Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tommy's Take on Monster of the Week


I have no problem with the Apocalypse World-inspired play, as noted by my various tremulus posts. Monster of the Week is an Apocalypse World-inspired RPG designed to emulate Badasses Who Kick Monster Butts, ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hellboy, The Winchesters from Supernatural and so on.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: It's 201 pages and only $10 in PDF at RPGNow. It's entirely front-facing, meaning the players do all of the rolling. They have "Moves" that they do, and when doing so, they roll 2d6 plus a stat. A 10 or better is a complete success. 7-9 is a success with a hitch. 6 or less is a failure. As with all "World" type games, everyone selects a Playbook that they then customize, but there is only meant to be one of each Playbook in the game (one Chosen, one Flake, one Mundane, one Spooky, and so on). If one dies, or leaves the game, you move on to another unused Playbook, and so on.

You can put the "team" together, emulating set-ups like Buffy and the Scooby Gang, The Winchesters, government monster hunters and so on.

The basic maneuvers characters get include Act Under Pressure, Kick Some Ass, Protect Someone, Investigate a Mystery and Use Magic. The ratings used are Cool, Tough, Charm, Sharp and Weird, and are generally ranked from -1 to +3. At the start of the mystery, two Ratings are highlighted (one by the player and one by the Keeper)...using those ratings nets you experience points regardless of success or failure.

Once the characters are selected, everyone uses a couple of History tags from their Playbook to make sure they are linked to other characters. For instance, The Chosen and The Monstrous might be rivals who came to a working arrangement, The Monstrous might have lost control and nearly killed The Mundane, but backed off and the Mundane might have been introduced to monsters by The Chosen.

Basically everything is done by performing moves. If you Act Under Pressure, for instance, on a 10 or better, you succeed at what you are doing, and on a 6 or worse, you fail. 7-9, you either pay a cost, make a hard choice or accept a worse outcome. If you are trying to kick ass, on a 6 or less, you get your ass kicked. On a 7-9, you swap damage with the opponent and on a 10 or better, you inflict damage and pick an additional effect (like taking less harm). Characters can even be raised from the dead using "Big Magic".

The Playbooks include:

The Chosen - Who has a destiny and will encounter it. The Chosen can also be a combat beast.

The Expert - Isn't the frontline fighter, but the one that knows about the things the group's going to fight.

The Flake - Kind of like a Mulder.

The Initiate - Part of an order pledged to fight evil.

The Monstrous - A Monster fighting for the good guys, like a vampire or a werewolf or a demon.

The Mundane - A Xander-type that serves as the pillar for the Big Damn Heroes and occasionally lucks into stuff.

The Professional - The 9 to 5, badass monster hunters.

The Spooky - Like psychics and witches.

The Wronged - Think Dean Winchester. Someone with something to avenge.

As Hunters run out of Luck, they start to reach the end of their story, either because they die or because they bow out.

You can advance your characters as you go, like gaining a move from your Playbook, gaining a move from ANOTHER Playbook, gaining an Ally, gaining a Haven or taking a Rating improvement from your Playbook. Every five advances, however, give you bigger options, like removing spent Luck, adding a second Hunter (that you can play alongside your first, or you can swap around troupe-style), or even change your Hunter to a new type! (Maybe your Spooky loses her powers and becomes Mundane, or your Expert has his true love murdered and becomes Wronged.)

The GM section does a nice job of helping you set up the villain arcs, whether you want to do a "Rising Evil" type story, hunting a nemesis, the looming apocalypse, etc. That sorta thing. There's also advice on setting up your smaller mysteries (it IS "Monster of the Week"), and even one shot games (give them less Luck and an extra advance or two). One thing you shouldn't do is be an antagonistic "Killer GM". The advice in the book specifically says to "Be a fan of the hunters"...which doesn't mean it all has to be hunky-dory and they succeed at everything all the time, it just means that you don't set out to completely hose them. Let them be awesome at what they do, let failure happen when it happens.

A handful of generic monster types are included, but a bigger bestiary would have been appreciated. The *World games are utterly hackable, so there's a chapter on making your own Playbooks in case your favorite monster hunting archetype isn't represented, or maybe you're not a fan of The Flake representing a Mulder.

WHAT WORKS: The game closest to this that I have played is tremulus, and readers of the blog know I'm a big fan of that game (and I became a bigger fan after playing it with a group of three). The "Monster of the Week" genre is awesome (I love me some Buffy, Angel, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, etc), and this game does a nice job of tackling the "Kick the Monsters in the Teeth" approach that tremulus does not (by design). Most of your major archetypes are covered in the initial Playbooks, and other books since then have been released (like The Exile, which is spot on for Sleepy Hollow's Ichabod Crane, or Summoned, which does a fine Hellboy).

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: I would have liked a few more monsters, maybe, though monsters are defined as much by their motivations as they are their stats, and the three monster examples are probably broad enough to give you an idea how to make your own. The "no prep" approach can be exhausting at times, if you aren't used to thinking on your feet (though players who are on board with the genre conventions and narrative flow can help that immensely). Games like this always seem like they could extra clarity, as well. I'm not a big booster of the idea of "limited edition Playbooks", which is a movement that has gained traction in the World Engine community (though I believe I have been lucky enough to get all of the available playbooks for MotW). Lastly, I am really not a big fan of the art. Just doesn't work for me.

CONCLUSION: This is actually on top of the "Would Love To Run" list for me, especially after my two games of tremulus. We tend to fall into "Action Hero" mode in our games, and Monster of the Week is less likely to punish you for that, so I think it would be a good fit for that. Clarity is an issue in the book (when everyone is naming a history tag for the other Hunters, I wasn't 100% sure how you reconcile them - do both apply? Do the players pick the one they like best? Do you just work it out? Because it's pretty easy to get conflicting results, or seems like it would be...the author clarified that you do, in fact, take both options and work it out). In short, the game engine is a blast, especially if your players are bought in on the "Fiction First" approach, and it does a good, if not perfect, job of genre emulation (Angel and Oz, for instance, would both fall under The Monstrous, making it impossible to have them both in a group at the same time). If you wanna do a Buffy/Blade/Hellboy/Sleepy Hollow/Supernatural/X-Files mash-up and you haven't decided on a system yet, this would be a very good choice.