I need advice on running Monsterhearts (1st time GM)


I’ve never GMed a game before. I’ve not even really played all that many (a handful of Fiasco Games, a lot of The Quiet Year, a few sessions of Bliss Stage).

But nonetheless I’ve been working on a serial campaign for the almost-out Monsterhearts 2nd edition, and I’m hoping for advice. For context, my campaign is going to be called Fuck Heroes. I’m looking to balance general roleplay fun with the exploration of meaningful themes, especially queer themes (bodies in upheavel, navigating oppressive systems, the messy beauty of queer family, etc.). The content I’m focusing on creating right now is more stage setting than plot-writing since MH seems to not really be built for GM-led narratives.

Anyhow, yo encourage some thematic thinking as they worked on coming up with ideas for their characters I left them with this quote by Elena Rose:

“If you’re in doubt about whether or not you’re a monster, look at how you figure into other people’s stories. When you’re a monster, the proof is that the scariest creature you can come across is a hero, right? “Real people’s” heroes, heroes from the center, from acceptable mainstream humanity. Their job is to come out to where you live and you’re either a problem to solve, a trophy to kill and bring back, or something to destroy in order to rescue someone else […] I’m looking at all these stories that we tell–both on an artistic and political theory level–how we tell these stories, about which people, and how we can turn them around. How you can look at a monster story, at a monsterized identity and say, “This is mine, this is me, this is who I am, and it’s not something to be ashamed of. It says I’m part of a family that you can try and try and try to exterminate, but we have teeth. If you’re going to try to act like I’m something frightening, then be frightening. I can be frightening””

So, what should I focus on in my designing to create the best potential for my players? How do I best push and funnel them into situations that highlight the strengths of the game? What are some good questions I can ask them to help them create interesting characters to play as? And so on.


ahh, monsterhearts is such a beautifully written game, i’m not sure i can do much better than parrot its best advice, but i might have a few worthwhile tibits. also, as it turns out i love monsterhearts, so i ended up writing a wee bit too much…

i think with mosterhearts its often the case that less is more in terms of prep, especially going into the first session. don’t get me wrong, prep can be great, especially if you want to focus in on your themes and you feel like you want a stable of elements to draw on as you’re leading the group (for example seeds for characters, conflicts, ect.). but that being said, the first session of most pbta games is really about doing together most of that the kind of stage laying that in trad games is the gms chore.

the good news is mh makes running itself really easy. pbta games often rely on the players understanding the genera conventions of the kind of narrative its playing with, and monsterhearts uses what may actually be one of the most universal (for americans): high school. everybody knows high school, and everybody will have a readily accessible well of shit to draw on to give an session life.

the trick is how do you do it? heres a few ones I like:

i stole this first trick from folks up in seattle i think, but a great way to to do the first set of scenes in the game (after intial character and setting creation, this is a good way to end the 1st session) is to have all the characters play out their morning routine to get them to start putting more concrete details onto their characters in what seems at first like a low stakes environment. (this can be killer in one shots)

also: the book is seriously great. like, try doing a seating chart just like is says to flush out the cast for example, it often works magic for longer campaigns. when you do this just push the things you want to see in the game as new elements get introduced. like if your going for catty drama: “sure, tomas and leigh are an item, but who is tomas really into and why did he drunkenly inform you at simon’s big holloween party last year?”

on that note, especially if you’re interested in exploring the messy dynamics of marginalized communities as they exist in the broader world, its super important that the players have both meaningful connections to each other AND meaningful connections to npcs–in fact, it;s often better if players are connected to each other more through npcs than directly, as it gives you more leverage to keep the plot moving and do hard moves on people they care about without having to strong-arm the players. in this sense it can be really powerful to give characters people they are responsible FOR or TO, (i.e. embed them in communities), so you can drive the game not be railroading but because they care. the best way i’ve found to jump start this is though interlocking backgrounds–during the history part of character creation give the secondary cast links to each other, and trouble waiting to start.

concrete example: in one of my best games the unicorn (one of the second skins) was basically the caretaker for a clan of punks living in the junkyard, among whom was their best friend, who had made them a solemn promise he was finally gonna quit huffing paint thinners and go clean. this was a character who was beautifully on the edge–on one hand liable to get in trouble with the big wide world and drag the unicorn into it, on the other, liable to cross the unicorns strict moral code and make them do something drastic to maintain their integrity. then when in turned out the infernal was his supplier… that was a one shot, and one of the climatic scenes was basically the unicorn making the decision to finally cut this character out of their life after they came home at the crack of dawn high again. i remember us having serious reflection afterwards if this was necessary self care or self righteous cruelty.

by the same token though, this character could have absolutely gone the other way, crossed societies line before he crossed the unicorn, presenting them with the inverse choice–“am i going to stand up against the *heads who are messing with my friend and i know are wrong even though i have my own serious reservations about their behavior?”. this is a great dramatic pivot because on one hand it presents the unicorn a chance to really grow up–do whats right AND exercise compassion and flexibility, but it also gives them a chance to spiral down into their worst tendencies in a vicious cycle of teenage self-destruction. (which is a great place for the other character to come in and maybe help save them from themselves).

this is def key: by definition all of the player characters begin categorically unable to have mature adult relationships–they’re monsters, howling vortexes of pain liable to hurt or be hurt by the first person they get close to. don’t not give them any love and support, but always do it conditionally (see, there we are, i’ve literally parroted the principles). don’t let them start with healthy adult relationships–the point of the game is growing into that maturity.

it doesn’t even need to be conditional in an awful sense either. a trite example: the overworked homeroom teacher that really cares and makes you feel validated but just never seems to have enough time.

after the first session the players should have given you a ton of great material to run with, and put a lot of their own mark onto the game: that often the best time to sit down and brainstorm about the big picture ways you want to push them (i.e. things like threats 've heard that may be totally revamped in 2.0, which i, a man of unfortunate pecuniary position, did not back).

anyways, i’ve probably said more than enough already, but the last thing i should probably mention is if you want to have a campaign that touches on serious themes (hell, really even if you don’t for this game) you should really have a safety talk with the group first and some kind of mechanic for it like the x card. there was a supplement for this with the first edition, but i also think that was revised and incorporated into the 2nd edition rulebook. the game can really go from zero to sixty in the drop of a hat, and not just that, if you want to get meaningful play, it can be really important to set expectations before hand so people feel like they can trust one another!

anyways, good luck, it sounds like a great campaign in the making!


Sounds cool.

My advice deals with the people you are co-writing with aka the player characters.
Have they played before?
What are their expectations?
Do they want to discuss the themes you want? (If not probably find other people or make it clear you do want to talk about it)

I know you have plans. But dedicate last a special moment for each character in a session. You will b fine, u have played fiasco that’s all about sharing the spotlight.


How did it go??? I’m about to do the same exact thing this weekend :grimacing: