But some people are mean enough, smart enough, crazy enough, or hurt enough, that they live.
And some of those survivors go on a crusade against monsters.
Monster of the Week is a Tabletop RPG designed by Michael Sands and Steve Hickey in 2012 and published on paper by Evil Hat Productions in 2015. A revised hardcover edition was published by Evil Hat in 2022.
The game is Powered by the Apocalypse and, as the title suggests, inspired by various Monster of the Week series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Fringe, The Dresden Files, and The X-Files. It is meant to be played episodically, with a group of monster hunter archetypes (a.k.a. playbooks) going after a new boogieman every session.
The game contains examples of following tropes:
- Arch-Enemy: The Wronged's enemy, as well as the Chosen's "Nemesis" (if they pick one), make for good Myth Arc threats.
- Beginner's Luck: Quite literally: new Hunters start out with seven Luck points, and each one allows them to succeed against impossible odds and survive things that would kill a regular human. The rule book even explicitly encourages the Keeper to go extra hard on the players in the first session because they still have "Luck to spare".
- Came Back Wrong: It is possible to resurrect a fallen Hunter with a major magic ritual, but there is always a risk of them coming back not quite right—and the higher their Weird score was before death, the higher the chances of that occurring.
- Cast of Expies: Many playbooks are overtly inspired by characters from action-horror franchises. For the full roster, see the Characters tab.
- Cast Speciation: The rules enforce this, requiring each player to play a different playbook (archetype), which not only gives them different abilities, but also different perspectives on the hunt. In the event a Hunter is Killed Off for Real, their playbook becomes available for another character. The first edition has a harsher rule, as a dead character's playbook remains unavailable and is permanently removed from the campaign.
- Class Change Level Reset: All characters can take the Advanced Improvement to switch to a different playbook, but doing so will cost them some of the moves and gear that aren't "intrinsic" to them (the Keeper and the players must come to an agreement on which moves are and aren't "intrinsic").
- The Confidant: The confidante-type allies are NPCs whose purpose in the story is to hear you out and to give you advice.
- Conspiracy Redemption: The rules suggest a possible Myth Arc where the Professional's Agency or the Initiate's Sect turn out to have a sinister purpose for hunting monsters.
- Critical Existence Failure: Played straight for monstrous beings who remain at full combat capacity until their harm track exceeds their max, but averted for all human characters, including the PCs: each human can take 7 points of harm before dying, but every single attack that inflicts non-zero harm can impose penalties on their later rolls at the Keeper's discretion, while taking more than 3 harm total makes their wounds unstable, allowing the Keeper to inflict more harm to them at any time and make them Act Under Pressure in situations where they normally wouldn't have to. In short, getting injured at all is a very, very bad thing in this game.
- Damage Reduction: Armor works by reducing incoming harm by a fixed amount of points.
- Distress Ball: The Mundane's special moves reward them for grabbing the Idiot Ball and doing something to get them captured (and thus moving the plot along).
- Evil Plan: For each mystery, the Keeper prepares a "Countdown"—a sequence of six increasingly evil acts the monster will carry out if the Hunters do not intervene.
- Experienced Protagonist: The general assumption is that every playbook has had some experience in hunting monsters together prior to their first play session.
- Experience Meter: Each playbook comes with a line of five XP boxes, which are checked every time you get an experience point. Check all five, and you get to select an advancement (resetting the meter).
- Expy: Each playbook is an obvious expy of one or more popular characters from Monster of the Week shows. Additional playbooks made by fans are also expies, notably The Exile (Giles Redferne from Warlock (1989)) and The Meddling Kid (go on, guess).
- The Five Stats: Charm (people skills), Cool (keeping your composure under duress), Sharp (smarts), Tough (combat prowess), and Weird (use magic).
- Game Master: Downplayed. The GM, called "the Keeper of Monsters and Mysteries" or simply "the Keeper" in this game, does not have absolute power, and is restricted in what they can do to the player characters and when by the rules.
