The Sexy Teenage Monster Show [Monsterhearts]

edited February 2013 in Actual Play
Monsterhearts, oh I love Monsterhearts. We've been playing Monsterhearts for several sessions here at the Freehold, and it's been a blast. Our love of supernatural drama mixed with our general dislike of teenagers has let us orchestrate a glorious mess of sex, murder, betrayal, and chaos. We envision the game as a screwed up TV show and informally call the game The Sexy Teenage Monster Show.

Our next session will be our season finale. We plan on continuing for at least one more season. We're also going to do a spin-off series set in college. One of my players is going to run that, so I can get a chance to be a player.

So here's how the Sexy Teenage Monster Show sits right now. It's been so much fun I want to share it.

Shermer Heights, WV


The Sexy Teenage Monster Show is set in a small West Virginia coal-mining town named Shermer Heights. The hills to the north are riddled with mines, some in use, some long abandoned. Shadowy monsters lurk in the darkness of the deepest mine. To the south lies thick, mostly unspoiled forest and Adalwulf Lake. Train tracks run through the town, dividing it into good (east) and bad (west) sides. The local teens enjoying hanging out at the nice new mall, the crappy old strip mall, the skate park, or Platinum, the way-cool teen club. The Shermer Heights High School team is the Dire Wolves (“A winner is coming!”)


Caleb, the Werewolf
Caleb's family has been in Shermer heights for generations. One of the founding families, they own most of the land in town and almost half the town pays rent to them. Their long residence and interest in the area has granted his family a powerful spiritual connection to the land. Werewolfism is a genetic gift, running along paternal lines. His parents are both werewolves, withhis mother belonign to a different bloodline.

While in control of himself, Caleb can take the form of a normalish wolf or a balanced hybrid wolf-man form. But when he becomes his darker self, the wolf takes over and he becomes a munderous horse-sized beast of fangs and claws.

Caleb has been working to build his spiritual powers. He can partially enter the spirit plane and walk through walls, and can curse people with hexes.

Caleb is in love with Lacuna, and has finally started a relationship with her. He has teamed up with Gabriel on past monster-hunting missions.

Lillith, the Fae
Lillith's mother was a low-caste fae who begat a her to a noble sidhe. Exiled, Lillith's mother took Lilly to the mortal realm and started a life for them both in Shermer Heights. Lillith's mother runs the Wolf Whistle strip club. The club also functions as a kind of way-house for traveling and exiled fae. Lillith and her mother make their home in an old, overgrown gothic mansion deep in the woods. Lillith's mother hosts all manner of weird guests.

Lillith recently discovered that her father wasn't merely a fae noble, but was in fact, the Faery King himself! Lillith is obsessed with Caleb, and used her father's faery magic to disguise herself as Lacuna to seduce him.

Lillith has proven herself to be petty, spitful, and dangerously impulsive, more than willing to sleep and murder her way into control. She currently has several classmates bound to her by promises. He favorite is “promise you will always protect me.”

Gabriel, the Chosen
Gabriel's family has recently advanced into a higher income bracket and moved to the good east-side of town. They are respectable hard-working people. Gaberiel has been marked by god for a higher purpose, and his secret monster-hunting exploits are starting to bring unwanted scandal upon his family. Gabriel has recently discovered that he can come back from the dead, his wounds healed over with glowing angelic script. This caused no small amount of confusion when he was dead body was found in the middle of his school and taken to the morgue.

Gabriel is good friends with Caleb but has a massive and tragic crush on Lillith. He sees Lacuna as his foreign-born sister.

Lacuna, the (former) Angel
Lacuniel was left behind. After the Creation, god left her trapped underneath a mountain for thousands of years. He never told her why. She could hear the mortals above her, but could never see or interact with them. Recently, humans dug too deep into the mountain and freed the angel in a flash of light. Her essence settled into the body of a recently-arrived Spanish exchange student. She doesn't know what happened to the poor mortal's soul.

Lacuna lives with Gabriel's family. She can see God's imprint on Gabriel, and is obsessed with finding out what it means. Since she is unfamiliar with human emotions and interactions, Lacuna comes across as having massive Asperger's Disease. She keeps notebooks about everyone she knows in Shermer Heights.

