Friday, November 24, 2023

The Horrors of Halfway

I've played a lot of Monsterhearts, and certainly enjoyed it, even though I certainly was doing it wrong.

But I've got no patience for games that reward poor choices for the sake of genre conventions. "Oh good for you, you did the trope thing, have a shiny sticker."

No. We do the trope things, because the trope things are fun. There is no need for any other reason!

Even worse, are games that force players to take those actions, removing agency for... no real purpose. The whole point of these silly elf games we play is to take actions and make decisions. Why do we play Apocalypse World, instead of watching Mad Max? Why do we play Monsterhearts, instead of reading Twilight? What harm is there in doing these games wrong?

The punchline of Monsterhearts is certainly the "Growing Up" moves, the pretence that becoming an adult somehow magically makes us... better? Maybe we might have coping strategies or healthier mindsets, or just make saner choices without the slurry of hormones. But we don't get magical abilities to deal with situations properly. And the levers of adolescence never truly go away.

I've played a lot of Monsterhearts incorrectly, by accident. These are the rules I'd use to play Monsterhearts incorrectly, on purpose.

Torment


  • As a player, your character is never forced to do anything.
  • You will be frequently and strongly encouraged to do The Wrong Thing (a.k.a. the trope-y, interesting and entertaining option), but are never, ever forced to do so.
  • If you instead take the safe, sensible and/or strategic option, you'll probably end up with:
    • Major mechanical penalties
    • Worse choices down the line
    • Or all of the above
  • Don't sweat the decision too badly. Suffering will probably ensue whether you do it, or don't do it.
  • Basically we are here to torment these characters. Fun!

Characters


  • Each character will probably have to choose one or two things. They can make these choices immediately, or just before they use them.
  • If they have never used an ability, or it doesn't do what they thought, they can have a do-over
  • Each Skin has set values for the four stats. This is how you appear, and appearances can be deceiving. Once, ever, the player can swap any two stats. This is their true nature.

Control


  • Your character starts off In Control. This probably won't last.
  • If you Lose Control, things start to slip. Your character still does roughly what you intend, but anyone else at the table can suggest an entertaining and interesting course of action. If you take it, regain Control.
  • If you don't take it, Endure. This won't ever force you to take that action.
  • The next time a course of action is suggested, it just needs to be entertaining or interesting.
  • The third time and onwards, it has to be terrible.

Drives


  • If an opportunity comes up to satisfy a Drive, and you don't take it, add 1 to your Tally.
  • The next time an opportunity comes up, you have -Tally to all rolls until you get out of that situation.
  • If you really go all out satisfying a Drive, clear the Tally, and ignore all of your Drives for a little while.
  • If you already have 3 Drives and gain another, lose Control, and remove whichever Drive is middling: the one you have satisfied a bit, and resisted a bit. Not the one you always indulge, or the one you always abstain.

Strings


Spend a String on someone for:
  • +/- 1 to their rolls, or your rolls against them
  • +1 Harm to whatever you are hitting them with
  • Force them to Endure in order to carry out a certain action
  • Put them in or out of Control, for a time

You can spend up to 3 Strings at once.

Extra Sources of Strings
Take a String on someone when:
  • They break a promise
  • They go out of their way to not make a promise
  • You forgive them for something, when you really shouldn't
  • You learn a secret, and keep it for later


Intimacy


In addition to the obvious, the following also count as Acts of Intimacy

  • Tending to wounds, with subtext of any kind. Heals 1 Harm, gives the healer 1 String
  • Witnessing transformations, painful or otherwise
  • Biting


Secrecy


Everyone in the mortal world knows that Vampires and Werewolves and the rest are all real. There's no conspiracy keeping them hidden, that's dumb. And besides, the vampire council dealt with the Vampiric King Ascendant. They're on our side. The Vampire King's low-yield nuclear annihilation proves that.

Also, God has gone missing. The Angels are all still dealing with that one. They never found the body.

Try these lines on for size:
  • "The new transfer student is so hot. I heard he's a Vampire."
  • "Well of course you made quarterback over me, you're a Werewolf."
  • "Oh come off it, it doesn't hurt her, she's a Ghoul."
  • "Just because you're an Angel doesn't mean you're better than us!"
  • "Hey buddy. You got, uh, you got something for me? Way I heard it, you've got a bit of a firey demeanour."
  • "I know you Witches are all just like us, but it just makes us all a bit uncomfortable when you're doing that sort of thing in public. It's important to respect other people's boundaries."


