As I promised in last month's chat thread and owing to the fact that I've finally got some free time on my hands, it's time for some Monsterhearts.
Monsterhearts is a game "about the messy lives of teenage monsters" designed by Joe McDaldno, whom you might know better as the designer of The Quiet Year. What started as a joke about running Twilight using the Apocalypse World system spun off into a unique take on the Powered by the Apocalypse system with completely new mechanics and themes, written in an easy-to-read style and with the explicit goal of being friendly to players of all sexual orientations without having an implicitly heteronormative undercurrent.
The genre of Monsterhearts is supernatural teenage romance, with Twilight and the Vampire Diaries being obvious sources of inspiration, but the game draws very broadly from the genre of "teenage drama with monsters and/or the supernatural," with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Carrie, The Craft, Lost Boys and Roswell also being obvious inspirations. Basically, you play teenage vampires, witches, werewolves, and even mortals who have to deal with petty high school politics, alienation, raging hormones, and not quite fitting in. As is standard for this genre, while the characters are literally monsters, it's all very symbolic. More on this later.
Now, I'll be the first to say that I'm not a huge fan of this genre of media. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is obviously a great show, but outside of that I'm really lukewarm to the "monsters as a metaphor for teenage problems" genre. That said, Monsterhearts is one of my absolute favorite games ever, probably for reasons similar to those McDaldno outlines in the introduction to the game:
And letís be honest. You play because you have a guilty attraction to supernatural beasts and harlequin love stories, but you harbour the secret presumption that you could write them way better yourself. Good. This is your opportunity to prove it.
Even if you're like me and not a huge fan of supernatural teenage romance, Monsterhearts is a great game to look at for a number of reasons: it's got a very clear theme coupled with mechanics that support said theme, it has a very mature treatment of gender and sexuality unprecedented in RPG writing, and, let's be honest, it's just fun to play a teenage werewolf harboring a secret crush on the school's star quarterback, who is actually chosen by some higher power to protect humanity from monsters yet doesn't realize that the girl he's got his eyes set on has got a demon at the back of her head making bargains for power with her.
The game begins with the traditional "what is role playing" spiel, but in Monsterhearts' case it's very brief and doesn't dwell too long on explaining itself. What we get is an explanation of the game's main themes, the game's focus on emergent narrative (or as the game refers to it, "keeping the story feral") and the fact that the game's got rules that sometimes step in between to negotiate what happens in the narrative for you. After that we get a brief rundown of the sort of stuff you need to actually play this game, including dice (you only need two six-sided dice), pencils, the Skins (or character sheets) and other booklets (all available to download on Buried Without Ceremony's website!).
Next time, Chapter One, Character Creation. Or Chapter Two, Playing The Game. Thing is, the game does one of those weird things where it first goes through the character creation process, but the available character types (or Skins) are only presented two chapters later. Since I thought it might be nice to make some sample characters, it'd make sense to go through Character Creation and the Skins at the same time. Or not. I don't know.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 19:17 on Feb 15, 2014
|# ¿ Feb 15, 2014 14:32|
|# ¿ Sep 25, 2021 18:55|
Hey guys, you ready for some more Monsterhearts? No? Too bad.
Chapter One: Creating Characters
Following the game's introduction, Monsterhearts gets right down to character creation, giving you a nice check-list for creating characters. Beyond that, the first chapter also contains an explanation of the game's four main stats as well as some choice advice on how to get your players in the mood for supernatural teenage romance.
The first, and most important, step of character creation is Choosing a Skin. Everyone except the MC (Oh yeah, that's a thing: like in Apocalypse World, the GM is called the Master of Ceremonies.) picks a Skin for their character, and each of the Skins represents a different monstrous trope from teenage horror. The Skins are, in order, The Chosen, The Fae, The Ghost, The Ghoul, The Infernal, The Mortal, The Queen, The Vampire, The Werewolf, and The Witch.
What the game suggests you do when creating characters is for the MC to divide up the Skins evenly amongst all the players (including the MC) and then have the players, in order, present the Skins. Each of the Skins has a short two-paragraph long blurb written in the kind of prose you find in supernatural romance and in all the fanfiction thereof, and each of the players should take turns to read those blurbs in the most melodramatic voice possible. This is a really important step. Not only is it fun to read the overwrought purple prose in a funny faux gothic voice, it also gets the players in the mood of the game. Monsterhearts is a game about overblown emotions and melodrama, and the sooner the players get into that mindset the better. Do not skip this step. Trust me.
(As an aside, having played Monsterhearts a couple of times I now sort of wish that Dungeon World, my other favorite PbtA game, had gone for a character sheet format that could've fit the flavor text on it. Anyone who owns Dungeon World knows that each of the classes has a short one-to-two paragraph long blurb about that class, and I personally think that the step of reading these blurbs out loud is a really fun one and really sets the mood for the game. Obviously it'd have to be modified for Dungeon World: instead of reading the class blurb in the most melodramatic voice, you'd read them in the most cheesy 80s Swords and Sorcery movie narrator voice or something that best fits said class.)
After this the players each choose the Skin that appeals to them the most. It's okay for them to look at the rules text of each Skin, but it's not necessary: players should just choose the Skin that speaks to them the most based on the image on the Skin and the flavor text. If two players are interested in playing the same Skin it's recommended that they reach some sort of compromise, because like a lot of PbtA games Monsterhearts is built around the assumption that there be only one of each character type in the group. That said, if there happens to be a photocopier handy and the players are insistent on playing the same Skin, it's okay.
After Skins have been chosen, it's time to pick your Name, Look and Origin. These three things are usually something of an after-thought in lots of RPGs, which have you craft your character's stats and abilities first and only then go "Oh, and you should probably name your character too, and describe their look, and tell us a bit about them."
In traditional PbtA style, each Skin comes with a list of suggested names. If none of them strike your fancy, each Skin also has a few guidelines for coming up with a name that fits that Skin. For an example, here's the Werewolf's Name guidelines:
Cassidy, Candika, Flinch, Levi, Margot, Lorrie, Luna, Peter, Tucker, Zachary
The next step, your Look, allows no painting outside the borders. In Monsterhearts two things make up your look: your character's appearance at a glance, and your character's eyes. Eyes are really important in the genre that Monsterhearts emulates, so it's important that they be given their own space on your character sheet. For a taste, here's the Vampire's Look options:
intense, aloof, pale, predatory, smoldering, old-fashioned
Finally, it's time to choose your Origin. Origins are pretty much a short description of your character's background. In the case of the Witch it describes what kind of magical tradition you come from, while for the Ghoul it describes how you were brought back to life. For the Ghost, it describes how you died!
Murdered in cold blood, murdered in hot passion, left to die, tragic accident, a confused death
To be fair, the Ghost is the most of the Skins in the game.
Stats! Monsterhearts has four stats, which are Hot, Cold, Volatile and Dark, and here once again I find that it's better to just quote the book instead of trying to explain them myself.
Hot means loving gorgeous, alluring, exciting, smokiní, someone you canít stop thinking about, magnetic.
Two of your stats start at -1 and the other two start at 1, the exact spread being determined by your Skin. Someone's made an image explaining the Stat combinations for Monsterhearts, which is pretty sweet of them:
For an example, The Ghoul's high stats are Cold and Volatile. Going by our list of adjectives we can see that the Ghoul is cold and calculating, but also aggressive and unpredictable, so basically a murderous sociopath.
You also get to increase one of your Stats by one. While it can be worth it to increase one of your lower stats by one (all the way to zero) I personally think that it's best to focus on one of your strengths. That said, Monsterhearts isn't exactly a math-heavy game and your character will probably do just fine with those two +1's. The game suggests that you glance at the basic moves and the moves granted by your Skin and figure out what you want to be doing the most, and then to focus on that.
Then there's Picking Moves. Each character has access to the list of basic moves, in addition to which each Skin has their own unique set of moves. Some of these are mandatory for characters of that Skin (the Ghoul always starts with The Hunger, the Infernal always starts with Soul Debt and two bargains with their Dark Power, and the Witch starts with Sympathetic Tokens and Hex-Casting), and might require further choices to be made as part of them (the Ghoul has to choose the exact nature of their Hunger, the Infernal needs to name their Dark Power and choose a title for them, and so on), but beyond those you generally get to choose one or two more moves from your class list. To once again go back to the Ghost, the Ghost starts with the following move and gets to choose one more:
Oddly enough, the character creation checklist lists Sex Moves & Darkest Selves as the next step, even though there are no decisions to be made there. I guess this is just there to remind players that their characters also have those.
Sex Moves are the same as Specials in Apocalypse World, i.e. moves that trigger when two characters have sex, or don't, or something. The Sex Moves aren't really about the act of sex, they're about the emotional consequences of sex. As in most games that feature romantic or sexual content, the general assumption is that when sex happens the scene fades to black and resumes at the moment of post-coital snuggling. This is also when the Sex Moves trigger. We'll get back to those once we get to chapter three.
Darkest Selves also require a bit of explanation: each Skin has a Darkest Self, which is basically a description of what that character does when they give into their most base and monstrous nature. There are a number of ways for your Darkest Self to trigger, and when it does you're expected to act it out, as if going off from a script written on your character sheet. Each Darkest Self is unique to their Skin and basically represents that Skin at their most monstrous: the Werewolf becomes a wolf-man-beast bent on destruction and subjugation, the Vampire becomes a predator that preys on the weak, the Ghoul gives into their hunger, stopping at nothing to satisfy it, and the Mortal lashes out at everyone and anyone, whether human or mortal, to get revenge for nobody understanding them. (Insert quip about Man being the real Monster here.)
Finally, there's Your Backstory, which is your source of Strings. I'll explain Strings in more detail in the next update, but for a quick and dirty summary: Strings are a meta-game resource that represent your emotional leverage on other characters, and expending strings for various effects is the heart of Monsterhearts' social interaction mechanic.
Anyway, each Skin has their own unique Backstory, which each player needs to go through together with the rest of the players at the start of the game. Before this, however, players must introduce their characters to each other, so that each of the players knows of potential drama that could spring between their characters. The players can go in whatever order they wish, but if there's a Mortal in the group they need to go last. Why? Because the Mortal gets to choose their Lover, and it's of great importance that the Mortal's player knows each of the characters and their relationships before they choose who their monster boy-toy is going to be.
For an example, here's the Ghoul's Backstory:
So, even though the Ghoul is basically a murderous sociopath, in accordance with the tropes of the genre someone's managed to remind them of what love is. That's... actually kind of adorable.
Someone reminded you what love was, when you thought that death had stolen it away from you forever. Give them 2 Strings.
In general, you want to hold as many Strings on other characters as possible and have them hold as few Strings on you as possible, although some Skins actually have moves which allow them to benefit from having Strings held on them, including the Mortal that thrives on being codependent.
The final two steps of character creation is What You Start With and Objectives. The first simply says that the group should establish together what each of the characters owns, but also states that unless it's really important to the characters those sorts of details should be left to emerge from the narrative. Objectives is basically a reminder that Monsterhearts doesn't have a set endgame, and thus you shouldn't plan your character's story or development beforehand. It's more fun when you just throw your character into a situation and then see how they would react instead of having already decided what their story should be.
Next time, Chapter Two: Playing the Game, where we explain the basics of the PbtA system for the nteenth time and finally find out what you can do with Strings.
|# ¿ Feb 18, 2014 16:06|
It would be nice if you actually explained what each of the skins is. I have no clue what the chosen or the mortal do.
Yeah, I'm doing the book chapter by chapter, so we won't get to the Skins until Chapter Three. However, I can give you a sneak peek: the Chosen is basically Buffy and the Mortal is basically Bella.
|# ¿ Feb 18, 2014 21:26|
Alright, before we jump into the real meat of the game (being the Skins) we still have Chapter Two: Playing The Game to brave through!
Playing Monsterhearts works pretty much like in Apocalypse World and its derivatives: the players narrate what their characters are doing and saying, while the MC sets up scenes, narrates what the various other characters in the narrative are saying and doing, what else is going on, and is in a constant dialogue with the players to flesh out the scenes and to keep the story moving. The rules step in when a player narrates their character doing something that falls under the one of the moves.
Moves are pretty much the backbone of any PbtA game: the choice of which things to codify into the rules as moves speaks a lot of the themes of the game as well as where the focus of the game lies. For an example, because Dungeon World is pretty much about exploring the lives and times of fantasy heroes, of course there's a move for throwing a huge party when you return from your latest adventure triumphant, sacks full of gold, whereas such a move would feel really out of place in Apocalypse World, where scarcity is one of the major setting elements.
When a move happens, the player rolls two six-sided dice and adds their relevant stat to the result. As a general rule, the scale of results is as follows:
If you roll a 6 or lower, your character fails at what they were trying to do and the MC gets to introduce a complication into the situation.
If you get a result from 7 to 9, your character succeeds, but it comes with a cost: either you get a worse outcome than you were looking for, your action has unexpected consequences, or you otherwise put yourself in trouble or on the spot.
If you get a result of 10 or higher, your character succeeds, no problem.
Monsterhearts does differ from other PbtA games to an extent in this regard: a 7-9 means that you succeed, sometimes with consequences, while 10+ in general means that you succeed with a little something extra.
That's the general rule. Each of the game's moves has their own outcomes coded into the 7-9 and 10+ results. Results of 6- are not codified on a move-by-move basis; instead, the MC throws something at the player depending on what exactly is going on in the narrative at the given moment. The idea is that even on a 6- something should happen, so that failure isn't just "You fail, and thus nothing interesting was achieved."
So, anyway, moves! As a quick reminder, the four stats of Monsterhearts are Hot, Cold, Volatile and Dark, and the moves are as follows (with their governing stats in brackets):
Turn Someone On (Hot) - This move is explicitly about sexual manipulation and seduction. Unlike the other moves, which explicitly trigger when your character does a thing, this move can be triggered without the character actually doing anything at all. Instead, to trigger this move a player gets to step outside of the traditional actor or director mode and instead describe their character as if they were an author. The key thing in triggering this move is to describe how your character looks and why that would get a rise out of their target. This being a very melodramatic game, descriptions of your character's bare chest glistening with sweat, silhouetted by the pale moonlight, a playful twinkle in their eyes, their brow furtively curved... I'm sorry, where was I?
Anyway, on a 10+ you get a String on the character you were trying to turn on. On a 7-9, your target gets a choice between the following three: give themselves to you, promise you something they think you want, or give you a String on them. I haven't explained Strings yet, but the important thing to note here is that seduction isn't mind control: while the player has no control over whether their character is turned on by someone, the player is free to decide whether they want to act on that emotion. There's also an explicit note that turning someone on doesn't care for sexuality, because teenage sexuality is messy and unpredictable, and that instead of getting angry when a dude turns on your dude character conflicts with your perception of your character as a straight dude you should use that to fuel further drama: your dude got turned on by another dude this one time, but what does it mean? Is your character secretly in the closet, or was this a one-time thing? How does your character feel about it?
