Adding more mystery to MotW Mysteries?

edited June 2013 in Play Advice
Sorry if anyone's already seen this. I posted it in the MotW subforum of the Barf Forth forums, but haven't gotten any hits.

I finally got to run a game of Monster of the Week last Thursday night. I'd been wanting to do so for a while, and the stars finally aligned, granting my wish. Unfortunately it was a bit last minute, and real life responsibilities only allowed me very minimal prep time. So instead of being able to create a new Mystery for my Hunters, I just used the examples from the book. My plan was to start them off in media res fighting the last Mongolian Death Worm, and then and then move on to the "real" case of the ghost and haunted house. I figured a quick fight would give my players a feel for how the game worked. We're all familiar with the Apocalypse World Engine (though I wouldn't call us experts), but as the Moves in MotW are different from say Monsterhearts and Dungeon World, a little fight would show them how MotW worked.

Things went well, though the Death Worm fight went longer than I expected. The Hunters turned it into a mini-Mystery, as they wanted to gather some clues first before just kicking down the door and fighting. Although this was intended as a one-shot to give our usual Monsterhearts MC a break, we're probably going to turn this into a campaign with me as Keeper. Which is fine, as I had a blast running the game and everyone enjoyed playing. I did have a few questions though, especially about legwork and investigation.

After the game, one of my players said that he didn't think the investigation part of the game was very strong. We then discussed how, as the premise of the game is monster hunting, there will always be some sort of supernatural creature behind the events the Hunters look into. Obviously this is not a problem (it's the premise), but the player then pointed out that the questions players get to ask from the Investigate a Mystery Move are very straight forward. Getting to ask "What kind of monster is it?" pretty much solves the Mystery with a single die roll.

I said that while that is true (and it is something I'm struggling with a bit), the problem the Hunters will be dealing with isn't really what, but how. "OK. You're pretty sure that you're dealing with a ghost here based on the information you've gathered. The big question is how are you going to deal with it?" So far, both with the Mongolian Death Worm and the haunted house (the Hunters are currently sitting in their car at the foot of the house's driveway), the Hunters immediately knew exactly where the monster was. They didn't have to worry about how they'd track it down or locate it. I intend to make that an issue in future Mysteries.

But that being said, do more experienced Keepers have some advice about how to make the legwork/investigation part of the Mystery be a bit more, well... mysterious? I understand that the Mystery is (almost) always leading up to a fight with the monster. That's just what the game is. I also understand that if the players come up with reasonable ways to obtain answers to the Investigate a Mystery Move questions, that I should provide them. I'm not trying to play "gotcha" with the players and stonewall them. I need to provide them with usable information so they can make informed decisions. However, it does seem a bit anti-climatic when a player can just make a single die roll and ask "What kind of creature is it?". Maybe I'm not sure how much and what kind of information to give when someone asks this question. My players actually avoided asking it because they thought it would end things too quickly.

I'm also curious how to increase the mystery part of the Mystery in general terms. When Director Murdock (the head of the Agency, as one of my players chose The Professional) slapped the ghost case file in front of the team and told them to check it out, one of the players immediately said "Ghost." I had described how the families who had lived in the house were always reporting "break ins" and "things being moved" but police never found any evidence. Yeah, that's pretty obviously a ghost, but I was still a little miffed my players hit on the answer so easily. As I said before though, the real issue isn't discovering that they have to get rid of a ghost, but figuring out how they'll do it. Still, I'd like there to be a bit more "what are we dealing with" at the beginning of future Mysteries.

Any advice on how to do that?


  • I'm not especially familiar with MotW (it's on the list of games to buy, but I haven't gotten to it yet), but I can certainly say that I'm someone with some familiarity with the genre, so I can at least give you a couple of in-fiction ideas.

    -give them all the clues you want that it's a ghost, and then have it not be a ghost. Maybe it's another supernatural creature that just happens to give off ghost-style "symptoms"; maybe it's a ghost but a strange type of ghost that they have to deal with in a new way; maybe it's the curmudgeonly old caretaker trying to scare the new owners away by pretending to be a ghost. (Don't use that last one more than once, though.)
    -give them less information to start with, if possible. Maybe people have been disappearing. That could be anything right now, and they won't be able to find out exactly what until they're closer, which gives you more time to set up some hard moves.
    -do a bit of reading, and throw some more obscure monsters at them. If they find a body drained of blood with two puncture wounds on the neck, it's pretty obvious what that is. But do they know what the symptoms of kappa attack look like?
    -for monsters that can appear human, you can always play the "which person is it" game for a bit.
    -have the issue be less about "how do we kill it" and more "should we kill it". (Not sure if there's room for this in the rules or not.) Do you kill a werewolf that accidentally got out of what is normally a well-locked cage that it keeps itself in once a month? What do you do about a demon possessing your childhood sweetheart?

