Chapter One: How The Game Works
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Monsterhearts 2: Chapter 1
As we enter the climax of the season of the witch, it’s time to get spooky. And by that I mean, let’s look at the second edition of everyone’s favorite game of teenage monster angst, Monsterhearts
! I’m going to emphasize mostly the changes between first and second edition (though I’ve also got a whole bunch of spicy new Skins that weren’t in the original review to discuss both in first and second edition versions), though I will still give enough overview that this stands alone.
Chapter One: How The Game Works
It should be noted we’re already inside a major change, because the original started with character creation. That now comes significantly later in the book.
We start with the absolute most basic of basics, the game’s format. And then we get right into what the creator considered needed to be said right from the start:
[quote="This game is queer, meaning that it pushes back against the heterosexist framework that underlies so many of our culture’s stories. When you play, you contend with all the chaotic possiblity and uncertainty of desire. [/quote"]
I really like that this gets laid out immediately. Just in general there’s a LOT about player comfort (and a lot of the changes are to things that were potentially uncomfortable in the prior version). We then get into a description of what the game is about, that the players are all teenagers who are secretly monsters. It heavily emphasizes that the monstrosity of the characters is both literal, in that they’d pretty much all be at home in a horror movie, and allegorical. That’s especially important when we get to a skin like The Mortal that is just a regular human, but who can easily be the biggest monster in practice thanks to their mechanics. But just in general it makes it clear you need to be keeping in mind both what your character is and what they’re supposed to represent.
We divert into discussing Apocalypse World, the framework from which this is built, and that at its core both games consider roleplaying to be a conversation. The rules are the framework that mediates it, nothing more or less. You’ve got your character, the other players have theirs, and you tell the stories of their lives together within the framework of the rules and mediated by the Master of Ceremonies, who controls the rest of the world. They emphasize here that the MC is not supposed to be an antagonistic role even allowing that NPCs can of course be antagonists, and we’ll see this come up again later on when they discuss the MC’s mechanics and role in more detail.
So, another change is here. In the original, the Agenda was something that was presented to the MC as their role. They now extend that to the whole table, and present one here before even explaining the mechanics. The agenda is as follows:
- Make each main character’s life not boring
- Keep the story feral
- Say what the rules demand
- Say what honesty demands
So, this is adapted from what the previous edition game to the MC as an agenda as well as what the previous edition said the MC had to always say. Two things are missing from this list: Make the players feel unaccepted, and always say what the principles demand. The latter isn’t really that important, because the MC section will make it clear that’s still a secret fifth one. Principles are instructions to the MC that only apply to them. The former’s removal I think speaks to the really toxic and adversarial potential of that directive. I think the four points actually really speak to all that is needed, and I’ll summarize them.
Make each character’s life not boring: Your job as the player is NOT to keep your character safe, it’s to figure out who they are, what they want, and what they’d do for it then do those things. The game’s pretty open-ended with no endgame beyond that which you create at the table so this is pretty important.
Keep the story feral: Don’t try to take control of the story. Instead focus on reacting to what’s going on and how the rest of the table’s ideas change what you thought about things.
Say what the rules demand: The rules are intended to constrain you in ways that can lead to further creativity. When you’re supposed to roll dice, the point is that you can fail. And if the dice tell you that, well, that’s how it goes.
Say what honesty demands: While your character can be lying, you can’t. The other players need information for the conversation to be interesting, and you need to just trust that everyone will not do dumb metagame shit and behave in ways that only make sense if they are exactly as informed as their player. They also bring up the point that you need to be very honest about your own feelings and needs at the table, because this is a game that can potentially make people uncomfortable and you need to always feel free to express that. There will be much more on this later.
We then talk about framing scenes, which generally starts with the MC asking someone as question about what is going on or what their character is doing. You then take the response and build on it. It’s primarily the MC’s authority, but they note that where it makes sense to do so you should feel free to let the players frame a scene.
We now get to the mechanics. Normally you just describe what you’re doing and then it happens. But sometimes, what you say will trigger a Move
. Moves are where the rules kick in, and there are both Basic and Skin moves. Everyone has access to the Basic moves, whereas obviously the Skin moves are associated with the different Skins (which are the character types in Monsterhearts). Moves sometimes roll dice, and if they do they’ll also tell you to roll with a stat. We’ll talk about the stats more later, but there are four of them: Hot, Cold, Volatile, and Dark. Stats will generally range from -1 to +2, and the mechanic is to roll 2d6 and add the stat value. A 10+ is a success, a 7-9 will generally involve some complications, and a 6 or less is a failure. It should be noted that the MC does not have moves and does not roll dice. We’ll discuss how they interact with the rules later.
Before we cover the moves, though, we introduce one of the core social mechanics of the game: Strings
. We don’t get the full rules for them here (that comes after the moves), but we learn they exist and in general that they’re a way of tracking the shifts in power in a relationship that can be spent for mechanical benefits and will be generated by many of the moves we’re about to see. And here are the moves:
Turn Someone On (Hot):
You roll with Hot, and on a 10+ you gain a String on them and they have to choose one of the following reactions: Give themselves to you, promise something they think you want, or get embarrassed and act awkward. On a 7-9, they choose either to give you a String or
choose one of those reactions. Turning someone on is an interesting move because it doesn’t necessarily happen ‘on purpose’. The intent is that when you describe something that might turn someone on, it potentially triggers a roll on this. This explicitly also is noted as not necessarily meaning anything about the sexuality of your character unless you want it to. The book’s going to talk about this more later.
So, this move’s a bit different than in first edition in the mechanics. There’s an extra reaction (the one to get embarrassed and act awkward) which is important because originally you just got a String on a 10+. If it’s possible to force a reaction, there definitely needs to be one where you just kind of get flustered.
Before we move to the next, um, move, there’s actually one that no longer exists. There used to be a move Manipulate an NPC
. That’s not a thing anymore. It was actually kind of an awkward move anyway, the original was a roll to determine who got to decide what they wanted (or on a failure that they simply weren’t going to budge. As we’ll see next update, this has been replaced with a different mechanic.
Shut Someone Down (Cold):
Roll with Cold and choose from the following list on a 7+: The target loses a String on you, you gain a String on them (but only if they have none on you), they gain a Condition, or you take one Forward. If you rolled a 7-9, the target also gets to put a Condition on you. We’ll talk about Conditions later, and Taking Forward just means you add one to your next roll. This is pretty much mechanically being an asshole to someone, and if you got a 7-9 you looked like an asshole to everyone doing it.
The ability to Take One Forward after shutting someone down is new. Also new is what happens on a 7-9. Previously you either exchanged Conditions or both lost a String on the other. Part of that became the current version, with the Strings option eliminated.
Keep Your Cool (Cold):
This used to be a move called Hold Steady
, which it resembles in some ways. You name what you’re afraid of and roll Cold. On a 10+, you ask the MC a question about the situation and then take one Forward when acting on that. On a 7-9, the MC will tell you how your actions will leave you vulnerable and you can either do it or not. This move ends up being a bit more broad than Hold Steady was, because it is not just for immediate jeopardy but really any situation where you might be afraid and it might hinder your ability to act.
Hold Steady was essentially identical on a 10+, but very different for 7-9. It gave you the option of taking the Condition Frightened if you wanted to ask a question rather than laying out what the consequences might be if you go through with your action.
Lash Out Physically (Volatile):
The move for harming people. Roll with Volatile, on a 10+ you deal them harm (more on how that works later) and they choke up and can’t react. On a 7-9, you still get to harm them but have to choose one of the following: They learn something about your true nature and gain a String on you, the MC determines how bad the harm ends up being, or you become your Darkest Self (again more on that later).
This has changed a bit since the first edition. You used to get choices as to what happened when you rolled a 10+, getting the opportunity to gain a String or do extra harm as well as preventing them from retaliating (the only option you have now). The 7-9 options were also changed slightly, in the first edition instead of the chance for the MC to decide how badly they were harmed you might take a harm as well. It’s a bit different and I think intended to de-emphasize violence a bit, because now there’s no way to gain a String by harming someone.
Run Away (Volatile):
Roll with Volatile. On a 10+ you get away, on a 7-9 you get away but have to choose from the following list: You run into something worse, you cause a big scene, or you leave something behind. It’s pretty straightforward.
This is slightly changed from first edition. The 7-9 option to leave something behind instead gave the scariest person present a String in the original. Again, I think they wanted to alter the String economy for the second edition.
Gaze Into The Abyss (Dark):
Name what you’re looking for and roll Dark. On a 10+, you get a vision and can take one Forward to addressing it. On a 7-9 you still get your answer, but the vision is confusing and alarming rather than lucid. It’s up to you to decide how Gazing into the Abyss works for your character and how the visions will manifest.
This move has also changed a bit since the first edition. A 10+ used to get you two from a list: lucid and detailed visions, learning what you need to do and taking one Forward to do it, and being cured of a Condition. And a 7-9 used to let you choose either confusing and alarming visions or lucid ones that leave you Drained. The choices have been taken out of this one, you get a useful vision or you get a spooky vision.
This is going to get super long if I don't split it, so it’s time to end this post and pick it up in the next one with the rest of Chapter One.
Chapter One, Continued: How The Game Works
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: Chapter One Continued
It’s time for more Spooktacular HallowScream fun with Monsterhearts 2.
Chapter One, Continued: How The Game Works
Last time we finished up on the Moves. Our next topic is what we can do with Strings. Spending a String on a character gives us the following options:
Tempt them to do what you want:
For a PC, you’re offering them an experience point to do something. For an NPC, the MC will tell you what it will take to get them to do what you want. Note that this is essentially what you used to get from a 7-9 on the old move Manipulate an NPC. I think they decided both the 10+ and 6- versions of that move were kind of boring and eliminated them.
Give them a Condition:
We’ll learn what Conditions are later, but you can pretty much just say a thing about them and that word or phrase sticks to them until something is done about it.
Add 1 to your roll against them:
What it sounds like. Add to a roll for a Move that affects them.
Add 1 to the harm you deal them:
The list has changed a bit. Previously you could also subtract one from a roll against you and force a character to Hold Steady (the Move which is now called Keep Your Cool). I think the point was to make all four options be something that would work against NPCs and PCs almost identically, with only the first one having some different rules.
Harm is pretty simple. PCs can take four Harm before dying. MC characters can take whatever amount of Harm they decide. How much Harm is inflicted by Lashing Out Physically depends on what you’re doing to someone. The more dangerous the attack, the more Harm.
Once per session you can heal one Harm by tending to your wounds. If someone else is there assisting you (with potential erotic subtext) you get to heal an additional Harm. Healing doesn’t really have to make sense, it just happens.
If you take your fourth Harm, there are two ways you can skirt death normally (though some Skin Moves can also impact this). The first is to pop back up with no Harm as your Darkest Self, a terrible version of your character archetype. The second is to lose all your Strings you have on everyone. If you can’t or don’t want to do either of those things, you’re dead. The previous version restricted you to this once per game, but it no longer does. This actually makes your characters pretty resilient if you want them to be.
We get the details of Taking Forward next, where they make clear that if we just get to do so generically it’s always our next roll whereas if it’s got conditions it’s our next roll that meets them.
Conditions are words that describe someone. If you’re making a Move and can come up with a way it takes advantage of a Condition, you get to add one to the roll. They also make clear that Conditions are what other characters think about a character, and since they’re often hurtful words you want to be really careful about them. Conditions last until something happens to remove them. Sometimes Moves can do this, sometimes it’ll just be your actions in-game that resolve them. You used to be able to resolve conditions as part of the old Hold Steady Move, but that is now gone.
Experience makes you more powerful. You gain experience in three ways: Fail a roll (roll 6 or less), when a Move tells you that you do, or when someone spends a String to tempt you and you accept. Five experience let you take one of your Skin’s advancements. Each Skin’s got its own advancement options, some of them are a bit different and we’ll look at those when we get there (as well as how advancement changed in general). This is a bit different than the previous version, where you had two highlighted stats each session and got to gain experience every time you rolled against those. It generally makes experience gain slower and also encourages you to try things you might fail at.
Gangs are a possible advancement most characters can take, you join a group with a description as shown on your Skin. A Gang gives you some obligations (and at the end of the day they’re MC characters) but their assistance both lets you add one to a relevant roll and inflict an additional Harm when relevant. The original talked about Seasons around this point, but that’s coming much later. Now we’ve got some stuff that isn’t so much rules as guidance.
Out next section is on Queer Content and how to handle it. This is part of the whole idea that Turning Someone On works regardless of what the player might think about their character’s gender preferences. Basically they want you to remember that your character isn’t you and sometimes the dice are going to say some things about them that you didn’t know at first and that’s okay.
Our next section is on Belonging and Difference. You’re inherently characters that don’t really belong as monsters, so the struggle to find where you belong and who accepts you is real. Honesty demands that you be clear with how your character doesn’t belong.
We now have a guest-authored section on Experiencing Race. This is the sort of game where there’s a nonzero chance of someone really showing their ass and you want to make sure before you even start that everyone is on the same page and nobody’s going to actually do that. Make sure everyone’s also feeling free to point out if someone’s saying or doing something that’s making them uncomfortable, which is going to come up again. They then list out a series of questions on your setting and characters for the players and MC to think about, again to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
We next have a page on Blending In, where we talk about the idea that no matter how little sense that makes everyone usually seems normal. You should think about the mechanics but only to the extent that it might be interesting to the story.
We now learn about the Darkest Self. There are a few ways you can enter your Darkest Self (we’ve seen two of them already, and there are a few others as well). Your Darkest Self depends on your Skin, and represents your monstrosity running wild. The description will tell you how you can escape it. They tell you not to pull punches when in your Darkest Self but also not to make things edgy for its own sake.
We now move on to a discussion of Violence, which as we’ve sort of seen already but will really see later on in the Skins there has been a serious effort to de-emphasize in this edition. They note the violence isn’t really the interesting part about a situation where violence happened, and if you’re in a situation of exchanging blows by Lashing Out Physically you’re probably violating the Agenda because things are boring. They suggest the MC should be ready to jump in and keep things feral when violence is happening.
The next section is on Sexuality. The same caveat on Turning Someone On, to remember that teenagers can’t really decide what turns them on and you need to let the dice fall where they may and decide what it means. Equally, though, it’s always you that is control of what your character does about the situation. They also bring up the Sex Moves here. These are things that happen when characters have consensual sex, and vary by Skin.
We follow that with a section on Asexuality. If for some reason you seriously do not think your character can be turned on by a situation, you are allowed access to a Move called Non-Attraction. This move turns the attempt to Turn Someone On into a roll to Shut Someone Down using Hot instead of Cold. I think this is REALLY good as an addition to the idea that we don’t necessarily get to decide what turns us on, because someone you’re really not able to be attracted to trying is still a very uncomfortable situation.
There’s a whole section on remembering your characters probably have smartphones and can do all the shit teenagers do with said things.