Manipulate An NPC (Hot) - This move does exactly what it says on the tin: when you try to get a non-player character to do something, this move happens. On a 10+ they'll do what you want if you present them with a bribe, threat, or motive. On a 7-9 the MC will tell you what it'll take to get them to do what they want.
Shut Someone Down (Cold) - The move for intimidating people, hurting their feelings, and humiliating them. On a 10+ you get to choose between giving them a Condition (which I'll explain later), or making them lose a String they hold on you; if you choose the latter and they don't have any Strings on you, you instead gain a String on them. On a 7-9 you either both give each other a Condition or both lose a String on each other.
Hold Steady (Cold) - Another exception to the rule that moves are triggered through character actions, this move generally triggers as a result of external stimuli. When your character finds themselves in a scary or stressful situation they might have to hold steady. On a 10+ you keep your cool and get an additional goodie: ask the MC one question about the current scene, remove a
Condition, or carry 1 forward. What's carrying forward? Well, whenever you carry forward it means that you get a +1 to your next roll. That's it.
On a 7-9 you still keep your cool, but you can also choose to voluntarily take the terrified condition to pick one of the extra options from the 10+ list. So, if you really wanted to know something about the scene at hand but only rolled a 7-9, you could take the frightened condition to ask the MC that question.
Lash Out Physically (Volatile) - When you seriously try to hurt someone you roll this move. On a 10+ you deal harm (generally 1 harm if you're just attacking them with your fists) and get to choose one: the harm is great (deal 1 extra harm), gain a String on them, they'll need to hold steady to retaliate in this scene. On a 7-9 you still deal them harm, but you have to choose between giving them a String on you, letting them deal you 1 harm, or becoming your Darkest Self. You should always become your Darkest Self.
Because Monsterhearts is mainly about interpersonal drama and because the use of violence and how a person reacts to it says a lot about a person it only makes sense that the game's only fight-move would involve the exchange of social leverage in the form of Strings.
Run Away (Volatile) - When you need to get out fast you roll this move. Also, if a situation would call for you to hold steady you can instead opt to just flee and roll this move. On a 10+ you get away and end up in a safe place. On a 7-9 you get away, but you either cause a big scene, you run directly into something else, or the scariest person present gets a String on you.
Gaze into the Abyss (Dark) - The only basic move that uses Dark, gazing into the abyss is basically a form of supernatural sight available to all Monsterhearts characters. The exact trigger for the move should be different on a character-by-character basis: a Witch might gaze into the abyss by various forms of divination, including Tarot and such, an Infernal might ask for advice from the demonic voice at the back of their head, and a Mortal might put on The Cure's Pornography and look for hidden meaning in the lyrics. (This is actually what the Mortal in my group did.) However the character does it, it always involves getting high, blacking out and/or slipping into a dark consciousness. Remember Cordelia's ability to see the future in Angel? Yeah, she was totally gazing into the abyss.
On a 10+ you get to choose two: the visions are lucid and detailed; the visions show you what you must do, and you carry 1 forward to doing it; the visions cure you, removing a Condition. On a 7-9 you get to choose one of the following: the visions are confusing and alarming; the visions are lucid and detailed but they leave you with the Condition drained.
Unfortunately, that's all the time I have for this update. Next time I'll try to write up the rest of Chapter Two so we can finally move on to the Skins.
|# ¿ Feb 21, 2014 21:48|
Last time on Monsterhearts I got started on the second chapter of the game, Playing The Game, and today I hope to go through the rest of the chapter so I can finally move on to presenting the Skins.
The next section of the chapter is Strings. Strings are basically the reason why a lot of people gush about Monsterhearts' social manipulation mechanic: Strings are basically bennies in the style of Fate's Fate Points, Savage Worlds' Bennies and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's Fortune Points, meaning that they are a metagame resource that can be spent by players to evoke a number of effects. The main difference is that Strings are tied to specific characters, meaning that they can only be used against or on those specific characters. Holding a String on another character can mean a number of things in the narrative, but they all amount to some kind of emotional leverage: if you hold a String on someone it might be because they're in love with you, because they're afraid of you, or even because you've seen some part of them that they'd like to gain hidden.
The exchange of Strings is such an important part of the game's economy that most of the game's basic moves can result in the exchange of Strings: you can gain Strings on someone by turning them on, if you shut someone down they might lose a String they hold on you (and if they don't hold any Strings you instead gain one on them), lashing out physically might carry the extra consequence of gaining a String on the person you're attacking or on a roll of 7-9 you might give them a String representing the fact that they've seen what you're willing to get violent over, and even when running away you might choose to give the most dangerous person present a String on you to get away (if you happened to be unlucky enough to roll a 7-9).
So, now that you've got some Strings what can you spend them on? Well, PCs can spend Strings on other PCs to do any of the following:
Now, because we're still operating on the principle of "To do it, do it" the player must still narrate what their character is actually doing in the fiction to evoke the effect. So, you don't just say "Hey Joe, I'm spending a String on your character, I'll give you an experience point if you go to the prom with my character," it should be your character who is acting as the medium of using the String.
The game thus allows for some PC on PC manipulation in the form of offering players experience points for doing certain things. The important thing to note here is that players always have agency over what their characters do: you can't just roll to turn someone n to force them to go to the prom with your character, instead successfully turning someone on gives you a String on them which gives your character a bit of extra leverage when they ask them to the prom with them. That said, the player on the receiving end still has the option of giving up that experience point if they'd rather not take a particular course of action.
You can also hold Strings on NPCs and you can use Strings on them as usual, but there are a couple of differences: firstly, NPCs don't have moves, so subtracting 1 from their rolls or forcing them to hold steady are not options. Instead, you can use a String on an NPC to force them to falter, hesitate, or freeze up momentarily. Similarly, NPCs don't gain experience points so offering them XP to do what you want isn't an option. Instead, you can spend a String to add 3 to your manipulate an NPC roll against them. This makes Strings held on NPCs particularly powerful, because you can usually count on succeeding on that roll.
NPCs can also hold Strings on PCs, but the rules for those are covered later.
Next up we've got Conditions.
Conditions are basically like temporary aspects from Fate. When a character has a Condition that your character could potentially take advantage of and you narrate how you use that Condition to your advantage, you get to add 1 to your roll against them. There are a number of ways to give others Conditions, including shutting someone down or spending a String on them, and rolling a 7-9 while gazing into the abyss or holding steady can also give you the drained and frightened conditions. Some Skin moves also interact with Conditions: the Ghost, in particular, is all about projecting the blame for its death onto others, meaning that they can give the blamed condition around pretty freely (and then use that to their advantage with some of their other moves).
There's no ready-made list of conditions, and they can equally represent actual mental and physical conditions or social perceptions of that character. In general the player giving the Condition gets to name the Condition, but once again it must make sense in the narrative. If you shut someone down by intimidating them it probably makes sense to give that character the frightened Condition, but if you make an awesome yo mamma joke it might make more sense to call the Condition "yo mamma so poor she shops at the penny arcade."
Conditions last for as long as it makes sense for them to do so, but characters can also get rid of them by rolling 10+ on holding steady, representing the extra mental boost the character gets from keeping their head straight. It's obviously important to narrate such things in a way that makes sense: if you roll 10+ on holding steady and choose to remove your "broken leg" Condition it probably doesn't mean that your leg is no longer broken, but that your character has gotten their head straight enough to cope with the pain so the broken leg is no longer a hindrance on them. Their leg is still broken in the narrative, but it's no longer relevant as something that others might take advantage of.
Harm and Death. PCs can take 4 harm before dying. 1 harm represents a punch in the face, 2 harm represents a knife in the leg, 3 harm represents a gunshot into the gut, and 4 harm represents being hit by a truck at full speed. Once you've taken 4 harm it's game over, but once per game a character can do one of the following not to die:
Harm doesn't heal on its own. Once per session you can heal and rest, removing 1 harm. However, if another character is present and tends to your wounds delicately and intimately, and, the game adds, "perhaps with erotic subtext," you heal 1 additional harm. Don't think too hard on it: it doesn't really make sense from a real-world physics point-of-view for your hot teenage werewolf to be able to rip off their shirt to turn it into a gauze for their near-mortally wounded mortal girlfriend/boyfriend, but because stuff like that is constantly happening in the fiction that Monsterhearts is trying to emulate, might as well encourage it in the rules.
Advancement and Seasons! Characters gain experience whenever they roll one of their highlighted stats (chosen each session: one by the player whose character currently holds the most Strings on that character, one by the MC), and whenever a move states that they get to do so. However, the game also has the Singleton Rule: you can only gain experience and/or Strings once per move in each scene, meaning that if your highlighted stat is Hot you can't keep on turning people on left and right to gain all the experience points and Strings.
Once a character has 5 experience all of their experience is erased and they get to choose an advancement from their Skin. Most of them are stuff like "Add 1 to Hot", "Gain a new move from your Skin" or "Gain a move from another Skin," but all Skins (except for the Mortal) also have the option of taking a Gang as an advancement.
Gangs are basically groups of NPCs that a PC is a part of. When a PC takes a gang as an advancement it's assumed that the player and the MC discuss the nature of the gang and what sorts of things the gang expects from their character. All gangs also have a trigger that will launch the into direct and unplanned action.
The mechanics for gangs are very short and simple: you can manipulate a gang to do your bidding as if it were an NPC, and when a gang helps you do something you get to add 1 to your rolls, and when they partake in an act of violence with you you add 1 to all harm dealt.
Finally, Seasons. Seasons are Monsterhearts mechanic for building clear story arcs and breaking down the game into manageable bits. This is how they work: when one of the characters in the game get their 5th advancement, it means that the session after the current one is going to be the last game of this Season. There are a couple of effects to this: firstly, it signals to the players and the MC that if there are any particular storylines they want to resolve, they will have to do so during this or the next session or they will be left hanging until the next season. Secondly, it opens up Season Advances for all characters, even those who haven't yet gained their 5th advancements.
The Season Advances are:
The Growing Up moves are exactly what they sound like: they are moves that represent your character growing up, maturing and getting over their teenage drama. There's one Growing Up move for each of the stat, and they are pronounced in how different they are from the basic moves. Whereas teenage characters can use Hot turn someone on, characters who have grown the gently caress up can make others feel beautiful. Teenagers use Cold to shut people down, adults can call people on their poo poo. Kids lash out physically, mature people intervene against acts of violence. Your starting Mortal can roll Dark to gaze into the abyss, but once they've learned a bit about themselves and how not to be such a self-centered brat they can share their pain.
While it's definitely possible to simply string together Seasons one after the other with new bad guys and possibly new characters, the game itself suggests taking a break between Seasons and playing something else: while the game is supposed to be fun, the game also acknowledges the fact that playing monstrous teenagers can actually be pretty draining in the long run. In a hobby where the zero-to-hero campaign spanning tens if not hundreds of sessions seems to be the platonic ideal (but one which very few people seem capable of reaching) it's actually pretty refreshing to see a game that actually has clear rules for dividing your campaign into manageable chunks.
Next time on Monsterhearts: Skins (finally)!
|# ¿ Mar 19, 2014 16:53|
Okay, time to pick this poo poo right up. It's Monsterhearts!
Before the game gets to the Skins (i.e. the character archetypes available for play) there's a brief section called Queer Mechanics. The purpose of this section, as far as I understand it, is to spell out in plain simple terms what a lot of people already seem to know of Monsterhearts: that the game, while on the surface being about monsters, is really about the troubles of being a teenager and all the confusion that comes with it. Once again, the game spells out that the Turn Someone On move works on anyone regardless of their gender and what this means is that you can't use "Hey, no, my character is straight so he'd never be turned on by Gary's character!"
I personally think that there are some unfortunate implications to this, as it basically posits that every character in the game is at least potentially bisexual and that gay and straight people simply don't exist. That said, I understand the purpose of the mechanic: the characters in Monsterhearts are teenagers without fully formed sexual identities, and since the game is very much about emergent narrative the purpose of the mechanics isn't to use them to go "Haha, your character got turned on by mine, he's totally gay now!" but to use the mechanics to inform the further narrative. So, if your rebellious and tough on the outside werewolf kid just got turned on by a look from the pretty fey boy, what does that tell us about the character, and moreover, how does he react to it? It's not a mechanic I'd use in a game of adult drama, but that's not the genre Monsterhearts is geared towards anywhere.
The section also briefly discusses trans subject matter but not in those exact words: the idea is that a number of the Skins in Monsterhearts have a degree of body horror and/or not being in complete control of your body as their themes. While this could easily be read as a simple metaphors for teenagers and their raging hormones and changes, there is also an undercurrent of feeling trapped in a body that isn't fully yours in some of the Skins. Not being trans I can't vouch for whether that matches the trans experience, but since the author of Monsterhearts is trans I wouldn't be surprised if their own feelings on the topic would've informed this section.
First of all, I love this section. I'm not saying that every RPG needs a section that discusses how sexuality and game mechanics mesh together, but if you're making a game that at least on some level features sexuality as a theme, the Queer Mechanics section from Monsterhearts is pretty much how you should write it. That said, the section could've used a bit more concrete advise on how to implement sexual content in the game as well as at least a brief discussion on social contract. As is, while Monsterhearts is far from being the RPG with the most creepy and unnecessary sexual content (quite the contrary, I'd actually say that whenever Monsterhearts discusses sexual content it does it very maturely and it never feels gratuitous), there is still the chance that someone playing this game will use it to creep the gently caress out of their group (as apparently happened in a Monsterhearts PbP right on these very boards).
That said, it's time to get to the actual meat of the game: the Skins.
Totally not Buffy.
The Chosen is totally Buffy. They're a pretty much normal human that somehow have the power to fight against monsters. The Chosen is one of the most combative of the playbooks, but also has a lot of potential drama inside: their Darkest Self is characterized by wanting to be fiercely independent and not having to rely on their friends for help to a self-destructive degree, but a lot of their moves rely on their friends to work. The Chosen is caught between wanting to protect everyone and feeling helpless when they inevitably can't.
Having a Chosen in the group also changes the tone of the game heavily: so much as having a Chosen in the group is enough to shift the game from being the Vampire Diaries to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The Chosen's high stats are Hot and Volatile, with Cold and Dark being their low stats. This means that while they are alluring and don't shy away from physical conflict, they are also not very good at controlling their emotions nor very in tune with the supernatural.
The Chosen gets two moves to start with, from the following list:
Mercy: Whenever the Chosen spares someone they have reason to kill, they gain a String on them.
Growing Pains: Whenever the Chosen fails to protect their friends, they mark experience.
Final Showdown: An extremely powerful move: the Chosen can simply spend four Strings on an NPC to kill them, probably after a cool showdown. On the downside, the NPC gets to spend their Strings on the Chosen, dealing one harm for each String spent. Potentially this move can be used to set up an awesome final scene where the Chosen, having finally learned everything there is to know about their enemy, goes out in blaze of glory, killing both.
