Golly, I might have bit off more than I can chew! Last week I started a discussion of Monster of the Week that honestly expanded far beyond my expectations when it comes to the length of a normal article here on Adventure Rules, and as I started this one the same thing began to happen. The amazing thing about games Powered by the Apocalypse is that they have all kinds of important details that you can absorb just by reading the playbooks and rules. It tells you so much about the world and the characters and gives you a thorough understanding of the game before dice ever hit the table. Now because of the depth of these articles, I don’t want to serve you up an 8000+ word blog post (and I’m sure you don’t want to read that!), so I’ll be breaking the rest of this series into smaller segments than the last time. We’ll hit two character types per week for the next few weeks and simply expand this series into a much longer exploration of supernatural games. I may also take breaks from time to time to discuss something else – but hey, this stuff is all way more suited to a blog update and you just want to get to the monsters, right? So let’s go!
[If you read the introductory stuff last week and just want to skip to the article proper, skip ahead to the heading “The Chosen”]
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) refers to a roleplaying game that utilizes similar mechanics or philosophies to Apocalypse World. PbtA games are narrative-driven, rely on a 2d6+STAT mechanic with three tiers of success or failure, and have codified rules for the GM down to the specific moves they should consider making. It’s a flexible system that the creators, Vincent and Meguey Baker, are very open about other folks using to create their own games. The other cool thing about them is that the playbooks (character types) and the basic moves (the most commonly-engaged rules of the game) are often resources that can be printed for free.
Thanks to this openness to the community and ease of access, it’s quite easy to get a strong vision of exactly what a PbtA game will play like without having to commit financially first. I want to learn everything I can about the three supernatural PbtA games simply by reading their playbooks and moves, then compare the three together to see their pros and cons as well as which one is most appropriate for which type of game. I’ll be breaking the series into multiple parts over the course of the next few months. So for this week, the game we’ll be discussing is:
MONSTER OF THE WEEK
Monster of the Week is a supernatural tabletop RPG developed by Evil Hat Official, who you may know for the popular FATE Core/FATE Accelerated systems. It’s a PbtA game inspired by the classic premise of many a supernatural television show: each week, you hunt a different monster. Since we went over the core moves last week, this week we’ll take some time to look at the different character playbooks and see what kind of hero that you can portray! If you want to read these resources along with the article, they are available for free download from Evil Hat’s website: just follow this link! All the art in today’s post is taken from those resources, so if you enjoy it you’ll want to check them out.
By the way, a quick content warning: Adventure Rules is generally about as family-friendly as the game being discussed, and there’s a bit of course language built into Monster of the Week’s rules. If language bothers you or if you’re a parent deciding if your kid should read about this tabletop game, this might be one you want to skip.
The chosen character is someone whose destiny is to save the world. Prophesies have foretold of their coming and their abilities relate to their Chosen One status. In a PbtA game, the types of characters available tell us things about the world – we know there are prophesies now, and that those prophesies speak of a chosen one who will save the world. As we move down the sheet we see spaces for tracking important details like stats, Luck, Harm, and EXP. We also see the Chosen special, a move that activates when this character spends a point of luck. It explains that the Keeper (read: game master) will bring your Fate into play. What is fate? The next column tells us that we’ll find out once we reach the back of the character sheet, so for now let’s proceed to the starting moves.
Every chosen starts out with two specific moves, and then may choose a third from a list. This gives all characters of this type a baseline that you can expect from them, but a bit of customization as well. Destiny’s Plaything is a start-of-session move that gives the Chosen access to some privileged information. This is rolled with the weird stat, which shows that this stat is one of the important ones for this playbook. The second move is I’m Here for a Reason, which establishes some significant fictional positioning for the Chosen: they can’t die. Anytime you would die, you have to spend luck in order to miraculously get out of the situation alive. Once you’re out of luck or you’ve completed the conditions of your fate, this move stops working. It looks like the Chosen is a good character to play if you want to be central to the story and have some plot armor.
When it comes to the other Chosen moves, they’re pretty bland in the sense that they focus primarily on boosts. Devastating increases harm dealt, Resilience increases healing received, and Invincible grants permanent armor bonuses. Dutiful grants the Chosen EXP when the character’s fate comes into play and they act in accordance with their fate tags (more on that on the second page, it seems). Finally, The Big Entrance allows the player to roll +Cool to try and keep all the attention on them. If it succeeds, the Chosen can monologue at will and nothing else will happen until they finish up. This tells us that Cool might be important for the Chosen, but since this move is optional one could instead choose to focus more on the various buffs.
Part of being the chosen is receiving a special weapon unique to your character. The next move is all about designing this weapon. You choose the base type first – either staff (versatile), haft (powerful), handle (balanced), or chain (range) – and then add up to three descriptors that define the weapon’s business end. Most of these either increase the harm or add useful tags that increase the range of the weapon, but you can also make it magic if you wish. Finally, the weapon is made of a material that certain monster types are most certainly weak to: steel, cold iron, wood, silver, stone, bone, teeth, or obsidian. Based on having a special weapon and a number of buffs to damage, armor, and healing, it feels like the chosen falls into a classic fighter archetype from more familiar roleplaying games like D&D.
