Actual Play – Monsterhearts at GPNW (6/28/2013)

monsterheartsGM: Morgan Stinson
Players: Dani Laney, Sean Nittner, Karen Twelves, Dale Horstman, and Matt Klein
System: Monsterhearts

I couldn’t figure out what to call this game. There would be so many good names for it. So I used “Monsterhearts at GPNW” to stand in as a placeholder for any of these:

  • She is Ultra-Damned.
  • This is going to be a Mega-Exorcism.
  • Two brothers under God.
  • I at the music teacher, lets have sex.
  • Good Fey gone bad.

This game started with something of a mix up. Originally to be run by Carl Rigney, then accidentally assigned to Joe McDaldno. By 8PM Joe wasn’t feeling up for running a game though (he didn’t think he was running one after all) and we were kindly welcomed into the graces of Morgan Stinson.

I played Luke’s Inheritance LARP with Morgan at PAX last year, but otherwise hadn’t gamed with him. Man, what a treat it is. Morgan is some kind of awesome GM.

Lemme tell you a little story about veils

This was the first part of what would later be deja-vu. They must make hippie gamers recite this speech by rote memory in Seattle, because I swear the same bit that Morgan gave us about using a veil, the next day Erin Sara said virtually word for word in the donut. Spooky.

The short version of it is that everyone has different things that set them off. If something bugs you, say “lets veil this” and we will fade to black or remove it from the fictions as needed to make sure everyone is comfortable at the table.

Conversely if someone veils something you said that doesn’t mean your a jerk, you didn’t know what would set them off. If you continue to to bring up the thing they veiled, congratulations you win the prize, now you are a jerk.

Heartstrings and other dirty things.

We started picking skins, like you do. Reaching out for things that reached out to us. Picking something familiar and fond, like the Fae, picking something that you never got to play the way you wanted to before, like the Ghoul, picking something you’ve held off on till now because you were afraid it was too simple and base like the Werewolf, picking something new and intriguing like the Angel, or picking something you don’t know about, and that doesn’t know about you, like the Hollow.

Once we had our skins we started scribbling down notes and talking. Giving out some ideas about what we imagined for our teenage monster.

Dani – Lilith the Fae. Lilith was a changeling, delivered to her father’s doorstep as a baby by her mother and always seeking her Fey family on the other side.

Sean – Zachary the Werewolf. Zachary was raised by in a Good Christian Family and he was never understood. Zachary couldn’t control his anger, which got him into trouble, which made him angry, which… you get the picture. He snuck out at night an always got in trouble. His older adopted brother Nathan had created an impossible standard that Zachary could never live up to.

Karen – Ozma the Ghoul. Ozma’s parents were Christian Scientists. They didn’t believe in doctors, or drugs, or medicine. They believed in prayer. She got sick. They prayed. She got worse. They prayed. She died. They prayed. Her soul left. They prayed. Her soul came back. The actions were no causal. It was not a miracle. She isn’t who she used to be. She’s a Ghoul who craves flesh.

Dale – January the Hollow. January wasn’t born, she was made. Made by a nurse at Mercy Hospital who longed for a child that she could not have. Once created however, she rejected the alien thing she made. January was, as Hollows are, forever curious about the world around her.

Matt – Nathan the Angel was, as his skin depicts, a fallen angel. He was punished by god to live among mortals, and felt incredible self-pity for his plight. Nathan was perfect, and knew it, and he knew that everyone else knew it too, as they should. As Zachary’s older brother (even though adopted) the brothers were like oil and water. Nathan, above wordy concerns and base emotions, Zachary consumed by them.

The play is the thing

So much awesome happened I can’t capture it all. Here are some highlights.

Zachary and Nathan’s relationship. It started badly. They were at each other proverbial (in Zachary’s case sometimes not-so-proverbial) throats all the time. Fighting over petty things. Then something happened. Nathan died and came back, and when he did it was under Lilith’s thrall. She used and abused him and set him about her own dark path. All the while Nathan wanted him to help January, who he saw was a lost soul, needing the blessing of God (January was pretty indifferent on all that soul business). This escalated the tension between then, as Zachary wanted something out of Nathan that he could not, or would not give. In our final showdown during the mega-exorcism, though, the tides were turned and it was Nathan asking for forgiveness and salvation.  I think the story of two religious brothers and their secular and spiritual conflicts is a pretty awesome thing to behold.

Ozma didn’t start off knowing what happened to her, or even what she was. In fact, because Nathan was there when she woke up, and because he clearly had some connection with God, her first thought was that somehow he’d brought her back. When he told her the story of Lazarus “So Lazarus was a flesh-eating zombie?” was probably one the more epic lines in the game. Of course Nathan felt pretty bummed about all this. He did believe he brought Ozma back, and that god had punished him for his hubris by making her wrong. Their relationship started as one of mystique and intrigue. She wanted answers. He was aloof. She trapped him in a bathroom. He protested. She accused him of making her a zombie. He heard she thought that he brought her back to life. And then making out happened. Like it does.

