Friday morning rolled around and I knew exactly what table I would be at. We had the great honor of playing Monsterhearts with Joe Beason. Joe has been a Google Plus friend for awhile and I’d been very interested in his variation on Monsterhearts, Elderhearts which focuses on a retirement home rather than a high school. However, we were feeling the original that morning.
Monsterhearts (Designed by Avery Alder McDaldno, Published by Buried Without Ceremony) takes popular media like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, Ginger Snaps and similar works and turns them into one of the most enjoyable systems I’ve ever run or played. Once again, this is a Powered by the Apocalypse game meaning it uses fictionally triggered Moves and two six sided die plus the relevant stat to determine the outcome of actions. The playbooks consist of what you would expect with some twists. There’s The Vamp, The Wolf, The Ghost alongside The Mortal, The Queen, The Ghoul and many more both official and fan made. In other PBtA games relationships between character are played as favors or debts, but in MH characters have Strings, representations of the emotional pull you have on others and they have on you. These are meant to be much more manipulative than debts or bonds and they help heighten that sense of adolescent emotional immaturity. Monsterhearts also heavily emphasizes the fluid nature of sexuality. Every character is expected to be able to be Turned On by any other character. The extent of how that arousal is acted on is determined in the fiction and how much detail the players want. Most games I play in typically fade to black or cut away before the descriptions get too gratuitous.
For Joe’s game we were students in a Florida high school that was in the path of Hurricane Danny, a brewing tropical storm. In our group we had The Ghost, The Chosen (a Buffy style hunter skin), The Witch, The Fae, and I played The Queen. Every experience I’ve had playing MH has been a lot of fun. Getting to indulge those over-dramatic hormone driven personalities of teenagers is a great time. I really hammed it up with The Queen, a stuck up rich girl whose twist involved her mind being taken over by a genetically engineered parasite her daddy’s medical research company brewed up. She was now the leader of a hive-mind (her clique) with a group text on her smartphone serving as the hub of communication. Lots of selfies were taken, many Snapchats were snapped.
Joe did a great job weaving a lot of elements through the fiction of the game based on the material we brought through our characters. The chief difference between traditional tabletop scenarios and PBtA is the planning. You can pick up Monsterhearts with no scenario in mind, sit down with friends, and simply listen and engage in conversation to build the world. Games like this will definitely stretch your mind and your creativity but you’ll up getting quicker on your feet as a result. Our high school Spring play had ground to halt with the death of the drama teacher. In his place an older, former teacher at the school was substituting, the same teacher responsible for our Ghost’s murder in the 1980s. My Queen was missing one of her clique, the girl was part of the trio of backup singers in the school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. After a power outage, The Queen found her way to the auditorium and, along with the other player characters, got caught up in an occult ritual that was connected to the presence of the powerful storm outside.
This was one of those table at Games on Demand where everyone was firing on all cylinders and we were simpatico. The story flowed from player to player and GM. In those four hours we had a complete and satisfying narrative that left hints of other plots that could come from these characters had we been able to continue. That is also recurring note at almost every game I played: the players getting so deeply into the session they wished it was a regular weekly or monthly game so they could discover what happened next to these characters.
Avery McDaldno is currently looking at revising and releasing a second edition of the game. Since Monsterhearts’ publication in 2012, many more variations and hacks on PBtA have been released and the best iterations have brought new and intriguing mechanics to the community. As with Vincent Baker’s revision of the original Apocalypse World, I cannot wait to see what Avery adds and refines with Monsterhearts.
Even if you don’t care for the inspiration behind Monsterhearts, I’m confident you would love the game. The places the game explores aren’t represented in many other tabletop games and, with the right group of people who have buy in with the material, you’ll end up with some of the most satisfying sessions of gaming you’ve ever experienced.
You can purchase Monsterhearts here – http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/100540/Monsterhearts
Later today: Bluebeard’s Bride and Dungeon World