Review: Monster of the Week – Tome of Mysteries
Where other games have supplements that feel like sequels or straight-up improvements to the base product, reading the Tome of Mysteries feels like exploring the special edition of your favourite movie – complete with special features and a full directors’ cut.
As with any exploration of a DVD’s deleted scenes, if you head into it expecting revelations and dramatic changes, you’re going to be rather let down with what you find within the surprisingly chunky page-count. Instead, expect a sweet, comforting slice of fresh perspectives and new ideas that are more likely to subtly enhance your games rather than up-end them.
The contemplative approach of the book may not be quite what I was expecting from this first supplement for the exquisite mystery-solving Monster of the Week, but once I got to the end of it I was smiling widely and plotting any number of new schemes to unleash upon my players. It nothing else, this probably marks it as a rather solid success.
However, while I could probably get away with ending the review there, let’s take the time to dig a little deeper into what Tome of Mysteries actually brings to the table.
Love & Darkness
The book is divided up into three rough parts – in terms of importance, if not page count.
The first of these is exactly what you’d expect from an RPG supplement, and consists of the new rules and character options it brings to the table. These are fun little add-ons that mostly help GMs tweak their worlds and settings, such as sketching out ways to bolster the core game’s magical abilities with weird science or memories of past lives.
Players also get the chance to try out a handful of new archetypes. The detective – which can range from a Sam Spade-esque flatfoot to a Girl with the Dragon Tattoo hacker – and wild-eyed truth-searcher are both solid, neat little playbooks that work just fine, but the really fascinating options are the pararomantic and the hex.
The pararomantic gains their unique abilities and drive for mystery-solving through their relationship with a weird, possibly monstrous lover, and I doubt I need to explain why that’s an interesting spin on a character. The hex, meanwhile, represents a magic user toying with dark forces, who always strains at the edge of temptation into evil.
Both are fascinating designs that show the range of characters you can play around with in Monster of the Week, but both also have quirks that can make them challenging to play as and to play alongside. As such, while I might wrinkle my nose at having them in the core rules they make rather great additions to an entirely optional, supplementary book.
A Mass of Mysteries
After the rules comes the advice section, which is perhaps the most curious and yet most enticing part of the entire book. It’s made up from a series of essays written up by contributors to and players of the game, each of which looks at some different aspect of Monster of the Week.
There are thoroughly practical pieces on how to best run games at conventions or squeeze a session into a lunchbreak, but also more open-ended chats about embracing gothic horror or looking for the monstrous in the world around us. Every single one of them is useful in one way or another, and even if you don’t plan on embracing every lesson they offer – I can’t really be bothered to map out spellbooks for my players, for example – they’re still entertaining little reads.
This is where Tome of Mysteries is at its most DVD-special-feature-ey, and where it really feels special. Honestly there isn’t much here you couldn’t glean from a half-dozen blogs, but having it all collected here in one space makes the book feel friendly, welcoming and cosy.
The final part of the book is by far the bulkiest and is made up of about 30 pre-written mysteries. The sketch-map nature of Monster of the Weeks’s adventure design, where you get a list of creatures, bystanders and locations rather than any linear encounters, makes it tough to quantify the quality on hand, but most of them seem like imaginative slicers of horror.
Honestly, the biggest issue I have with some of them is that they’re almost too creative – if that’s possible. Several take pains to try something new and inventive that diverts from the game’s usual format, or require some unique set-up or background.
This isn’t really a problem in and of itself, but it does mean that it can sometimes to tricky to pluck the book off the shelf and grab a mystery for an upcoming game. It would be hard, for example, to casually slip an adventure into your ongoing campaign if its core premise requires the entire party to start off already dead.
Ultimately, though, there’s a lot here to love, and the Tome of Mysteries is the textbook definition of a supplement. You can happily play through countless Monster of the Week mysteries without it and never feel that you’re missing out, but if you’re invested in the game and want to read up on fresh takes and play around with some new ideas, it’s absolutely perfect.
More monsters, more mysteries and more of everything that makes the base game so enjoyable. If you’re a Monster of the Week fan, you need to pick this up.
Publisher: Evil Hat