Friday, January 10, 2014

Monsterhearts Actual Play: End of the Year Hiking Trip

Linkin Park is one of those go-to angsty teenager bands, which is why they get to be in my Monsterhearts playlist. Other stuff includes Ke$ha, Halestorm, and The Birthday Massacre (the difference is I actually really like those three; Linkin Park is less popular on my playlist by a lot). I don't dislike Linkin Park, I just don't care for it all that much.
Unless I'm psyching up to some Monsterhearts, in which case it's perfect. I picked Breaking the Habit because musically it's still kind of enjoyable and "habit" made me think of drugs, of which there were a lot here.
What do you use for a Monsterhearts playlist? I'm considering grabbing some Green Day to toss in there as well.

Before I get into the meat of the post, I have something to ask.
Jackson Tegu, Monsterhearts superstar who's doing the Second Skins, kickstarted last year, is a good friend of mine and of many in the Story Games community. A couple days ago, he revealed that his mother Gayle Bates has recieved her pre-diagnosis of breast cancer. As a single, self-employed woman, she's run into financial difficulty. She has basic medical, but while she's undergoing treatment can't pay for the expenses of living, including groceries and mortgage.
They've put up a GoFundMe page to ask for donations. So please, give a few dollars, anything helps - I'd be giving more if I could. She deserves it, and really needs your help.
Thanks. Now on to the actual play!

So tonight I went down to Olympia for the weekly Story Games meetup. I go pretty often, but this week I didn't take anything to run or anything. We had two main pitches out, a game of Sundered Land and a game of Monsterhearts, but the guy who was pitching Monsterhearts actually wanted to play Sundered Land, so I decided to do the MH game.

Real quick, what is Monsterhearts: Monsterhearts is a game by Joe Mcdaldno, about high schoolers who are also probably monsters. It's based on the Apocalypse World engine, but is a fairly comprehensive hack made to do action like in Buffy, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, and the rest of the high school sex and monsters genre. Each player picks a Skin, which is a playbook (read: self-contained character sheet formatted as a series of choices from lists) of a type of monster. The trick is that each type of monster is really a metaphor for some kind of facet of being a teenager - the Ghoul is about obsession, the Infernal is about addiction, the Fae is about promises, the Werewolf is about anger management, etc.
It's a great game. I run and play it all the time, and wrote a Skin for it myself called the Doppleganger.

Alright, back to tonight. I didn't need to to do any real explaining during character creation because all three of my players are Monsterhearts veterans (Morgan, Becca, Henry).
We had:

Rowen the Selkie, played by Morgan! Unlike most Selkies, Rowen doesn't turn into a seal when he puts on his pelt - he's an otter instead! He has mussed hair and deep eyes, and was enticed from the sea by art, specifically electronica/EDM as well as the rave scene in general. Also unlike most Selkies Rowen is a dude. I don't know why people always play the Selkie as female, but this is my first male selkie in about a half-dozen total selkies I've been in games with. Rowen had Hot 0 (highlighted), Cold 1 (highlighted), Volatile -1, and Dark 1, and took the move Catch of the Day. He wore a black coat with fur around the neck (fluorescent-colored, as the raver nature demands), and industry-quality headphones around his neck and all that jazz. His pelt isn't, like, a literal otter pelt (that's pretty tiny...) but is like an otter-fur hat. Like a coonskin hat, but made of otter fur. From what I understand, otter fur is totally bristly, I can't imagine it's very comfortable.
Also, as a raver, Rowen is kind of an ecstasy junkie.

Robin the Mortal, played by Henry! Robin is 'displaced' and has 'human eyes,' and is your barista. Robin is displaced because of the way her family pairs off - there's her parents, and her mostly-identical but technically-fraternal twin brother and sister, Frank and Frank (technically Francis and Francisca; her parents are huge trolls apparently), who are like one year under her. She had Hot 2 (highlighted), Cold -1, Volatile -1, and Dark 1 (highlighted). The moves Henry chose were Excuses Are My Armour and Down the Rabbit Hole. Robin is fairly regular looking, and is a huge math nerd. Not really in that totally uncool nerdy mold, she just found what she really loves doing. Her lover is Rowen! Gosh, that doesn't go well at all... As we discover through the game, Robin doesn't really have morals, just her own set of rules of things she should and should not do, and that list is a bit malleable.

