February 16, 2012

[Interview] Joe Mcdaldno about Monsterhearts

How can I give you the newest news? How can I get a step ahead anyone else. No idea. While i try to figure that out, you can read this interview to Joe Mcdaldno the lead designer of a game not yet printed: Monsterhearts.

First of all, please go look into the Indie GoGo campaign and, if this game has some appeal to you, please contribute. The project already reached his goal, but if we manage to reach 10k$ there will be 2 more PDF games for everyone (and I'm really curious about Perfect Unrevised).

Now here we go with the 7 Questions of Doom (really guys, this title is embarassing!)

Joe Mcdaldno has been designing story games since 2006. He uses game design as a means to exploring human and social conditions. Previous to Monsterhearts, his published design credits include Perfect Unrevised and Ribbon Drive. Outside the realm of games, the things he's excited about include performance poetry, kitchen dance parties, and discussions about gender. He's your friend.

1) Monsterhearts it's about teen monster emo angst. Teen monster emo angst? Really? Why?
Yes! Monsterhearts is a game about unstable, brooding, whiny, teenage monsters. It's about what it means to be a teenager and what it means to be a monster.

Why? Because it's consistently fun to play. These characters are volatile and irrational, meaning that their lives are constantly full of drama and action. These characters are sexy and interesting, meaning that we actually give a damn about them. And finally, these characters have serious faults, and the game mechanics make sure that those faults actually matter to the game. What results is a perfect storm: dramatic characters that we can't help but love and hate.

The other reason is that teen monster drama comes with a lot of genre formula built in. That's a good thing! That means that as gamers, we aren't fumbling around trying to make a story in the dark. We have a structure to work with. We can choose to follow or subvert that structure at any moment, but it's always accessible.

2) The only game that I know, kinda similar to Monsterhearts is The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon. Do you know it? How this two games differentiate each other?
I've read The Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon. It's really cute! While the subject matter is very similar, the design and the culture of play are very different. Silver Kiss is for a set number of players, and is closer to a structured freeform scenario. Monsterhearts leans upon dice and mechanics, and is more open-ended in its play expectations.

Mechanically, Monsterhearts is based on the Apocalpyse World game engine, designed by Vincent Baker. It gives lots of structure to the MC role, and lots of evocative mechanical options to the players. The mechanics are designed to give the story momentum and to introduce lots of awkward truths and hard choices. The result is a game that responds to what the players say in interesting ways, and offers lots of inspiration whenever its needed.

3) In a typical game of Monsterhearts, every player can be a monster? How roles are assigned? Everyone knows from the beginning who's who?
Before play, someone puts a collection of Skins onto the table. Skins are character workbooks, each one built around a different kind of monster or supernatural character. So, you put those out on the table: The Werewolf, The Mortal, The Infernal, and so on. Each player picks a Skin, and that little workbook (a double-sided page, folded in half to form a pamphlet) has all of your character creation rules right there.

Skins are similar to clans in Vampire: the Masquerade, and sort-of similar to classes in Dungeons & Dragons. They give each character a unique niche, but they also allow for lots of meaningful choices and customization.

So, all the players definitely know what kind of monster each character is. That doesn't necessarily mean that all the characters know about one another, though. That kind of stuff is partially established in Your Backstory (a final stage in character creation, linking the characters together in interesting ways), and partially established through play.

4) In a previous post on this blog, a reader expressed doubts about playing this game with unattractive, older gamers. Do you think this could be an issue?
I mean, it could be an issue. In my experience, though, it's fun to play sexy teenage monsters with anyone. When the people around the table are young and cute, it might be a little steamier. When the people around the table are old and unattractive, maybe it's more snarky and satirical. But generally, I find that I enjoy playing the game no matter who's sitting down to play it with me. People who play roleplaying games are already well-versed in pretending to play elves and dragons, after all! It takes a lot to break our suspension of disbelief.

5) In Monsterhearts love and friendship will be managed trough rules or will be left mostly to player management?
There are rules that govern things like arousal, sex, and emotional power. But when it comes to love and friendship... that's an area that few mechanics touch. And there's a really specific reason for that.

In Monsterhearts, the rules detail the kinds of physical effects people have on you, like turning you on. The rules detail the kinds of social impact people can have on you, like spreading gossip and destroying your reputation. But when it comes to how you respond to other characters, that's something that's left up to you. The game tells you what the world is doing to you, and you respond by telling us what you do about it.

If you're the MC, one of your jobs is remember to ask, "What do you do?" after introducing a twist into the fiction. Your job isn't to push the characters into doing something. It's to tell them what the world is doing to them, and then finding out how they respond.

6) Violence is normally not a taboo in games and levels of comfort, usually set themselves in a couple of session. Sex, on the other hand is normally something just suggested, if ever mentioned, but you have rules that gives you mechanical effects with sex, somehow encouraging players to acknowledge the sex life of their characters, when not actively exploiting it. How this will work out in a typical Monsterhearts game session?
Well, when you tie mechanics into sex and seduction, there's an interesting set of things that happen as a result. Some people are excited that the game supports roleplaying about sex and seduction, and they dive into it because it's fun. Other people see the mechanical benefits that emerge from roleplaying about sex and seduction, and they dive into it because it positions them to better accomplish their goals.

Both of those reactions are awesome. Both groups of people are exploring some new roleplaying terrain, and they're finding different rewards for doing so. Whether you're super excited or super cautious about roleplaying this sort of thing, Monsterhearts provides the mechanical support and guidance to make it rewarding.

7) Expanding the audience for RPG is a critical issue these days. Do you think that your game could open our hobby to new audiences?
Absolutely. This game connects with lots of non-gamers more than it does with lots of old-school traditional gamers! The media properties it references (True Blood, Twilight, Buffy, Vampire Diaries, Ginger Snaps) all have major popular appeal. The Twilight Saga and Vampire Diaries both have their own popular convention circuits. Not just a single convention each year - they each have 5-15 conventions dedicated to them each year. These are new geek markets, and some cross-pollination is bound to occur.

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