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What Is It That Makes for a Fluffy Wargamer? My Thoughts

    I’ve rolled this idea around for a while now. I want to chat about the fluffy 40K players and the competitive players.

    The idea started months ago when Von over at House of Paincakes wrote his article “‘Casual’ vs. ‘Competitive’ – The False Dichotomy Needs To Die”. I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to approach it, or exactly what I wanted to say. Then Tirelion did his article recently about fluffy players and competitive lists.

    Tirelion said this in the article:

    One of the phrases I dislike the most in Warhammer 40k or any game really is the phrase “I just built this list for fun.” Or its sister phrase “This is just a fluffy list.”  As though the player of that list needs to find an excuse for a possible loss he might not even have experienced yet.

    I have issues with this statement. Tirelion isn’t alone in his thoughts on this either.

    This article isn’t aimed at him directly, but those in general who agree with that sentiment.

    The Social Contract of Gaming

    I think we can all agree that playing a game against someone creates a social contract. In that contract are things like don’t be a douche bag, do not cheat, be civil, and be a good sport win or lose.

    These are unspoken rules that we expect adherence to in each game we play. If you have to tell your opponent any of those things then you’re best off finding another opponent.


    Now, when a fluffy player says to someone, “I just built this list for fun,” or, “This is just a fluffy list,” what that player is doing is amending the social contract.

    These are things I’ve said, and probably to Tirelion for that matter (we play at the same shop). No doubt some players say this as an excuse for a weaker list, or a possible loss, but I don’t.

    I say this as a way to explain my expectations for the game. It’s my way of saying that I’m hoping for a more thematic game, a fun game.

    What is a Fluffy List?

    Generally speaking, a fluffy player will have what he/she considers a fluffy list. A fluffy list means something different to everyone. However, for the sake of this discussion, I’m referring to a list that’s often not optimized for competitive play. The list will include sub-par units because they fit a theme the player was going for. It will include terrible units just because the player likes those units. You would say that creating a themed list puts the theme before everything else.

    That is what more casual, and/or fluffy, player considers a fluffy list. A competitive player, as Tirelion did in his article, can create themed lists too. A difference being a really competitive player will choose the most powerful units that fit the theme. Therein lies the difference between a themed list and a fluffy list.

    Often times a fluffy player will have an army theme, some fluff they’ve created for their army. The lists created will reflect the army’s back story.

    For example, my Chaos Space Marines are never led in battle by Daemons. I play my army as Khorne Daemonkin from time-to-time. With Khorne Daemonkin I could have my army led by a Herald of Khorne, or a Bloodthirster, yet I never do.

    Every single KDK list I create has the army led by a Chaos Marine, like a Chaos Lord. I have made a choice, for better or worse, based on a theme I have created.

    Now, that's a themed army!
    Now, that’s a themed army!

    List Choices

    The choices a fluffy player makes will often go into great detail with list creation. It’s not just the units chosen, but unit combinations.

    Using Daemons as an example. Some players won’t combine units from the gods that hate one another, IE: Khorne Bloodletters with Daemonettes of Slaanesh.

    Fluffy choices consider even smaller details. Is it more fluffy to have a Chaos Lord buried in a unit of 30 Cultists or a Dark Apostle? Dark Apostle of course! A Chaos Lord is more inclined to run with more elite units, where a Dark Apostle will led his rabble into the guns of the enemy to die gloriously for Chaos.

    Lastly, some fluffy players will even go so far as to intentionally avoid really powerful units and weapons. The rationale for this is because they are after a fun game, a game that’s close. A fluffy player doesn’t want to obliterate their opponent. Their goal is a close fought game, a struggle like those we read about in the fluff of the game. Having a unit that can single-handedly remove entire units in a turn is the opposite of what they are after.

    In the end, it comes down to why units were chosen, and not what units were chosen. It’s a state of mind.

    Playing a Thematic Game

    Thematic is a subjective term, so I’ll try to explain it from the view of a fluffy player. Thematic games are where you throw game strategy out of the equation, and instead try to create epic moments that are fluffy.

    It doesn’t mean you don’t try to win, but that you’ll take opportunities to create fun moments.

    Chaos Lord
    This guy isn’t turning his back on loyalist skum.

    Here’s an example. My Chaos Marines are fighting Space Marines, and I pull a card to hold an objective. That objective is behind me, and I would have to move back to get it. However, in front of me is the enemy, the opposite direction of the objective I need to hold.

    What would my Chaos Lord rather do: move backwards away from his most hated foe, or move forward to charge into the squad to skewer them on his power sword? If you answered the latter then you understand what a thematic choice in a game would be. A thematic/fluffy choice is about putting yourself into the mind of your army, and behaving as you would expect them to behave.

    Those are the moments that fluffy players enjoy the most in games; at least I do. It’s those games where something epic happens as the result of a fluffy/thematic choice that you will always remember. What I have named my Chaos Marines characters was because of awesome gaming moments.

