Recently I wrote about the conditions that force Monsterhearts characters into their “Darkest Selves”, the death of that character being one of them. I criticised this approach for its trivialisation of death, and for its contribution to the ubiquity of the Darkest Self condition. Whilst death in a supernaturally themed game doesn’t need to be the end of a PC’s story, it shouldn’t just be a convenient trigger for a roaring rampage of revenge. As Simon Pegg put it: “Death is an impediment, not an energy drink”.
(He was talking about the slow zombies in Shaun of the Dead, but it’s almost relevant.)
As an alternative, I’ve hacked together a series of “Death Moves” for each of the core Skins in Monsterhearts. They are triggered when you take four harm and choose to avoid death, and are a replacement for the “enter Darkest Self or lose all strings” default move in Monsterhearts.
CHOSEN DEATH MOVE: THE PULL OF DESTINY
If you choose to avoid death, the MC will ask you if you have achieved your destiny as the Chosen One. (As a guideline, if the nemesis you chose in your Backstory is still alive, the answer is probably no.)
If your destiny is unfulfilled, greater powers interfere to facilitate your resurrection. Erase all harm. However, in return, the powers that resurrected you assign a great trial you must overcome, most likely a powerful enemy to destroy. Gain the condition Burdened, and take -1 ongoing (-1 on every roll you make) until you have completed this quest.
If your destiny is fulfilled, then your survival was Not Part Of The Plan. Though you live on – through sheer willpower, or the intervention of your friends – you are a shadow of your former self. Erase all harm and increase your Dark by 1 (max 3), but reduce your Volatile by 1 (min -1).
Whichever option you choose, your status as Chosen One has been inherited by someone else. The MC adds them to her Threats – expect them to cause trouble at some point, especially for your monster friends.
FAE DEATH MOVE: I PROMISE TO NEVER LEAVE YOU
If you choose to avoid death, and someone has made a promise to you that is still outstanding, a glimmer of your consciousness endures beyond the veil. Even whilst dead, you can continue to spend Strings and use your Faery Contract move, though you can make no other moves.
To return to your life, you need someone living to fulfil a promise to you that was made whilst you were still alive. If the outstanding promise was an eternal one (eg. “I promise to never stop loving you”), then fulfilling that promise means undertaking drastic action to prove that they meant it. When the promise is fulfilled, you are reborn. Erase all harm.
If by some miracle you died with no promises to you outstanding (or if no-one seems interested in fulfilling outstanding promises to you), then someone somewhere will promise to find a way to resurrect you. The MC will introduce an NPC to do this if none of the PCs take the reins. Once they succeed in resurrecting you, erase all harm, but now you are in their debt. Lose all Strings you had on them. They gain 2 Strings on you.
GHOST DEATH MOVE: WELCOME BACK
If you choose to avoid death, erase all harm and enter your Darkest Self. However, the usual rules for leaving your Darkest Self do not apply. Instead, in order to return to the land of the living, you must accomplish the following:
- Identify someone responsible for your (most recent) death.
- Give them the Blamed condition, with a successful use of your Unresolved Trauma move.
- Punish that person for the part they played in your death.
- Succeed in extracting some measure of regret from that person for the part that they played in your death.
The last two parts are very important – the target must be BOTH punished AND expressing remorse before you can return to life.
Whilst “dead”, you can continue to make any moves you usually could whilst in your Darkest Self. This will, admittedly, be limited, as you can only interact with inanimate objects.
GHOUL DEATH MOVE: EVERLASTING HUNGER
If you choose to avoid death, your hunger endures. Without you as a vessel to focus it, that hunger is dispersed around your locality, building up in an unstoppable force that is sure to manifest in the imminent future. Pick one of your Hungers: flesh, chaos, power, fear or sex (do not specify an individual). Sometime within the next 24 hours, that hunger comes to dominate the hearts and minds of everyone near the site of your death, before it rises in an explosive orgy of bloodshed, anarchy, despotism, horror or depravity (respectively, depending on the Hunger you chose). At the height of this ritual of excess, you are reborn. Gain the Wretched condition and erase all harm.
After you are reborn, you permanently take a -1 ongoing penalty to all attempts to Hold Steady to ignore a feeding opportunity. This is cumulative; every time you die, you gain an extra -1 penalty.
If you are reborn using the Short Rest For The Wicked move, none of the above rules apply.
INFERNAL DEATH MOVE: ONE MORE BARGAIN
If you choose to avoid death, you desperately agree to an even worse bargain with an even more dangerous dark power. Work out the details of your arrangement with this dark power and who they are; or don’t, if you’d prefer to leave it a mystery. They then grant your wish and return you to life. Erase all harm, but your new dark power gains two Strings on you.
After you are reborn, the amount of Strings that your dark power needs to collect on you before triggering your Darkest Self is reduced by 1. This is cumulative; every time you die, the amount of Strings required by your Soul Debt reduces by 1.
In addition, by dying, you have angered the dark power you previously allied with. Whilst the patronage of your new, more powerful master will prevent them from harming you directly, you can still expect them to cause trouble.
