Author Topic: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble  (Read 3483 times)

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #15 on: March 16, 2017, 12:36:10 AM »
As for "applying the rules", here's my take on it:

The procedure of playing a PbtA game is very loose in many regards. However, the rules that are set in stone should be used reliably and consistently.

So, you might have to exercise your judgement concerning what triggers a particular move, but you should be consistent (as a group) in how you do so, and then you should follow the results of the move 100% of the time.

Cohering around the rules is what keeps the group on the same page in an otherwise relatively freeform endeavour.

Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #16 on: March 16, 2017, 09:16:46 PM »
There's one thing that I wanted to add about monster moves like attack with stealth and calculation, and that's to keep in mind that these moves don't always have to be made at the PCs; they can also be used to set up a scene. Consider the following:

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Keeper: "You've gotten a call from Inspector Crabbe, your contact at Scotland Yard. He wouldn't elaborate over the phone, simply saying, 'You're going to want to take a look at this.' When you get to the address he gives you, it's an obvious crime scene. The bobbies have the place heavily cordoned off, but Crabbe is expecting you and waves you through. He takes you to a flat on the sixth floor, giving you the basic details as he goes; 'Single victim, no signs of forced entry. Lividity and rigor put the time of death some time last night around midnight, but this doesn't square with the body temperature. The corpse is ice-cold. As in, substantially colder than room temperature.'

Mort (Mundane): "What do we know about the victim?"

Keeper: "Crabbe looks in his notebook; 'Doctor Raymond Helms, male, age 82. Emeritus professor of astronomy at Cambridge. Widower, adult son lives in the south of France, no other known relatives.' As you enter the flat, you see the victim. He's on the floor of the main room, his throat torn out - the blood-spatter is impressive to say the least. The body lies next to an antique brass Newtonian reflecting telescope that's pointed out the balcony window. There are no signs of a struggle. Crabbe says, 'None of the neighbors heard anything. Not even so much as a thump when the body hit the floor.'"

Louisa (Expert): "OK, so aside from the body being inexplicably cold, why did you call us?"

Keeper: "'Right, that would be the study. If you'll follow me.' Inspector Crabbe leads you into a dim, dusty, cramped room at the back of the flat. The smell of book leather and old paper is strong. At first the room looks ordinary, if somewhat cluttered. Crabbe gestures towards the ceiling with his pen. 'What do you make of that?' Carved roughly into the plaster of the ceiling is a vast array of intersecting arcs and lines. Louisa, you recognize all sorts of astrological symbols. Lying open on the desk is a small, leather-bound journal. It looks old. And there's a huge chunk of missing pages torn out of the middle."

Mort: "I've got a bad feeling about this..."
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Right, so what's going on here is that the Keeper is using the monster's move to set up a scene, describing a fictional situation. Essentially, he's giving the players an opportunity to investigate a mystery, and he's doing it in such a way as to give character to the monster. And before the players even roll any dice, we know a couple of important pieces of information: 1) the lack of any signs of forced entry or a struggle means the monster could surreptitiously gain access to the victim's flat (the attack was stealthy). 2) the victim's background, the strange carvings, and the pages torn out of the journal mean that the monster was after something specific and that this wasn't just a random killing (the attack was calculated).

The monster might be long gone and pose no immediate threat to the PCs, but the entire scene and everything that follows from it stems from the Keeper having the monster attack with stealth and calculation. In this sense, the move doesn't reflect something the monster is doing to the PCs, it's something that you (the Keeper) is doing to drive the story.

Does this help put the monster and minion moves in context?

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #17 on: March 17, 2017, 05:33:06 PM »
StormKnight, you're right to point out that MotW asks for substantially more preparation than vanilla AW.
I wasn't comparing to AW, which I never played. Just to "traditional" RPGs. Though stating out enemies is way, way easier in MotW! :D


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However, MotW does *not* ask you to prepare a plot.
Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.

I feel like trying to set up games as it describes, I'm doing a lot of useless work and not a lot of useful work. For example, deciding what will happen if the PCs aren't there...that all usually gets completely scrapped in the first 30 seconds as soon as the PCs interact with things in any way. So what does that accomplish?

It asks you to define what a place is. So I define a place as a "maze". But I don't spend any time thinking of what sort of things that will happen there that will make it feel like a maze, so when it actually comes up in game, it doesn't wind up feeling like one.

I get that its trying to give a set of tools here, but I really haven't the faintest idea how to use them. I don't know if its that they are badly explained or just that it doesn't work well with me. Or that I'm just dense.

It is obvious this DOES work well for a lot of people I guess.

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Getting into that locked room is a perfect example of an inconsequential roll; don't do that.
Right. Totally. But what I was trying to figure out was whether people would insist on making a Keeper move in response to that. To me, I'd just be inclined to say much what you said - you get it open, doesn't look important, you guess he was just confused. Though, I guess one could say that the move is 'make them investigate' since they need to keep looking.

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Where the monster moves versus minion moves are important is in shaping the scenes. So attack with stealth and calculation describes how the monster makes its approach - but minions don't attack that way because they aren't smart enough.
I really don't think that's intended; monster and minion just define the role of the character within the story, as made very clear in the sample story where there's a minion that is INCREDIBLE clever, powerful and smart. You could easily have a bunch of ninja assassins as minions who pretty much "attack with stealth and calculation" by default.

All of which is moot if one just takes the moves as suggestions, which I'm increasingly thinking is how most people run the game.

