Diary of a Smalltown Dragon #1

Last Saturday we started our Monsterhearts 2 campaign. Monsterhearts is seriously one of my all time favorite roleplaying games ever, and I’m stoked we’ve finally started a new campaign! If you haven’t heard of Monsterhearts, it’s a roleplaying game about the messy lives of teenage monsters. Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Ginger Snaps, Gossip Girl, The Craft, The Secret Circle, and Jennifer’s Body, and True Blood to name (more than) a few media examples. The characters are all teenagers, and all (usually) some form of supernatural creature: vampire, werewolf, fae, ghoul, witch, so there’s some similarities with the White Wolf and Onyx Path World of Darkness games.

But it’s not just about being a monster. In Monsterhearts, the main characters are both literal and metaphorical monsters. The Werewolf is both a werewolf and a metaphor for authority issues. The Ghost is an actual ghost and a metaphor for feeling isolated and invisible. The Ghoul is a reanimated corpse with a hunger, and a metaphor for thrill-seeking. I mentioned this before in my post about the two Skins I created for the game: The Oni and The Kitsune, but I think that double meaning makes the game really powerful. The game is also exploration of queerness; the monster as “other”, and sex and sexuality are a big part of the game. Monsterhearts incentivises and mechanizes flirting, turning other characters on, and sexual relationships to better emulate paranormal romance media. This game really opened my eyes to how a game’s mechanics can help create a certain play experience.

Sadly, we’ll only get to play once a month, cause “real life” is a pain and keeps us from meeting up more often. So to help tide myself over between sessions, and to help remember what happened on previous “episodes”, I’ve decided to start an in-character diary. These posts will be recaps of sessions from my character’s perspective, with some a few mentions of mechanics thrown in to explain things. Warning: there will be depictions of teenage sex and violence here, as well as strong language. Proceed with caution if you’re not into that kind of stuff.

Entry #1 – Monday, sometime around midnight

So, I haven’t kept a diary since like, elementary school, but today turned out to be a real shit show. I’ve heard that keeping a journal can help deal with your emotions or something, so I figured writing this stuff down might help me calm down. I’ve finished cleaning up all the broken glass in my room, Luckily nothing in my collection got damaged, but who the fuck throws a phone through someone’s bedroom window at eleven thirty at night? Seriously. Once I find out who’s responsible for this, head are going to roll.

Donna Strickland: the dangerous, unblinking-eyed, 19 year old Wyrm whose heart got so black

Today started out normally enough, I guess. Woke up, showered, had breakfast, then just relaxed until it was time for my shift at the Speedway. I work two to nine on Mondays, which is OK, but it means I have to deal with all the kids stopping by after high school lets out. I should have gotten a job at the other Speedway, the one on the other side of town cause then I wouldn’t have to deal with freaks. But the commute would suck. And I wouldn’t get to see Vivian, my treasure.

I will possess her.

Anyway, the shit started around noon. I got a text from Stacy that something weird was happening on Channel One in homeroom. Those AV nerds messed up the tape for the class representative candidates or something. I didn’t really care, I just made sure she was still coming over after my shift finished. She was. Which is good because I have plans for Stacy.

Work fucking sucked. That weird guy Xavier was hanging around as usual. I have no idea what mud-boy wants, but something’s off with him. He shows up every day after school, buys a roll of Bubble Tape, then just sits at one of the tables watching me. Like he’s fucking studying me or something. It’s creepy. Vivian was there too but I couldn’t really talk to her. I was too busy cleaning up the mess that bitch Ingrid made and she ducked out on me. She’s so closed in on herself. Inaccessible. It’s irresistible. I will own her soon.

Ingrid. Ugh. What is that freak’s deal? She tries to buy a pack of Camel Lights with an obviously fake ID, then gets all pissy when I say I won’t sell to minors. I know she’s still a fuking junior, and when I scanned her ID it came up as some 40-something dude from Hawaii. No way. Instead of acting like a sane person, Ingrid gets all in my shit, then knocks over all of the candy racks by the door on her way out. One of the county police officers, Tim, was in the store to see her giant hissy fit. But he just asked if she was going to clean it up, then did nothing when she said “no”. Useless. I had to clean all that up. I’ve no idea where Ingrid came from, but I heard she lives in her car. That thing is a real piece of shit, too.

Vivian walked past while I was down on all fours trying to get a box of Mike & Ikes from under the counter. She looked… thinner than usual. Gaunt. I hope she’s OK. I like my possessions to be in perfect condition. I said “hi” and she said “hi” back, and I made some comment about how weird Ingrid is, and then then things kind of trailed off. She said she had to go, and ducked out. I watched her leave and saw Ingrid leaning into Evlylyn’s car right outside in the parking lot. What the fuck does Evlylyn want? Wait. That’s one of her flunkies over in line isn’t it? Sophie or something? Jesus. Ever since I snatched Evlylyn’s boyfriend away from her last year she’s been a fucking pain in my ass. I didn’t even want the guy. Not really. I just wanted him because she had him. And everything in this lame town belongs to me. Or will eventually. I bang on the window to tell them to fuck off and see Ingrid handing Evlylyn a cigarette. That homeless little whore didn’t even need that pack of Camels! She trashed the front of the Speedway for no goddamn reason!

