2 playtests of Monsterhearts at Kapcon

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2 playtests of Monsterhearts at Kapcon
« on: January 25, 2011, 11:53:58 PM »
I ran two sessions of Monsterhearts in the Games on Demand stream at Kapcon (in Wellington, New Zealand) this year. Both games were successful - the second one was significantly more fun as no-one at the table was suffering from sleep deprivation from playing late at night.

I have some brief notes from both runs:

It became clear to me that the major purpose of the first session is to draw out as much subtext as you can from the characters’ backstories and starting situations, so that you can turn that into useful emotional and story fodder. As an example, Freya was playing an Infernal during a session with seven players. It took about an hour and a half before the opportunity came up to ask her, “So exactly why did you make this deal with Legion?” In response she told us that her sister had died and Legion said they could bring her back – which created a whole new NPC for me to play (*), and some great leverage to screw with Freya’s plot.

Some playbooks are particularly grabby. The Witch, The Fay, and The Mortal have been used in every game I’ve run. The Ghoul has shown up in two sessions.

Multiple playbooks seem to be fine. We had two Fay in a game, and their different origins gave them very different personalities and approaches. However, as Conan commented in this thread:

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maybe each skin needs a couple of more move options to choose from - as it did feel that Finn and Elric in our game just ended up with the same moves. Everything else was different, but at least the Fay moves seemed to consist of some moves that just didn't feel particularly clear as to why they would be worth taking.

Strings are vital. I need to encourage their use more – the second game sparked to life in a way that the first one didn’t when Conan started using Strings. These two moves, in particular, I think need to be presented with flashing neon lights:

  • Offer them experience to do what you want
  • Declare their actions require they try to hold it together (if you’re in the scene or it affects you)

Seven players is probably too many (maybe one too many); it just didn’t feel like I could easily distribute spotlight time and create different combinations of characters and relationships. (To be fair, we agreed to play with seven players to due to more people coming to the Games on Demand session that expected, and all the players were fine about sharing the spotlight).

I wasn’t sure how long ‘Vulnerable’ lasts for.

The Infernal’s Darkest Self really didn’t work for either Freya or me. There was something about taking the volition and power of description completely out of Freya’s hands that felt wrong. To be fair, in the heat of the moment I didn’t read the description thoroughly – if I had, I probably would have just flatly stated the things I was going to get Freya’s Infernal to do, and significantly skipped forward in time to deal with the consequences. Freya has some other comments in that thread I linked to.

The character sheet needs a Harm section – players in every game have commented on that. (A minor thing that I’m sure you’re aware of but – still – thought I’d mention.)

I’ll post a little more later, but the game was really well received - with at least two converts out of 11 players, and a few more who were keen to check out the main Apocalypse World rules.

*

Chris

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Re: 2 playtests of Monsterhearts at Kapcon
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2011, 12:51:34 PM »
The Infernal’s Darkest Self really didn’t work for either Freya or me. There was something about taking the volition and power of description completely out of Freya’s hands that felt wrong. To be fair, in the heat of the moment I didn’t read the description thoroughly – if I had, I probably would have just flatly stated the things I was going to get Freya’s Infernal to do, and significantly skipped forward in time to deal with the consequences. Freya has some other comments in that thread I linked to.

Yeah, I just took over for brief moments. Like my infernal was talking to a guy she loved and she blacked out and had done who knows what. So I didn't describe the moments I took control. I think there can be some interesting play out of them watching themselves do something they don't want to do, but I think you need buy in first, which is hard in a one-shot. The player just got to know this character and now we're taking control back? I can see the issue there.
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

Re: 2 playtests of Monsterhearts at Kapcon
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2011, 04:02:00 PM »
Interesting read!

I haven't played Monsterhearts yet, but I, too, worry the most about the Darkest Self rules.

Joe, how do you envision those taking place at the table? What does it look like, who says what, how long does it last? I couldn't quite picture it from the rules, so I'd like to hear what your vision is for this piece of the game.

Re: 2 playtests of Monsterhearts at Kapcon
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2011, 04:37:05 PM »
Yeah, at the moment the Infernal's darkest self (which I know Joe's adjusting) seems to be going for the horror of being an automaton, of being an observer watching yourself doing horrible things that you know you're going to have to be held accountable for later. And that's different from being the agent of destruction that other Darkest Selves are.

Hmm. Some ideas that have just occurred to me while I've been typing this; the Infernal could:

+ gain the power to create Pacts with other people in the town, becoming an Infernal power herself, and having to live up to those ends of the bargains

+ get power from taking peoples' Souls

+ unleash little bits of Hell in their community - possessions, portals, escaped demons. Each time the Infernal's Darkest Self gets triggered, the setting gets a little more chaotic and demonic.


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Some final bullet-points ...

In both games, we agreed that the language for the Manipulate move needed to be worded more clearly. This specifically applies to the "if it's another player's character" section', which felt like it needed more specific pronouns and to have the subject of the sentence spelled out ... something like this:

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if it's another player's character, on a 10+, apply both options from the following list. on a 7-9, choose one: if the person you're trying to manipulate does what you want, they mark experience; if they don't, they need to try to keep it together.