Lacuna recently discovered that her imprisonment under the mountain actually served some purpose. Her presence kept the strange shadow monsters there trapped safely under the earth.

In the penultimate session, Lacuna apparently trespassed against God one too many times. In a stroke of lightning, her angelic nature was revoked, and she became Hollow.

The Fectori
The strange shadowy creatures from deep within the mines are responsible for a number of murders plaguing the town. They are mostly shadow, but have been gaining more and more physical substance with each kill. They fear Lacuna the Angle, but are fascinated with Gabriel. They desperately want Gabriel to become their new leader, their “Chief-Priest” as they call him. They have offered him all manner of gruesome aid and gift.

Dwimmerlaik, the Faery King
Lord and master of the alien Fae and Lillith's Father. He helped his daughter seduce Caleb by gifting her with Medea's Veil, allowing her to assume Lacuna's appearance. Dwimmerlaik has some unknown plans for Caleb and wants Gabriel “removed” so he cannot interfere with his machinations. He was unaware that Lacuna was an angel until Lillith told him.

Previously on The Sexy Teenage Monster Show...
At the end of our penultimate episode, Lillith, Lacuna, and Caleb were naked and bloody in the forest, Lillith had turned on her father, Lacuna had been smote down to mortal, a police detective had been murdered and his body taken somewhere, and Gabriel was in bed with his kinda'-sorta-not-really girlfriend.

Man, I love this game.


  • edited February 2013
    Wow! That's some heavy supernatural Monsterhearts. Not how I envision the game, but it sounds like your game is totally rocking because of it. Thanks for sharing!

    I'm really curious how the whole being-smitten-down-by-God-and-turning-into-a-Hollow went down at the table. Was it your idea, or the player's idea? Did it develop organically in play, or was it somewhat pre-planned between the two of you?

    It sounds like an amazing moment in the story, and I'm curious you actually handled it at the table.
  • It was pretty organic. Lacuna's player (my wife) decided to go with the whole "Angel Learning to be Human" angle. After a couple sessions, she noticed that she'd later have the option to change skins. She decided that her ultimate goal was to become mortal with the Mortal skin.

    In our last session we unlocked the Season moves. It was also the most chaotic, action-packed, conflict-filled session so far. The Season Moves were unlocked during the whole "naked and bloody in the woods" scene. Shortly thereafter, Lacuna leveled-up in the middle of a conflict where she was in full "Angel of Judgement" mode. She chose to change skins as her advance, and we have maybe three minutes left in the session (it's late)

    Cue lightning bolt.
    The conflict ends as everyone is stunned.
    Lacuna is lying on the ground. Massive scorch marks on the ground form the shape of wings.
    "Looks like you trespassed against God one too many times."
    Session ends.
    It was great.

    Later that week, we got a hold of the Hollow skin and my wife decided that it fit better than the Mortal. When Lacuna awakens, she will be a blank slate with no memories. She's eager to see how much trouble that causes.

    Yeah, our Monsterhearts game is pretty heavily supernatural, more than I expected, actually. It probably comes from the fact that most of my players are old World of Darkness fans, and the ones that aren't WoD fans are Buffy, Dresden, and Lost Girl fans. Having the Chosen in the crew amps it up, as it pretty much screams "I want to hunt monsters." Lillith the Fae really pushed to bring in the Faery King, too.

    Most of the characters have taken moves from other skins. Caleb the werewolf has taken ghost and witch moves. Lilly the Fae has succubus and queen moves. Gabriel the Chosen took the ghoul's "Short Rest for the Wicked" move, and that has caused a lot of lovely chaos. The combination of moves and powers makes some crazy supernatural stew.
  • Sounds fantastic!

    I'm still curious, though, how the actual smiting happened. Was it the result of a failed move, or of her taking the advance? Who actually narrated the lightning bolt?
  • It was a combination of things. Taking the advance was the primary trigger, but she got the advance because of the XP she gained from a failed move.

    Scene: Caleb the werewolf is in his darkest self--big nasty wolf monster--triggered when he found out that Lilly the Fae tricked him into sleeping with her by disguising herself as Lacuna using Medea's Veil (a gift from the Faery King). He's doing his best to rip her throat out. Lilly's no fighter, so playing to her strengths, she turns him on! Caleb and Lilly's players decide that between his darkest self and her seduction The Wolf is compelled to prove his dominance by fucking the shit out of her.

