Discussion 40: Monster Hearts Review

Kevin, Allegra, CJ, and Dan discuss Monster Hearts. Overall we had a very positive experience with the game, and spend most of our time discussing its particular take on the Apocalypse World system: Strings, Social PVP, and the like. Enjoy!

Relevant Links


Trigger Warnings

  • We talk about using the skins as archetypes/stereotypes of mental illnesses.

Crunchy Bits!


7 Responses to “Discussion 40: Monster Hearts Review”

  1. brian Says:

    cool to hear everyone’s thoughts about the game!

    i might not have been clear in one of my comments on an earlier episode. i wouldn’t really recommend “saving” a hard move, as such. rather, what i meant to get it was that, (assuming the text in monsterhearts is the same as in AW, which i know a bit better) when someone fails, the MC gets to make “as hard a move as she LIKES” so… ya know, if you don’t feel the current situation really NEEDS to to roll things on, you don’t have to.
    hitting players with something out of the blue because of a move they failed earlier seems weird to me (though i believe tremulus has a system for that, so… i don’t know, maybe it would work fine). i was more trying to recommend keeping a close eye on what the PCs do (even when they succeed) because they often give you the rope you can use to hang them later. even “successful” actions (to give some examples of things that didn’t happen–but easily could have–in this game: stealing your case worker’s care, or getting an older cop sexually interested in you) often ought to, realistically, have nasty consequences down the road.

    more generally: i was surprised to hear people (all three players in the game?) say they felt their character was often out of their control. i’m really curious what would have given you that feeling since none of the basic moves (and none of the skin moves that i can think of off the top of my head) force a player to do anything against their will. Turn Someone On might force someone to FEEL something their player didn’t want, but it doesn’t force a particular reaction. And the MC can do things like call for Hold Steady rolls, but can’t really force a PC to take particular in-fiction actions. The closest thing I can think of that anyone could do to “take control” of a PC away would be the MC hard move “trigger their darkest self” but even then, the exact actions a PC takes in their darkest self are up to the player (though ought to be guided by the darkest self descriptions in the skin booklet).
    so that part surprised me… especially since, in the AP episodes, i don’t think anyone ever said they felt like they didn’t have control. but even in this review, it didn’t sound like anyone was actually *complaining* about feeling that way…

  2. brian Says:

    I probably should have written that up when I’m less tired. Sorry for all the typos.

    I want to say, re: my own feelings on Monsterhearts: Strings are amazing. They are, by far, in my opinion, the coolest mechanical innovation Joe brought to the game. Conditions are pretty cool too, but I’d say the Strings system is a stroke of genius. I’m kind of surprised I haven’t seen any other hacks steal it. Though I’ve really only been watching the ones that have a commercial publication imminent, so maybe some of the “smaller” hacks have stolen it…

  3. Max "Ego" Says:

    I can compound on something Brian said here re: saving hard moves. There are a couple ways to look at it. The first, and the trip-up about transitioning into the tremulus mindset, is that for tremulus you do not make hard moves unless you have hold. In AW/MH/DW/etc. it’s common to use them at a lull in the action as well, but you usually don’t do that in tremulus I believe. It’s a tone-building device when you’re saving up hold rather than just making hard moves whenever. When you know the Keeper has hold, you are at risk. As their hold grows (especially powerfully if they keep a physical pile of tokens), suspense grows since you see how big of a shoe he could drop at any time. Scary, potentially. I have yet to see if it really pans out.

    However, another way of thinking about it that Brian might be skipping over isn’t the “holding” hard moves so much as starting things running – ie, using the Think Offscreen hard move (or whatever Mcdaldno called it if he changed it) to start a process running. Cops show up at a place you know they will be going. A fire starts somewhere. Someone is stowed away in the trunk of the car you’re driving. They all introduce problems, but none of them are evident right now. It’s not so much about being able to just do more trouble to them, but about how you don’t need to make the problems spring directly from the situation at hand.

    Also re: strings, yeah, no one else is using them yet. I think the way they work says almost inherently that the game has a focus on PC-PC conflict, since Strings aren’t quite as potent a mechanic when spent with NPCs. Plus it’s rare in general to see any major AW hack repeat the social mechanic of the others (we don’t have any major ones that replicate Hx or Bonds either really). I love Strings, but I think Conditions are more easily ported to other systems. Strings are perfect for the game, and I’m not totally positive it would be quite as good in anything else.

    Anyway, overall I’ve been really thrilled by this run-through. This is the first game you’ve recorded that I had actually played before the episodes came, and it sounded like loads of fun. Can’t wait for the interview and the next game!

