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Tabletop Game / Monsterhearts

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Monsterhearts is a game by Avery Alder about the awkward and messy lives of teenage monsters who are filled with emotional issues. It is Powered by the Apocalypse, an official hack of the Apocalypse World rules, with its mechanics heavily influencing the feel and theme of its setting.

In this game you are not in full control of your character, playing a teenager who is heavily influenced by the decisions of other players and your hormones. Rather than traditional stats, the system uses "Hot", "Cold", "Volatile", and "Dark" to represent the emotional strength and impact of moves (these are roughly analogous to Apocalypse World's "Hot", "Cool"/"Sharp", "Hard", and "Weird" stats). Characters gain "strings" on each other to represent their emotional hold over one another, and can spend those strings for bonuses. There are also Sex Moves, which offer a risk and/or reward depending on the player's skin, and Darkest Self moves that show when somebody has gone way off the deep end. The game runs mainly on Rule of Drama, and encourages both the players and game master to keep the game interesting and "feral".

The different monster archetypes in Monsterhearts are called Skins. Ten are provided in the main game, which can be purchased at the official website here. Several official bonus skins (the Chosen, the Cerberus, and the Disciple) are available at the bottom of the page. There was also a successful Kickstarter to develop new skins. One, the Selkie, is available on the page. The other six have yet to be released to the public and for now are only available to those who backed the project.

The second edition of Monsterhearts went to Kickstarter on Halloween 2016, and Monsterhearts 2 was released in 2017.

This game provides examples of:

