New System – Monster Hearts

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).  

A Jumble of Thoughts

I finished reading the core materials on a system called Monster Hearts last night and it prompted a lot of thoughts for me. Fairly disparate thoughts though, so this post is going to be a bit random, fair warning.

1) I probably would have had no interest in reading this system if I'd encountered it on my own. What got me interested was The Drunk & The Ugly's campaign The Harvester and their excellent voice acting. A system about being a teenager and the horrible, melodramatic social jockeying teenagers do to each other, on top of being a vampire, werewolf, witch, fae, etc.? Yeah, not so much... I've never been good at the social-ing in real life, how the heck would I role-play it? But listening to people with voice acting talent/skills create characters in the messed-up little town they're in who occasionally I want to give a big hug to and tell them it'll be alright? Well, that's enough to get me to plunk down some money to check out the system.

2) Plot. I have to have plot. As awesome as the D&U folks are with characters, if they weren't driving forward with a plot and were instead just bouncing off each other, I'd get bored and have wandered away after a couple episodes. I'm certain of this because I did with the Miss Frieda's Halfway Home campaign. And I'm pretty sure I stuck it out through a few books where I didn't care about the characters in order to find out the resolution to the plot. I'll give away those books and won't reread them, but they at least get read to the end. So give me plot.

3) I will never convince anybody in my gaming groups to play this system with me. a) I don't want to GM it: haven't got a story that seems to fit, b) creating a story would take work I rather spend writing, c) you want me to keep track of how much social interaction? (::curls into a ball in fear::). My GM in the ShadowRun group has no time to learn a new system, even if they had the interest in this particular one (which I'd doubt - not crunchy enough for them), and very little interest in being a player. Yes, I have actually found a GM who prefers to GM over play. I'm so dang lucky. GM's partner also has no time to learn a new system and I rather doubt they want to revisit high school. At least one of the other players in my Thursday group is explicitly not interested in "teenage bullshit drama". And most importantly, my partner is of the 'you couldn't pay me enough to be a teenager again' variety.

4) I mean, they're right – being in our 30s is a heck of a lot better than being a teenager ever was. If a genie showed up and offered to magically deage me to whatever physical age I wanted, you couldn't get me to go younger than 25.

5) So, you know, what do I think about the actual system? I like that it is so social interaction focused and that includes sex and sexuality. It's weird how a major part of the human experience is swept under the rug in so many systems and, given my cultural upbringing, also very weird to see it featured so prominently in this system. However much sex is on the minds of the modern American teenager. 

Like I said, a jumble of thoughts