Tuesday, March 16, 2021


 There's been a longish gap between posts, but, unusually, this time I've been reading almost every day. When I saw that Glitch was 400+ pages, my first thought was that I would break it into parts like I've done with other large corebooks. Then I got about 100 pages in and I realized that there was going to be no part of this book that I felt comfortable taking out and looking at in isolation.

I think most people, if asked to boil Jenna Moran's work down to a single word would describe it as "whimsical." There's a lot of that here. There's a character in this book who is "dying of trademark infringement" - fate conspires that her actions just happen to strongly resemble those of a "famous idol" with a similar name, and the universe punishes her for her unintentional plagiarism. There's another character whose title is "The Prince of the French Fry that Fell in the Corner." At one point he saves the universe (though the canonicity of this is dubious -  it was in one of the always delightful microfictions that are a Jenna Moran signature). If you're coming to this for the whimsy, you're going to find it.

However, Glitch made me think, and I'm persuaded that a better word for Ms Moran's body of work is "intricate." The good kind of intricate, mostly. The kind of intricate that demonstrates craftsmanship and care, that you largely marvel at because of the elegance of its many interlocking parts. But also the kind of intricate where material you're reading on page 320 would have come in really handy for understanding concepts introduced on page 30. Also, sometimes, if it's late and you're a little zonked from the time change, you'll have no fucking clue what's going on.

As a follow-up to Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine it's fascinating. Chuubo's was a singular accomplishment that will likely never be repeated, but I think it's fair to say that the thing it accomplished was to expose the superstructure of rpgs as a storytelling medium and point the way towards designing new games that took its insights to heart. Glitch is exactly that sort of game. It owes a lot to Chuubo's, but it's not Chuubo's. 

In many ways, it's a strictly superior game. When it directly inherits a concept, that concept is usually subtly improved. For example, "genre actions" have been replaced by "spotlighting." If you read closely, spotlights replicate a lot of what genre actions actually did, but they're presented as more abstract and more like a character power than a player obligation. You use a spotlight to make the GM or another player stop and elaborate on whatever they were just talking about. The specifics of what they're supposed to do with the spotlight are often similar (for example, Chubbo's epic fantasy genre had the "Decisive Action" where you're supposed to give a speech about what you're going to do, and then do it and Glitch allows you to "spotlight a test" and buy an automatic success if the character gives a speech about what they're about to do), but the difference in framing, and, heck, the new, more evocative name, make the concept a lot more attractive.

Similarly, there's a change to the quest system that is, quite frankly, inspired. Now, players take turns being the "focus" of a session. You can only advance your storyline quests while your character is the focus, but for the duration of the session, so can the other players. They can trigger your quest flavor options and earn one xp for you and one xp for themselves. The implications for player investment in each others' stories is staggering to contemplate. I am positively salivating for the next edition of Nobilis.

Which brings us to . . . not exactly the downside of Glitch, but let's call it a "caveat." Glitch is weird. Even for a Jenna Moran game it's weird. You may have noticed that I've not yet explained what Glitch is about. That's because what it's about is roughly 3-layers deep of Moran-verse self-referential. People think Glass Maker's Dragon is insular, but there's only one thing you need to know about Glass Maker's Dragon - and that's that we'd all gladly die to protect our Best Boi Leonardo de Montreal (or Seizhi Schwan or Jasper Irinka or, hell Chuubo himself - that is one damned charming campaign).

However, for Glitch I have to take several steps back. So, there's this game called Nobilis, and in that game you play people with the power of universal concepts. A character is something like "The Power of Fire" and you've got a broad ability to define what that means, getting as weird and as epic as you want. Set whole worlds on fire? Yes. Light a fire in someone's heart and convince them to pursue their dreams? Sure. Grant humanity the Promethean fire and boostrap it into a new age of technological plenty? If that's what "fire" means to you and the rest of the group doesn't rebel at you hijacking the setting, knock yourself out.