    Meanwhile, Lacuna the Angel wakes up, stripped and tied up in Lilly's closet. (Lilly knocked her out and took her clothes). Gazing into the Abyss, Lacuna sees Caleb and Lilly having sex in the woods (the previous time when Caleb wasn't wolfed out and Lilly seduced him disguised as Lacuna). She actually failed her Abyss roll. I showed her a truthful vision, but triggered her darkest self. The Angel is NOT HAPPY and decides to Trespass the hell out of some people. "That Lucifer had the right idea!"

    Tracking them down, Lacuna comes upon Lilly and Caleb werewolf-sexing in the woods. "I'm Lashing Out Physically... with Smite, too!"
    "Against Lilly, then?"
    "Fuck no, I'm smiting that bastard Caleb!"

    (At this time, it's late, Caleb's player has work in the morning and really needed to get to bed 15 minutes ago, but things are going SO COOL.)

    Smite smite smite. Lacuna makes her Lash Out roll against Caleb. She fails and marks XP. DING! She gets an advance and chooses to change skins to Mortal, something she's been trying to get to all session.

    "You feel the angry judgement of the Lord upon you. Suddenly a lightning bolt shatters the clearing, throwing all three of you to the ground. All around Lacuna, the dirt is scorched in, like, an angel wing pattern... Credits roll."

    So that's how that went. We broke up a big nasty fight scene, changed a player's skin like she wanted, and left things at a wicked cliffhanger. I narrated the lighting bolt, but my wife and I had discussed the possibilities of Lacuna's transformation previously. She loves the special effects of angel death (the wing-shaped scorch marks) from the Supernatural TV show and had told me "When Lacuna becomes mortal, I want THAT to happen."

    If we weren't at the very last few minutes of our games session, we might have played it out slower. But as the last action of the penultimate session, it made for a good climax.
  • That sounds like an awesome climax @JLHBurnett, and (as an observer) I don't think it lost anything due to being rushed. A time constraint often forces you to boil away all the unnecessary stuff, leaving you with exactly enough. Which, in my opinion, added to the impact.
  • Agreed!

    What a great scene. Thanks!
  • This game sounds soooo good, yeah. Thanks for sharing!
  • Thanks, gang!
  • I forgot to add that I really dig your map of the community. I think we'll have to do something similar in our game. Oftentimes you just kind of magically arrive at the place you need to go, handwaving distance and how you actually get there. Still, it's nice to know where things are in relation to one another.

    Like @Paul_T I prefer to play Monsterhearts with a touch less supernatural stuff going on. Well, besides the PCs. That's why The Chosen is bottom of the list of Skins for me. I'm not keen on how it shifts the conflicts from internal to external. All that being said, I'm curious to see how a more overtly supernatural game would go. Thanks for sharing.
  • My players have totally bought into the whole map-making thing. Any game we play now, they ask "Where is her house on the map?" "Can we make a map of this?" or more often "Josh, we need you to make a map of this! Do it!"

    In the session above, we paused the game to draw out the map of Platinum, the teen club where all the cool kids hang out. Everyone tossed in ideas and for close to half-an-hour we built our "dream bar." It was time well spent.
  • Map-making can be really exciting if everyone's into it!
  • That map looks scarily like one we drew at a one shot last DexCon.
  • edited March 2013
    So, The Sexy Teenage Monster Show wrapped up its first season this week. Some unrelated, out-of-game (and not-between-players) stress gave an odd tension to the session, but we pushed through it. Since it was the last session of the season and one of our players (the Chosen) was going to be unable to game for several months, we had a lot of things happening at once, trying to wrap up as much as we could. It got a bit jumbled here and there. More than a couple times, my players broke into a bit of meta gaming. “I need to get into a fight or some other Volatile conflict so I can mark my last XP and get my final advance!” That kind of thing. Normally I'd poo-poo that kind of thinking, but again, it was the season finale, and I tried to be accommodating without breaking things too much.

    Here are the highlights of the last session...