Emilie the Vampire, played by Becca! With hungry eyes and a predatory nature, she was taken this century, specifically in the 80s, which she never really left. She's been feeding on teenagers all these years, and drinking down all that hormone-laden blood has kinda prevented her from mentally getting past the high school level. She's totally goth-y, weird, with this hoodie she wears to keep the sun off of her. She can stand the sun for a couple minutes, but after about a half hour she'd be bursting out in blisters and stuff. She's vulnerable to crosses and can't enter places uninvited, but managed to get over the running-water thing. She had Hot 2 (highlighted - yup, everyone's Hot tonight!), Cold 1, Volatile -1 (highlighted), Dark -1, with the moves Invited and The Feeding.

Robin and Emilie are kind of friends, and Robin once saved Emilie's (un)life. Rowen and Robin are lovers, which means that Rowen is Robin's obsession (as that's the mortal's schtick). Rowen once watched Robin swimming while in otter form and wasn't recognized. Emilie, well, she knows what Rowen is and stole his pelt! And she wears it, in public, just to spite him. We learn what she wants very early on.

Now, tonight's game took on a bit of a different premise from the usual Monsterhearts one-shot. I didn't feel like doing the usual school thing, and I'd seen Jackson Tegu mention one of his Skeletons (pre-built not-the-usual-school-things) in the latest update of the Second Skins kickstarter: End of the year hiking trip. I liked that so I just ran with it, even though I didn't actually have the Skeleton or anything, I just stole the premise. So this was a big hiking trip by a large amount of the schools to the approximately-the-coast of northern British Columbia, Canada. My seating chart was two rows of tents (one male one female) across from each other, four tents per row, two people per most tents. We only named a few NPCs though.
On the guy side, we had a tent from Rowen and Frank (Robin's brother, who is an ecstasy dealer - Rowen's dealer, in fact!), and Davide (pronounced dah-vid-ay) and Samuel. Davide is a stoner, and Samuel is a goth (with the trenchcoat and fedora thing goin' on) who Emilie finds cute in a real way, not necessarily in an I-want-to-devour-your-blood way.
On the girl side, we had Emilie and Carey, a ditzy blonde. You know, the sort who asks where they can plug in their hair dryer while on a a hiking trip. She's annoying. Another tent had Deirdre (a total gossiper) and Frankie (which, for purposes of this AP, is how I'm going to refer to Frank-the-girl). In between those two tents was Robin, who had a tent to herself.
Down at the end was Mr. Tona (Toh-nah), an older tenured teacher who is not a very good chaperone at all. So basically the kids love him, because he just goes to bed and leaves them be.

The whole game took place starting at 9:00pm, with Mr. Tona already asleep, as well as some of the other kids. Rowen went over to Robin's tent, which he could still see light in, expecting that she was up waiting for him. It wasn't the case, as he popped in and tried to Turn Her On and failed right away - she was studying her math textbook and was under the impression that he'd come to get some help with the math stuff. He stayed for a little bit but left fairly quick.
On the way out, Rowen noticed Emilie sitting over at the fire built between the two rows of tents, wearing his pelt. As he approached she rapidly pulled up her hood snugly around her head so he couldn't grab it, and Rowen demanded she give it back. She told him that they'd talk about it if maybe when Rowen and the Franks and Davide went out into the woods later if he could convince Samuel to come too, and bring her along as well. Rowen agreed.
Rowen went over to Davide and Samuel's tent to let Davide know they were going soon, and invited Samuel. Samuel asked if Frankie was gonna be there, which Rowen confirmed. The group left.

While they were organizing things Robin came out and sat by the fire, just staring into it and thinking about Rowen and kinda upset about how he just left and stuff. She Gazed Into The Abyss, and as the flames crackled, the brighter sparks and the shadows of the wood and the licks of the flames started to paint images in the fire - images of Frank and Frankie and Davide and Samuel walking into the forest, and Rowen walking into the forest, pulling Emilie along by the hand, smiling. (the roll was a failure, I was sowing seeds of distrust that didn't exist) When Robin finally blinked out of her reverie, the group was already gone.

The group had been in the woods for a bit and had gotten to this waterfalls area, where they were taking their E and feeling the high. Despite it having no effect, Emilie took a bunch anyway to fit in before Rowen pulled her aside, demanding that now she had to give back the pelt. Nope! Emilie refused, telling him first to get Frankie out of the way, who Samuel was chatting up. Rowen protested, but Emilie stood firm.