Come Prepared: A purely flavorful move, stating that the Chosen has an armory complete with outlandish artifacts. Basically a way for the player to say "Yeah, I totally have a stake and hammer, as well as other potentially useful vampire-slaying gear, given enough time to prepare."
To The Books: You know how I said that the Chosen is totally Buffy? This move is full-on Buffy. When the Chosen hits the books with their friends to find out information about the monster of the week, the Chosen rolls with the number of people assisting them, choosing two on a 10+ and choosing one on 7-9. The options include gaining a String on the enemy, asking the MC a question (which they must answer truthfully), giving the enemy the Condition secret weakness, or simply carrying one forward.
Take The Blow: Pretty simple: when the Chosen places themselves in harm's way to protect a friend, they roll with Volatile. On a 10+ they take the harm in their friend's stead and reduce it by one, on a 7-9 they simply take the harm.
Light The Way: Whenever the Chosen's friends act on their commands, they add one to their rolls. If said friend is an NPC, they instead act with Advantage.
Then there's the Chosen's Backstory, meaning their relationship with the rest of their group. Two of them are friends they can rely on for monster-hunting support, giving the Chosen one String on each. The second bit of background is amazing though: there's a big bad evil out there who wants the Chosen dead. The MC gives them a name and gives them two Strings on the Chosen.
So, right from the outset, simply having a Chosen in the group implies that there is some evil menace out there who wants them dead, meaning that their life is never going to be easy. This works really well with a certain other playbook that assumes there to be a big bad supernatural entity behind the scenes. Not telling.
Then, finally, there's the Chosen's Sex Move and Darkest Self. The Chosen's Sex Move is basically a full-recovery (i.e. it removes all harm on the Chosen), but if the Chosen feels disgusted by either themselves or the other person after the fact, they must give them a String.
The Chosen's Darkest Self is also pretty nasty: when the Chosen finally loses it, they will simply go out and hunt down the biggest and baddest monster out there as a way to prove how strong and independent they are. The Chosen escapes their Darkest Self when someone comes to their rescue or when they find themselves hospitalized, whichever happens first.
Each of the game's Skins also gets to choose a Gang as one of their advancements. In the Chosen's case, their Gang is called Unholy Allies. What this means is open to interpretation, but I like to imagine it to be a peanut gallery of supernatural creatures somehow bound to the Chosen in their quest to destroy monsters for whatever reason. Very Buffy/Angel in a way.
Next time, the Fae.
|# ¿ Jun 4, 2014 17:49|
With search down I can't find the post, but someone suggested that the Turn Someone On move didn't necessarily require a sexual context. I wish I could remember exactly what they said, but I think it was in one of the monthly chat threads from a couple of months back. While sudden realizations of queerness are almost a genre convention (thank you, slashfic), I don't think it's fair to handwave everyone as being that malleable.
Yeah, I was this close to actually typing that, but I took a break between my writing and completely forgot about it. I agree, the Turn Someone On move can work as intended without it needing to imply that your character gets suddenly aroused by it. The exchange of Strings can easily be taken to represent a character feeling something as a reaction to the other person strutting their sexy stuff in front of them, which could easily translate to social leverage. This makes perfect sense in the context of teenage drama: even if your boy character isn't actually into boys, if another boy made passes at them and they reacted in some way (embarrassment, silence, whatever) it'd be the exact sort of thing that horrible teenagers would use as social leverage against each other.
Remember that a crush doesn't necessarily represent sexual attraction, and it's probably safe to say that most teenagers have had a crush on someone of the same gender at some point. Yay for confused hormones and the like.
I forget, which ones are the limited edition skins again? Angel, Hollow and Serpentine? I've got all of them, and I really like all of them (especially the Serpentine: it's got that amazing Southern Gothic vibe to it), so I probably will be doing them after I'm done with the Skins from the main book.
Ratpick, will you also be analyzing the limited edition skins? This is a very interesting review of my favorite PbtA hack; keep going!
|# ¿ Jun 4, 2014 19:33|
Another key thing I forgot to mention with regards to Turning Someone On is that, even if successful, the move doesn't actually force the player on the receiving side of it to take any type of action. If the player using it gains a String they can then try to use that String as leverage against the person they successfully turned on, but even then the person they got the String on still has full agency as to how they act. Even on a 7-9 the target character gets a choice between giving the other character a String or giving themselves to them (however you decide to read that).
Whereas a badly designed social system would essentially have seduction as mind control, in Monsterhearts seduction is at best a means to getting yourself a bargaining chip on the person being targeted. This I think is key: even if a person succeeds in manipulating your emotions, the player still retains full agency of their character.
Which actually works perfectly with the aforementioned "My character is straight but he feels totally weirded out by a dude trying to seduce him, hence the exchange of Strings" line of thought. One of the ways the game frames the exchange of Strings is that you learned something new about the character in question. What could teach you more about a person than seeing how they react to your flirtation, even if said reaction is just to run away while blushing a lot?
|# ¿ Jun 4, 2014 19:45|
So, me getting my poo poo together with my write-up of Monsterhearts was pretty much a blatant lie, since apparently June turned out to be a really lovely month as far as productivity, but I'm back for now. That means it's time for more Monsterhearts.
Last time we took a look at the first of the skins, the Chosen. This time, it's the Fae.
Can't come up with a clever subtitle for this, sorry.
The Fae is one of the skins with the most social shenanigans going on. It draws heavily from Celtic myths of the sidhe, or the fair folk as they're sometimes called, and in this regard it shares a lot of thematic ground with the fae of nWoD. The Fae is alien, beautiful and hypnotic, but also an outsider to human norms and customs, having their own weird ways of looking at morality. That being said, not all characters of the Fae skin are 100% pure-blooded Fae: some of the choices of origin include stuff like "adopted," "stole the gift" and "touched with the gift," meaning that your character may have been a mortal before until fairy shenanigans happened. "Adopted" for one takes some interesting implications when one considers that lots of European cultures had stories of fairies stealing away human children, raising them as their own. Not surprisingly, stories of these "changelings" are also what informed the nWoD interpretation of the fae for Changeling: The Lost.
Okay, enough talk about fairy tales. What does the Fae skin actually do?
Well, first of all, its high stats are Hot and Dark, meaning that they're seductive and manipulative, while at the same time being in tune with the occult and the "other side" if you will. On the other hand, this leaves Volatile and Cold as their low stats, meaning that they're vulnerable, both physically and mentally.
All Fae start with the Faery Contract move, which fits in perfectly with the inspired-by-Celtic-myth angle of the Fae: geasa, or magically enforced vows and promises, are kind of a huge deal in Celtic myth. (Also, in case you're wondering, the D&D spell geass takes its name from the same expression.) What this move does is that whenever breaks a promise or vow to you, you take a string on them, and when you spend strings on them to even the score you can invoke one of the following effects instead of one of the standard ones:
Because of the magical nature of Faery Contracts, it's explicitly stated that these effects need not obviously come from the Fae: for an example, if another character had wronged the Fae and broken a contract with them, the Fae could make them gently caress up at, say, an important performance in front of a huge crowd, and no one could be able to pin it on the Fae. To all onlookers it'd just look like the person in question had hosed up due to bad luck or their own incompetence.
Fae also get to choose one more move, from amongs the following:
The Constant Bargain, as its name implies, is about constantly trading favors, and it's a very powerful social move. Whenever someone asks you to do something and you do it, you get to roll with Hot. On a 10+ they lose a string on you and you gain one on them, on a 7-9 you choose one or the other, while on a 6- you've shown that they can walk over you and they gain a string on you. This move can make the Fae very good at controlling the economy of strings in the game.
The Wild Hunt is, desing-wise, a bit boring, since it's just a +1 to turn someone on as long as you demonstrate your most feral manner, i.e. by "echoing the lithe movements of a cat or the voracity of a wolf".
Beyond the Veil adds a new option to the gaze into the abyss move when you commune with the Faery King: on a 10+ you can gain a hidden string on someone, while on a 7-9 you can choose "The visions are clear, but the Faery King demands a favor of you." A nice move, since not only does it add to an existing move without just being a +1 bonus, and it also adds a bit of world-building into the game by implying the existence of a Faery King.
Lure is a move that works really well with Faery Contract: whenever someone makes a promise to you, they get to mark experience, but whenever they break a promise and you seek vengeance for it you get to mark experience. This move pretty much complement Faery Contract: in actual play, it might be really hard for the Fae to get people to make promises to them, as they know it might come and bite them in the rear end, but this move takes some of the edge off of that by giving them experience for making promises.
Guide is a simple move: spend a string on someone and bring them with you across the veil into the faery court. No word on what the faery court is and what the players can expect there, but in the hands of the right group it can lead to interesting world-building and story hooks.
Unashamed allows you to give someone a string on you to take a +3 on your attempt to turn them on. It's a bit... yeah. It's more interesting than The Wild Hunt mechanically, due to involving an exchange of strings, but not great.
Next up is the Fae's backstory: because the Fae wears their heart on their sleeve, everyone gets a string on them. However, the Fae gets to choose someone whose fancy they've caught, and they get two strings on that character.
Next we have the Fae's sex move, which is one example of not all of the game's sex moves being explicitly sexual:
When you lie naked with another, you can ask them for a promise. If they refuse, take 2 Strings on them.
And finally, the Fae's darkest self:
Everything you say is a promise. Everything you hear is a promise. If a promise is broken, justice must be wrought in blood. To escape your Darkest Self, you must in some way re-balance the scales of justice.
Fun fact: in the very first Monsterhearts game I played, the Mortal and the Fae ended up having sex. The Fae immediately extracted the promise "Promise you'll never leave me" from the Mortal. Now, because the Mortal's sex move triggers the other person's darkest self, the Mortal narrated that while the Fae was putting her clothes back on, she suddenly heard the door to the room slam, and once she looked around the Mortal was nowhere in sight.
|# ¿ Jul 15, 2014 21:59|
octaNe is pretty great. I bought it at a con when I was still going through an awkward goth/punk phase and the fact that I could play a Deathrock Witch or Zombie Punk right out of the box was basically a seller for me. (I mean, I'm still going through a goth phase, but I like to think I'm less awkward about it these days.)
|# ¿ Jul 22, 2014 21:08|
In this episode of Monsterhearts...
The Skin with the best piece of prose attached. Each of the Skins has a bit of really flowery prose that's supposed to get you really into the character. The Ghost has this:
Ghosty ghost. You're dead.
Okay, so the Ghost is one of those Skins that at first seems like a hard fit for the genre of Monsterhearts. If the characters are supposed to be teenagers that are able to fit in (although awkwardly) in high school and pretend to be normal teenagers, isn't a literal Ghost kind of going to kind of blow that cover?
The truth is, the game is kind of vague on this part. It's implied that while the Ghost is, well, literally a Ghost, they have a corporeal form to an extent. Furthermore, since one of the Ghost's themes is being caught in a perpetual cycle of unresolved trauma, having one hanging out at high school, going through the motions, actually kind of works. The Ghost is that kid who no one really pays attention to, the one whom everyone just sort of ignores, only sometimes stopping to wonder about their out of place look and their outdated style of dress.
The Ghost's got high Cold and Dark, but low Hot and Volatile. Neither very physically imposing nor alluring, the Ghost is still very controlled and cool, and in tune with the occult.
So, moves. The Ghost starts with Unresolved Trauma. When the Ghost projects the fear and trauma of their death on someone else, they roll Dark. On a 10+ they give the blamed condition to up to two people. On a 7-9, same, but for each person they pick they have to choose one of the following:
Unresolved Trauma is the backbone of the Ghost, because blaming people for your death, lashing out at those you blame for it, and forgiving them is effectively what the Ghost is about.
Creep gives the Ghost a String whenever they secretly witness someone in their most intimate moments, like showering or sleeping. This is the one you pick if you want to be the creepy Ghost that is mostly about spying on the living for kicks.
Vengeful is the move you pick if you want to play an angry poltergeist: when you Lash Out Physically at someone with the blamed condition, you roll Dark instead of Volatile and deal one extra harm. While fighting isn't the main focus of Monsterhearts, this move makes the Ghost a real threat when punches start getting thrown.
Forgive and Forget lets you mark experience whenever you forgive someone and absolve them of the blamed condition. This is another move that rewards you for playing the Ghost like you're supposed to: caught in a cycle of blaming others and eventually coming to terms with it and forgiving them.
Hungry Ghost basically turns you into everyone's best friends, but also lets you get off on their sadness. When the Ghost lets someone dump their problems on them, the Ghost rolls with Dark. On a 10+ the dumper loses all their conditions, but the Ghost either marks experience, gets to carry one forward, or gains a String on them. On a 7-9 the person dumping their problems chooses to either lose all their conditions or to gain a String on the Ghost. I don't quite get the theme behind this move, but apparently it turns you into a ghostly shrink?
Dissipate lets you walk through walls, like in the movies. Yeah, that's all it does. In a more rules-heavy game at this point there'd be a huge explanation of the exact mechanics of walking through walls, but in a game like Monsterhearts the statement that you can walk through walls is explanation enough. I'm not sure I'd take it personally, because some of the other moves are much more thematically interesting, but it's a well-designed move in its minimalism.
The Ghost's backstory is as follows: Someone knows that they're dead and how they died, and they gain one String on the Ghost. However, the Ghost has been inside someone's bedroom while they slept, so they gain one String on that person.
Sex move. When the Ghost has sex with someone, they both get to ask each other one question, either character-to-character or player-to-player. Whatever the case, they must answer the question honestly.
Darkest self. When the Ghost's darkest self triggers, they turn invisible. No one can see them, feel them, or hear their voice. Their only avenue of communication is through being able to move inanimate objects. They only escape their darkest self until someone acknowledges their presence and demonstrates how much they want them around.
The darkest self is enough on itself to really drive home what the Ghost's biggest tragedy is. I mentioned them being the kid whom everyone ignores, and that's basically the worst thing you can do to someone caught in a cycle of unresolved trauma, willing to blame everyone around them. Turning invisible at your darkest moment just reinforces that, but also gives you a pretty good avenue for enacting your vengeance upon those who you think you've wronged you.
Next time, the creepiest motherfucker in Monsterhearts: the Ghoul.
|# ¿ Jul 30, 2014 21:17|
They're dumping all of their problems on you. Your problems are ignored. It's part of the same voyeuristic archetype as Creep, while also feeding into the general theme of being ignored.
It turns you into a sin-eater.
Yeah, that makes sense. Monsterhearts keeps surprising me, I always find these bits that felt really disjointed upon first reading but actually make perfect sense when you look at them the right way. Actually, Hungry Ghost is actually a pretty terrible move, not in game terms but in terms of how it encourages you to play your character as the one whose problems get ignored, even when those problems amount to "I suffered a hugely traumatic event but I can't talk about it and everyone just ignores and shuns me and being reminded of said trauma causes me to re-enact the emotional turmoil caused by it..."
