His Hair Was Perfect – Monster of the Week at Seven Hills

Over on this post I talked about how I approached my prep for my game of Monster of the Week (MOTW) at the Seven Hills RPG convention in Sheffield, UK, and since the con was last weekend I’ve had time to reflect on how it went and some of the highlights (and low-lights).

I had a great set of players. Their characters were created easily, and (in a way that wasn’t obvious without reading the game) the History step (where players describe a link to each of the other PCs) really fleshed them out as characters. What it didn’t do was provide much scope for inter-party conflict – not too surprising, I guess, given the premise of the game – but more on that later.

In prep, I’d decided on a loose premise in the background, and sketched out, as per the guidance in the book, a Countdown for the enemy’s plans. Lee Ho Fuk, legendary Chinese sorcerer and restauranteur, was possessing hapless customers with his delicious black bean sauce and turning them into werewolves, and triggering the beast-spirits within to hunt down enemies of the restaurant – initially, bad TripAdvisor reviewers. He had a plot to launch his range of home-cook sauces, attack the Blue Dragon conference of Chinese Food with his werewolf-possessors, and eventually take over the world!

He got to stage 2 of his Countdown; the players rolled really well on their initial investigations, limiting the number of hard moves I felt justified in doing to advance his plot, and meaning they worked out the twist (that it wasn’t your traditional, infected lycanthrope werewolf) quickly. They went from the crime scene to the restaurant directly and, after some edgy spirit banishment, eventually defeated Lee Ho Fuk and his dragon-spirit demonic soul. Partly this was due to some good rolling, but I think I also made a crucial error in my prep, showing my lack of experience at running mystery games; I had one level of clues, and after they’d explored everything, it was obvious that the restaurant was the place to go. Better mystery construction would have led them to an intermediate location or scene where the clues there lead them to the restaurant. Still, the timings worked well – we finished about 15 minutes early (as far as I can remember) in a 3 hour slot.

It was still a satisfying game; as I talked about here, part of the attraction of one-shots of Powered by the Apocalypse (PBTA) games is the shared fictional universe creation, and although I had clear guidance for the kind of agency the PCs worked for, it helped the players get comfortably into character after the hour or so of at-table prep. Another area where I showed some naivety was in the amount of plot the players could eat up without any real in-party conflict; in every PBTA game I’ve run previously, barring Dungeon World, there’s an edge of PvP conflict that self-generates addition subplots.

I’ll blog more about mystery creation and investigative one-shots as I get better at running them; I can admit that my usual genre to run is all-action pulp where the scenes, if not on rails, are at least signposted very clearly to everyone involved. I’m beginning to think that the mystery plot for a one-shot is to point very clearly towards one thing at first, and then when that thing is confronted to point very clearly towards the actual thing that resolves the adventure. But I might be over-simplifying.

I know there are a lot of readers with much more experience of running mystery one-shots and investigative games than me – does that sound correct? Or am I howling at the wrong moon with this one. Anyway, I’ll certainly be running more one-shots of MOTW – with the same or different premises.

He’ll Rip Your Lungs Out, Jim! – Monster of the Week at Seven Hills (spoiler-free)

In less than a week’s time, I’ll be running a one-shot game of Monster of the Week (MOTW) at Seven Hills, an RPG convention in Sheffield, UK. Each year Seven Hills has a theme, and this year’s is Urban Legends, so for inspiration I’ve turned to a Warren Zevon song, Werewolves of London. I’m imagining the tone to be a bit Rivers of London, a bit Charles Stross, a bit Neverwhere – here’s my pitch.

Something is afoot on the other side of London – there’s been six bodies found this week, and it’s only so much you can cover up about the claw slashes and tooth marks before the press get hold of it. Clearly somebody has upset somebody over at the Isle of Dogs, and it’s up to you, the Metropolitan Occult Crime Squad, to investigate. In fact, of course it’s up to you, because somehow police cuts means that four humans should be enough to keep all of the gods, vampires, werewolves, fairies and associated spirits in the most mystically potent city in western Europe from bothering the man on the Clapham Omnibus… all without said man finding out about their existence.
A game using Monster of the Week, a powered-by—the-Apocalypse game of occult investigation, set in an occult London mashed up from Neverwhere, Rivers of London, and Warren Zevon lyrics. No knowledge of the source material is needed, and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t played an Apocalypse World-style game before.

