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The Skinny
This is a 194 page softbound book by Michael Sands describing the rules for Monster of the Week, a role playing game based on the Apocalypse World Engine. The genre could best be described as modern fantasy horror. Monster of the Week is well suited for roleplaying fictional settings like Monster Hunter International, The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, The Dresden Files, Hellboy, or The Laundry.

The splash on the back cover delivers the elevator pitch for the game pretty well in my opinion:



Overview of Contents
There Are Monsters Out There - 3 pages
This is a book that gets right down to business. This short introduction describes what the game is about, what you'll need to play, and how to get the most out of the book. The author assumes you are already familiar with the basic concept of a role-playing game, which I find refreshing.

The Hunters - 76 pages
This chapter could aptly be called the Player's Section, since it covers game play from the player's perspective. There are 21 sections in this chapter and many of these are divided further into subsections. I'm not going to try to describe them all in exhaustive detail, but instead hit some of the highlights and summarize what it tells you about the game.

In Monster of the Week, and other Apocalypse World hacks, a character's actions are described in terms of Moves. Put simply, a Move is when you roll the dice and determine an outcome. Characters have eight basic moves, plus special moves based on their character type. The eight basic moves are:

• Act Under Pressure
• Help Out
• Investigate a Mystery
• Kick Some Ass
• Manipulate Someone
• Protect Someone
• Read a Bad Situation
• Use Magic

Each of these moves has the same basic mechanic; Roll 2d6 and add the relevant stat (more about stats in a moment). For each move, what happens next depends on the result of this roll. Results of 10 or better generally mean an unqualified success for the acting character - they did what they intended to do with no adverse consequences. Results of 7-9 are successes, but with consequences. Maybe you didn't get everything you were after, maybe you got hurt, maybe you had to pay a price. And results of 6 or less are failures. You didn't accomplish what you intended and probably made everything a lot worse.

This makes more sense when you look at the structure of one of the moves in detail. Let's pick Act Under Pressure.

Michael Sands wrote:
"This covers trying to do something under conditions of particular stress or danger. Examples of acting under pressure are: staying on task while a banshee screams at you; barricading a door before the giant rats catch up; resisting the mental domination of a brain-worm; fighting on when you're badly injured.
When you act under pressure, roll +Cool.
On a 10+ you do what you set out to do.
On a 7-9 the Keeper is going to give you a worse outcome, hard choice, or price to pay.
On a miss, things go to hell."


With some of the moves, the player gets to choose the complication or bonus, and with some the Keeper does.

This chapter also introduces the basic character types: The Chosen, The Expert, The Flake, The Initiate, The Monstrous, The Mundane, The Professional, The Spooky, and The Wronged. Each type comes with a playbook that describes the special moves, rules, and character options associated with that type. Character creation is fantastically fast and simple. You customize your character by checking boxes next to lists of options (e.g. choose three weapons from the following list).

Each character has five Statistics that normally range from -1 to +2 for a starting character. These are

• Charm, your ability to interact with other humans
• Cool, your ability to keep calm and carry on in dire circumstances
• Sharp, your wits, knowledge, and intelligence
• Tough, your ability to give and take a beating
• Weird, your facility with magic and general paranormal ookiness.

These stats can be improved over time to a maximum of +3.

Part of the chapter is focused on the all-important first session. The process of character creation includes determining relationships among the characters (again, by choosing from lists on the playbooks) and establishing the basic premise of your Hunter group. Other sections deal with the mechanics for harm and healing, the use of Big Magic (powerful ritual magic), the Luck mechanic, gear, and character advancement. All of it is simple and solid, and keeps the focus on moving the story along rather than requiring a lot of player rules mastery.

The Keeper - 100 pages
The second half of the book is information for the GM or Keeper of Mysteries and Monsters. This section was profoundly eye-opening and thought-provoking to me, and forced me to re-examine my assumptions about what it means to be a GM, how a session should be prepared for, and how it should be run. Again, it's a long chapter with a lot of sections and subsections, so I'll just hit the highlights in terms of content and then try to discuss the parts that made me reconsider my GM paradigm.