  4. Kyle Says:

    Just started listening to this podcast yesterday and I love it so far. I went through all the Monster Hearts sessions. Surprised by how much I enjoyed it since its selling point was “Twilight, but good”. I also have no experience with Apocalypse World mechanics, but by the end of the adventure I felt like I could jump in a game with those rules. Speaks to how well the group demonstrates the rules. I am going back through the archives to find games I might enjoy listening to. I noticed Allegra likes “Lovecraftian” horror and Kevin was interested in transhumanism (Freemarket sessions). I would recommend looking into Eclipse Phase, “a transhuman roleplaying game of conspiracy and horror.” I look forward to hearing more from you all!

  5. Max "Ego" Says:

    Welp, 1 day later and I need to correct myself. Turns out Sagas of the Icelanders uses a mechanic called Bonds, but they seem to be a combination of Hx, Bonds, and Strings all blended together. So Strings ARE getting traction elsewhere (and the intrigue potential of SotI definitely makes is work thematically).

    Also, I can support Kyle’s recommendation of Eclipse Phase, sort of. The rules are heavy – if you know any modern Shadowrun, it’s pretty close in intensity. It’s got one of the best sci-fi settings I’ve read ina while though, and the pdfs are all Creative Commons if you just want a look – I could send the main book or something your way if you like.

    That’s it for now. Again, love the ‘cast!

  6. Justin Says:

    Fun review, folks! I’m glad you enjoyed Monsterhearts. I’ve played a few sessions with my group, and I hope to play a few more sometime soon.

    I’m really interested in the difficulties you’ve had with color first play. In retrospect, I can see those struggles in all the AW games you’ve recorded. My group had some similar problems when we started playing AW games, and I have a few suggestions for how to approach this kind of play.

    1) Clarify, clarify, clarify! – Whenever there’s misunderstanding or ambiguity about what a character is doing, take a second to clarify what’s going on. These games don’t work unless we have a solid understanding of what’s actually happening in the fiction. We don’t have to pause constantly, but if there’s some kind of significant action someone doesn’t understand, it’s probably worthwhile to clarify.

    2) Play for action, not for effect – These games tend to get really strange if you narrate with the intent of invoking a move. Don’t think about how to Lash out Physically, think about whether your character is going to punch that douchebag. In my experience, if you think about the moves first, then the action tends to stagnate, and narration becomes an obligatory chore rather than the meat of play. These games need you to be interested in what your character is doing right now, not in the particular mechanical effect you’ll produce.

    3) Don’t plan the narrative – Characters can plan all they want, but players should probably avoid it. First, if you’re following the rules and using the moves, any plans you make will quickly crumble. It’s kind of a waste of time in that respect. Second, if you actually try to enact the plan, these games will lock down and stagnate. These games completely rely on having a play space that is only constrained by what’s been established in the fiction. If there’s some kind of external sense about how the game’s “supposed to go,” then everyone’s going to have to fight the rules to make it go that way. In my group’s play, those situations have always been the least interesting and least engaging.

    4) Talk about the moves – Before game. During game. Whenever. All the time. I mean this regarding moves in general and specific moves. Everyone has to have a fairly close understanding about how moves work and under what circumstances each particular move triggers. This smooths our interactions with the moves, and helps us have more consistent expectations for overall play. It can definitely be jarring to be surprised by the presence of absence of a move.

    For what it’s worth, I think you folks did great, and it was really fun to listen to.

  7. Sam Says:

    One thought on the conversation that came up in the podcast about the “Turn Someone On” move – this was something that did feel a bit odd to me when I read it the first time. I’m pretty far out at the edges of the Kinsey scale in one direction, and I know people who are just as far out at the other end. I know that (so far, at least) I’ve never been attracted to someone of the same sex, and while of course I can’t say it with absolute certainty, I know gay people who say the same thing about the opposite sex.

    So the ‘everybody’s bi!’ approach that Monsterhearts takes did throw me for a minute.

    Now, I think the game actually does a good job of justifying the conceit. Not being in control of your own emotions, and your own body, is at the heart of the game’s themes, and hey, it makes the interpersonal melodrama more interesting. So it totally works in the game.

    But I can understand why it would seem a bit difficult for people to swallow, and for reasons outside homophobia. I could see gay people being just as weirded out by the idea, because at least for some people, it really is an alien concept that you could suddenly be attracted to someone of a gender you’ve never been attracted to before.

Leave a Reply