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We had a weird little thing happen in our first session. Brooklyn (a PC) rolled 10+ to manipulate Brann (a PC). Brann refused to be manipulated, so he rolled to try to keep it together. There were two things about this that felt odd:

1. When Brann rolled 10+ on his keep it together check, it felt anti-climactic.

2. Going from the Manipulate move to the Keep it together move, it felt like we didn't really engage with the fiction. It felt like the rules were demanding that we engage the mechanics immediately, without doing any role-playing.

Related to this, another odd thing. This whole Brooklyn vs. Brann scene was fantastic and was really firing on all of the supernatural romance cylinders as they argued about the ethics of casting a hex on the Mortal. But during this argument, it sometimes felt like the Moves were applying a handbrake to the fascinating conflicts that were getting role-played out between the players.

Why bother to roll to keep it together when Alasdair is roleplaying out how Brooklyn is acting suspiciously? Why bother to roll to manipulate when Luke has instantly decided that Brann is going to spill all his secrets about having hexed the Mortal?

There were points in the game where the psychology, emotions and life of the scene were so interesting that the Moves were just a distraction. So there were two or three times where I didn't insist on Moves: sure, it felt like I was cheating to not apply them, but the scene had already moved on into interesting directions.

I'm not sure if the rules currently address this type of tension: whether applying the Moves is optional when players are swept up in the drama and are just letting loose with all of their emotions and secrets. It seems like something that'd happen quite often in play.

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The Ghoul's hunger was also a little odd. In our second game, the hunger was for secrets. The Ghoul's Darkest Self got triggered and he needed to feed with an all consuming hunger (for secrets). Obviously we had to decide what that looked like, ... but we also had to decide whether it caused Harm.

So my queston is: does the process of feeding always cause Harm?

For the purposes of bringing our game to a climax, we decided that the process of feeding on secrets was usually passive (I'm eavesdropping), but when the hunger is all-consuming the Ghoul became like a Dementor in Harry Potter, actually draining the secrets out of someone ... and we rolled the Lash Out move.

Maybe it's an idea to spell some of this out in the Ghoul's playbook?

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Like I said in my first post, we had two excellent games, I had fun running it (and found it pretty damn easy and intuitive), and there are now at least a couple of other people keen to run Monsterhearts at other conventions as a result of these games.

Hope these notes are useful!

Re: 2 playtests of Monsterhearts at Kapcon
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2011, 04:54:03 PM »
Steve, these notes are brilliantly useful.

You, NilsH and Chris have all provided me with super useful feedback - flagging social dynamics, how and when the rules were applied, how the rules interacted with the fiction, how Strings were used and not used... So good! Everyone else who's been giving feedback here - Paul T, Nathan, Harper, Sugarbaker, etc, etc... they've been amazing as well. Joy!

Anyways...

Hmm. Some ideas that have just occurred to me while I've been typing this; the Infernal could:

+ gain the power to create Pacts with other people in the town, becoming an Infernal power herself, and having to live up to those ends of the bargains

+ get power from taking peoples' Souls

+ unleash little bits of Hell in their community - possessions, portals, escaped demons. Each time the Infernal's Darkest Self gets triggered, the setting gets a little more chaotic and demonic.

Cool. I'm definitely going to toy around with these ideas. I've done some re-drafting of Skins (The Ghoul doesn't suck anymore! The Vampire has more flavour!), but The Infernal is the one who's got me the most perplexed. I'm going to apply these ideas, and see what happens.

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In both games, we agreed that the language for the Manipulate move needed to be worded more clearly. This specifically applies to the "if it's another player's character" section', which felt like it needed more specific pronouns and to have the subject of the sentence spelled out ... something like this:

Awesome. Is it okay if I plagiarize those words? You wrote it more succinctly and clearly than I know how to.

Also: I think the parameters of what triggers "manipulation" need to tighten up. I've experienced the same problem that you are noting: great interpersonal scenes where certain moves interrupt drama and don't provide something meaningful as a result. Mostly, the manipulation move.

Hm... maybe I should just remove the manipulation move outright. After all, you can spend Strings to offer experience, and to cause someone to have to keep it together.

AH! THAT'S IT! I'm going to eliminate the manipulation move, and just make extra certain to point out those functions of Strings.

Yeah?

Quote
The Ghoul's hunger was also a little odd. In our second game, the hunger was for secrets. The Ghoul's Darkest Self got triggered and he needed to feed with an all consuming hunger (for secrets). Obviously we had to decide what that looked like, ... but we also had to decide whether it caused Harm.

So my queston is: does the process of feeding always cause Harm?

I'm going to ruminate further on this topic. Secrets might get cut, from the final Skin.

I'm also going to post an excellent bit of AP involving a Ghoul.

Re: 2 playtests of Monsterhearts at Kapcon
« Reply #5 on: January 28, 2011, 05:31:21 PM »
I think eliminating the Manipulation move is a frackin' great idea. That immediately puts more focus on the Strings, which I think the game is really crying out for. (In fact, it feels like this is a hack of Apoc World where Strings are the central mechanic.)

Once you think about how you want to handle manipulating NPCs, I'd be happy to try that out in my next playtest session with Jenni, Emma and Ellen.

(If you end up wanting to keep the Manipulation move, you're welcome to use my rephrasing.)