I took Monster of the Week for another spin with my Tuesday night group last week. I think the results were a lot better than last time, but still patchy.
THE MYSTERY CLOCK
You might remember from my previous thread that I found pacing the story to be really problematic. In my attempts to emulate what you see a show like Buffy or Supernatural, I think we covered about 7 to 10 minutes of TV in a 2 1/2 hour session.
In this session I tried using a countdown clock to pace out the mystery. I found this effective, but there were still a few pacing problems and I think I can fine-tune it.
What I did was come up with a fairly generic mystery: a vampire travelling from town to town creating baby vampires. To start the session off, I created some simple story beats and put them around the countdown clock:
3 o'clock: Turn kid 1.
6 o'clock: Turn kid 2.
9 o'clock: Turn kid 3.
12 o'clock: Leave town.
I did one thing wrong and one thing right here.
The thing I did right was to adjust and refine the story beats as the game progressed. For instance, due to the way the hunters investigated I changed the story beat for six o'clock from 'turn kid two' to 'vampire confronts the character who's chosen to investigate the haunted house all by themselves'.
I think that flexibility and adaptiveness to the story as it's proceeding makes for a better mystery.
The thing I did wrong was to divide the countdown clock into 12 segments, one for each hour. I was using rules for battles as in Apocalypse World, giving each character the opportunity to make at least one move before advancing the clock to the next segment. In practice this made the story very slow (but I think a twelve segment countdown clock would be fine for a three or four hour game).
We talked about this by e-mail, but the principles I used to advance the countdown clock to the next segment were:
- Character makes an investigative move
- Character has an opportunity to protect someone and doesn't
- Character makes a move and misses
- Follow the fiction - announced off-screen badness as the monster does something to advance their plan
- Follow the fiction - the characters aren't doing anything particularly proactive or exciting.
Next session, I think I will use a countdown clock similar to the battle clock. From 12 o'clock to 6 o'clock, each quadrant will have just one segment. I'll divide the quadrant from six o'clock to 9 o'clock into two segments, and I will divide the final quadrant into three segments.
I also have a variation on this I'd like to try, where
the quadrants from 12 o'clock to 9 o'clock only have
one segment, and the final quadrant is divided into
two segments. I think that's good for games with lots of
players, or that need to be run in short time-frames.
Jenni mentioned how in previous versions of Monster of the Week, she felt it was easy for the hunters to help each other. Hopefully she will drop in and talk more about that.
What her comment triggered for me was the idea of using History differently from the way it's used in Apocalypse World.
You could adjust History in a way that's similar to fan-mail in Primetime Adventures, so that history is awarded more times during a session (rather than just at its end) and there's the possibility of earning advances more frequently. In terms of genre emulation, I think this would (a) quickly turn the characters into badass monster hunters, and (b) reflects the way characters swing between betrayals and loyalty, love and rivalry in these shows.
Of course the rules for adjusting History would need to be carefully considered in order to create a sense of teamwork and rivalry.
There might be something missing from the 'Investigate a Mystery' or 'Read a bad situation' move: quite often in these shows the monster hunters can tell that person is somehow' off' or wrong. I'm not sure which move reflects that.
It might be an idea to have a table of possible weaknesses for monsters, for the Keeper to create a mystery in a hurry.
We introduced a Mundane character this session, who was connected to one of the other characters but didn't know they were monster hunters. This created a bunch of good character scenes but also slowed down the pacing of the investigation a bit. I think that's fine for ongoing games, but you might want to consider a 'No Origin Stories' piece of advice for Keepers who are running one shots. Basically: just assume that it's episode two of the TV series and that everybody knows what's what.
Hope that's useful, Mike. The next session should be good - we didn't finish the mystery, and there are a lot of interesting plot hooks that have been left dangling.