As we look at the five options for stats, I start to get a little confused about the intent of the chosen playbook. One of its two required moves relies on the Weird stat, which suggests that players of this playbook will want to prioritize it. Yet at the same time, both stat lines which prioritize Weird leave Tough at the lowest score. Tough is necessary to Kick Some Ass with that sweet chosen weapon – so either you pick being good at your Fate, or being good with your weapon. It’s an odd setup that prevents you from prioritizing what seem to be the most important stats for the playbook.
Finally, we get to see what this fate is all about. The Chosen has many options for how they found out their fate – trained from birth, discovered by a cult, attacked by monsters, and even discovering the prophecy for yourself. You then have two heroic tags and two doom tags, which are invoked whenever the Chosen special is used (or the Dutiful move if you picked it). These tags are effectively themes that can come into play: love, loss, magic, good, and evil are all forces which are at play in the chosen’s life. The playbook also lets you know that you can choose two which seem opposite, as this indicates that fate is pulling you in multiple directions. For example, the heroic tag true love and the doom tag impossible love are not mutually exclusive.
Ultimately, it seems that the chosen playbook is The Protagonist (TM), complete with the cool weapon and the prophesies and the inability to die during the game without miraculously coming back from it. It’s a common trope in supernatural fiction and so it fits well here as the first character type that we see, and it introduces us to the basics of how Monster of the Week works without hitting us too hard with complex rules. While it’s definitely not the ideal class for min/maxers thanks to that odd Weird vs Tough problem in the stat lines, it’s a simple and balanced playbook that I imagine is particularly good for first time players.
A character from a very different type of underworld, this playbook focuses on playing a criminal with lots of seedy connections and resources. Crooked characters are highly versatile, fingers in every pot and with a variety of abilities at their disposal. Because of this, two crooked characters might look very different than one another, even if they both appear in the same playthrough of the game. This is because crooked people can come from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, and they have no required moves in the way that the chosen did.
We immediately get an idea of what kind of character the crooked one is with the crooked special: when you spend a point of Luck, someone from your past will reappear in your life soon. Uh oh, that sounds like trouble, especially since the next thing you choose is your criminal background. Hoodlum, burglar, fixer, grifter, assassin, charlatan, pickpocket – each of these options gives you a different ability. Hoodlums use Tough to manipulate people instead of Charm, which creates a very different character than the Fixer, who relies on Charm to find connections to folks who provide valuable services. Based on your background, you’ll want to prioritize different stats and probably benefit from a different set of moves.
The common theme in the crooked moves is connection: whether you have a Deal with the Devil or just Friends on the Force, whether you’re the leader of a Crew or you’re Made in a gang, the crooked gets their power from who they know. Each of these abilities gives you power in a different way – the devil grants wealth, youth, and the like at a price while having a crew at your disposal is an arrangement in which you are decidedly more in-charge, but a lot more mundane too. The Artifact move continues to reinforce the versatility theme, as it can serve as protection (in the form of armor or luck), knowledge (giving bonuses to use magic or new effects of it), or access (opening magical locks). You only get one version of the artifact, but a whole crew of crooked characters could all play very differently based on what artifacts they chose.
The crooked playbook’s gear is a lot less specialized than the chosen, but once again versatility is the name of the game. From a list of nine options, you can choose weapons that portray your character as more of a common thug (baseball bat, crooked knife, shotgun) or as someone with more powerful connections and higher quality gear (assault rifle, submachine gun, .22 revolver). Some of the weapon options are effectively the same when you look at their tags, but there’s a good variety here as far as attack range, harm dealt, and other disadvantages such as reloading or loud blasts.
The next thing to choose for the crooked playbook is your Heat – who is after you, and why? This helps to drive home the negative impact of your shady connections, and you can bet these are exactly the people who show up when you use the crooked special. Whether it’s a burned partner, a detective who’s got a bead on you, a powerful monster you’ve manipulated in the past, or a crime lord that may very well have been your previous employer, the crooked playbook has at least two specific people whose mission is to mess you up. In exchange for the power that comes with versatility and connections, you have to deal with the consequences, too.
Finally, you choose your connection to the supernatural underworld, which is to say, the first monster you encountered. This choice doesn’t necessarily impact the game mechanically, but it influences the game fiction (which is just as important in a PbtA game) and it can help guide you in choosing your moves. After this you make the more standard character decisions like stats, your history with other party members, and what you look like.
Overall, the crooked playbook has lots of options. It not only makes each individual crooked character versatile, but it makes two crooked characters look very different from each other when compared side by side. This playbook is all about connections to other people and entities in the world, so if you’re interested in playing someone who has meaningful bonds to all kinds of dangerous powers, then the crooked playbook is probably for you!
That’s gonna be it for me today, adventurers. We’ll dive into two more Monster of the Week classes the next time I do a Tabletop Tuesday post, and once we work our way through this game I’ll move on to a different PbtA game set in a supernatural world. If you’ve played Monster of the Week before, particularly as either of these playbooks, I would love to hear your thoughts on the game!