    Psykill once charged into a squad of Warlocks with Eldrad to save one of my units. The unit wasn’t worth saving. Saving the unit had no strategic value, but Psykill charged in anyway. Psykill issued a challenge and destroyed Eldrad on the charge, in turn earning him the name Psykill.

    Warforce once lead the Disciples of Twilight on a long campaign. During that campaign he used his force weapon countless times to suck the souls of Ork leaders into his weapon. Warforce earned his name during that crusade.

    The thematic moments are what I remember. Not the times I tabled someone, or someone tabled me. I don’t remember what place I came in at the last tournament, but I do remember those awesomely fun thematic moments in my games that I created.

    In Conclusion

    When I walk to a table and tell my opponent I have a fun list, or a fluffy list, I’m laying out my expectations for the game. A lot of times it doesn’t matter, and my opponent will do his best to defeat me as fast as possible. Sometimes though, and it’s those games we fluffy players live for, you find a like-minded opponent and have a game you’ll never forget.

    Hopefully I have done a reasonable job in covering how we fluffy players see things.

    I certainly can’t expect that every fluffy player agrees with everything I’ve said. I think I’ve hit the high points, though I could certainly say more.

    What do my fellow fluffy players think?


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    7 years ago

    I cheat, I play an army the monent it is put down that people know I am not aiming to win ;)

    Dave G
    7 years ago

    I look at the definition of a “fluffy” list as basically a list that might make concessions on what’s the best strategic choice to instead fit a theme, while competitive players may be making concessions on what’s the most sportsmanlike to instead min-max their chance of winning.

    If you take my Hordebloods, I’m trying to make sure I represent each of the Horde factions in a single list. BUT, I’ve also (at least in Mk2) tweaked that list to a point where it does well enough too. However, while tweaking, there were decisions I made about which models to take because it would hurt the artistic look of the force as a whole.

    Nils Holmbergh
    7 years ago

    Nice article!

    I think that I’m one part Fluffy and two parts Fun. I don’t make lists with the goal of being fluffy or competitive, it’s not really that important to me. I just build what I think is a fun list to play (and playing against to some degree).

    It also depends on what game the list is for. If it’s a historical game I tend to go a bit more fluffy than other genres. I’m lucky that most of the club I play at has, more or less the same mindset.

    I tend to over think my lists and make the plans too complex or weird to actually work. Hence I loose a lot :).

    7 years ago

    I think Iapedus summed up my thoughts on the subject in his comment on the last article.

    “In my experience, when building a list that tries to walk the line between ‘fluff’ and ‘crunch’, you will normally hit a point where you have to make a choice in your list that will tip you one way or the other. For me, engineering the 2++ rerollable save is the tipping point here. Its really not that fun to play with or against 3 near indestructible greater daemons.”

    It’s the small decisions that make big differences. That flows in either direction, by the way.

    I personally make some very poor unit and list choices for the sake of narrative or fluff. Take my Raven Guard Vanguard Vet squad from my Shadow Force formation. It’s a great unit in the codex and very fluffy as a bodyguard unit for my Captain. There’s nothing wrong with giving them a variety of weaponry to represent the personal preferences of experienced veterans, as I did. But it was pretty dumb of me to arm one with a powerfist, one with dual claws, one with sword and shield, and two with grav and bolt pistols. I took a narrative opportunity way too far and effectively neutered a solid unit.

    7 years ago
    Reply to  Thor

    Too many parts to store, and the tiny magnets are too fiddly. Just not my style!

    7 years ago

    Great article. Good counterpoint to your quoted article.

    7 years ago

    Great article 😉. I do hope people know that when I was talking about list options, my point was that just because a list is competitive, that does not disqualify it from being fluffy as well. However, in the last decade of playing 40k I have often been told (or it has been insinuated) that fluff and crunch are mutually exclusive. I also think that the idea of “fluff” is somewhat subjective. In your example I would say that depending on the legion a Chaos lord might well be a perfectly fluffy choice to run with 20 cultists, especially for a group like the Word Bearers. Fluff is often a matter of opinion. Some people get upset when more than one or two of a unit is taken in a list . Yet nearly every book/codex will refer to dozens, maybe hundreds of those units on the field during a battle. All that said, I do like fun games, I have just been brow beaten to death over the years for wanting to play with my toys. Some of us care about the fun, the narrative AND efficient, competitive play.

    Red 2
    Red 2
    7 years ago

    I agree. When I first began the hobby the concept that people weren’t playing fluffy didn’t really occur to me. There were named Space Marines combined into chapters they don’t belong in, armies built to win but without any logical organization from a story perspective, etc. I can understanding building a pure winning army for a tourney, but not really for regular play. At that point, why bother?

    7 years ago

    I have one player at my local who enjoys playing a”fluff” list. He’ll bring most of his army and when he is matched up will ask what his opponent brought. He’ll spend 10-15 minutes writing a list then say it’s fluffy and not too sure how well it will do. He designs a list with appropriate models and weapons that will maximize damage. The game finishes with a convincing win for him and the response every time is, “I didn’t expect that to happen.” When I am paired with him I refuse to tell him the army I brought. That’s balanced the field a bit.

