Justice Playthrough #80: A Touch of Glamour

Ah, another Powered By The Apocalypse entry. The second one I’ve encountered in this trawl, if I’m recalling correctly — or second-and-a-half, depending on how you count Delve. This looks like a very promising early draft. I’d be curious to see where it–

Wait, this is the finished product?

Oh.

Page 39, Game 30: A Touch of Glamour by Maharhar

You’re fairies! You and your fellow players are creatures of legend and magic, making your way through a hostile world. Sometimes it’s the subtle hostility of simply not belonging, other times you’re being actively hunted, because fairy magic. Good luck out there.

This is a Powered By The Apocalypse game, which means it’s based on the rules for Apocalypse World. When the game is working well, AW rules allow for an intriguing mix of structure and creative storytelling. Anytime you want to do something, you roll 2d6 and add a number. Low roll means you failed, middling roll means you kinda sorta pulled it off or that you did the thing but there was a complication, high roll means you nailed it. The details of what happens next are very much up to you and the game master. When a game goes well, you still feel like you accomplished something (or were bested by a deadly foe) while still allowing for a hell of a lot more variety than “I stand there and whack it with a sword.”

Where A Touch of Glamour feels like it totally nails the AW feel is in all the options it lays out for the players. Looking over how the mechanics work, yeah, you can totally do some fairy shit with this game. Do stuff! Create stuff! Wreck stuff! Mess with mortals! Be magical! The game has excellent guidelines for all of it that give you options without bogging down in the rules. That’s a great start.

Unfortunately, it’s what the game DOESN’T do that’s causing me to give it a bit of game-reviewer side-eye.

  • How do Masques work? What are they? Is it like a physical masque the fairies can put on, or does their entire physical appearance change? How many masques do fairies get? I imply from the character sheet that the answer is “Two to start with,” but why is that implied and not simply stated? How big a deal is it for me to don or remove a masque? Am I expected to just be wearing one the entire game, or do I take them on and off as my fey whims dictate? This is just a straight-up hole in the rules that I have to think would have been patched in response to some blind playtesting.
  • Where are the character archetypes? I’m far from the most hard-core player of indie RPGs out there, but my exposures to Apocalypse World-based games make me feel like clearly defined pre-built character options are a big part of the appeal. You choose an archetype, and then your character sheet lays down your options for turning that archetype into a character uniquely your own, as well as giving all the mechanical information you need to actually play that character. It’s a great way to streamline both the character creation process and actual gameplay, and really lets you dive into the action. Why does character creation in this game force everybody to look at the same book and go hunting for the information they need?
  • Where are the GM moves? This is one of Apocalypse World’s starkest departures from traditional RPGs; the GM and players are literally not using the same rules. An AW GM is a diceless GM; the GM moves define how and when to fuck with your players, and what degree of fuckery is appropriate. A Touch of Glamour’s GM section has tips that are well-suited for general purpose game running, but completely omits that bits you need to be a GM within this ruleset. Tellingly, the only examples of characters being harmed come as consequences of botching their own moves. In a world where the PCs are explicitly being hunted and harvested, I’d think some guidelines on just what can hurt them and how badly aren’t just appropriate, they’re mandatory.
  • What’s the world like? The author explicitly does not want to go into too much detail setting up the world, on the grounds that it feels presumptuous — that they’re imposing their sense of reality on someone else. They have some guidelines for helping players and the GM define the world together, but even then, they leave out the bits that have been explicitly stated elsewhere in the rules. There are mortals who hunt fey; I’d expect the guidelines to at least remind the players they need to define who those people are, how common they are, how much power they successfully derive from harvesting fey for magic. Are they a secret society, or are they openly using stolen magic? The decision to only give the loosest guidance conceivable in defining the world honestly feels like a cop-out. The author very clearly has a vision for how fairies work within that implied world; defining some key elements of that world isn’t an imposition, it’s a welcome piece of structure.

Looking at these comments, it’s clear to me that the biggest hole in the A Touch of Glamour ruleset is not how it helps lay out the players’ experience, but the GM’s. Yes, there’s some sloppiness in the rules and it fobs-off more character creation work onto the players than I’m used to seeing in an Apocalypse World game, but those can be overcome. It’s the GM who has by far the largest gaps they need to fill. There’s a very real timidity here, a sense that any but the broadest advice on how to run the game would represent an unwelcome intrusion upon whoever is running it.

As a result, I can really only recommend this game if you have a confident, experienced Apocalypse World vet to run the thing. But what the heck, if you want to put together an AW-based game of fairy shenanigans, there are worse starting points you could look to; there is some good stuff here.

Let’s see what the playful sprite known as “My Perl script” has in store for me next:

Page 38, Game 21: It’s Dangerous To Go Alone – Take This by Margaret Catter

“A spur of the moment RP game where you play an adventure using only the content of the GM’s bag.”

Interesting. Tell me more.