Play to feel. Play to heal. Play to reveal.

From Monsterhearts to Belonging Outside

Image of the cover art for Monsterhearts 2 by Avery Alder.

Since it’s Halloween, we thought it would be a great time to share with you our thoughts on adapting two Monsterhearts’ playbooks for a Belonging Outside Belonging game. This blog post is first appeared in the CASTT Gamers’ Spring 2021 newsletter.

Teenage Nightmare is a game of Belonging Outside Belonging that uses a simple No Dice and No Masters system. It was originally designed by Avery Adler and Benjamin Rosenbaum with their games Dream Askew/Dream Apart. Using a token economy, you get a token for making a “move” that you’re not good at, which opens you up to failure, consequence, or worse. With your token, however, you can then use them to have a moment and make a move you will always succeed at. When you get into the flow of the game-play, working
through different scenes, you have a game that focuses on the narrative of the play and not the mechanics of rolling dice. The relationships between characters, conflicts, struggles, community problems, and victories take
the spotlight.

For this live play, Kayla and Dustin decided to take the plunge and adapt The Queen and The Serpentine, two Monsterhearts’ skins for use in Teenage Nightmare. This was the very first time The Queen and The Serpentine were adapted and played for Teenage Nightmare. Below, Dustin and Kayla share their experience adapting the playbooks.

The Queen

Dustin Yager
commissioned character art of Alex by:

As we talked about playing a game live during TAGGS this year, we settled on playing Teenage Nightmare a GMless version of Avery Adler’s Monsterhearts that’s currently in development. Then as conversations continued to unfold, I decided to take a leap, as we will be playing teens in high school, I decided to play a character that was the complete opposite of who I was in high school. Unabashedly cool, loyal friends, no worries about money or paying bills, and someone that everyone wants to be around. That meant only one thing to me as far as Monsterhearts characters go, The Queen. Since there was no playbook yet made for this character, I decided to dip my toes into the world of game design to adapt The Queen for our game.

I find this system brilliant for several reasons, but most notable is that recently I have been exploring the roles that stories play in our lives. The story can manifest in many different ways and playing a character that gives you agency over that story can be a very powerful experience. My teenage years are not something I always look back on fondly. What if I had been someone else? What would that story be like?

In the end, I am quite proud of the playbook I made for The Queen. When I was growing up, I often wondered what it would be like if money was no object. How about if I could “turn someone on by being provocative and/or confident,” or “make someone feel strong, confident, beautiful, complete.” Those are just a couple of moves I hope to use while playing Teenage Nightmare as Alexander Price, III. Will you join me and my “gang” as we show this school who’s boss?

commissioned character art of Lucian by:

The Serpentine

Kayla Devorak

When we decided we planned to play Teenage Nightmare as our Belonging Outside Belonging game during our live stream for TAGGS, I knew I wanted to play a skin that wasn’t The Vampire. I had already played The Vampire in our previous run of Teenage Nightmare, and as much as I enjoy playing vampires, I knew I wanted to find a different skin. Even though the current iteration of Teenage Nightmare has added additional skins to the four Avery initially included, none spoke to me. After looking through the Monsterhearts skins, I found one that I knew I just had to try playing, The Serpentine.

The Serpentine has a lot going on in its Monsterhearts iteration as it has a “Failing Dynasty” move that is directly linked to its connections with family and family conflict. I was drawn to The Serpentine’s core dilemma which is that they are stuck between the world of their family (the Serpent) and the human world and aren’t able to fully fit into either of those worlds. I asked myself, what would it be like to find belonging in high school and intentionally shake off the expectations that are weighing you down? I was drawn to exploring that more.
I had never adapted a character sheet before and was excited about the challenge. It allowed me to sit with the core conflict of The Serpentine and think about how I would like that to show up in the play.

I’m looking forward to using “The Serpentine Powers”, “Reveal your true-self”, and leaning into the familial and human conflict. I spent most of 2020 searching within myself for the multitude of identities I carry within me and I have a feeling that playing The Serpentine will continue to help me explore the questions about belonging, community, and identities I’ve been asking myself all year. I’ll be playing Lucian Hester, The Serpentine, who is trying to
navigate the world of their family’s biker gang, The Gliding Pythons, while trying to be “human” and live a
“human” life.

To check out what it was like using these playbooks, check out our Teenage Nightmare recordings on our CASTT Gamers YouTube page.

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