    Again, I'm not sure how much of this works within the rules of the game. Just some suggestions from watching many, many hours with this sort of show.
  • edited June 2013
    I think you're on to something. The mystery isn't that it's a ghost. That's sort of a "well, duh". The question is more "what is this ghost, and how does it die?" Every monster in MotW is 100% unique. They have unique, custom weaknesses, unique motives, unique methods. Even monsters from the same species in the same world can be unique.

    And heck, let's drop in a little bit from Dogs in the Vineyard, I think it's apropos here. You shouldn't follow this 100% (because Dogs is a very different game from MotW), but I think there's a lot of helpful stuff to consider.
    No, it's true. There's this interesting hump I have to get over every time I run Dogs - maybe it'll go away eventually. It's like this:

    The PCs arrive in town. I have someone meet them. They ask how things are going. The person says that, well, things are going okay, mostly. The PCs say - mostly?

    And I'm like "uh oh. They're going to figure out what's wrong in the town! Better stonewall." And then I'm like "wait a sec. I want them to figure out what's wrong in the town. In fact, I want to show them what's wrong, so they care about it and kick its ass!"
    Now also keep in mind that the "Investigate a Mystery" move still needs to be justified by the fiction. Remember the example in the book? The Keeper asks the players "Okay, but how might you figure out the type of the creature based on the evidence at hand?" If that question is resolved in the fiction, it's all cleared to tip the scales and give out the answer.
  • Just played in my first session of this game, and really enjoyed it. I've bought my own copy to hopefully run for my ("Supernatural"-loving) kids.

    You raise some good points. My immediate thought is to make the Investigate Mystery answers vaguer. Yes, the player already had so succeed at a roll, so they deserve some good info, but the answer is limited by the fiction -- there's no way the hunter is going to find a map that shows which room the monster is hiding in, and even the type of monster is going to be limited by available evidence, so you don't have to tell them exactly what it is if it's an obscure type. Maybe they just get some clues that narrow down the options a bit. "It's clearly a shape-shifter, but it was seen in animal form under a crescent moon..."
  • Page 116 has a lot of helpful advice in this regard. @snej has a very good point in that you don't have to tell them exactly what a monster is, but rather just what sort of monster it is. As noted again, the book itself says that the deciding factor for whether you tell them an answer flat-out is "Could they conceivably find the answer out that way?" If the answer is "No", then ask them "How would you find that out?"

    But it also advises you to be very generous with clues. And again, treat the monsters as individuals.
  • This is all good advice.

    I will add that MotW isn't really about mysteries. If it was, that would not be one of the basic moves!

    The focus is more about what the hunters do with the clues when they find them. Like maybe they know that they are hunting a shape changing ogre, but you also tell them that the one sure way to lure it into a trap is with a freshly extracted human heart, or an innocent child.

    I think one sure way to tell a MotW game is going well is when the hunters start arguing about what they should do.

    (Also, sorry about missing the barf forth thread. I guess the recent server issues are my new thread notification).

  • I think one sure way to tell a MotW game is going well is when the hunters start arguing about what they should do.
    Interesting! So in that regard, it's actually a lot like Dogs, where the Dogs have overwhelmingly good odds against the enemy...if they're working in unison.
  • Definitely!

    One of my favourite moments from my long running game was when a Divine hunter searched and then set fire to the Expert's office (because zero tolerance for black magic).
  • Thanks for the advice, guys. As I said, this was only our first game and it was meant to be a one-shot, so I'm still finding my feet as Keeper.

    Pulling a "bait and switch" is a possibility, @m_busuttil. Lots of supernatural creatures can exhibit the same "symptoms". In this particular case, as the Hunters haven't started investigating yet, I could change what the monster is. I'd planned for it to be a ghost, but it could easily be a demon or some kind of fae creature. I haven't dropped any concrete clues for them yet, so I don't feel cheap changing the monster "mid-Mystery". I obviously can't do that every time though, and doing so feels a bit too much like playing the antagonist GM for my tastes. "Oh, they figured out it's an X already? Well, I'll make it a Y then, just to stump them. Ha!"

    Giving them less information to start with is possible too, but tricky to pull off. Since one of my players chose The Professional, we've decided the Hunters work for a (currently unnamed) agency. At the start of every Mystery, Director Murdock calls the Hunters into his office, hands them a folder with their assignment, then yells for them to "Get the hell ouwda my soight!" in a bad Boston accent. When they got handed the ghost case fine, one of the players immediately asked, in character "So, what's in this case file to make us go check it out?" It made sense, as there would be enough information in the file to A) point to a supernatural event, and B) be important enough for the characters to go investigate. If there isn't a solid reason to go poke around, then the whole thing feels kind of forced.

    Again, providing "symptoms" that could be caused by a number of supernatural creatures is the way to go here.
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