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Monster of the Week $12.00 $8.28
Average Rating:4.8 / 5
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Monster of the Week
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Monster of the Week
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Jason C. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 10/21/2018 15:18:29

Sitting down to write a review of Monster of the Week while being a guy who can't abide essentially any episode of Supernatural you care to name, and who only really liked Buffy: The Vampire Slayer for the side characters is an exercise in trying to refocus on "but is this really FOR me?" Let's at least step back a little and try to see where this work fits in the history of the genre.

While episodic action-adventure shows have been common on television since the earliest days, the combination of horror, episodic enemies and recurring protagonists first came about in the cartoon Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! in 1969. Before that time, episodic horror was the realm of the anthology series (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, etc.) or the soap opera - always an innovator in television (Dark Shadows). The Scooby-Doo formula would be refined in more standard dramas like Kolchak, The Night Stalker, and was a consistent theme in cartoons like The Real Ghostbusters. The formula is this: The characters, intertwined in various ways, with strong relationships and connections to each other, face a supernatural evil. The evil grows in intensity, the characters face setbacks and attempt to save each other and the world, and ultimately the (seemingly) supernatural evil is defeated, and the characters return to the status quo. The classic show that combined the episodic and the serial in this field was Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which ran for seven seasons on TV and another five in comics, which attempted to make the relationship web of the characters more serial, while the episodic threats were loosely connected, the characters facing a "Big Bad", as they self-referentially called it, at the end of each season.

At its most successful, BTVS was able to transcend the formula, but it often did so in ways that displayed the weakness of the formula itself. When BTVS elevated its supporting cast, it showed the web of deep, interwoven relationships that had developed over the seasons, and the changes the characters had gone through - like a serial show, like a soap opera. When it played with its own presentation (a silent episode, a musical episode) it showed how much greater range its performers had than the formula really required of them. While incredibly influential and successful, BTVS actually had threaded a very tight needle. Followups (Angel, Supernatural) seemed unable to replicate this, with good reason.

The monster-of-the-week genre is one that, ironically, the RPG hobby had developed far more aggressively and in-depth than television had. Call of Cthulhu's module play often emphasized the idea of the location-based scenarios - investigators came to a place, summoned by a letter from their favorite cousin or hunting buddy, came across horrible supernatural events and the survivors emerged shaken but ready to go to the next, unrelated scenario. Indeed, the idea of serial characters moving through a series of episodes has always been the standard setup for horror RPGs! This means Monster of the Week, the game, has a very difficult remit. It has to convince you that it actually brings something different to the table than Literally All The Other Horror RPGs Out There, because this subgenre has been ours longer than it has been anyone else's. We got here first. Buffy's the latecomer.

So, taking that very careful question, what does Monster of the Week bring to the table, there's several elements that combine both to make it an extremely good game in certain circumstances and a very boring one in others.

First, it does a great job of connecting the characters to each other, and using those relationships as the basis for the world. You are giong to be playing episodes of a show that is in its third season. Stuff has happened before. Nobody is going to be "but vampires don't exist!", the most boring thing ever to appear in monster of the week properties. So from a player perspective, it does a good job of bringing you into the dynamic of these kinds of properties. Nobody is going to be lost on the sidelines of a Monster of the Week game.

Second, it does a good job of funnelizing play - meaning that there is always a mechanical way forward. You are never stuck going "well, these werewolves are immune to silver, so NOW what do we do?" There's a simple, basic set of moves (this is a quasi-Powered By The Apocalypse game) that will always provoke you (or send you tumbling) forward through the plot of the scenario. You ascertain the nature of the threat, encounter it once or twice, learn its weakness, and defeat it.

What this means is that for one-shots and for brief campaigns - say, five or six sessions - Monster of the Week is ideal. But these same advantages begin to wear thin as the formula begins to show through. From a GM perspective, there's so little mechanical variation in your options for designing monsters, and none at all for responding to player character actions, that after you do 3-4 episodes, you've literally done everything you're going to ever do in the game. At least the players have their relationships to leap back onto, and a set of moves they can get themselves tangled up in; your options are much more constrained. Compare this to the role of the GM in Apocalypse World, where complicating the situation by introducing a new threat is as simple as coming up with something and saying it happens. The reification of the monster's weakness into a game mechanical token which must be delivered when and only when the players strike one of the moves that generate it means that a lot of the creativity of the GM side is just not there. (Compare, say, to Call of Cthulhu, where every player has 70-odd skills and is clambering all over your monster asking you what happens when they do something involving Botany.)

