|Designer(s)||Avery Alder McDaldno|
|Publisher(s)||Buried Without Ceremony|
|Genre(s)||Teen drama/paranormal romance|
|System(s)||Powered by the Apocalypse|
Monsterhearts is a game about "the messy lives of teenage monsters", developed from Apocalypse World. It is known for its handling of sexuality and queer content and its being nominated or shortlisted for five awards.
Monsterhearts is set in a fictional high school that along with the surrounding environment is named and fleshed out by all players during character creation. In order to start creating the setting, each player first picks a character class (called a "skin"), with each skin being both a type of monster and a metaphor for the struggles of a teenager. As a part of the character creation process and by using the elements provided as a part of their skins, the players define their characters' relationships with each other and with other elements of the setting.
Then the homeroom for their high school class is drawn, with the players filling in where their characters sit. The GM (known in Monsterhearts as the MC) then fills in some of the rest, leaving blanks for further exploration. At the end of character creation the characters will all have "strings" on each other that can be spent to manipulate, and more can be gained in the course of play.
Each skin comes with a collection of "Moves" or special abilities, (every skin starting with either two or three), a default "Darkest Self" that indicates what happens when things go really wrong, and a "Sex Move" that indicates what happens when that character has sex with another. In addition to the default skins found in the rulebook, two "bonus" skins were produced during the Indiegogo campaign, there was a Kickstarter with additional skins, and the rulebook provides guidance for making one's own skins.
The default skins in Monsterhearts are:
- The Chosen: "a monster slayer who finds themselves drawn to darkness". Their darkest self makes them think no one else can help and they should fight the monsters on their own until they either die or wake up in hospital. It is noted that The Chosen changes the tone of the game to one dealing much more with external threats.
- The Fae collects promises and punishes people who break promises to them. Their sex move allows them to extract a promise or strings, and in their darkest self everything they hear is something they take as a promise.
- The Ghost has died and has some unresolved trauma for which they may blame people whether the person was directly responsible or not. Their darkest self makes everyone else unable to see them, hear them, or feel them until someone shows they want them around. One of their optional moves allows them to walk through walls.
- The Ghoul is, like the Ghost, dead. In their case they hunger for something; Power, Flesh, Chaos, or Fear. In their darkest self they will not allow anything to stand between them and their hunger.
- The Infernal has made a bargain with a "Dark Power" for power and favours. However, that power comes with a price, that whatever the Infernal has made a bargain with is adding up. When the Dark Power has five strings on the Infernal they become their Darkest Self and need to pay back those favours. When they have sex the Dark Power loses a string on the Infernal and gains one on whoever they have sex with.
- The Mortal is vulnerable, codependent, and has one True Love who they are chasing after. When they have sex the other character becomes their darkest self, and their darkest self involves them thinking everyone wants them gone - and refusing to let that happen.
- The Queen, head of the popular clique they come with their own followers. When the Queen has sex, whoever they have sex with counts as part of their clique.
- The Vampire is about denial, gaining a string on anyone they deny sex to and losing all strings on anyone they have sex with. Their darkest self involves treating everyone as a plaything.
- The Werewolf is passionate and violent. Their darkest self involves turning into a terrifying wolf-creature who wants to establish physical dominance.
- The Witch is secretive and manipulative, casting hexes on people often from the safety of their bedroom. Their darkest self involves them seeing everything as a slight, and their sex move has them take a souvenir the other person is cool with but they can use for sympathetic magic.
Sexuality and queer content
In Monsterhearts any PC may roll to turn any other character on, and all the characters have a sex move (as indicated above). This is explicitly because as a teenager you don't get to choose what turns you on, and because "Monsterhearts is a game about the confusion that arises when your body and your social world start changing without your permission." It also, because of this, has a double page dedicated to using Monsterhearts to explore queer content.
This approach to sexuality has drawn comment, with Bitch Magazine commenting, "Indeed, nearly every rule related to sex and sexuality in Monsterhearts is a game manifestation of real-life sexual dynamics, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy. Instead of the rote, heterosexist portrayals of sex and sexuality you might find in other games, Monsterhearts gleefully encourages people of all identities to explore sexuality in every permutation, often with great self-examination and as uncomfortably as possible. But for a game with such a depth of emotional/sexual content, it's remarkably free of sexism. It also doesn't slut-shame, or enforce traditional gendered tropes of judgment about sexual behavior."
Monsterhearts uses the Powered by the Apocalypse engine created for Apocalypse World and also used in Dungeon World. Whenever a player has declared that they are doing something challenging and risky, the MC asks them to roll 2d6 and add their relevant statistic to perform the relevant move. On a 10+ they succeed, on a 7-9 they succeed but have to take a partial success, or make a hard choice, and on a 6 or less the MC gets to make a Hard Move representing something going badly wrong.
Strings against specific characters are gained through moves, and through turning people on - and may be spent either for a bonus to a dice roll after rolling, to inflict a condition on the target, or to offer them an XP to do something the offering player suggests. Like Apocalypse World, XP is also gained by moves or by using one of two statistics: the one the person with the greatest hold over your character (counted in strings) nominated at the start of the session, and the one the MC nominated.
Requirements to play
- 3-5 players (one to play the MC)
- Two ordinary six-sided dice each
- A different "skin" for each player
- Quick reference sheets
- However many sessions the players find fun
Statistics and moves
The statistics in Monsterhearts are Hot, Cold, Volatile, and Dark. Hot can be used to "turn someone on" or "manipulate an NPC", cold to "shut someone down" or to keep one's nerve and "hold steady", volatile to "lash out physically" or run away", and dark to "Gaze Into The Abyss" and for most skin-specific magical functions.
Monsterhearts started out as a joke game, using Apocalypse World to run Twilight, although Jennifer's Body and Ginger Snaps are cited as inspirations the designer prefers. The initial playtest of Monsterhearts started in 2010, the same year Apocalypse World was produced. Playtesting took most of 2011, with the game being launched through Indiegogo in January and February 2012. It was released to critical acclaim, and was nominated for every major RPG award except the ENnies.
Monsterhearts was runner-up for the 2012 Indie RPG Awards for Best Support, and Game of the Year, and was shortlisted for the 2012 Golden Geek RPG of the Year, the Lucca Comics & Games Best Role-Playing Game, and the 2013 Origins Awards Best Roleplaying Game.
- The Sexuality of Monsterhearts, Bitch Magazine
- RPG Geek Monsterhearts listing
- Monsterhearts default skins
- Second Skins Kickstarter
- Monsterhearts Rulebook p43
- Monsterhearts references sheets
- Giant Fire Breathing Robot interview with Joe McDaldno
- Profile of Monsterhearts on RPG.net
- Indiegogo Monsterhearts page
- 2012 Indie RPG Awards Best Supplement
- 2012 Indie RPG Awards Game of the Year
- RPG Geek Awards
- 2013 Origins Awards