Yazirian Literature and the Art of Writing Fluff

By Thomas Verreault/jedion357 

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how to detail some background fluff for the Frontier setting and suggest ways to use it in your games. Creating bits and pieces of background fluff can be fun and it helps set the flavor of the game setting. Background fluff is basically anything that you create that is not absolutely necessary for a campaign or adventure but supports the atmosphere or theme of your campaign or adventure. It can include significant game information. Anything can be fluff; a computer file, a prophetic inscription, torn pages from an atlas, or a song lyric. Though I wouldn’t consider half the background material I create to be absolutely necessary, I find that all to often it inspires me with ideas for adventure, particularly when I start asking myself questions about it.

In the Volturnus campaign the writers created song lyrics that were sung by the mad pirate in the caverns. It was patterned after historic sea shanties probably because it was intended to support the theme of piracy. In the “Dramune Run” module the writers created computer print outs of information available for the PCs from the ship’s computer. In the first Robocop movie there were all these fake futuristic commercials that served the purpose of establishing the futuristic setting.

As a player in a play by post game I needed a bit of poetry for my character to recite during combat (kind of like the sniper in “Saving Private Ryan” who was always quoting “The Book of Psalms”). In particular it had to be yazirian poetry. Now I have written poetry before but didn’t really have a solid idea of what to write that wouldn’t sound really lame so I combed some poetry books. After spending hours looking at poetry to “yazirian-ize” I got bored and looked up a personal favorite from high school, “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Twenty minutes latter I had “Charge of Clan Renegade” and it became a center piece of an incredibly fun post. So what, that I ripped off Alfred Lord Tennyson, I didn’t feel up to writing the poem myself and the modified poem reads like something written by a yazirian.

Being the fruit of a favorite game post and a modified version of a favorite poem, “Charge of Clan Renegade” was just too good to leave alone. I kept coming back to it and asking myself questions about it which led to new material. Eventually it all came full circle when I used it in a post for a game I referee. Below is an excerpt from my game where I used a few lines from the poem to introduce a bit of plot twist. Note, that in just writing that post I created the idea that there are rich posers in the Frontier that get electronic copies of books printed to fill a library for show, which is in itself, another bit of fluff.

Tanar followed the house keeper into the library with its impressive collection of hard copy volumes. He knew that the owner of this particular library was no poser who had electronic copies printed to fill shelves and put on airs of looking rich and intelligent. Dr. Albrecht Zinasta’s collection was authentic, old, and the fruit of many years of collecting. Even more importantly he had read every book and probably could recall them all. It was also the reason for the gift under his arm, a pre-Yazerian Star Exodus edition the epic yazirian poem, "Charge of Clan Renegade." He didn't know how the ifshnit trader had come by it but he couldn't resist purchasing it knowing that his mentor would cherish it, relishing the exercise in puzzling out the archaic tongue it was written in.

"Sir Tanar Daagron!" Tanar winced at the new title and Dr. Zinasta smiled and winked, still obviously proud of his young protégé. They chatted and Dr. Zinasta robustly quoted a line form the poem pronouncing it far better than Tanar could have then translated the ancient Yazirian dialect it into Pan-Gal on the fly.

"Boldly they flew and well Into the Jaws of Death Into the Mouth of Hell"

"Pardon my use of the human term, “hell” as it is a close fit to the yazirian word and it rhymes better."

Tanar smile, "No I think the human term carries the sentiment as well as, if not better, than the original." To himself he said, 'Yeah this was a good gift.'

"Well, well, I too have a gift for you." With a wink and a smile he waved him over to his desk and activated the computer terminal. With a touch, the holo display activated and Tanar recognized scans of the sathar destroyer that had curiously buzzed through the system at sub void speeds during the recent GOC operations. It was a standard energy sensor scan and at a glance it looked to be from the stealth platforms in the outer system.

"Do you see anything unusual?" Tanar leaned into the display and played with refining the data. After a few minutes he leaned back and said, "This. This reading isn't right or rather it’s unexpected but I'm not sure what it means...unless...unless....oh Hell!"

Dr Zinasta frowned, "Hell in deed.” After a pregnant pause he continued, “…behold a pale horse and the name of him that sat on it was Death and Hell followed with him..."
A good way to create fluff is to start asking yourself the typical reporter questions of Who, What, When, Where and Why. For example in working on a new bit of sonic technology, I ask myself, “Who invented this?” In short order I had a page of material discussing the NPC inventor of a number of sonic tech discoveries. This bit of fluff in turn suggested adventure ideas and possibilities.

Fluff can branch out and take on a life of its own. After creating a historic ‘Clan Renegade,’ I began asking myself, “Why would a poem be written about a renegade clan? Who was Clan Renegade? What did they do to become immortalized?” As I answered these questions more material was created.

Not all of the fluff you create has to be paraded in front of the players. In the example above I only quoted a few lines from the poem and there is opportunity to quote a few more at another time or even build to a plot twist where the content of that poem is crucial to the adventure. By leaving some material to be just for the referee’s benefit it gives you a fall back place when the players go off script or push for more details. If you’ve given them the whole poem and then they dig for more, you either have to make up something on the spot (which can be difficult) or admit you that you are unprepared (embarrassing). Holding material in reserve gives you a back up position and should the players decide that the content of the poem or fluff is crucial to the ongoing adventure then you still have time to figure out how to work it in.

For me, one of my struggles with the Star Frontier’s setting is the lack of depth of detail. Sure the writers of the game painted with broad brush strokes with the intent that every referee would color in the details he or she needed but sometimes the lack of detail feels overwhelming, leaving you with a steep hill to climb sometimes just to get a adventure off the ground. It should not be that hard.