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But don't you see? Seduction is "I'll give you seX if you give me Y." ;) An emotional appeal is "You'll make me happy if you do Y." A bluff is faking that you have a gun and saying "Do Y and I won't shoot you." A bribe is straight-up "I'll give you X if you do Y." Blackmail is "Do Y or I'll e-mail these photos to your wife." These are all cases of an "exchange," and manipulate someone is the appropriate move for all of them. You just need to be more open-minded about what you're treating as the "currency" used to make that exchange.
I really disagree with your assessment, though had a good laugh at your pun. :p
In your example of faking the gun, a 7-9 result would mean that "they'll do it, but only if you do something for them right now to show them you mean it". Well, I suppose you could show them the gun you don't have...which kind of leads to failure. :p

Basically, the result is just really narrow that stops making a lot of sense outside the basic negotiation range. And its really limiting - there are so many interesting things that could happen in a "manipulate someone" situation that don't fit that narrow result!

I guess I'm winding up at the point where I should maybe just use the player rules (which I mostly like), but rewrite some of the results to allow more flexibility and basically ignore the Keeper rules...but I guess I'm not getting whatever makes MotW special that way. :(

KidDublin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #18 on: March 17, 2017, 06:23:41 PM »
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Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.

Don't think of your location motivations as things that will happen, but things that could happen, given the appropriate push in the fiction. That isn't really "plot" , is it? No more than the "plot" of Raiders of the Lost Ark is Temple (Deathtrap), University (Crossroads), Tavern (Wilds), Nazi Dig Site (Fortress).

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I feel like trying to set up games as it describes, I'm doing a lot of useless work and not a lot of useful work. For example, deciding what will happen if the PCs aren't there...that all usually gets completely scrapped in the first 30 seconds as soon as the PCs interact with things in any way. So what does that accomplish?

It asks you to define what a place is. So I define a place as a "maze". But I don't spend any time thinking of what sort of things that will happen there that will make it feel like a maze, so when it actually comes up in game, it doesn't wind up feeling like one.

The countdown is your tool for applying pressure. Yes, it changes as soon as the hunters start mucking about, but that's by design (and even an interrupted countdown gives you a good sense for what sorts of things the monster might try.)  Locations don't function like that, though. You don't need to advance a "hellgate" if the hunters neglect it--unless, of course, your countdown has something like "Dusk--Hellgate goes into overdrive."

When it comes to making locations fit their motivation, the keeper section of the rules recommends the creation of custom moves. For example, here's one I used for a "lab" location:

Any hunter that looks for something cool in R&D rolls +Sharp. On a 10+, they find something useful. On a 7-9 they find something potentially useful, and get to decide if they activate it. On a miss, they find something useless and dangerous, and turn it on by mistake.

See how that fits the R&D/Lab location without planning for anything specifically? The move only triggers if the hunters choose to poke around (of course, I fully expect them to do that, because they're #SillyPCs), and it leaves plenty open for improvisation and collaborative decision making. If the hunters don't visit R&D I don't do anything with that location, because it's not important to the story we're telling and nobody is there to trigger my custom move.


Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #19 on: March 18, 2017, 07:30:59 PM »
Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.
Oh, oh, hang on - I think I see the issue here; you don't have to make this decision about a particular move in the place in advance. If the PCs are in a location that you have decided is a Crossroads (let's say the local cop bar), then if you're struggling to decide what happens next, you take a quick look at the moves that go along with that location, pick one, and start building a scene around it.

Let me give you an example - I'll use the AW "Landscape Threat" as a template (it's different words, but same concept, and I'll put a MotW spin on it):

Let's say you have decided that the night club operated by the local vampire coven (called "Umbra," of course) is a "Mirage." It's impulse is "to entice and betray people." So the vampires lure people to their death here - think like the opening scene of the film Blade, only more subtle and refined. So now that you've decided what this place is and what it's impulse looks like, you can use this in a couple of ways.

First, if the players go there, you can take a look at the list of moves for inspiration - let's say our PC investigators are looking into a disappearance and that the last place the victim was seen was at Umbra. What will the players find when they go there? Maybe I have no idea, because I haven't really planned it in advance. So I look at the list of moves for this place and see shift, move, rearrange on there. Great! This gives me an idea, and I describe how the PCs are looking around the joint for clues and notice that in a couple of the selfies that the victim posted to Facebook before her disappearance, she's sitting in a particular booth in the VIP room, and that in the photos, there's a door. Only the PCs notice that now, when they are actually here and looking around, the door isn't there. Intriguing! What will they do? Let's play to find out!

Alternately, you can use the location's move as a way to lead into the next chapter of the story. Let's say the PCs don't really have a solid lead and are milling around their office trying to decide what to do next. I look at my possible location moves and see disgorge something as an option. This gives me an idea, and I decide that the thing that gets disgorged is a survivor with a crazy story. No one believes her and she's not even sure she believes herself (maybe she did a lot of drugs last night). The girl tells them that she was clubbing with a friend last night. They ended up at Umbra, where a totally hot guy got them access to the VIP room. They got high as kites and were dancing up a storm, but at some point she passed out - and that's when something weird happened. She remembers vaguely regaining consciousness, unable to move, and seeing a bunch of men - only maybe they weren't really men? - attacking her friend. Terrified, she managed to stumble out and spent the rest of the night passed out behind a dumpster in some alley downtown. Calls to the missing woman go straight to voice-mail. She's afraid to go to the police, and wants the PCs to help her find her friend.

In both cases, I am using the location's move to present them another piece of the mystery. It's just that the first is made in response to something the PC are already doing, whereas the second is made as a prompt to see what the PCs do when presented with a new situation. Does this make sense?

What you should NOT do is build all the moves/scenes/plots in advance and hope the players go through them in some particular order.

It asks you to define what a place is. So I define a place as a "maze". But I don't spend any time thinking of what sort of things that will happen there that will make it feel like a maze, so when it actually comes up in game, it doesn't wind up feeling like one.

I get that its trying to give a set of tools here, but I really haven't the faintest idea how to use them. I don't know if its that they are badly explained or just that it doesn't work well with me. Or that I'm just dense.