Moves



Roll 2d6+stat. On a 6- we end up in [[#The Mess]]

Entice (+Hot)


10+, take a String on them, they choose a reaction
7-9, they can give you a String, or choose a reaction
  • Give themselves to you
  • Promise you something you want
  • Lose their composure

Coerce (+Hot)


Only works on NPCs. Requires a bribe, a threat, or a motive.
10+, they do what you want
7-9, they'll do what you want, if you have what they want

Manipulate (+Cold)


10+, you choose
  • They lose Control
  • They lose a String on you, if they had none you get a String on them
  • They look bad in front of peers
7-9, you both choose one from the above list

Endure (+Cold)


10+, you do the thing anyway
7-9, if you still want to do it, the Director offers you a worse outcome, hard bargain, or an ugly choice

Attack (+Bloody)


10+, deal them Harm and they need to Endure before they can do anything
7-9, deal them Harm and choose one:
  • They get a String on you
  • The Director decides how bad the Harm is
  • You lose Control

Flee (+Bloody)


Requires at least something like an escape route.
10+, you get away clean
7-9, you get away, but it's messy, and the scariest thing there gets a String on you

Dwell (+Dark)


First of all, announce what's on your mind.
10+, choose one of the following:
  • Receive a course of action, and take +1 to do it
  • Witness an omen, vision or clue
  • Learn the answer to a question
  • Regain Control
7-9, the Director chooses from the above, and you lose Control. If you were already out of Control, treat this as a 6-

Ritual (+Dark)


Requires you to know a Ritual, and use a Sympathetic Token from the target.
10+, it works, add two of the following to the effect. The Director decides the rest:
  • Harmful or harmless
  • Subtle or obvious
  • Reversible or permanent
  • Stable or chaotic
7-9, it works.

Some Rituals you might learn: Wither the Flesh, Bind the Sword, Cloud the Mind, Twisted Visions, Reveal Truths Best Kept Hidden, Deceiver's Bane, Scrying. Learning new Rituals is always incredibly difficult and painful. Those with the knowledge aren't inclined to share.


Harm



Punches and kicks, 1 Harm
Rocks and bats, 2 Harm
Gunshot wound, 3 Harm

1 Harm gets talked about in the hallways
2 Harm gets talked about at the police station
3 Harm gets talked about in the hospital
4 Harm gets talked about in the morgue

Death



If you take 4 Harm, you either
  • Lose all Strings, and lose Control
  • Disappear under mysterious circumstances
  • Die a little while later
  • Die immediately


Skins



Vampire



Stats
Hot +1, Cold +2, Bloody -1, Dark -1

Strength
  • Each time you drink a bunch of blood, heal 1 Harm and gain 1 Gulp
  • Spend 1 Gulp for +1 to a roll, deciding before rolling
  • Hypnotic, if someone has no Strings on you, and you have Strings on them, you can stare into their eyes and make them say what you say

Weakness
  • Unless you really indulged, as soon as you stop drinking the Drive will probably still be there
  • Traditional weaknesses: direct sunlight, uninvited thresholds, garlic, crosses, others as discussed
  • Treat exposure as a 6-. You are a young vampire, so the traditional weaknesses are just severely uncomfortable, rather than fatal
  • The more blood you contain, the worse the effects!

Intimacy
  • 1-in-6 chance of gaining "drink this persons blood" as a Drive
  • The Director can roll this out in the open, or in secret, or just cheat as much as they want if they think it will be interesting and entertaining

Backstory
  • You are beautiful and fascinating, and you know it. Take 1 String on everyone.
  • Someone saved your life, they take 2 Strings on you.
  • Start with the Drive "consume spilled blood".

The Ghoul does not contain any blood


Werewolf



Stats
Hot +1, Cold -1, Bloody +2, Dark -1

Strength
  • When you lose Control, you transform into a huge fuck-off wolf, capable of tearing through cars and basically anyone else. Take -1 Harm. Teeth and claws deal 2 Harm, or 3 Harm at night
  • You can lose Control intentionally, and you either transform immediately or hold off for a little while
  • If you receive training from an elder wolf, you might be able to transform quicker, with less pain, or only partially.

Weakness
  • Transformation is horrifically painful and debilitates you for some time during and after
  • Each time you transform intentionally, there is an increased chance of the Director making you transform unintentionally
  • OR if you haven't transformed in a while, you start getting the urge to
  • OR there's no link, and the Director is just fucking with you

Backstory
  • You lack subtlety, give 1 String to everyone
  • You know the scent and mannerisms of someone else, perfectly. Take 2 Strings.
  • Start with the Drives "be respected" and "don't be disrespected".