  • Artificial Human: The Hollow skin is any manner of artificially created being, ranging from Homunculi to uplifted animals.
  • Assimilation Plot: Possible with The Queen. They can be just your typical highschool popular/mean girl, or they can be mind-controlling parasites or demonic puppet masters or really any kind of being that fits this trope. It's one of the reasons they're popular choices for antagonist characters.
  • Beware the Quiet Ones: The Sasquatch's Darkest Self turns them from the awkward loner to the awkward loner who snaps:
    "Now, right now, it’s time to rain stones down upon the bullies and the excluders. It’s time to wreck their precious stuff, to shove them back so hard that they’ll never even dream of messing with you or anyone ever, ever again."
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: One of the signature traits of the Serpentine skin, and in Monsterhearts 2, the Heir.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: Though it's just as likely to be Girl Meets Ghoul.
  • The Chosen One: The Chosen, naturally.
  • Coming of Age Story: The main theme of most campaigns as the game is meant to be symbolic of growing up.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: The Serpentine is constantly torn between their family and the human world; their Darkest Self triggers when they decide enough is enough and pick a side.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Hollows can arise from people who have mechanical parts, implying that the cybernetics have removed their sense of identity.
  • Damage Reduction: Werewolves bathed in moonlight can reduce damage that they take.
  • Deal with the Devil: The crux of the Infernal skin, who racks up debts with dark powers in exchange for what they desire.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Yes, yes it does - of course, the book liberally spells it out.
    "Explore what it means to be betrayed by your body, whether it’s becoming a flesh-eating monster that stalks the night, or being trans and experiencing the wrong puberty, or both."
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: The Reaper is a possible skin. This is literally one of their moves.
  • The Fair Folk: The Fae skin, which focuses on extracting promises from others.
  • Emotion Eater: Ghouls, who can feed on fear, and ghosts, who can feed on sadness.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Character are at death's door when they suffer four Harm. Attacks inflict one (a beating), two (a werewolf's claws) and three (being run over by a speeding car) Harm, usually ensuring characters can't be killed in one hit. However, it is possible to upgrade the Harm dealt by spending a String, representing a character with influence over their victim twisting the knife.
  • Everyone Is Bi: Everyone can use a roll to turn on anyone else, regardless of gender. This may be actual bisexuality or If It's You, It's Okay or Situational Sexuality or Armoured Closet Gay - the point is that the players, just like their teenage characters in the grip of hormonal changes, have no direct control over what and who they find arousing, though they can control their reaction to their own feelings.
  • Expy: While most skins are highly evocative of teen monster media, The Cerberus (an additional skin made by Avery Alder) is explicitly one for Riverdale's Jughead.
    What if you were a three-headed dog, covered in writhing snakes, tasked with guarding the gates to the afterlife? And what if this was all an elaborate metaphor for playing Jughead from CW’s Riverdale?
  • Game Master: The Master of Ceremonies (MC) fills this role.
  • Girl Posse: The Queen skin centres on utilizing one to your advantage, though the actual gender is irrelevant.
  • Grappling with Grappling Rules: Averted, grappling is resolved through a Volatile roll or two (and maybe a Hot roll or two as well...).
  • Henchmen Race: The Proxy skin are this to something as their purpose is to break people so that they can be taken by whatever thing has their leash.
  • Hit Points: Characters in Monsterhearts can take up to three Harm and be more or less alright. The fourth Harm will either kill them, cause them to lose all strings on everyone else or see them transform into their Darkest Self.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Central to Monsterhearts that teenagers ultimately don't have control over their hormones, parallel to how these same characters are grappling with their monstrosity. The first Core Move listed in the book is Turn Someone On, and all the core Skins have a Sex Move. As a result, sexuality in a game of Monsterhearts becomes as feral as the turmoil between supernatural beings.
  • Horror Hunger: Ghouls get hit by this, especially when they become their darkest self.
  • Hybrid-Overkill Avoidance: While an individual might only be able to possess a single skin characters can take moves from other skins to take on their traits, or you can use a season advance to fully change the character from one skin to another while still retaining the moves of their old skin.
  • Intimate Healing: Encouraged by the game rules. Every player character can heal 1 point of damage ("Harm") per game session - unless they're assisted by another player character, in which case they heal another point.
  • Jackass Genie: The dark power that the Infernal deals with is designed to be one.
  • Kill and Replace: The Cuckoo can mimic other characters while wearing their clothes, and as its Darkest Self the Cuckoo is compelled to try to replace them "using any means necessary."
  • Loners Are Freaks / Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: The Sasquatch, the "awkward, bullied loner" skin, can be played as either of these.
  • Love Martyr: The Mortal skin, modelled after characters like Bella Swan, gain influence and experience by forgiving people who hurt them and ignoring blatant problems within their relationship. Their sex move actually invokes the Darkest Self of the person they're intimate with, thus causing them to hurt the mortal even more, which again feeds into the mortal's move set.
  • Magically-Binding Contract: The Fae's main schtick. Any promise they make or is made to them they treat as one and if anyone goes back on their word their powers kick in to completely fuck the oath-breaker up.
  • Mechanically Unusual Class: Each skin has variations on the basic template, such as the Infernal's bargains or the Fae's promises. The Angel takes the cake, though, as it has no Dark stat. Instead they have a sliding scale of Trespass and Forgiveness that shows how much they have fallen.
  • Muggle: The Mortal skin, whose mechanics centre around falling in love and involving oneself in the lives of other supernatural creatures, is the quintessential one. Bonus skin The Neighbor is also one; its flavor text even specifies they don't believe monsters exist. The Queen counts as one as well, though depending on their origins they can also have a supernatural edge to their cliques. The Chosen can also be one if the character takes up the calling themselves rather than having it thrust upon them by destiny.
  • One True Love: Invoked and utterly subverted. The Mortal Skin has the move True Love, requiring them to declare one lover at the start of the game. The lover gains influence over the Mortal and several Mortal abilities are keyed to work off their lover, but it's entirely possible during the course of play that the target of True Love shifts. And even if it doesn't, the lover is under relatively little obligation to return the affection, possibly resulting in Love Martyr, Mad Love or just plain Stalker with a Crush.
