High school is difficult for everyone. You’re trying to learn what school is trying to get you to know and how to interact with the world around you all while getting a better sense of the adult world, contemplating life after school, and quite likely dealing with various romantic and sexual interests. It may seem the captain of the football team or student body president have it good, but maybe there’s trouble at home, financial concerns for the future, or worse. The quiet young woman might seem fine but she’s holding back an onslaught of tears. The nerd is stressed he won’t get into a good college like his parents want.
And in all that you’re learning who you are or at least how to get there are. I’ve heard from friends of their children supporting friends coming out as non-binary or transgender. Some still struggle with their sexuality too whether a spectrum, identifying as gay or lesbian, and even bi. Not all are accepting and there’s so much fear about embracing who you are, what you are, and sharing that with the world.
Monster Hearts 2
The world might not quite be ready for it of course, especially if you are touched by the supernatural. What better metaphor is there for the teenager experiencing new, strange feelings and learn about whom/what they are than. Maybe you’re actually a vampire, have strong fey blood in your family, or you turn into a feral werewolf. Be careful flirting and don’t use your powers on anyone. Keep control when the bully yells at you so you don’t claw his face off. Teenagers are monsters! Yeah, it’s like that.
As Avery Alder first said on the game’s kickstarter: “Monsterhearts 2 lets you and your friends create stories about sexy monsters, teenage angst, personal horror, and secret love triangles.” It was quite successful, bringing to life a new version of the Monster Hearts game. The game is built on the Apocalypse World ruleset, which is itself an extension of the Powered by the Apocalypse rule system. If you recall my PAX Unplugged article and/or are familiar with MASKS, then you know the system. Of course it’s more than that as you choose a skin to build your character around. That skin is your supernatural type: Fae, Ghost, Werewolf, Vampire, or even the Queen. The Queen was a surprising skin about controlling a group much like a telepath or mastermind.
I first heard of Monster Hearts 2 from Dan of Order of the Amber Die last summer when we were marathoning Ruins of Azlant and talking about Gen Con. I never got a chance to play but I was intrigue at the modern supernatural/horror element but with a specific consideration to LGBTQ themes. You don’t get to choose what turns you on after all: the character trying to do so either succeeds or fails. Of course it’s up to you how you like it, does it surprise you, are you scared, do you explore it… Each skin has specific abilities around turning others on or sexual activity. Thus it’s important to talk with your group about what they are and aren’t comfortable with, much like we discussed in my World of Darkness article.
But rather than recount all the rules, check out Critical Role’s Handbooker Helper for Monster Hearts 2!
Cinderbrush: a Monster Hearts Story
Critical Role (yes, I’m a Critter if you weren’t aware!) made that Handbooker Helper because they decided to do a one shot of Monster Hearts 2 on Valentines’ Day. Considering yours truly is single and hadn’t a date, he was thrilled to spend a nice night in and catch what he’d heard of so positively from his friend. I expected an awkward, exciting, and thoroughly amusing ride and I was not disappointed.
Matthew Mercer was the Master or Ceremonies (MC). The cast was made of up of amazing Crit Role caster members and friends: Ashley Johnson, Erika Ishii, Ally Beardsley, and Taliesin Jaffe. Respectively they played the Infernal, the Queen, the Werewolf, and the Witch with a wonderful set stage, amazing costumes, and deliciously wicked banter as they navigated homeroom and their feelings. It took me a while to understand the nature of the Queen who might not seem so supernatural at first. Erika played Sasha with charm and wit, but the depth unveiled over time was troubling to discover too. Matt wove a careful web at the beginning, tying the new student (Ally) to the once-on-top jock (Ashley) while the fixer goth (who else but Taliesin) had their finger on the pulse. I was in the moment it started. Heck, Matt had an overhead projector ready!
They didn’t shy away from the LGBTQ themes either. Ally’s character AF openly discussed their exploration of their identity and using they/them pronouns. I won’t ruin some of the awkward fun of the flirtations and turn ons over the course of the game. Instead I highly encourage you to check out the recording on Youtube. I hope to see a second episode one day and I’m sure with enough encouragement they will if the fun they had is any indication.
All Those Difficult Feelings
As made evident in other articles I was sure to enjoy some Critical Role and a modern supernatural horror game, but it’s the open exploration of LGBTQ themes that stirred memories of a closeted highschooler who loved RPGs. If a game like this had existed then I would’ve eagerly sought out a group to try and play. It reads under Audience in the rulebook: “This game is queer, meaning that it pushes back against the heterosexist framework that underlies so many of our culture’s stories. When you play, you contend with all the chaotic possibility and uncertainty of desire.” I am certainly the audience for this game. I felt apart from my friends and family, didn’t feel I could voice that I was let alone be gay, and was trying to figure out how I truly felt and what I wanted to do as I was trying to learn Calculus and taking programming classes. (NERD! I know.)
It’s not that I didn’t think my friends or family would be supportive either. It was more I didn’t quite feel ready for it myself. I was learning, wanted to be sure, and wanted to have a firm control of myself and my life before I affirmed my sexuality. The world wasn’t exactly welcoming though things were changing. As I changed, becoming a young adult, and grew to understand whom I was then I felt ready to share that with others. Of course, I can’t tell you what kind of monster I am but I assure you I am a well meaning and kind one.
Considering the difficult nature of the subject matter, Alder prepared a PDF for free called Safe Hearts which you can get from her site. It details player and MC responsibility, setting boundaries, and having trust in sharing the story you’re about to build. It’s a remarkable read and I encourage you check it out whether playing Monster Hearts or any other game. Rather than rehash my favorite section I’ll point you specifically to the Reasons to Play section.
“We can better understand and challenge problematic ideas by playing through them.” – Safe Hearts, Avery Alder
If you want to explore the harrowing journey of adolescence including LGBTQ themes all while exploring the crazy life of a secret supernatural being, then I encourage you to invest in a Monster Hearts story of your own! Interested in learning more about or trying Monster Hearts 2? You can purchase a PDF at Avery Alder’s store or on DriveThruRPG. If you do, be sure to share with us about your group’s game!
And I also want to hear what you’re Investing In! Leave me a comment below about what games, modules, systems, products, people, live streams, etc you enjoy! You can also hit me up on social media as silentinfinity. I want to hear what excites you and what you’re passionate about. There’s so much wonderful content, people, groups (I could go on) in this community of ours that the more we invest in and share, the better it becomes!
About Investing In
I wasn’t quite sure what to name my article series when I first started but the idea of showcasing or discussing things that make me excited, that I find new and interesting, or maybe I’m otherwise passionate about seemed to fit with the idea of Investing In something like the Pathfinder 2E mechanic. To use some magic items you have to give that little bit of yourself, which helps make these things even better. I like the metaphor of the community growing and being strengthened in the same way!
Banner – Monster Hearts 2, Avery Alder, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/averyalder/monsterhearts-2