It is obvious this DOES work well for a lot of people I guess.
It's designed such that you don't necessarily have to think about it in advance. When the players get to the "maze" location, you can look at your list of moves and pick one without having to plan it ahead of time. So if they descend into the sewer tunnels (which you have decided is a maze) to hunt for a monster, you can look at your list of moves and find one (in AW, an example might be bar the way) and use it according to its impulse (to frustrate, to deny passage). "You wander around the tunnels for over an hour, but after just a short time, things all start to look sort of the same. At some point, you realize you're right back where you started, probably arguing about who screwed up and how you got turned around. What do you do?" Essentially, because the location is barring the way, it is allowing you as the Keeper to say that the PCs can't just walk through, that they must undertake some action or use some cleverness to navigate the terrain.

Or you could make this move in response to a PC's roll. For instance, hunting for monsters in the sewers sounds kind of hazardous, right? So maybe you decide that whichever PC is guiding the party is acting under pressure (maybe with another player giving aid) to keep from getting lost. If the player misses the roll, you can make the moves as a response to the player's (awful) roll. Or maybe if the player hits a 7-9 you can use the move as part of an "ugly choice" to present an opportunity with a cost and say, "You guys keep getting turned around and crossing your own path. If you stick together, you get the feeling this might take half of forever. But you could split up and cover more ground, radically increasing the chances that at least one of you finds a way through quickly. What are you gonna do?"

In your example of faking the gun, a 7-9 result would mean that "they'll do it, but only if you do something for them right now to show them you mean it". Well, I suppose you could show them the gun you don't have...which kind of leads to failure. :p
Yeah, it absolutely leads to a failure, and that's OK. It should be harder to bluff someone with a fake gun.

But here's one of the most important things to understand about PbtA games: failure is OK. Failure more often than not drives the story forward. Failure (or partial success) provides the complications that make the characters' lives interesting. It provides the dramatic tension. If the PCs always succeed, the game really loses something.

Basically, the result is just really narrow that stops making a lot of sense outside the basic negotiation range. And its really limiting - there are so many interesting things that could happen in a "manipulate someone" situation that don't fit that narrow result!
I guess I just don't see it that way. My players use this move all the time for a wide variety of circumstances, and the flexibility that it provides is magical. And one of the best things is that it preserves player agency on both sides of the roll, both the person doing the manipulating and (for PCs) the person being manipulated. This move is pure gold for PvP. So in the case of the fake gun, the person you're trying to bully has called your bluff - now what do you do? Do you back down, slink off, and come up with another plan? Do you escalate to physical violence? Do you change tactics and offer something else? The choice is yours.

« Last Edit: March 18, 2017, 07:35:41 PM by Munin »

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #20 on: March 23, 2017, 07:43:43 PM »
Hey again all. I appreciate all the attempts at help. After more attempts at playing, I think that unfortunately I'm just on a track that doesn't go anywhere. I thought that I just didn't "get" the game, and just needed to learn to play it properly. Increasingly, I don't think its that simple. It seems that there's really no "game" here - the game is really just all "inspiration", and if it doesn't inspire you, or the sorts of "stories" you tend to tell don't sync up with the stories it wants you to tell, I'm just not sure if there's any way around that.

So I'm not sure all this quibbling over details really accomplishes all that much, if it ever was going to in the first place. :(

Yeah, it tells you not to, then it tells you to decide in advance what is going to happen at each location. Sorta. Like "this place is a crossroads, so you are going to meet someone there". Which seems like a lot of "plot" to me. Kinda. I'm really confused about the whole thing.
Oh, oh, hang on - I think I see the issue here; you don't have to make this decision about a particular move in the place in advance. If the PCs are in a location that you have decided is a Crossroads (let's say the local cop bar), then if you're struggling to decide what happens next, you take a quick look at the moves that go along with that location, pick one, and start building a scene around it.
OK, I think I see one difference in our discussion here - MotW locations don't have moves associated with them. There's nothing but a "motivation" and a brief description of what that "motivation" means.

But also, most of the stuff you are giving as examples, like:
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"You wander around the tunnels for over an hour, but after just a short time, things all start to look sort of the same. At some point, you realize you're right back where you started, probably arguing about who screwed up and how you got turned around. What do you do?"
Is exactly what I said seems more useful; coming up with concrete things to happen that give the feeling of the place. :)

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Yeah, it absolutely leads to a failure, and that's OK. It should be harder to bluff someone with a fake gun.

Should it? What if you were trying to threaten someone, got a 7-9 and decide to "escalate" the situation and show them you are serious by pushing the lighter in your pocket against their back and saying you are going to shoot them? Its all relative. A 7-9 is supposed to be "partial success" or "success with complications".

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But here's one of the most important things to understand about PbtA games: failure is OK. Failure more often than not drives the story forward. Failure (or partial success) provides the complications that make the characters' lives interesting. It provides the dramatic tension. If the PCs always succeed, the game really loses something.
But the loss situation you are describing doesn't really move the game forward; it just amounts to "try again" or "try a bit harder". And there are so many potentially interesting results for "manipulate someone". Maybe the person you are threatening does what you want, but then has a heart attack from fear and now you need to help them. Maybe the person you casually seduce goes along with it, but then becomes obsessed with you. The reporter you are trying to get the film from hands it over, but decides to also post it on the internet, letting some enemies know about you - none of which are permitted results as written!

Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #21 on: March 23, 2017, 08:33:36 PM »
Hey again all. I appreciate all the attempts at help. After more attempts at playing, I think that unfortunately I'm just on a track that doesn't go anywhere.
You know what might help most? Go to the original source material from which Monster of the Week is derived - grab the 1st Edition version of Apocalypse World. When 2nd Edition dropped, Vincent put up the 1st Ed PDFs up for free. I can't find a link, but if you PM him (he's lumpley on these boards) he'll almost certainly just shoot you a copy. You may not be at all interested running a game in a post-apocalyptic setting, but reading the Apocalypse World rules will give you a much better handle on how the "Powered by the Apocalypse" games are supposed to work.

