I’m not sure if I first heard about Monster of the Week from Fred Hicks’s posts about his game, or from someone at GenCon. I do know that Fred tweeted about his game, and that’s what really brought it into my active thinking. I ordered a copy of the game from the author ((A very nice guy, who shipped it to me from New Zealand.)), and soon had a group who wanted to try it out.
It was about that time that Evil Hat started looking for someone to playtest the scenario in a new edition of the game that they were going to be publishing. Specifically, they wanted someone who had never run the game before to try out the new GM advice and the intro scenario, and I happily volunteered for that. I had also fleshed out a couple of other scenarios myself, and was interested in seeing what a published scenario for the game might look like ((While the original rules had two different mysteries sort-of fleshed out as examples, they were each spread through several pages of the book, and weren’t presented as complete scenarios.)).
So, what’s the game like?
First off, it uses the Apocalypse World engine, and it hews closer to the original than some other games based on AW. That’s neither good nor bad; the AW engine works great as a rules-light system, but some of the innovations of other hacks of it ((Like the Defy Danger move in Dungeon World)) are very good, and I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. That said, the Investigate a Mystery move, which is kind of the centrepoint of the game, is quite neat.
The variety of playbooks for this game is awesome. There’s enough in the book and available free online to run pretty much any type of monster-hunting group you like. There’s some value in following the book’s advice and deciding what kind of group you’re playing before deciding on playbooks – that way, you can make sure that you’ve got the mandatory hunter types covered, and no one’s too far out of line on the concept. That said, it’s not a terrible thing to have everyone pick a playbook and see what kind of group that makes, determining your group concept from the player choices.
From the playbooks I had, it would have been easy to run a game based on any of the following sources:
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Warehouse 13
- Night Stalker
- Doom Patrol
- Stargate: SG1
- The Dresden Files
A little tweaking could expand that list vastly.
Most of the moves presented in the game are pretty typical for AW games. The two really interesting ones are Investigate a Mystery and Use Magic. Both of these are basic moves, meaning any character can try them, and both feed directly into the feel of the game.
Investigate a Mystery is how you gather information about the current puzzle you’re facing. Like most other perceptive moves in AW games, a successful roll gives you a choice of questions from a list to ask the GM. This is, as might be apparent, your go-to move in trying to figure out what kind of monster you’re facing, how to hurt it, what it wants, and where it is. But to be able to ask the questions you want, you have to do something in the game to justify being able to answer that question. So, if you want to ask the question, “Where did it go?” you have to describe you character looking for tracks, or scanning for energy signatures, or whatever. Asking, “What can hurt it?” means you’re doing some research in a lab or library, or are examining the physical evidence at the site of an incident.
This adds a lot of colour to the game, allowing different characters to participate in the investigation without requiring them all to do the same thing. Each character can focus on his or her own style of investigation, and all can contribute to finding the solution.
Use Magic, strangely enough, lets the character use magic ((Subtle and confusing name, I’m sure you’ll agree.)). It’s a pretty simple system, letting the character pick from a list of effects, make the roll, and then possibly have to deal with some GM-chosen glitches. For example, in one game I ran, the characters used magic to interview a dog. They rolled a 7-9, so I decided that they could only speak dog for the next hour or so. The GM can tack on other requirements, too – weird ingredients, bizarre rituals, inconvenient lengths of time, etc.
There’s an option for big magic, as well. Big magic is basically plot device magic – it can do pretty much anything you want, but the GM decides what you need to do it, how it works, what sorts of complications you face, and what happens when you screw it up. It’s fun and nasty.
Now, I got two chances to run MotW. The first time, I deliberately ran the intro scenario. The second time, I gave the players a choice on what scenario I’d run ((After eliminating a couple that didn’t fit the characters or group concept.)), and they chose the intro scenario. So, I got to run it twice.
It’s a surprisingly complex little mystery. Not in that it’s tangled ((Most of them are at least somewhat tangled.)) or difficult ((Though there is that, too.)), but in that there’s a number of threads leading in and out of the main story, a number of side stories that are more or less important depending on what the players latch onto, and some interesting motivations for various NPCs in play. There’s a real depth to the information provided – more than I needed in either of the games, but each game needed different bits of the info, so it was nice to have it there.
Each play-through of the scenario went surprisingly differently. There were some commonalities, as there would have to be, but the freedom of the system and the amount of background information provided by the adventure made it easy for the characters to go in whatever direction seemed most interesting to them and still solve the central mystery.
Final verdict? We all had a tremendous amount of fun with the game. It was a blast to run, and generated some neat stories. I hope we play again.
After all, I’ve got four more mysteries ((Including one based on a Manly Wade Wellman story.)) all typed up and ready to run. It would be a waste not to use them.