Reading Monsterhearts by Joe Mcdaldno

It’s been a while since my last update here. While I haven’t been away from gaming, I haven’t done much reading of games lately. Other aspects of the hobby have taken my time; I have been running a hacked Swords & Wizardry campaign, visited the Norwegian RPG con Holmcon and done a whole lot of podcasting on Nordnordost (some of the episodes are in English). I have also been waiting for Joe’s game Monsterhearts, I chipped in on the Kickstarter and have followed the updates with great interest since.

The game was released late yesterday evening, and I devoured it this morning before breakfast.

The book



I got the PDF version of the game, it’s a 160 page file laid out in single column 5.50 × 8.50 pages. So a little smaller than the usual 6×9 format, but not by much. The text is very friendly and accessible, I found it a lot easier to follow than the ancestor Apocalypse World. Yes Monsterhearts is based on Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World, sharing the same core rules but it is a stand alone product.

Monochrome photo manipulations done by Joe are used to illustrate the text.

The setting
The setting isn’t very detailed, there’s some sort of vague assumption that the game will be set in the present day, but nothing would have to be changed to play in a historical period, or sci-fi setting. Instead the focus is put on the PCs, they are troubled teenagers who are monsters, and have sex. The game focuses on the interactions between the PCs.

The rules
The basic resolution mechanic of the game is very simple. Roll 2d6, apply any modifiers from stats or conditions, a sum of 7-9 is a partial success, 10+ is a complete success, and 6 or lower is a failure. Around this mechanic an elaborate social conflict mechanic has been built, where the PCs have strings attached both to other PCs and to NPCs. The strings can be used to manipulate the other characters, or to gain advantages/bonuses.

The game comes with a set of character classes, called skins. E.g. Werewolf, Vampire, Witch, each adds some special rules that only apply to that class, including a mechanical effect for what happens when a character of that class has sex.

The form
Monsterhearts uses the traditional setup with a GM and a group of players, playing a single character each. The players and the GM both follow the rules of the game, but the mechanisms are asymmetrical, the players follow one set which models stuff characters do, and vice versa.

The setting is OK, there’s not much detail. But if everyone buys into the general idea of playing teenage monsters who have sex, it should not be hard to fill in the blanks as you go.
The rules are good, they model the interactions in an interesting way.
The form is good. Both GM and players get very clear instructions on how the game should be played. There’s no intro adventure or anything like that, due to the way the character focused play is set up, but there are clear instructions for the GM on how to do everything from preparing the table, to leading the players through character generation, to finally running the game.

Will I play it?
Yes, I want to play this. A more difficult question is if I’d like to run Monsterhearts, the required GM style is very different from how I usually do things. From what I’ve read and heard from people who have been playing Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts is that it works very well in actual play. But I wonder if the style leads to players feeling that the rules get in the way of the story, or that the rules generate cool stories. – The official Monsterhearts page

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