    Lillith the Fae switches skins to Mortal, chosing Caleb (the werewolf that wants her dead) as her lover. The player decided that when she betrayed her father, the Faery King, he stripped her of her fae nature. When Lilly's mother (still a fae) discovers this, she FREAKS OUT and disowns her, driving her out. (Accept people, but only conditionally)

    Lacuna the Angel-turned-Hollow has “explosive amnesia” (a phrase we always say in our best Calculon voice.)

    Caleb the werewolf blows up Lillth's home. Building maintenance is his part-time job, so we decided that, sure, he knows how to sabotage a gas line. (Be a fan of the PCs)

    A big werewolf/fae/chosen/angel rumble in Gabriel's living room triggers a fatal heart attack in Gabriel's father. (Make them pay a price)

    The Fectori tell Gabriel that they can bring his father back to life (“You'll never know the difference, Gaaaabrielll...”) if only he'd just join them. (Tell them possible consequences and ask)

    Gabriel's sister discovers the body of the dead police detective in his bedroom. (Expose a dangerous secret to the wrong person)

    Lacuna comforts Lilly while the former fae has a nervous breakdown. Their clumsy teenage sapphic sex allows Lilly (now Mortal) to change her Lover to Lacuna.

    To my surprise (although I should know better at this point), Lilly orchestrates a big four-way sex scene between all the PCs. It triggers all their sex moves at once. I tell the two male PCs “I don't care if you never touch each other, it counts as having sex with each other.”

    Lilly and Caleb come to a tenuous peace. After the sex-party, Lilly, Lacuna, and Caleb form a strange three-way relationship.

    Caleb spills all the beans to his father, a powerful werewolf himself. Dad has something planned that involves the nazi-era crates hidden in his study (setting up for next season by announcing future baddness)

    Gabriel takes the fight to the Fectori, leading them deep into the haunted mines and brining the mountain down on top of him, trusting that his God-touched powers will seal them away, like the angel once did.

    So here's what I've learned from my first season of Monsterhearts...

    Things live and die by strings, something that was quite obvious by session 2.

    My female players are more filthy and depraved than my male players could ever hope to be.

    There's a fine balance between continuing to escalate problems for the PCs and stepping back to let things shake out, especially when there's a built in time-limit on the campaign. I have to fight my instinct to keep piling on trouble.

    If and when I run a new game of Monsterhearts, I will not use the chosen. It draws away from the internal conflicts by defining an outside “bad guy.” That said, I'm glad I used it in this first-run. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a better point-of-reference for most of my players rather than Twilight or Vampire Diaries.

    When we eventually get around to Season 2, I think I'm going to skip ahead several months, perhaps all the way to the first day of the next school year. That'll give the town a chance to recover from the weird murder spree. It also gives me a chance to get my players to write “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” essays.
  • Heh! Sounds like good times. I like that last bit about summer vacation essays.
  • And by "essay" I mean, like four sentences.
  • Sounds like it went sparkingly!

    A few questions:

    Lacuna comforts Lilly while the former fae has a nervous breakdown. Their clumsy teenage sapphic sex allows Lilly (now Mortal) to change her Lover to Lacuna.

    To my surprise (although I should know better at this point), Lilly orchestrates a big four-way sex scene between all the PCs. It triggers all their sex moves at once. I tell the two male PCs “I don't care if you never touch each other, it counts as having sex with each other.”
    How did this work?!? I'm curious about the fiction as well as the mechanics. What did Lilly do? Did she use Strings to get this to happen? Was working out the effects of all the sex moves a headache or not?

    I'm also curious about:

    Things live and die by strings, something that was quite obvious by session 2.

    There's a fine balance between continuing to escalate problems for the PCs and stepping back to let things shake out, especially when there's a built in time-limit on the campaign. I have to fight my instinct to keep piling on trouble.
    What made your group realize how important the Strings were? Were there any specific "a-ha!" moments?

    Why did you find it hard to keep yourself from piling on trouble? (I think that for me, it's sometimes just a question of patience: I feel that, as MC/GM, I really need to say something, the spotlight's on me. But often if I just sit and listen for a minute, the players will bring forward their own ideas -- and often their own trouble, which is much more fun.)

    What were the signs, for you, that you were underdoing it or overdoing it?
  • edited March 2013
    Regarding Sex...

