|Let's do it to them before they do it to us...!|
Both Monster of the Week and Dungeon World work on exactly the same premise. The mechanics of the game are very simple - roll 2d6 and make some adjustments based on your Traits and some special abilities. Roll under a 7 and you fail / bad things happen; roll 7-9 and you succeed, but frequently with complications; roll 10+ and it's all good. With Monster of the Week you can also use XP to purchase additional advantages that kick in if you really nail it with 12+.
XP, by the way, is earned if you roll 6 or less. You fail, but you learn.
What I really like about PbtA, and why I'd like to run it myself at some point, is that so much of the game is contained in the character play books. For example, in Monster of the Week I played the Crooked. MoW is a game about monster hunting in the modern world, inspired by TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Supernatural. You play part of a team of people who for one reason or another hunt evil creatures for a living.
The Crooked play book is just one personality in the group, but by playing that archetype, I was playing the only person in the team with a criminal background. In my case I chose Assassin as my background - I picked the name Marco Ambrosius, a former hit man for the mob who had gone 'straight' after he was assigned the job of killing what turned out to be a troll. This opened his eyes to the existence of the supernatural. I imagined him somewhat like Tom Cruise's character in Collateral.
The other characters included the Spooky (a psychic), the Divine (an actual creature sent by divine forces to fight evil on Earth, in this case some form of angel) and a Monster (only one player can play an actual monster fighting on the side of good, in this case a ghost).
But all your information and abilities are right there on your play book. You choose a lot of your background options and resources simply by ticking boxes and then you go around the table and take it in turns to work out your relationships with the other characters. I think this is less important in a one shot but can be very interesting indeed as the basis for a campaign. I know FATE RPG has this focus on character relationships too, and believe it ought to be standard for any good RPG design.
So, take for example Marco's relationship with Frank, the Spooky. Frank, who has premonitions of disaster, managed to save one of Marco's targets. This is how they met. Subsequently, as both Frank and Marco have contacts in the City of London, they have worked together to make money on the side using Frank's psychic abilities to realise a small fortune on the stock market. This has freed them up to spend more time monster hunting.
Marco's relationship with the ghost, Molly, is even better. He is the descendant of one of her sisters from the 1800s.
It really helps to wire the party up in this way, particularly if you have a group of players who have not met each other before. It also provides the basis for relationships between the characters well before the play actually begins.
PbtA games are a little more restricted in terms of so-called moves, actions that you can take. Even the GM has a list of moves. These take a bit of getting used to, but in 90% of cases you will find something you want to do covered either by basic moves like Investigate A Mystery or Kick Some Ass. Taking the Crooked as an example, I picked Driver and Notorious. These are not stand alone moves, but add bonuses when doing something else - for example, Driver helps with tasks that involve motor transport, plus I also gained the ability to hot wire vehicles.
Each character really makes you feel like you are playing a classic archetype from the genre, but at the same time bringing your own take on it, your own level of personalisation.
And on to the action...
A quick summary of the plot then - our team was recruited by a bar tender in Brighton who was actually one of the fae (and a patron of Marco's having given him the botched troll assassination mission) and tasked with finding out why the population of buskers in Brighton seemed to be going down. The fae were upset about this, as it meant the town's high levels of glamour were declining, one of their main reasons for being in Brighton was the town's the high levels of creativity, she explained.
We also had a run-in with Damien, a vampire who was tasked with policing Brighton's supernatural population, but who was somewhat in awe of our team, particularly the Divine.
We established fairly quickly through our ghostly comrade Molly (who damned herself via a demonic pact in the Old West in the 1800s) that the buskers were not being murdered. A stake out near the pier led to Molly being on the scene when another busker was kidnapped. Leaning on a contact of Marco's at Sussex Police (using my Notorious ability) gave us access to CCTV footage which in turn led us to the missing busker in an alley way. She was still alive and it looked as if someone had fabricated the attack to look like a vampire was responsible. Damien arrived shortly thereafter to explain that he did not believe a vampire was to blame. We could see that the cameras had failed to pick up the entity which removed her - it resembled a blur on the footage.
Frank hit his occult library for clues while our Divine used his ability to teleport into the recovery ward at the Royal Sussex Hospital to speak with the busker, Mia. It turned out that she had had all her creative impulse drained from her and now wanted nothing better than to pursue a clerical job. This helped us to zero in on the fae and in particular a banshee as the likely culprit, according to Frank.
A second stake out on the pier was set up, with Frank summoning a demon as back up (it perched on the roof tops and snacked on sea gulls).We were ambushed by the missing buskers who had been drained of their creative urges and armed with knives to attack us. The Divine managed to banish the evil power motivating them while the banshee was tackled by Molly and stunned. Marco, in case you are curious, spent most of the time shooting at the banshee and missing. However, it then teleported out to the Fae Wyld to save itself.
Now keen to nail this fae before it assaulted any more of Brighton's buskers, we consulted our night club contact who was eventually - reluctantly - persuaded to part with some 9mm cold iron rounds which could harm the banshee.
As it turned out, we noticed two former buskers hanging around one of the beach huts in Hove (the western half of Brighton, although some would argue it is still a separate city). We set our demon to apprehend them, allowing the rest of us to kick down the door of the hut they were guarding and enter the Fae Wyld. This turned out to be a huge dining hall inhabited by our banshee foe. A short fight ensued, but she made the mistake of going toe to toe with the Divine and his blessed crystal hammer which put her down for good - imagine a combination of Thor and St Michael in jogging pants and sandals and you are getting close to the concept of our Divine ally.
That was pretty much it for the evening. Much fun was had by all and I'm more convinced than ever that PbtA should be one of my go to RPGs in the future. I have a copy of Monster of the Week myself and it may well prove to be a good starting point.