Actual Play – The princess is another castle (7/5/2013)

monsterheartsGM: Sean Nittner
Players: Noam Rosen, Jennifer Baumgardner, Mia Blankensop, and Karen Twelves
System: Monsterhearts

Phew, I was crazy worried about this game, which is silly but true. I had never run Monsterhearts before, and for quite a while I didn’t quite get the game either (the notion of happiness as the scarcity was rough for me to get my head around). Also Jennifer, who has been doing scripted plays and improv forever and is an amazing actor, was playing her first GM’ed game. She had played Fiasco before, but this would be her first time having a GM run a game… and I was that GM. Hellza nervous!


To prepare I put some feelers out on the Internets and got some great responses, which I’ll share in case someone else is ever in my shoes.

Carl added some advice, as well as links to some awesome resources!

Also Alan Hodges and Bryan Hitchcock followed up with me over email with some links to “setups” to kick off games with:

Yay, between all of that and the book itself, I felt prepared.

Introducing players to the game

With Karen’s assistance I gave a little introduction to the game. I made all the regular pop culture references and made sure to emphasize that bot the monster and the teen part of the game were important, and that if the focus was shifting too much towards one, I’d be introducing elements of the other.

We discussed veiling, which as it turns out, wasn’t needed, but we came awfully close in one scene. In fact, I said several times “I’m a terrible person” as we played out a particularly icky scene that made me squeamish.

Then we went to picking skins and talking about the ones we picked.

Character Creation

Everyone sifted through the skins, looking for what spoke to them.

Jen know very quickly she wanted to play the Fae. Immortal. Ethereal. Other. Carrow. She was the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaugher of Puck. Her family, which were all fey, got along by adapting to the times. She had the latest iPad, spent summers abroad, and in every way appeared a wealthy, fashionable girl. Carrow was everyone’s best friend, until the crossed her (which was an easy thing to do). Then you felt her wrath.

Noam played Cordelia, not Cordi, though everyone caller her that. She was a witch, as you’d expect. Not to many friends. Not really understood. Ready to fuck with people as she saw fit.

Mia made a ghoul named Cage. Her story (both backstory and in game) was the darkest. She was beaten to death her her father in a drunken rage. He had not meant it of course, murdering fathers never do. Since coming back Cage had hungered for chaos, tearing down all the carefully constructed walls people put up to hide from reality and heir own atavistic savagery.

Karen did something crazy awesome that I had never seen before. She played a hollow, all made up of wishes and fantasies. If Carrow was the Fairy, Zelda was the Fairy Tale. She was the “new girl” in school, the “princess” of every story. Zelda was perfect image of a young school girl because that’s all she or her family was, and image, a fairytale. Unlike Carrow, Zelda did not keep up with the times, and her greatest (if only) danger was being forgotten by a new era.



I took a play from Morgan’s book. I had each of them read the first paragraph of their backstory, and describe what it meant in the fiction. For someone like the Fae, this means telling each other player at the table a time when they saw them wear their heart on their sleeve. For other playbooks it’s a bit shorter. Once we had gone around and read our first paragraph, which tends to be the more innocuous of the two, we did another round of reading the second.

Cage had spent some time living a Zelda’s house, but it was just too cookie cutter perfect there for her to stay long. Zelda had been watching Cordelia, seeing how she does things and copying her fastidious habit of never leaving physical remains (hair, fingernails, etc) behind. Cordelia saw how Cage died. Watcher her father do it through his own eyes (via her hex) and knew her secret. Carrow also knew secrets. As a Fae she knew immediately the moment that she saw her that Zelda wasn’t real. As story made flesh, but not real.

First day back at school after winter break

In a sleepy part of Denver, McKinley High was welcoming students back from their holiday break. As soon as I said McKinley, I was sure I’d heard it before in a show. And I had. In Glee. And in Freaks and Geeks. And in Wonder Years. What an awesome name. Totally not sad at all that I stole it. Also, their mascot was the Pheonix, which seems like a nice fairy tale creature, but didn’t end up being too prominent an element.

I stole another move from Morgan’s book and started up most, maybe all, of the scenes by asking two characters what they were doing. Maybe in a place, or at a time, but mostly I just wanted to see they were doing, what situations they would want to be in.

That first scene pretty much set the stage for the entire game. Zelda walked down the hall, with books stacked up to here! She stumbled and as they fell, a boy named Derrick helped pick them up. To Zelda he was prince charming, but Carrow saw the smug look he gave the other basketball players, and then it was on. Operation: Prove Derrek is a Douche!

Of other interest, Cordelia and Cage were in the library fucking with people. Cage really wanted to mess with Derrck, but Josh, the kid trying to roll a joint on the corner couch without being noticed was just too tempting a target. Once couch fire later, chaos had been served. Josh was burnt. Cage was burnt too (she had been hiding in the couch, it was an old sofa that you could hide in/under), and then Josh put out the fire but vomiting up all the fluids in his body thanks to Cordelia’s wither spell…. gross.

A plot – B plot

The A plot in our story was about who the girls thought Zelda should go to the dance with. And all of them thought it WASN’T Derek. Despite this she held onto her prince charming until he was literally stolen from her arms by another woman (Cordelia), she had a huge (and awesome) fight with Carrow (which included the line “why don’t you go bite an apple!”), and she lost control and hit her boyfriend (or maybe just was her boyfriend) with a ladder… giving her a concussion.

This is when things went bad. Darkest Self bad. Zelda had broken the rules, and when she went Darkest Self, so did her family. She was locked up in the attic of her house (the tower) and guarded by her mother, who now played the role of the wicked step mother, that feigned kindness but actually drugged the children when they came over to see Zelda and planned on baking them into a pie.

Eventually Zelda was free of her cage (when she realized Cage was actually more, um, caged than her) and went to the ball (read: dance) with her prince charming (Which was Carrow in the glamor of Adonis, the perfect man).

The B plot was much darker. Uncomfortably so for me, but we talked a lot out of character about what was going on, and veiled as we needed. Being in the middle of a fire got the attention of Vice Principal Pepper. Who wanted to talk to her… in his office. She was in trouble. He could make it all go away, if she did something for him. The scene was tense, and a bad roll to manipulate him ended in a trading a grope for some forgetfulness. Most of this tied into her own daddy issues. shudder

After that, she fell into the arms of Carrow, and he two of them became inseparable. Well, you couldn’t separate Cage from Carrow. She hungered for her.

And that only made things more interesting when Carrow then went to Zelda!

Thoughts on the game

There were a couple cases where Mia wasn’t sure about a choice. What Hunger to have, and maybe what moves to take. Since she is such an awesome coach at improv, I felt really that me and the other players could coach her as well to take her first choice and go with what felt right. Result – Cage was an awesome pyromaniac!

The cat fight between Carrow and Zelda was priceless. I wish I could have filmed it.

Poor Derek. I think he was kind of a tool, but by the end I was feeling sad for him. Knocked off a ladder, then hit with a ladder, then (while in the hospital) he had a wither hex cast on him. Aw.

I really loved that Zelda went Darkest Self so did her family. Sue and Richard Lionheart were the perfect parents when she was perfect, but Sue became the wicked step-mother when Zelda was bad. Noice!

Zelda was the coolest idea I’ve see for a hollow. Not created in some lab, but by our own myths and dreams!

Man, improvisers take to gaming like fish to water. Jen was a natural!

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