Early on is a discussion of the Keeper Agenda and Keeper Principles. These are on the Keeper playbook and serve as an ever-present reminder of what the Keeper's job is. They make clear that the primary role of the Keeper in this game is to facilitate the creation of a great story by the players. This is rather different from the traditional view of the GM role, that of world builder, rules arbiter, and voice of the NPCs. In MotW, the Keeper will often be asking the players what they see and what the consequences of their actions are, giving them built in narrative authority in the game.

The Keeper Agenda is:

• Make the world seem real.
• Play to see what happens.
• Make the hunters' lives dangerous and scary.

The Keeper Principles are:

• Put horror in everyday situations.
• Address yourselves to the hunters, not the players.
• Use the Keeper moves, but never use their names.
• Be a fan of the hunters.
• Build up a coherent mythology of the world as you play.
• Nothing is safe. Kill bystanders and minions, burn down buildings, let monsters be slain.
• Name everyone they meet, make them seem like normal folks.
• Ask questions and build on answers.
• Sometimes give the hunters exactly what they earned, rather than everything they wanted.
• Think about what's happening off-screen.
• You don't always have to decide what happens.
• Everything is a threat.

These principles are quite freeing to a GM, and encourage running a largely improvised game with minimal prep. When in doubt, ask your players and build on what they give you.

Keepers have moves, just like players do. The difference is that the Keeper never rolls dice. If a player chooses to Kick Some Ass on a monster, the monster harms the player. Period. No roll to hit, no roll for damage. Generally speaking, the Keeper's moves are more abstract than the player's moves. Things like Separate Them, Make Them Investigate, Do Harm as Established, Put Someone in Danger, and Ask What They Do Next. I won't list them all so you still have a reason to buy the book.

Not only does the Keeper have these basic moves, but Monsters, Minions, Bystanders, and Locations all have moves of their own. These moves are listed on the Keeper playbook, so you don't have to memorize them all.

The remainder of the chapter is full of solid and actionable guidelines for how to run the game at the table and how to prepare for sessions. One such tool is The Countdown; a list of six events that will happen if the monsters get their way and the hunters do absolutely nothing to stop them. This is the most compact and elegant form of a "villain plot" I have ever seen, but when examined critically, it's really all you need. The player basic moves are covered again in this section from the Keeper's point of view - explaining what the options are for those "successes with a cost" in the 7-9 result range. What to do for the first session is well covered, and near the end of it are recommendations for what to do between sessions and how to deal with experience and leveling up. In many ways, the Keeper chapter mirrors the topics in the Player chapter, but from a different point of view.

Customizing Your Game - 9 pages
A brief chapter covering such topics as custom moves, one-shot play, sharing the keeper duties, and creating custom playbooks. This section would be of more interest to players and keepers that have been playing MotW for a while.

Inspiration, Index, and Colophon - 4 pages
The short Inspiration section lists other RPGs, books, movies, and television shows that motivated the creation of the game. The index is functional and useful. For those of you not hip to the whole colophon scene, a colophon is "an inscription placed at the end of a book or manuscript usually with facts relative to its production." (Merriam-Webster) In it, the author notes that he used OpenOffice and LibreOffice to create the book and describes his sources for the fonts. He also credits IndieGoGo for the fundraising.

The Good Stuff
Fundamentally what you have here is a powerful and useful toolbox for running a fantastic improvised game. The Keeper can spend 15-20 minutes prepping a playbook with a monster, some locations, and a countdown, and then let the players lead the way through the game. Though the playbooks aren't included IN the book, you can download them for free at genericgames.co.nz. The writing in the book is clear and conversational, but the real strength is in the ideas presented. Even if I never play this game, I feel as though my notions of what it means to be a GM have been shattered just by reading it.

Room to Improve
I can't really fault the content of the book. It succeeds in doing what it set out to do with simplicity and elegance. The book would probably be more marketable with some more artwork and color, and might be a little easier to read with some professionally done layout to break up the flow of the text. However, since the game depends on playbooks, a GM or player really won't need to use the book as a reference during play. And while Monster creation is deceptively simple, a few worked up examples or a short bestiary of common monsters would make things easier for the starting GM.



