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Story Games Seattle Message Board What We Played › Party I guess? (Monsterhearts)

Party I guess? (Monsterhearts)

A former member
Post #: 14
This is the game we played at the Saturday session before GoPlay. I'm going to be brief because the plot was rather confusing, but still, I said I'd write it up. We had:

Jay: MC
Megan: Nula the selkie and an artist
Me: Rosalie the ghost and a wallflower
Kevin: Malakai the vampire and a smug overachiever
Joe: Cain the infernal and a creepy kid no one knows anything about

The initial stages of the game were relatively smooth. We all started out in a high school homeroom class, passing notes and ignoring the teacher. It was a little awkward because Malakai didn't have (or really want) a relationship with any of the other PCs, and was off doing his own thing. Some lunchroom prestige jockeying led to tears and recriminations. Against this background, three of the PCs got dates to the party in the woods that night: Nula with a boy she doesn't particularly want to sleep with (but this is what normal girls do, right?), Cain with a troubled emo girl, and Malakai with two cheerleaders. Rosalie was planning to haunt the scene and give dating advice to Nula as needed.

Malakai forced the cheerleaders to have sex for his amusement and then drove one to suicide. Cain rapidly abandoned his date and obeyed the Dark Power's commands to kill people at random. Nula couldn't figure out what to do with the boy once she had him, and Rosalie tried futilely to connect with her over it. Rosalie confronted Malakai over the cheerleader's death, and he attempted to hypnotize her into killing herself, too.

That was kind of as far as the story got. There was considerable debate over whether it was allowed to hypnotize other PCs into removing themselves from the story, and when it was resolved all four PCs were in separate locations pursuing unrelated ends, so the story drifted to conclusion. I suspect that playstyle incompatibilities were at fault here more than the rules of Monsterhearts, however. Jay did a really valiant job in moderating a difficult game.
Jay L.
Bellevue, WA
Post #: 9
Thanks for writing this up, Martin!

This was my first time MCing Monsterhearts and I made a bunch of mistakes on top of a collection of players with very different approaches to the game. It was pretty humbling, but I learned tons of stuff to do next time to make everything go smoother.

First and foremost, Monsterhearts is *not* a particularly good "gateway" game for people new to story games. I've talked to several skilled MCs since this game and the consensus is that it's great as a first game for people who've never played RPGs before, but that it's a problematic game for gamers who are new to games of this type. Why do I say this? Not because established gamers are bad or anything, but because of some habits of play that traditional RPGs teach us:

  • What's on the character sheet. Kevin pointed out that all of his Vampire special moves were about, more or less, being a huge dick. To him, that suggested that those were the things that he was supposed to be doing in the game. There are some important things in Monsterhearts that are not on the sheet, most importantly that the characters have some tension between giving in to their monster powers and trying to be more human. I tried, apparently ineffectually, to articulate this as we started, but there wasn't enough reinforcement there to give players pause when looking down to see what they were best at.
  • Centralized authority. We had a lengthy debrief at the end, where it became clear that the presence of a GM tripped people up some. Some of my clumsy descriptions early on led at least one player to feel like I was forcing a world view on their character. Where I would expect a player to raise the question during play on the spot. I think the fact that I was "running" the game rather than simply "facilitating" it made people feel uncomfortable raising objections and taking responsibility for their own fun. I definitely felt some "dance, monkey, dance" vibe going on, which isn't fun for anybody.
  • Being exceptional. To most traditional RPGs, being an exceptional character usually means that you do exceptional things. You "adventure" rather than simply living. Monsterhearts has an interesting focus where you have exceptional abilities, but are motivated to simply find a place to fit in. You're teens who happen to be monsters, as opposed to monster who happen to be teens (as you might be in, say, Werewolf games). I think this issue is amplified in a one-shot, because in a longer-term game the consequences of monstrous behavior are more naturally played out.

Anyway, it was a learning experience. I think it makes me better understand why Ben shies away from GMed games at the meetups. I was pretty discouraged afterward, but my awesome friends at GPNW gave me good advice and encouragement that makes me feel ready to try running Monsterhearts again, but probably not at a meetup.
A former member
Post #: 15
You really shouldn't be too discouraged. I don't think anything you could have done as an MC would have prevented this particular crash, and I don't think a GMless game would have either. The players weren't just playing different games because we didn't understand they were different; we didn't want to play in each other's games. That's an unusual bad player matchup to say the least.

That said, Monsterhearts does present some challenges. You're right that anybody who's played trad RPGs about monsters is going to start on the wrong foot. (And Kevin probably had- he used a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade terminology). Even when your means are monstrous, your goals are still solidly teenage. I think we could have pushed that more at the start, and when asking questions during homeroom. Malakai and Cain both made it through that scene with no real goals except to ask out some girl, and that clearly didn't have a lot of teeth since both girls got abandoned for monster stuff promptly.

Every time I've played MH I've come away with the impression that we should have had stronger PC-PC ties. Nula and Rosalie were friends, but that was the only friendship. Nula hated Cain, who didn't care; Rosalie pitied Cain, who didn't care. Nobody had a relationship to Malakai at all. I think PCs who have some investment in each other is critical to making the game work, because those relationships are always under tension anyway and that tension needs to matter. In this case all our disagreements turned into brawls, because Malakai and Cain didn't care what Rosalie or Nula thought about anything and had no reason to try and talk to them.
Ben R.
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 300
You're a wise man, Jay. Encouraging creative equality (or even avoiding the perception of inequality) is a big part of sticking to GMless games.

Here's more about the logic behind it if you're interested:

Our Ground is Level and Our Table is Round
A former member
Post #: 13
As added encouragement, Jay, I've played Monsterhearts in a group where the only people who had ever RPed before were me and the MC, and it went off just fine because we had similar goals and values as players. Sounds like your group was going to implode to some degree, no matter what.
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