Okay, now we’re at Seasons. Seasons are the multi-session structure, and they are pretty much what their name makes you think. The Season lasts until someone has taken their fifth Advance, at which point there will be one more session and everyone unlocks the special Season Advances. You’re allowed to take one Season Advance per season, and they’re kind of a big deal. They then suggest that you should take a break before considering picking up for a new season, because otherwise things can get stale. The four Season Advances are:
Change your character’s Skin:
Reboot your character as a new Skin. You keep everything intrinsic to you but lose anything that wouldn’t make sense for your new Skin. You get a new statline and choose Skin Moves for your new Skin as normal.
Rewrite your Darkest Self:
You can sit down with the MC and change how your Darkest Self works. If you have a new idea for how your darkness might manifest, this is pretty cool.
Retire your character and start a new one:
If you’ve decided you’re at the end of your character’s arc, you can retire them and start over. They’re now in a place of safety and acceptance, and you pick a new Skin and entirely new character.
Gain two of the Growing Up Moves:
There is one of these for each stat, and they represent healthier ways of dealing with things than the normal Moves. I’ll cover them after we talk about how Seasonal Advances have changed.
So, there used to be an option to rewrite your Sex Move. That is no longer a thing. It’s probably for the best, since the real offender for ‘I really want to rewrite my Sex Move because it’s fucked up’ has had theirs changed.
The Growing Up Moves, they’re pretty cool.
Make Others Feel Beautiful (Hot):
Roll Hot, on a 10+ choose two: The target takes one Forward, removes a Condition, marks experience, or you can take one Forward. On a 7-9, you get to tempt them to do what you want as if you’d spent a String. This is super powerful for obvious reasons, Condition removal is hard and taking Forward is really good. Plus it tosses experience out like crazy.
Call People On Their Shit (Cold):
Roll Cold and choose from this list: The target loses a String against someone else, or they choke up/break down/bail. If you roll a 7-9, they give you a Condition in return. This is all about making a stand against bullying and abuse and is a way to intervene on others’ behalf socially that you wouldn’t otherwise have.
Intervene in an Act of Violence (Volatile):
Roll Volatile, on a 10+ the person you’re protecting gets to react and take one Forward to whatever they decide to do. On a 7-9, the assailant gets a choice: They back off, they take whatever Harm you want to give them as they go past you, or they redirect their violence to you. The physical version of the previous Move.
Share Your Pain (Dark):
Roll Dark, on a 10+ you choose two things from the following list. You choose one on a 7-9: Remove a Condition from yourself, remove a Condition from someone who listened, take one Forward to helping yourself, or those who listened take one Forward to helping you. A move for reaching out to others in a way you couldn’t before.
That’s the end of the Chapter. Next time, we get a section on Preparing to Play.
Chapter 2: Preparing to Play and Chapter 3: Keeping Your Heart Safe
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: Chapter 2 and 3
We're a few posts out from Skins and I don't want to spoil what they did, but I will say the Ghoul is very different in some important ways in Monsterhearts 2 vs the original. Speaking of posts!
second edition incoming! We just got done with the interesting situation of learning to play before creating characters. We’ll be hitting that today.
Chapter 2: Preparing to Play
This chapter is generally noted as being addressed to the MC, with the likelihood they’ll be the one preparing and teaching how the game works. They lay out what you want to have on hand, namely printouts of the default Skins and the Handouts. They also note you can optionally print out one of the Small Towns, some prefab settings they give along with the game. I’ll probably talk about those eventually. You also have the option of using some of the optional Skins, there’s two that come with the game as optional downloads and some others that were made you have to pay extra for (but I have them and will cover them because they’re pretty interesting).
We start by laying out what the game is about and reading out the Agenda, in our own words. We also almost immediately introduce Safety Tools, which actually come up in Chapter 3 but are ways the game suggest you deal with content that might cause people discomfort. Now we pick Skins. You start by handing all the Skins you’re using out as evenly as you can among everyone at the table (including yourself) and reading the italicized text on them in as over-the-top a voice as you can manage. Once you’ve done that, everyone picks a Skin but the MC.
Before we get to anything mechanical, we choose Identities. There’s a section on each Skin for them, with a Name, Look, Eyes, and Origin. Share these aloud and keep them in reference. The game suggests you put them on index cards and tent them in front of you with as much as possible there.
The next step they suggest is, if you’re not using one of the pre-established Small Towns, to deal with establishing your setting. Ask the players what they want from the game and what they might need to exist in your town for their character idea to work. You don’t need things to get super specific, make sure you leave enough room for things to get detailed as the game progresses.
Next is discussing roleplaying. Make sure people understand how it works in general, and how Monsterhearts is different (it’s not a game about coming together as a party, but neither is it strictly a PvP game). Make sure people get that things can get adversarial.
Next we start getting into rules. Tell people how the basic Moves work and what Strings do. They suggest using an example afterwards, because it can be a bit of an information dump. Now that you’ve done this, it’s time to choose your stats and Skin Moves. One major change between first and second edition is how you choose your stats. You used to get a 1/1/-1/-1 spread and add one to the stat of your choice, now you choose between two 2/1/-1/-1 spreads for your Skin with no floating point. How you choose Skin Moves depends on the Skin.
They then suggest you stop explaining further rules, and just wait for them to come up in-game and explain reactively. That’s probably a good idea, again it effectively lets you teach by example. Our next step is the Backstories part of the Skin sheets. This involves exchanges of Strings and just in general establishing relationships between characters.
We then set up a Seating Chart. This is a collaborative process where we establish things like petty high-school drama. The MC goes around the room and asks questions and at the end of it we’ll have a sheet that says who sits where, giving us a bunch of NPCs to interact with and relationships between characters that Backstories don’t cover. If we’re in a game where the PCs aren’t in high-school, a similar process appropriate to the setting should be done. The important thing is that this gives us a lot of our starting point.
That’s where Chapter 2 ends, but let’s keep going to three because it’s pretty important.
Chapter 3: Keeping Your Heart Safe
This is an entire chapter dedicated to making sure everyone is having fun and is comfortable with what’s going on. It lays out some ways to make sure you are handling things responsibly.
Responsibility is laid out in three tiers. The innermost tier is responsibility to yourself, to feel safe, set boundaries, and make sure those boundaries remain clear to everyone else. Outside that is your responsibility to the others at the table, to listen to their boundaries and collaborate to create something awesome. The outermost is the responsibility to the characters, to portray them as people with agency and complexity.
Setting boundaries is detailed next. Start by naming your boundaries up front. Just make absolutely clear what is off the table for you, so it can be eliminated as much as possible from the game. Then think about the Skins people are using, and what sorts of patterns of dysfunction and crisis they represent. Because those things are very likely to come up, consider if any of them are part of your boundaries. This is very much the time to talk about that. They give some options including asking the Skin to be left out, getting the person playing it to do so in a way that respects your boundaries, or just to play it yourself if you think you can do so.
Once you’ve set boundaries, you need to keep evaluating them through play. If they’re not working for you, you need to bring it up immediately and deal with it. The game’s going to give us some ways to do so, but it also makes clear you shouldn’t feel limited to those.
One of the major tools they suggest is the X-Card. Just draw an X on an index card and place it on the table. Then read this script or paraphrase:
“I’d like your help making sure the game stays fun for everyone.
If something comes up that you find upsetting or disturbing, you can lift this card up – or even just tap it. It can be a little thing or a big thing. We’ll edit out any content that gets X-Carded. You don’t have to explain why you don’t want it in the game. It doesn’t matter why, we’re happy to replace it with something else. Anyone can use the X-Card at any time.”
This is a really good mechanic to have, and I think explains itself pretty well.
Another tool they note comes from film, fading to black. Whenever you get to something you’d rather not narrate out, you fade to black and pick up afterwards. Whether this is sex, violence, or something else that might make someone uncomfortable, it’s an option. There’s a really good chance characters are going to have sex at some point and you’re pretty much always going to want to Fade to Black rather than do a bunch of lurid description at the table.
They also suggest several times a session to call a break where people straight all leave the table for a few minutes. They further extend this to the suggestion to run some other game after a Season ends before deciding if you want to come back to Monsterhearts. Again, great suggestions.
Now we move on to what to do when a boundary gets crossed. They remind you to keep sight of your responsibility to yourself, and do whatever you need to do to feel comfortable if someone crosses one of your boundaries. Equally, you need to always be on the watch for when someone else might need support.
Alright, that’s Chapter 3. Next time we’ll cover Chapter 4, which is on the MC’s role.
Chapter 4: MCing
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: Chapter 4
Chapter 4: MCing
We last left on in keeping our hearts safe, now we’re firmly in a section that’s for the MC. We start with the Agenda from earlier, and get our basic responsibility laid out: the MC handles all the NPCs and deals with facilitation. You never roll dice as MC, instead having a list of Reactions to unleash when appropriate. But first, we get a set of Principles:
This used to be called ‘blanket the world in darkness’. Basically if something can be dark and melodramatic, it should be.
Address yourself to the characters, not the players:
Always talk to the characters, to help the players stay in their characters’ roles.
Make monsters seem human, and vice versa:
Perhaps the same can be said of all religions. But seriously, the point is to center on how your monstrous characters are actually very human and on how the human characters can be shitty.
Make labels matter:
Labels need to have teeth. If someone’s accepted an identity that leads to them being labeled, don’t half-ass it. That’s why you make sure to talk about things first!
Give everyone a messy life:
Put some detail into what characters are doing when they’re offscreen. It makes everything more vibrant. This used to be called Giving Everyone a Life.
Find the catch:
Whenever things are looking good, look for how it could secretly be bad. What’s potentially going to spoil everything? This used to be a pair of principles, to Accept people, but only conditionally and that Happiness always comes at someone else’s expense. They’ve been sort of folded together here, and part of this is because there is no longer a principle about making people feel unaccepted.
Ask provocative questions and build on the answers:
Just what it sounds like. Make sure you’re always asking questions of the players and build on those answers.
Be a fan of the main characters:
While you’re in a position of power over the characters, it’s important that you neither coddle nor bully them. You’re not there to make their lives great, nor are you there to make their lives horrible for its own sake. You’re there to make them interesting.
Treat side characters like stolen cars:
Don’t get too attached to NPCs. If something needs to happen to them, that’s fine. Don’t do metaplot shit where you keep some villain around so they can set something up later.
Give side characters simple, divisive motivations:
Don’t be unnecessarily obscure with your side characters. It should be pretty obvious what they want and how they’re planning to do it, even if it’s a matter of making sure it’s obvious to the players while also making it clear that the characters don’t necessarily know what’s going on. Also make sure the side characters have motives that will potentially divide the players and generate conflict.
Sometimes, disclaim decision making:
If it makes sense, put the decision making power into the hands of a side character by asking the table if they think the character would do something. And further, sometimes just ask a player what they think happens next.
The previous version had the MC’s Agenda laying out that you had to say what the Principles demand. It’s not explicitly laid out here, but remains implicit. As I note above many of them have been altered a bit and are presented under new names. There used to be a Principle on how the MC makes their Moves. This is laid out when the MC’s Reactions are described, which is next.
Speaking of, Reactions. These used to be called Hard Moves. They’re things you do when someone fails a roll, when someone’s in harm’s way, or when you’re called upon to react. Reactions exist to Set Things Up or Knock Them Down. You’re either calling the players to action, or forcing them to deal with the consequences of an event. Let’s get to the list of Reactions now.
Put Them Together:
Put two characters who have problems together. The proverbial situation where two enemies are trapped in an elevator, or got assigned to a group project together.
The opposite, if two characters are getting too comfortable together you pull them apart.
Tell Them The Possible Consequences and Ask:
Make it clear what it will cost for the players to get something they want and ask them if that’s okay. As a setup, this is laying out consequences. When knocking it down, though, it’s telling them what’s being demanded of them now that they’ve stepped in it.
Exactly what it says. Something went wrong and now they’re hurt.
Enact Drastic Measures:
Have something drastic happen in response to what’s going on in the story. Did a side character just die in the school? Well the cops are probably going to show up with a whole lot of questions. Did you get in some big crazy confrontation? Maybe everyone ends up in detention. Maybe the media shows up because of all the weird shit that happens at your school.
Turn Their Move Back On Them:
Have their actions create unexpected consequences. Pretty simple.
Leap to the Worst Possible Conclusion:
Have a side character take the information they have access to and draw the absolute worst conclusion from it.
Expose a Dangerous Secret to the Wrong Person:
Someone learns something they’re not supposed to. This is often going to involve learning that you’re a monster, because everyone has dangerous secrets.
Take a String on Someone:
Have a side character gain a String on one of the Main Characters. Side characters can’t have Strings on each other.
Herald the Abyss:
Sometimes you Gaze into the Abyss, sometimes it Gazes Back. Spooky stuff goes down and you learn things you might not have wanted to know.
Trigger Their Darkest Self:
The most serious Reaction and the one to be used most sparingly, make sure you’ve got a good reason for why they’re supposed to have snapped.
At Every Turn: “What do you do?”:
Whenever you use a Reaction, after you’ve described what’s happened you ask what the character does. The whole point of your Reactions is to generate reaction from the players, after all.
The Reaction to Enact Drastic Measures is new to this edition, and replaces Moves to Announce off-screen badness and Announce future badness. I think this is not to say you should not do those things, just that they’re not really part of the toolset of Reactions.
We move on to talking a bit about NPCs. Remember that the MC never rolls, so NPCs don’t have stats beyond potentially their Strings and how much Harm you decide they can take. The important thing to keep track of is who they are and why they matter.
Side characters with Strings can use them in a few ways. These are:
-Offer an experience point to do what you want.
-Place a condition on them.
-Add 1 to the harm you’re dealing them.
-Ambush them with a Reaction, setting it up and knocking it down all at once.
The first three are all things players can do, and work the same way. The last is unique to the MC, and is further part of how notable NPCs might be special (as NPCs can have their own special Reactions you create). These were all things an NPC could do with a String before, but there’s an important one missing: The option to put the NPC at Advantage. Advantage is just gone. It was previously a way of nebulously accounting for situations where side characters should have a bonus to a roll but whoops they don’t roll. The Reactions are now generally considered to cover that, I believe.
We get a bit about the use of the Seating Chart next, making sure that you take advantage of the relationships it sets up. It then gives some ideas on how to get things rolling, with three suggestions: to Stage a Disappearance, Plan a Party, or Demand a Fight. There’s some advice on Convention Play, where obviously it’s a one-shot and you don’t have tons of time to deal with some aspects. They then suggest ways to control the story’s tempo and make sure it flows properly.
They make some suggestions as well on making the setting feel more alive. The obvious is to map the setting, because it creates places characters might go and things they might do. Another thing they suggest is for players to ‘cast’ their characters, essentially saying who’d play them in the show, and to create the playlists they’d listen to. They give some suggestions on how to handle continuity between sessions, which is valuable.
So, another big change. The first edition had a concept called Menaces, which were a broad way of describing dangers and villains. This isn’t a thing anymore. Remaining are Villains, however, major antagonists who arise over the course of play. Villains are special NPCs, in that you are suggested to write a custom Principle for playing them and write them a custom Reaction. Just in general they are a LOT less structured than they were in the first edition, probably on the principle that you’re going to feel much more free to treat them as stolen cars when you didn’t have to do quite so much work on them.