    Interested in the teenage lesbian scene, eh? I see how you are ;)

    So Lacuna has explosive amnesia. The first person she encounters while wandering confused in the woods is Lily (on the run from Caleb). Talk talk talk, Lily pieces together that Lacuna has lost her memories. Lily, always the manipulative one, basically imprints herself on Lacuna, acting all friendly and concerned for her well-being.

    Some scenes later, and Lilly's been having a rough time. Her home has been exploded. She's discovered she's now mortal. Her mother's disowned her. The boy she loves has tried to kill her once again. Lilly and Lacuna are in Lacuna's room, and Lilly proceeds to have a nervous breakdown.

    Lacuna can't bear to see the only person she remembers being nice to her so sad. Lacuna is also a Hollow and still has the "Bi-Curious" condition that Lilly put on her a couple sessions ago. She follows through with her "Blank Canvas" move and tries to Turn Lilly On.

    Even with Blank Canvas, Lacuna fails her roll. We describe how she clumsily grabs at Lilly's girly parts and gets all tangled up in her shirt. Lilly says "Fuck it, I'll let her. I'm all distraught and upset, I just want someone to love me." Fade to black and the girls get to the sexing. Afterwards, Lacuna changes her condition to "Bisexual" and Lilly decides to switch her lover to Lacuna.

    The four-way sex party was all Lilly.
    "Look, mistakes were made. Everyone's angry at everyone else. The only way we're all going to get along is if we all just fuck and get it over with."
    She used a combination of "Turn Someone On" rolls (rolling for each person), spending strings to offer XP, and pure role-playing and conniving.
    There was some "Well, I'll do it if they do it," stuff from some of the PCs.

    Working out the four-way sex move was, indeed, a headache. I took everyone's sheets, looked them over, and parsed how it worked.
    It went down (so to speak) like this...

    *Werewolf-You now have a spirit connection with all three of the others.
    *Chosen - You heal all your harm and conditions. How do you feel about this whole thing, you good Catholic boy? Are you disgusted with yourself? Are you disgusted with your friends? (Yes and yes)
    *Mortal - You trigger everyone's darkest self! Good job!
    *Hollow - Ugh. I dunno. Let's draw a name out of a hat. That's whose Sex move you get. (We actually rolled dice, and she got the Chosen's sex move).

    Regarding Strings...

    I came to the realization about strings around the second session I think. Lilly was who brought about the revelation (the Fae's a string-making machine). I can't think of a specific moment, but she's only alive still because of the strings she has on all the PCs and most of the NPCs. With strings you can dominate conflicts--penalizing rolls, making people hold steady, and (in violence) amp the heck out of damage.

    You can almost run PC vs PC conflict without making rolls at all if you use strings. The "do this and I'll give you XP" aspect of strings is powerful.

    Regarding Escalation...

    My favorite kind of stories, comedy or tragedy, involve ridiculous amounts of escalation. You start with a small problem. Every mistake makes the problem a little bit larger. Every success just reveals another, semi-related problem. (My Zorcerer of Zo games are a good example of this in action.) Things snowball, getting worse and worse for the characters until the original problem is just a beloved memory. "Remember when I just had a dead body in the trunk? Man things were easy then." (This is also why I love Fiasco.)

    This is fun, but I have to remind myself now and then to stop piling on the PCs. It is my instinct to keep escalating problems for the PCs, but i need to step back occasionally and say "I think they have enough trouble right now." I need to let them deal with the problems they already have, let them some enjoy some victories, and maybe clear my plate a bit before I get more balls in the air (to badly mix metaphors). This is especially something I remember in games that have time limits (like the seasons in MH or, even more importantly, a 4-hour convention game).

    Note: this problem is not necessarily specific to Monsterhearts.

    When PCs wound up at the police station for the third time and the hospital for the second time in one session, I felt it was time to step back a bit.

    Other revelations...

    I've also found out that I am weirdly uncomfortable with roleplaying sexy teenagers' parents. I don't rightly know why this is. It just feels "off" to me. It's hard to explain. It might be because I've never really done it before. It might be because I'm a parent of a recent adolescent. I dunno. I keep finding myself glossing over parental conversations or going over them in synopsis form. "Okay, so your mother has a long conversation with you about God and death, and how your father loved you and recommends you go talk to Father Smith when you get a chance." My players don't seem to mind, but I feel like I'm cheating them. It's funny to me that I have no problem playing people of different religion, race, or sex/gender-identity, but I get all fidgety when I need to play someone's Dad.