OK, I think I see one difference in our discussion here - MotW locations don't have moves associated with them. There's nothing but a "motivation" and a brief description of what that "motivation" means.

But also, most of the stuff you are giving as examples, like: [SNIP] is exactly what I said seems more useful; coming up with concrete things to happen that give the feeling of the place. :)
Yeah, but the important point is that I don't come up with that stuff ahead of time - I only do it when the PCs actually go there.

Here's something that's important about PbtA games - they thrive on improvisation. You're absolutely right in that trying to plot specific encounters in specific locations (especially in a specific order) is an exercise in folly. PbtA games will not only not help you in this regard, they almost actively fight you. Where they shine is in giving you the tools to improvise and roll with the story that you and your players are creating. They create the mechanics that help you say what happens next, without having to plan it all out up front. Did you get an 8 on your attempt to act under pressure? Well, the Keeper is going to offer you a worse outcome, a hard bargain, or an ugly choice. Or did you get a 4? Expect something bad to happen.

But here's the catch - that worse outcome, hard bargain, ugly choice, or bad thing that happens flows from the fictional situation. It's a natural extension of what's happening in the game world right now, both on-screen and off-screen.

By way of example, I sometimes run Apocalypse World games at conventions. When I do so, I almost never have any plot points in mind. And often, I don't even have a setting in mind. I'll ask each player (most of whom I've never met before) to give me an adjective that describes their idea of the apocalypse, and we'll build the world completely from whole cloth as we play. And based on the playbooks that they choose and the relationships they form during the Hx part of character creation, and the answers to all of the provocative questions I ask, we build the "plot" as we go too. And it's usually hilarious and awesome. I have never seen any other system that lets me do this.

But the loss situation you are describing doesn't really move the game forward; it just amounts to "try again" or "try a bit harder". And there are so many potentially interesting results for "manipulate someone". Maybe the person you are threatening does what you want, but then has a heart attack from fear and now you need to help them. Maybe the person you casually seduce goes along with it, but then becomes obsessed with you. The reporter you are trying to get the film from hands it over, but decides to also post it on the internet, letting some enemies know about you - none of which are permitted results as written!
No, it's not "try again" or "try harder" - it's "try something different." The 7-9 clause on manipulate stipulates that the person you're trying to manipulate wants something from you first. It makes success conditional or costly, and in that regard is almost exactly like the 7-9 result on act under pressure.

Also, hilariously, many of your "success complications" are the kinds of things I'd actually apply to straight-up misses. Like, "yeah, OK, you missed the roll - but the reporter gives you the film anyway. But she does so by giving you a link to where she's published it on her Facebook page; it looks like that shit's already gone viral." So sure, you get what you asked for - which is sort of like a success - but upon further reflection it wasn't really what you wanted. In AW parlance, that's called "putting your bloody fingerprints all over something" and is one of the best parts of the game.

Like I said, give Apocalypse World a read. I think it will help crystallize things for you in terms of how these games are supposed to work.
« Last Edit: March 23, 2017, 08:37:53 PM by Munin »

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #22 on: March 23, 2017, 09:13:57 PM »
It seems that there's really no "game" here - the game is really just all "inspiration", and if it doesn't inspire you, or the sorts of "stories" you tend to tell don't sync up with the stories it wants you to tell, I'm just not sure if there's any way around that.

You know, I'm not sure what you mean by "game" in this context. AW isn't that different, in this respect, from a lot of mainstream roleplaying games.

If you're looking for something more structured than, say, Call of Cthulhu or FATE or something like that, then you're quite right! PbtA games (generally) don't do that. If that's the perspective you're bringing to this, then your observation (the bit I quoted) is completely correct.

Would you like to clarify?

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #23 on: March 23, 2017, 09:22:18 PM »
You're also quite right that the design of moves omits some of the more unusual outcomes we might enjoy seeing - like someone having a heart attack when you're trying to talk them into something.

It might help to know that the rules which these "moves" are ultimately derived from did exactly that. However, the simplicity and ease-of-use of the "modern" move design won out as a more "efficient" way to get to the good stuff at the table reliably. Some of us (like myself) still design and play games based on the earlier concept, though. It's just a different approach to design.

In a PbtA game, those unusual events still happen. They're just not mandated by the moves. Under what circumstances would you bring them into play in some other game? Chances are that you could (and should) do exactly the same thing in a PbtA game. On a miss is a natural circumstance for that, as Munin points out. More normally, they would just be typical "MC moves".

For example, you want to talk the reporter into letting you look at the files. We roll, and that happens. Great. But now it's your turn to make a move again, so you say, "The reporter is watching you rifle through the file, with this focused, hungry look, then turns away when he realizes you noticed." That's hinting at some future developments.

The outcomes described by the moves don't dictate the totality of play, in other words. They establish certain constraints on the fiction, but the rest is up to you and your players, just like it would be in any other game. You're still expected to play and invent and then act it all out. The moves just kick in now and then to steer things in this direction or that.

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #24 on: March 30, 2017, 06:24:29 PM »
You know, I'm not sure what you mean by "game" in this context. AW isn't that different, in this respect, from a lot of mainstream roleplaying games.
Yeah, I guess I just had unreasonable expectations. So many people talked about PbtA games being radically different from other RPGs, and the rules producing such 'magical' (their literal word, on more than one occasion) experiences, and the rules are written in such a strangely rigid way, it seemed like they ought to DO things for you. To provide mechanics that actually drive the game, and help with uncertain situations or pacing, or, well, anything that might hang up a GM during a normal game.

Instead, all you've really got from the GM's point of view are a large amount of very high level suggestions of things that could possibly happen. An I don't think I've ever, while GMing any game, thought, "gosh, I could really use a big list of very vague things that could possibly happen here". That's just not useful. And the ways it limits things don't really make any sense; why, for example, can't a monster capture someone? Monsters do that all the time!