Intimacy
  • Double effect of healing, 2 Harm healed and 2 Strings taken.
  • The next time you both Dwell, it must be upon each other.


Ghoul



Stats
Hot -1, Cold +2, Bloody +1, Dark -1

Strength
  • If you'd die, you come back after a few hours of suffering.
  • While pursuing a Drive, take +1
  • If you satisfy a Drive fully:
    • Heal 1 Harm
    • Regain Control
    • or take +1 for a while longer

Start with the Drive "devouring flesh", and another from the following: "power", "fear", "chaos", "secrets"

Weakness
  • You need to Endure to resist a Drive

Strings
  • If you observe someone without them knowing, while they are vulnerable, take a String
  • If you protect someone without them knowing, take a String

Backstory
  • Decide if you know how you ended up dead, or if you don't yet remember
  • Did anyone watch you die, or come back? You both take 2 Strings on each other.
  • Someone reminds you of real, breathing, bleeding life. Give them 2 Strings.

Intimacy
  • Watching the Ghoul die, or come back to life, or hearing about it in great detail, counts
  • Whatever kind of Intimacy, they take 1 String on you.
  • (This is a relatively simple effect, since getting up close and personal with a Ghoul is already dicey enough)


Angel



Stats
Hot +2, Cold -1, Bloody +1, Dark -1

Holy Gifts
  • You can Fly with wings of pure light
  • You can Smite with tremendous bolts of lightning, channeled through a weapon or thrown with bare hands (less accurate)
  • You can Heal and Forgive with a touch

Weakness
  • Mark a tally each time you commit a major, unforgiven Sins
  • Using one of your Holy Gifts for base ends counts as a Sin
  • Three Strikes And You're Out. Lose one of your three Holy Gifts. However, there are no further penalties after these three strikes...

Drives
  • Each time you indulge in a vice, gain it as a Drive
  • If someone gets you to indulge in a vice and it goes well, they get two Strings on you. If it goes poorly, you get two Strings on them
  • Start with the Drive "be accepted by your peers"

Strings
  • When you decide to spare someone you have reason to kill, take a String on them

Backstory
  • Someone wants you dead. They get 2 Strings on you.
  • Pick someone that is more pure and noble than you are. Or just someone that feels that you. You get 2 Strings on them, they get 1 on you.

Intimacy
  • Entirely reveals all of your Drives, Strings and Sins
  • They can choose to take on one of your Drives as their own
  • They can choose to make you lose Control


Infernal



Stats
Hot -1, Cold -1, Bloody +1, Dark +2

Strength
  • Choose two Bargains. Give the Dark Power a String to gain the benefit.

Bargains
  • +2 to a roll
  • Heal 2 Harm and regain Control
  • Use an ability you don't have, once
  • Reveal a secret from someone you are talking to
  • Something you really want, if you fulfil a request

Weaknesses
  • Once the Dark Power has five Strings on you, you lose Control and cannot use Bargains until you've cleared them all
  • If you get properly worked up, anyone at the table can suggest that you catch on fire (too cheesy?)

Backstory
  • Give away 3 Strings, to other characters or your Dark Power
  • Someone thinks they can save you, take a String on them

Dark Powers
  1. The Poisoner
  2. The Trickster
  3. The Connoisseur
  4. The Fallen
  5. The Glutton
  6. The Emissary
  7. The Butcher
  8. The Tyrant

Intimacy
  • The Dark Power loses a String on you, and takes a String on them


Witch



Stats
Hot -1, Cold +1, Bloody -1, Dark +2

Strength
  • Start knowing two Rituals. What did you have to do to learn these?
  • Instead of using a Sympathetic Token, you can chant in weird tongues to enact a Ritual

Weaknesses
  • You are almost a mortal, so watch out!

Strings
  • Someone has seen you doing a Ritual, or collecting Sympathetic Tokens. They take 1 String on you.
  • ?

Intimacy
  • Counts as a Sympathetic Token, whether you like it or not


The Mess



On any failed roll, things get worse and more complicated.

  • Take a String on someone
  • Take away Control
  • Trigger a Drive, or make a new one
  • Separate them
  • Put them together
  • Wind-up for the big hit...
  • Follow through!
  • Set a price, and ask
  • Leap to the worst possible conclusion
  • Turn their move back on them
  • Expose a dangerous secret to the wrong person
  • Send a message

After every move: "What do you do?"


