Indie RPG Spotlight: Relive Your Favorite 90s Shows With ‘Monster of the Week’
Live your Buffy-style vampire-hunting dreams while building friendships with easy-to-play Monster of the Week.
There is a decent chance that you already know about Monster of the Week. It’s one of the most popular games to use the Powered by the Apocalypse system and has been featured in a few actual-play style podcasts; most notably the second season of The Adventure Zone. Combining urban fantasy with horror and a fair bit of good old-fashioned nostalgia, Monster of the Week is a game that gets a lot of love, deserves the love that it gets, and holds up to years and multiple plays.
Monster of the Week
First published back in 2012, Monster of the Week was a Powered by the Apocalypse-style game before the PbtA system really took off. Designed by Michael Sands and published by Evil Hat Productions, the game was inspired by some of the most popular urban fantasy-horror television shows of the 90s. Shows like The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Supernatural were all noted by Sand. And with their small town ‘monster of the week’ style storytelling that would eventually culminate towards bigger season-end events it’s easy to see how these shows inspired this game.
It’s also easy to see how this style of show would inspire a tabletop roleplaying game at all. Buffy-style shows were fun and easy to watch. The drama and interpersonal relationships were almost as (if not more) important as the big-bands and monsters.
This dynamic that encourages your players to interact and talk in character is key in a PbtA sort of game. Relationships and group dynamics are a big part of what makes this game work and stand out. But also, the style of the show makes for an easier and sometimes more fun approach to writing and running games. Don’t have a big, dynamic end-game figured out? You do but don’t know how to get there? That’s okay, work towards it and lay out clues slowly with lots and lots of weekly monsters until we get there.
Character Creation & Gameplay
As a Powered by the Apocalypse game, Monster of the Week is pretty quick to set up, easy to learn, and simple to play. character sheets are generally two to three page long and pre-written. You choose the general = archetype you want your character to embody, and start working through the provided checklists. This isn’t the end-all-be-all of your character.
But it does provide helpful things like moves, weapons, ways you can level up, and special abilities. If it sounds basic, that’s because it is. Most of the game and your character comes from the people at the table making the character their own and interacting with those characters. This is a system that relies heavily on you to be creative, imaginative, and willing to have a lot of fun with it.
Gameplay is also pretty simple. Your character sheet and character creation will help determine what your skills and abilities are. When it’s time to make a roll-requiring move, you roll just two standard D6, add or subtract according to your playbook, and look for the number. The higher the better, of course. But middle-range rolls will often allow for mixed successes, ways to fail up, or ways to succeed with conditions. Also, if you roll a six or less (generally a failure), you gain experience. Experience leads to new abilities or leveling up. Your character learns from their failures and I think that’s beautiful.
If you’d like to learn more about Monster of the Week or play it for yourself, check it out on Evil Hat Production’s official website.
Have you played Monster of the Week? Have you listened to any actual pay podcasts that feature the game? What was (or is) your favorite ‘monster of the week’ style TV show? Let us know in the comments!