September 27, 2012

[Review] Monster of the Week


This is the review of Monster of the Week from Generic Games. Monster of the Week is another successfully crowdfunded project that came to life a few months ago. the author, Michael Sands, asked for $750 and got $4,665, even if some of the themes of the game are overlapping Monsterhearts and both these games are "powered by the apocalypse" (meaning using the same engine of Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World)


THE GAME
Monster of the week is a modern game (opposed to traditional games like D&D) with GM/players roles in a urban fantasy setting. The main goal of the game is to stage the adventures of a group of monster hunters (Supernatural, Buffy the vampire slayer, etc...) with the classical TV structure: investigate a mystery, recognise the monster, find his weaknesses and kill him. Monster of the week is a game with a minimal preparation by the GM (here called Keeper) and the storytelling responsibility partially shared with the players. Monster of the week is not a game for long campaigns. a normal campaign will last for 5-10 game sessions before reaching his natural ending.

I was waiting a game like this for a long time. Buffy and Supernatural are great and this game is great in building both these kind of fictions. Kill monsters, have fun, be a hero! Gosh, it's liberating. Beware that this game is not all heroic stunts; suffering and feeling miserable are also a part of an hero's journey.

PLAY RULES
The core system is a conflict resolution system (opposed to task resolution systems, as explained here) based on a 2d6+stat roll. With 10+ you got a complete success, with 7-9 a partial one, with 6 or less a failure. With failures the Keeper can do "hard moves", meaning he can act upon the fiction, making the story go forward. Basically, if you fail a roll, something bad is going to happen. More the rolls, more the risks. You have Luck points that offer you to cancel a wound just suffered or be successful in a roll BUT Luck point doesn't regenerate and when you have no more of them you are just out of luck. It's a simple mechanic that offers you a nice way to manage when you reach the endgame (both as an individual and as a group).

Monster of the week is powered by the Apocalypse (eg. is a Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World hack). If you have already played Apocalypse World this is enough to know rules are easy, fun and stable. Michael Sands has done a great job in twisting them to adhere to the fiction of reference. Rules are easy for a complete novice, everyone will learn everything is needed in the first session and no prior RPG experience is needed.

CHARACTER GENERATION RULES

Like in Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World or in Joe Macdaldno's Monsterhearts to create a character with Monster of the week you have too choose one from many booklets (called skins). Every booklet is a conventional type of character, with fixed features and customizable ones. In Monster of the week you can be The Chosen, The Expert, The Flake, The Initiate, The Monstrous, The Mundane, The Professional, The Spooky, The Wronged. Please notice that you are non A Professional, but THE Professional. Every skin is traceable to some iconic monster slayer of the fiction (the wronged screams Dean Winchester and the mundane is perfect to create a Xander Harris-like character). The character creation process must be done together with all the group that will be playing, both because there is a mechanic to set what's happened between the characters before the start of the game end because it's part of the fun and helps a lot in making the game start with a bang. The whole process takes one full hour, then you can jump into play. 


Character generation is one of the most amazing things of this game. Before playing you could argue that the options are pretty fixed. After the first game you'll have learned that this allows you to create a coherent and credible monster hunter that will sprung to life in no time. Characters are, by system, deeply intertwined and this makes possible to start right after the character generation process with an interesting session. 

SETTING
The premise of the game is "a contemporary group of monster slayers". Said so, everything is decided at the table, during the game. There are no setting chapters, premade monsters, notorious NPC or a chronology of the world. It's our world, our time, right here, right now. If you need a map, there's Google Maps.

GM CHAPTERS
More then  half of this book is devoted to Keeper's sections, from how to guide your friends into character creation, to how to run your first game, from what to do when you want to create story arcs. Monster of the Week is a game meant to be played as is written (opposed to games you are meant to play as you are used to, like D&D). A Keeper must read his section and follow literally the principles he's instructed to follow. A Keeper is not an all-powerful entity and must follow rules exactly as players must. Everything you need to run a Monster of the Week campaign is covered in this book. 

I know, if you are not used to indie/new-wave/whatever-you-wanna-call-them games it's frightening a disempowerment of the GM role. Just trust this book. It's for your own sake.

YOUR FIRST ADVENTURE
There is an introductory adventure, but is there just to show the keeper how to write his own introductory adventure. The process is explained beautifully with nice and clear examples and takes something like 30 minutes to create every adventure (for real!) unless you are a coherence addict like me that needs to study a lot before starting to write. If you are like me plan 1 hour for every full adventure.

Normally I'm strongly against games that doesn't provide an introductory adventure. In this case the adventure provided is clearly just an example and the right choice is to write your first adventure by yourself. I've given that approach a try, considering the process looked easy enough. That was a complete success. Give this approach a try, I don't have regrets doing it.

THE JUDGEMENT (obviously an opinion)
This game is addictive, trust my word. I've run a demo as Keeper for my regular D&D group and they loved it, now in less than a month I've run 5 demos, two of them turned into full campaigns. Being a Keeper is easy, being a player is fun. What do you want more? Trust me and buy it, you will be pleased.

4 comments:

  1. Wonderful review! Of course I agree, but it doesn’t count, I think, since many people out there say I am a zealot with this game. Still, your review is clear and points to all of the main features of this game.

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    1. Thanks! Why don't you translate some starting mystery you used? I will be pleased to publish them ^_^

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  2. I'm looking forward to running a demo of this game at an upcoming gaming convention. I am altering the locale and setting somewhat making the setting more of an Anime/Manga/Visual Novel, using the JRPG Beast Bind as a source for the setting. All the skins still work the same with a few tweeks here and there to adapt the lore. Put a few silly character in the mix like a Vampire School Girl (The group's Monster) a Tomboy Murdane thrill seeker and an initiate who works for the Burial Agency, a monster hunting branch of the Catholic Church. Looking forward to giving it a shot.

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