Director Principles



  • Blanket the world in darkness
  • Address yourself to the characters, not the players
  • Make your move, but misdirect
  • Make your move, but never speak its name
  • Make monsters seem human
  • Make humans seem monstrous
  • Give everyone a life
  • Accept people, but only conditionally
  • Happiness always comes at someone else’s expense
  • Ask provocative questions and build on the answers
  • Be a fan of the PCs
  • Treat your NPCs like stolen cars
  • Give your NPCs simple motivations that divide the PCs
  • Sometimes, let them make the call


The First Day



  • First year university! An opportunity to escape the past, to reinvent yourself. New freedoms, new responsibilities, new people, new places. But the old comes with, whether you like it or not...
  • Your first class is something like "Ethics of Communication", don't worry about it.
  • Each PC is sat with three NPCs at the tables. Icebreaker time! Each other player (not at that table) should come up with an NPC name and fun fact.
  • For each NPC, the Director can also pick something like the following:
    • If they asked you out, would you accept?
    • Who do you reckon they like better, between you and (other PC)?
    • If they tried to fight you, would you fight back?
    • They're staring at you, trying to figure out what's up with you. They might know your true nature.
    • They pass you a note. Do you open it now, or later? (The other player should write a note and hand it over)
    • ?


Adults



Older Students
For older, scarier, and supernatural students, pick a Skin and give them some traits and powers from another Skin:
  • A Werewolf as cold and manipulative as a Vampire that can stare down any prey.
  • An Infernal with more magical powers and fire-blasts.
  • An Angel that can transform into a huge many-eyed beast.

(In many PbtA games, this would be built into the advancement system. None is provided in the Horrors of Halfway. Players will have to discover new abilities the hard way.)

Staff. Consider, what's their deal?
  • Some lecturers
  • The head of Student Services
  • The Dean, and the Vice Chancellor
  • Some researchers

Parents
Are not appearing in this film.

The Action



Internal Threats
  • Fighting over the same girl
  • ?

External Threats
  • A world-famous Monster Hunter is in town, and a half-demon just ended up dead by the freeway (if they hunker down, things get worse for monsters in general, lose jobs and opportunities)
  • Recruiters for the New Vampire King
  • ?

Limited Resources
  • Money
  • Time
  • Housing
  • Grades
  • Self-esteem
  • Drugs

Upcoming Events
  • Mad party on the weekend
  • Prom
  • The Big Game
  • Exams
  • Talent Show

When doing any planning, make sure to append "and then the players show up".


Addenda



Obviously, these rules haven't been tested at all yet. Were you expecting anything else? The good bits were all copied from Monsterhearts 1st or 2nd Edition, as well as various things from Apocalypse World.

Whenever a character misunderstands something, gets huffy about it, and storms off before any explanation, all players at the table should politely golf clap.

If a player makes a vicious and snappy comeback against an overbearing, powerful and ostensibly neutral adult, that it would be much more sensible to respect (or at least pay lip-service), all other players at the table should go "ooooh".

Changelog (partial)
  • Removed Darkest Selves, replaced with Control and Drives
  • Removed experience and built-in mechanical advancement
  • Expanded the scope of "Intimacy"
  • All characters could theoretically learn Rituals, an extra use for Dark
  • Parts of the Mortal have been folded into the Witch
  • Parts of the Ghost have been folded into the Ghoul
  • Parts of the Chosen have been folded into the Angel

Interesting String Situations
  • You've captured someone's fancy. Take 2 Strings on them.
  • You've been inside someone's bedroom while they were sleeping. Take a String on them.
  • You find someone threatening. Give them a String on you, and take a String on them.
  • You live next door to someone, and the walls are very thin. Take 1 String on each other.
  • Someone finally noticed you. Give them 1 String.
  • Pick someone as either "treasure" or "merely currency". If they are treasure, give them 1 String. If currency, take 1 String
  • Ask someone if you can trust them or not. If not, give them 1 String on you.
  • Pick someone that you deem to be doomed to self-destruction. Give them 1 String.
  • Someone has stood up to you, give them 1 String on you.
  • Someone here is your absolute favourite. Take 1 String on them, and give them 2 on you.
  • Which of them is as strange as you are? Take 1 String on each other.

Spend a String for -1 Harm, if you really must.

Other kinds of magic?
  • Blood Blasting
  • Potion Crafting
  • Divination
  • ?

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