Finally got to sit down and actually play a game of Monster of the Week, a game I talked about a while back and have been really excited to get to the table. I’ve had the game for a while, but I have never had enough people together at the same time to be able to actually play through a game. So, with my oldest daughter home from college for spring break and just before we left for Wondercon, we got in a session, creating characters and jumping into an adventure and honestly, there are some things about the system that I really like and some that I don’t. Some things I both like and hate for different reasons. But here’s my take on the game.
Overall, it’s a ton of fun, it is heavy on gameplay, light on mechanics, you don’t have to memorize a thick rule book, even though it does come with a thick rule book, most of the game is intuitive and I don’t think I referred to the rules once during the game. Of course, I’m a seasoned GM, I’ve been doing this forever, but to just run a game on the fly, with just a 3-page outline of my plot, was actually pretty freeing. I figure a creative GM could, with about 5 minutes of prep time and an idea, just wing it and nobody would know the difference.
One of those things that I both liked and hated, and it really isn’t the game’s fault on either of these, is the character generation system. It’s easy. Now that’s a blessing because it makes it very simple to generate a character on the fly, but I also look at it as a curse. Being an old school gamer, going back to the very first edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I’m used to taking a long time to make a character. I want to because the more work it is, the more effort I have to expend, the more likely I am to become attached to the character and want to protect it during gameplay. But in recent years, where board games have tried to venture into the roleplaying market and have made character creation almost idiot proof, there isn’t any immediate attachment to the characters. They become almost disposable, if it does, just make another. What difference does it make? That’s the same kind of feeling I get from MOTW. It is so quick and easy, almost too quick and easy, to make a character on the fly, just grab a template, pick a few options and you have a new hunter. So what if it dies? Just make a new one! This isn’t bad on the part of MOTW, it’s just a sense of disposability that I really don’t like.
Now for the bad. Again, this is personal preference, but because the game is based around using archetypes, it feels more than a little generic. Every character only fits certain jobs within the party, that means that adventures need to be written with either specific characters or specific character types in mind, or the GM has to be able to adapt on the fly. In the game we played, I had to drastically reduce the amount of combat I had written because none of the characters were particularly good at it. They all survived because I fudged a bunch of rolls and toned down the monsters, but it was a close thing, with two out of the three characters ending the adventure with only one harm remaining. Had more combat capable characters been used, it would have been a different matter. Again, this plays to the disposable nature of the characters. I’d rather see characters that could grow outside of their archetype easily over several sessions instead of being stuck rigidly within it. And yes, I know it’s possible after you level up 5 times, but the character sheets don’t even have a place to record that.
Another problem that I had was that situations came up that just didn’t fit in with the basic moves. There were several occasions where I had to fake initiative rolls to decide who got to go first, the hunters or the monsters. I know this could just be arbitrarily chosen or story driven, but I want that luck element involved so if anyone got killed, nobody looked at me like I was a mean GM.
All in all, it was a great game that I loved playing, I just have some concerns over the long-term sustainability, especially from an old school roleplaying perspective. We kept all of the characters from the first play through and before we get to a second, which probably won’t be until this summer, they’ll be reworked with detailed histories to make them feel more permanent. I want the characters to mean something. The games generally become a bit silly, but this isn’t Paranoia either, death ought to mean more than “oh well, let me make another character, be back in 3 minutes”.