This post comes from Rich Rogers (@orklord) co-host of +1 Forward Podcast, editor for many Gauntlet podcasts, prolific Gauntlet GM, and mourner for the current baseball season.
This week Tara, a friend who I’ve been gaming with since we met during a Spacewurm vs. Moonicorn play-by-post that died on the vine in mid 2016 (which is super sad because it had SO MUCH POTENTIAL!), asked me for some help getting ready to run a one-shot of Monsterhearts (a.k.a. MH for short) for her D&D group of many, many years. She’s played Monsterhearts with me a few times, but she’s never MCed it live before. She told me her D&D group of friends are all female and they voted for MH for their first PbtA game.
I have far more experience with Monsterhearts as a player than as an MC. That said, I’ve played 71 live sessions of MH (I track ‘em on RPG Geek) and MCed 12 of those sessions. I’ve MCed a good number of play-by-post “sessions” of Monsterhearts, too - it’s a really good system for that medium of play. Most importantly, I’ve played with several people who I consider far superior MCs for MH than myself. I steal from the best. The Best!
I scheduled a Zoom meeting with Tara and we talked for about half an hour. Below is a summary of the tips I gave her.
- THE primary concern for folks coming from D&D, in my experience, is that D&D is a team game. D&D PCs are in a party - you work together. MH has a number of Player vs. Player moves and the expectation that PCs will be acting against each other from time to time. It can be a tough transition. Remind them of their teenage years, how they probably knew some really selfish awful teens, but those kids are probably pretty decent adults. So it's okay for their PCs to be sorta terrible, too!
- Because of the content (teenagers involved in confusing, awkward, violent, and sexual situations), it’s super important to use safety tools! Discuss lines and veils and have the X Card chat with the group before you start. Encourage them to talk things out ahead of time. You probably want to Fade to Black if characters have sexy times.
- Use one of the Small Towns! Avery worked hard to include some amazing one-pager ideas for places to set the one-shot. It’ll save you half an hour of chatter to just show up with one chosen.
To give an example: I read out a brief intro of all eight of the Small Towns that came with MH2 and she decided she liked Allswell: Buildings and sections of streets slowly fall into the sinkhole.
I suggested that could be the background threat, with clock tick events like: someone’s backyard gets swallowed up by the hole expanding, some NPC who the group likes is parked in a car with someone and the hole inches closer and they don’t know, the sinkhole causes a huge power outage
- Along with the Small Towns background threat, since it’s a one-shot, you should have a Main Event going on. Great MH one-shots I’ve played in/ heard of are organized around staple High School events like Homecoming Game / Dance, Prom, and graduation or a play. Make sure each PC has something to do (or avoid) in that Main Event. It helps to give players goals and objectives, folks to interact with and maybe take down.
Tara decided a Talent Show would be fun since it doesn’t mean she’s using an NPC to order PCs around and they can all have weird and interesting talents. I thought that was a really exciting idea, too.
- During homeroom creation, spend fifteen minutes to half an hour asking questions. There’s a really cool thread on the old Story Games forum with some ideas here. One thing you should do is have the PCs give a string or two to NPCs as they are introduced. Then, have those NPCs use the strings ON the PCs ASAP, to show them how they work (and give them some XP for doing bad things right off)
- Since the game will be online, I shared a fun little Homeroom Google Drawing that I borrowed from a previous game and have re-used for several games I’ve been in. Here’s one of my old Homerooms. Notice the animated gifs? It’s super fun and easy to insert them into the doc, gives the homeroom lots of personality. As for NPCs, I told Tara to use characters from previous games she’s been in. She already has a general idea of what they’re like, so it’s easy to fill their shoes in a pinch. Secretly, I like doing it as a sort of homage to MH games in my past, too.
- Somebody, probably lots of somebodies, is/are gonna randomly Gaze into the Abyss for no good reason. It seems like a cool move and it totally is! But new folks just see it and wanna roll it without a goal in mind. They just want to roll some dice and see some weird stuff happen. Be ready for it - have some vague idea of a background threat in the town. It’s okay to have a big thing going on that the PCs may not know about yet. Create a Countdown Clock for that Big Threat and come up with an idea of the things that happen as the clock advances. When you get a random Gaze, that’s where you throw out the advancing countdown clock of background threat.
- Early on, you may find some players are going to construct their play from looking at the Moves, trying to orient their reactions into a move. Tell them right off that they just need to play, and you'll tell them when a move happens. This is a big, important job. If someone starts off with a “I want to Turn X On”, ask them how. They don’t get to touch dice until the fiction lives and breathes. And if someone does something in character that triggers a Move, call it out. Don’t let Moves slide by, because they will do so much work for you and really thrill the group!
- While you, as the MC, should be looking for the triggers of Basic Moves, feel free to let the players be the experts of their Skin’s Moves. It’s too much for you to keep track of during your first game, so if you catch a player asking about a trigger, give them a chance to show off their cool Skin Move.
- It you’re worried about the players being okay with Sex Moves and Turn Ons, make up an NPC and use a pic of someone you KNOW one of the bravest players thinks is hot. Then make that NPC available for flirting in a safe space where things cannot easily escalate. When a player takes the bait, let them interact and call for a Turn On roll as soon as you see it. Once they see it in action, it'll seem more fun.
For all you Monsterhearts pros, what tips have I missed? What makes your one-shots for newbies sing?