Holy poo poo, I think I just got the Ghost for the first time and it's horrible.
|# ¿ Jul 31, 2014 14:54|
Man Monsterhearts sounds all kinds of cool and awesome.
It's got a pretty good pedigree: not only is it one of the best (if not the best) implementations of the PbtA engine (and not just according to nerds like me on the internet, but also according to Vincent Baker himself. Yeah, during a panel at a Finnish con last year he literally said that.), but it also manages to deal with dark and mature subject matter in a mature way, which is something in an industry where most people's litmus test for maturity in an RPG is "gratuitous amounts of gore in the art, casual mentions of sexual violence in the flavortext".
I'll probably do the Ghoul tonight after work. Where the Ghost is one of the saddest Skins in Monsterhearts, the Ghoul is definitely the most creepy, at least in my opinion. Also, the Ghoul also contains the one thing (and the only one thing) in Monsterhearts which I consider potentially problematic, but even then it's mostly a case of "a catpiss group could turn this into something sick."
|# ¿ Aug 1, 2014 11:00|
I was reading back through this thread and I thought "man, Monsterhearts is cool but I will never play it."
Monsterhearts is cool. It's also, in my experience, both the hardest and the easiest game to get people to play. Like, people who are already into tabletop will react with something between "What is this Twilight bullshit?" and "Why would I play a game of teenage drama when I could play a cool fantasy hero?" with usually a side of "Ewww, it's about sex" to taste. I've had the most success finding people to play it with by asking from people within my social circles who have no preconceptions of what RPGs need to be about and are open to the idea of teenage monster melodrama.
That having been said, it's time to press on, 'cause I've been putting this off for long enough.
The Ghoul is the next on our list of Monsterhearts skins. As I said last time, while the Ghost is the saddest of all the skins, the Ghoul is definitely the most disturbing in my mind, the reasons for which I'll explain further on.
The Ghoul is another dead-person skin. Whereas the Ghost was brought back to life due to an unresolved trauma, the Ghoul was brought back from the dead against the will. This transgression lies very much at the heart of the Ghoul. Thematically, the Ghoul is a flesh-eating Hollywood zombie, but given that this is Monsterhearts, it's obviously a sexy flesh-eating zombie. They have a hunger they must sate, no matter who gets hurt.
Stats: The Ghoul starts with 1 in Cold and Volatile, and with -1 in Hot and Dark. This is basically the statline of a psychopath: the Ghoul is cold and calculated, but should they need to hurt someone they will do it. The downside is that they're not very well equipped for manipulation and seduction, nor are they very well in tune with the occult.
Moves: The Ghoul starts with the Hunger and gets to choose two more. With the Hunger the Ghoul chooses a hunger for one of the following: flesh, fear, power or chaos. Whenever they heedlessly pursue that hunger they add 1 to all their rolls, but when they ignore a feeding opportunity they need to hold steady.
There's some further discussion on the Hunger in the skin: a Ghoul with a hunger for flesh won't sate that hunger just by eating a rare steak every once in a while: they need raw flesh, and lots of it. Similarly, a Ghoul with a hunger for fear can't just go around the hallways going "Boo!" to sate their hunger: they might need to go full-on psychological warfare on their victims to sate their hunger. While the hunger provides a lot of conceptual space to explore, the underlying thing is that it needs to be a big thing, one that involves doing hosed up poo poo to people to sate.
Disaffected is another of Monsterhearts' many stat-switch moves, and it's surprisingly thematic: it allows the Ghoul to use Cold instead of Hot when turning someone on. So, instead of turning people on with your smoldering gaze, you turn them on by being really cool and distant.
Short Rest for the Wicked basically makes the Ghoul invulnerable: whenever they would die, they can just wait it out, and they'll wake up with all their wounds healed in a couple of hours. Given that characters already have quite a number of escape clauses from death (losing your strings, taking a condition, triggering your Darkest Self) this move basically just adds another way for the character to come back from the dead.
What the Right Hand Wants is fun: your body has been stitched together from multiple bodies, and the different parts want different things. You get to create another Hunger. Note that the word here is create. While your initial Hunger needs to be one of the four provided, this move's phrasing implies that this Hunger is yours to define. Go crazy!
Watchful Golem is a great move if you want to give your Ghoul a bit of a warmer side while still retaining the skin's creepy sociopath nature: whenever you defend someone without them knowing about it, mark experience. Yeah, that's totally not creepy nor transgressing on anyone's boundaries.
Satiety builds upon the Hunger: whenever you sate your Hunger you get to choose one of the following:
Ending is my favorite move, especially when coupled with Disaffected: this Ghoul remembers how they died. Whenever they tell someone about it, they give that person the condition morbid and get to roll to turn them on. It's heavily implied that the Ghoul could also immediately tag the condition for a +1 to their roll. I just love the fact that a Ghoul that's been built for it can potentially be the most seductive and alluring character in the game: it evokes a scene of the Ghoul showing their crush the scars from their accident, punctuated with requisite gasps and inquiries from their crush, followed by awkward teenage sex. It's just such a Monsterhearts thing.
Someone reminded the Ghoul of what love is when they thought dead had stolen it from them. They get 2 strings on the Ghoul.
If anyone watched the Ghoul die, or see them being brought back to life, they both take 2 strings on each other.
I just realized I forgot this on the Fae and the Ghost, but the Ghoul has the option of choosing Necromantic Caretakers as an advance. As with many things in the game, this is left for the players and MC to define.
Okay. Now comes the hard part. The Ghoul's Sex Move and Darkest Self. Neither of these is, in isolation, completely terrible. Put together, they make for something potentially problematic.
Sex Move: When the Ghoul has sex with someone, they add "having sex with [this person]" as an additional Hunger. If they already have this Hunger, they mark experience instead.
Darkest Self: Well. "You will maim, kill and destroy anything in between you and the nearest object of your hunger. You will feed relentlessly. You escape your Darkest Self when someone restrains you or fends you off for long enough for you to regain your composure Ė at least thirty or forty minutes."
That particular combination up there? Once the game progresses to the point where characters are already starting to get intimate with each other, the Ghoul basically becomes a ticking timebomb of rape. This is one of those things that, provided with no commentary, makes for a potentially uncomfortable game.
Having said that, I'm not the only one who realized the problematic nature of the Ghoul. Well, not specifically the Ghoul: Lillian Cohen-Moore of Bitch Magazine wrote about the game, (link) and while she praised the game, she also noted the fact that while the game is very much about sex, it doesn't actually provide a lot of discussion for how to deal with potentially problematic and uncomfortable matter around the tabletop:
Lillian Cohen-Moore posted:
Monsterhearts has a lot to say about how we treat sex and each other. My one concern is that the game pushes participants to uncomfortable emotional places without balancing that in the text with caution. In the wrong mix of players, the game could be a terrible play experience. With such senstive topics at the game's center, it seems irresponsible to not to include more text about creating boundaries and when to call "scene," in order to make the table a safe place to explore volatile and highly charged emotional content. It's a game worth playing, but it needs to be played mindfully. Not everyone starts their roleplaying experience off with story games, and if your first time at the table is a bad game of Monsterhearts, it's not likely you'll be running back for more. Whether you play or run games, remember first to always be kind to those playing with you.
Avery McDaldno, the author of Monsterhearts, weighed in on the discussion:
And, well, that's exactly what McDaldno did. See Safe Hearts, A guide to boundaries and vulnerability in Monsterhearts.
What I'm trying to say is that Avery McDaldno is one of the coolest designers ever. Normally when something in an RPG gets identified as problematic by the audience the authors get up in arms about it, defending their "creative vision" and generally act like a bunch of complete insensitive assholes about it, as if their writing was behind reproach and couldn't even be criticized as "Hey, this stuff you wrote is potentially rapey." McDaldno gets called out on the fact that some of the stuff in Monsterhearts could be potentially problematic without a discussion about boundaries and a well-defined social contract, and their response is "Hey, you're right! Let me fix that for you!" That takes a lot more guts than curling up and shouting down all criticism.
Coming to this particular skin I may have seemed to be saying "I love Monsterhearts but ugh the Ghoul is terrible!" That's not the case: I love the Ghoul, but realize that without an in-group discussion about boundaries the skin can lead the game to triggering situations. Furthermore, since players retain control of their characters in all situations (even when their Darkest Self triggers) players ultimately still retain agency over what their characters do and where they want to take the story. If you're playing the Ghoul and you're starting to flirt with the boundaries of consent, you as a player of the character always have the right to say "Okay, I don't want my character to do that, because it would be uncomfortable for all of us. So they're not going to do that."
Next Time: The Infernal, a.k.a. a junkie with a demonic dealer, or my favorite skin ever.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 18:40 on Aug 20, 2014
|# ¿ Aug 20, 2014 17:05|
In most other games you pretty easily have some obvious motivation to interact with the system. Defend your community, get rich, get revenge, whatever. In monsterhearts, what motivation does either character have in this example (from the fae writeup)?
The particular tidbit you quoted was from a one-shot game of Monsterhearts I played. Regardless, the events that I described actually had a context and didn't happen just because: in character creation we defined our characters' relations, and it became apparent that the Fae had caught the Mortal's fancy and the Mortal thought them to be (at the time) their one true love. So, awkward teenage romance was the context for that particular event. (e: As far as the motivation went, well, all the in-character motivation we needed was "They like each other and they're teenagers" but the metagame motivation was something closer to "If those guys do it it's going to lead into some amazing drama")
Secondly, I haven't got as far as that in my writeup, but Monsterhearts is about more than just teenage monster sexytimes. Someone already mentioned the Growing Up moves which represent the characters actually maturing as people. Secondly, while the first session of the game is mostly meant to be used to establish the characters and who they are in the context of their hometown, their school, and their community, by the second session the MC should've been able to draw some big old Menace for their game from the events of the first session (or even better, straight from the characters' backstories). The main idea though is that the action is character driven: even when there is a big old Menace out there terrorizing the town, it's up to the PCs' actions to determine which direction the story takes.
It also helps when you realize that Monsterhearts doesn't follow the traditional RPG "adventuring party" model. The game is based on Apocalypse World, which is basically "RPG based on a fictional HBO show set in the post-apocalypse." The structure of Monsterhearts is similar: it's not the PCs vs. the world, it's the PCs with their individual wants and needs, sometimes coming to blows with each, sometimes the other PCs having something the other PC might need. Hell, the couple of times I've run Monsterhearts a couple of PCs have stood out as the big villains of the story, to the point where I didn't even need to come up with an outside villain (but had I wanted to, the Infernal's Dark Power would've provided a good starting point, as would've the Faery King since the Fae took the move which allowed them to commune with them).
So, yeah, Monsterhearts isn't exactly about action, it's about drama. With the right group composition (I'm thinking Chosen, Mortal and Queen, maybe with a Witch thrown in) you could easily run it as a monster of the week type of deal where it's the PCs as a group against the monsters lurking out there, but even then the game's system provides a framework for creating melodrama within the group, and it's best suited to that.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 22:05 on Aug 20, 2014
|# ¿ Aug 20, 2014 21:52|
This is not a problem that I think should be fixed, exactly, but I'm having a hard time imagine how I'd engage with the system. If I were seriously trying to play I'd need to set up meta-goals for myself, like "have sex with everyone" or "trigger everyone's darkest self, aimed at someone else". I'm not sure why I'd want to interact with most of the rules, unless I was just deliberately trying to stir up trouble. I had that same issue when I was reading Mosterheart game writeups in the notable experiences thread.
I'd say that stirring up trouble is a perfectly valid approach to playing the game, simply because it leads to interesting drama. A lot of stories I've heard about Monsterhearts have had a Mortal character at the center, usually portrayed as innocent and naive and the sort of person who easily falls in love, all the drama being about all the various monstrous characters caught in a perpetual state of warfare because of the Mortal. I mean, that's basically True Blood right there (except that Sookie's not exactly mortal but who cares the big reveal about her powers was terrible).
Also, sometimes it's just fun to play the villain: as I mentioned in my previous post, one of my players actually provided me with a villain for a short run of Monsterhearts I ran, simply because his Vampire was kind of an rear end in a top hat. While the other characters weren't in any way united (the Infernal wanted revenge on the Queen for a lifetime of bullying, the Witch wanted to know what the hell was going on with the Infernal, the Mortal wanted to get into the Infernal's pants and the Fae was sort of just looking at everything that was going on from the sidelines) they were all united in thinking that the Vampire was being a murderous sadistic rear end in a top hat and should be taken down a peg. Everyone had fun and the Vampire's player relished the opportunity to play the villain (especially after he triggered his Darkest Self).
I think someone in the chat thread said that Monsterhearts is tragedy at heart, and in my experience most games of Monsterhearts tend to gravitate towards a big showdown where a lot of emotions are at stake, lots of blood is spilt, and then the Mortal who caused this loving mess dies dramatically.
e: and just when I post I notice that Gazetteer said everything I should've said much better than I ever could. Also, don't worry about spoiling the Mortal's sex move, I think it's come up in this discussion a couple of times already.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 22:37 on Aug 20, 2014
|# ¿ Aug 20, 2014 22:32|
It's the difference between watching the show, writing the show, and being Buffy. RPGs ask you to put yourself in the character's shoes, and the "default" mode for such things is that you want your PC to succeed and achieve his/her personal goals. The more invested you are, the more individual and structural setbacks sting.
Monsterhearts isn't exactly a horror game though. It's horror in the same vein as Buffy and Twilight, i.e. it's not really about the horror but the drama between the characters, with the horror elements being there mainly as spice. Okay, I know that's arguable in the case of Buffy, but it at least applies to Twilight, which is the clearest inspiration for Monsterhearts (the game first formed as a simple Apocalypse World hack themed on Twilight).
The game does have some elements of the horror genre though: I already mentioned Menaces, which are basically the game's version of Apocalypse World's fronts. They're basically big bads working behind the scenes making the characters' lives more difficult and horrific. However, the Menaces aren't the center of attention: they're mainly there to give a context to the drama between the characters. Like in Apocalypse World, the MC is encouraged to frame the situation not just as the PCs versus the Menace, but have the Menace act as an independent agent that might try to work the PCs against each other. A great example of a good Menace would be the Infernal's (which I'll write up soon) Dark Power, which definitely exerts a degree of control on the Infernal and can basically play the Infernal against the other characters.
Furthermore, while in traditional horror RPGs PCs are often helpless and powerless, in Monsterhearts that isn't necessarily the case: should a character take four harm it's not an instant game over, as players can still save their characters by either triggering their Darkest Self or coming back having lost all their held Strings.
And finally, Monsterhearts is very explicitly a story game: the game doesn't reward you for success, but for doing things that fit into your character's theme, as determined by their Skin. You mainly get experience for two things: highlighted stats, one of which is chosen by the player whose character holds the most Strings on yours and one by the MC, and for Moves picked from your Skin that give you experience for doing certain things. The former acts as a reward mechanic for putting your character in situations that other players want to see them in (i.e. if someone highlights your Mortal's Hot stat, that means they want to see them trying to seduce and manipulate people), while the latter acts as a mechanic for acting according to type.
