Actual Play – Principal Skinner sends his regards (1/19/2014)

monsterheartsGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Matthew Klein, Allison Arth, John Harper, and later Karen Twelves
System: Monsterhearts


This weekend Allison and John came to visit. They stayed at our place and we had the world’s greatest time going out with them to great food, fun bars, and even trying on costumes. On Sunday night Allison turned to me and asked if I could run Monsterhearts for John, Matt, and her. That worked out great because Erin Sara was over with her cousin and her cousins’s boyfriend, who also started up a game with them and Karen. HouseCon was on!

Before the game we had been joking about the name Principal Skinner since Apocalypse World had both Principles and Skinners. It was a bad joke that just got worse the more times we told it, but of course it stuck, so my game was definitely going to have a Principal Skinner in it, even though he was only present for a heartbeat (or did you feed on him slowly Morgan?).

On a Train

One thing I really liked about Mike Garcia’s game Those who Favor Fire was the conceit that the game took place on an overnight train on the way to Miami. As I had no time to prepare I decided to start with that. All the other bits from his game I left out, but liked having an easy-to-define sandbox.

As a group we built on that. The students were heading to a championship football game. On the train were football players, cheerleaders, band members, and of course, adult chaperons.  The students were coming from Chapel Hill, NC. Home of the Haymakers, but everyone called them the Fighting Blue!

Who is the Douche?

I find a really awful NPC is wonderfully polarizing. They create factions and tension just by their presence. Relationships with them establish status, allegiances, and enemies. Also, it helps if they are super petty and self-centered. So that’s what I asked for, and together we came up with:

Patrick Zuchatti (“The Zuke”) – Star quarterback for the Fighting Blue. Later we learned he was dating the lead cheerleader, but that was a recent development, after having just dumped Isolde (Allison’s Ghoul) the night before.

If there is someone on top, there is someone who wants to take that first someone down a peg. Or better yet, get on top themselves, enter:

Ricky Peterson – 2nd String Quarterback who has been working his ass off to be a starting player. Later we found he felt most betrayed not by Patrick (who had always been the first pick) but by Cain (John’s Infernal) who miraculously got pulled from the bench in the final play of the last game, caught the winning pass, and was now a starting wide receiver, despite his mediocre talent and fitness.

Picking Skins

After we had built up the school a tiny bit, and had some structure to work with, I set out five skins, we nixed the Mortal and Fae due to lack of interest and settled on these:

Morgan Maine – A hulking giant of football player. The defensive nose that crushes opposing teams quarterbacks (26 and counting). Think Idriss Elba with another hundred pounds of pure muscle. Morgan was so massive and mature that he was constantly accused of taking performance enhancers and had to submit to regular blood tests, which he passed every one. (Matthew’s Vampire)

Isolde “Izzy” – An Italian goddess complete with a bodacious booty and an indomitable desire to be the best cheerleader in the state.  Zuke dumped Izzy and that night she fell into Morgan’s arms, and then into a tobacco thresher and was shredded into bits. Now she is back and wants things, hungers for thing like she never has. Isolde was Frenemies with Brittney, the lead cheerleader. (Allison’s Ghoul)

Cain – A second string nobody that barely made the team during try outs. A mulato kid that didn’t feel at home anywhere. One lucky catch and he was now the starting wide receiver, but that was it. Still nobody knew him, nobody cared. Except Ricky who hated him for it. His coach Lance Quantas had given him something, a blood infusion, that gave him exactly what he asked for “to be a starting wide receiver” but nothing more. Now Lance expected repayment in kind. And of course it was only with his coaches help that he would continue to be noticed, continue to be on the starting line up. (John’s Infernal)

Filling out the Cast

A few more characters were needed to flesh this out, but these were practically all of the NPCs we had in the game.

Brittney Castleberry – Head cheerleader in the shadow of her mother. Frenemy with Izzy. BFFs on the surface, hateful and catty behind closed doors. (Later in the game, Karen’s Queen)

Lance Quantas – Coach of the Fighting Blue. Australian and incredibly competitive. Taking blood from Morgan (as per his tests) and giving it to Cain to boost his performance. In control of the who is on the team, despite their academic status or behavior. (Cain’s Dark Power, later discovered to be a blue dragon)

Rita Pugalis – Cheerleading coach. We didn’t see much of Rita during the game.

