[Monster of the Week] It's good! Luck, Hx as Fanmail, and ideas for next steps

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I'm going to have to break this playtest report into a few posts, due to time constraints. Monster of the Week is Mike Sand's game of kicking the crap out of supernatural menaces - and having just played the third session, I strongly suspect it's going to go into my short list of go-to games to pull out at conventions.

It takes the engine of Apocalypse World and super-charges it by changing a couple of things that were a hit with our group:

  • a Luck track allows you to heal harm, do insta-kills, and change your dice-roll to a natural 12.


Your hunter character has 7 points of Luck, total. Once they run out, they become 'Doomed', allowing the Keeper (MC) to hit the hunter with hard move after hard move, and triggering the culmination of any prophecies or conspiracies that have been set up by that hunter's playbook or their actions.

  • real-time Hx awards for changes to hunters' relationships.


To reflect the intense relationships that occur in shows like Buffy and Supernatural, two hunters can receive Hx during a session for concrete actions that show they're closer. In our session last night we had a psychic link between two hunters that led to one of them learning the other's dark secrets about the ancient religious order they belong to, some DIY surgery after a vampire attack, and some bonding between a ghost and her great-grand-niece.

Both of these were huge hits, although there were some issues that came up that I'll talk about later.

Mike, you should totally post a link to the latest draft of the game!

Woo! Sounds like the new revisions worked as intended.

Did anyone spend any luck, by the way?

I feel that the current draft is still a bit messy for public airing, but if there's anyone reading who is keen on seeing it - let me know and I'll hook you up.

Otherwise, I'm planning to run the newest version myself for a bit, and I'll probably have a version I'm happy to show people after that.

*

Jenni

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Yeah, I used luck. Once to boost a truly awful DIY surgery roll (I have zero cool) and once for something else...can't remember the second time actually.

Then it when it came to finishing the big bad vamp I rolled a natural 12 XD

Two luck spent by one character? Madness! But the good kind. I look forward to hearing how that death-spiral bottoms out.

I think that there's going to be a really interesting tension between 'Luck' and the rapid rate of advancement caused by these adjusting rules for History. You'll have some really bad-ass monster hunter characters, but they'll become more and more likely to be affected by the Keeper's moves as the game goes on.

The other thing I've learned (and I think the rules should reflect) is that the Keeper can go really hard on the characters. Don't be afraid to dish out lots of Harm - because the players have a lot of options to reduce that damage.

Oh, that reminds me: Sophie pointed out that you mention 'Bleeding' on the character sheet but don't define it in the rules (at least as far as we could see).

Noted, regarding dishing out harm. That's the way it's intended to go.

The rules for bleeding are in the "other stuff" section somewhere. That whole area needs to be sorted out so that you can reference it better. Short version: on 4+ harm you are bleeding and the Keeper can tell you to mark of more harm until stabilised (so, it's the same as in AW)

I wonder if I should ditch debilities, too, and just let luck stand in for that? Thoughts?

Getting rid of debilities would simplify the game, for sure.

But, at this stage, I'd be tempted to keep it in. Hunters will use Luck rather than Debilities to avoid harm, but as they run out of luck they'll have to start taking some real damage and making hard choices. That feels like it could be a fun dynamic, to me.

(And Jenni contested whether Debilities was either a real word or the right word!)

Yes... I'm all for having to make nasty choices, but I suspect debilities will only be taken when luck is gone. In some ways using up your luck in MotW is the same as having no course but taking a debility in AW. And if it's doing the same job, then I'd prefer to have just one mechanic for it.

Jenni: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/debility Whether it's the right term for MotW is a whole other question.

Okay, I've got a bunch of feedback, almost all of it related to Moves, and a fair chunk to the Spooky character type (since that's what I'm playing). (BTW, you talk about taking moves from other "playbooks" in the list of advances; you might want to change those references to "character type" as well?)

Stat/Move Foolery: Most increases to the stats are listed as Advancements rather than Moves, meaning that they can only be taken once (until they get to the Advanced Experience), and cannot be taken from another character type.  However, the Flake move Crazy Eyes allows anyone to get +1 Weird (max 3), and the Unfazeable Move for the Professional gives +1 Cool (max 3), meaning that any character type can override their "max +2" for those stats with their first Advance.  Is that intentional?