So that's that - and that was my experience with it. When I ran it once, it sang. When I ran 2-3 sessions of it, it was incredible. But at around session 6 I felt that, as a GM, I'd seen all it could do, and the prospect of more just seemed entirely too dreary. So in that respect, Monster of the Week fails to rise above the typical horror RPG, and, like most of the cultural content it is perching atop of, can't rise to the heights of Buffy-at-its-best. But surely it's better than Supernatural-at-its-worst. And the exceptional, fast-moving quality of the game makes it ideal for one-shot and convention play, so I can urge you to play in those social circumstances with an unqualified recommendation. Just keep an eye out for how the game's structure constrains you.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Monster of the Week
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Jonathan B. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 09/09/2018 12:25:57

Great PbtA game. Have used this for a series of one shots when traveling with friends and it was really easy for a tabletop beginners to pickup the game.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster of the Week
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by James M. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/17/2017 11:45:47

If ever a game sent me tumbling back with nostalgia and wishing we had a game back in my late teens, it was this one. Fond memories of using Choasium's basic roleplaying system to try to emulate high school paranormal investigators and not to disparrage those memories but, Monster of the Week would have made those sessions even more memorable. Powered by the Apocalypse the game walks players through creating a monster hunting team with indviduals of extraordinary magnitude to square of against whatever creature has come into confrontation with the team this week. The game sets up villainous arcs for the game master, a competent and entwined crew, and characters with depth and connections that have ideas how they relate to each other and the supernatural world around them right out of the gate. For monster hunting with a flair for action and adventure I have yet to run across a game that does it better than Monster of the Week.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster of the Week
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by William C. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 02/17/2016 14:31:04

Why should you pick this game up?

  • It is a game built on the Apocolpyse World Engine. Roll 2D6 plus your stat. On 6 or less something bad happens and plot moves forward. 7-9 Something good and bad happens. 10+ Tell the GM just how great things went.
  • In this game if you fail a roll, you get a point of xp. Yep. Even if something goes horribly wrong because of your failed roll, there is still a silver lining to that cloud. It encourages players to try approaches to situtaitons that don't rely on clinging desperately to one's most powerful stat.
  • This game lets you step into the Dresden Files, Buffy, Supernatural, Mercy Thompson, the X-Files, The Nightside and a myriad other worlds of Urban Fantasy, Weird West and Weird Science. You can quickly build a fun quirky one-shot or craft 4 or 5 episode arc worthy of Netflix.
  • The classes (or playbooks) really capture the archetypes of Urban Fantasy and are quite rich. They cover everythign from quirky funny moves to creating ancient cults to designing uber monster dicing weapons.


Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster of the Week
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Christopher V. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/30/2015 15:28:17

This game turned out to be more fun that I initially thought it would be. I was attracted to it because I enjoy the Apocalypse World system, and have had some success running Dungeon World with mixed groups of experienced players and totally new players. None of us are that into the monster shows this game is trying to emulate, and it seemed that the setup was more on rails than our DW adventures. Well, we played this originally as a Halloween special, but everyone had so much fun we will definitely be bringing those characters back.

The book guides you nicely through mystery preparation, and provides a simple sheet to keep it organized. Armed with that and a few location ideas, you are good to go. Let the players off the leash and play to find out what happens. The playbooks are great. There are a ton of choices and the players can really flesh them out with their cool ideas.

As usual with these games, if you have strong player buy-in everyone is going to have a great time.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
Monster of the Week
Publisher: Evil Hat Productions, LLC
by Simon H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/18/2015 17:52:09

This is an excellent product... for the right group. If you or most of your group or RPGing for the first time and are interested in the genre I'd go all the way to saying this is a full on five star product must have. The problem for groups that aren't so inexperienced is this is a little too full of 'your first RPG' type information or leading you by the hand for everything.

If you're familiar with Evil Hat's other work the basic system will be pretty familiar. For better or for worse I'd say this one's even more slimmed down and on rails mechanically. Again, for a group that's all rookies or has mostly rookies in it this isn't a bad thing. For the right crowd or if you know what you're getting into this could be excellent. My personal opinion is that it's too fast and too on rails, you'll get one of the designated level ups whenever you reach five experience points. Certain abilities can literally give you experience points, not to mention you get one whenever you roll a 6 or less on two six sided dice for one of your actions.

Now for the genre, what they're trying to do, and certain groups this isn't a bad thing. Heck, it's pretty thematic. Monster of the week is designed to episodic, and if each character gains a little bit each episode that's quicker then usual on the shows but far from out of character. This same sort of 'problem' applies to most of the rest of the game. It's designed to go too quickly. Well, how many of these types of shows hurry past because they don't know they'll get a second season? It's designed and encouraged to be a bit too formulaic. Hello! It's called 'Monster of the Week"? And so on and so forth.

Like I said at the beginning if this sort of thing sounds alright to you or you're new to rpgs this is excellent. Evil Hat provides a lot of support and what's done here is done right. It's just a little bit too much in the computer game RPG vein at times, you can only do certain things in certain ways and your freedom is more limited then it would be in more advanced games. I doubt this will hit my group's table. But I respect what it's trying to do, and if I had a kid or younger cousin that said they wanted to try and put together a group and do some rpging and they had no experience THIS would be the book I'd recommend for them.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
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