Patricia “Tigger” Castleberry – Brit’s mom. Wife of Mayor Castleberry. Entitled. Cougar.

Principle Skinner – Nominal authority figure. Eaten late in the game by Morgan. Not much authority after that.

Finally we added just a few people during play

Danny – Linebacker and blabbermouth of the team. He was the one man rumormill.

K’shawna Knightly – Cheerleader who braided Morgan’s cornrows. Also the “cherry popper” that had sex with guys when Brit wanted someone to break them in.

And that was it, no other characters ended up in the game, which is a really strong indication that, as Matt quoted someone saying, Monsterhearts could be played in a single room that nobody ever left the entire game. It is just that good at throwing people against each other.

Seating Chart

This was the extent of props used in the game. It worked just fine.

Fighting Blue Seating Chart

The play is the thing

Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the action, here were the central conflicts that surrounded each of the characters:

Morgan <- -> Lance -> Cain <- Ricky

In the first scene with Cain he was in his passenger car with Ricky who was laying into him about how unfair it was that Cain was now a starter. This was the conflict that we knew would happen so I wanted to start it in motion early. Cain lost his cool and decided he was tired of the lies. He summoned some of his dark powers [Witch Hex: Illusions] to make the lights flicker, the door lock, and the car begin to shake and rattle.

From his suitcase he pulled out a syringe full of dark red fluid and confessed “This is it Ricky. This is why I’m a starter!” In a rage he dove at his friend and tried to put the needle in him but in the scuffle Ricky turned it around on him and the syringe plunged into his stomach and was emptied into Cain.

The reliance on his dark power, and the failure to inject Ricky started a cascading chain of events that left Cain perpetually indebted to his dark power, though in doing so got to learn his dark power’s nature. [Mechanically speaking Cain went Darkest Self after a failed Lash out Physically roll on Ricky. He had injected himself with the vampire blood too early and after a brief surge of energy was drained from the experience]

Later Morgan took notice of “Lucky Strike” and came to his aid [event taking the condition “My Brother’s Keeper”] but in the final scene when Ricky did get a syringe of his blood, he also knew that Lance needed this championship win more than he did. Despite his debts to his dark power, the emptied the syringe onto the floor in his first and only act of defiance.

Patrick -> Morgan <- -> Isolde <- -> Brittney -> Cain

Part of Zuke and Morgan’s bromance was an agreement to get Izzy out of her passenger car at night so that the Zuke could “ride the rails” and have sex with Brit in her bunk.

The tension between Brit and Izzy was also palpable. When you’re at the top, you do everything you can to stay there, and Brit was doing just that. Sabotaging Isolde at every turn to make sure she didn’t take the lead. Isolde on the other hand had a bigger picture in mind. Bigger things like Morgan Maine, the defensive nose, and finding out the source of everyone’s power.

I loved the scene when Izzy first turned the tables on Brit. Brittney was used to being desired having all the attention on herself. When Izzy showed interest in Cain she tried to take Cain from her, but then the footsies under the table got muddled and it was Brit getting turned on by Izzy, leaving her confused and unsettled.

The final scene with Morgan and Isolde, when he told her the story of his life as a slave, was really touching. I was happy for them, even in their darkness.

Cain <- Morgan <-Tigger -> Brittney

Morgan was not a kind man. In fact, his first interaction with Isolde to note was to feed on her. That she then fell into a thresher was an accident, but clearly not something he had remorse for. Perhaps fascinated by her unlife, having been a vampire for a few hundred years, he didn’t seem sympathetic to it…at least not until the end when he broke down and told her his story.

For the majority of the game though, he was watching after Cain. Cain seemed to get things wrong at every turn. In trouble with the coach, caught having sex with K’shawna by Principal Skinner, and (after some discovery) being taking injections of Morgan’s blood to boost his performance. All bad all the time. Morgan wanted to help Cain but doing so came at the constant wrath of the Castleberry’s.

