Folk who enjoy Monsterhearts I’m trying to understand and encapsulate why I enjoy it. What do you enjoy about it and what’s the core of the game for you?
There’s so much that’s great about it! I like the genre it’s based on, it uses its themes and subtexts brilliantly, and the mechanics are perfectly organised to feed this loop of spooky teen drama and conflict.
I’ve been a fan of supernatural fiction and schlocky teen drama for years. There’s something great it captures about the real, metaphorical and often mundane aspects of being a teenager. You can both have end of the world type scenarios, quiet stories of fraught emotions before a party and utterly weird stories like the Small Town in a place trapped in eternal summer.
The mechanics are still some of the better-presented ones in PbtA history, being small, clean and extremely clear in the mission statement. The hacks have been good and there have been a lot of fun APs of it.
I haven’t played second edition (yet), and it’s been a while, but I always thought that the “strings” mechanic was brilliant. Extremely fitting for the genre.
As an FYI - I do sell Monsterhearts 2e on the Compose Dream Games RPG Marketplace. If you happen to be in Canada, it’s certainly the best place to get it shipped to you from. (Also check with your FLGS, we sell to them to, and some also get it from indie press revolution – either way it’s on Bits n Mortar, so your PDF is effectively included.)
It has a very mature and elegant design, meaning that very little is there just because of tradition or inertial, everything it very much intentional… and it actually clicks into place.
It’s probably the only PbtA I know of that manages to get away with “vague” moves.
I mean, the specific wording of its moves leaves a lot undefined… which in ALL PbtA I have played has always been a major problem. But because of MH’s specific game context and setting, it instead pulls it off, so that “less is more” and instead of a thousand doubts and drawn out negotiations about how the F a move works, everyone at the table seems to “just get it”.
To me it’s mind-blowing.
It’s probably the fruit of very careful text sculpting, stating all the needed bits while shedding everything else (which would be not essential).
Player-side, the effect of the Skins and overall game moves is highly emotional. Sure, if someone doesn’t open up to the table, the experience will be influenced by it. But the mechanics make a pretty good job at luring even shy Players out in the open, rewarding their efforts.
If I have to state a gripe, is that I find GMing it quite draining. The results are worth it, sure, but for me it is fundamentally more taxing than your run of the mill action-adventure romp.
I’m playing for emotional effect, and although the game provides great tools, I just feel like I need to put a bit more care, attention and effort in whatever I do… while GMing a, say, Dungeon World could be done with eyes closed and hands ties. I get bored fast, but I can do it more easily. MH is waaay more engaging to me, but also more demanding.
This makes a lot of sense to me. It is sometimes said that “as long as it is fun you are playing right”
But some games are about meaning. And that is more challenging in some ways, but can be more rewarding
I’m a funny person to talk about Monsterhearts, because a) I really don’t like the supernatural teen genre, but also b) it’s probably the game I enjoy running the most. My most successful recent campaigns were all Monsterhearts games.
For me, the game is quite unique. As mentioned above, the premise and the moves work together in a beautiful way to create these messy situations. This is largely because the moves are positioned orthogonally to the characters’ deepest desires. Like Dogs in the Vineyard, it puts you in the role of someone who has all the wrong tools for what they want to achieve, and drama results.
I love how some of the moves lend weight and emphasis to small roleplaying interactions, too - that’s something which is very rare to RPG play. You can have a character raise an eyebrow or wear a different jacket to school, and suddenly that means we’re rolling dice and there are all kinds of consequences.
More than anything, though, something about this premise is so catchy. I see more excited, invested, and intense players in this game than almost anything else. It feels personal and dramatic. It’s relatable and human as well as messy. I’ve mostly played it with non-gamers, and they just get it immediately, and then the drama stays high and personal and human. I love the reaction I get from players in this game - much more invested, emotional, and personal than most other games I’ve played, pretty much every time.
Monsterhearts has a few different “modes”, depending on the source material you’re inspired by.
Some people play it all “campy”, with jokes and cartoonish characters, sometimes even in the sense of a group high schoolers trying to save the world or somesuch. Buffy might be a good reference here.
Others play it as a serious horror game about high school, with monstrosity being a metaphor for human struggles. Each character deals with their own struggles and tries to do the best they can. (Something like Ginger Snaps might be a good reference, or even Jennifer’s Body, although it has some mildly campy elements.)
I’m firmly in the second category, and that’s what appeals to me. It’s good to be clear about where you stand on this, and to make sure everyone’s on the same page! If half the group is expecting one and the other half the other, you could get in trouble.
This is such a great insight! Really this whole post is fantastic.