For an example, with the right Moves a Mortal will be rewarded for getting in way over their heads in supernatural stuff, a Ghoul will be rewarded for sating their Hunger, and a Werewolf will be rewarded for turning into a rampaging wolfbeast, because those are dramatically the most interesting situations those characters can get into. In many ways, the system often rewards you for putting your character into bad situations, simply because it makes for the best dramatic outcome.
That's an important part of playing Monsterhearts: not playing your character as a rational agent, but using them as a vehicle for getting some juicy drama out of the situation at hand.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 16:52 on Aug 22, 2014
|# ¿ Aug 22, 2014 16:49|
Speaking of Monsterhearts...
Before I get into the next Skin, all this discussion of objectives in the game made me realize that the book actually discusses it at some length. Basically:
Unlike some story games, Monsterhearts doesnít have an endgame or an explicit goal to shoot for. You are left to determine what it is that your character wants, and pursue that in any way that makes sense to you.
So, yeah, basically what Kai Tave said above.
With that out of the way, it's time for my favorite Skin, the Infernal!
The Infernal has literally made a deal with the Devil. Okay, not necessarily the Devil, but the point is that the Infernal has made a bargain with some nefarious entity in exchange for power. The Infernal's theme is very much about a meteoric rise to power through the use of the powers granted to them by their demonic patron, followed by a downward spiral as those powers are momentarily denied from them. Actually, let me just quote the prose of the Infernal to give you an idea for what the Infernal is about :
At first, it seemed innocent. It gave you things, made you feel good about yourself. You came to it with your problems, and it fixed them. When you asked how you could return the favour, it told you to be patient - that all debts would be settled in due time. That was the first time you heard it mention debts.
Yes, the Infernal is a demonic junkie, riding high with dark power one minute, going cold turkey another when they must repay their debts to their dealer. The Infernal also makes amazing use of the game's Strings mechanic for the purposes of fueling its main narrative function.
Statistically the Infernal starts with a 1 in Volatile and Dark and a -1 in Hot and Cold. They're in tune with the occult (no surprises given the theme) and also very prone to physical confrontation.
Moves: All Infernals start with Soul Debt, and get to choose one more.
With Soul Debt the Infernal gets to name a Dark Power that they owe a debt to, and said Dark Power can hold Strings on them. Whenever the Dark Power holds 5 Strings on the Infernal, they trigger their Darkest Self. The Infernal also chooses two bargains with the Dark Power, representing powers they can call on from their Dark Power in times of need. Many of these Bargains involve giving the Dark Power Strings. In the discussion of the Infernal's mechanics it's pointed out to the MC that they should probably turn the Infernal's Dark Power into a Menace for their game at some point, meaning that the Infernal potentially ends up playing lackey to the big bad of the Season.
The player must also choose a title for their Dark Power, or come up with one of their own:
Dark Recruiter is a move that basically rewards the Infernal for being the Renfield to the Dark Power's Dracula: when the Infernal brings an innocent soul to their Dark Power, they mark experience.
Unknowable is a really weird and powerful Move, as it basically makes lashing out physically involve no mechanical risk to the character, even on a 7-9. With this Move, whenever the Infernal lashes out physically, on a 10+ the target loses 1 String on the Infernal, and on a 7-9 the Infernal gets another option added to the "choose one" list: they lose 1 String on you.
Okay, so this Move basically means that even on a 7-9 you never need to choose any of the bad options (provided the target is holding Strings on you). However, it is sort of balanced out by the fact that while it removes the immediate mechanical consequences for beating someone up and rolling a 7-9, it doesn't remove the possible narrative consequences. Even if you do roll a 7-9 and something bad doesn't happen to you mechanically, beating people up is still bad, okay?
Can't Save Myself is amazing. When someone saves you from forces too powerful for you to reckon with (read: your Dark Power), they mark experience, and you gain a String on them. This move really encourages the Infernal to play the angle of a unwitting Scooby to a power they don't understand and can potentially make the Infernal's character arc be about being saved from their unhealthy debt to the Dark Power. Basically, it makes you Bubs from The Wire, except with the Barksdale Crew replaced with the forces of Hell. The fact that the game's Season mechanic allows for changing your Skin makes the salvation arc viable mechanically as well.
That's all the Moves for the Infernal, but now we're getting to the really meaty stuff: Bargains. You get two to begin with, in case you forgot, and you can get the remaining ones as an Advancement.
The Power Flows Through You lets you add 2 to your roll by giving the Dark Power a String (choose before rolling). Since the range of numbers in PbtA is pretty narrow, a +2 to the roll is huge.
Numbing It Out allows you to give the Dark Power a String in order to remove a Condition or up to two harm.
With Elsewise Power you can use any Move from any other Skin that you don't have once, in exchange for a String to your Dark Power of course. Since the Infernal has a high Volatile and Dark, good options include hexes from the Witch and a bunch of things from the Werewolf.
Uncanny Voices is a really nice narrative power: you give your Dark Power a String in order to learn a secret about someone you're talking to. The player of the character has to tell you one of their secret fears, secret desires, or secret strengths (you choose).
Strings Attached allows you to ask your Dark Power for literally anything. The MC attaches a price to it and hints at an undesired twist in its nature, and if you pay the price, you get what you asked for. Need a getaway car? Sure, but the body of the car's previous owner is in the trunk.
Backstory! The Infernal owes debts, meaning that they give out 3 Strings, divided any way they like between their Dark Power and the other characters.
Someone thinks they can save the Infernal. Take one String on them.
Gang: In case you thought the Infernal wasn't laden with enough drug addict metaphor as is, they can supply for a gang of Needy Fiends as an Advancement.
Sex Move: When the Infernal has sex with someone, the Dark Power loses one String on the Infernal, but gains a String on the person the Infernal had sex with. If you thought owing a debt to the Devil was bad enough, wait until you show affection to someone: the Devil will already have their number.
So, what happens when the Dark Power collects 5 Strings on you or your Darkest Self triggers in some other way? You go cold turkey.
You canít get what you need, anymore. The world has left you cold and alone, shivering in the wake of your own addictions. The dark power will make some open-ended demands of you, and itíll promise you some lucrative (and perhaps volatile) things in return. Every demand you fulfill brings you a little closer to feeling whole again, to rekindling the fire in your heart. Whenever you fulfill those demands, remove a String it holds on you. You escape your Darkest Self when the dark power has no more Strings on you, or when you agree to an even worse bargain with an even more dangerous dark power.
So, why do I like the Infernal so much? First of all, the Infernal comes with a prefab Menace for the MC to use. The moment there's an Infernal in the group, you know there's a big satanic power behind the scenes, trying to cause chaos in the community. Second of all, the Infernal often acts as a vehicle for that chaos, making for a great PC-NPC-PC triangle. Monsterhearts is one of those games which really work the best when the action is character-driven and the MC really just sits back and watches the sparks fly: they set up the scene, put the PCs together, ask a couple of provocative questions, and then watch the players burn everything down to the ground. With an Infernal in play the MC often doesn't even need to worry about setting up PC on PC drama, because the drama and conflict will create itself. Of course, the same could be said about the Mortal, which is the next Skin on our list.
|# ¿ Aug 22, 2014 18:37|
Every single story I've ever heard about Call of Cthulhu that makes it sound interesting involves murderhoboing.
The couple of times I've played Call of Cthulhu (okay, it was Delta Green) we basically decided to throw caution to the wind and make all the stupid mistakes that people make in horror films, because we knew it would make for a cooler game. The way we rationalized it was that in spite of being well-trained government agents who knew of the supernatural, they were on their first mission and had no actual context for understanding how to deal with the supernatural. Unlike us players who knew, deep inside, that my character reading the mad sorcerer's diary would lead into him going insane and trying to perform a dark ritual to summon Nyarlathoteph by using one of the other agents as a sacrificial victim, only to actually commit suicide at the end of the ritual, thus sort of completing the ritual but also ruining it forever.
That was pretty much one of the best games ever.
|# ¿ Aug 22, 2014 19:03|
This is one of my favourite moves in the whole game. So like, the Infernal is a Volatile/Dark skin. Meaning, they suck in social situations when they're not using their dark powers. What Unknowable lets them do is use their good volatile stat to mitigate that. Sure, I suck at Shutting Someone Down, but it doesn't matter -- I can punch the strings out of you. The idea that it lets you avoid taking a bad result on Lash Out Physically is kind of secondary, I think. The main effect is that it lets the Infernal brute force their way through social maneuvering.
You know, this is why I love writing this review: I'm getting a completely new perspective on some of the stuff in the game based on other people's comments. Now that you mentioned it, it makes so much sense that Unknowable is basically there to cover for the Infernal's weakness in social situations and to encourage them to escalate social situations into physical conflict. It's perfect, and really goes with the Infernal's theme of an unpredictable teenage junkie with satanic powers.
e: Also, I don't really see a direct thematic conflict between volatile and combative Infernal and the naive kid who's just in over their head. Like, give any awkward and naive teenager demonic performance-enhancing drugs and what's the first thing they do with them? They abuse the hell out of the power without thinking of the consequences, lashing out at people they had no hope of lashing out at before and doing other stuff they would've never dreamed of before. The real drama comes the first time they lose their powers and actually realize that, holy poo poo, they kind of made a terrible deal.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 19:36 on Aug 22, 2014
|# ¿ Aug 22, 2014 19:29|
Oh, has anyone else used Final Showdown to kill a Dark Power? (The Infernal in that game and the Dark Power tried so hard to recruit my Queen - and flirting with a Dark Power is a dangerous game, but one Queens are made for).
It's my dream to one day MC in a game of Monsterhearts featuring both a Chosen and an Infernal, so I can use the Infernal's Dark Power as the Menace and have an NPC playing the two characters against each other. Since Chosen have a high Hot stat as well, at best it'll turn into a very tragic romance with the Infernal in love with the Chosen but being forced to do bad poo poo to the Chosen because of the demonic voices in their head.
|# ¿ Aug 24, 2014 06:57|
This time, it's time for the Mortal, a.k.a. the most destructive Skin in a game that is about monsters. The Mortal is dark, brooding, beautiful, and also probably caught in a dysfunctional and codependent relationship with someone who is actually a monster. So, that's fun.
Crawling in my Skin.
The Mortal is basically Bella from Twilight if the books had actually acknowledged the fact that her relationship with Edward was ultimately unhealthy and bad for her. Thematically the Mortal is about being infatuated with exactly wrong person: it's about codependency, one-sided love, and other such wholesome and unhealthy habits. It's also potentially the most monstrous Skin, which is appropriate, because one part of the MC's Agenda in Monsterhearts is to make the people look like monsters and the monsters look like people.
The Mortal starts with a 1 in Hot and Dark, and a -1 in Cold and Volatile. They're not well-equipped for physical confrontation, nor are they very good at keeping their cool or putting people down. They mainly rely on social wiles to get their way.
Moves: All Mortals start with True Love and get to choose two more.
True Love is the core of the Mortal: the Mortal always has one lover, the first chosen during their backstory. However, should the Mortal fall in love with someone else, they give that person a String and they become their new lover. The Mortal always carries 1 forward to winning their lover's attention or fancy. Yes, the Mortal is mechanically encouraged to obsess over a single person and to pursue their attention.
Mess With Me, Mess With Him gives the Mortal a way to cover up for their low Cold score: whenever the Mortal uses their lover's name as a threat, they can add 2 to their roll to shut someone down or hold steady, but their lover gains a String on them.
Sympathy is My Weapon rewards the Mortal for being caught in a dysfunctional and harmful relationship: whenever they forgive someone for hurting them and excuse their base nature, the Mortal gains a String on them.
Excuses are My Armor is the perfect pairing with the above: it allows Mortal to mark experience whenever they ignore some blatant problem with their lover or how they treat them.
Downward Spiral (named after a Nine Inch Nails album, or so I'm told!) allows the Mortal to deal themselves 1 harm to add 2 to their roll to gaze into the abyss.
Down the Rabbit Hole rewards the Mortal for getting caught in affairs beyond their reckoning: whenever they poke their nose in non-human affairs, they mark experience, but someone involved in the situation takes a String on them.
Entrenched really makes the Mortal shine: as you can see, a lot of the Mortal's moves are about giving people Strings. With Entrenched, whenever the Mortal and another person have 5 or more Strings between each other, the Mortal gets to add 1 to all rolls against them.
So, yeah, commentary. The Mortal is another example of how Monsterhearts uses its Skins and their Moves to encourage a certain type of drama. In the Mortal's case, the drama happens to be about unhealthy relationships with people. It's about being helpless and giving people power over you. It also encourages self-destructive behavior, as Downward Spiral and Down the Rabbit Hole demonstrate.
Robindaybird already said it, but as potentially triggering as the Ghoul is, the Mortal is also really dark, even without the self-mutilation angle of Down the Rabbit Hole.
Backstory: The Mortal always declares their backstory last. They declare one person to be their lover, they gain three Strings on the Mortal and the Mortal gains one on them.
The Mortal is the only Skin that can't pick a Gang as an advance.
But the real meat of the Mortal is this:
Sex Move posted:
When you have sex with someone, trigger their Darkest Self.
The Mortal's Sex Move is a great example of how almost every single Move in the game has been designed to drive the story in a certain direction. The Mortal is all about obsessively trying to get in their lover's pants, no matter how monstrous their lover may be. However, when they finally get intimate with someone, they show their really monstrous side, leading to a circle of abuse, followed by forgiveness at the expense of the Mortal's well-being.
Actually, I'm starting to think that the Mortal might be the darkest of all the Skins.
Anyway, there's still the Mortal's Darkest Self:
Darkest Self posted:
Nobody understands you, or even wants to. Theyíd rather you disappear. Well, youíre not going to disappear. Youíre going to make life a living hell for them. Youíll betray the wicked to the judges, the weak to the executioners. Youíll pit humans and supernaturals against one another, until everyone looks like monsters. Only seeing the pain that youíre causing your lover will let you escape your Darkest Self.
Yeah. When the Mortal finally snaps, they take it out on everyone. Having had enough with all the abuse they've taken, they lash out against everyone around them, even their lover. And then it starts all over again.
Wow. I never thought that doing a write-up about a storygame could be so draining emotionally. Thankfully the next Skin on the list is the Queen, which has its own share of issues but at least isn't quite as depressing as the Mortal.
|# ¿ Aug 25, 2014 21:13|
I remember when I started reading up on Monsterhearts online I actually ran into several threads on the internet about how people had expected the Mortal to be more like Xander (i.e. just a poor sap caught in the middle of supernatural poo poo) and less Bella. The Neighbor sounds like it would be perfect for the former.