And that’s the whole MC section. A bunch of the original content got moved into the earlier Chapters, if this seems much shorter than it was in the first edition. Now that all that’s out of the way, we’ll start getting into the things people really want to hear about : The Skins. That’ll be starting next time, same bat time, same bat channel.
The Fae and The Ghost
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Fae and The Ghost
Now back to Monsterhearts
, where we’re up to the Skins. Before we start, let’s talk about some broad changes. First of all, the Core Skins have actually changed. The Chosen has left the Core Skins and moved into the bonus Skins, the Hollow has been kicked up to the Core, and The Angel has Poochie’d off to Heaven forever. So, let’s list them out. The Core Skins are The Fae, The Ghost, The Ghoul, The Hollow, The Infernal, The Mortal, The Queen, The Vampire, The Werewolf, and The Witch. There are then two bonus Skins that alter the game quite a bit if chosen, The Chosen and The Serpentine. There’s further a set of Skins that are part of an optional expansion: The Sasquatch, The Wyrm, The Cuckoo, The Unicorn, The Heir, The Neighbor, and The Selkie. We’ll do these in order, and do a couple every update (maybe only one when we get to the Second Skins, because we’ll need to talk about the First Edition versions of those a bit more).
At the edges of this world, just beyond the veil, there are colours that few mortals even dream of. Beauty enough to shatter any heart. The Fae live and breathe at the edges of this world. They keep a dusting of that magic tucked behind their ears, just in case.
And the Fae are willing to share. They’re nothing if not generous, asking for only one thing in return. A promise. Keep it, and the true beauty of the world will be revealed. Break it, and feel the wrath of faery vengeance.
You’re a fairy creature of some kind, as fickle and vengeful as you are otherworldly and alluring. The Fae is all about promises, made, kept and broken. Your stat options are Hot 2/Dark 1 or Volatile 2/Hot 1. As the game describes it, these are ‘beautiful and mysterious’ or ‘audacious and alien’. Your Cold stat is always going to be poor. The original Fae had Hot 1/Dark 1 as their starting stat spread.
You start with two Skin Moves, Faery Contract
and one of your choice.
If someone breaks a promise or contract to you, take a String on them. When you’re using a String to take revenge for a broken promise, you get two new options: they fuck up something at a crucial moment, and if appropriate take one Harm in doing so, or you add 2 to your roll to get vengeance. With the relatively low numbers of this game, adding 2 is pretty huge and makes your success very likely if it’s already something you’re good at. The first option doesn’t leave it obvious that you were the cause of their fuckup and potential injury, it should be noted. This one has changed a bit since the first edition, in that the Harm and botch were separate options while they’re now together. This gives you a bit more teeth when wronged.
Give someone a String when rolling to Turn Them On to add three to the roll. It’s a super big bonus and if you don’t mind them getting a String as well is a pretty certain way to get one. It’s a bit more important to your toolset than it would have been in the first edition because the Fae doesn’t have all the same Moves.
The Wild Hunt:
When you draw upon your most feral manner, add one to rolls to Turn Someone On. Not as large a bonus as Unashamed, but also doesn’t involve you giving them a String. Still powerful, because you want to have Strings ready to burn if you get a chance to invoke Faery Contract.
Why would someone bother making you promises knowing you can fuck them over? Well, with this Move they get to mark experience for doing it. And if they break it, you mark experience. Experience is harder to come by in this edition, so there’s even more incentive to get some out of this. The previous version required you to try and take vengeance to mark the experience for them breaking the promise, this one does not.
Spend a String on someone willing, at which point you can bring them into the faery realm. It lasts for a scene or two, however long seems right. As far as what is there, well, that’s for you all to decide.
Beyond the Veil:
You can try to seek an audience with the Faery King by Gazing into the Abyss. On a 10+ you get to add a String on someone you didn’t know about in addition to the other results. On a 7-9, though, you need to do the Faery King a favor in addition to the other results.
The main change is that one Move is completely gone: The Constant Bargain. This let you roll with Hot when you did something for someone else that they asked you, and shift Strings around based on the result. I’d say overall this one was way too good at generating Strings to the point that it made Unashamed and The Wild Hunt feel super weak. It’s also just in general a lot harder to generate Strings in second edition and this is part of that.
The Fae’s background gives everyone a String and then chooses someone whose fancy they’ve captured and takes two Strings on them. They’ve got very standard Advances, getting to add one to a stat, the ability to take other Fae moves, the ability to take moves from other Skins, and access to the Jury of Fae Gang.
The Fae’s Sex Move is to ask a promise from someone when they lie naked with them. If the promise is refused, you get to take two Strings on them. Note that this explicitly does NOT require you to have sex in spite of being the Sex Move. Their Darkest Self is as follows:
Everything you say seems a promise. Everything you hear seems a promise. If a promise is broken, justice must be wrought in trickery or blood. You aren’t subject to the human rules of mercy. To escape your Darkest Self, you must in some way re-balance the scales of justice.
This is a bit darker than the version in first edition. Beyond making it clear that the first part is subjective, it’s also much more plain that while in your Darkest Self you are inhuman and merciless in your efforts to redress the scales. The escape clause is the same.
The Fae is still a really strong social character, with the new option to actually be really scary and dangerous with the high Volatile score.
You used to have a future. Growing up was a painful tumult at times, but at least you were growing. Now you only have a past - unfinished business to take care of before you can leave this world behind.
Life is precious. You understand that, now that you’ve lost yours. You just want to help. You just want to be seen. But sometimes even the simplest desires feel so di cult to grasp.
Ghosty ghost, you’re dead.
You’re a ghost, like it says on the tin. Blending In suggests that in spite of this generally people can see you and at least seem to interact with you physically, so maybe you’re really there and physical? At some level that’s up to you. Your stat options are Cold 2/Dark 1 (icy and distant) or Dark 2/Volatile 1 (scary and moody). No Ghost has a good Hot stat. The original Ghost had Cold and Dark.
The Ghost’s moves actually changed a lot. We start with the Move Unresolved Trauma, and two more.
When something reminds you of your death, you choke up and gain the Condition Traumatized (unless you already have it) If someone helps you resolve this Condition, you both mark experience. This Move is completely different than the similarly named move from the original edition, which involved projecting blame for your death on others but potentially suffering consequences from doing so. There’s going to be a Move that involves that, but it’s not this one and I think it’s important that it’s not mandatory. This Ghost focuses much more on the trauma than blaming others for it.
Whenever you help someone else resolve a Condition, you mark experience. This is a mostly new Move, sort of based on a now-removed Move called Hungry Ghost that let you listen to people and give them some benefits and mark experience for doing it. Now you actually have to roleplay and resolve their Condition to get the benefit for you, which means you both always benefit.
An entirely new move. Whenever you truly listen to someone else’s troubles, they heal one Harm and then transfer the rest to you. So you’re straight up a healer, and if you’re friends with someone minor ills aren’t really a thing anymore. This fits pretty well with the move of the Ghost to being much more about dealing with trauma.
If you’ve got the Traumatized Condition, you get to treat anyone you want as though they had the Condition At Blame For My Death. There’s no other Moves that interact with Blame in this version, so it’s just a +1 to rolls where you can justify it. It’s still super powerful, though, because it’s just ANYONE if you’ve gotten yourself Traumatized with Unresolved Trauma. This is another Move that’s totally new, because god damn would it have been busted in the original version.
If you watch someone when they’re in private, you gain a String on them. It’s pretty much the only move that is unchanged between the two versions.
You can move through walls and fly. This used to be Dissipate, which just let you walk through walls. Flying makes this much more useful.
There are a few Moves that are just gone that interacted with the Blamed condition they could inflict with the old version of Unresolved Trauma. You could mark experience for forgiving people who were Blamed, and you could Lash Out Physically with Dark instead of Volatile against them. But now the Ghost is much less about throwing out blame, and you also have the option to just take a Volatile Ghost if you’re thinking about being something kind of poltergeist-ish. We’re actually going to see too that stat swap Moves are VERY rare now, and were generally replaced with just having an option of the stat in question being high. ‘Combat’ moves are also pretty much gone, in this case you’ll just need to console yourself with the option of having Volatile as a high stat and the +1 you can easily get out of Projected Blame.
Your backstory is that someone knows you’re dead and how you died, which gives them two Strings on you. You on the other hand have been in someone’s bedroom while they were sleeping, giving you a String on them. There’s an extra String in it for someone to know you’re dead. Your Advances are the standard (as the Fae’s were above), with their Gang being that they reside in a Haunted House. Which is awesome.
Your Sex Move has both you and the person you have sex with asking each other a question in-character, which must be answered truthfully. This is a good potential source of drama but definitely one of the most positive Sex Moves. Here is their Darkest Self:
You become invisible, unnoticeable. No one can see you, feel you, or hear your voice. You can still affect inanimate objects, but this is your only avenue
of communication. You escape your Darkest Self when someone acknowledges your presence, and demonstrates how much they want you around.
It’s essentially unchanged from First Edition.
Okay, next time we’ll get two more Skins: The Ghoul and The Hollow. The Ghoul’s definitely got some Changes.
The Ghost and The Hollow
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Ghost and The Hollow
and the potential for it to get really off the rails in bad ways on our minds, let’s talk get to two more Skins: The Ghoul and the Hollow. The Ghoul was previously really, really bad if you weren’t really careful, and Monsterhearts 2 knows that acutely.
Death changed you. It took away your contemplative joy, it dulled your senses, and it left you impossibly hungry. That hunger is always with you, like a hum in your ears that swells and crescendos until you can’t hear anything else. Unattended, it will come to dominate you - but feeding it may be just as bad.
There is a certain beauty to what you’ve become. Your gaunt body, its unnatural form - it draws people in. Your stark disinterest is beguiling. But underneath that disaffected presentation - the hunger, the hunger.
The Ghoul is all about hunger, because you’re a sexy teenage zombie. You’re just as dead as the Ghost, but you’re still walking and talking just fine thanks. Your stat options are Volatile 2/Cold 1 (cruel and erratic) or Cold 2/Dark 1 (disaffected and portentous). You never have a high Hot stat. The original version was Volatile/Cold.
You start with The Hunger and two other Moves.
You choose one of four options for your Hunger: Fear, Power, Plunder, and Thrills. You take one Forward if you’re heedlessly pursuing it, and to pass up an opportunity to feed you must Keep Your Cool. The original Hungers were fear, flesh, power, or chaos. Flesh and chaos are gone, with chaos completely eradicated and flesh… elsewhere. We’ll get there. The Hunger is actually a bit less unpleasant than the first edition, though this core mechanic is identical. The game also omits the idea that feeding The Hunger kind of needs to be excessive.
What The Right Hand Wants:
Your body is a composite of Hungers, and you can create another that doesn’t have to be from the list. This is unchanged from the first edition and is pretty cool.
When you satisfy a Hunger, choose one: heal 1 Harm, mark experience, carry one Forward. You used to be able to remove a Condition this way, you can no longer. Otherwise unchanged, and still good.
Short Rest for the Wicked:
If you die, you’ll pop back up again a few hours later fully healed and back in business. You’re essentially invulnerable if you’ve got this, though only in the long-term. Really more like a Dark Souls character.
If you defend someone without them learning about it, you mark experience. That’s also unchanged, and has its edge of creepiness.
If you tell someone about your death, you give them the Morbid condition then roll to Turn Them On using Cold instead of Hot. This is one of the few Stat Swap Moves that remains, they were mostly replaced with the stat variations. It actually has absorbed one of the previous Moves, Disaffected. That move was the actual Stat Swapper, and became a bit less broad by tying into Ending.
Espirit de Corpse:
When you Gaze Into the Abyss, the Abyss will share its Hunger with you. It lasts until you satiate it, at which point you mark experience. This one is all-new and pretty cool.
The Moves are pretty much the same between editions, except for Disaffected and Ending merging.
Your Backstory is that someone has reminded you what love is. You give them a String. You also exchange two Strings with anyone who watched you die. This is similar to the original, but you give out one less String to the first person. Your Advances are standard, with your Gang being a Reckless Crew (in the previous version I believe it was Necromantic Caretakers).
But as I hinted, this Skin is RADICALLY changed for the better. And we’re about to get to how. The Ghoul’s Sex Move is to create a new Hunger. This is a HUGE change, because it used to be that you’d get a new Hunger for having sex with the character in question. That was extremely problematic and had strong overtones of rape, especially in light of the old Darkest Self. Because yeah, that’s totally different too. Remember when I said we’d get to flesh?
Your dull hunger sharpens. You can’t focus on anything else but feeding. And in addition to your peculiar cravings, you recognize something else. That primordial hunger which connects all hungers. Flesh, blood, meat. You escape your Darkest Self once you’ve overindulged, or you’ve been locked out for long enough to regain composure.
So yeah, while in your Darkest Self you’re a cannibal ghoul. You straight up want to eat people. It’s horrible, but not in the way the previous was. The old version had you violently attempting to feed off the nearest source of one of your Hungers. In combination with the Sex Move this turned you into a ticking time bomb of rape. As noted in the coverage of first edition on the archives, this was brought up to the creator and they acknowledged it was really bad. And they changed it, completely. The Ghoul still has the violent edge, but without the sexual one. A huge change for the positive.
They set out to make something from nothing. It’s not clear whether they succeeded or not. See, it turns out there’s a lot of grey area between something and nothing.
You’re alive, but you’re not real. You don’t have a soul. You don’t have child- hood memories, because you don’t have a childhood. You don’t have parents; you have makers. And those makers forgot to give you a place in the world.
You’re a weird artificial person of some kind. How exactly this works is up to you, and part of your Identity. This can range from things like having been created by magic to being a machine. Your stat options are Dark 2/Hot 1 (beautiful enigma) or Volatile 2/ Dark 1 (erratic misfit). The original Hollow was Volatile/Dark. The Hollow was and is all about Conditions, which made them a perfect fit to move to the Core Skins with the added emphasis on Conditions in this edition.
The Hollow chooses two moves from the list.
Better Than Nothing:
When you gain a Condition, mark experience. You are incentivized for letting other people define you, even more so than the other Moves will do. Unchanged.
A Blank Canvas:
Whenever you take an action that embodies one of your Conditions, you can add one to your roll and then cross it off. This is also unchanged, but is actually in some ways MUCH stronger than it used to be. This is because Conditions are actually pretty hard to get rid of compared to the original game. So, if you have a negative Condition that’s really screwing you, you have the option of just leaning into it hard and then getting rid of it.
Try Harder Next Time:
A new Move. When you screw up, you can take an appropriate Condition and then take one Forward. If you can synergize with this A Blank Canvas, this would obviously become a potential +2 to a roll. It also potentially makes you advance very quickly, as you gain experience for failing and then also for getting a Condition thanks to Better Than Nothing.
Add one to rolls while lying. Also totally new. Remember this is while your character is lying, not you the player. It adds to the incentives to play as though you’re whoever people think you are on the outside while working towards something completely different.
When you Gaze Into the Abyss, if you roll at least a 7 you are allowed to permanently swap two of your stats. Super useful, lets you straight retool for whatever you’re going to need to do as long as you have time to plan so you can Gaze. This used to be an option you could take if you rolled 10+ instead of taking a normal result, now it’s an optional extra on any kind of success and way better for it.
