Actual Play – Camp Shata (2/16/2014)

monsterheartsMC: Karen Twevles
Players: Rocky Moran, Meg Pressley, and Sean Nittner
System: Monsterhearts

Karen has work friends Rocky and Meg that said they’d like to play some RPGs. Awesome! We pow-wow’ed over email and decided on Monsterhearts. Since I ran the last game, Karen offered to MC this one.

The day or so before the game we talked a little about MH, about best ways to get characters invested in the setting, and what to prep, and what not to prep. Karen decided to go with limiting the playbooks to Vampire, Werewolf, Mortal, Ghoul, Hollow, and Queen. No ghost, so nobody is dead/incorporeal. No Infernal, so no dark pact or masters. No Fey, so no focus on promises and otherworldly powers. All in all, this was going to make for a personal and sexy game.

The Setup

Karen talked a little bit about what Monsterhearts was all about. Buffy Nights! Or True Blood. Messy lives of messy teenage monsters. She then asked (before letting anyone see the skins, a smart move) what the setting would be like.

Meg liked the idea of Twin Peaks. Something eerie with strange things that happen which few actually draw attention to. We all grooved on that and Karen instantly thought “Someone needs to make a Twin Peeks MH Hack”.  Cool. Everyone knows everyone. Strange things a foot but nobody admits it. Groovy.

Then Karen asked how we know each other. Are we all locals at school? What’s our deal. Summer camp! Meg thought of Friday the 13th but neither Karen or I have seen it so we talked it through some. A camp that runs all summer in two week sessions. Some kids stay for one session, some stay the whole summer. Some unexpectedly go home or are otherwise never heard of during the middle.

X-Card Talk

Karen gave an intro to the X-Card but neither of us remembered the specific intro. So we have it next, time here’s the intro line from X-Card by John Stavropoulos:

“I’d like your help. Your help to make this game fun for everyone. If anything makes anyone uncomfortable in any way… [ draw X on an index card ] …just lift this card up, or simply tap it [ place card at the center of the table ]. You don’t have to explain why. It doesn’t matter why. When we lift or tap this card, we simply edit out anything X-Carded. And if there is ever an issue, anyone can call for a break and we can talk privately. I know it sounds funny but it will help us play amazing games together and usually I’m the one who uses the X card to protect myself from all of you! Please help make this game fun for everyone. Thank you!”

Selecting Skins

We read the skins aloud and Meg was instantly drawn to the Werewolf. Good choice! Of the others I was considering the Mortal or the Queen (my last queen experience didn’t go as well as I’d have liked it to) but only wanted the Mortal if both of the other characters were supernatural. Rocky ended up picking the Mortal and I wanted to offer him the same juice opportunity of falling for either supernatural monster, so I changed plans abruptly and went Vampire. My first time, woot!

Wendy <3 (Rocky) – Wendy is a sweetheart. She works as a barista at the cafe near the camp and during the summers she volunteers in the camp kitchens. Everyone loves Wendy. And she loves everyone else. But she especially loves those in need. Like poor Serena. Last year at the end of camp she found Serena bleeding in an ally outside the cafe. She nursed Serena back to health and they said their goodbyes. This summer camp would be the first time seeing her again. Seeing her True Love (TM). Also, Wendy always knew people’s coffee orders. “Hi Wes, two shots of espresso, right?”

Zachary (Meg) is the bad boy. A child of the moon, Zachary lives at Lake Shasta and his only human contact is during the summer camp. He needs the nature to roam in so that he doesn’t hurt anyone, but craves human contact. Zachary has probably been going to camp since it started years ago, but every year he shows up like he’s just another kid showing up for camp. Later we found out that Zachary worked for the Camp Coordinator Bruce as his lackey. That sure turned out well.

Serena (Sean) was bitten last year and is still figuring out what all this undeath is all about. She doesn’t understand her powers per se, but she does know that since then everyone is drawn to her, like moths to a flame. It was her eyes that drew them in. Blue eyes deep as the sea, bright as the sky. She wants more red meat now, the rarer the better, but at the start of the game had never fed on a living creature. Serena has all the feels.

Some other Campers

To fill out the camp some we made a few other NPCs

Max: Kitchen staff with Wendy. Scrawny, big dumb glasses, into Wendy, very awkward.

Heather, Serena’s tent-mate. Her new best friend. Daughter of the camp organizer Bruce. C.I.T. (Councilor in Training).

Chelsea, Also Serena’s tent-mate. Eager.

Wes, Zachary’s tent-mate. A really nice guy. Has real friendships. Likes Zachary. Zachary begrudgingly puts up with him, while envying his ability to connect with people.