  • By the way, Thanks for all the questions. I'm finding the back-and-forth discussion quite rewarding!
  • edited March 2013
    Thank you for sharing, this is all fascinating stuff, and you have lots of interesting insights. I think I understand the parent thing you're describing: it's some intersection of a few things...

    * We always have an awkward relationship to teenagers and sex, and the game has both in spades -- it's hard to stay away from these topics, since the game is so focused on them.
    * The "make humans monstrous" Principle is always there, making you wonder just how "good" you can play a parent before you're "doing it wrong".
    * The teen sex drama genre isn't terribly realistic: yeah, it's supposed to be about teenagers, but really it's all 25- or 30-year old actors and they're way more physically mature than they should be, just adults who are more dependent, more volatile, bigger-than-life. Maybe bringing in parents (in any way other than as monstrous, weird beings) brings this home a little more: we aren't *really* dealing with teenagers here, but some weird caricature of teenagers.

    Does that sound right to you, or are you feeling this for entirely different reasons?

    I have a couple of questions:

    1. I've been wondering about the whole "spend a String to make someone hold steady" thing, since I noticed that the original version of that move was very much like AW's "act under fire", but the final version is much more forgiving. Since you only get something bad on a 6 or less (on a 7-9, you can always "keep your cool", and on a 10+ you get something good out of it), does it work effectively as a deterrent? Do the players find it worthwhile to force others to hold steady? (Especially since some of them will be marking experience when they roll it, as well...)

    2. Interesting breakdown of the sex moves! It seems like it worked out pretty well, actually. But I'm very scared what happens when three PCs simultaneously enter their Darkest Selves. Did some of that get played out, or is it where you'll be picking up next time?
  • That's a fairly accurate breakdown of the parent thing. I think A lot of it also has to do with the fact that I don't have a lot of pop-cultural references to glean from. I haven't seen many teen-centric movies or TV shows, and the ones I have watched, the parents are mostly just set dressing. I think I just have to get over my gut feeling that "parents are boring."
    Embracing tropes has helped a bit. I decided that Gabriel's parents are Ma and Pa Kent, Lilly's mother is Peg Bundy, and Caleb's father is Lex Luthor.

    Spending a String to Hold Steady
    It's happened more and more often with each session as 1) the danger has increased, and 2) the mechanics become more instinctive. I keep using Lilly as an example, but that girl has a TON of strings (or at least DID until she got hit with 4 harm). She's used the technique a lot to keep Caleb off her throat.

    I give him the wide eyes and trembling lips thing. "How can you think of killing me when you know I'm the only one that really loves you!" I'm spending a string. Roll to hold steady, jackass.

    Knowing that another player gets to mark XP has never been a concern. My players have actually all been really good at helping each other get XP.

    Sex and the Darkest Self
    Half of them fell back out of their Darkest Self pretty quickly. The Werewolf and the Mortal both come out of it when they realize they're hurting the ones they love. That happened in little to no time. The Hollow's darkest self isn't really aggressive, so she's still in this heavy self-harm mode. I'll probably start her that way in the next season. The Chosen was where it got antsy. He immediately wanted to run off and fight the Fectori. It took the combined efforts of everyone (using moves and strings) to keep him from leaving. He eventually ran off when no one was looking and took on the Fectori all by himself. He's presumed dead now, after the cave-in.
  • Very cool.

    I think your own answer to the parent dilemma is a very good solution!

    I thought of another one: look at the problems facing the PC, or issues she's dealing with. Have the parent take an absolute, hard-line stance on the issue or dilemma, and push it as hard as you can.

    (I may try this in my own game.)
  • If having daughters teaches you anything it's that parents are always monstrous.
  • Yeah, I think I'm going to flip a switch next season. Instead of trying to play the parents as neutral or friendly, they are going to be straight up antagonists.
  • They can be totally well meaning antagonists -- I'm thinking of the scene in early first season Buffy where Joyce tells her daughter that, yes, she has been a teenager too, and she knows that Buffy thinks that Joyce making her stay home from some social event is the End of the World, but really, it isn't.
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