As mentioned previously I got to play Monsterhearts (a hack of Apocalypse World) at The Walking Eye Con a couple weekends ago. It was my last game of the con and it went out with a bang. I really got more than I was expecting out of this game. So, Monstehearts is about teenage monsters, citing things like Buffy or Twilight (ugh) as inspiration. Hey, I’m a big Buffy fan, so this should be fun. I was kind of ‘meh’ about the whole teenage angst/love thing, but I was willing to give it a shot and I’m really glad I did!
I’ll probably assume some familiarity with Apocalypse World, but I’ll try not to throw too much jargon around.
The base system is unchanged. You roll 2d6+something. 7+ is a hit. 10+ is a strong hit. This usually means that 10+ you get exactly what you want, 7-9 you get what you want with some caveat or hard choice you have to make. In either case you’re still making choices off lists pretty often. A 6 or below is a miss and means the GM can make as hard or direct of a move as they wish. In other words, they can do whatever they want to make things interesting. There are some constraints (especially narratively), but misses are generally the only time the GM really gets a chance to push the story forward (GMs never roll dice).
Monsterhearts has only 4 stats instead of the 5 in AW: Hot — for turning someone on (PC or NPC) or manipulating an NPC. Cold — for shutting someone down or holding steady. Volatile — for lashing out physically and running away. Dark — for gazing into the abyss (similar to Weird in AW).
One important thing to note is the wording above. Using hot you can turn a PC or NPC on, or you can manipulate an NPC. There’s no move for manipulating a PC. That’s handled differently and in a very awesome way (more on that later).
Another thing to note is that there’s no roll to be turned on. There’s not even really a decision to make there. If someone tries to turn you on and does so, then you’re turned on. This means you have no real control over what turns you on. But, hey, you’re teenagers, so it totally makes sense — you’re meat sacks of raging hormones with little ability to control or manage them. Brilliant!
Also, where AW has playsheets Monsterhearts has “skins”. There’s The Chosen (Buffy), The Fae, The Ghost, The Ghoul, The Hollow (Dawn would be a Hollow), The Infernal, The Mortal, The Queen (this would be like Cordelia), The Vampire, The Werewolf, The Witch. You can see all of them here.
The major difference between Monsterhearts and Apocalypse World is also the heavy lifter of the game. Where AW has Hx, Monsterhearts has strings. You get strings on other people (PCs or NPCs). You gain strings on people in various ways — some general moves grant them and a lot of Skin moves grant them (or remove them). In turn you can use those strings in different ways, like adding to your roll when dealing with someone, or maybe subtracting from their roll if they’re acting against you. You can even use strings to do more harm to someone. Most importantly you can use strings on PCs to get them to do something. For one you can use a string to get someone to do what you want, and if they do, they mark experience.
So, like I said above there’s no move to manipulate a PC, but you can use strings to get them to do what you want. You can also use strings to place conditions on people — conditions are a like aspects in Fate. So if someone has a Condition and you take advantage of that (in the fiction!) then you can get a +1 to a roll against them.
Strings are powerful and are what really drive the game. It’s almost like a story or narrative economy. You want to get strings on other people and use those strings to accomplish things.
Monsterhearts also has sex moves like AW does, although they don’t always require actually having sex with a PC/NPC. The Fae, for example, simply needs to lay naked with another to trigger their move and the Vampire can trigger theirs by denying someone sexually.
The last major difference is “Darkest Self”. Every skin has a darkest self with some trigger condition (the GM can also use a hard move to trigger a character’s darkest self). The easiest example here would be like Willow going all dark in the Buffy TV show (for the Witch) or the Werewolf going all wolfy. Each darkest self also has some way to escape their darkest self — for the Witch you must offer peace to the one you’ve hurt the most. The Werewolf escapes when it wounds someone they really care about or the sun rises (whichever occurs first). When characters trigger their darkest self that’s when things really spiral out of control. In the demo we managed to have 3 characters trigger theirs, it was pretty awesome.
In the demo I played I was The Infernal — the gist is that you’ve sold your soul to some power. You can call on that power to get things, but it gives them power over you. This was a perfect match for me because I love pushing and burning out characters for con one shots and the Infernal can burn out REALLY fast. The Infernal gets a move that allows you to add 2 to any roll, but doing so gives your dark power strings on you. When your dark power gets 5 strings on you it triggers your darkest self. While in your darkest self your dark power will demand tasks (1 for each string it has on you) that you must complete. Once you accomplish those tasks and all the strings are gone you escape your darkest self.
In the game I triggered my darkest self while in the back of a car trying to turn on an NPC, which failed. So two of my tasks were to 1) kill the NPC, 2) make an example of her. I didn’t see a reason in stretching that out any longer, so I opened the car door and pushed her out. After the car stop, I went back and finished her off then stashed her in the trunk. So you can see that “darkest self” is pretty aptly named. After the game we all joked how the game ended up being darker than a lot of AW games, which none of us were really expecting. I think I drove that a little bit with my infernal since I played him as kind of violent and volatile. Plus I triggered my Darkest Self in 6 rolls — using the move to give me +2 on 5 of those.
The rest of the game revolved around the Ghost trying to find out how she died (her ex killed her in a fit of rage), the Hollow making a deal with my dark power to get a soul, the Fae cheerleader dealing with her Fae father and him wanting her to be more Fae-like (and eventually helping the Ghost get revenge on her ex). The Witch was more of an element of Chaos, especially once he triggered his darkest self — and we crossed the Mexican border together (killing a border guard) and took on some drug suppliers to get a trunk-full of pot (one of my other tasks was to take the entire drug haul for myself).
Make sure to check out the link above. The pdf is currently available for $10. The print version isn’t out yet (funding through Indiegogo just finished) — I’m sad that I only recently became aware of the game, so I wasn’t able to get in on any of the Indiegogo perks. Also on the site are a number of reference sheets which provide the bare bones of the game so you can judge if it’s something you want to check out.
Like I said in the beginning I enjoyed the game a lot more than I was expecting to. Definitely a pleasant surprise. I’d say Dungeon World is still probably my favorite AW hack, but Monsterhearts is definitely a close second.