I've picked up Monster of the Week (Revised edition), an Apocalypse World spin-off, and I'm excited about running it, but I'm concerned about how fast characters advance. It only takes 5 experience marks to grant an improvement, and since players mark xp every time they fail a roll, end a session, or for character specific triggers, it seems pretty likely that characters will tend to level once or twice a session.

This may be fine for a short campaign or a one-shot, but I intend to to run my game with the Dresden Files as my main influence. That means each adventure would be a 'book' lasting several sessions as far as pacing and build-up are concerned, power-level and stakes ratcheting slowly from book to book. So I'm kind of wary of the idea that my characters will start off okay at the beginning of book one and be bad-ass by the end.

So what does the stock advancement pace of the game look like? Would I need to tweak the mechanics to get the kind of pacing I'm looking for, is it a simple matter of re-framing story elements, or am I over-estimating the impact entirely?


2 Answers 2


You're over-estimating the impact entirely, yes. The assumption that advancement in Monster of the Week is a matter of increasing power isn't correct. In the vast majority of Apocalypse World engine games, advancement isn't climbing, zero-to-hero Campbellian stuff. Monster of the Week is no exception.

Instead, advancement is largely outwards and only slightly upwards. The power level of the game is extremely flat. PCs gain new options, and their existing options get slightly more reliable, but they don't get significantly more powerful. Some advancements do nothing at all for power! Characters start out fairly capable, so though power does increase slightly, it's will never be more than a small relative increase against the baseline of a starting character.

That's why Apocalypse-based games put advancement completely outside of the Keeper's responsibility: it's neither your concern nor job to worry about balance or power level, because nothing you can throw at them can be accidentally out of their league or too easy, and they can never advance so far that the events of a session become inappropriately scaled.

So don't worry about it: the game has got this for you already. The advancement system ticks away and takes care of itself, giving the players new things to play with or new reliability for old toys, but never fundamentally altering the flat power curve of the game. Fresh-faced characters can play beside hoary veterans with dozens of advancements, and they will both have equal ability to contribute and grab spotlight — that's how not-a-problem the advancement rate is. In practice it will be somewhere between none (if they're avoiding opportunities to be awesome for fear of failing) to one or two advancements per PC per session, but it's highly variable due to the organic, improvised way sessions go in directions nobody (not even the Keeper) can predict or control — and, again, is really not the Keeper's concern.

In my experience, you don't ever have to even pay attention to advancement in a way that's typical for other games. The Keeper's job regarding advancement is only these two things:

  1. Help the players remember to mark XP when they trigger it.
  2. Keep yourself informed when they gain a new move, so that you can help the group notice when it triggers.
    (Not so you can compensate or account for it preemptively — you don't ever need to do that! Remember your Agenda and Principles — they don't include “challenge the players”!)

Let the game work as designed, which is to exclusively let players worry about their PCs' advancement, and you'll see that it works just fine. Besides, you have way more important things to occupy your attention with during and between games, and it's a waste to fret about something that isn't even your job in a Powered by the Apocalypse–based game. Save your energy for the jobs the game does give you — you'll have your hands full!

  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't really answer my question. While it's good to know that the leveling factor in the game has less impact than in other games, you don't really give a good handle on what the pace is. How many times per session is a character typically going to level up? Even if there aren't mechanical benefits to leveling, there are still fictional concerns. If my players max out their characters before the end of my first adventure, the whole leveling thing doesn't really work for my style of fiction. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2015 at 14:23
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ It's not anything like leveling, and really not the Keeper's concern. You really, really don't have to worry about this. That's the answer. I can put in a sentence guesstimating advancement pace, but it is necessarily very handwavey because it's organic to the situations that develop during improvisation, and nobody can fully control nor predict it. And, it really doesn't matter. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 3, 2015 at 14:50

The book reads like it gives you an answer and it kind of does but its not the clearest. Here's what I got from it:

When you make a character you pick their strengths and weaknesses. Any time in the game that they want to do something like use their skills, they roll. If they roll real bad (6 or less) then they fail that thing and mark EXP. If they roll 12 or higher then they completely succeed at what they were trying but mark no EXP. After they mark 5 EXP, they level up. I've had a player level up twice in three sessions because they rolled bad a LOT!! I've had others that have played 4 sessions and haven't leveled yet.

In short, it depends on how well they roll and if they are good at using their skills.

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