“You see, all you primitive fantasy PCs probably think of me as ‘smug.’ But I’ve reflavored that to ‘better than you.'”

For those of you who haven’t stumbled across the term before, I’m using “reflavoring” to denote the re-fluffing of game mechanics. Instead of rage my barbarian gets possessed by ancestor spirits. Instead of a sword my fighter uses a macuahuitl. Instead of a bow that shoots enchanted arrows my weapon is a glove that throws enchanted rocks. In game terms these things may be identical, but the flavor is distinct.

Now that we’re clear on terminology, let me hit you with the op-ed. I may like the freedom offered by reflavoring, but the less I have to rely on it the better. Here’s where I’m coming from.

Once, many moons ago, I was asked what I enjoyed more when rolling up a new dude: building the PC’s background or building their actual mechanics. I honestly couldn’t pick. That’s because I love watching the feedback loop between the two. Here’s an example of the thought process.

“OK. I want to play an occultist. He needs special objects to focus his powers. What if one of them was a weapon? Cool, I’ll go with transmutation and choose… What haven’t I used before? Bardiche looks cool. Maybe he can be a traveling executioner. Cool! So with all those dead people in his past, he probably has some ties to necromancy. Maybe this ‘necromantic servant’ power calls upon the spirits of the people he’s beheaded? Neat! OK then, what kind of object do you need for necromancy? This ‘ferryman’s slug’ sacred implement sounds interesting. How did my guy meet the boatman on the river of death then…?”

That’s the most fun for me, watching rules cascade into story and back into rules again. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but it’s one that dead-ends on contact with a shallow game system. If I don’t have enough mechanically-distinct options to draw on, the machine that drives my creativity stops turning. In other words, when I’m obliged to reflavor “melee +2” as anything from expert judo to medieval jousting, my characters begin to feel samey. It’s a charge that often gets leveled at Savage Worldsfor example, and it’s one that I’ve never been able to shake. I can roleplay my PCs’ unique identities all I want, but I prefer when the mechanics of the game help tell the story of the world.

So help me out here guys. For today’s discussion, why don’t we try and figure out the limits of reflavoring? Comment with an example of successful reflavoring that you’ve used in a game. And if you’ve got an example of “reflavoring gone too far,” shout that out as well. With any luck, we can all walk away with a broader understanding of the pros and cons of the technique. Ready? Go!


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