Now, the Nobilis have enemies. They're not just out there in the cosmos doing cool shit, there's a war going on. There's a faction called "The Excrucians." Their goal is to destroy the universe and their powers are beefy enough that they're uncowed by the frankly ludicrous strength of Creation's defenders.

With me so far? Good, because there are actually four types of Excrucians, and they all approach things a little differently. Deceivers have these infectious self-referential paradoxes that they use to corrupt the things of Creation. Mimics wield roughly the same powers as the beings that empowered the Nobilis, but in doing so they make a mockery of the laws of the universe. Warmains will just directly fuck your shit up. And then there's Strategists, with their signature power of The Worldbreaker's Hand, which can make things, even the abstract properties of ordinary objects, just not exist anymore, and because of this dread power they enter Creation doomed to die, usually pretty quickly, only to come back again and again in an endless cycle of resurrection.

Glitch is about the Strategists. But not the Excrucians. It's about the Strategists who decide to drop out of the war and live their doomed lives as best they can. They're still dying. They still share the Excrucian's fundamental conviction that Creation is a crime against the Void. But instead of attempting to slaughter the Powers that defend the universe, they solve mysteries.

That doesn't even begin to really describe the game. That's just what you need to know before you can say whether you're interested in what the massive expansion in canon will explain.

And honestly, you should be interested. It's very interesting. It's alternately funny and scary and thought-provoking, and Jenna's "wise, with a smirk" voice is used as artfully as it's ever been. But . . .

In Jenna Moran's own words, "You can think of Glitch as a kind of improv ethical philosophy and comedy jam session."

And that's . . . It's . . . Are you trying to sell the game or presage the exact parody your detractors are going to use to dismiss it as being made for absolute wankers?

There are several examples of play, and they're quite useful for understanding the game, but they are so arch and verbose that even I, no stranger to discursive quips and self-indulgent meandering, had to roll my eyes a couple of times. Even as I was being absolutely charmed by the wit, I was rolling my eyes.

Two out of the five attributes are called "Eide" and "Flore" and good luck guessing what they do (the other attributes are "Ability," "Lore," and "Wyrd," and they're not exactly straightforward, but at least they have existing fantasy provenance).

And look, I like this game. Quite a lot, actually. But if someone called it pretentious and impenetrable, I would not be able to deny the justice of those accusations. It's a niche within a niche and I'm actually kind of astonished that it exists at all.

But you shouldn't necessarily let the book's worst qualities scare you off. It will also take you to places that you've never dreamed of and show you things you'll see nowhere else. It's the double-shot espresso of fantasy. The things there are to love about the genre, Glitch has, more extreme and more specific than just about any alternative.

Ukss Contribution: Did you write down your predictions for Eide already? If not, I can wait . . .

It's the power of being your most iconic self, exploiting your self-created personal mythology to do mythological-type things. It gets pretty weird, because the Strategists have this super-specific relationship to the metaphysics of the setting, but, for example, if being a baker is your signature Technique, you can use Eide to win at even ludicrously-rigged baking contests (only the judges absolutely refusing to taste your food and just corruptly tossing the contest to your opponent even has a chance of beating you, and that itself is unnaturally difficult to arrange)

One of the lesser powers of Eide is "Costuming" and it's exactly what it sounds like. Your legend is bound up in a particular identity and you can always find the props necessary to signal that identity. If you're a doctor, you can get scrubs on the moon. If you're a princess, you'll have your tiara, no matter how many times the revolutionaries take it away.

It's absolute nonsense, but it's the sort of inspired nonsense that keeps me coming back.


  1. Glad to see that you liked it!

    (Copying and pasting some portion of this review into a DTRPG review would be a good way to do Jenna a good turn, so that she may rise to conquer the search algorithms.)

  2. I'm glad to have a description of this game. I've never followed Moran's games, but I'm endlessly fascinated that they're out there.