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.
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.
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.