The Mundane's Panic Button Move: The current write-up looks slightly wrong -- it says that, on a roll of 7-9, it will cost you to stay; I think it is meant to say that it will cost you to go.

Use Magic Move: One of the aspect that came up was the "Bar a place or a person to a given monster type" option -- the on-the-fly ruling was that the monster took 1 harm from interacting with the person from whom it was barred.  Does that seem in line with the intention?  Or was it meant to be more a "they've got to stand back and throw things" sort of deal?

The Monstrous Breed Ghost: I think there are some interesting issues with this breed, at least as we are currently using it.  It feels like there may be a problem with agency -- in play, in order to interact with anything (other than talking to/grossing out the other PCs), the player has to succeed in a Move (generally Manifest).  Not being harmed by normal weapons and being able to move through walls are big things -- but they are essentially passive.  The ruling that ghosts cannot flit from place to place for free is understandable (and there may be an interesting Move there, allowing The Monsterous to turn up near anyone they're bonded to); but since (as we're playing it) the Ghost can't interact with vehicles  (unless they make a check), they currently have to rely on other people to provide them transport faster than running as the crow flies, which may be more of a penalty than was intended.

However -- reading through the rules-as-written, the actual text of the Move/Curse looks a little different to how we have been playing it.  The Incorporeal Move says: "You may freely move through solid objects" (emphasis added), which implies that the character can chose not to do that, and move things about/lean against walls if they want to.  Further supporting this interpretation is the fact that the curse is called Invisibility, not Intangibility -- that you need to Manifest in order to be seen or interact with normal people (which doesn't mention normal objects).  Maybe this is where the confusion lies -- if you can interact with the world, you can interact with normal people (write them messages in condensation, hit them with a bat).

It feels like the intention should be clarified -- and if the actual intention is to make a character that's dependent on others to affect the world reliably, then it might be useful to signpost that, since it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. :)

The Spooky's Tune In Move: Would it be appropriate for its results to act like those of the Read A Bad Situation Move?  That is, "If you act on the answers, you get +1 on your rolls"?  This came up during the game, where I was wanting to know if I could use a Hold to know "How can I attract its attention", and then use the result to improve my Manipulate Move to get the monster to focus on me rather than another character.

(For that matter, would it be appropriate for some of the Investigate A Mystery Move results to act in the same way?)

The Spooky's Evil Lightning Move: This is the odd one out in the Spooky Move set, since it's the only one that's overt -- all the others have results that can be explained away by observers.  It feels like it might be more appropriate for the Monstrous Character Type?

That said, the ability to use Weird instead of Tough is very handy to the Spooky Character type; I wonder whether it's just the fictional trappings that I'm objecting to?  It would seem more fitting with the other Moves if it just inflicted harm that was immediate but explainable-away: heart attacks, aneurysms, seizures, being hit by a car that someone forgot to put the parking break on rolling through a wall... that sort of thing. You could call it Whammy, Evil Eye or something along those lines?  Unless, of course, the idea is that it's meant to give the Spooky something overt, in contrast to the other Moves?

Hmm.  The downside of this approach would be that you're getting a strong overlap with Hex... which I'm also not sure about, as we'll see below.

The Spooky's Hex Move: From the write-up, it sounds like the intention is to cause a lingering problem (the examples given are "get sick", "suffer bad luck" and "fail at everything you try"), but the result seems immediate (suffer Harm), and less effective than Evil Lightning as written.  I'm not super-attached to the following suggestion, but here is a possible way that it could be changed: keep the bad results as written, but have a set of possible hexes?  For example (they're terrible, sorry):

  • Miasma: Dogs growl, cats hiss, their girl done gone cold on them, and they have -1 on any Manipulate rolls on anyone mundane
  • Bad Luck: Guns jam, swords catch the scenery, cars won't start and computers bluescreen; -1 to any roll where they need to use equipment
  • Black Dog: A panicky funk descends, giving them -1 to any Act Under Pressure rolls

These effects last until they break the curse.  Breaking the curse would be straightforward but annoying -- being sprinkled with salt, salt water or holy water, a blessing from a religious figure, saying a rosary, meditating on consecrated/holy ground, etc.  Or should it be for a limited number of tests?  I don't have a good feel for the relative power Moves should have, I'm afraid.

