One of the more common complaints about DarkFall from the players actually playing the game is the lack of ‘fluff’ content, and the upcoming expansion may seek to address this. One question I have is what exactly is fluff in an MMO, and more specifically what would be considered fluff content in DarkFall?
To me fluff content is something you do just to do it, but it has no real impact on anything outside its own context. The best example I can think of is vanity character slots, where you can equip different gear or clothing to change how your character looks, without it providing any benefit to your characters actual performance. (Clearly only in a PvE setting, as seeing what someone is actually wearing in PvP is very important. While amusing, hiding your Titan ship behind a vanity Shuttle would be rather game-breaking). Another example might be emotes such as waving, pointing, sitting, etc. Finally we have fluff like achievements, non-combat pets, and stat-less titles. Achievements are a little tricky, because while some are purely pointless (total number of mounts, pets, whatever), others can be used to identify a given characters competency. You assume someone with the achievement of having cleared raid X has at least seen the raid, and you can use those types of achievements to put together a PUG group.
In regards to DarkFall, the next patch is set to add roaming mobs and/or wildlife to the game, and many are calling this the start of needed fluff to flesh out DarkFall. More toys being added to the sandbox and all that. To me roaming mobs are certainly content rather than fluff, as you assuming they will be aggressive and drop some loot. They will bring variety to all areas of the game, and a bit of unpredictability to the world, but I would say they go far beyond the title of fluff. Especially if they do fun stuff like roam into a hamlet and kill (loot?) afk players, or wander across a player harvesting and chase him for a bit. It would certainly make it much harder/riskier going out naked to harvest for any length of time, and city walls would gain an added bonus since they would keep such mobs out and the players inside safe. Different types of mobs could also roam different areas of the world, so while goblins might roam near the starter cities, Deathless Mages might patrol the center of Agon.
Roaming wildlife is another story. Assuming the wildlife is not aggressive (otherwise they are just mobs that happen to be animals, and DF already has some of those), and depending on whether they drop anything when killed, they might fall under the category of fluff. Personally I hope they do have some drops, but only things like low-rank enchanting mats from skinning (blood, teeth, essence), and natural things like leather and meat. This would make them perfect crafter mobs, and with such low-value drops, they should be easy enough for even new players to take down. Veteran players or those who are simply too busy would be able to ride past the wildlife without drawing agro, or perhaps even scare and scatter a group of cows, deer or sheep (not the player variety, as that already happens).
Another nice fluff addition would be the ability to sit at a table and play card/board games. You could do this way back in 1997 with Ultima Online, so why not in 2009 with DarkFall? Four hour shard defense a little boring? Bust out a table and play some chess while taking turns on guard duty. Waiting for your PvP group to gather? Time to play a quick game of poker using in-game gold. A player-city tavern with a weekly bingo tournament would not only bring guild members together, but also provide everyone else with a good place to party-crash, and everyone loves PvP.
To me even fluff should server some greater purpose than just a checklist of random crap to do or to collect. It should help shape player behavior in a way that benefits not only them, but everyone around them as well. The huge advantage a sandbox game like DarkFall has over more on-rails MMOs is that every player has a lot of freedom in their day-to-day actions, and so fluff is even more effective in shaping that behavior. You will never leave the zone of roaming mobs due to your level, nor will you ever ‘out gear’ the need for leather in crafting or meat in cooking. Once something is added, it’s more content for everyone rather than making the ‘old’ stuff obsolete, be it for a first-day player or someone playing since go-live, and that is the true beauty of living in a virtual world molded by skilled developers. CCP has been doing it for years with EVE, and so far Aventurine is one for one in DarkFall (villages, chaos chests), with everyone hoping they go two for two in October.