January was wicked awesome. She wasn’t wanting for a home or to fit it, because she didn’t know what it was to want. She copied those around her, and showed them their own dark reflection. Something most of us couldn’t handle. She found Nathan in the church and they began discussion religion in a very what-does-it-all-mean teenage existentialism kind of way. After Nathan preached to her, January told him it was a dream. All faith, all religion, all of it was a dream. No Nathan had been in heaven, but it had been a long, long time (or so it felt) and maybe he was having some doubts himself about whether or not it really happened. Or maybe he just couldn’t handle insults against his father in his home. So Nathan did what any avenging angel would do, he grabbed a crucifix from an alter and with righteous rage, smote her. January turned the other cheek, and showed him her wicket backhand, smashing the tin pail he was using in the side of his head. And putting him in the hospital.

Nathan was so troubled it was awesome. He spent the first half of the game being the total cool kid. So aloof and above. He was so tried by everyone’s feeble efforts to show their obeisance. He rebuked his brother Zachary, his suitors, even his parents. Nathan cast judgment on all those around him…until he died. And then he came back, as his darkest self, lost and looking for another higher power. As his eyes opened for the first time, that’s when he SAW Lilith. Beautiful and perfect in his mind, and oh so ready to claim responsibility for bringing him back, just as he had done with Ozma. He completely fell under her thrall and for a good portion of the game was not only follower her around like a puppy, he was also trying to convince others to follow her as he did.

Ozma and Zachary. Oh my. So it started a little like this. Zachary found Ozma eating the remains of one of his kills by the river. She was all kinds of feral and ravenous.  That was hot. So he did was wolves do. He leapt on her and put his mouth around her neck to make a play a dominance. She bucked and sent him sailing in to the river. That was also hot. As he slowly walked out of the water, dripping wet and naked… well it just got hot all around.

The Mega-Exorcism

A common thread throughout all of the game was the brothers trying to “fix” January. First it was Nathan trying to show her his divine light. Then it was Zachary trying to save her “ultra-damned” soul. Then it was Nathan trying to bring her into Lilith’s fold. This culminated in the final conflict of the game, a mega-exorcism.

Zachary really wanted it. He felt pretty damned himself, like Cain punished for his sins against his brother and turned into a monster. But January, she didn’t even have a soul, or at least she smelled like formaldehyde, and the priest said she was ultra-damned, so that was good enough for him. Zachary thought, though he wouldn’t admit, that if January could be saved, maybe he could be too.

Lilith really didn’t want it. Or maybe her uncle the Fairy King wanted her to stir some stuff up for funsies. Or maybe she just wanted to punish Zachary. He promised to tell her the truth, and then lied and said he killer her father, when he knew that Ozma had done it (one of those awkward moments as they were having sex over the body of a fallen and devoured  elk that came out with a sob “I killed my music teacher”), because he wanted to protect Ozma (it’s the werewolf’s sex move yo). But whatever he vengeful reasons were, she hella crashed that party. Her visage that of some horned stag goddess of wrath.

And things got crazy. Lilith and Zachary fought and blood was shed. Then Ozma and Lilth fought and more blood was shed. We were all looking pretty bloody, when Nathan finally saw Lilith for the monster she had become (and as a note, this is when we as players realized that Lilith had really taken on the role of adversary, which is no small feat in a game) and begged his brother, the werewolf for forgiveness.

That was pretty awesome, seeing the high brought so low. Zachary joined January in the baptismal pool (a kiddy pool filled with what the priest said was holy water) and in that font he was redeemed… And January sank out of existence. Just disappearing into the water. You see the Fairy King had been watching all of this and thought that January was one cool character, never really buying anyone else’s story, but still becoming the center piece in their lives. Pretty fricking awesome. And so she was offered a home in the Fey, where the mythical creatures would mimic her.

Thoughts on the game

I had so much fun here. I loved the other characters, I loved all our interactions, and I loved, as Morgan put it, “Hulking out” at all the wrong times.

There was a love triangle that didn’t really connect between Ozma and the brothers, which could have been very cool to see, as well as a bit about Ozma’s story, and Nathans’s lack of involvement with her coming back to life (or unlife). That all just tells me that these characters would be great in a second session!

Morgan is a straight-up top-notch MC. He was super gracious keeping everyone’s characters involved and entangled in each others plots, as well as really making all of us feel special in our own right. Morgan reincorporated things beautifully and did great with the pacing, leading up to the Mega-Exorcism at the end. If you get a chance to play with Mr. Stinson, DO SO!