I also wondered whether it would be acceptable to expand the ways to curse people -- instead of just to their face, adding via a poppet (needing blood, hair, teeth etc), or by making a gris-gris and planting it where they'll sit or sleep... or is that overcomplicating things and/or slipping into the "Use Magic" move?  I guess I was just thinking about the traditional trappings of curses.

Anyway, I hope there is some useful feedback tucked in their somewhere.

Svend, here's the ones I can address quickly:

Stats/Moves - yes, that is intentional.

Panic Button - you are correct.

Use Magic/bar a place - I deliberately left effects open to group interpretation. The Keeper can make a call, bearing in mind the intentions of the caster. Either of those possibilities makes sense to me.

Ghost - you have made some good points in there, which I will ponder. I think I'm likely to say that the ghost can freely interact with *objects* but not be seen by people. Also, they should be able to just disappear and reappear somewhere else.

Tune In. Point taken, thinking.

Evil Lightning is intentionally the Spooky's overt, devastating power. I might adjust it so that you can colour it how you like, as long as your effect does obvious harm.

Hex: Thinking. It's certainly not quite how I want it yet and those suggestions are good, but they might not survive unscathed into the next revision.

Svend, you also wanted to know about monsters interacting with ghosts, right? What was the story there?

For reference, this is how I've reworded the Ghost:

Quote
Ghost. Decide how you died and why you remain on Earth. Your move is incorporeal: you may move through solid objects, or disappear (to reappear anywhere you know). You cannot be harmed by normal weapons. Your curse is invisibility: most people cannot see you. Other hunters can, and so can anything supernatural, but you need to manifest (act under pressure) to be seen by others.

It's not explicit, but a ghost is allowed pick up stuff and interact with objects however they want, including making stuff levitate to freak people out or leaving messages on a fogged mirror.

Monsters can see, interact with and hurt ghosts. At least until you disappear.

@Mike: I was just spitballing ideas for Hex, really; but while it feels like it should be an "attack" Move, making it a weaker, sneaky version of Evil Lightning didn't seem exactly right.  Maybe I was overthinking what it can do, in mechanical terms?  Maybe it should be a straight "-1 to a standard move, player's choice", sort of thing?  But I quite like the flavour of the equipment-failure one, especially since it wouldn't be very useful against lots of monsters (who tend to be natural-weapon rich), but gives you the satisfying pettiness of knowing those who thwarted you would be plagued with having phones die, change eaten by vending machines, pens run out/burst/etc. With something nonlethal but punishing like that, I'd be very tempted to hex annoying traffic officers, obstructive Department of Motor Vehicles employees, snooty coffee baristas, etc. willy-nilly, and damn the possible Harm consequences.

Er, I mean I can imagine that characters would be very tempted to do that.  Yeah.

@Steve: The situation that we came up with was a vampire attacking our ghost.  The description says that monsters (and hunters) can see you, but not whether or not they can force you to interact with them.  Especially since we were interpreting Incorporeal Move as meaning "can't touch the world without Manifesting", there was some discussion about whether the vampire could hurt the ghost (and if it could, then whether the ghost could hurt it).  Are monster's physical attacks considered supernatural attacks?  Are a hunter's?  If we meet ghost Buddha on the road, can we punch it's face in?

(Presumably someone could Use Magic to force a ghost to manifest, or to enchant their weapons to be supernatural?)

BTW, I still like the idea of a Monsterous Move that lets you find your focus, even if you don't know where they are physically.  You probably wouldn't want to allow it to work on more than one person, since it would make it very hard for the GM to isolate party members if one of them can bop around between them; but that might mean that you need to give the Move a bit more oomph to be attractive -- like the Wronged's NOT AGAIN Move, but only for the target?

Svend, Hex is supposed to be something bad, but I've decided to leave it more open for now. A straight -1 to rolls isn't much good because only player characters roll, so it doesn't give the Keeper much to work with.

Here's the revised version - should leave things a bit more open:

Quote
Hex: You can curse someone, either by speaking the curse to them or by preparing some kind of poppet or juju that has a part of them as one of the ingredients. The curse can cause anything that could happen due to misfortune. The hex usually takes effect as intended by the caster.