As a perfect end to all this, Xavier comes over. He yells “Ingrid!”, knocks over another rack of chips, then runs out. What the fuck is wrong with people? They’re all on my shit list anyway. They’re all currency I’ll happily spend to buy what I really want: Vivian. I just need to discover their worth first.

A shot of the table during the game. You can just barely see Ingrid’s portrait at the top.

The rest of my shift at the Speedway was pretty uneventful after Vivian, Xavier, Ingrid, and Evlylyn left. Thank god. Tim wandered off after doing nothing. I thought the cops were supposed to prevent stuff like Ingrid’s hissy fit from happening. He’s dropped a couple pegs in my book.

Stacy came over to my place at about 10pm. She’s a year younger than me and is still a senior at Childers High School, but she seems OK. Apparently there was this weird video in between the campaign messages for the student council representatives. Like the messages had been recorded over something else already on the tape, but bits of it came through. Something about a concrete wall, splashing liquid, and people arguing. I wasn’t really paying that much attention to what Stacy said, since that’s high school bullshit. I graduated from that dump last year and don’t really care what happens there anymore. I just wanted to show Stacy the new additions to my Collection.

I nonchalantly walked over to my wall of CDs while she was talking and casually ran my fingers across some of them. Her eyes got this hungry glow, and I knew she wanted something. Just like everyone else who sees my Collection. They always want something from my Collection, and I’m more than happy to give it to them. For the right price.

Stacy asked if I had the Batman Forever Soundtrack, which of course I did. I pulled the CD out of the rack, and she practically snatched it out of my hands. She spent a long time reading the tracklist over and over again, and I just let her stew in her own desire. I could smell it on her like cheap perfume. Finally I told her the CD was hers, if she did me a favor. If she found out where Ingrid lived. I knew Stacy would say yes before she even answered. People always want something from my Collection, and will do just about anything to get it.

That includes stealing it, so I have to constantly watch people around my hoard. Good thing I was paying attention too, because Stacy tried to walk off with that CD. It didn’t seem to be intentional; she was just so wrapped up her desire she hadn’t realized she was still holding onto the thing. I took it back, set it down on the dresser, and gently reminded her she could have it after she told me were Ingrid lives. She said she would, then backed out of my room and up the stairs (I live in the basement), not taking her eyes off that jewel case until she absolutely had to. With Stacy gone, I sprawled on my bed thinking about how I was going to get Ingrid back for that scene at the Speedway. Bitch should not have started shit with me.

Then, sometime around 11:30pm this phone comes crashing through my bedroom window. Glass goes everywhere, and the lid to my phonograph gets smashed. I don’t actually use the turntable part, but it’s a vital component of my audio system setup. You bet your ass I am going to find out who did this…

Diary of a Smalltown Dragon #1

The Oni & The Kitsune

As with any game I get interested in, it didn’t take me long to start making new content for Avery Alder’s Monsterhearts, a roleplaying game about the messy lives of teenage monsters. I made two Skins, The Oni and The Kitsune, both of which are now up for sale on PayHip for $4 each, with half the proceeds going to either The Southern Poverty Law Center or Planned Parenthood.

Monsterhearts, which is soon to have a second edition released, is special to me for two reasons apart from simply being a fantastic game. Firstly, Monsterhearts was the first PbtA game (that’s “powered by the apocalypse”, a game that grew out of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World) that really clicked rules-wise for me, and secondly, it was the first game that showed me how mechanics can be used to emulate and reinforce certain player behaviors to achieve a specific tone or genre. I became a huge fan of the game and tried creating some new Skins (think character types) for it.

The protagonists in Monsterhearts are both teenagers and literal monsters; werewolves, vampires, ghosts, etc. If you look deeper though, each monster is also a metaphor for a teenage problem or issue. The werewolf is both werewolf and a metaphor for authority issues. The Ghost is an actual ghost and a metaphor for feeling isolated and invisible. It’s really clever, and makes the games really powerful. It also means that what I consider to be “good” Skins follow the same pattern. They need to be both a literal monster and a metaphor for some aspect of teenage life. I completely stumbled into that combination due to blind luck with my first finished Skin: The Oni.The_Oni

If you don’t know what an oni is, it’s a creature from Japanese mythology that is kind of like a troll or an ogre; a big, evil, human-eating monster. They can turn invisible, can control thunder and lightening, and are thought to have caused all sorts of nastiness. But over the centuries both oni, and a similar monster called a namahage, have become sort of like societal enforcers here in Japan. There’s a traditional celebration at the beginning of February called Setsubun where people dress up as oni/namahage and scare little children into being good. They essentially bully kids into behaving so that they conform to society’s rules and everyone gets along, which is a very important part of Japanese society. Bullying was an aspect of teenage life I hadn’t seen in a Monsterhearts Skin yet, and so I ran with it.