I feel like it tells me not to be creative when I have creative ideas ("ooh, this could lead to X happening...oh, but X isn't the defined result, or isn't an allowed GM move"), then demands very specific creativity when I don't have ideas ("the PC gets in trouble...how...they are far away from any possible trouble, the monster isn't anywhere nearby (or even aware of this), and there's really nobody but the other PCs around").

You're absolutely right in that trying to plot specific encounters in specific locations (especially in a specific order) is an exercise in folly. PbtA games will not only not help you in this regard, they almost actively fight you.
Um...I never said that, so I'm certainly not right about it. :)

I don't know what you mean by actively fighting you though; PbtA games - or at least MotW - don't really DO anything (from the GMs point of view). I don't see how they'd "fight" having something planned.
Indeed, numerous things that are classical examples of poor planning/railroading in RPGs - such as pre-determining that PCs are going to get captured, or that an NPC is absolutely going to escape - are much easier to pull off in MotW, since the GM moves explicitly allow them with no possibility of PC interference. You don't have to worry about your PCs coming up with a good plan that will mess up the monster escaping when the rules tell you that you can have the monster escape "no matter how well contained it is".

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No, it's not "try again" or "try harder" - it's "try something different." The 7-9 clause on manipulate stipulates that the person you're trying to manipulate wants something from you first. It makes success conditional or costly, and in that regard is almost exactly like the 7-9 result on act under pressure.
It very much reads to me as a "try harder"; "do something know to show them you mean it" to me definitely means you are still using the same approach.  When I can even make sense of it; honestly, it doesn't make much sense to me in most situations.
The 7-9 under act under pressure, on the other hand, seems like a great generic mechanic; it could easily be the 7-9 result for the whole game! I'm really baffled about why the game isn't set up that way. Something like "when you attempt something in which the outcome is uncertain, the Keeper selects an appropriate stat. Roll 2d6 and add the stat:
6 or less: Something goes badly wrong.
7-9: You accomplish what you wanted, but there's a complication, you get into trouble, or have a hard choice to make.
10+: You accomplish what you wanted to."
With the given moves then as examples of possible moves. Since it sounds like people "make" custom moves as is, it sounds like they are basically playing this way anyway.

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Also, hilariously, many of your "success complications" are the kinds of things I'd actually apply to straight-up misses. Like, "yeah, OK, you missed the roll - but the reporter gives you the film anyway. But she does so by giving you a link to where she's published it on her Facebook page; it looks like that shit's already gone viral." So sure, you get what you asked for - which is sort of like a success - but upon further reflection it wasn't really what you wanted. In AW parlance, that's called "putting your bloody fingerprints all over something" and is one of the best parts of the game.
Technically, they wouldn't be allowed as failures either, since a fail is just specifically that they get mad or upset at you. :)

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #25 on: March 31, 2017, 04:46:49 AM »
Well, interesting! I'm seeing a bunch of different things in your responses now, and it might clear up the mess if we dig to the bottom of it.

First of all, I stand by the assertion that PbtA games just aren't *that* different from other games you've played... for the most part. If you and/or your group have some specific problems which have been holding you back, and the game you're playing addresses those problems, then playing a well-designed PbtA game can really feel nothing short of magical. But it depends on what comes naturally and easily to your group and what doesn't. Some people play and they go "Oh, wow!", whereas others go, "Hey, how is this different from what I've doing all along?"

Not too surprisingly, it depends a great deal on how you've been playing "all along". The rules certainly do "do some things for you"; if you're not seeing that, you're either playing it "wrong", or they are things you and your group already have been doing without trouble.

Second, I'm not familiar with Monster of the Week in particular, so it's possible there are some poorly designed moves or some badly written text or some assumptions of play which are tripping you up. It sounds like the game is fairly well-liked, so I'll assume that's not the case, but it's entirely possible.

Finally, it DOES seem to me that you're having some kind of disconnect with the philosophical approach to playing with these rules, and addressing that might be the root of the problem. Your description of things feeling overly limiting in some places and far too wide-open may be a personal preference... or it may mean that you're interpreting something entirely wrong (or at least differently).

Some examples:

Instead, all you've really got from the GM's point of view are a large amount of very high level suggestions of things that could possibly happen. An I don't think I've ever, while GMing any game, thought, "gosh, I could really use a big list of very vague things that could possibly happen here". That's just not useful. And the ways it limits things don't really make any sense; why, for example, can't a monster capture someone? Monsters do that all the time!

The GM rules in most PbtA games (I'm going to assume that MotW is no different) largely DO consist of "high level suggestions of things that could possibly happen". I'm like you in that I don't particularly need a "big list of very vague things that could possibly happen here", and don't constantly - for example - refer to the specific move lists when I play PbtA games. However, some people do find them really useful and really inspiring. For me, those lists are occasionally very useful, but it's more likely to be away from the table, during prep.

Most of the interesting mechanics all happen from the player's side - and that's where the juice of the system kicks in.

Now, your comments about things being limited - particularly, in your example, "why can't a monster capture someone"? This makes no sense to me. I've never seen a PbtA game really limit your options in this kind of sense. I can't imagine that MotW does, either. Where did you get the idea that a monster can't capture someone?

Are there lists of things that a monster *might* do, which you've interpreted as the *only* things a monster *can* do at all?


I feel like it tells me not to be creative when I have creative ideas ("ooh, this could lead to X happening...oh, but X isn't the defined result, or isn't an allowed GM move"), then demands very specific creativity when I don't have ideas ("the PC gets in trouble...how...they are far away from any possible trouble, the monster isn't anywhere nearby (or even aware of this), and there's really nobody but the other PCs around").