Take a little time and one important detail in your campaign and ask yourself a series of questions. Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? Write your answers down and you’ll be surprised how much background you just created. When players inquire for details these very details can be what they discover. Before long you’ll have background material that is a personal favorite that you keep coming back to and expanding.

With the new material, I created on the yazirians, some interesting adventure ideas suddenly presented:

  1. A yazirian priest who is a dissenting voice opposing the top down control of the Family of One is seeking to get out of yazirian space for his own personal safety. He tries to hire the player characters to transport him. The problem is that the Family of One’s version of the Inquisition does not want him to get out into the Frontier at large. They exert powerful influence in yazirian worlds and systems in such a way that local authorities will usually buckle to their pressure rather than create a political incident. There is also a need to run down travel documents and forged identity papers for him as well as smuggle him to the Prenglar system. It turns out he’s even more important being the heir of a Clan Renegade leader which makes the opposition even more desperate to stop him. 
  2. An exploration ship discovers a drifting hulk of yazirian manufacture. It’s the cryo-ship of the colonial governor and his Clan Renegade body guard that was sabotaged by the original clan chiefs of the Family of One in their “bloodless” coop that saw them rise to power. The player characters can be the survey crew that finds the ship and they must unravel its mysteries or they can be hired covertly by the Family of One to steal the artifacts brought back to the Frontier by the survey crew. A plot twist is that Clan Renegade still exists as a secret cadre similar to popular belief about the Knights Templar being still around today in the guise of the Masons. 
  3. Seeds of Civil War! As the truths about the Family of One and the fate of Clan Renegade leak out civil war in yazirian society begins to simmer. The entire Frontier will be affected and what role will the player characters play in this? Gun runners to rebellious yazirian cadres. Rescuers of kidnapped yazirian resistance leaders? Or guns for hire for the Family of One doing “black” missions? 

Below are samples of fluff I created along these lines. Enjoy and write some yourself.

Charge of Clan Renegade 

by Clan Lord Tennishron 

Historical note: The epic poem, “Charge of Clan Renegade,” describes historic events occurring during The Great Clan War of the yazirian home world's Gunpowder Age. Clan Renegade was not originally a clan but a collection of small disaffected, outcast, or unrecognized clans. During the clan wars military units were all organized on the clan level but the outcast and unrecognized clans tended to be insufficient to organize proper clan units so they were lumped together under the designation Clan Renegade.

The Clan Renegade military units, when they were used at all, usually had the poorest morale and elan. The label of renegade became synonymous with deserters and criminals and few generals gladly added them to their order of battle. That changed with the charge described in this poem. It was a very typical Renegade unit led by a defrocked priest turned Clan Lord that saved an armies flank with a wild suicide charge. In the aftermath of the battle the decimated survivors of this unit swore blood oaths to each other and forged a new clan that would forever welcome outcast to its ranks. The victorious Warhon recognized the new clan and made them his personal body guards. Clan Renegade became an elite and highly decorated fighting unit with a storied history surviving up to the Great Exodus to the Stars.

Translator's note: As much as possible I've used archaic terms form human history for words that don't translate easily like league and saber as well as a few common words from PanGal to approximate the rhythm and rhyme of the original.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the Valley of Death
Flew the six hundred.

'Forward, the Clan Renegade!
Charge for the guns!' he said.
Into the Valley of Death
Flew the six hundred.

Forward the Clan Renegade!
Was there a clansman dismay’d?
Not tho' soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd

Theirs not to make reply
Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to rage and die!
All in the Valley of Death
Flew the six hundred.

Cannon to the right of them
Cannon to the left of them
Cannon to the front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd
Raged at with shot and shell
Boldly they flew and well
Into the Jaws of Death
Into the Mouth of Hell
Flew the six hundred

Flash'd all their blades bare
Flash'd as they turned in air
Sabering the gunners there
Charging an army
While all the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Clan and Yazirian
Reel'd from the saber-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd
Then they flew back, but not
The six hundred.

Cannon to the right of them
Cannon to the left of them
Cannon behind them
Were silenced of thunder.
Storm'd at with shot and shell
While winged hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the Jaws of Death
Back from the Mouth of Hell
All that was left of them
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
Oh the wild flight they made!
All the clans wonder'd
Honor the charge they made!
Honor Clan Renegade!
Noble six hundred!

For other reading on Clan Renegade see Killick Toofrick's “The

Romance of the Renegade 

Killick Toofrick's, Romance of the Renegade, is a popular history of the storied fighting unit and clan. The work is well researched and documented. Though it lacks in critical analysis of some of the more controversial events covered it still represents a sound history with broad appeal to the general public if not to historians. Of particular value is Toofrick's documentation of the suppression of the clan by the Family of One and of the recent resurgence of interest in Clan Renegade and the explosion of claims of descent from members of the original clan. 

The Garden Of Hentz & the Yazirian Star Exodus 

Despite the title, this book only focuses on the rise to power by the Family of One during the Star Exodus. It gives cursory coverage to the yaz-i-forming of Hentz and the mass exodus from the yazirian home world. It represents the comprehensive history of the rise to power by the Family of One and its domination of yazirian society in the early days of the Frontier. The "bloodless" coop and rise to power of the Family by jettisoning the colonial governor and his Clan Renegade body guard while in suspended animation on the trip to Yast receives extensive coverage and is even handed in its treatment. The resulting suppression of Clan Renegade by the Family and the declaration of 'life enemy' of the Family by the clan read more like popular fiction than history. Several chapters cover the social reforms and reorganization of yazirian society on Yast and its impact on Frontier wide yazirian society. The volume ends with a serious evaluation of the "seeds of civil war," as the author coined the phrase, and a prediction of the eventual break away of all of Yast's daughter colonies. Romance of the Renegade.”