Conclusion
All in all, I am extremely impressed with this book and the game it describes. Though I haven't yet played the game, it has made me think differently about how I GM a game session and how I manage a story arc for my players. I'm excited to get this to the table. I give it five psychotic werewolves out of five. Outstanding.

This is my 4/8 deadline submission for the 2013 Iron Review.
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Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again.
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It's quite a good game, and I'm really enjoying my MotW PbF adventure.

Nice review, Mike!
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MonsterMike wrote:
I'm excited to get this to the table. I give it five psychotic werewolves out of five. Outstanding.


Outstanding yourself!
Running this game is actually addictive.
I will be opening my third table on RPGG in May...

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A great review, thanks Mike!

My copy of MotW arrived today and I've got stuck into it.
It's my first exposure to the Apocalypse World rules-set. I'm really taken with the elegance and ease of the system so far, and the emphasis of fiction first.

thumbsup

P.S-I'm also going to be on the hunt for the extra playbooks. I have the Luchador in case anyone has them for trade.
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Thanks for the positive review! I'm very happy you found inspiration in my advice.
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Pendraig wrote:
P.S-I'm also going to be on the hunt for the extra playbooks. I have the Luchador in case anyone has them for trade.


A public spirited person has been collecting shared playbooks for all the Apocalypse powered games at http://nerdwerds.blogspot.de/2012/12/all-of-playbooks.html. You can find a few more Monster of the Week hunter books there (both official by me and fan-made ones).
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Mike Sands wrote:
Thanks for the positive review! I'm very happy you foundinspiration in my advice.


Ooh, words from the man himself. I'm honored, sir. And feeling a bit out of my league. blush

Thanks for creating this great game. I'm actually doing my prep tonight so I can run the game for a trio of friends after dinner tomorrow. I'm using Jim Butcher's short story Heorot (from Side Jobs) as my inspiration, though I'm changing all of the details.

Let's just say it will involve a Grendelkin, Hodags (in place of Butcher's Malks), a keg of mead, and a pair of enthralled human minions. A reluctant sheriff, Oklahoma's only virgin, a breeder of white bulldogs, and a couple of curious kids with a camera will serve as bystanders/victims. Set in Red Eye, Oklahoma near the Choctaw National Forest. We'll see how it goes.
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Matthew Logan
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Mike Sands wrote:
Pendraig wrote:
P.S-I'm also going to be on the hunt for the extra playbooks. I have the Luchador in case anyone has them for trade.


A public spirited person has been collecting shared playbooks for all the Apocalypse powered games at http://nerdwerds.blogspot.de/2012/12/all-of-playbooks.html. You can find a few more Monster of the Week hunter books there (both official by me and fan-made ones).


Thanks Michael! MotW is a really fine piece of work. I'm looking forward to running it. thumbsup
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Mike Sands
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MonsterMike wrote:
Mike Sands wrote:
Thanks for the positive review! I'm very happy you foundinspiration in my advice.


Ooh, words from the man himself. I'm honored, sir. And feeling a bit out of my league. blush


There's no need to!

I'm just a gamer too - the game is really just a reflection of the large proportion of my life that has been spent playing or thinking about roleplaying games. Plus a very strong desire to play something that ran like episodes of Supernatural

MonsterMike wrote:
Thanks for creating this great game. I'm actually doing my prep tonight so I can run the game for a trio of friends after dinner tomorrow. I'm using Jim Butcher's short story Heorot (from Side Jobs) as my inspiration, though I'm changing all of the details.

Let's just say it will involve a Grendelkin, Hodags (in place of Butcher's Malks), a keg of mead, and a pair of enthralled human minions. A reluctant sheriff, Oklahoma's only virgin, a breeder of white bulldogs, and a couple of curious kids with a camera will serve as bystanders/victims. Set in Red Eye, Oklahoma near the Choctaw National Forest. We'll see how it goes.


Sounds cool!
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