I've seen a few situations where a move demanding a specific outcome which didn't fit the fiction. Generally, this means that you shouldn't have used that move in the first place, or, occasionally, that it's a badly designed move. Look over the game's "advice text" on how and when to apply the moves: sometimes there are some counterintuitive bits in there, and learning when best to use the moves is a big part of getting that to work for you. (It's the main "system mastery" involved in learning the game.)

However, I don't think you should ever feel like you have creative ideas you can't use. Can you give some examples? I find it hard to imagine. (Again, it's possible that, for example, MotW's list of MC moves is terrible.)

Give us an example from your actual game, and we might be able to help you better!

You're absolutely right in that trying to plot specific encounters in specific locations (especially in a specific order) is an exercise in folly. PbtA games will not only not help you in this regard, they almost actively fight you.

I don't know what you mean by actively fighting you though; PbtA games - or at least MotW - don't really DO anything (from the GMs point of view). I don't see how they'd "fight" having something planned.
Indeed, numerous things that are classical examples of poor planning/railroading in RPGs - such as pre-determining that PCs are going to get captured, or that an NPC is absolutely going to escape - are much easier to pull off in MotW, since the GM moves explicitly allow them with no possibility of PC interference. You don't have to worry about your PCs coming up with a good plan that will mess up the monster escaping when the rules tell you that you can have the monster escape "no matter how well contained it is".

I'm not sure what you mean by the last bit about monster escape - is there actually a rule or move like that in the text? Most PbtA games don't have such things, but perhaps MotW does for a specific reason, and understanding it in context might be helpful.

In most PbtA designs, there are lots of things - both subtle and obvious - which work against railroading or preplotting. Here's the most obvious example:

Many player moves allow the characters a specific chance of succeeding at certain tasks. Furthermore, since there are no "modifiers" or "difficulty numbers", the MC can't adjust the rolls so those outcomes are impossible. This means that, as long as you play by the rules, you - the MC - can't prevent certain outcomes to "preserve" a plot.

For example, let's say I set up a trap for a monster (maybe a vampire who we have established will die if exposed to sunlight, and I've made a hole in the ceiling, so a beam of light comes through onto the floor), and then I go into a fight with it. We will probably roll "Kick Some Ass", right? Well, on a 10+, I can choose "You force them where you want them", and push the vampire into the beam of light.

Short of really obvious cheating, you, the MC, cannot hedge the game so that the vampire isn't pushed into that beam of light and destroyed.

The game guarantees me a chance of success.

Similarly so for many other moves - especially consider how the investigation and "read a situation" moves allow players guaranteed access to certain pieces of information.

That's one example.

"do something know to show them you mean it" to me definitely means you are still using the same approach.  When I can even make sense of it; honestly, it doesn't make much sense to me in most situations.

Yeah, there's definitely some disconnect here between the way the move is written and the way you're applying it. Can you give an example from your game?

The idea is that you make clear that your leverage or threat is real - and, yes, in the case of a bluff, you'll likely fail if you can't back it up.

The 7-9 under act under pressure, on the other hand, seems like a great generic mechanic; it could easily be the 7-9 result for the whole game! I'm really baffled about why the game isn't set up that way. Something like "when you attempt something in which the outcome is uncertain, the Keeper selects an appropriate stat. Roll 2d6 and add the stat:
6 or less: Something goes badly wrong.
7-9: You accomplish what you wanted, but there's a complication, you get into trouble, or have a hard choice to make.
10+: You accomplish what you wanted to."
With the given moves then as examples of possible moves. Since it sounds like people "make" custom moves as is, it sounds like they are basically playing this way anyway.

I think most people use the written moves 99% of the time (at least in my experience). However, the way you've suggested - play with just the "Act Under Pressure" move - is a valid way to play. I've written a PbtA game which does just that. World of Dungeons is another one.

Perhaps you might want to try playing this way for a while, until you find the need or desire to bring in some of the other moves. Your game will lack some variety, but it's a fun way to play!

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Also, hilariously, many of your "success complications" are the kinds of things I'd actually apply to straight-up misses. Like, "yeah, OK, you missed the roll - but the reporter gives you the film anyway. But she does so by giving you a link to where she's published it on her Facebook page; it looks like that shit's already gone viral." So sure, you get what you asked for - which is sort of like a success - but upon further reflection it wasn't really what you wanted. In AW parlance, that's called "putting your bloody fingerprints all over something" and is one of the best parts of the game.
Technically, they wouldn't be allowed as failures either, since a fail is just specifically that they get mad or upset at you. :)

Now, here, again, you've lost me. Aren't we talking about the Manipulate move? (I could have lost track, of course...)

If so, how does it specify that a failure is someone getting mad or upset at you? That sounds very odd. (I certainly wouldn't want it to! That sounds rather boring.)

StormKnight

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #26 on: March 31, 2017, 05:32:03 PM »
Well, interesting! I'm seeing a bunch of different things in your responses now, and it might clear up the mess if we dig to the bottom of it.

First of all, I stand by the assertion that PbtA games just aren't *that* different from other games you've played... for the most part. If you and/or your group have some specific problems which have been holding you back, and the game you're playing addresses those problems, then playing a well-designed PbtA game can really feel nothing short of magical. But it depends on what comes naturally and easily to your group and what doesn't. Some people play and they go "Oh, wow!", whereas others go, "Hey, how is this different from what I've doing all along?"

Not too surprisingly, it depends a great deal on how you've been playing "all along". The rules certainly do "do some things for you"; if you're not seeing that, you're either playing it "wrong", or they are things you and your group already have been doing without trouble.

Second, I'm not familiar with Monster of the Week in particular, so it's possible there are some poorly designed moves or some badly written text or some assumptions of play which are tripping you up. It sounds like the game is fairly well-liked, so I'll assume that's not the case, but it's entirely possible.