When a main character harms you or helps you heal, you can watch them with wide eyes and study them. This lets you temporarily gain one of their Skin Moves, which lasts until you use it. This used to be called Mimicry, and made you roll Dark to copy a Move that was used against you. On a 7-9 you got a result like this, where you got it single-use. On a 10+ you could actually permanently replace a Move with it. This one is way better, honestly, and more flavorful.
The Hollow lost some Moves. Two were combat-based, one of them let you reduce the Harm you take if the attacker didn’t take advantage of a Condition and another which let you fire up the base cannon and do one more Harm than you were currently suffering from when you Lash Out Violently. Combat Moves basically don’t exist anymore and these were some of the most busted ones so no real surprise they’re gone. They also lost a Stat Swap move, which let you Shut Someone Down with Dark instead of Cold. This is just gone, you suck with Cold no matter what unless you Metamorph.
The Hollow’s Backstory lets you gain two Strings on the person who you’ve been taking social cues from. Someone else has seen through your fake past, and gains two Strings on you. This si unchanged. Your Advances are normal, and your Gang is Hollow Siblings.
Your Sex Move used to be that you’d copy theirs, adding the sentence that mirrors Sex Moves afterwards so that it can change. It’s not that anymore. Now it’s this:
When you have sex with someone, both players secretly write down whether the sex was confusing or soothing for their character. If you reveal the same answer, both characters mark experience.
That’s really cool and drives player drama, it’s so much better. As for the Darkest Self:
Your body is a prison. You don’t belong inside of it. You need to put it in harm’s way, and make
it suffer, just like it’s made you suffer. There’s got to be a way to cut yourself out of it. You need to meet your makers, and hold them accountable for what they’ve done to you. To escape your Darkest Self, you must come to see how someone else feels more trapped than you do.
This is unchanged from the first edition.
The Hollow is just great and really speaks to me personally. That’s all I’ll really say on that.
We’ll have two more Skins next time, The Infernal and the greatest monster of all, The Mortal.
The Infernal and The Mortal
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Infernal and The Mortal
, more Skins. This time, The Infernal and The Mortal.
At first, it seemed innocent. It gave you things, made you feel good about yourself. You came to it with your problems, and it fixed them. When you asked how you could return the favour, it told you to be patient - that all debts would be settled in due time. That was the first time you heard it mention debts.
You’ve got Satan as your cornerman, or a demon in your brain. Or maybe the stars glow just for you. Regardless, you owe a debt to something much bigger and scarier than you’ll ever be.
You owe a debt to some kind of dark power, and wildly vary between riding high on borrowed power and crashing lows. Your stat options are Volatile 2/ Dark 1 or Dark 2/ Hot 1 (they don’t give any descriptions this time, but you’re either a nasty piece of work or kind of hot and mysterious with those spreads). The original Infernal was Volatile/Dark.
All Infernals start with the Move Soul Debt, and one more from the list.
You owe a Dark Power a debt. Name it, and choose two Bargains it provides you. We’ll get to those after the Moves. If the Dark Power ever has five Strings on you, you automatically enter your Darkest Self. This is super cool and provides some automatic world building. The old version game you a list of titles for your Dark Power, this is a bit more open ended on that front. Otherwise the same.
If you bring an innocent soul to your Dark Power, you mark experience. Super flavorful and unchanged from the prior version.
If someone has three or more Strings on you, you add one to your rolls to carry out their bidding. This is new and I love it. The whole Infernal experience is very much about kinda being a toadie and this applies not just to your Dark Power but to anyone who gets leverage on you and encourages you to kowtow to them.
Can’t Save Myself:
When someone else saves you from forces that were beyond your reckoning, they mark experience and you get a String on them. Also super cool and probably going to be a common occurrence for you. This is unchanged from the original.
Before we get to the Bargains, let’s play taps for Unknowable. This was a combat Move the Infernal used to have, which make their Lashing Out Physically weird and way safer than usual. Combat moves are almost universally gone and this is no different.
Now for the Bargains, which seem to be unchanged:
The Power Flows Through You:
Add 2 to a roll in exchange for giving your Dark Power a String. It’s pretty hard to fail a roll you add 2 to if you’re good at that stat, so this is really good.
Numbing it Out:
Remove two Harm or a Condition in exchange for giving your Dark Power a String. Conditions remain hard to get rid of in second edition so this is more powerful now.
Use a Move from another Skin, once, in exchange for giving your Dark Power a String. So many great things to do with this. Remember just from what we’ve already seen this would let you walk through walls, fly, and resist dying. That is not the limit of its power, by any stretch.
Give the Dark Power to realize a secret about a person you’re talking to. They choose one of their secret fears, secret desires, or secret strengths.
Ask for something. Anything, go nuts. The MC will then tell you what your Dark Power wants for it. It’s that ‘easy’.
Your backstory starts with you owing debts. Give three Strings out, divided between the other characters and your Dark Power. Note that this can let you start out with Under Pressure active! Someone else thinks they can save you, you gain a String on them. This is unchanged. Your Advancements aren’t quite the same as normal. You lose out on one of the normal chances of getting a new move from the Skin, in exchange for getting the rest of the Bargains as an option. Your Gang is to supply for Needy Fiends.
Your Sex Move remains the same as the original, which transfers one of your Dark Power’s Strings on you to the person you slept with. It continues to be really flavorful and provoke spooky results. Your Darkest Self is also the same:
You find yourself shivering, needy, and alone. The Dark Power will make some daunting, open-ended demands. Every demand fulfilled brings you closer to feeling whole again, and removes one of the Dark Power’s Strings on you. You escape your Darkest Self when the Dark Power is out of Strings, or you make a bargain with an even more dangerous entity.
The Infernal continues to be really cool, maybe even cooler now with Under Pressure around.
None of them would understand. What you have here, in this dark and secret place, it’s beautiful. They’d warn you that this sort of beauty is dangerous, like a raging fire. Well some things are worth getting burned for.
Love has eclipsed all hope, and the dark has left you feeling beautiful.
Also known as The Real Monster Here. You’re basically the protagonist from Twilight, and you’re all about horrible codependency with the character you’ve designated as your True Love. Your stat choices are Hot 2/ Dark 1 (brooding and lonely) or Hot 2/Volatile 1 (impulsive and panicky). The original Mortal was Hot/Dark.
All Mortals start with the Move True Love, and choose two more from the list.
You always have exactly one Lover. You choose one during Backstory later. If you fall in love with someone else, they become your Lover and gain a String on you. You always carry one Forward to earning your Lover’s heart. This is unchanged from the original and is exactly as clingy and obsessive as it seems.
Mess With Me, Mess With Him:
When you use your Lover’s name in a threat, add 2 to your rolls to Shut Someone Down or Keep Your Cool. Your Lover then gains a String on you. This is pretty powerful, in that it counters your otherwise bad Cold stat. This is unchanged from first edition.
If you have a total of five strings between yourself and another character, you get to add one to all rolls against them. This does NOT have to be your Lover. It’s pretty good (though you’ve potentially given the person a lot of ammunition against you to activate it) and is unchanged from the first edition.
Sympathy is My Weapon:
When you forgive someone for hurting you, gain a String on them. Unchanged, and just as delightfully horrible as it was before.
Excuses Are My Armor:
Whenever you ignore a blatant problem with your Lover, mark experience. Another real good one, and again unchanged.
You can add 2 to rolls to Gaze Into the Abyss if you inflict one Harm on yourself when you do. Very strong and flavorful, but really dark. Also unchanged.
Down the Rabbit Hole:
When you’re poking into something you really shouldn’t be, you mark experience and someone involved gains a String on you. Super duper flavorful, and again unchanged.
So, the Mortal’s the only Skin so far that has all its original moves intact and unchanged, and no new Moves as well. This is a testament to how well they hit out of the park the idea of telling the relationships of people like the main character of Twilight like they are.
You always declare your Backstory last, and it is to choose your Lover. They gain three Strings on you, you take one on them. That’s how it worked in the original as well. The Mortal can’t take a Gang as an Advance, just as in the original. Instead, they get another opportunity to take a Move from another Skin. At some point I should do a post about some synergies between Skins. But for example just think about how The Mortal could make use of Under Pressure, because your Lover will almost always have three Strings on you.
Your Sex Move remains nasty as hell, as soon as you take your eyes off them next they become their Darkest Self. As for your Darkest Self:
Nobody understands you. Nobody even tries. You do so much for the people you love, and they walk all over you. Enough is enough! Betray them. Show them what its like to be uncared for. Reveal their monstrosity and yours. Only seeing the pain that you’re causing your Lover will let you escape your Darkest Self.
This has been rewritten a bit, and is much more about you being treated badly by those you love rather than simply misunderstood. It’s the only real change and I like it a lot.
Our next two Skins are The Queen and The Vampire. We’ve only got four more Core Skins total.
The Queen and The Vampire
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Queen and The Vampire
I will say this edition of Monsterhearts as much as begs you not to luridly describe sex or violence and to immediately speak up and stop them if someone tries to do that, and if that doesn't work suggests to you that it might be time to get the fuck out of there because you shouldn't put up with people who won't respect boundaries.
Last time on Monsterhearts
, we had two Skins that were pretty similar to their original verisons. Let’s see if that continues.
You’re one of the special ones. A sovereign beauty. You deserve more than the rest of this wretched world does. You deserve the will and worship of those around you.
And it’s not only because you’re better than them. It’s because you make them better. Stronger, more beautiful, complete. They’d be nothing without you.
The Queen is Cordelia, pretty much. Except maybe the Queen leads a cult, or is literally an alien monster. The Queen gives you the option of being as supernatural or not as you think is appropriate, which is cool. Your stat choices are Hot 2/Cold 1 (desirable and commanding) or Cold 2/ Dark 1 (cutthroat and secretive). The original Queen was Hot/Cold.
The Queen gets the Move The Clique, and one more.
You’re the head of the baddest clique around, which counts as a Gang. You get to choose one of the following as their strength:
-They’re armed (with guns and real dangerous stuff)
-They’re connected (with money and designer drugs)
-They’re talented (in a band or sports team)
-They’re cultists (with dark oaths and willingness to die)
They’re a bit better than a normal Gang, because you’re in charge. This is unchanged from the original.
When surrounded by your Gang, rolls against you suffer a -1 penalty. There are very few ways to give someone a penalty and that makes this pretty strong all on its own. One thing that’s different is that there is no more Disadvantage mechanic, so this Move has no mechanical effect against NPCs.
You can give an NPC a String to tempt them to do your bidding, as though you’d spend a String on them. It works the same way, you’ll be told what they want by the MC. This used to give you a +2 to your roll to Manipulate an NPC, but that Move is gone. You’re the only one who can effectively do that action without a String in play now, making The Queen quite special.
And Your Enemies Closer:
Whenever someone betrays you, gain a String on them. Nice and flavorful, this is unchanged. And maybe speaks to some inter-Skin Move synergies you could take as you Advance. If only there was another Skin that had Moves that let you do things with Strings when someone betrays you.
When you offer one of your Gang members to someone, add 2 to the roll to Turn Someone On. If one of your Gang members has sex with someone, it triggers your Sex Move. This kind of makes membership in your Gang contagious, as we’ll see in the Queen’s Sex Move. +2 is still a huge bonus. This is unchanged from first edition.
You have a telepathing connection with your Gang. You can always read their emotions, and you can read their thoughts by Gazing Into the Abyss about it with a +1 to the roll. Super cool and flavorful, and unchanged from the original.
The Queen has all her moves basically intact, and no new ones. Again, they did a pretty good job with this the first time.
The Queen’s Backstory has her naming three side characters who are in her Gang and gaining a String on each. You then have to find someone threatening, and exchange Strings with them. This is similar to the original, but before you would gain two Strings on the threatening person. The Queen’s Advances are mostly normal, but in place of a Gang you get to take The Clique again.
The Queen’s Sex Move gives the Condition “One of Them”, which makes them count as being part of your Gang as long as it lasts. So as noted, with Many Bodies you can end up with a situation where “One of Them” is spreading around like a particularly nasty social disease. Which it might in fact be, depending on how you define The Queen. Her Darkest Self is as follows:
They’ve failed you. Again. This whole mess is their fault, and why should you have to suffer the consequences of their idiocy? You need to make an example
out of each of them -- a cruel
and unwavering example. You escape your Darkest Self when you relinquish part of your power to someone more deserving, or when you destroy an innocent person in order to prove your might.
This is the same as the original, which worked really well. The Queen’s only real changes were to bring her in line with the current rules.
You are beauty eternal. You are the darkness that everyone wants to taste, but no one dares understand. It’s there in your eyes, your carefully chosen words, and your every gesture: you no longer have a soul.
Some vampires revel in that fact, their afterlife a tapestry of hedonism and exsanguination. Others hate the evil in their skin, solemnly vowing to a chaste and lonely existence. Either way, someone suffers. The choice is yours.
Everyone hopefully knows what a Vampire is, and the shitty things they tend to represent. It’s important to define a bit how Vampires work in your setting, for example what’s the deal with your character and the sun? The Vampire’s stat spreads are much less varied than most other Skins, you can choose from Hot 2/Cold 1 (sexy) or Hot 1/Cold 2 (disdainful). Hot/Cold was the original Vampire’s stat spread.
The Vampire chooses two Moves.
You can’t enter a home without being invited. If you are invited in, you gain a String on the person. Obviously cool and flavorful, and unchanged from the original.
You can hypnotize people who have no Strings on you. Roll with Hot, on a 10+ they do what you want and have no idea something is wrong. On a 7-9, the hypnosis works but choose one: They realize what you’ve done, they fuck up what you told them to do, or they become unhinged. This move is unchanged, and super powerful. Make sure you maintain Strings on the Vampire if you want to avoid it.
Cold as Ice:
When you Shut Someone Down and roll a 7 or higher, choose an extra option from the list if you want. Really good, since you’ll probably be using that Move a lot (since it’s the only real way to purge Strings so you can use Hypnotic, for example). Unchanged.
You feed on hot blood, direct from the source. If this is the first time you’ve fed on someone, you both mark experience. Then, choose two: You heal 1 Harm, you take 1 Forward, or they definitely won’t die. This has been changed a bit from the previous version, where you had to always take the last option to prevent the person from dying. Now it’s a bit more interesting, because they still MIGHT die if you don’t pick it. After all, the MC has Reactions for situations like these…
Marked for the Hunt:
Feeding on someone gives you a bond. From that point forward, if you are Gazing Into the Abyss concerning their whereabouts or well-being you count as Dark 3. Pretty powerful and flavorful, you see Vampires do this sort of thing a lot in your Twilights and True Bloods and what have you. Unchanged.
Spend a String on someone and demand they stay in your presence. If they still leave, you gain two Strings on them. Also unchanged.
The Vampire’s not got any new or removed Moves, the main difference is that The Feeding is potentially going to generate slightly fewer corpses.
