I finally got to play a game of Monster of the Week. It was the revised edition from Evil Hat and I was playing the Spell Slinger. The other Characters were an Expert and a Constructed.

During the game, both of the other characters were throwing around the Use Magic move a lot. In some cases, I thought it was justified, and even cool:

  • Our constructed robot uses magic to try to peer into a closed room via the power outlet outside the door
  • Our Expert uses his magical walking stick to keep a monster out of our room

But the questions started to pile up for me:

  • Why would a character with a high Weird ever do anything but hurl magic around?
  • What's so great about being the wizard when everyone can do it? Why did I bother taking walls of fire and lighting as core playbook moves?

I began to think that maybe we were running into a disconnect - the way I misapplied "Hack and Slash" as "attack" when I first ran Dungeon World, making PCs roll to hit when they weren't actually in melee.

It seemed to me that had I been running MotW as a Buffy-verse game, I would have put more fictional requirements on the move - it's Use magic not cast spell - so there has to be some kind of magic already present to be used.

My question is this:

Is there an implied requirement for special or explicit access in the fiction to a magical asset in order for the move to trigger?

What I mean is - the Spell Slinger is a Dresden-esque wizard - he provides access to his own magic, that's his thing. But the Expert? Should he have to have a book, an artifact, a place of power to trigger the move? And the Constructed - I can see a playbook move that says basically, "When you use technology to accomplish something outside of it's usual function, attempt it as with Use Magic" but otherwise - how does the robot cast spells?

If there were a Spout Lore analogue for MotW, I would think that a successful "memory" of a ritual, symbol, etc., could totally give the Expert that fictional access - but I didn't see one. Is it the Expert's Dark History move?

I'm more concerned about the principle of the game - how is the Use Magic move intended to be used? - than in any specific setting. Take what you know about the gestalt urban fantasy - Buffy / WoD / Supernatural / Dresden Files and assume that as your default setting.

Basically - I want help understanding Use Magic (and hey, if you can shed some light on Big Magic go ahead) in MotW.


2 Answers 2


As a Spellslinger, you can use your combat magic to Kick Ass, whereas everyone else has to Use Magic.

The major advantage of your combat magic is that it does not suffer from any of the requirements found in Use Magic. Any of the following requirements might mean it's impossible to use while fending off a monster. A teammate willing to Protect Someone would help.

  • The spell will take 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or 1 minute to cast.
  • You need one or two people to help cast the spell.
  • You need to refer to a tome of magic for the details.

Monster of the Week requires the group to decide these in game-universe rules. It might make sense that characters without a background in magic need a tome of magic to cast spells or only know a few spells.

Go for pizza or something and talk to the group as friends. Point out your concern that as a Dresden-esque wizard you feel that magic isn't very magical if it's not subject to some limitations. While you are at it, talk about what it means to go beyond human limitations.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer, I think the key is in the Keeper may require... section which was, I think, underutilized. Just FYI, there was no conflict with the group over this, I just wanted to understand it better for when I run! \$\endgroup\$
    – gomad
    Dec 8, 2015 at 17:38
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The type of magic might, in-universe, make a difference too. Compare early Willow (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) being vulnerable while casting a lengthy spell to Giles warding off a vampire with a cross — both Use Magic, but with different kinds of requirements. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 8, 2015 at 17:44

After quite a bit of reading both in the book and online, I have come to a better understanding of this move and feel that my answer can add something to the conversation.

As with all PbtA moves, I think it is important to read the move, understand it, and play it as written. And as with all PbtA games, it is important to follow the fiction.

Here are the points I have settled on for my principles for when I run:

  • The fiction must allow access to the magic - the simple presence of the Use Magic move does not allow players to use magic whenever they want. I think part of this is the wording of the move:

When you use magic...

This trigger seems to make it an at-will sort of trigger, but reading a little closer I think shows the distinction: there must be magic available in the fiction to use. As I said in the question, it's not Cast Spell or even Perform Magic. Here's how I came to this determination: I just replaced "magic" with "wifi". If you read a move called Use Wifi with the trigger When you use wifi..., nobody would expect that it implied the universal existence and availability of wifi. At the library, wifi will probably be available. At the abandoned hospital, probably not. As a player, you'd have to explain how you got wifi in the abandoned hospital before you could activate the trigger.

  • The Keeper enforces the tenets of the setting with this section of the move:

The Keeper may say that...

  • The spell requires weird materials.
  • The spell will take 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or 1 minute to cast.
  • The spell requires ritual chanting and gestures.
  • The spell requires you to draw arcane symbols.
  • You need one or two people to help cast the spell.
  • You need to refer to a tome of magic for the details.

If your setting says magic comes from arcane books and takes the form of extended group rituals, then you as a Keeper are practically required to say all of those things!

With those two points in mind:

  • The tenets of the setting are preserved in a very flexible fashion
  • High-weird PCs won't be able to spam Use Magic
  • Magic-using playbooks and moves have their niches protected

Many thanks to the MotW community!


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