I already mentioned this briefly in the writeup, but I think it's amazing that the Mortal is basically a travesty of Bella from Twilight: it plays Bella completely straight but in doing so reveals how hosed up Bella was. The Twilight books weren't all that self-aware of how terrible Bella's and Edward's relationship was, and instead ended up bizarrely romanticizing their dysfunctional relationship dynamic. The Mortal strips out the romanticism and ends up showing that a lot of these "girl meets boy, boy turns out to be a monster" stories actually glorify abusive relationships.
I might be reading too much into the Mortal, but since Monsterhearts basically started as an Apocalypse World hack for playing Twilight I don't think I'm too far off.
As far as banning the Mortal goes, yeah, that's an entirely valid approach. Monsterhearts' Skins deal with a lot of really hosed up poo poo and if a particular element hits too close to home, it might be best to discuss it with the other players before play begins.
|# ¿ Aug 26, 2014 07:50|
Once again, it's Monsterhearts time!
After the depressing and disturbing skins like the Ghost, Ghoul and Mortal, it's time for something not all that heavy. It's the Queen.
To explain what the Queen is in Monsterhearts terms, I'll just dive straight to which horrible part of teenage life they're supposed to represent: the Queen is all about the horrible nature of teenage cliques and how prone kids are to tagging with the cool kid in school just to get a piece of that popularity. The horror of the Queen arises from their controlling nature and the petty politics they play.
The Queen is one of the few skins that supports playing either an entirely mundane character or one with a touch of the supernatural. If you want, you can play the Queen as Cordelia from Buffy. (That is, Cordelia when she was still a somewhat antagonistic character.) Cordelia is even listed as one of the example names for the Queen. However, some of the Queen's moves suggest a more supernatural influence, and can be easily used to build the Queen as a more supernatural character: occult leader, firstborn of the hive mind and source of the infection are all listed as potential origins for the Queen. The three-episode mini scenario for Monsterhearts, The Blood of Misty Harbour, features a Queen as the leader of a demonic cult, borrowing one of the moves from the Infernal to give them a more cultish demon-worshiping feel.
Basically, the Queen gets a gang for free. In case you don't remember what the rules for gangs are: PCs can manipulate gangs of NPCs, and whenever a gang helps a PC out with something they get to add 1 to all their rolls. So, if you're ganging up on someone to kick their rear end, you could add 1 to your roll to lash out violently, if your gang derisively laughs at the insults you throw at someone you could add 1 to your roll to shut someone down. Hell, if you're playing up the occult leader angle, you could even have them chanting some mumbo-jumbo around you to add 1 to your roll to gaze into the abyss.
Oh, and in case you're wondering: yes, your character can be a male Queen.
Stats: The Queen starts with 1 in Hot and Cold, and a -1 in Volatile and Dark. They're all about being social characters and will generally not excel in physical conflict (unless they've got their gang backing them up) or the occult.
Moves: The Queen gets the Clique and gets to choose one more move.
The Clique gives the Queen a gang at the beginning of play. The Queen also gets to choose one strength for their gang:
No mechanics are stated for their strengths: basically, the strengths are just narrative tags that inform what sort of stuff you could sensibly have your gang help you out with, and also what sorts of things you may be able to get from them through manipulating them.
The Shield gives the Queen a bit of protection from others: whenever they're surrounded by their gang, all players reduce 1 from all rolls against the Queen. NPCs act at a disadvantage (a mechanic that will be explained in the MC's section).
Bought Loyalty allows the Queen to give someone a String on them in order to add 2 to their roll to manipulate an NPC. Normally a player can spend a String held on an NPC to get a hefty bonus to attempts to manipulate them, and this moves gives the Queen the alternative of giving someone more power over the Queen instead of losing power over them.
And Your Enemies Closer really emphasizes the Queen's focus on loyalty, betrayal and backstabbing politics: whenever someone betrays the Queen, the Queen gains a String on them.
Many Bodies turns your Queen into a pimp (sort of): when you promise one of your gang members to someone, you can add 2 to your roll to turn someone on. Also, whenever a member of the Queen's gang has sex with someone, it triggers the Queen's sex move.
Streaming gives the Queen a telepathic connection with their gang, allowing them to always hear their emotions and fears. Also, whenever the Queen wants to hear their exact thoughts, they can gaze into the abyss and add 1 to their roll to do it.
So, that's pretty straightforward. A bunch of moves that give the Queen a bit more social currency while using their gang as pawns.
The Queen names three NPCs that are members of their gang, and gains a String on each.
However, the Queen also finds someone threatening. They take one String on the Queen and the Queen takes two Strings on them.
As said, the Queen already starts play with a gang. However, they can take an advancement to take The Clique again, detailing another gang.
Now, the real meat of the Queen:
Sex Move posted:
When you have sex with someone, they gain the Condition one of them. While the Condition remains, they count as part of your gang.
Remember how Conditions work? Whenever you could narratively justify a condition giving a benefit to one of your moves, you add 1 to your roll.
The Sex Move combined with the rest of the moves results in so many potential narratives: combine it with Streaming for listening to the rest of the group's thoughts. Take Many Bodies to make membership in your gang a sexually transmitted disease.
And finally, there's the Queen's Darkest Self:
Darkest Self posted:
Theyíve failed you. This is all their fault, and thereís no reason why you should have to suffer the consequences of their idiocy. You need to make an example out of each of them, a cruel and unwavering example. You escape your Darkest Self when you relinquish part of your power over to someone more deserving, or when you destroy an innocent person in order to prove your might.
So, what do I think of the Queen? Well, I kind of love it. First of all, you know the sort of person it's supposed to represent, not necessarily from your own life but from popular culture, so it's an easy to understand concept. Secondly, the more supernaturally oriented moves like Streaming and Many Bodies give it just enough of a supernatural edge to really drive the metaphor of the class through. Speaking as a guy with a minor in education, it can't be stressed enough how important the teenage years are to a person's development of social skills and group dynamics. Having said that, and this is me speaking as a guy who was a teenager once, teenagers are also kind of horrible and left to their own devices they will develop the worst possible social dynamics based around excluding others and even playing those within their immediate peer group against each other.
The Queen also deserves distinction as another Skin that would work perfectly as an antagonist: they certainly have enough social power to potentially be a threat to anyone in a high school setting. That said, I think the Queen also works perfectly as a character not explicitly taking sides but pursuing their own agenda on the sidelines. Since the Queen often has a lot of capital (not only in terms of social power, but also in terms of having all the coolest drugs/weapons/money) the MC could easily build social triangles where two players whose characters were at odds with each other would be able to gain an edge over one another if they could only petition the Queen for help.
Only three more (core) skins left one. Next time, put on your fake plastic fangs and black cloak, as we look at the Vampire!
|# ¿ Sep 5, 2014 15:13|
Other players can get kind of weird about their characters getting One of Them, especially if Streaming is involved. If people start actively avoiding getting that condition put on them, it can more or less ruin the fun fo r the Queen. There are a few skins that that kind of thing can happen to, but in my experience the Queen gets the worst of it because people tend to view them in an instantly antagonistic light. So you kind of have to watch out for that sort of thing and address it early on if you see it happening in a game you're running.
Oh yeah, I agree with this 100%. I'm not sure if it was a type of antagonism towards teenage cliques (i.e. "them bastards that bullied us back in high school") but the first time I ran Monsterhearts for my university RPG club everyone seemed to be ready to hate the Queen simply by virtue of her being the coolest kid in school. The fact is, the Queen represents an archetype that is instantly familiar to most people and most people are willing to hate the poo poo out of that archetype. I mean, okay, the Infernal was literally worshiping the Devil, but who cares? That girl and her gang are being total bitches to everyone, they need to be dropped down a peg!
Actually, that's also one of the reasons I think the Queen is a perfect character to use as an antagonist. As before, if your players are guided by an instinct to win the game (whatever that might mean in the context of a story game like Monsterhearts) then they will probably avoid getting too close to the Queen, but if your players are going with what makes the best story then the Queen is a pretty great source of potential stories that can unfold.
|# ¿ Sep 5, 2014 23:24|
Obviously, but there's definitely a non-antagonist angle to be played there. Take a Chosen and a Queen, and you've got the core of a dysfunctional group of angsty, overly dramatic teenagers who are nevertheless the town's best and only hope against unspeakable horrors - add an Infernal for spice, and a Mortal as someone's family member who's in love with the main villain.
The Chosen, the Queen and the Mortal would be a perfect group composition for a game about playing Buffy but with more teenage melodrama: you've got the one person with supernatural powers to save the town from whatever evil besets it, the Queen and the Mortal are both their trusted friends, but the Queen is actually secretly jealous of the Chosen's power (in spite of the fact that the Queen has all the social power) and the Mortal is just caught up in things way over their head. If you have a group of four, a Witch could act as basically Willow from the later seasons (i.e. the geeky friendly person who is at the same time a ticking time bomb should they go mad with power) and any of the overtly monstrous skins could act as an antagonist to the rest of the group.
|# ¿ Sep 6, 2014 22:52|
I mentioned the Monsterhearts game to my tabletop gaming group today after the review of it in this thread sparked my interest. We've agreed to take a break on Friday from our Rogue Trader campaign to be melodramatic teenagers rather than interstellar assholes for a change. Already have a Chosen and an Infernal lined up from my players.
I'm glad to hear that my review has sparked interest in the game! The Chosen and Infernal are bound to result in some great drama: The Chosen's got the entire "Some big bad wants me dead" angle an the Infernal comes with a big bad straight out of the box!
I'd really appreciate it if you could post a report of your game in either this thread or the Apocalypse World thread, as that seems to be where most of the actual Monsterhearts discussion takes place. For my part, I'll try to get another Skin written up today.
|# ¿ Sep 8, 2014 08:28|
Speeding through the last of the Skins so we can finally get to the MC section of the game. On this episode of Monsterhearts...
It's time for the most iconic of all the monsters from contemporary supernatural romance: The Vampire. Being the literature geek that I am, it's fun to read about how images of the vampire have changed throughout history: stories of bloodsucking unliving monsters are a near-universal phenomenon, and variations of vampire myths appear in a number of cultures. The one source from which most modern vampire tales are derived from is Dracula, where the titular villain was largely inspired by South Slavic tales of vampires, as well as the real historical figure of Vlad the Impaler. Having read Dracula I'll be the first to say that it doesn't quite hold up: like a lot of gothic tales penned by British writers it largely builds its horror through othering, and the favorite other of most British writers were those God-damned mainland Europeans with their twisted Papist church and revolutionary ideals.
So, the most powerful image of the vampire in popular culture was basically an angry Irishman writing a horror story about how those nasty Eastern Europeans were coming to Britain, corrupting the Empire and stealing our women. However, Dracula laid the groundwork for the popularization of the vampire as a sexy creature; even though Bram Stoker didn't originate the idea, he made it popular. Modern images of the vampire tend to focus on the sexy and not so much on the stupid sexy foreigners angle.
Now, vampires are tough to portray in almost any kind of RPG: they come with so much baggage from different myths and popular depictions that it's really hard to find an exact mechanical focus for the vampire. Whereas in a game like Vampire: The Masquerade (and Requiem!) you can explain away divergent vampire myths by saying "Oh, vampires come from different bloodlines with different powers!" Monsterhearts doesn't have that benefit because the Vampire is a single Skin instead of being divided into a number of sub-Skins. Theoretically, if you were to draw inspiration for your Vampire from a number of contemporary sources, you'd just have to give them a high stat in everything.
The Monsterhearts Vampire solves this conundrum by giving it a very clear focus: it very clearly draws its themes from Twilight, True Blood and the works of Anne Rice. However, while the vampires in all those sources were pretty good at everything (super-strong, super-fast, with keen senses, being able to fly, poo poo rainbows, basically whatever power the writer felt comfortable giving them at the time) the most interesting stuff they did had nothing to do with their physical prowess, but everything to do with how manipulative and seductive they were.
The Vampire is all about drawing people in but then keeping them at an arm's length, never quite letting them close. Basically, they know what you want and they're not giving it to you because they love to watch you squirm. Also, they're control freaks.
Stats: As a very socially powerful Skin, the Vampire starts with Hot and Cold at 1, and Volatile and Dark at -1.
Moves: The Vampire gets to choose any two of the following:
Hypnotic allows you to hypnotize people, provided they hold no Strings on you. Rolling with Hot, on a 10+ they do exactly as you wish and have no idea that anything is wrong, and on a 7-9 it works but they either realize you hypnotized them, they gently caress up your commands, or their sanity becomes unhinged. A very powerful move, but since getting Strings on people isn't all that hard most other player characters will have blanket immunity to it. That said, the Vampire has a high Cold, so it's not too hard for them to shut someone down to make them lose their Strings on you.
Invited gives you the traditional Vampire weakness of not being able to enter a home without being invited. That might not sound like a very useful move, but when someone does invite you, you take a String on them.
The Feeding makes you able to feed on hot blood. If it's the first time your victim's been fed on, you both mark experience. When you feed you choose two:
Marked for the Hunt allows you to establish a close bond with someone when you feed on them (as seen on television!), implying that you don't actually need the Feeding to feed on people. It's just that with the Feeding you also get a mechanical benefit out of it. Anyway, with this move, when you gaze into the abyss about a person you've fed on, you roll as if you had Dark 3, effectively counteracting your lovely Dark score.
Cold As Ice allows you to pick an extra option from the 7-9 list whenever you shut someone down and roll a hit (that is a 7 or higher). Pretty great.
Inescapable is the move that Bill uses in True Blood whenever Sookie tries to walk out on him and he yells "Sookie!" in that one particular voice of his. It allows you to spend a String on someone to tell them not to walk out on you. If they do, you gain 2 Strings on them.
Now it's time for the Vampire's Backstory! The Vampire is beautiful, so they take a String on everyone. However, someone ("Sookie!") once saved their unlife, so they take 2 Strings on the Vampire.
As an Advancement, the Vampire can gain membership in a Vampire Coterie as a Gang.
Now, the Vampire's got basically one of the best Sex Moves in the entire game:
Sex Move posted:
When you deny someone sexually, gain a String on them. When you have sex with someone, lose all Strings on that person.
Yes, the Vampire's Sex Move is all about withholding sex.
Finally, it's the Vampire's Darkest Self:
Darkest Self posted:
Everyone is your pawn, your plaything. You hurt them and make them vulnerable, for sport, like a cat does with a mouse. You feed to the point of death whenever youíre alone with someone, though you take your time. You escape your Darkest Self when youíre put in your rightful place, by someone more powerful than you.
So, the Vampire's kind of cool. However, it's got nothing on the next Skin, another one of my favorites, the Werewolf.
|# ¿ Sep 10, 2014 19:33|
Time for the penultimate Skin and one of my favorites, the Werewolf.
The Werewolf is an interesting Skin. Its theme seems to be one of wanting control but also losing it. Basically, the Werewolf is the impulsive teenager who struggles to control their own emotions and lashes out at those close to them, in so doing bullying them into submission. If the Vampire is the withholding and passive-aggressive partner, the Werewolf is the one who is a bit too loyal and clingy and prone to violent fits of jealousy, not necessarily excluding physical abuse. That's just my reading of it though, and if anyone else has an alternate reading on them I'd very much like to hear it.