The Vampire’s Backstory starts with them gaining a String on everyone because they’re sparkly. Someone saved your unlife, and they gain two Strings on you. That’s the same as the original. Your Advances are normal, and your Gang is a Vampire Coterie.
As with the previous version, your Sex Move actually revolves around sexual denial. When you deny someone sexually, you gain a String on them. But if you have sex with someone, you lose all your Strings on them. As for their Darkest Self:
Everyone is your pawn, your plaything. You hurt them and make them vulnerable, for sport -- like a cat does with a mouse. Maybe you’ll even drain them dry, though you’ll certainly take your time first. You escape your Darkest Self when you’re put in your rightful place, by someone more powerful than you.
This version is a bit different, the original implied you’d definitely kill people if you got the chance whereas this is much more ‘I might kill people if I decide it’d be fun, who cares if I do’. I like it, the original Vampire was maybe a bit too kill-y for the source material.
Two more Core Skins to come, the Werewolf and the Witch.
The Werewolf and The Witch
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Werewolf and The Witch
We return to Monsterhearts with the last two Core Skins.
Everyone around you seems so willing to play the roles they are handed, to quietly colour within the lines. They’ve been tamed, domesticated. You’re of a different stock: you’ve broken down the fence built to contain you. You’ve howled at the moon, and heard it howl back.
Now, the transformation is complete. This is what you were always meant to be. Wild. Unwavering. Alive.
You know what a werewolf is. They represent all things wild, primal, and uncontrolled. You may or may not be able to be a wolf outside of your Darkest Self, but your Moves are unchanged regardless. Your stat options reflect this, you can be Hot 2/Volatile 1 (heart-breaker with a mean streak) or Volatile 2/Hot 1 (unpredictable loose cannon who’s dangerous to get close to). The original Werewolf was Hot/Volatile.
Choose two Moves from the list below.
When you harm someone, gain a String on them. The Werewolf is a character that uses violence to get their way. This is actually now kind of their specific thing, because Lash Out Violently no longer generates a String on the target on a 10+. So while this is unchanged, it actually does matter much more.
Scent of Blood:
Add one to rolls against those who’ve already been harmed this scene. This is of course any roll, not just violence, and you don’t need to have done it. This is unchanged from the original.
Howl at the Moon:
When bathed in moonlight, you have Dark 3. This used to be a +2, which in practice meant you’d go from -1 to +1. So this is a massive buff, really. It gives you some interesting options beyond just making you great at Gazing Into the Abyss, because it makes moves from other Skins that roll Dark super powerful while in moonlight.
While bathed in moonlight, reduce all Harm you take by 1 and add 2 to rolls to Keep Your Cool. This affects a different Move now, but is in practice unchanged. It obviously synergizes well with Howl at the Moon to make you really powerful under the moon.
When you rely on your animal instincts in a charged situation, roll Dark (so another synergy with Howl). On a 10+, ask three of the following questions then take one Forward: What’s my best escape route or way in? Which enemy is the most vulnerable to me? What’s their secret weakness? What poses the biggest threat to me? Who’s in control here? On a 7-9, you get to ask one question and take one Forward. This is mostly the same as the original, though you didn’t used to get to take Forward on a 7-9.
When you enter your Darkest Self, mark experience. Simple and to the point, the Werewolf is incentivized to wolf out and do bad shit.
The Werewolf has lost some Moves since first edition. The first let you essentially roll Volatile to break out of confinement, the second was a Stat Swap that let you roll Volatile instead of Cold in your Darkest Self. Stat Swaps are almost all gone and Uncontainable might not have really needed a system beyond the normal Run Away Move.
The werewolf gives everyone a String, because they’re unsubtle. You are basically stalking someone, and gain two Strings on them. You’ve got normal Advances, and your Gang is a Wolf Pack.
You get a cool Sex Move, until one of you has sex with someone else you share a special bond with the person you slept with and add 1 to all rolls to defend them. But you know immediately if it’s broken, so drama. It’s the same as it was. As for their Darkest Self:
You transform into a terrifying wolf-creature. You crave power and dominance, and those are earned through bloodshed. If anyone attempts to stand in your way, they must be brought down and made to bleed. You escape your Darkest Self when you wound someone you really care about or the sun rises, whichever happens first.
It’s unchanged, they hit it pretty well the first time.
In every lock of hair, every furtive glance, every secret note that transfers hands during history class – there is an invitation. An invitation to be fucked with. Not that witchcraft is about fucking with others, exactly, but it’s hard not to notice how utterly malleable the world is, once you know a thing or two about magic.
Of course, a good witch like you knows restraint. A good witch turns a blind eye to all those invitations, and doesn’t think about how sweet vengeance and con- trol might be. A good witch is above that sort of thing. At least, most of the time.
Our final Core Skin. You’re, well, what it says on the tin. You’re a Witch, who does magic stuff. It’s generally pretty unpleasant, and not always the most subtle either. Your stat options are Cold 2/ Dark 1 (calculating and venomous) or Dark 2/ Hot 1 (seductive and spooky). The original was Cold/Dark. I especially like this new option, because we see a lot of pop culture witches that much more follow that archetype.
You start with the Moves Sympathetic Tokens and Hex-Casting. You need an Advance to pick up another Skin Move, which is new. You used to get a Move pick as well.
You gain power from items of personal significance taken from other people. They count as Strings (and so are obviously lost if that String is spent). Obviously cool and flavorful, and unchanged from the original.
You know two of the Hexes (which I’ll cover after the Moves). To cast them you either need to expend a Sympathetic Token during a secret ritual, or meet the target’s gaze and chant in tongues (which is Unsubtle). Then you roll Dark. On a 10+ the Hex works and is something you can easily reverse if you choose. On a 7-9, it works but choose one: take one Harm, the Hex has weird side-effects, or you trigger your Darkest Self. This move is also the same as the original.
If something about your ritual transgresses your community’s moral or sexual standards, add one to your Hex-Casting roll. Be gay, do (magic) crimes. It’s pretty flavorful, and unchanged.
You have a secret place for your witchcraft, and you add one to all your rolls while there. This has been buffed, it used to just add one to Hex-Casting. Now, you’re just better at ANYTHING while there. So be gay, do magic crimes, then invite someone over and be better at Turning Them On because of your sexy magic lair.
The Witch used to have another Move, which let you add to your rolls to Hold Steady (now Keep Your Cool) or Run Away if you had Sympathetic Tokens on the person in question. I suspect they wanted you to feel more free to be quick and loose with the use of Sympathetic Tokens both as Strings and for Hexes.
Speaking of Hexes:
Something goes horribly wrong with the target’s body. Maybe all their hair falls out, maybe they start losing teeth, maybe their skin gets horrible. But it’s definitely awful. There is no Harm defined, but this would certainly be an opportunity for the Inflict Harm Reaction. This returns unchanged.
The target cannot physically harm others, full stop. Straight out of The Craft, and unchanged.
Ring of Lies:
The target will suffer ill effects when they attempt to lie. This ranges from loud ringing noises to disorienting pain to actual Harm, depending on how big the lie is. Very powerful and unchanged.
You fall into a deep sleep and see the world through the target’s eyes. You can also feel their impressions and reactions to what they’re seeing. Another flavorful one, and unchanged.
Pick one: snakes and bugs, demonic visages, false prophecies, non-existent subtext. The hexed person sees that thing everywhere. This is unchanged and the last one still owns.
The Witch remains very powerful, especially since the Dark/Hot version can get a lot of Strings between Turning People On and swiping their shit.
Your Backstory gives you two Sympathetic Tokens, you decide whose they are and what they are. One of the others caught you rummaging, though, and gets a String on you. This is the same as before. Your Advancements are kind of special. You trade out one of your potential new Witch Moves for one that lets you take all the rest of the Hexes, and get a special Advance to create your own new Hex (which doesn’t replace any of the normal Advancement options). Your Gang is a Coven.
Your Sex Move hasn’t changed, when you have sex with someone you get to take a Sympathetic Token. They’re aware of it and fine with it. As for your Darkest Self:
The time for subtlety and patience is over. You’re too powerful to put up with their garbage any longer. You hex anyone who slights you. All of your hexes have unexpected side effects, and are more effective than you are comfortable with. To escape your Darkest Self, you must offer peace to the one you have hurt the most.
Unchanged, because they got it perfect the first time. Don’t fuck with the Witch.
Next time, we have the two extra Skins: The Chosen and The Serpentine.
The Chosen and The Serpentine
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Chosen and The Serpentine
We finished up the Core Skins last time on Monsterhearts
, and it’s time to move on to the Bonus Skins. These were free downloads that were not part of the Core package, because both kind of change the game in ways that makes the character with the Skin more important than everyone else. We’ll see how as we go.
The world needs you. It needs someone brave enough to walk blindly into the darkness, and to shine a light for all the lost souls out there. They need a champion. They can’t do it alone.
There’s just that one nagging worry, the one that rears its head at the worst possible moments: what if you’re not good enough?
You’re Buffy. And because you’re Buffy, this has been downgraded from a Core Skin to an optional one. Because when you’re Buffy, that means you’re on a show that has your goddamn name in the title. Not every group is going to be fine with that. Your stat options are Cold 2/Volatile 1 (brooding leader) and Volatile 2/Hot 1 (impassioned warrior). The original Chosen was Hot/Volatile.
You get two Moves to start with.
When you fail to protect your friends, mark experience. This is unchanged, but potentially is actually a bit more powerful than it used to be since you now get experience for failing rolls as well.
When you decide to spare someone you have reason to kill, take a String on them. Flavorful, and interesting in combination with one of the other Moves. This is unchanged.
Spend four Strings on someone. They are finally and irrevocably dead. Do not pass go. Do not spend Strings to inflict Harm back, because that is no longer part of this Move. It’s way, way more powerful than the original, because it’s no longer super likely to kill you.
To the Books:
You and the Scooby Gang hit the library. This counts as Gazing Into the Abyss, and you add one to the roll for each friend helping (valuable since Dark is a bad stat). A 10+ on the roll will, in addition to the other results, show you your enemy’s secret weakness and give you a String on them. This used to be a bit different, with its own mechanics instead of being a special case of Gaze. But Gazing probably covers Buffy-style research pretty well, honestly.
Take the Blow:
When you leap into the way of some Harm someone is going to take, roll Volatile. On a 10+, you take the Harm instead but reduced by one. On a 7-9, you just take the Harm. Incredibly powerful when dealing with normal fighting, since a 10+ will just negate the Harm outright. This is unchanged.
Light the Way:
Whenever your friends are following your lead, they add one to their rolls. I’ll probably have a post on Move synergies, but you could easily become a terribly effective if very dysfunctional team if everyone took Under Pressure and the Chosen had enough Strings on them all to trigger it. Again, kind of like some Buffy seasons!
The Chosen also used to have a move called Come Prepared that meant you just sort of had all the monster slaying tools you might need. This didn’t need to be a move, you just have that shit. Werewolves don’t need a move to turn into a goddamn wolf.
Your Backstory gives you a String on each of two friends who help you with your activities. But there’s someone who knows who and what you are and wants you dead. You describe them, then the MC will name them and give them two Strings on you. This is the way it worked in the original. The Advances are normal, with your Gang being Unholy Allies. Because again this is Buffy.
Your Sex Move is the same as it was before, when you have sex with someone you remove all your Harm and cure all your Conditions. If they disgust you, give them a String, if you disgust yourself, also give them a String. As for the Darkest Self:
None of your friends can help. They’re not strong like you
are. You need to chase down the biggest threat imaginable, immediately and alone. Any challenges or dangers that you encounter must be faced head on, even if they might kill you. You escape your Darkest Self when someone comes to your rescue or you wake up in the hospital, whichever comes first.
That’s also the same as the original. The Chosen’s flavor was fine the first time, they were just not really suited to be a Core Skin.
In ancient days, your family held dominion over this world. They were powerful, deadly, and wise. At least, that’s what they tell you. But all you’ve ever seen is empty faith and crumbling dreams. You just want to live your life like any other kid, but they have bigger plans for you.
They say that there will come a day when the serpent rules once more. That once again they will swap secrets with powerful allies and venom with pow- erful enemies. But they need your help first. After all, what else is family for?
You are the Reptiloid conspiracy. You’re some kind of reptile person, but that’s not really what the Serpentine is ‘about’. What it’s about is faded glory and what people are willing to do to regain it. This isn’t suited to be a Core Skin because you come with a whole cast of side characters, your family. They’re going to play a huge role in any game with a Serpentine, so everyone should be comfortable with that. Your stat choices are Hot 2/Cold 1 (seductive and aloof) and Cold 2/Volatile 1 (fierce and dangerous). The original was Hot/Cold, the new stat spread is clearly there to model some of what was changed in the Moves if you want. Because there are definitely some changes in the Moves.
You get Failing Dynasty, and one more.
Back before these shitty mammals ruined everything, your family was hot shit. You choose what they’re trying to get back: their political clout, their old wealth, their failing beauty, their secret allies. When a family member convinces you to do their bidding, you take one Forward to doing it but they gain a String on you. When you help your family regain some of its glory, mark experience. This remains the core mechanic of the Serpentine, and is unchanged.
You’re Kaa the snake. Roll Hot. On a 10+, the target freezes up until you blink or someone touches them, after which they don’t really remember anything unusual. On a 7-9, it still works but you’re hissing the whole time and they’re pretty sure something weird happened. This is a little different, it used to give out a Condition, Dazed, and the bonus for 10+ was the effect you always get now. You also didn’t have things get obvious on a 7-9.
The Big Reveal:
When you reveal your true form to someone, they gain a String on you. If they accept you, they mark experience. If they don’t, you take one Forward against them. It’s up to you what all your terrifying true form really is. This is unchanged.
The New Order:
When you learn to meet a need in human society rather than by relying on your family, mark experience. When someone else helps you fit in, they mark experience. This is a fun and friendly Move for once and I like it. It’s unchanged.
Patience is a Virtue:
When you bite your tongue and don’t respond to an antagonist, roll Cold. On 10+, gain a String on them. On a 7-9, take one Forward to striking the next time you see them. This used to give out a Condition instead, called Snake Food. There were other moves that interacted with that Condition, but those are no longer with us. Which leads us to the discussion of removed Moves.
The Serpentine lost a few Moves. Temptation used to let someone take one Forward on doing a thing you convince them to do, and if they succeed you could either mark experience or take a String on them. There was a move that gave people in your lair Snake Food, and another that let you use Cold instead of Volatile to Lash Out at people with Snake Food. But now you just have the option of being Volatile, and the complication of Snake Food is gone. Temptation was kind of cool but I’m not sure it fit with the way the Skin really works. There were also way too many synergies for how many Moves you actually got.
Your Backstory is that you’ve been watching someone to learn what it means to be human. You gain two Strings on them. But your family seeks to control you, and the head of it gains two Strings on you. This is unchanged. Your Advancements are normal, and your Gang is Nest of Humans.