Bruce, camp organizer. A really nice guy. Everyone loves Bruce. When asked if the camp was dangerous he said “Nothing happens in this camp beyond my control.” Heather’s dad. Just a great guy. OMG EVIL BRUCE IS THE VAMPIRE EVERYONE GET OUT RUN AW– I mean just a great guy.

Establishing Shots

Just before taking a break, Karen had each of us do some establishing shots to show where we were at the start of camp.

Zachary was there before camp started. He waited until just after the tents were put up to slip into one and put his name on the top bunk. If anyone game him trouble, he just glared at them and that was that.

Serena, getting off the bus as it arrived a camp. As she stepped off and looked longingly into the lake past all the other campers, there was a palpable exhalation from the bus, as though everyone just realized they had been holding their breath the whole time.

Wendy working up the courage to approach Serena and making a plan to get close to her.

Break

After setting the stage, Karen called for a short break to think about some things that could happen. This is a really good GMing technique and one I wish I remembered to do more often. By the time we got back Karen had a few moments to blanket the world in darkness, springboard off character creation, and leave herself things to wonder about!

First Day of Camp – Meal time!

For dinner, Wendy was cooking up camp gourmet meals… aka spaghetti and meatballs (or meatball to be specific, everyone got one, except Zachary cause he’s cool, and Serena because…dreamy…). As they were plating the meals, Max made his move “Hey Wendy, this is pretty cool isn’t it. I mean it’s cool working together, right? I mean, it would be cool if you know, you and I were to -”

To his credit Max was adorable, but Wendy paid him no mind. She only had eyes for Serena. She had planned to deliver her spaghetti with two meatballs personally but the runner for Serena’s table, Chelsea ran up to the kitchen to intercept. They argued over who would deliver the meal, plated with love. Wendy offered up a bribe. She could get booze from the locked cabinet that she knew the camp councilors hid. Maybe…possibly… nope. Chelsea ripped the plate out of her hands and rushed it over to Serena. All the beautiful plating ruined as spaghetti sauce was dripping off the edge of the plate, the two meatballs threatening to follow.

Meanwhile, Serena was making plans. She was intrigued by Zachary. The tough, I don’t care about anyone, attitude intrigued her. She sent Chelsea on another errand, to go tell Zachary to meet her by the boat house on the edge of the lake after camp fire songs.

Over at Zachary’s table Wes was trying to goad him on to go after Heather, or maybe Serena. “I’ll be your wingman.”  “I don’t need a wingman.” “You should go for it.” “I’ll go for it if I want to.” So cool.

When Chelsea arrived telling Zachary to be at the boat house, Wes was delighted. “See, she’s into you.” Zachary tried to blow it off, not interested by then he caught Serena’s gaze and was held transfixed. Her longing eyes threatened to drink him, drown him, devour him, if he didn’t relent. Without realizing it he was nodding his head and telling Wes he should definitely come along. Zachary was drawn to Serena, to her eyes and to her scent, but he didn’t want to hurt her. Wes would have to save him.

After dinner Serena approached Wendy, sought her out even! As she approached the yellow light from the kitchen reflected off Serena’s eyes, giving them an orange shimmer.  Wendy was excited to see her, beside herself even, until Serena asked her about that hidden cache of booze stored away. Surely Wendy could get it for her, bring it to the boat house tonight, and then be a lookout for her and Zachary. Crestfallen she relented. Sure that Serena and Zachary were “just friends”!

Camp Fire Songs

During the campfire important things were done.

Wendy got the keys to the booze cabinet from Heather! It took some lies and manipulation, but isn’t anything worth doing, worth lying about?

Serena talked to Bruce to ask if there was anything in the woods that the campers should know about. Serena was looking for the one who attacked her the year before, and though Bruce might know. When he told her everything was fine and she knew he was listening, she gazed into his eyes longingly and told him she needed the truth [Hypnotism, aw yeah]. “Nothing happens in this camp beyond my control.” No, not scary at all.

Zachary accepted Wes as his wingman, and plans were made for a double date (Heather coming too) with beers at the boathouse! We also established that Bruce used Zachary, that he was Bruce’s enforcer. He kept people from running away from the camp, or led them off for Bruce to feast on. It was all left unspecified but we realized that Bruce was the monster, and Zachary his lackey, afraid that Bruce would reveal his secret to everyone.

Sexy Times at the Boat House

Serena made Will show her how to open a can of beer by standing behind her like a sleazy guy teaches a woman to shoot pool. Moonlight glimmering in her eyes.

Zachary tore off his clothes and dove in the water.

Heather and Wes were weirded out.