After completing The Oni, I decided to continue the theme of Japanese mythology and picked another well-known creature: The Kitsune. I didn’t stumble into the perfect mix of monster and metaphor here though; I thought for a long time about what aspect of teenage life a shape-changing fox spirit could represent. Finally it hit me: compulsive lying. Kitsune often take the shape of human beings to play tricks, cause mischief, or just to experience life as a person. Sometimes they get stuck in human form, trapped by their own lies and forced to keep on lying to maintain the charade. Compulsive lying was again something I hadn’t seen explored in a Monsterhearts Skin and I finally found a way to represent it mechanically.The_Kitsune

I have ideas for other Japanese-themed Monsterhearts Skins, namely The Tengu, The Tannuki, and The Kappa, but I haven’t gotten very far with them yet. Hopefully I’ll finish them eventually. Again both, The Oni and The Kitsune are available on PayHip for just $4 each, and half the proceeds go to either The Southern Poverty Law Center or Planned Parenthood respectively. If you don’t want to go through PayHip, email me and we can arrange something through PayPal instead if you’d like.

The Oni & The Kitsune

The Circle

The Circle is going to be my entry for the 2017 200 Word RPG Challenge. (If you don’t know about the challenge, it’s pretty much what it says on the cover; a contest that challenges people to write a complete roleplaying game in 200 words or less. I didn’t participate last year, but I submitted Japanese Office back in 2015. With such a small word count, submissions are usually rules-lite storygames or LARPS; it’s hard to write out a involved rules with only 200 words.) Entries for the 2017 contest can be submitted from April 15th to the 23rd, and winners will be announced on May 8th. I fumbled around for an idea this year before finally deciding on teenaged witches, a subject I use often.

Back around 2010 when I was just getting into Apocalypse World-based games I stumbled across the crowdfunding campaign for Monsterhearts. I backed it mostly because I was curious to see how you could use the PbtA game framework to play Twilight the roleplaying game. We’d also been playing in a Vampire: the Requiem campaign, and Monsterhearts seemed like a condensed version of the things I found most interesting in V:tR, namely the personal drama. Monsterhearts has become one of, if not my most, favorite roleplaying game for a number of reasons, and it turned me onto a whole world of (mostly young adult) paranormal romance media. I love the cheesy, over the top melodrama.

My game The Circle is heavily inspired by L.J. Smith’s book series The Secret Circle, about a coven of twelve teenaged witches in New England. (There was a 2011 TV series based very loosely on the books that only lasted a single 22-episode season. It wasn’t very good, and I’m still grumpy it didn’t get a better adaptation.) I tried to use the themes and elements from The Secret Circle in The Circle, or as many as I could in only 200 words. The complete game is below:

The Circle
You are a teenaged witch. Give your witch:

  • a name
  • a three-word archetype
  • a preferred sphere of magic

Introduce your witches. You all:

  • live near each other
  • are close in age
  • attend the same high school

You are a Circle; more powerful together than alone. Split the Circle: half Dawn, half Dusk. Sit on opposing sides of the space; you are rivals but not enemies.

As a Circle decide:

  • what big magic you are planning
  • what preparations must be completed
  • what complications are in your way

Remove the Jokers from a deck of cards. Shuffle it. Put it in the center of the space. Taking informal turns, narrate what your witch think, feels, and does.

When you narrate something with an uncertain outcome or that uses magic, pick an opposing player and draw three cards. If it reinforces your archetype, draw an extra card. If it involves magic within your preferred sphere, draw an extra card. Choose and reveal three cards:

  • three black: you narrate the outcome
  • two black: you narrate the outcome; they narrate a complication
  • two red: they narrate the outcome; you narrate an advantage
  • three red: they narrate the outcome

Shuffle after each draw.

It clocks in at 197 words. I’ve tried to “bake in” all the necessary elements so that everyone quickly gets what the game’s about, makes an appropriate character, and has an issue to resolve. One of the things I’m struggling with in my other game, Keep it Weird, Beach City, is the players narrating both the opposition and how they overcome it. That can be a bit unsatisfying. So here I’ve tried to avoid that by having a rival player narrate complications and outcomes. The coven is pretty much split in half, six “good” and six “bad” (though that’s simplifying it) in The Secret Circle, and I thought that was a perfect way to have players be antagonists for each other in the game.

I might still tweak this before submitting it (the entry form hasn’t gone up yet), but I don’t think there’s much more I need to do with it. As usual, if you try this out, I’d love to hear feedback.

The Circle