Your Sex Move makes someone a part of your Failing Dynasty, which is what it always did, but the new wording makes something clear that I think was always intended: they literally gain the Move Failing Dynasty. So it’s not just that you get bonuses for doing their bidding but they get tons of Strings on you. The same applies if they do what you want, and your family can also fuck with them. This is your Darkest Self:
The human and serpent worlds are too different, and you’ll never be able to reconcile their demands. The only way out is to choose a side, as decisively and irrevocably as possible. Watch carefully and quietly for an opportunity, and then strike, regardless of who needs to be hobbled or devoured in the process. It’s the only way to make the world simple again, and find your place at last. You escape your Darkest Self when you accept your complicated place in the world, or when you moult.
So this has changed a bit actually. It’s still about the same thing, deciding you need to pick one side or the other of your life, but the exit condition is completely different. You used to have to pick a side to escape, but now you actually have to accept that picking a side isn’t an option at all. That, or you moult, meaning at some level your Darkest Self might just be a literal growing pain. I super like that.
There used to be another Skin that was part of the bonuses, The Angel. It was weird and complicated, and probably one of the most annoying mechanically to deal with. And now it’s gone, there is no more Angel. What there is, though, is an expansion with some extra Skins called Second Skins. Next time we’ll talk about two of those: The Sasquatch and The Wyrm.
The Sasquatch and The Wyrm
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Sasquatch and The Wyrm
Alright now we’ve got some all-new content for Monsterhearts
, we’re starting on the Second Skins.
Everyone around you seems to have it figured out. They flirt and joke and walk around holding hands. You don’t have it figured out. When people look at you, you want to disappear.
I’m going to talk a bit more about the Second Skins, because unlike the originals there isn’t a whole review I have to try not to plagiarize in doing so. The Sasquatch is that super awkward person who never really says anything but is always in the background. They note that it’s really easy for you to end up fading into the background, so everyone should make sure to keep you engaged in the story. You also can’t ever truly disappear, because as we’ll see you smell weird. You are pretty much inherently bullied, it should be noted. It’s going to come up in your Backstory. Your stat options are Volatile 2/Dark 1 (wild and weird) and Dark 2/Cold 1 (someone aware of deeper mysteries who keeps others away). Volatile/Dark was their original stat spread.
You get the Move Musk, and one more. The original version gave you two more.
You have a distinct smell. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s powerful. When you break a sweat near others, the MC will tell you which of them is aroused. You gain a String on them, and they choose a reaction: I give you a compliment, I give myself to you, My eyes water and I gag, I’m also repulsed so I ridicule you about your body and give you a Condition. This is pretty cool and builds on the whole idea that you’re terribly awkward and often have reasons to avoid the spotlight. The original version was a Volatile roll, and if you rolled 10+ they had to choose from a list of positive reactions while on 7-9 they HAD to give you a Condition. This version is a lot better, since it keeps your agency over your reactions intact.
You’re so painfully awkward that it affects those around you as well. When you ask someone one from the following list of questions, they will blurt out a truthful answer: Who do you want to make out with? What don’t you want me to find out? What do you intend to do? What do you wish I’d do? What are you scared of? What are you ashamed of? Do you like me? If you want to ask another question that scene, you have to answer the same question yourself. Super like this. This used to have a system, you’d roll Dark at the start of a conversation and on a 10+ they’d blurt out two of these, on a 7-9 they’d do one. I like the current one better, again, in part because it rewards thinking out your own answers to these questions. Also it doesn’t have unnecessary dice rolling.
The Long Fuse:
When someone wrapped in your arms would take Harm, negate it. If you do, name something that you hold dear. You must destroy that thing later, or suffer the Harm yourself. This is incredibly cool, and positions you as someone who’s willing to give everything for those they care about. This is unchanged from the original.
When you hold someone close, gain a String on them. A corollary to The Long Fuse. While your awkwardness isolates you, what you really want is to be close to people. And doing so gives you deep understanding of them. Keep in mind you smell funny. This is also unchanged from the original.
You can fade from view and become invisible. If you want to hide your scent as well, roll to Keep Your Cool. On a 7+, your scent is hidden for a while in addition to the other results. Bigfoot vanishes into the woods out of nowhere, and so do you. While there were similar Moves in the original, this is new. I’ll just talk about the deprecated moves after we’re done the current ones.
Hidden in the Scenery:
When no one knows where you are, you can roll Dark to become hidden in the scene and start listening. On a 10+, nobody knows. On a 7-9, someone notices. If they don’t reveal you, they gain a String on you at the end of the scene. This is also really cool, and is an unchanged Move from the original. It’d also be a neat Move to take as a Skin like the Ghost.
The Sasquatch used to have two Moves that are now gone. Negatives let you roll Dark to erase evidence of yourself, with it vanishing completely on a 10+ and leaving holes and mystery that still remains on a 7-9. Disappear was sort of like Unnoticeable, but was a special Run Away action. On a 10+ you could disappear and slip away, on a 7-9 you’d still turn invisible but the person there who cares most about you would gain a String on you. The old Sasquatch had way too much dice rolling, frankly, and has become a lot more streamlined. The Moves that were lost were cool, but probably didn’t need to exist as they did.
Your Background has someone finally notice you and gain a String on you. Someone makes fun of you. They give you a Condition, you gain two Strings on them. This Condition is explicitly normal and can be resolved as normal. This is how it worked in the first edition. Your Advancements are normal, and your Gang is a Secret Club. Since I’ve got a 1e Skin right here, though, let me mention something really important about how Advancements have changed. See, you can only take one of any given Advancement per Season, which means that with only the one +1 Stat advancement in Monsterhearts 2 you’re limited to one stat rise per Season. The original had separate Advancements for each stat, letting you potentially raise all four every Season (up to the limit of 3). This was kind of busted if you were playing an extended game with the same characters and changing it was definitely for the better.
Your Sex Move is as follows:
Whoever has sex with you smells like you afterwards. If they face their peers before scrubbing it off, they mark experience.
That’s pretty cool, mark experience for doing something that makes it incredibly clear you’re ‘with’ the awkward kid people barely know exists. This used to come with a Condition, Scented, but no longer does. Conditions are a bit more serious now since they can be much stickier, so probably a good change. As for the Darkest Self:
Now, right now, it’s time to rain stones down upon the bullies and the excluders. It’s time to wreck their precious stuff, to shove them back so hard that they’ll never even dream of messing with you or anyone ever, ever again. You escape your Darkest Self when you hurt one of those people more than they’ve ever hurt anyone else... and more than you meant to.
To finish off the idea that you’re the quiet kind of loner kid who’s always in the background, you’re also the kid who suddenly snaps and unleashes a brutal suplex on a bully out of nowhere. That’s pretty much a perfect cap to this. And just as that suggests, you’ve lost all sense of proportion and are probably going to do something really regrettable in the end because you haven’t been dealing with your anger in a healthy fashion. We also sort of see that in The Long Fuse, of course.
You see what most miss, passing glances that tell tales of control. You’ve been transformed by your aching desire for power over people. They’re hard to acquire all at once, but you can win them bit by bit, piece by piece, string by string.
What you’ve changed into - you’re the kind of thing that runs the world. You don’t have to be liked to be obeyed, or understood to be feared. There’s nothing so excellent as the delicate flavor of power over others.
Let’s just be straight up, you’re a fucking dragon. This version is less blatant about it (first edition was to the point of making this Skin kind of absurdly powerful) but that is what you are. You want things, and when you want them you have to make them yours. Sometimes, those things are people, but you really don’t care. They’re going to be yours anyway, and you’re going to have them. Not anyone else. You’re also the goddamn master of Strings and fucking with people, this Skin owns. Your stat options are Cold 2/Dark 1 (manipulative and otherworldly) or Dark 2/Volatile 1 (mystical and reactionary). The previous version was Cold/Dark. But, well, Volatile didn’t need to be a high stat, as we’ll see.
The current version chooses two Moves from the list below.
You have a beautiful collection of some kind, you decide what. Whenever you show it off to someone, they find something in it they want. They mark experience when that thing becomes theirs. This is, as its name suggests, the bait on the end of your Strings. It’s how you incentivize people to want to make deals with you. The Wyrm likes deals. This move used to be free and mandatory, and used to have some extra effect after they got the item. It does not need either to be way strong, because the whole point is to lure you into interacting with a character you really fucking shouldn’t if you were smart.
With eye contact and smoke you enter a strange trance with someone else. While there you can trade Strings and objects and make promises. This includes both Strings on others as well as new Strings on yourselves. So yes, you can dime out a friend by giving the Wyrm some of your Strings on them in exchange for that sweet issue of Batman you were missing. There’s obvious synergies here with some Fae Moves, watch the fuck out for Wyrms that are smart enough to take those with Advances. This was also a mandatory Move in the original version, which then gave you one more Move. It’s otherwise unchanged.
When you gain a String on someone with two or more Conditions, gain one more. Short and two the point, and incredibly powerful. And needless to say it incentivizes you to fuck with people behind their backs to get them into a situation of needing your help, then getting massive leverage on them. When they figure this out they’ll probably be pissed, but will they even be able to do anything about it anymore? This used to be called Broker, and instead required the character to have a Condition named on one of the other Skins to work. This version is better, since you can just trigger it by texting enough people that Cindy’s a bitchy slut.
This is the most amazing move. You wax poetic about another main character’s beauty, at which point THEY roll to Turn the person On with a +1. They’re the one that has to deal with the messy outcomes while you were just trying to help. It’s also a great way of generating Strings on characters you might want them on without risking anything yourself, letting you then trade that your rare Garfield mug for them. The old version didn’t have the bonus. It was better at shitting on the character you were targeting, but you kind of want them to succeed because again the point is the String economy is your bitch.
When someone you treasure shows affection to someone else, take one Forward against that person. Simple and to the point, you’re a possessive asshole. This replaces a Move called Jealous Coils, which involved a Dark roll. You’d gain a String on the character you covet, and on a 10+ they’d lose one. On a 7-9 they’d give you a Condition or you’d say something you’d regret. A lot of these Second Skins were way too roll and mechanics heavy and this change is part of mitigating that.
Where I Want You:
Plot to catch someone alone and spend four Strings on them. You frame the next scene either of you appear in. Describe the place but leave it unsaid how either of you got there. Until you make a Move, nobody else can show up and they can’t leave. The ultimate incarnation of covetousness, you straight steal them from the story to get to say or do whatever it was you think you deserve to get to because they belong to you. This is unchanged from the original.
There was one more Move, Scales, that went the way of a lot of Moves that were really combat-focused in this edition. It was also a Stat Swap, making it double-plus ungood here. You could give yourself the Condition Secretly Vulnerable and straight turn into a no holds barred draconic nightmare thing. It let you Lash Out Physically with Dark and inflict arbitrary levels of Harm when you hit. That was, needless to say, busted. That you can have high Volatile now is a nod to the idea that the Wyrm might well in fact be literally some kind of dragon without making you Death Incarnate.
Your Backstory has you dividing people into Treasure and Currency. You describe the moment each Treasure caught your eye and give each a String. Everyone else makes up something mean you said to them, and you gain a String on them. God the Wyrm is such an asshole, I love it. This is how it used to work, though it was previously something ‘off-putting’ rather than ‘mean’. Your Advances are normal, and your Gang are Collectors.
Your Sex Move is suitably also really strong:
After sex with someone, ask them what they’d like and promise you’ll get it for them. Gain 2 Strings on them.
Which in turn is a really fun thing if that person happens to be the Fae! This has been substantially changed, the previous was very complicated. They’d choose one to four of the following: Giving you a String for something from your collection, giving you a String for a String, giving you a String for the current effect, or giving you a String to give you a Condition. This kind of had to change, because The Bait is no longer mandatory so you don’t inherently have a collection with something they want. I like the new simpler one better. As for the Darkest Self:
You’ve become too heady, too lax, too vague. You need to dominate one of the people-things that
you treasure, let it know that it’s yours, that it doesn’t get to choose who owns it – you do.
You escape your Darkest Self when your treasured thing proves that you don’t own it entirely, or when you see the difference between objects and people.
This is unchanged from the original and I really like it because the escapes are all an asshole having to deal with the fact that they can’t always get their way one way or the other. Once you’ve got some Moves you’re the Real Final Boss of Monsterhearts’ social game, who cares whether you can turn people on yourself when you describe the sexy werewolf to the mortal then convince them to give you a chunk of that relationship for part of your rare collection of exotic beef jerkies.
Next time, two more Second Skins: The Cuckoo and The Unicorn.
The Cuckoo and The Unicorn
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Cuckoo and The Unicorn
Skins, this time the Cuckoo and Unicorn.
Others’ lives are just so fascinating. That’s why you want to walk a mile in their shoes... and pants... and shirt. That’s why you want to look out through their eyes, make a few promises with their voice, and maybe kiss someone with those sweet lips.
Look at that smile. You could be anyone.
So, the Cuckoo is a magical shapeshifter who turns into people by wearing their clothes. The Skin is of course named after the bird, who lays its eggs in the nests of other birds so as to have them take care of its children. So let’s get to something pretty important for a game with sex in it: You do in fact physically turn into someone you’re passing as. This includes having their various bits, and it lasts as long as you are still wearing some of their clothes. If you completely undress, though, you go back to being you. Your stat options are Volatile 2/Hot 1 (spontaneous and charming) or Hot 2/Cold 1 (gorgeous and snobby). The original’s was Hot/Cold.
You always have the Moves Feathers and Feathers Made of Knives, and get to choose one more.
You can magically pass for someone else by wearing their clothes. When you’re seen in their clothes but aren’t currently passing, roll Hot. On a 7 or higher, you’re passing as them from now until you’re not. A 7-9 adds a flaw to your current effort to pass: the magic will dissipate if you kiss or get kissed, or the magic will dissipate if you Lash Out at anyone. While you’re passing as someone, if you’d get a Condition they get it instead (though you’d in principle share it while you’re them). As an important note, if you take this Move as another Skin you automatically get Feathers Made of Knives as well. This is identical to the original version and is pretty cool.
Feathers Made of Knives:
Your shape-changing magic protects you and when someone suspects you’re not really who you seem to be, they have to choose one: they can grab your clothes, which tear and reveal your identity but take one Harm when they do so, or they can ignore their suspicion. This helps stop other players from just trivially shitting all over your gimmick. This used to be called Shredding the Looking Glass, but had the same mechanics.
Close to the Sun:
When someone else is suspicious of your identity while you’re passing, mark experience. So, you’re encouraged to not really be doing a great job of acting like the person, because part of the whole Cuckoo is actually thinking you know better how that person should live their life than they do. This is identical in the first edition.
When you’re passing, if someone would gain a String on you they instead gain it on the person you’re passing as. This is some sneaky shit and is kind of amazing. Get into a bunch of shit and then whoops someone else has to clean it up. This was also unchanged between versions.
When you’re passing as someone, you can spend a String on them to ask their player or the MC one of the following questions: What would you say in this situation? What would you do in this situation? How do you feel about the person in front of me? While some of these moves sort of encourage you to skirt the edge of acting like the person, this one supports you doing otherwise. This is a new Move, it wasn’t in the first edition.
Jumping Out of Clocks:
When you disrobe for someone, take one Forward to rolling with Volatile and they choose one: Offer you an experience point to do what they want or trigger your Darkest Self. This is Certainly Something. I’m earnestly not sure what it looks like in practice.
