So I really liked listening to The Drunk & The Ugly's Monster Hearts campaign, so much so that I found a copy of the game and floated the idea of playing it by the rest of Technical Difficulties. Good job marketing, guys! I am absurdly excited to play this system, which is a bit odd (to me) since I loathe teenage monster drama television shows, which the system is explicitly emulating. Eh, maybe my theater of the mind is providing better visuals than the television networks. Either way, I thought I'd try and explain the system a little bit to y'all, because it might be interesting and it'll help me keep the rules straight tonight during our first session.
So, the premise of the game is that the players are teenagers in school. Or young people otherwise in flux. And that they are 'monsters' somehow – whether actually supernatural or just the name for a particular stereotype of teenagers is up to the players and the GM. We're going to be playing as actually supernatural. Instead of 'classes' like folks are familiar with from D&D and World of Warcraft and the ilk, the system calls them 'skins'. You've got things like the Chosen (think Buffy the Vampire Slayer), the Fae, the Ghost, the Ghoul, the Infernal (sympathy for the Devil anyone?), the Mortal (nooooope, nope, nope, not even touching that Twilight-level pretentious crud), the Queen, the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Witch, not to mention all the fan made skins. It's a game that explicitly expects sex to happen between characters (teenagers after all) and every skin has something different happen for the character when they do. It's a more narratively driven system where when you want something to happen, you say it and it happens. It's more Fate than D&D, Shadow Run, or Eclipse Phase, if you know those systems. There's only mechanics involving dice when you're trying to do specific things:
- 'turn someone on' - think more gaining emotionally-based pull on someone than just making them horny. Although it is that too. Which says something interesting about attraction within the world of the game: a character doesn't determine what they find attractive, it's all based on what other characters do
- 'manipulate an npc'
- 'shut someone down' - people being shitty to each other, basically
- 'hold steady' - big, scary thing? roll to hold steady
- 'lash out physically' - try and hurt someone
- 'run away' - what it says on the tin
- 'gaze into the abyss' - now this one is interesting. It's equating the GM, who is supposed to give you information about what's happening (if you succeed your roll), with 'the abyss'. I think the designer may have had some adversarial relationships with a few of their GMs
The thing with the 'Skins' is that you get more moves specific to just your skin, and not all of them require dice. A lot of them you can just do. The other bit of mechanics is 'strings' to represent that emotional pull you built up with 'turning someone on' or stripped away by 'shutting someone down'. Strings can affect rolls, force people to hold steady to do a thing, hurt people more (lash out physically) or offer people experience to do what you want them to do. Because you need a mechanic to try and manipulate real people, instead of those controlled by the GM.
And beyond that, there's not really any structure. You could have entire sessions of players doing nothing but role-play bouncing their characters off each other. You could have a plot. But you don't have to. There's nothing in the rules encouraging that either way.
Thank goodness the GM for this campaign also prefers narrative fun. Give me PLOT!!
(For more on different kinds of fun read this paper here: Mechanics, Dynamics, and Aesthetics: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research).