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