Every time I prep a convention game I get to this point less than a week before the con – the feeling like I’ve got lots still to do. The one thing I have done is decide how I’m going to tweak the game to make it work in a One-Shot, adapting some of the stuff I talked about here from running The ‘Hood in a similar 3-hour session. I don’t expect we’ll do quite as much setup at the table as we did for that game, but I’m still doing playbook stuff and creating NPCs and locations with the players.

Rules Changes

Monster of the Week does offer really clear procedures for running a one-shot. The main one that jumps out is restricting Luck – every Hunter starts with a pool of Luck points that they can spend for an auto-Hit on a move. MOTW suggests reducing the 7 that you normally get to 1-3; I’m going with 2, as I think just 1 will mean my players hoard them until the last ten minutes of the game and then spend them.

The other change is to make the equipment fit the concept of it being set in the UK; players are only going to be able to pick weapons that make sense that fit with the concept. I’m not going to do make any changes other than just restrict the guns; the Professional, for instance, might be able to get a sidearm, but there will certainly be a lot of paperwork to fill in to actually use it. Of course, he’ll be able to call on tactical support if the situation calls for it; but of course, these officers aren’t members of OCS, so might react unpredictably to the supernatural.

I’m also going to start the players off with 3 experience; this way, they will get to Level Up much earlier in the game.

Restricted Playbooks

My game has ended up being fully pre-booked (Seven Hills has a mixture of pre-bookings and sign-ups on the day) so while I could contact my players before the game and get them to pick Playbooks, instead I’m just going to restrict them. The Met’s Occult Crime Squad (OCS) is pretty much “The Unexplained Cases Team” described in the rules, so I’m going to have the following playbooks for the four players to choose from:

  • the Professional, as the liaison with the regular police force and assumed ‘leader’ of the team. The Professional gets to design the Agency; we’ll do this at the table for the OCS, with this player having final say.
  • the Mundane – I see this as a newly-assigned regular policeman who, perhaps due to some administrative error, has ended up investigating vampires and werewolves in London
  • the Spooky, for the Rivers of London reference I think it helps if there’s someone who can actually do “magic” on the team
  • the Expert, another character with a different flavour of magic who can handle research and occult investigation

The other suggestions for the Case Team (the Flake, Wronged, and Crooked) don’t really grab me as fitting as neatly with the concept; I think if I had 5 players I’d include the Crooked, as a streetside contact, but the other two just don’t seem British enough.

I plan that the players will pick their playbooks, do the prep associated with them in their History, and then we’ll go round and make up some friendly NPCs and contacts, either back at the office or out on the streets. I kinds see the OCS as being just the four characters here out in the field, so the problems they encounter are for the players to solve themselves.

The Rest of The Prep

I’ve got as far as working out what I’ve done and need to do for the game; I’ve printed out the Basic Moves and Playbooks, and the lyrics to the song to inform the rest of my prep. I’m going to be following the regular Mystery Creation guidance in MOTW, and then get a list of locations that could appear in the mystery.

After the players have done their playbooks, they’ll each be describing a couple of NPCs and a location that’s important to them, and when they’ve done that we’ll take a 10 minute break and I’ll check that I can target these NPCs and places as much as possible. MOTW includes “Classic Werewolf” stats which I’ll adapt for the likely antagonists, and I’m going to have a think about possible weaknesses / foibles for the likely opponents as well. I’m also going to try to work out some pictures for the players to pick from, and I’ve been trawling through websites on The Bill to get hold of these – but this goes down under “extra prep” – it’d be a nice touch to have it, but I don’t need it done before I start running the game – so I’ll see how much time I have to do it.

I’ll post the rest of my prep around this time next week, along with a report of how it goes – but for now those notes need to be kept hidden from my players! Is there anything you’d do differently, or that I’ve missed?