THE MORTAL DEATH MOVE: HIDDEN DEPTHS
If you choose to avoid death, then choose 1:
- You are left for dead, overlooked as just another pathetic mortal, but somehow manage to survive. Erase 1 harm only – time to drag yourself to hospital. Also, since no-one even bothered to check you were dead, it’s clear that they’ve already started to forget about you. Lose all Strings you held, and instruct all players and the MC to remove the Strings they had on you.
- You die for real, but prolonged contact with the supernatural has rubbed off on you, and you rise again as a monster. Treat this exactly like the Season Advance “Change your character’s Skin” (the Ghost, the Ghoul or the Vampire are particularly appropriate choices), except that you also erase all harm, gain the condition Monstrous and take a -1 ongoing penalty to all rolls until you have come to terms with your new life as a monster.
THE QUEEN DEATH MOVE: THE QUEEN IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
If you choose to avoid death, your clique has still lost its figurehead, and will need to find another one. Agree with the MC who takes over your clique – it should be an NPC, ideally one already active in the game. Someone who previously decried your actions or behaviour is best of all.
At first, this new leader will retain their own identity, but over time will start to transform… into you. Erase all harm and conditions, and start playing this NPC as your character, with the exact same stats as your old one. Play the transformation subtly – the MC may declare that some of your moves are temporarily unavailable as you undergo the change. Whilst still transitioning, you are unable to use any of the Strings you had collected before your death, but other players and the MC can only use Strings gained on that NPC against you.
Unless you consent otherwise, the final stage of metamorphosis will result in the NPC changing into the physical body of the old Queen and the total loss of their original identity. At that point, you regain all the Strings you collected before your death, and everyone else can start using the Strings they’d collected previously against you. Alternatively, if you want to play the transformation as purely metaphorical, you can instead just carry on playing your new character.
THE VAMPIRE DEATH MOVE: DUST TO DUST
If you choose to avoid death, decide what your death looks like to everyone else. It should be something that makes it really obvious you’re dead: disintegrating into dust, turning into a skeleton, bursting into flames etc.
There are ancient rituals known to a few that, if completed, will ensure your return. The MC will specify one or more ingredients that are necessary for the ritual – your remains, earth from your homeland, moonlight, sacrifice – but blood is ALWAYS a prerequisite. If you like, you can assume a spirit form to whisper instructions to your mortal inheritors, but you cannot spend Strings or make moves. If no PCs are motivated to facilitate your return, the MC will introduce an NPC for this purpose.
Once the ritual is complete, you are reborn. Erase all harm. You are now indebted to anyone who took the lead in the ritual. Lose all Strings you had on them. They gain 2 Strings on you.
In addition, when you die, pick a substance that you have now developed a weakness to: garlic, running water, crucifixes etc. From now on, you must hold steady to confront that substance. This is cumulative; every time you die, pick a new weakness for your character.
THE WEREWOLF DEATH MOVE: THE SPIRIT ENDURES
If you choose to avoid death, when your spirit leaves your body, it bonds with the nearest wolf or dog with which it can attune harmoniously. Work out details with the MC if there isn’t an obvious candidate. Note that the wolf or dog you bond with cannot be another werewolf or shapeshifter – it has to be another normal animal of its kind.
You are now playing this creature as your character. Erase all harm and conditions. Though you retain a glimmer of your original identity you are, above all else, a dumb animal, with pretty basic instincts. You can’t spend Strings, and you can only use the most basic of moves (lash out physically, run away etc), but many other moves will no longer have an effect on you. Have fun with this, and works things out with your MC for weird cases.
The next full moon, or the next time you or someone you care for is threatened, you transform… back into your regular self. Any moves you couldn’t make as animal are now available again. However, your time as an animal has left its mark, and you gain the condition Feral. The MC is encouraged, going forward, to make you hold steady when encountered with aspects of human society that would have startled you as an animal.
THE WITCH DEATH MOVE: SOUL TOKENS
If you choose to avoid death, your soul fragments. Any sympathetic tokens you are still holding onto will capture a part of that soul. So long as your spirit lingers inside these tokens, there is hope for rebirth – all it takes is for that token to be handled for the appropriate arcane incantation. The MC will tell you the details of the spell; you can whisper to anyone handling your tokens, if you like, but you cannot spend Strings or make moves. If no PCs attempt to bring you back to life, then the MC will use an NPC to do so.
Once you are reborn, you erase all harm, but you are a fraction of your former self. All sympathetic tokens that you have yet to reclaim lose all value except as vessels for your soul – they no longer count as Strings, and cannot be used for hex-casting. In fact, you are tasked with retrieving all remaining tokens if you are to rebuild your soul again. Gain the condition Shattered and take a -1 ongoing penalty to all rolls until you successfully retrieve all tokens.
If by some miracle you died without holding any sympathetic tokens, your soul inadvertently bonds with another living person in the vicinity of your death. Work out the details with the MC. They effectively count as a token in their own right; to be reborn, you must whisper to them to complete the spell to release you. Once they do so, you are in their power, for they have seen your soul firsthand. Lose all Strings you had on them. They gain 2 Strings on you.