Like with vampires, there are lots of divergent werewolf myths, not all of which agree on what exactly sets off the werewolf's transformation. The fact that the Werewolf's Darkest Self can trigger at any time implies that it is entirely possible for them to go wolfman even without the influence of the full moon. Whether they can actually transform at will is up to the MC and the players, though.
One thing I haven't really been addressing with the other Skins is the origin bit given in each Skin, but with the Werewolf a couple of them stand out: possible origins for the Werewolf include stuff like born a wolf, raised by wolves, ancestral power, awoken, bitten and favoured by the moon. So, a mix of traditional (bitten) and more esoteric (raised by wolves, born a wolf).
As far as Stats go the Werewolf has the same spread as the Chosen: 1 Hot and Volatile, -1 Cold and Dark. So the Werewolf is alluring and sexy, but at the same time prone to fight or flight, which given the Wolf part of the Skin makes perfect sense.
As far as Moves go, the Werewolf gets to choose two:
Scent of Blood allows you to add 1 to rolls against those who have been harmed in this scene already. Note that this is any roll: given that this is Monsterhearts, you could arguably use this move to add 1 to turn someone on while applying medical care to them after they got hurt in a scene. I just have this image stuck to my head of a Werewolf ripping off their shirt to turn it into a gauze in order to staunch someone's bleeding. If you remember the healing and recovery rules of the game, if you describe the act of applying medical care to someone in a sexually charged manner, it actually heals one extra harm. So, yeah.
Unstable is one of those moves that rewards you for driving your character towards a certain type of narrative: since the Werewolf is all about losing control, with this move you get to mark experience whenever your Darkest Self triggers.
Primal Dominance gives you a String whenever you harm someone. Yeah, remember what I said about bullying people into submission?
Uncontainable allows you to try and escape any kind of physical entrapment by rolling Volatile. On a 10+ you escape, on a 7-9 the MC will offer you a hard bargain, and if you accept you will escape.
Bare Your Fangs is another interesting stat-switch move: whenever you're in your Darkest Self, you can roll Volatile instead of Cold to shut someone down or hold steady. Basically, when you go Wolfman, you're so uncontrollable that you can freak people out with ease and are hard to freak out yourself. Again, this move encourages you to trigger your Darkest Self when going into a situation where you either need to emotionally hurt someone or where you know your character might otherwise flinch.
Howl at the Moon covers for the Werewolf's low Dark score: whenever you're basked in moonlight, you get to add 2 to your Dark. So, if you pick this move, expect to do... well, a lot of howling at the moon to trigger gazing into the abyss.
Heightened Senses is the closest thing that Monsterhearts has to AW's read a sitch move: when you rely on your animal instincts to make sense of a charged situation, roll with Dark. (Yeah, this is where howl at the moon might come in handy.) On a 10+ you get to ask the MC three questions and if you act one of the answers you get to add 1 to your first roll. On a 7-9 you just ask one.
There's a lot of interesting thematic ground here: if you want to relish the opportunity to lose control and roll Volatile for everything forever, pick unstable and bare your fangs. If you want to gain power through hurting others and then hurt them even more when they're down, pick scent of blood and primal dominance. If you want to nag the MC about whether the moon is out and be surprisingly perceptive for a Werewolf, pick howl at the moon and heightened senses.
As an advancement, the Werewolf can choose to belong to a Wolf Pack.
The Werewolf has one of the sweetest in the sense of not being immediately horrible Sex Moves in the game:
Sex Move posted:
When you have sex with someone, you establish a spirit connection with them. Until either of you breaks that spirit connection, by having sex with someone else, add 1 to all rolls made to defend them. You can tell when that connection has been broken.
However, their Darkest Self more than makes up for any accidental good feelings brought up by the Sex Move:
Darkest Self posted:
You transform into a terrifying wolf-creature. You crave power and dominance, and those are earned through bloodshed. If anyone attempts to stand in your way, they must be brought down and made to bleed. You escape your Darkest Self when you wound someone you really care about or the sun rises, whichever happens first.
So, as I said: the Werewolf is fiercely loyal, but constantly ready to snap, and when they do snap they're more than likely to snap at those closest to them. And that's horrible.
Anyway, next up we've got the last of the main Skins, the Witch. However, after I'm done with that I might take a stab at the three limited edition skins, the Angel (for straddling the lines between Heaven and Hell), the Hollow (basically an artificial person with no identity, struggling to find their own self) and the Serpentine (for a bit of Southern Gothic, plus snakes), or just go straight to the MC section of the game. Whichever people think is most interesting at this point.
|# ¿ Sep 15, 2014 19:03|
That's kind of a weird way to describe it. The Angel is a kid who has been kicked out of or run away from their strict and probably religious home. They are struggling with whether to fall back into what their upbringing taught them, or to try and deliberately deviate from it half out of spite. The default assumption is that it's literally heaven they fell from, but the struggle is more like... conformity versus defiance, rather than heaven versus hell.
Yeah, you just gave away the big metaphor behind the Angel, but you're absolutely right: while literally the Angel is about having been kicked out of Heaven and their ongoing conflict is between doing your own thing or subjugating yourself to divine mandate, on the level of "All monsters in Monsterhearts are metaphors for teenage issues" the Angel is pretty much a kid rebelling against their upbringing (or alternately, coming to terms with it). I mean, one of the moves literally allows you to gaze into Heaven, go "gently caress you, dad!" and gain some insight into what the Lord fears the most from you.
As far as the Werewolf working well with the Mortal, absolutely: the Mortal is all about being in a codependent relationship, the Werewolf is about being a jealous and controlling lover, the Mortal's story is about revealing the worst in people (i.e. their Darkest Selves) while the Werewolf is all about hurting people in their worst moments. Finally, the Werewolf's Darkest Self potentially ends when they hurt someone they love, and the Mortal cherishes being able to forgive people for hurting them.
I might even go so far as to say that the Werewolf and Mortal are basically made for each other, just like the Chosen and Infernal are.
e: To add to my first point: I would actually argue that the conflict between Heaven and Hell could easily be portrayed in terms of conformity versus defiance. At least a number of popular myths support that reading.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 20:44 on Sep 15, 2014
|# ¿ Sep 15, 2014 20:42|
I don't know if , but this actually happened in one of the Twilight movies. I'm glad that moment made it into Monsterhearts because it is great.
I... actually did not know that. Which makes it really creepy. Why do I have an image from the Twilight films stuck in my head when I've never, to the best of my knowledge, seen a single one of them?
|# ¿ Sep 15, 2014 21:29|
I like Monsterhearts and I'm never really able to parse the Serpentine's mechanics and style, so by all means keep going with the Skins. They're pretty great and you're doing a good job with them.
Ive enjoyed hearing about the skins so far and would like to know about the limited edition skins.
Agreed. My gaming group had a good amount of fun (and from the reactions of the AW thread, significantly more carnage than is typical of the game) running MH as a one-off for a lark, and we all felt the skins were interesting and well done. I'd enjoy hearing about more.
Alright, so I guess there's a clear consensus that once I'm done with the last of the official Skins I'll do the limited edition Skins before going into the MC section. Speaking of which...
It's time for the last of the official Skins, the Witch.
You know what Witches are: they're kids with magic powers who hex people. In terms of what the Witch is in the high school genre... I'm not really sure, to be honest. Going simply by its stats and moves, the Witch strikes me as a bit of an antisocial nerd who digs up dirt on those stupid jocks who bully them and then makes them suffer. The Witch's thing is sympathetic magic: they power their magic through stealing sympathetic tokens from others and then spending those tokens as part of their hexes. This also interacts interestingly with the game's String economy.
As far as Stats go, the Witch has the exact same spread as the Ghost: 1 in Cold and Dark, -1 in Volatile and Hot. This is actually where I draw the antisocial nerd analogue from: like the Ghost, the Witch is not about manipulating people through charm nor lashing out at them violently, but about being cold and distant and just having a degree of occult knowledge and know-how. However, whereas the Ghost is the isolated lonely kid, the Witch is more of a revenge of the nerds type.
Witches start with the following two moves:
Sympathetic Tokens allows the Witch to gather sympathetic tokens, or items with a significant emotional value to a person. While these are usually used to power their hexes, they also count as Strings held on that person. Basically, steal someone's diary and you can either use it to power a hex (losing it in the process) or use it for more traditional manipulation, giving it back in the process.
Hex-Casting is the real meat and bones move of the Witch though. It allows the Witch to cast hexes, starting with two, but with the Witch being allowed to learn the rest as an Advancement. To cast a hex the Witch must either expend a sympathetic token during a secret ritual or to meet the target's gaze and chant at them in tongues. To see if a hex works you roll with Dark. On a 10+ the hex works and can be easily reversed by the Witch, on a 7-9 it works but the Witch must choose one:
In addition to those two, the Witch gets to choose one of the following moves:
Transgressive Magic is a bit meh in my opinion. It allows you to add 1 to your hex-casting rolls when your ritual transgresses your community's moral and sexual standards. Since hex-casting ceremonies are already supposed to be secret, giving the player a +1 to that roll feels a bit unnecessary just for them describing your ritual in a very kinky way.
Bide My Time is interesting though: if you've got a sympathetic token on someone, you add 1 to your rolls to hold steady against their actions or run away from them. While the Witch can be played as a hex happy character, this move really encourages them to hold on to sympathetic tokens and play the long game.
Sanctuary is another pretty meh move. You have a secret place for casting your hexes and while in that place you add 1 to your hex-casting rolls. Okay, it does come with the potential story hook of other people finding the Witch's sanctuary and compromising it, but it's still a pretty boring +1.
Overall, while the core of the Witch (sympathetic tokens and hex-casting) is interesting, the remainder of their moves feel a bit bland to me.
Having said that, their Hexes are probably more important than their Moves.
Wither is the body horror hex: the target loses their hair, their teeth start rotting, or something equally disgusting. Whatever the exact effects, it's really bad.
Binding makes the person unable to harm others physically. Good for those times when there's a rampaging Werewolf running around.
Ring of Lies makes the target hear a ringing, piercing noise whenever they lie. Big lies will make their knees buckle and disorient them, while really severe lies might even cause brain damage. Given how important social manipulation is to Monsterhearts, this is a very powerful and thematically appropriate effect.
Watching allows the Witch to enter a deep sleep and see the world through the eyes of the hexed. They can feel their reactions to and impressions of things they are seeing.
Illusions lets you pick one of the following: snakes, bugs, demonic visages, false prophecies, non-existent subtext (the last one is my favorite). The hexed sees that thing everywhere. When I ran Monsterhearts with a Witch in the group, they loved making people see non-existent subtext everywhere. The way we described it, the hexed heard everything said to them with "If you know what I mean" appended to it.
The Witch is really, really powerful. The thing is, as written there are no ways for characters to shrug off or get rid of a Witch's hexes without the Witch deciding to reverse them. I actually think this is intentional: like the exact nature of the Vampire's and Werewolf's state and which myths of them are true, it's up to the group to decide the scope and mechanics of the Witch's hexes. I've usually ruled that the Witch can only have a single hex cast at a given time, and should a hexed character want to get rid of a hex we can usually agree on some means of getting rid of the hex (which the characters can find clues to through gazing into the abyss). Basically, if a Witch is going hex-happy, the hexed targets are given the opportunity to look for some manner of charm to protect them from the Witch's hexes, or even find another Witch who might be willing to undo the effects of the hex. Also, hexing the poo poo out of everyone is basically giving the MC licence to write in a town-wide witch-hunt as a Menace.
For the Witch's Backstory, you start the game with two sympathetic tokens and are asked to decide whose they are and what they are. However, one of the Witch's friends has caught them going through someone else's stuff, and they gain a String on the Witch.
The Witch's Gang is, obviously, a Coven.
Then there's the last bits:
Sex Move posted:
After sex, you can take a sympathetic token from them. They know about it, and itís cool.
I don't really have anything to add to that. Their Darkest Self is pretty cool though, being all kinds of Carrie:
Darkest Self posted:
The time for subtlety and patience is over. Youíre too powerful to put up with their garbage any longer. You hex anyone who slights you. All of your hexes have unexpected side effects, and are more effective than you are comfortable with. To escape your Darkest Self, you must offer peace to the one you have hurt the most.
Basically, when their Darkest Self triggers the Witch decides that they've had enough of all the idiots surrounding them and it's time for vengeance. Anyone who so much as tries to tell them "Dude, not cool" gets cursed with demon snakes shouting "THAT'S WHAT SHE SAID" in their head until they go completely catatonic from the visions. So, you know. Holy poo poo. Don't gently caress with the Witch.
Next time it's time for the "gently caress you
|# ¿ Sep 16, 2014 15:22|
It's worth noting that Sanctuary gives +1 to all your rolls there, not just spell casting. This basically gives you the social advantage over someone whenever you let them into your private space.
You know what, you're absolutely right! It's been a while since I looked at the Witch, so when I was reading it again for this writeup my eyes sort of glazed over that move. That not only makes it more useful but also more interesting!
|# ¿ Sep 16, 2014 19:16|
On the other hand, Witches aren't indebted to an external power like Infernals are. Infernals are addicts and tied up in powers beyond their understanding. They're the kid who signed the wrong contract.
I think a lot of what makes the Witch and the Infernal different also comes through in their stats: they both have high Dark, meaning that they're both in touch with the occult, but the Witch has a high Cold and the Infernal has a high Volatile.
Since Cold is the stat you roll to keep your cool and stay in control of a situation, it means that whatever power the Witch has, they're mostly on control of it. The Infernal has a high Volatile, which is also the stat for describing how unpredictable you are. The Infernal has power, but they're very emphatically not in control of it.
So, the Witch gets absolute control over absolute power, and absolute power corrupts. That's their thing: when they snap they still retain that power, but they just use it with no care about the consequences. The Infernal does not control their power, and the lack of control and the potential of losing that power on the whim of some big bad are what drives that Skin.
Anyway, I'm probably going to be doing the Angel tonight once I finish work.
|# ¿ Sep 17, 2014 08:29|
gently caress, double posted
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 15:43 on Sep 18, 2014
|# ¿ Sep 18, 2014 15:08|
I was supposed to do this last night, but I was very tired so I played some Crusader Kings 2 instead. My Empire of Italia is doing very nicely, though.
This time we'll be moving on to the limited edition Skins, and progressing in alphabetical order we've got the Angel first.
The Angel is really interesting in terms of the sort of baggage it brings with it: the other Skins are very neutral or at least coy about their mythological inspirations, what with the Infernal not actually discussing the nature of its demonic dark powers, the Vampire and Werewolf being very silent on which popular myths actually apply to them in play, and while the Witch mentions Wicca and Vodun as possible origins for the Witch it's entirely silent on the subject of whether these religions are literally magic. The Angel's mechanics and description come with the lord. Not capital L Lord though, but you know the lord it's talking about.
