraparty role playing takes some getting used to.
    1. Many systems where intraparty conflict is encouraged, where political maneuvering is a large part of the game play make for great free-form games. My primary example here is Amber. As a GM with experienced Amber players, it is possible to keep a handful of stock NPCs, a couple of nifty items/places, and a few scripted surprises to use when things slow down and just let the PCs go do what they will. In fact, without taking away their powers and stuff, it is very hard to run an Amber game on the rails. Generally if a player isn’t invested in what is currently happening, she’ll have her character go do something else. If characters have well defined but at least moderately cross-purposed goals in an Amber campaign, it is possible to run an excellent extended campaign with very minimal GM intervention. (The main rule book suggests running games without a GM at all. I’m not entirely comfortable with that, but I’ve had a lot of fun merely adjudicating player actions.

    2. Pretty much any game where you have a party where each member has some political power and some interests that don’t mesh perfectly with the other party members’ interests is ripe for freeform. A well run Scions game of Birthright from 2nd edition AD&D can be freeform 3 out of four sessions without any player grumbling, if they are the sort of players who would want to play in a Birthright campaign in the first place.

    3. Almost any game set in a well established media property that the majority of the players are familiar with/enjoy. You can get the same amount of familiarity with your own campaign settings after the players have been playing for a while. A Lankhmar game, or a Buffy game, or a Starwars game all have enough background to allow for freeform games if you are running with players who are also fans. One place where this is difficult to make work out well is when the media property is a monster of the week sort of structure. Sailor Moon Players get stuck if you don’t give them something specific to do each adventure.

  7. Damn Mike, you force me to re-read 6 month old stuff!

    I guess you are on an archive binge 🙂 I hope you enjoy.

    Amber ha come up a lot of time lately in Blog comments and in our group. Having never read Zelany’s work, I don’t want to tackle this game until I get to read the damn chronicles.

    But a dice less game scares me no end… I’m an Adv. D&D child that moved on to other crunchy games. While I’ve played whole games without breaking out into a fight (about twice in 20 years but both were great games) the concept of a free form RPG session is still alien to me…

  8. Yeah, I had actually started to read the archives several months ago, but I got distracted and am just now coming back to it.

    And yeah, I started playing D&D back around 1990 with the Rules Cyclopedia and the Mystara Gazateers, moved on to 2nd edition sometime around 1992-3, and didn’t really start playing other systems until 96 or 97.

    Amber allows for a great deal of combat, though it does tend to be one sided if neither player is particularly clever about it. Essentially unless you are tricky in some manner, you lose any given conflict unless your relevant stat is higher than that character’s.
    Amber doesn’t have to be freeform, it is just fairly easy to run as such. Reading the books does help, but I think my home group had at least one person run Amber before he had ever read the chronicles. (And the core mechanics translate fairly well to other settings as well. I played in a great one shot where we were all college students or professors, didn’t ever get to see our stat sheets, and one of the players ended up being Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap. (The last hour or so of the game was more traditionally Amberesque, but both parts were a blast. )
    The one thing that you need for an Amber game that a D&D game really seldom needs is multiple rooms. With 8 players, it was usually best to provide at least 3 semi-isolated rooms other than where the main game was running. Amber is as close to Larping as I ever do.