Finally, it DOES seem to me that you're having some kind of disconnect with the philosophical approach to playing with these rules, and addressing that might be the root of the problem. Your description of things feeling overly limiting in some places and far too wide-open may be a personal preference... or it may mean that you're interpreting something entirely wrong (or at least differently).
Yeah, there's definitely a big disconnect going on here! :)

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Now, your comments about things being limited - particularly, in your example, "why can't a monster capture someone"? This makes no sense to me. I've never seen a PbtA game really limit your options in this kind of sense. I can't imagine that MotW does, either. Where did you get the idea that a monster can't capture someone?

Are there lists of things that a monster *might* do, which you've interpreted as the *only* things a monster *can* do at all?
The rules are very much written as restrictions; though I'm gathering people don't seem to play them that way!
For example, the Threat Moves section explains:
"Each type of threat has its own set of special moves it can make. Use these as well as the basic Keeper moves when you're describing what a threat is doing".
"Capture someone" is specifically a Minion move and not a monster move; so as written a monster cannot capture someone.

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I've seen a few situations where a move demanding a specific outcome which didn't fit the fiction. Generally, this means that you shouldn't have used that move in the first place, or, occasionally, that it's a badly designed move. Look over the game's "advice text" on how and when to apply the moves: sometimes there are some counterintuitive bits in there, and learning when best to use the moves is a big part of getting that to work for you. (It's the main "system mastery" involved in learning the game.)
Its possible we're using the PC moves when its inappropriate, but we're barely using them as is! And I think the situation generally fits.

For example, the Investigate a Mystery move reads:
"Investigating can be done any number of ways; following tracks, interviewing witnesses, forensic analysis, looking up old folklore in the library, typing the monsters name into google, capturing the monster and conducting tests on it Anything that might give you more information about what's going on is fair game for an investigate move".
OK, so we've used it more than once when interviewing witnesses and locals, looking through the police files for a case and examining the scene of a murder; all of those seem well within the scope, but we usually can't get from there to most of the questions the move allows you to ask, and miss of "you reveal some information to the monster or whoever you are talking to" rarely seems to apply.

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However, I don't think you should ever feel like you have creative ideas you can't use. Can you give some examples? I find it hard to imagine. (Again, it's possible that, for example, MotW's list of MC moves is terrible.)
As mentioned, some of the moves have very specific results, which would then block up anything that isn't that specific result. So, for example, as we've been discussing, a failed Manipulate Someone roll leads to a very specific result - "you offend or anger the target" - but there are a ton of other things that could happen instead of that!

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I'm not sure what you mean by the last bit about monster escape - is there actually a rule or move like that in the text? Most PbtA games don't have such things, but perhaps MotW does for a specific reason, and understanding it in context might be helpful.
Yep. There is a monster move that is literally "Escape, no matter how well contained it is".

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Many player moves allow the characters a specific chance of succeeding at certain tasks. Furthermore, since there are no "modifiers" or "difficulty numbers", the MC can't adjust the rolls so those outcomes are impossible. This means that, as long as you play by the rules, you - the MC - can't prevent certain outcomes to "preserve" a plot.

For example, let's say I set up a trap for a monster (maybe a vampire who we have established will die if exposed to sunlight, and I've made a hole in the ceiling, so a beam of light comes through onto the floor), and then I go into a fight with it. We will probably roll "Kick Some Ass", right? Well, on a 10+, I can choose "You force them where you want them", and push the vampire into the beam of light.

Short of really obvious cheating, you, the MC, cannot hedge the game so that the vampire isn't pushed into that beam of light and destroyed.
Well, in most RPGs, if an attack did enough damage to take down a target, short of obvious cheating the GM couldn't just keep the target up anyway. :)

"You shove the vampire into the sunlight, and it screams in terror, turns into mist and flees" (Escaping no matter how well contained it is). It is quite unlikely you've defined that one touch of sunlight just kills a vampire anyway. :p

However, I'd put something like that squarely in the realm of "bad" GMing; you shouldn't be doing stuff like that, in any game.

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The game guarantees me a chance of success.

Similarly so for many other moves - especially consider how the investigation and "read a situation" moves allow players guaranteed access to certain pieces of information.
But if you, for example, plan that, say, there are journals detailing past encounters with the monster, then when the PCs investigate and everyone is going "umm, hmm, I don't know how we get that info from here" instead of joining in the "I have no clue", you say "well, one of the books you discovered..."
Good planning is just coming up with plans to handle situations that might be difficult or bog down during play, not coming up with plans to limit what's going to happen.

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Now, here, again, you've lost me. Aren't we talking about the Manipulate move? (I could have lost track, of course...)

If so, how does it specify that a failure is someone getting mad or upset at you? That sounds very odd. (I certainly wouldn't want it to! That sounds rather boring.)
Yep, the manipulate move Miss is "your approach is completely wrong and you anger or offend the target".

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #27 on: March 31, 2017, 08:23:37 PM »
Now we're getting into some specifics of Monster of the Week, and I've never read or played it, so someone else will have to respond to you. (From the way you're describing some of the game, it sounds to me like bad design. But, without having the text in front of me, I can't say whether that's the game or if you're misreading it in some way. For example, I have the 'basic moves' in front of me here - they're available online for free - and the "manipulate" move doesn't say anything about a miss condition.)

However, I can touch on the general questions:

* First of all, a specific example from actual play would be REALLY helpful here. PbtA games rely a LOT more than other games on the specifics of the way you're playing, and the fiction that's happening when moves are rolled. This can seem frustrating when you're trying to get answers online, but it's really, really helpful to get into the specifics. Often, establishing some fictional details makes the difference between making the rules work and having them feel weird or out of place.

In fact, the number one tip for playing these games well might be: "When things seem strange or uncertain, or aren't fitting well, keep asking questions, nail down more details about what's happening. Ask 'What does that look like?', or 'How are you doing that, exactly?" or perhaps even 'So, are you standing to his left? And what tone of voice do you say that in?' All these things really help apply the rules, as strange as it may sound.