The Cuckoo lost two moves in the edition shift. The first was Brood Parasite, which let you gain a String on someone if you could tell they wanted to be you. The second was A Little Bird Told Me, which let you roll Cold to shit on someone behind their back and give them a Condition. If you rolled a 7-9, it’d also give you the Liar Condition. This doesn’t really need to exist in a world where Shutting Someone Down gives Conditions and doesn’t really need to be in the presence of the person if that’s your goal. Both Moves were kind of boring and unnecessary, really.
Your Background is that you’ve stolen an outfit from someone, and gain a String on them. You’ve also been given an outfit by someone so that you can impersonate them. You each gain a String on each other. This was also the Background of the original. You’ve got normal Advances, and your Gang is a Flock of Wannabees.
Your Sex Move lets you add one to your rolls to pass as them in the future, which makes a lot of sense. It’s the same it was in the first edition. As for your Darkest Self:
Somebody is a hack at playing themselves in their own life. It grates on you. It’s time for you, the understudy, to take their place on the stage. After all, you’re so much better at being them than they are. So replace them, using whatever means necessary. You escape your Darkest Self when something they do surprises you, or someone else shows a genuine care for them, or you succeed.
So yeah, your Darkest Self makes you try and straight replace someone because you think you could do it better. It’s pretty great, as is the fact that the exits are really varied. I don’t otherwise have strong feelings about the Cuckoo other than to note that the specific phrasing they use, ‘passing’, is a choice. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad choice, just it’s a choice.
You try so hard to help, and to be good. To set a strong example. But you feel like a foal out on the ice and the lake is ringed by wolves and your inner warmth makes the ice beneath you weaken.
One of the best things in this world and not long for it.
The Unicorn is all about taking a stand for what you think is right and trying to help people. It’s also kind of about being a bit judgmental and stuck up about those things. Your stat choices are Cold 2/Hot 1 (righteous and compelling) or Hot 2/Volatile 1 beautiful and a little skittish). The original Unicorn was Hot/Volatile. You also have an extra stat of sorts, called Integrity. We’ll learn about that when we get to Moves, but it’s something that varies between 0 and 3. There’s also probably something you’re already wondering about, and we’ll get there! But I will say, the original Unicorn was VERY much about virginity whereas this one is much less about it.
You start with the Move People Should Never and two more.
People Should Never:
You hold yourself to a high moral standard, giving you the stat Integrity. This will always range from 0 to 3, and starts at 0. Gain Integrity when you follow through on something important or take the moral high ground on an issue that matters. You also get a list of things people should never do, and need to circle all that your character thinks apply as well as make up any others you want: eat meat, lie, support sweatshops, hurt the environment, break laws, drive cars, disobey elders, dance, gossip, swear, dress provocatively, do drugs, be selfish. The original version of this was called With Integrity and didn’t have the step where you define what you actually believe in. It otherwise worked the same. I like this, and I think it’s good to define exactly how you’re a stick in the fucking mud.
While you’re near them, animals can converse in human speech. They’re still animals, and this will potentially lead to things being confusing and disturbing because they don’t see things the way we do. This is still amazing and hilarious. This one is unchanged from the prior edition.
Just What You Do:
When you help someone you dislike, gain a String on them. The Unicorn is exactly the kind of pushy person who helps even when it’s unwelcome. This is new, and I like it.
I Believe In You:
When someone else rolls less than a ten, you can just sense it. You can whisper words of encouragement from afar. Roll with Integrity and then erase one (note that you’re allowed to roll with Integrity even if you don’t have any, and you explicitly do not need any to use the powers that would cost you Integrity like this one. On a 10+, you get to change their result to 10 straight up. On a 7-9, their 7-9 is changed to a 10 and their failure is changed to a 7. This is super cool while also only being really powerful if used sparingly, because at zero Integrity it’s a roll with no bonus to get it to go off. This is unchanged from the previous edition.
Predict the outcome of someone else’s action well before they do it then roll with Integrity. Erase one Integrity after. On a 10+ your prediction of success or failure comes true, though it might not be in the way you foresaw. On a 7-9 the prediction will come true if the action is gone through with, but an innocent will suffer a terrible cost. This just plain OWNs. On one hand, it’s really powerful to be able to just say whether certain things that might be attempted will succeed or fail. On the other hand, if you got the 7-9 version some particularly manipulative characters may be able to take advantage of that to wheedle you into some course of action, lest they start a chain of events that will lead to an innocent suffering. Love it. The old version was different on a 7-9, it required you to actively assist the effort to ensure the success or failure. It also allowed the prophecies to be defied if someone was willing to break their own heart. That was also kind of cool, but I think this double-edged version is better.
Some side characters are actually there to hunt you. If someone is, or you just say they are, your friends mark experience for chasing them off. This is also great, because you’re in theory a super moral character and nobody expects you to just maybe be lying that some person you just object to is trying to kill you. This used to be a Move called Hunted, where you were definitely being hunted and whenever it came up you had three options. The first was to stand up to it and gain Integrity. The second was to call for help, where the friend who assisted you would mark experience (the only part that remains now). The third was to ask the MC a question about what is hunting you. I like the new one a bit more, with the idea that it’s open-ended whether anyone is really hunting you while still leaving the idea that it’s definitely true and disbelieving the Unicorn this time might just get them killed.
When you have sex in a way you haven’t before, mark experience and gain a String on your lover. This is explicitly NOT your Sex Move, by the way. In fact this has very interesting interactions with said Move, because it’s counterproductive to it. This is new, and makes sense because the Unicorn is much, much less about virginity than it used to be.
There were several Moves in the original that didn’t make it to this version. Speak From the Heart gave to +2 to Manipulating an NPC, which of course doesn’t exist anymore so neither does this Move. A Good Person let you spend Integrity in place of a String when tempting someone to a course of action. If that action was an attempt to help a third party at no-one’s expense, mark experience. Blessings required you to pompously announce that you can bless worthy endeavors when you take it. If they then ask for your blessing for a course of action, you can either agree (at which point they take one Forward and erase a String on you if they have one) or refuse and give them a String. I think the Moves that were lost were probably a bit too much, and let the Unicorn avoid the String economy when being weak at it is sort of part of the point.
Your Backstory is that someone wants to take something from you. Ask them what and exchange Strings. Someone is also in love with you, and you gain two Strings on them. Maybe don’t decide that first person is the Wyrm if you picked Prophecies, unless you like living dangerously. Normal Advances, and your Gang is a Circle of Friends.
Your Sex Move is pretty fun:
When you lay your head in someone’s lap, they take 1 Forward to protecting you.
When you have sex, erase all your Integrity.
So yeah, sex is kind of a problem for the Unicorn. It used to be worse, actually. The recipient of the head in the lap had to be a virgin, but then you’d also either let them take one Forward to protect you or roll to Turn Them On. If you kissed a non-virgin? You’d suffer a Harm. The whole virginity aspect of things has been completely removed, and I’m happy about that. The Darkest Self is as follows:
This is it. Everything keeps falling apart, and you can’t hold it together anymore. You aren’t good enough. So beg their forgiveness, everyone you’ve failed, and show them how sorry you are before the curtain falls. Don’t seek their acceptance. You don’t deserve it. You escape your Darkest Self when someone reflects to you a glimmer of your own self worth.
I’m absolutely unwilling to talk about something so crushing other than to say it’s definitely a thing. I like the Unicorn but I’m still not sure it’s quite all in one place, if that makes sense.
Okay, next time we have just one Skin, The Heir. It’s all on its own because it’s VERY complicated.
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Heir
, one of these Second Skins was always going to be on its own and it might as well be the one that takes up the most pages, The Heir.
Your family has strong traditions. You’ve heard stories about your late aunts and uncles: they were like you and your siblings. You all have little gifts. Maybe your parents even have a speech about it, saying that if one’s inheritance isn’t appreciated, it should be seized instead by someone more fit for success in the Real World.
They have an expectation that, by adulthood, you’ll be an only child. Either that or one of your siblings will be.
The Heir shares some DNA with The Serpentine, in that your family is a major part of things. You’re the heir of a family with seven children (and, well, think of the general symbolism involved, the whole seventh son thing). While that was about being valued only for how your actions reclaim what your family has lost, this is about family that meets none of the needs family is supposed to. It’s about abusive parents making their children compete for what little affection they dole out and playing obvious favorites, except there’s also dark magic involved too. The Heir’s stat spreads are Volatile 2/Dark 1 (violent person who craves secrets) or Cold 2/Volatile 1 (calculating person who will time their strikes). The original Heir was Volatile/Dark.
So, before we get to Moves, The Heir has a really complicated character creation process compared to everyone else. The Skin is more like a booklet than a sheet, because each of the name options they give then has a list of names you need to choose from for your Siblings as well. You need to give all six of them names and ages, they’re actually very important mechanically.
You start with the Moves Old Family Friend and Inheritance of the Eldest, and choose one more.
An Old Family Friend:
You do not interact with the normal mechanics for escaping death. When you die, the literal Grim Reaper shows up for you. But, as long as you still have alive siblings, you can instead have him take one of them instead. You also choose one of the following materials: Oxhorn, Applewood, Obsidian. If you’re killed with that, welp, you’re dead and your oldest sibling inherits anything you had. You’re also dead if there’s no other siblings to take the death for you. You are explicitly forbidden to take the Ghoul’s Short Rest for the Wicked. This core mechanic is unchanged over the versions.
Inheritance of the Eldest:
Your siblings each have a Birthright (we’ll cover those later). Should they die, that Birthright is now yours. The means don’t matter, it can be an accident, it can be your death transferred by An Old Family Friend, or you can just shank them. Very flavorful, and unchanged from the previous. You need to balance the fact that it’s useful for your siblings to still be alive with the fact that you will get more powerful as they die.
When you show a sibling how dangerous you are to remind them who’s in charge, choose one: Gain a String on them, or take one Forward to confronting non-siblings. The game encourages you to continue the cycles of abuse your parents are inflicting on you by bullying your siblings into compliance. This has actually been reworded a bit since the first edition, which only required you to show them who was in charge. There are lots of ways of doing that and they didn’t have to be as negative as this. This definitely refines the flavor.
When you get someone to attend to your needs, like combing your hair or getting you a glass of water, take a String on them. This is really fucking strong! Getting Strings for innocuous requests is huge and as long as you can justify that something you spent a String on someone to tempt them to do was ‘attending to your needs’ you get to refund that String. This is unchanged.
Spend a String on a blood sibling, then flashback to you telling them what to do in the situation at hand. If it’s something a kid could reasonably do, they’re doing it. If it’s not, or something that would leave them worse off than the worst they would imagine you’d do to them, they’re not. As long as you’re smart about it, this makes your siblings VERY useful in that they’re NPCs you don’t even need to worry about having to worry about what they’ll want when you ask them to do things. Also unchanged.
Let’s go to the Birthrights.
If a Condition you’re handing out could apply to two people present, give it to both of them. Great when Shutting People Down (or responding to failed attempts at such), amazing with other Moves that throw around Conditions from other Skins. Take the Ghost’s Unresolved Trauma and Projected Blame, then whenever someone brings up the sibling that died for you to give you this Birthright you can give someone else who knows the story Traumatized with you, then Blame everyone around for what happened!
Siblings that you specify move their bodies exactly as you move until you let them stop. This is pretty powerful, but remember that your sibling can’t actually risk hurting YOU with this, because you’ll just send Death at them instead. It’s great for you if you’ve got it, though.
You’re All the Same:
You can spend Strings on siblings interchangeably. Super useful, since you don’t have to worry about maintaining Strings on all of them. And you can have the sibling that still likes you get you coffee every morning, then use the Strings generated by Firstborn on the people who think you’re a monster to manipulate them with Or Else!
Echo in Here:
Spend a String on a sibling to have them parrot back something you told them to remember. An interesting one, with lots of tricky uses. Like making someone respond in a specific way after a specific question, or say admit to something they didn’t do because you made them say it. There’s less awful things to do with it but let’s be real this is not a Skin about doing things that are not awful.
An Inclusive Family:
Characters with the Like a Sibling to Me Condition count as your siblings. So, inflict that Condition with a Move then add to the list of people you can bully. And, uh, that also probably means you can send Death at them. I’d let Main Characters avoid death as normal in that case, because it’s explicitly you who can’t. Fortunately there is no special Move for inflicting this, or it might be even ruder. But, well, stay tuned…
Mark experience when you kill someone. One of the more explicitly violent things in the game. This is a really, really violent Skin.
Your Backstory is lovely. You’ve taken revenge on someone, give them two Strings. You’re also afraid of someone. Give them two Strings. You don’t specifically start with any Strings on your siblings, you should probably get to that. You don’t have any special Advances, and your Gang is your Cousins.
Here’s your Sex Move:
After sex with someone, tell them about the things that are stressing you out. If they don’t offer to help with at least one of those things, give them a Condition.
Yes, this can mark someone as Like a Sibling to You, meaning they literally count as one if you’ve got that Birthright. And I think I need an extra shower just thinking about that lovely conversation. This has changed substantially, the original one had you telling them about your secret weakness or a peaceful time you shared with a sibling at which point they would tell you about their relationship with death. That’s more flavorful but has zero mechanical anything, which is probably why they changed it. As for the Darkest Self:
Treason. You’ve just this instant put the pieces together, and not a moment too soon. Those who’ve feigned kindness to you didn’t count on your survivor’s instinct. Quickly, cleverly, before those false friends can mount their defenses, you must strike them down unerringly. You escape your Darkest Self when your paranoia is revealed to be unfounded, or when you push away those who care about you the most.
A paranoid rampage is pretty much the only way this could be, and is unchanged between versions. This is a really well thought-through Skin but I kinda feel like it’d be toxic as fuck to actually be at the table with it.
Next time, the last two Skins: The Neighbor and The Selkie.
The Neighbor and The Selkie
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Neighbor and The Selkie
Our final two Skins from Second Skins are in this update.
Sometimes when you watch scary movies you wonder if monsters and creatures and things from beyond the grave are really real. It freaks you out pretty bad. But then you just snuggle down onto the couch with all your friends and know that everything is going to be alright.
The Neighbor joins the Mortal in being explicitly just a normal person. But unlike the Mortal, you’re not a normal person who is pulled into the supernatural after falling in love with an effervescent zombie. You’re half overly nosy neighbor and half Xander, honestly. You are the person who gets the funny syphilis, the person who gets spooked, the person love never seems to find due to comic mishap. The Neighbor is an almost slapstick Skin, and that is kind of amazing given how serious the tone of some of these Skins is. Your stat options are Hot 2/Volatile 1 (sweetheart with your heart on their sleeve who’s always losing their bank card) and Volatile 2/Cold 1 (always running from something, usually because you said something to deserve it). The original Neighbor was Hot/Volatile.
Choose three Moves from the list. In general these Moves involve a lot of communicating with the other players what’s going on, because they’ll be prompted to do things, make choices, and just in general should know what awkward shit your Moves will generate.