    I enjoy playing fluffy with Tyranids. The Apocalypse book has some good framework for the different stages of invasion. Now that Genestealer Cult is released a Vanguard Invasion list is more thematic. I tend to go Terminator heavy with my Carcharodons as well. It’s a chapter that relies on Terminator armour a lot. With the amount of one’s I am known to roll it certainly is a perilous list for me to take.

    I enjoy the themed and fluffy lists. Taking them doesn’t mean I am handicapping myself. It’s an approach to gameplay that allows me to write a narrative for my army.

    7 years ago
    Reply to  Turkadactyl

    I find writing a list after you know what your opponent has to be a deplorable act. No matter what type of game it is. Frankly it’s comparable to outright cheating.

    7 years ago
    Reply to  Tirelion

    It certainly is frustrating. I haven’t tried the three Vindicator in a squad list yet. It seems like an OP thing to do for a fun game. This opponent will be the only one I will not feel bad using it on.

    Chris Bingley
    Chris Bingley
    7 years ago

    Fluffy is an entirely different concept to competitive vs fun. It is possibly to write competitive lists whilst sticking to the fluff. For some this is easier than it is for others, but it is still possible. All my army lists for both 40K (Black Legion) and Warhammer (Beastmen, Orcs and Goblins, Skaven) are always based on the fluff given in that army book or codex.

    If I’m building a competitive list, then I’m looking for something that can deal with any army thrown at it. Yet they’re generally still fun to play with and against. If I’m building a ‘fun’ list then all I care about is how much I can make my opponents laugh. My favourite ‘fun’ list was a goblin compulsory random movement list in 7th ed. Warhammer.

    Chris Bingley
    Chris Bingley
    7 years ago
    Reply to  Thor

    Yeah, they always set the bar too low for Chaos codices. Ever since people started complaining about the 3rd ed chaos codex. Sure, they have some nasty surprises when they’re first released, but eventually people learn to deal with them.

    7 years ago

    Great write up. I always try to make my lists hard and tough without abandoning my fluff choices for my Chaos Warband. They are CSM not Khorne Daemonkin (even if I do run Khorne marines), they are an pretty old warband so that rules Crimson Slaughter out too. My boys are a bit further down the path to eternal damnation (so that means Veterans of the Long War on as many units as I can afford).

    It also means Gift of Mutation on my Champs (they embrace Chaos), power weapons are in too because each and everyone of my Champs want to get the Boons of the Dark Gods. And the list goes on. I have an idea of what my army is all about fluff-wise and I try to follow the principles when I write my lists.

    This is what bringing a fluffy list is to me.

    7 years ago

    I always played my Dark Angels like Dark Angels. We had our own objectives. Screw the scenario. Circles within circles. My fav part of that was when I lost a game and they said “HA! I WON!” And I said “Hmm, did you now?”And smiled as I packed up. Circles within circles my friend. Muwhahahahahaha!

    Frank Ford
    7 years ago

    I think that in my head, a fluffy list is what I end up with when I think to myself ‘right what should this army include? What would be available to the force commander, and what would they have had to take?’. I love units that turn a game into a story, the underdog unit or character that wins out against the odds out of sheer stubbornness, the tank that survives far longer than it had any right to and delivers the killing blow to an enemy superheavy, or the Dwarf shield wall that should have folded when that avalanche of Elven cavalry crashed into it, but it didn’t because Clan Grubbinsson are not going to be broken by bunch of Elves, with their flowing robes and pointy ears!

    A fluffy list is what we see when we take what should be there when circumstances are less than perfect, not what we want to take to maximise the effectiveness of the list just because we don’t have to consider how unlikely the force would be in the game setting. Yes, you can create a list that doesn’t contradict the setting and backstory within what could be available, but I don’t feel that is the same as going with what is likely to be available under normal circumstances. And if both forces taking part in the battle follow the same thought processes, then it provides a great chance to see units that would otherwise rarely see action take to the field for their moment of glory!

    7 years ago

    Great article Thor, the perfect companion piece to Tirelions post and pretty much inline with my feelings on the debate. Notions like fluff and fun are always totally subjective – one persons ‘tabling misery’ may be another’s ‘awesome tactical achievement’ – which is why those of us who have fallen in with like minded gamers should be very grateful that we have :)

    However if everyone thought the same life would be boring, so we should all go out and engage with those who we consider at the other end of our own spectrum, talk with them and find out what it is that drives them to make their lists the way they do. Who knows, we may even find some common gaming ground that will allow a bespoke but function social contract to exist between us?

    And if not, well at least you will have found someone to throw your morst fluffy & fun lists against in the vain hope of victory – but oh, what a sweet sweet victory it will be when your Genestealer Vanguard list overcomes their Double Wraithost with Tau Allies! Now THAT will be a day to remember!