Skip to content

Finding the Fun: Monster of the Week

I spent a large part of my teenage years watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even now, I still find the series a great way to while away an evening, though I don’t watch it with the same reverence and fervour I did in my youth. Like its contemporary Charmed, and occasionally its predecessor, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer tackled horror in a far more action-oriented, proactive manner, often dealing with supernatural threats directly rather than the protagonists simply reacting to threats as they happened. The other element that really caught my imagination, as a teen just starting on the path to the whole geek subculture, was the episodic format, with episodes culminating in a confrontation with whatever threat was foremost in that episode. Each season might build towards the end of an arc, but every episode was digestible and enjoyable in and of itself.

They call this format Monster of the Week, which incidentally is the name of the product I’m reviewing on this week’s Finding the Fun. So, let’s get cracking.

What is Monster of the Week?

Monster of the Week, as well as being the episodic action-horror format epitomised by Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Charmed, and Supernatural, is a supernatural action-horror RPG written by Michael Sands, using the Apocalypse World system created by Vincent Baker. In 2015, Sands, in partnership with Evil Hat Productions, published the revised edition, adding further content – including the Dresden-like Spellslinger – and making it available for a broader audience than the original product.

Monster1

What is the Apocalypse World system?

The Apocalypse World system, often referred to as Powered by the Apocalypse, was designed by Vincent Baker in 2010. A lightweight, improvisational system that aims to create a flowing dialogue between the GM and the players, the tagline present in most Powered by the Apocalypse games in some form is “the game is a conversation”.

First Impressions

I first saw Monster of the Week in my Friendly Local Game Store, and it caught my eye instantly. I might be alone in this (though I doubt it) but I like products that give me a hint of what they’re about from the front cover, and this book does that in spades. I’m a big fan of the small paperback format too, about the right size to fit into a coat pocket or handbag to run a game at a friend’s house or a coffee shop, or anywhere else you might want to play a conversational roleplaying game.

Monster2

Inside the book is a strong layout that’s bold and easy to follow, and shedloads of great art that’s evocative and consistent to the feel of the book. The full-page illustrations in particular are really awesome single shots of supernatural action that really give you an idea of the styling and imagery the game is intended to conjure up.

Is it Fun?

Hell yeah. I suppose I better explain why, but I can’t start praising Monster of the Week without explaining the Apocalypse World system, its ethos and its mechanics.

The Powered by the Apocalypse system places an emphasis on proactivity amongst the players, and encourages GMs (or Keepers, as they’re called in Monster of the Week) to draw out information and detail from their players rather than limiting their actions to a set of pre-determined legal actions. The Keeper might create the opening scenario, but from there, the game is directed by the players. The resulting pace of play is conversational, with less of a focus on intrusive rules and more on the back-and-forth pace of gameplay between the Keeper and players, this makes it a great game to play with friends, or even as an introduction to roleplaying for someone less inclined to enjoy lots of complex rules.

Rather than creating a character (or hunter, in Monster of the Week) by combining a race, class and optional feats, or assembling a group of concepts into a coherent character, protagonists in Powered by the Apocalypse games belong to a set of archetypes. In the case of Monster of the Week, these are characters common to supernatural action-horror fiction, such as the chosen one, the professional monster hunter, and the conspiracy theorist flake. These archetypes, or playbooks as they’re known in Monster of the Week, contain simple options to personalise the character, including appearance, ratings, gear, and moves. Once the players have selected their archetype, character generation shouldn’t take any longer than ten minutes or so, making this a great hit for one shots and con games, though the backstory elements give enough variety and character depth for longer campaigns too.

Monster of the Week contains some really fun archetypes that fit well in the supernatural action-horror genre, and provide some great story hooks and means for players to accomplish unique actions and results throughout the game. Our test game included a professional monster hunter, a spellslinger witch and a conspiracy theorist flake, and each of these characters felt distinct from the others, able to contribute in a way that set them apart through their special moves.

Monster3

Moves form the basis of action resolution in Powered by the Apocalypse games, activated through players’ description of their activities, or drawn out through conversation with the Keeper. In essence, characters can do anything a normal person can do without issue, assuming failure wouldn’t make an action interesting, or there’s no danger. If there’s a chance of failure that creates drama in an action, or an element of danger, then it falls under the heading of a move, whether a basic move accessible by all characters, or one specific to a certain archetype.

Most of these moves are fairly open-ended, meaning there’s an expectation on the Keeper to draw out useful information on how a player is attempting an action, but also that these moves are fairly easy to apply to an action even if the player wasn’t originally sure that’s what they intended to do, for instance, if an attack might fall under the heading of protecting someone else, rather than trying to inflict damage against an opponent. Moves are resolved by rolling 2d6 and adding the relevant rating. I was pleased to see that moves don’t simply have a success and failure result, but also a success at a cost, creating the option for additional drama whilst moving the game forward.

Other than character playbooks, Monster of the Week contains a guide and rules to help a Keeper create a scenario, including a list of Keeper moves, which came as a pleasant surprise. Often in improvisation-style games, the Keeper or GM is relegated to a position of referee or narrator. By including a list of moves for the Keeper to use in order to further his own agenda (i.e. to make the hunters’ lives dangerous and scary), it pushes the Keeper to become as proactive as the hunters’ players. In a way, running the game and using these rules made me feel like an antagonist of the hunters, one bound to play fair and within the rules, but an antagonist nonetheless, which was fun.

Monster4

Overall, my main takeaway from Monster of the Week was that the game is simple, yet incredibly elegant. It’s fun to run, fun to play and doesn’t require much roleplay experience to enjoy or to keep up the flow of dialogue around the table. There is a wealth of information and ideas within the paperback, and they’re presented in a coherent, helpful fashion which makes it easy to absorb the useful lessons and prepare a scenario in a short amount of time, or use one of the two adventures contained within. Part of this is due to the Apocalypse World system, which provides a great base for an improvisational game, but Michael Sands’ love of the action-horror genre is plain to see, and he represents the genre incredibly well.

There’s lots of potential enjoyment in here, both for role-players looking for a lightweight game that lets them express themselves without having to focus too heavily on the rules, as well as fans of Buffy, Supernatural, or any other action-horror show looking for a game that lets them create characters reminiscent of those shows, whether in a setting of their own or importing a setting straight from the small screen to their game. I’d heartily recommend it and I imagine it’s going to become a firm favourite at Casa Draper when we want a quick pick up game and we’re in the mood to kick some ass.

You might like this game if…
    • You enjoy supernatural action-horror fiction such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural or the X-Files, particularly shows with a monster-of-the-week format.
    • You want a system that encourages a fast paced conversation between GM and players, where the rules don’t intrude on the gameplay.
    • You want a one-shot game where the characters can be created in 5-10 minutes, or a long-term campaign with quickly developing characters that have an involved backstory with each other.
    • You’re interested in a game that makes success with a cost interesting, where the GM gets to behave a like a genuine antagonist, and even the environment has its own agenda to make the player characters’ lives interesting.

 

You can find Monster of the Week in print at your Friendly Local Game Store (if you have one), on Amazon, or in digital or print format direct from Evil Hat Productions via their website.

If you like Finding the Fun and want to help the Mad Adventurers Society be able to put out more quality content, consider visiting our Patreon page. Any contribution, no matter how big or small, helps us, the writers, to be able to do more. If you’re a developer and would like your product reviewed, or you’ve seen a product that’s worth a look, let me know here at the Mad Adventurers Society via the comment box below, or on Twitter @jay_jaydraper.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.