When you’re alone with someone, decide if you’re attracted to them. If you are, tell them why you can’t be together and roll to Shut Them Down with +1 to the roll. IF you aren’t, tell them all the things they’ve got going for them so they won’t feel bad and roll to Turn Them On with +1 to the roll. This is unchanged from the first version, and is a great example of the slapstick way these Moves work.
When you take your glasses off, your Hot increases to 3. But you absolutely need your glasses to see, so subtract 2 from any roll where vision would matter. If you were the sort of person who’d take advantage of this by getting contacts, you wouldn’t be The Neighbor (though that’s not in the rules, strictly speaking). This used to be +1 Hot without your glasses but -1 to the relevant rolls, but that was with the previous single Hot/Volatile build. Since you can not be inherently Hot now, it needs to just set you to max Hot to really sell the ‘feel’ they’re going for.
Lucky I Guess:
When you remain oblivious to troubling or supernatural occurrences, take one Forward. Just Mister Magoo your way through shit, possibly literally if you took Two Eyes. Consistent ability to add one to rolls is actually really powerful, especially since it makes it way easier to run away after you’ve stumbled into what should be an obviously haunted house or something. Unchanged from the previous version.
All the Wrong Places:
When you help someone you’re sweet on look for love elsewhere, choose one: they take one Forward to realizing that love, or you both gain Strings on each other. More slapstick romantic comedy stuff. Unchanged.
Offer someone a String on you in exchange for a favour, gift, or second chance. So, you kind of get the option to go Strings negative on someone to get the manipulative benefit of spending a String on them. That’s pretty cool, I guess. The original version was a bit different, in that it was reordered. If someone gave you a gift or second chance, they got a String on you. I like the new one a lot better, since it’s something you seek out.
When you run into someone’s arms, they choose one: you mark experience, or they become their Darkest Self. Slapstick horror stuff, straight up, people can basically jump scare you if they want to. Super love it. There used to be NPC rules that let them make a Hard Move (the old equivalent of a Reaction), that’s no longer here and that’s probably good.
When you talk shit about yourself to someone, they choose: argue and give you a String, or let it slide and Shut You Down. This is an interesting Move, make them give you a String or risk a Condition. Again the first version had an NPC rule that let them make a Reaction, which isn’t the case anymore.
When a monster sees what a normal life you have, they choose: they gain the Condition Monstrous, you gain the Condition Delicious, you take one Forward to making them feel human. This is super fun and again generates some interesting choices. Conditions are very double-edged, after all. It’s unchanged from the original.
As soon as you fall asleep somewhere, choose two for the MC to detail when you wake: Something was left for you, Someone’s there, Someone’s been trying to contact you, Something’s been broken, You had a nice dream. This is pretty great, and is a decent mechanism to drive some drama as well. The original had a few more things you could pick, something being canceled and something having happened at home. They probably didn’t need to be there.
There was a Move in the original that was removed, Last One Picked. If someone special overlooked you, you could either give them a Condition or take a String on them. I kind of like the idea of this, but the feel of the actual effects doesn’t quite fit. It probably should have been take a String or they give you a Condition, or something. But honestly it probably is fine not existing at all. Just roleplay out the chain of events and so some normal Moves, it’s fine.
Your Backstory is pretty funny. You live next to someone, and your bedroom windows face each other. You leave your blinds up. Each of you gain 2 Strings on the other. You made out with someone a while ago. Gain a String on them and give them 2 on you. The original was slightly different. You had two choices as to your backstory with your neighbor. One was what was presented, the other was that you watch them through your blinds and they’ve noticed, so you exchange a single String. Probably fine to just have the one. You don’t have any weird Advances and your Gang is Lots of Exes.
Your Sex Move is appropriately awkward:
When you have sex with someone, tell them something you don’t want them to know.
This is changed, actually, you used to be able to scream out someone’s name during sex and gain a String on them. It did not say it had to be the person in question. Which is also awkward, but I like this one more. Your Darkest Self is super fun:
You feel... you feel like a monster. What kind of monster do you feel like? A werewolf, a vampire, a ghost, a queen... it can be anything you can think of. Tell the MC, and they’ll hand you that Skin or the closest thing
to it. It can be different each time. Read their Darkest Self: you are drowning in metaphor. Choking on it. Your body isn’t supernatural, but you’re gonna take it right to the line. You become that Darkest Self.
So yeah, you just go full melodrama and take on the role of an actual monster in spite of being a normal-ass human. I really like this, just tilt out acting like you’re a werewolf or whatever when you’re just kinda mussed. To me I think it’d be just as important to, no matter how seriously you’re taking it, have all the horrible things that would happen as a result of an actual Monster’s Darkest Self just end up as something super embarrassing for you.
The weight and crash of the water was your first home. You were born beneath the waves, with an outer pelt you can remove. When you wear it you look just like a seal. And when you take it off, you feel raw and beautiful.
You’re living on land now, far away from everything you’ve known. Shocked by newness, enticed by possibility, burdened by homesickness. The air moves fast over you. What do they call it?
The Selkie is, first and foremost, exactly what it is. You are a seal who can turn into a person by taking off your pelt. You are also a confused and homesick foreigner, one whom can be exploited by those who know your weakness. Someone who’s got your pelt holds over you your ability to return home, it’s almost like it’s a metaphor for the ability of people to be held hostage by those who control their identity documents or something. Your stat choices are Hot 2/Dark 1 (enchanting outsider with secrets) or Cold 2/ Dark 1 (introspective stranger who doesn’t put up with anyone’s shit). Cold/Dark is the original spread.
You start with the Moves Outer Skin and Keep Away, and one more.
Wear your pelt to look like a seal, breathe underwater, and swim very fast. You are from the Deep Kingdom, and can return there if you have your pelt. If you do, you can never return and must create a new character.
People can steal your pelt, but it can’t be destroyed. When you pursue a task the person who currently holds it asks of you, add 1 to rolls. If the person doesn’t give you your pelt back after you finish their task, gain a String on them and add 1 to rolls against them until they give you a new task. The bonus to rolls against them until they give you a new task is new to this version. This is very flavorful to the whole idea of the Selkie, both actual Selkies and the sort of archetype they’re representing. It’s actually pretty powerful in some regards to have someone else have your pelt, since you’re adding one to a lot of rolls. Use that bonus in-between tasks to twist whatever they’re up to around such that you’re the one who really benefits if you can.
Body of Water:
When you go a day without submerging yourself in water, take one Harm. If you submerge yourself in water and can relax, remove one Harm and a Condition. While this is a bit dangerous, this also makes you super durable given it breaks the rather slow healing rate over your knee. There’s a fun synergy with the Ghost’s move to take on the Harm of other people, if you’re feeling like these horrible landwalkers deserve it.
Catch of the Day:
Whenever you don’t understand what’s going on or what someone means and it gets you into trouble or leads you to make unwise choices, mark experience. This encourages you to go full Starfire, and if you do it right this could be some much-needed comic relief.
When you’re soaking wet, you can sing a haunting song. Those who can hear you give you their full attention, and you choose one additional effect on them: They stumble entranced toward you (but stop before it would inflict harm on them), or they connect with the song’s emotions and start crying. This is pretty damn powerful, you can defuse a lot of situations for one because there’s no rolling here. It’s just a thing you do. The original version made you roll with Cold, could inflict the Dazed Condition, and could actually potentially cause them to suffer Harm before it broke if you rolled well. I kind of think the new one is way more powerful despite that, because it just happens.
When you feel really homesick, choose one for the MC to detail: The ocean brings forth something that it thinks will make you feel better, or the ocean takes away something that it thinks is bothering you. The ocean is not a human, it does not understand the world of humans, and there is a good chance this will cause some serious and unexplainable damage in the progress. Super fun move, don’t lie and say you’ve never wanted to narrate a school bully being eaten by a kraken. You used to have to roll with Cold, and the damage would happen on a 7-9. Now you don’t have to roll, but it’s probably always coming with some consequences. I like the new version more, it feels more right.
There was a Move called Salt in the first version that is no longer around. When you cried into water, you could roll Dark and think of someone you want to see. On any hit they’d show up, on a 7-9 they’d have the Drained Condition and bring trouble with them when they did. Most Skins lost their Moves that made other people do things, so losing this makes sense.
In your Backstory, you watched someone swimming and gain a String on them. You also start the game with someone having stolen your pelt, and having figured out how important it is to you. They said they’ll give it back if you do something for them. Each of you gain a String on each other. You have a ready-made conflict either with another player or an NPC, this is pretty great. Your Advance are normal, your Gang are Strange Fishermen.
Your Sex Move is as follows:
When you have sex with someone, it counts as submerging yourself in water. Since all oceans tell you their secrets, gain a String on someone else they’ve had sex with.
It’s definitely super interesting. For one, you get to heal a Harm and remove a Condition if you’ve got Body of Water. You also get some interesting leverage on someone totally unrelated. Now for your Darkest Self:
People have mistreated you and made you an outcast here. It’s time to show them how it feels to be lost at sea, to be apart from the things you have loved, to have parts of your self stolen from you. So you will flood the Earth. You will destroy what they cherish. And you will take their pelts. You escape your Darkest Self when this place reminds you of home, or when you recognize what you came here for.
I like this, we circle back around to the point of the Selkie quite nicely.
We’ve got some more book left for next time, on making the game our own and taking inspiration. After that, I’ll probably do an update on character builds to do silly shit.
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: Final Chapters
Back to Monsterhearts
, with the final chapters of the book.
Chapter 6: Making it Your Own
They start the chapter by noting that while you can and definitely should change things up, the Skins were balanced around providing a certain play experience and you should make sure you get how the pieces fit together before you add or change any of them.
The next bit is on the most obvious change, doing something other than a high-school game. They lay out the sorts of notes you want to try and hit with a different sort of game, that at some level things should echo a lot of the emotional realities of high school in order to really hit the feel of the game. But I mean alienation and petty social politics work just about anywhere if you do it right. Make sure you come up with an appropriate version of the seating chart, it’s an important element of getting the story going.
They next move to the idea of messing with the core mechanics like basic Moves. This is definitely something that requires a lot of thought, because the flow of the game and resources will be substantially altered if you do it. They give a good example of how the balance of options could change radically if you eliminated the rules for Skirting Death, by making things that inflict Harm much more powerful and giving characters who are good at it much more leverage.
They next give a general formula for writing Moves. Come up with a trigger, then what happens. They also lay out some things to think about when adding rolls and choices to avoid making Moves too complicated.
They have a section briefly discussing the Skins, and how each is built around a different sort of economy some of which are shared and some of which are specific to the Skin. This is building, obviously, on the idea that you really should know how the Skins are supposed to work before you change them. They also lay out the individual pieces of a Skin, which is important in the event you want to create your own. Because why wouldn’t you? They have a list of questions to consider when doing so. They also note that you should keep watch on whether some new Skin you’re creating has really similar economies to one that exists, because you might just be able to reskin and change some things like the Darkest Self and Sex Move around and save yourself some effort.
For changing the MC toolkit, they note that it’s going to make the game feel a bit different and if that’s what you want then go for it.
Chapter 7: Taking Inspiration
They start with a long play example that builds on the prior examples they’d been giving throughout the book.
They then give a very specific set of media inspirations to watch and listen to, should you desire. It’s solid.
That’s the book. So, there’s still some stuff left! I’m going to go through and talk about some Move synergies and builds and such, talk about some of the crazy rude shit you can get your character doing. I’m also going to talk about the Small Towns they provide as ready-made settings in a post.
But first, we’ll do The Cerberus.
Original SA post
Monsterhearts 2: The Cerberus
Sorry, been a bit too busy to do daily posts recently.
There was an extra Skin released, let’s talk about it.
It used to be simple: there was a river of fire, another of pain, and you kept watch at the gate. It was obvious who was doomed. Your claws were sharp, your eyes able to peer in every direction simultaneously.
The threshold was unbroken for a very long time. If only it could have stayed that way: the wretched in one place, the innocent somewhere else. You still guard the threshold. You always will. It’s just the world that’s changed.
The Cerberus is about standing at the boundary between worlds, and ensuring things don’t cross between them. What those ‘worlds’ are is nebulous, and depends on you. I don’t think the creator thought this one through, I’m going to be honest. I like the mechanics a lot, but the concept feels like it’s almost guaranteed to appeal to some really shitty people. Your stat options are Cold 2/Volatile 1 (harsh and exacting) and Dark 2/Cold 1 (brooding and bitter).
You start with the Move Watch Dog, and one more.
You exist in the liminal state between two communities, one bathed in light and one damned to shadow. Mark experience when you weed out someone on the wrong side and put them in their place. Okay. So to me 100% of this Skin’s viability is really enforcing how this is laid out. Otherwise you’ll have some chucklefuck wanting to be the Cerberus who protects the resplendent Gamers from the shadowy SJWs and someone’s gonna die at the table.
When you give someone a Condition, mark experience. This Skin is all about Conditions, and this is an obvious inclusion.
When you Gaze Into the Abyss to dig up dirt on someone, add 1 to the roll. On a 10+ the owner of that character will tell you a secret, and you may give them a Condition to reflect what you have learned. Big fan of this, the Skin is all about Conditions and this is a great way to inflict them.
Whoever currently has the most Strings on you is your Master. When you take action to protect or help your Master, add 1 to your roll and they gain a String on you. When you become your Darkest Self, your current Master loses all Strings on you. This is a pretty cool one, it encourages you to play along with someone while also giving a ready mechanism for that to change.
Bark, then Bite:
When you take advantage of a Condition that you inflicted on someone, add 2 to the roll instead of 1. Super strong, and obviously goes along with everything else in your kit. Dig Deeper up a Condition on someone your Master wants fucked up, then do it with plus FOUR to the roll.
When trying to drive others away from you or escaping the care of others, you can take advantage of your own Conditions. Pretty cool, and if it’s somehow a Condition you inflicted on yourself then you could even take a +2.
When you uncover an injustice that has been long hidden, add 1 to your rolls to bring it to light. This is okay, and again can work well with the rest of your Moves.
Your Backstory has you marking someone as a damned soul who slipped past you and is hiding among the pure. Gain two Strings on them. You don’t fit in, though, so give yourself a Condition.
Your Sex Move is also about your outsider nature.
When you have sex with someone, tell them why you don’t belong in their world. If they agree, give yourself a Condition to reflect. If they disagree, you gain a String on them.
Why not take the Hollow’s move that lets you burn a Condition for +1 to a roll where you act it out, too? And your Darkest Self:
You do your best to be a good boy, but you come from a very bad place. Let’s face it: you’re a mangy, unloveable beast from hell. You were born to snarl and to bite. Anyone who’s gotten close to you needs to be driven away, violently if necessary. You must return to the shadows, dragging the damned back down there with you. You escape your Darkest Self when disrupted by a virtuous hero, or when the power of true love tempers your resolve.
The especially fun thing is how this interacts with other Skins and Loyal. For example you’re a great Lover for the Mortal right up until you have sex, at which point you’ll become Loyal to someone else and probably fuck up some of their Moves as well because they’ve lost their Strings on you. It also makes Sympathetic Tokens on you better, because they’re both Strings and not Strings.
Going to try and do a post on Skin Move combinations next.