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(This blog post was written by Matthew Fallaize, with Sarah comments italisied….)
Monsterhearts is a TTRPG (Tabletop Roleplaying Game) about the dramatic and sexy lives of high school teenagers who are secretly monsters. The game uses the Powered by the Apocalypse system, a system with very simple mechanics that are designed to push the narrative whether a roll is successful or not. Monsterhearts is a homage to teen dramas (especially those that feature monsters) such as “Mean Girls,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “True Blood,” and “Teen Wolf.”
If you are too young to know what Teen Wolf is…
or rather think it’s just a TV show from the past decade, go educate yourself.
The system for Monsterhearts uses character playbooks. Each playbook is connected to one of the monsters you can play: The Fae, The Ghost, The Ghoul, The Hollow, The Infernal, The Mortal, The Queen, The Vampire, The Werewolf, and The Witch. There are some additional playbooks that you can get as well such as The Cerberus, and The Serpentine.
Unlike other RPGs where the character sheet just represents the character’s abilities, playbooks are also a representation of the character’s personality. The Fae is whimsical and playful, but takes promises very seriously; The Vampire is cold and manipulative, and treats consent like a game; and The Queen is the most popular girl in school, they are sexy, bitchy, and in control – and the best and everyone loves them because of course you do *flips hair*.
Each playbook gives the players a list of 4 stats (Hot, Cold, Dark, and Volatile), a number of special abilities (called “Moves”) to choose from, a special move that triggers when the character has sex (called a “Sex Move”), and a description of the character’s “Darkest Self,” the form they take when the monster inside takes over.
Gettin’ ready to put on the moooooves….
Monsterhearts also comes with a handy reference page which lists all the actions a player can take in-game and what the results for a successful or partially successful roll are. Each move requires a roll of 2d6, adding the appropriate stat to the result. On a 10 or higher the result is a success and if you get between a 7 and 9 the result is a partial success. You can then look at the reference page to find what happens mechanically – which, as I mentioned earlier, guides what happen narratively. On a roll of 6 or lower the action fails and the player marks a point of experience.
So, ultimately, player says “I do X”, GM says “Ok, roll Hot”, player rolls 2d6 and adds their Hot stat, they get 8 maybe? That’s a partial success. Check out the sweet sweet reference page for outcome which pushes the story forward. And that, my friends, is how you TTRPG.
The two other major mechanics in this system are “Strings” and “Conditions”.
Strings are an abstract representation of one character having leverage over another character. At the start of the game everyone gets and/or gives a number of strings depending on which playbook they’re using. At any point a string can be pulled to do one of four things.
1) The player can compel a character to do what they want…
2) They can give the character a condition…
3) They can add 1 to the roll they are making against that character…
4) They can add an additional point of harm when attacking that character….
Once a string is pulled the player removes it from their playbook, however there are plenty of ways to gain more strings later on.
So many strings, you could play them like a harp… at least I could as the Queen…beautiful beatiful strings…
Conditions are a representation of how the world perceives a character. With certain actions in the game you can gain, or give someone else, a condition. The condition should be either a one word or short sentence descriptor which represents how you are trying to make people perceive that person to be, or how they are trying to make people perceive you. Some examples of conditions that came up in our game are “Nosey Nelly,” “Apathetic,” and “Butt Hurt.” The conditions don’t have to necessarily be true about the character. After all, this is high school and rumours will spread, they are merely how people view your character. If a condition that a character has is relevant to an action being taken against them, the acting character can add 1 to their roll. A character can take actions further down the line to remove a condition by actively working towards changing the worlds perception of them.
When it comes to telling stories in this system, the game also provides a handy reference sheet for the Master of Ceremonies or MC (the title this system gives to the Games Master). The reference sheets give you guides on ways to make the scenes more exciting and dramatic. It also covers everything from how to start a game, to reactions you can use to add some drama to a scene, to taking antagonistic characters and making them full villains.
Now that we’ve gone over the basics of how the system works, I’d like to give some of my own insights into this game after running it for the first time.
As I’ve only run this system as a one-shot, we didn’t get the benefits of having a session zero, which I can now say is definitely something I wish we’d been able to do. This game is so focused on character interaction and narrative roleplay it would have been better if the characters had more of a connection to each other going into the game, so that we could have had more character interaction. We still managed to get some great moments of character RP, but we had a lot more interaction between PCs and NPCs than I’d have liked. Normally I wouldn’t object to this kind of roleplay but it meant that a lot of the time players were sat watching other players have one-on-one conversations with the MC, and it made it difficult for me to bring other PCs into particular scenes. That being said, the level of drama that this game inherently has can be very entertaining and, with the group that played, it seemed people were quite happy to sit back at moments and watch the drama unfold. WE DID! Delicious delicious drama… it’s like we had teen wolf in one corner, mean girls in another, and Nancy Drew making her rounds… all with this super dark underbelly and motivations. Fallaize also ended up talking to himself at one point, as two different NPCs…. Sorry not sorry? haha!
As this game’s mechanics are very simple, everyone was able to pick up on how the game worked very quickly. Some of the more intricate mechanics, such as “Strings,” didn’t get utilized as much unless prompted by the MC. I believe this is mostly due to the fact that few other systems have a mechanic like that and so the players weren’t used to having that
option. There was one big challenge with the system, which rested with myself as the MC. Due to the system’s mechanic-light nature it does put more pressure on the MC’s imagination as you have to fill in the gaps left by the mechanics. Thankfully the reference sheet’s guides really do help to steer you in the right direction, and give you plenty of suggestions and options of how to move a scene forward.
I found this system, more than any other I’ve run, extremely limited when run within the confines of a one-shot. Many of the mechanics lend themselves to longer formats of play, not to mention the typical themes of manipulation, and the building and destroying of people’s reputations and relationships. I do plan to run a short campaign in this system in the future, which I feel will allow for a much more dramatic and slow burning story. And I 100% agree. This is made for building up strings, pulling them, dropping conditions, drama unfolding, but also, releasing of the darker selfs, which we only saw one of during our one-shot.
This system really does want the players to take the initiative in driving the story forward as well as the MC. The role of the MC is to set up the scenes and provide an inciting incident to kick start the story. After that the MC’s role becomes a bit more reactionary. However you can always throw a spanner into a scene to add even more drama and help to move the plot along. When I run the game again in future, I will make sure to have each player come up with a personal goal so they each have something to drive towards. The system does help with this by giving some vague suggestions in each playbook, but it would be good to have some more specific ideas going in.
All in all, this is a very fun system and one that doesn’t require much, if any combat. The drama and action take place through roleplay rather than through skill checks or combat actions, and every roll is used to further the story and the roleplay.
Fallaize is repeating the one-shot in August and it’ll be up for general RSVP soon (currently it’s available to Guild Members). And we have a variety of other systems we put up for games, so have a look at our current open games here. And if you’re interested in running something with Wayfarer’s League, join our Discord (link on our home page) and drop me (Sarah) a note. Look forward to playing with you!
Have you played Monsterhearts 2? Tell us about it in the comments!!