First he spurned Brit, which earned her wrath in the form of her minions messing with him, but it also got her mother’s attention. In a horribly racist moment, she chided her daughter not to take interest or have involvement with Morgan. Only a scene or two later, when Morgan entered her room though and failed to intimidate her, she gave him the choice of giving he what she wanted (sex with him) or her screaming and calling the attention of Principal Skinner.

The scene, I think mostly because of the image of Idriss Elba in her head, had Allison screaming into her pillow.

K’shawna <- Britney -> Cain <- Lance

Karen came into the game late and took over Brittney as queen. Her boyfriends face had just turned to a rotten bloody mess [Cain using Wither on him] and she was sexually confused by advanced from Isolde.

A well trained social climber, she took it all in stride. She banished Patrick to go clean himself up and gazed into the abyss, asking the only question that mattered “who is responsible for this?”!

Realizing it was that loser Morgan was calling “Lucky Strike” she chased down Cain. When she found him, broken from his encounter with Lance (where he learned his dark power’s true nature) she went right for the jugular to make him fix what he had done. The deal? Sex. Good for everyone involved. Cain would be part of her clique, and under her domain, and he got to transfer some of his debt from his dark power to her, or at least to her proxy. [Thanks to the Many Bodies power, it was K’shawna that took the bullet for both of them]



Thoughts on this game

Let it be known all that John Harper played a meek and generally ineffectual Infernal in Monsterhearts. Cain failed at every turn and was never able to get out from under the thumb of his coach. Mechanically speaking this was in part a result of terrible rolls and going darkest self right out of the gate. But it was also John’s commitment to playing a character who only got exactly what he wished for and nothing more. Cain imagined he’d be star, but he was still a nobody. And now a hated nobody.

The upshot of this is that the attention at the table was largely focused on Cain, and it was his arc of trying to appease (and then defy) his dark power, and of trying to connect with Morgan (who he idolized), Isolde (who he wanted), and Brittney (who he hurt) that we were all excited to see play out.


We really luxuriated in our scenes. Karen noticed this in particular when she joined the game late. It was like a football game with non-stop instant replays of the action. We’d have a scene and then break the scene to talk about how awesome it is, and then after the scene talk about it more. The game lasted six hours (which is insanely long for me) but it didn’t feel like it. Much wine and whiskey was drunk (not by the same people, we aren’t barbarians) and we just played for hours. Gleefully bouncing from one teenage tragedy to the next.

The technique I learned from Morgan Stinsion of “lets have a scene with you two” is still one of my favorites. In a odd ball occurrence of Isolde and Cain being seated in the same booth for dinner, Cain suddenly became a prize to be fought over, Patrick had a horrific hex cast on him, and we saw Brit and Izzy cat fighting at their worst.

Unexpected awesome. The scene with Tigger and Morgan was hot! Matt didn’t expect Tigger to be in her room when he went in, and I didn’t expect her to get what she wanted. In fact I didn’t even know what she wanted until Morgan started sniffing her clothing and leaning in close. This is where Monsterhearts made he game awesome. He missed the roll and I looked at my moves and “pay the price” jumped out at me.

My Australian accent is terrible. I could get as far as “Hallo Mate” and then I was lost. Thankfully my players were all very forgiving, it was Matt that made the coach Quantas, after all.

We had some pretty phenomenal chemistry at the table. There was a lot of trust here that everyone’s contributions would add to the drama and the story. They did! So much fun to play with great players.

Joe made a really great game. Everything I needed was either on the play books or on the pages of moves and principles. I MC’d this game with no prep, but thanks to a reminder form John the night before about looking at the list of moves, whenever I was stumped I just turned to my list and picked the first thing that looked good. Worked every time!

Final scene. Principal Skinner is dead, his body dragged into Morgan’s passenger car. Morgan and Isolde are having sex with the principal propped up in the corner, his dead eyes wide open looking (if he could look) right at them. I think this was the scene that was so hot it broke Matt. Good times.

Matt’s nicknames for people were just great. “Lucky Strike”. “Energizer Bunny”. Awesome.

Allison took to Monsterhearts like a fish to specially treated fish-happy water. She wasn’t just a natural, I felt like it was her game. She followed Joe’s principles and drove her character like a stolen car!

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