Duality and Thematic Tension in RPGs: Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts

I’ve recently been working on a swords & sorcery-inspired Apocalypse World (AW) hack, trying to create something which fits the themes present in Robert E Howard’s Conan stories, Steven Brust’s Taltos novels, and Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories. In doing this, I’ve had an interesting realization about the construction of AW and the games it has inspired: dualistic tension in the games’ principles drives the dramatic and thematic tension which fuels their best stories.

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Monsterhearts: taking a peek under the ribcage

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Monsterhearts sells itself as “the messy lives of teenage monsters.”  But the truth is that the monstrous nature of the PCs in any game of Monsterhearts really just serves as a reminder of the alienation, discomfort, and feeling of mislabeled or misunderstood powerlessness that gnawed at so many of us when we were teenagers.  And maybe as adults as well.  Furthermore, themes which have filled classic literature for ages rear their heads again and again in this game; you don’t have to have ever experienced any of them yourself in order to be fascinated by and indulge yourself in them.

A quick background: this is an RPG which has grown out of the Apocalypse World system created by Vincent Baker.  It takes the sparse elegance of Baker’s ruleset and applies it to a very different type of life.  Read on to find out what makes Monsterhearts different from Apocalypse World, and learn some of what makes it so dynamic and so much fun to play.

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