- Game System: The game is "Powered by the Apocalypse", which is a term for saying that it uses a system derived from Apocalypse World.
- Healing Magic Is the Hardest: Magical healing moves are barely better than regular first aid, healing at most 2 harm, whereas most monster attacks and the Spell-Slinger's combat magic can inflict 4-5 harm at a time.
- Heroic Bystander: Bystanders of the Helper subtype are motivated to join the Hunters on their job. However, they are still considered a threat by the game, since the Hunters now also have to protect them, too, as the way they are played according to the Keeper's rules really does make them more of a liability than a help. Their role is not to fight the monster, but to be beaten, abducted, and murdered.
- Hit Points: Each Player Character has 7 "harm" points, although upon losing 4 or more, they become Unstable and can die if not treated immediately, averting Critical Existence Failure.
- Hunter of Monsters: Pretty much every PC qualifies as this, though The Chosen and The Wronged are the most pronounced examples.
- Kid Hero: Several playbooks explicitly allow for children PCs; unfortunately, children are no less susceptible to the game's horrors.
- Luck Manipulation Mechanic: All Hunters begin their careers with seven "Luck Points", which they can spend to replace a botched skill roll with an automatic success (or cancel out all harm taken from a single source). However, there is almost no way to ever gain them back (only the Crooked, the Divine, and the Spell-Slinger can gain one point back as an Advanced Improvement, while the Mundane can do so four times), and a Hunter who expends all points is "just out of luck" (in gameplay terms, the Keeper is then allowed to subject them to "hard moves" without a warning that they are entitled to normally).
- Monster of the Week: Narratively, each playing session is centered around the party investigating and pursuing some kind of monstrous being. The game provides the Keeper with little predefined materials, but a toolset to develop their own monsters.
- Myth Arc: There are guidelines for running a campaign with an overarching threat, but the rules subtly discourage long-runners, as all Hunters run out of luck eventually, leaving them too vulnerable to continue playing.
- Non-Combat EXP: The most common source of XP is botched skill rolls. Some playbooks also get XP in specific situations.
- Offscreen Teleportation: The Monster move "appear suddenly" is designed specifically for this, allowing the Monster to suddenly get the drop on the Hunters. The rulebook even encourages this sort of behavior as a way to get the plot moving if the Hunters are playing too slowly or cautiously.
- Overzealous Underling: This is the point of the "Helper"-type bystanders: they are NPCs whose motivation is to assist the player-controlled monster hunters, but are mechanically treated as threats by the game, since in their zeal, they routinely cause more trouble than benefit.
- Player Headquarters: The Expert's Haven functions as this for them and, by extension, for other Hunters. The Flake can also get one upon leveling up.
- Role-Playing Endgame:
- The game encourages character retirement with the luck mechanics: every Hunter has seven points of luck to spend and only a few can ever get one back. When your luck eventually runs out, the Game Master is legally allowed to screw your character over at any time without warning, quickly resulting in a messy death unless you retire them first.
- One of the advanced improvements available to every Hunter (after level 5) is "Retire to safety", which essentially takes them out of the campaign on their own terms, knowing that whatever happens, they will be safe from now on.
- For the Monstrous playbook, one option for experienced characters (after 5+ advances) is to retire the character by deciding that they fall back into evil and become a major villain.
- Story-Driven Invulnerability: Each monster is required to have a weakness or two that the Hunters have to identify and exploit before they can put it down for good—meaning that no matter how much harm they do, it'll always regenerate/escape/come back from the dead/etc. unless they specifically hit its weak spot or use a specific method of bringing them down.
- Uninhibited Muscle Power: Tome of Mysteries introduces "No Limits", a weird move that heroes can take as an alternative to the usual "Use Magic". Forcing their body past physical limits, they can lift a car, jump over a truck or punch through walls. However, the effect is brief and it can go horribly wrong...
- Villains Act, Heroes React: Regular mysteries begin with a Hook, which is usually the first or the second step on the mystery's Countdown, meaning that the heroes usually arrive at the scene when the monster's Evil Plan is well underway.