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Monsterhearts

Monsterhearts can probably be most easily described as Buffy meets Apocalypse World (AW) with a twist of Twilight. Most of the essential themes are the same as Buffy with the supernatural elements acting as metaphors for the transformations and growing pains of adolescence. However the Apocalypse World influence introduces a grimy raw passion and sexuality that is more akin to the hedonistic vision of teenagers offered by the television show Skins and exploitation slasher films.

Mechanically much of the game is straight AW with the same dice mechanic and the same emphasis on dealing with failure and hard choices rather than heroically succeeding. However the game does offer a few interesting twists and uses of the system.

Characters, Skins, in the parlance of the game, have Darker Selves which is a more negative vision of the character’s normal views. Think Carrie: the character lashes out using her pain as a weapon instead of concealing and containing it as she normally does. In AW the world is hard enough without the character’s sabotaging themselves. In Monsterhearts though the rules cleverly mean that the characters are often their own worst enemies.

Special abilities are also intriguing with a number of them interlocking between the archetypes. Some characters will moderate others while other combinations will ratchet characters into increasingly extreme emotions and actions.

The Arc

Monsterhearts seems to be aimed more at the campaign style of game with multiple sessions being needed to really start to push and evolve the characters, have them interact and also get them into the compromises of growing up.

The main arc of the game is to have the characters move from their essentially childish modes of interaction: intransigence, silence, insularity and aggression, to more adult modes: empathy, perception, sympathy and values.

The adult moves are powerful and therefore mechanically more desirable than their childish equivalents. Acquiring them takes five advances and the first player to achieve that number triggers a Season end. Essentially terminating the current phase of play and rejoining the characters after a school holiday or other significant break.

Therefore the phases of play tend to be intense, aggressive and fast-paced with a more leisurely “off-screen” phase allowing for consolidation of what the characters have learned and experienced (as well as nurturing their grievances and feuds).

PvP

The game is explicitly player versus player in my view. It works best when the player characters are fighting, feuding, loving and hating one another. The mechanics make interactions with NPCs important but much less engaging than that between characters.

Essentially the most important people in a teenagers lives are one another and sticking to this truism gives the best game in my view.

This does create some challenges for the MC as players need to be playing hard against one another but not griefing. Also the fiction needs to create a crucible in which the characters are constantly being forced together. Sport’s team, classes, detention, whatever. The game dies a bit if the character’s are able to escape away to their own pocket universe.

The Supernatural

Interestingly I think there can be two modes of play for Monsterhearts: supernatural as metaphor and action supernatural. The latter is the more literal Buffy-style of play and some of the Skins lend themselves to this style of play by having blatant, powerful supernatural moves.

With the more metaphorical style of play then you want to focus of the supernatural elements being sublimations of coming of age trauma and the vulgar manifest supernatural aspects being capable of rationalisation.

Personally I enjoyed the less supernatural version of the game more. Where the supernatural served to heighten the tension and dilemmas of growing up.

Subpages (1): Adults
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