Can I Get a Fluffer? …Part II

The etymology of “fluffing” comes from the terms “crunch” and “fluff,” used to describe the difference between rules and flavor. To fluff something is simply to change its description without altering the game mechanics; altering the game mechanics tends to be known as house ruling.

Part I was a call for players to get creative with their powers; after all, nothing says a wizard’s fireball has to look like a ball of fire at all. If a character wants a giant, fiery phoenix to descend from the sky and immolate his foes, then so be it.

When I first wrote this article in 2010, it was the best example of fluffing I could give at the time. Since then, I have written some much better examples of fluffing. If interested, please see the first three entries of a series of articles entitled Redesigning Encounters: Ambush!, A Shocking Revelation, and Fallen Devil. Out of the three, my personal favorite is Fallen Devil.

Fluffing isn’t just for players, though: DMs can get a lot of mileage out of fluffing monsters, templates, magic items—you name it. Page 175 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide discusses this concept as Cosmetic Changes:

The characters are delving into the jungle-covered ruins of an ancient city now haunted by the yuan-ti. There they discover strange arboreal humanoids with long arms that swoop into battle on the backs of giant wasps. What are these mysterious beings? This technique is useful for keeping players on their toes even when they know the Monster Manual backward and forward. Use the statistics of a given monster but completely alter its appearance when you describe it to the players. You can make minor changes to its powers as well, altering damage types or changing details of weapons (lashing tentacles become a whipping tail, for example).

Part Art, Part Skill

For this example, let’s say I need a human necromancer to blow the lid off an amazing battle at the end of this week’s session. Without a D&D Insider account, it would be difficult and time consuming to pour through every 4th Edition book I own. Instead, I decide to adjust an existing monster. I know I’d like the necromancer to be 7th level, so I pop open the Monster Manual and take a look at all the 7th-level creatures listed on page 285. There are more than a few, all divided by role. A necromancer is a wizard with death and undead-themed spells, and wizards are usually controllers. Checking the list, I see three controllers listed: Carrion Crawler, Howling Hag, and Shadar-Kai Witch.

At first glance, none of the monsters listed seem to be death or necromancy-looking, but I’m sure any of them would work for our purposes. I randomly choose one: the Shadar-Kai Witch. A quick read-through of the description on page 231 tells me I chose wisely: she has three necrotic powers.

Starting at the top, I replace the name “Shadar-Kai Witch” with the name of my necromancer bad guy: Malledwain the Wretched. The statistic block lists the witch’s origin as a native to the Shadowfell; that doesn’t work for my wizard, so I remove “shadow” and leave Malledwain as a plain, old medium humanoid.

Since we’re just fluffing, none of the stats are going to be changed; I move down to the first power: blackfire touch. When fluffing a monster, it’s important to ignore power names and just look at what they do. In this case, blackfire touch is a standard melee attack that does some fire and some necrotic damage. When I think of death, I think of cold, so I change the fire descriptor to cold; altering one element to another in no way adjusts the creature’s power level. The name blackfire touch no longer seems appropriate, so I change it to touch of death: the pallid hands of Malledwain the Wretched brings with them the unearthly cold of the grave. As a side note, I might even describe Malledwain as dealing this damage with a bonewood staff decorated with carvings of screaming skulls and tortured innocents.

The next power is called beshadowed mind. It’s a ranged necrotic attack, which fits perfectly with the theme so far. Reading further down, I see it’s versus Will and cripples the target’s sight to just a few squares. Although I think the power’s name is probably good enough to leave as is, I decide to change it anyway. The problem is, I’m drawing a blank for ideas! I quickly turn to my D&D collection and yank a few books off the shelves from previous editions. One of the books, 3rd Edition’s Spell Compendium, has spells listed by school. I quickly scan the list and see the following under Necromancy: shroud of undeath. Sounds like a winner! Not only is the name cooler, but it evokes a new image for the power: when Malledwain the Wretched casts it, anything outside the target’s new sight range takes on the ghastly form of the dead. Additionally, his surroundings appear to flash back and forth between the normal world and visions of the Shadowfell.

We’re now at deep shadow. It’s an aura that surrounds Malledwain in shadows. Targets in the aura take necrotic damage. There doesn’t appear to be anything to change here! Now that I think about it, this is actually too easy; a better example might have been to fluff the carrion crawler…

Shadow jaunt rounds out Malledwain’s powers. The ability fits the theme well, but I decide to change the name to ghost walk.

At this point, my new creature looks and feels like a wizard with command over powerful death magic. He clothes himself in shadows, draws life from his enemies, and brings death with a simple touch. This creature is done and ready to harass my players!

Adding a Little Flair

After thinking about it, Malledwain needs a little more “oomph.” I’ve decided to take a look at the Dungeon Master’s Guide to see what kind of templates might work with my necromancer. While checking out the list on page 175, I remind myself that templates are just as susceptible to fluffing as anything else. For example, just because a template is called “lich” doesn’t mean the monster I’m templating has to become a lich, or be lich-like at all.

I immediately find the perfect template: Death Master. Malledwain’s defenses get bumped up, he gets some awesome resistances, can use an action point, and receives two sweet powers: one that calls undead and one that boosts them.

Now I’m done. Malledwain the Wretched, necromancer extraordinaire, is one badass Level 7 Elite Controller.