Robin snuck into Emilie's tent while Carey was over with Deirdre and rifled through her stuff. She found all sorts of fun things, like some old music, and this small vial full of red liquid, and a yearbook from many years ago with Emilie's picture in it. Getting a decent picture, but in a bit of a panic / rage, she took the yearbook and tossed it into the fire. She kept the blood with her.
Robin got together with Carey and Deirdre, suggesting they take their own walk into the woods. As a motive? "I hear they're talking about all sorts of stuff out there in the woods... don't you want to know what?" which Deirdre fell all over. Carey's kind of a follower, so she just went along.

To get Frankie out of the picture, Rowen went and pulled both of the Franks away, along with Davide, to go ditch these newcomers and get really high out a bit further, which they were cool with - Samuel may have wanted Frankie, but the feeling wasn't really mutual. Thanks to a successful Turn On attempt by Emilie, Samuel and them were all over each other once the others were gone, during which Emilie fed on Samuel. Not lethally, though Samuel fell unconscious.
Emilie was pulling away, blood all over her mouth with an unconscious Samuel on the ground, when Robin and the girls showed up. Carey and Deirdre immediately screamed - anyone looking could see a bunch more flashlight beams lighting up back near where camp was: the authorities were on their way. Emilie (who already didn't like Carey) grabbed her to try to get her to stop screaming - Lash Out Physically, fail. She grabbed her all right, but with the amped-up power of post-feeding, she knocked over Carey, who stumbled and fell back, cracking her head on a rock. Deirdre was screaming even louder, and Robin had drawn the pocket knife she'd grabbed from Frankie's stuff. Robin threw the knife at Emilie, but she's a bad shot and it landed wedged between a couple of rocks near the river. Davide came out toward the action (the Franks and Rowen behind him, having returned at hearing the screams) and Davide is one of those people who just passes out at the sight of blood, so he just conks out upon seeing Carey - conks out and falls leg-first onto the knife. This whole thing is getting out of control, and Rowen tries to Run Away with Robin, and, uh, fucks up. Again. (seriously, we had more failures than successes, and maybe only two 10+s maximum) Oh, Rowen got away, but instead of grabbing Robin, he grabbed Emilie, and they ran. It takes Rowen a bit to realize his mistake.

Trying to clean up the sudden huge mess, Robin got with her siblings (who were trying to figure out how to help Davide) and explained her plan. Their story was that Deirdre got super high but had a bad trip and freaked out. To explain her fingerprints on the knife, Robin pulled the knife out of Davide and put pressure on the wound while Frank went over and offered Deirdre something that would "help her deal with this whole situation."
That's when the teachers showed up.

Out in the woods, Rowen finally realized his mistake and stopped. He demanded once more that Emilie return the pelt, and she again refused. This time though, Rowen made her agree to give it to Robin to hold on to, ensuring that Emilie held up her end this time. They were about to head back when it dawned on them that they couldn't see the lights of the teachers or the smoke of the campfire. They were lost, deep in the woods.

And that's the game! We wrapped there. A little earlier than usual, but we'd definitely struck the climax.

It was a great game! Super fun. Tons of drama everywhere, along with a lot of incompetence (and a bit of overcompetence!). For creating a very small number of NPCs, just about everyone was important and tied together, and there were some great triangles. The woods made for a really interesting change of pace, and we talked about how doing a series of games as the 7 days of camp, or maybe the events of a couple years of camp could be really interesting. I definitely want to do more with unconventional premises for the students.
On a personal note, I was stumped one time with coming up with a hard move (actually, coming up with a 7-9 for Manipulate an NPC - I suppose I should mention that we were using an altered version of the basic moves), but only once. Some of my other hard moves felt really nice - killing Carey was pretty vicious, as was taking Emilie into the woods instead of Robin, and I think the fire-gazing would have great pay-off in a longer term situation, especially given Rowen running off with Emilie instead. He'll say it was an accident, but would she believe him...? (probably, she's the Mortal after all).

A good, tight, satisfying Monsterhearts game. I feel great, especially given that I hadn't planned to do it and wasn't all the way psyched into the right mindset for the first few minutes. Doing the unconventional thing really helped alleviate that.

Anyway, this wasn't going to be my post today, but I couldn't help but write it up. The other post I was gonna do will come soon.
End Recording,

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