  • Our Angels Are Different: The Angel skin invokes most of the classical tropes, and is played as either a Fallen Angel cast out of heaven or a Defector from Decadence who chose to leave themselves. They also play differently, replacing the Dark stat with a sliding scale of Trespass and Forgiveness that shows how much they have fallen.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Wyrms aren't giant reptiles with wings, they're collectors. They are people who hoard things and people, can trade Strings, and some can transform into beasts of talons and coils.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: They're designed to be played as vengeful spirits or creeping poltergeists. However, they are corporeal enough to attend school regularly without being noticed by others.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: Ghouls can hunger for different things rather than just eating people, some feed on fear or chaos, while others hunger for power. Their sex move also causes sex with their partner to count as something they hunger for, and What the Right Hand Wants can turn the ghoul from an undead into a monster that was constructed and feeds on something different.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: Every skin has some "traditional" elements that factor in to how they're played and some that are ignored. The book suggests that players pick and choose which parts make things interesting and/or easier.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Mainly draw upon the traditional sexual fears that surrounded them in the original folklore. The "Invited" move also brings up, well, the invitation element of the mythology.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: They have super senses in both forms, and also draw on spiritual connections between characters. They can also transform without a full moon, as their darkest self indicates.
  • Paranormal Romance: Comes with the territory. The game even started as a jokey send-up of the genre.
  • Polyamory: Averted for Mortals, they are mechanically required to have just one "True Love", but practically required for Queens given their sex move that temporarily adds someone to their gang.
    • Actually purposefully invoked with the Mortal as the section on "Queer Content" encourages players to pick a couple as their "True Love" to explore polyarmorous relationships.
  • Power Perversion Potential: Quite apart from the sex move possible with each skin, the game is for the most part about a bunch of horny teenagers in high school with magical powers. This comes up fairly often.
  • Quest for Identity: Possible for all characters, but a main theme for The Hollow. The start as a fully sapient intelligence without any past to inform what to do with it.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: The Selkie skin, of course, which involves the classic trope of having one's skin stolen and working to get it back.
  • Sex Magic: All characters automatically have a "sex move", an ability they can trigger when having sex with someone. Fae can extract binding promises, Infernals can shift some of their debt to their partners, Witches gain a souvenir for Sympathetic Magic and so on.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: Each skin's Darkest Self, though technically it's still them - just at their worst.
  • Splat: The various Skins.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The game runs on this both in the metaphorical and literal sense. The game uses Rule of Drama to ensure the character's lives are kept messy and un-boring, and this often results in many teenage characters and NPCs getting into verbal, physical and emotional fights. The fact that most of them are also actual monsters only heightens the drama.
  • Thicker Than Water: The Serpentine's family expects it of them. When they become their Darkest Self, they either are this, or go all the way in the other direction.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: At the end of a season, players can choose to obtain Growing Up moves. Compared to other moves which are often selfish and manipulative, these are far more wholesome and designed to put a stop to the Rule of Drama otherwise pushing the game forward towards disaster.
    • Make Others Feel Beautiful lets a character use charisma as a tool for encouraging others rather than manipulating them.
    • Call People On Their Shit can break bullying and domination games, emotionally disarming people.
    • Intervene in an Act of Violence protects instead of just hurting another in return.
    • Share Your Pain allows the character to effectively reach out and ask for support, potentially helping both themselves and their supporter.
  • Unconventional Alignment: Angels have a sliding scale of Trespass and Forgiveness instead of possessing a Dark stat. That goes closer to forgiveness when you do what other people tell you.
  • Urban Fantasy: The default setting for Monsterhearts is a high school in the modern day, except there are monsters like vampires and unicorns living among us.
  • The Usurper: The Heir is designed as one, coming with six siblings they are encouraged to betray, up to and probably including sending the literal Grim Reaper at them.
  • Wacky Homeroom: One MC tool is the seating chart, where the group draws out where each Player Character sits in their collective homeroom, along with other side characters. The group uses the chart to trace relationships between characters and frame the first scene in a homeroom. The monstrous nature of the player characters makes this homeroom wacky from the get-go, and the focus on relationships aims to make their classmates wacky side characters.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: While the game is not explicitly about Player Versus Player combat, it is fully expected that player characters will come into conflict, try to manipulate and sometimes even attack one another. The choice of Skins influences how much this happens - Chosen Ones tend towards focusing the player characters' efforts against an outside foe while certain Mortal moves just invite abuse and even get stronger from it.
  • Wild Teen Party: One of the three suggested options for a first session is to "plan a party," with the understanding of the social game that goes on with teen parties in both fiction and real life, which can prime players to wild up the party even before leaving homeroom.
  • Windows of the Soul: True to the teen supernatural romance genre, one of the components of a player character’s Identity are the eyes, chosen from a list of options, such as "dead eyes" or "hungry eyes" for the vampire. As the book explains:
    The eyes are an important detail in paranormal romance — they're a telling hint about a person’s true nature, for anyone who should be so brave as to hold their gaze.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: The rulebook explicitly instructs the GM to "treat NPC's like stolen cars" — i.e. use 'em up fast and ditch them.
  • White Mage: Unicorns are goody-two-shoes who can empower other people by giving blessings, ensure people succeed on tasks before they even happen, or changing a failure into success just through believing in the person.
  • Wizards and Witches: The Witch skin, which is about judging others and casting cool spells. They also rely heavily on Sympathetic Magic.