So, what does the Angel actually have to say about the lord? Not much, really. The Angel doesn't actually take any stance on whether the lord is good or not, and the main conflict of the Angel is about either submitting to the authoritarian will of the lord or rebelling against it and being a free agent. As with the other Skins, I think it having been left open to interpretation is intentional: some players might wish to play the lord straight as the capital G God of Abrahamic tradition, which will cast the Angel in a very dark light since they'll be rebelling against the will of a good god (at least according to a majority of religious people in the World). Interpreting the lord as the Gnostic Demiurge is also equally valid, because while the Demiurge was pretty powerful he was also believed to be pretty much an evil guy keeping mankind in submission, which would give the Angel's rebellion a little more bite and cast them more clearly as someone rebelling against an unjust authority.
But really, whatever angle you and your group decide on for the lord (and it might actually be best left open at the start and let it emerge through play, as with many things in Monsterhearts) the key of the Angel is rebellion and submission: you've been kicked out of your old house by an authoritarian figure, and now you have to choose between humility and submission (representing your old upbringing) or agency and rebellion. So, as was already pointed out by Gazetteer:
The Angel is a kid who has been kicked out of or run away from their strict and probably religious home. They are struggling with whether to fall back into what their upbringing taught them, or to try and deliberately deviate from it half out of spite. The default assumption is that it's literally heaven they fell from, but the struggle is more like... conformity versus defiance, rather than heaven versus hell.
Anyway, the Angel has one very interesting mechanic which relates to its Stats. The Angel starts with Volatile at 1, Hot at -1, and Cold at 0, which is an odd spread for Monsterhearts. Also, the Angel doesn't have a Dark stat: instead it has a sliding scale called Trespass and Forgiveness, representing your current standing with the lord. You start with a 0 in the stat, and it maxes out at 3 on both ends of the scale. Whenever you would roll Dark, you roll with Trespass instead. A positive score in Trespass counts as a negative score in Forgiveness and vice versa, so if you were at Forgiveness 1 and rolled to gaze into the abyss, you'd roll with -1.
The Angel gets the following Move:
Cast From Heaven is the Move that determines how your Trespass and Forgiveness scale changes. Basically, whenever you subjugate yourself to another's will, you move the marker towards Forgiveness. Whenever you judge or punish others without the lord's permission, you move the marker towards Trespass.
As with other characters, you start with two of your stats highlighted. If you have Trespass highlighted, you mark experience whenever you roll with Trespass or when the marker moves towards Trespass, and the same with Forgiveness. However, the singleton rule still applies, so you can only gain experience for a highlighted stat once per scene, and as far as the Angel is concerned it's further mentioned that you can only move the marker in one direction once per scene. A crafty group might choose to highlight both an Angel's Trespass and Forgiveness if they really want the Angel's story to focus on their conflicted nature.
The Angel also chooses two more Moves from the following list:
Better And More Deserving gives you a String on someone whenever they get the praise that you deserve. Bitterness is a big part of the Angel's theme, not only bitterness at the lord but also bitterness towards those the lord deems more worthy than you, and this Move encourages you to get into situations where others are going to be patted on the back when you did all the heavy lifting.
Smiting lets you add 1 to your rolls to lash out violently and add 1 harm to your rolls when you do so. This move works both for the rogue angel with a cause of their own and the angel that seeks the lord's forgiveness (provided you ask the lord first whether they'd like you to smite the wicked).
Halo allows you to roll with Forgiveness instead of Hot when turning someone on. Basically, when you find yourself in the lord's favor the lord rewards you with a magical aura to help you get into other people's pants.
Profane Powers comes to play when you hit 3 Trespass: once you hit 3 Trespass you can perform miracles, like flight, teleportation, returning to life and so on. However, after any scene when you've used it your Trespass resets to 0 and you are drained.
Grace And Brilliance is profane powers' good twin: when you hit 3 Forgiveness you can call upon blessing and divine might. When you do so, you add 7 to your next roll, basically guaranteeing a success. However, after you've done so your Forgiveness goes back to 0 and you are drained.
Resetting the Trespass/Forgiveness scale as well as the drained Condition in the above moves represents how tiring, both emotionally and physically, using these powers is. After you use grace and brilliance your body is sore, but you also realize that you've been trying to get into the lord's favor and this is what you get rewarded with. Similarly, when you've used profane powers to basically give the lord a middle finger while going "gently caress your rules, man!" you not only feel tired but you might come to a realization that maybe you've been rebelling for nothing after all.
Finally, there's Gaze Into Heaven, or the best move ever. When you gaze into heaven as a servant of the lord, you roll with Forgiveness. On a 10+ you are filled with his voice and may ask him for guidance and command, and carry one forward to doing whatever you like. On a 7-9 you are contacted by one of the lord's emissaries who give you a mission, and you take one forward to completing that mission. Basically, the implication of the 10+ result is that whatever you use the forward on was the thing that the lord told you to do. It's a perfect example of giving the player some agency towards determining the nature of the lord.
On the flip side, the Move also allows you to gaze into heaven as a spurious and hateful child, in which case you treat it as gazing into the abyss (which you roll with Trespass, because you use Trespass whenever you'd use Dark). On a 10+ you add the following option to the list: the visions show you what the lord fears the most from you, and you carry 1 forward to realizing that fear. On a 7-9 you add this option to the list: the visions show you how you have upset and bewildered the lord.
So, that's the Moves. Now onto the rest.
The Gang that the Angel can pick up as an Advancement is, obviously, a Rogue Choir.
The Angel's Backstory: the lord loves you someone more than you, and a rivalry has sprung up: you gain two Strings on them, and they gain one on you. Also, someone reminds you of heaven. They gain a String on you.
The Angel's Sex Move allows you to do an interesting Move switcheroo:
Sex Move posted:
When you have sex, you are reminded of your purpose here on earth. Lose one of your Skin moves and gain a different one.
And finally, there's the Angel's Darkest Self:
Darkest Self posted:
You've fought so hard to distance yourself from the lord, to establish autonomy and independence. In doing so, you've unwittingly stumbled into the service of another power greater than yourself. You will carry out their will as if it were your own. Whenever possible, you'll convince yourself that you're doing this of your own volition. You escape your Darkest Self when you realize who's been tempting you down this dark path, and beg others to save you.
Basically, the Angel's thing is that in rebelling against the lord they actually bring themselves to the attention of another greater, darker power. The Angel is basically the kid who rebels against their religious upbringing only to find themselves blindly adhering to some other authority, be it an ideological, political or a different favor of religious authority.
For reasons that might be obvious from the Angel's Darkest Self, I think the Angel meshes really well thematically with the Infernal. If you take the interpretation that the Angel's lord is literally capital G God and the Infernal's dark power is a literal demon from Hell, you've got an interesting dynamic where the Infernal is mechanically rewarded for luring the rogue Angel towards the service of their dark power, and when poo poo hits the fan the rogue Angel (who might've even been smiting the dark power's servants of their own accord all the way until now) might realize that in their rebellion against the lord they've actually played right into the dark power's hands.
Next time, the second of the limited edition Skins, the Hollow, or the monstrous teenager with an identity crisis.
Ratpick fucked around with this message at 12:27 on Sep 20, 2014
|# ¿ Sep 18, 2014 15:43|
Path of War seems legit awesome. If I ever get press-ganged into a Patfhinder game again, I'll definitely ask the GM if I can roll up one of those classes.
Anyway, I had nothing better to do today, so I did a thing:
This time on Monsterhearts, we've got the Hollow.
The Hollow is an artificial person. Maybe they're a demon given human form, a dream made flesh, a dark gift given to an infertile couple, or a wrinkle in reality, but the thing is that they're not actually human. They look human, they act human, but inside there's something missing, the part that separates a pound of flesh evolved over millions of years from a real human. This gives the Hollow their main thing: they are trying to find an identity for themselves, since they lack one. This is represented in the mechanics by the Hollow being one of the most mutable Skins, as well as a number of their Moves allowing them to gain bonuses from Conditions. (Remember, in Monsterhearts Conditions are things that others can use against you, and you can't generally use them to gain benefits.)
Basically, they're Dawn Summers from Buffy.
The Hollow's Stats are as follows: Volatile and Dark at 1, Hot and Cold at -1. As I understand it, the high Volatile is supposed to represent the Hollow's unpredictable and mutable nature on account of it lacking a human frame of reference, whereas the high Dark represents some type of dark knowledge afforded by them not being entirely human. Like the Infernal, the Hollow is not Skin built for social interaction, being instead about taking what they want by force.
The Hollow starts with two Moves:
A Blank Canvas allows the Hollow to add 1 to their rolls when they take an action that embodies one of their Conditions and they allow that Condition to influence their sense of self. After rolling, they also remove that Condition. For an example, if you had the Condition psycho (Probably because someone called you that. Remember, Conditions are as much social constructs as they are literal effects on your character.) you could use this move to get a +1 to a roll to lash out violently when you let other people's perceptions of you as a psycho influence your behavior.
Better Than Nothing gives you a reward for getting Conditions, in the form of letting you mark experience whenever you gain a Condition. Again, since Conditions are as much about how people perceive you, the Hollow is rewarded for others building an identity for them.
This Body Has No Meaning allows you to reduce harm by 1 whenever someone deals harm to you without taking advantage of one of your Conditions. However, you must have at least one Condition to make use of this benefit. So, let's say you have the aforementioned psycho Condition and someone decides to stab you in the stomach. Their player can't find a rationale for you being psycho influencing their roll, so they roll, and deal 2 harm (for the sake of argument). You reduce that harm by 1, because even though they have stabbed you in the gut and damaged your body, they have not actually hurt your (completely artificial) self.
Flesh of My Flesh triggers when you lash out violently with your bare hands. Instead of dealing the usual one harm with your bare hands, you deal harm equal to one more than the amount of harm you've taken. If you yourself are at the brink of death (at three harm) you could potentially deal four harm by lashing out violently, potentially taking out someone in one punch. Holy poo poo.
Metamorphosis lets you add this option to the 10+ list when gazing into the abyss: the visions show you what you must become, and you can permanently switch two of your stats. So, if you don't want to play your Hollow as a psychotic kickpuncher, you could trade that high Volatile for a high Cold or Hot, for an example.
Inhuman Gaze lets you roll with Dark when you shut someone down. Yeah, it's a simple stat-switch move, but a really thematic one: there's just something eerie and unnatural about your gaze, which is enough to make most people back the gently caress off.
Finally, there's Mimicry. Whenever someone uses a Skin move on you, you roll with Dark. On a 7-9 you temporarily gain that move, losing it after the first time you use it. On a 10+ you may choose to replace one of your Skin moves with this new move.
I really like the Hollow's moves: a blank canvas is a simple move that lets you benefit from a usually negative effect (even though the social consequences of acting out one of your Conditions are still arguable), and it works perfectly with better than nothing and this body has no meaning. Metamorphosis and mimicry are another obvious pairing and have a clear theme of trying to find a new identity (and in the latter case, trying to find it through stealing it from others), whereas inhuman gaze is just nice and thematic.
The Hollow's Gang is their Hollow Siblings.
The Hollow's Backstory is as follows: they've been taking their social cues from someone, and in doing so have learned a lot about them. They take 2 Strings on that person. However, someone's seen through their invented past, and they gain 2 Strings on the Hollow.
Now to the good bits. The Sex Move:
Sex Move posted:
After having sex with someone, replace your current sex move with theirs, adding this sentence to the end of it.
Again, this nicely enforces the image of the Hollow not having a real identity of their own. Now, the Darkest Self:
Darkest Self posted:
Your body is a prison. You donít belong inside of it. You need to put it in harmís way, and make it suffer, just like itís made you suffer. Thereís got to be a way to cut yourself out of it. You need to meet your makers, and hold them accountable for what theyíve done to you. To escape your Darkest Self, you must come face to face with someone who feels more trapped than you do.]
So, what do I think of the Hollow? I like it, even though it doesn't jump out at me as one of my favorites. It is a great Skin and has a very clear theme to it (identity politics being such an important part of teenage life), but it just doesn't have as clear a minigame built in as my favorites the Infernal and the Werewolf.
Also, I only just realized that I forgot to do the Angel's backstory last time. I'm going to go and add it to the Angel post, so go check that out. Next time we'll be taking a look at the Serpentine, a snake-person with an old money family who don't want to let go of their past glory.
|# ¿ Sep 20, 2014 12:25|
I've heard a lot of people say that certain skins feel a little too personal for them to want to play (usually the Mortal). For me that would have to be the Hollow. Its Darkest Self is literally "have a really bad dysphoria episode" with a side of self harm.
I personally don't have this experience with any of the Skins. All things considered, I was a pretty emotionally healthy as a teenager. However, if I had to choose, it'd definitely be the Ghost. Not having been the most popular kid in school, I can totally relate to the idea of people literally walking through you and being ignored. Also, it's just a really sad skin.
Inhuman Gaze also has pretty great synergy with A Blank Canvas and Better Than Nothing. On a 7-9, Shutting Someone Down lets you force them to put a condition on you -- normally that's a drawback of getting a partial success. But if you have either of those two moves, you want people to put conditions on you, so being reliably able to do that is pretty helpful.
I hadn't thought of that, but yes, it's a really good combo. Even though the 7-9 result gives others the power in determining what kind of Condition you get, having a way to get Conditions more easily is awesome for the Hollow.
|# ¿ Sep 20, 2014 16:58|
The Ghoul is a psychotic ticking time bomb of rape and torture.
Yeah, as I pointed out while going through the Ghoul, if I had one in the group I'd have a really long and heartfelt chat about boundaries with the Ghoul, because as you said the Skin can get potentially rapey unless the group sets very firm boundaries. It's absolutely the most disturbing Skin thematically.
|# ¿ Sep 20, 2014 17:21|
|# ¿ Sep 25, 2021 18:55|
I think my favourite Ghoul ever out of what I've seen basically just acted a lot like an undead Daria Morgendorffer -- really sullen and deadpan all the time, rather than a cold blooded killer or whatever. Some people just like playing villains, but I feel like MH is at its most interesting when you don't have characters who are completely unsympathetic. Make them lovely people, but like... ideally it should be a relatable kind of lovely-person.
Yeah, if I were ever to bring a Ghoul to the table, I'd rather play a high Cold kind of Ghoul who tormented people they didn't like emotionally instead of being a merciless killer. That said, another angle I like for the Ghoul is the actually sympathetic guy or gal who just happens to be in the unfortunate situation of having an unnatural hunger they must sate. If you play it right you can make the Ghoul's drama about constantly fighting their hunger instead of relishing it.
Alternately I'd go with the Watchful Golem route of a character obsessed with another character (because that character reminds the Ghoul of the warmth of life and love and poo poo) in a really creepy fashion. Again, it's creepy and unsympathetic, but it's a relatable kind of unsympathetic, and one that lends itself to more nuanced drama than "My character is a murderous cannibal."
|# ¿ Sep 20, 2014 17:57|