Give me a specific example from your actual game (as best as you can remember, anyway), and some details about the situation, and I'll show you what I mean!

For instance, if the 'manipulate' move does say "you offend or anger the target", what situation came up where it didn't seem like it applied? I could imagine one if I try really hard, but it seems like it would be quite relevant in most situations I can picture.

* You are definitely reading the MC moves too specifically. Remember that when you make a move, you're supposed to 'Use the Keeper moves, without names'. (Ugh. I don't love that phrasing. I prefer AW's "Make a move, but misdirect".) This means that you get the effect the move describes, but make it in a way which flows logically from the fiction. In other words, interpret it loosely. They're creative prompts, to be interpreted by you, and then narrated into being in a way which creates whatever your group considers to be exciting.

For example, can a monster "capture someone"? After all, that's a minion move, as you say.

Yes, it most definitely can. How?

1. The MC move separate them: "The monster grabs Lily and pulls her into the parallel dimension. Suddenly you can't see or hear her anymore."

2. The MC move put someone in trouble: "The monster lashes out with a tentacle and grabs Lily, throwing her into the pit."

3. The monster move seize someone or something: "The monster grabs Lily, wrapping its coils around her neck, and drags her away."

4. Make a custom move for the monster (which could include on the spot, so long as it makes sense, given the fiction): "This monster can strike out of the darkness, blinding a victim/This monster has claws which, once closed, are almost impossible to pry open/etc."

5. Make a custom move for the monster: "This monster also has the move 'capture someone'; it's something it does a lot."

Really, the moves shouldn't feel like restrictions. They should cover pretty much anything which seems logical. They're creative prompts, not constraints. Some people find the specific list unnecessary; others like the inspiration they provide. ("Oh, man. I can't think of anything for the minions to do now. Oh, but wait: it says they could capture someone. Hmmm. Who are they interested in? Oh, they'd probably love to get their hands on Lily. Ok, I'll narrate that!")

The monster moves are a *description* of how the monster typically acts; not limitations on its behaviour. If the write-up for this monster says that it has the moves "capture someone" and "lash out with a prehensile tongue", that doesn't mean that's ALL it can do, it means those are two behaviours it often engages in - things it might do by instinct when it can't think of anything (or if you can't think of anything else!).

I hope that helps.

* When it comes to the move "escape, no matter how well contained it is", you should remember that it's not a magic button for you, the MC, to press. It operates within the scope of the Agenda and Principles. (Which are supposed to help codify 'good GMing practices' for this particular game.)

In other words, the idea that you should "play to find out what happens", "be a fan of the hunters", and "build a coherent mythology in play" come *first*.

"Play to find out what happens" means that you do not try to force a plot or specific outcome on the players. You come to the table with an open mind about outcomes, and "don't always decide what happens". (I am going to guess that the book tells you how to accomplish this, specifically - if not, look up Apocalypse World; it describes this very well, and gives you multiple options for doing it.) This means you shouldn't use this move simply to "make things happen the way you want it to".

"Be a fan of the hunters" means you're looking forward to their success. If having the monster "escape, no matter how well contained it is" cheapens their achievement or success, or makes them seem incompetent, or if it feels unfair... again, don't do it.

"Build a coherent mythology in play" (especially in conjunction with other directions to you, like "Always say what honesty demands") means to establish how things are, and then stick to it. Don't trick the players or play "gotcha". If they've found a reasonable way to contain a monster, and you've given them the impression that it will work, then you shouldn't choose the 'escape' move for the monster - that would break what you've established thus far.

This is where my vampire example comes in - I postulated a scenario where the group had already established that a vampire would be destroyed if exposed to direct sunlight, which the player then used to formulate a plan. Finally, the move rolled and the options chosen allowed the player to carry out the plan.

If you, as MC, decide that it *simply didn't work*... you'd be violating the Principles you're supposed to be operating under. You're not being a fan of the hunters, you're not following the "coherent mythology" you've been building up, and you weren't saying what honesty demands before the plan was put together (if you felt the vampire could easily survive that, you should probably have told the player when the told you what their plan was - or at least indicate that it might fail, if they didn't have that information on hand).

AW's text says this upfront: "You, as MC, could just say rocks fall and kill everyone. Just to get this out of the way: if you were gonna do that, might as well not play, right? Just pack up and go home. So, you're not here to 'get' them. If you DO want to play, it's because you're here to be a fan of the characters." (Not a verbatim quote, but something like that is right at the front of the book. Hopefully, Monster of the Week has something similar... it's pretty vital.)

So, as you can see, the "rules" for the MC are fairly vague, compared to, say, the player rules or a more structured boardgame-like RPG. But, if you understand and follow them, they should really help you not to be a "bad GM". They're guidelines and principles and examples which help you get there. It doesn't sound like *you* need them to do so - you're clearly aware that this kind of behaviour would be bad GMing - but some people do, because they haven't learned that yet.

Is there some reason why you feel that AW's rules enable or encourage you to do things which you normally wouldn't do (like having a monster arbitrarily escape)? If so, that's a pretty bizarre position to take: essentially, "These rules allow me to do things that are not fun! Haha! So I'm going to do them!"

On the other hand, some players and some groups really need strict rules to keep them from sliding into this kind of "un-fun" behaviour. If so, PbtA games (like many/most other RPGs) are not for them. There are lots of other games that might suit them, instead!

Paul T.

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #28 on: March 31, 2017, 08:25:39 PM »
(Oh! Monster of the Week calls the GM the "Keeper". AW calls the GM the "MC". I mixed them up in my post. Hopefully you can sort that out! MC = GM = Keeper.)

Munin

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Re: New to Monster of the Week and PbtA in general; having a lot of trouble
« Reply #29 on: April 02, 2017, 01:21:48 AM »
Like Paul, I think I'm starting to lean towards bad wording/design. Good PbtA games don't limit, they enable.