Wendy crashed the party “Someone is coming!” Nobody believed her so she tore off all her clothes but instead of going skinny dipping leapt on Serena and started kissing her. [1] They ran off into the wood for sexy times!

Bloodshed by the Boat House

Serena and Wendy ran off naked in the woods. We faded to black on the scene until Zachary arrived to find Serena feeding on Wendy. Here eyes were pools of black as she bit into Wendy’s hand (we had previously established she had a cut on her hand) and drank deep [Darkest Self triggered by the Mortal’s sex move].

Zachary didn’t know what was happening but he knew it was wrong. Wendy did something to Serena, something to break her! He came up behind, couldn’t see that Serena was feeding but smelled the blood and leapt on Wendy. Tackling her, he changed, transformed in a horrible fashion into the wolf! Serena was startled as Wendy was torn from her grasp. She suddenly realized what she had done and her eyes, for the first time, became completely human. Just blue eyes, full of confusion and sorrow. What was Zachary doing to her love!?!

She grabbed Zachary, slammed him onto a tree, dug her teeth through his fur and began feeding on him as well! Eventually he shook her off and was frothing at the mouth, nearly ready to pounce, his animal instincts taken over, when he was picked up by the scruff, held in the vice grip of Bruce!

“I told you someone was coming” –Wendy

Bruce entered the scene and told us we were all in a lot of trouble. That we made a mess he was going to clean up. Serena [still in her darkest self] tried to dominate him. Making threats of outing him as a child molester and ruining him. Wendy said she’d tell everyone he was a monster. Bruce seemed to soften some and offered us a deal “Why don’t you two just run away and never come back?” Maybe they should have run, but Serena had to know, why had Bruce created her, why had he never told her what she was. Like one of those old I-learned-it-from-you smoking commercials she asked him “Why? Why did you change me and just leave me? Why didn’t you tell me what I was?”

“You weren’t supposed to survive.” He turned to look at Zachary still held fast. “If someone had done there job, you would have never made it out of that ally. Now it looks like I need to finish what I started.” Before he could move though Zachary broke free and was on him. Serena dove in as well. Wendy picked up a branch!

Ending with a bloody victory!

Epilogues

Serena back at school, discontent with her life, seeking out those whose blood she has tasted.

Wendy, fired from her job (Bruce owned the cafe) and drifting, looking for Serena and Zachary.

Zachary, freed of his bonds from Bruce and roaming the roads, following the scent of Wendy and Serena.

Quoteable quotes:

“One shower is not going to wash away this hurt.”

“I told you guys someone was coming!”

“You’re a wolf. He treats you like a dog!

Serena saying some shit about the color of her eyes changing. They changed a lot. Always reflecting something (camp fires, moon light, blackness, you know, things).

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Thoughts on this Game

What rocked

I’m probably biased, but Karen is a fucking awesome Monsterhearts MC. She’s great at tugging at people’s interests, evoking creepy overtones, playing NPCs to their motives, switching status, and incorporating player contributions. She really rocked this game and we all had a great time because of how tightly she bound us together.

As players we had awesome instincts. Get right into each other’s shit very early on. Start making messy connections that frayed at the edges. Some of that did actually get messy, wait, is Selena going after Zachary or Wes, and then who is Heather going to snog? But you know, I think that’s what happens to stolen cars, the get a little trashed.

Tearing Bruce apart at the end was very satisfying. I think it wrapped up camp just perfectly and gave us all a victory we wanted while still leaving all our relationships messy as fuck. Oh… we were all naked at the end. Bonus points for that.

What could have been improved

I’m uncomfortable playing high status characters that stay in the spotlight. Low status characters striving for something, oh yeah let me stay on stage all day. High status characters with a witty remark to drive the other characters mad and then shift to them, also great. But being the center of attention and having control of people. It’s a little much for me. I had the same discomfort playing Nut People as Donna VanWert.  I think in the future I should either a) find a way for my character to be faulty right from the start or b) suck it up and accept I’m driving the show for a bit, shoot for the stars and embrace the probability of crashing and burning!

I think in part because of all the screen time that Serena was getting, I didn’t always feel like Zachary was getting enough. He was trying to distance himself from those he was afraid of hurting, which was part of it, but I’d have liked to see a few shots with Zachary and Bruce setting up their relationship as well. Ooh, flashback ideas for next session!

[1] – The Vampire’s sex move is rough. Or it was rough for me. At one point Wendy spent a string on Serena to go have sex with her. She had just turned Serena on by kissing her while naked. Going and having sex with here was a no-brainer. But then I looked at my sex move. Having sex would make me lose all my string on her, where as denying her would give me a string. The mechanical incentive to deny her was high, but what felt right in the moment was going for it.