When it officially emerged in the late 1970s, tabletop roleplaying was a hobby predominantly enjoyed by, and catered to, straight, white, cis men. In the years since, however, it's become a more vibrant space populated by all sorts of people, prompting a new approach to the way that TRPGs are being made, who they're being made for and what kind of people are making them. Thanks to platforms like Itch.io and Drivethru RPG, as well as a general shift away from wargaming to storytelling, queer creators have found new and more accessible avenues to share and sell their tabletop roleplaying games.
One TRPG that fully embraces the themes of weirdness, queerness and youth is Monsterhearts 2, a game created by trans designer Avery Alder and based on a system called Powered by the Apocalypse - which has players rolling two D6s and attempting to get more than a 10. Monsterhearts 2 takes a lot of the queer subtext and side stories seen in beloved gothic fiction such as The Craft, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and The Vampire Diaries, and pushes it front-and-centre. Monsterhearts 2 is an openly queer-oriented tabletop roleplaying game that invites its players to explore themes of sexuality and gender through the lens of a supernatural teenage romance dripping with angst.
As the name might imply, players in Monsterhearts 2 create and control characters who are monsters. Others might be aware of who they really are, while some people may not, but their identity as a supernatural being plays a significant part in their lives. There are a number of different kinds of monsters that players can make and embody in Monsterhearts 2, including some absolute classics such as vampires and werewolves, as well as some more avant-garde options like The Hollow - an empty shell that wishes to be made whole - and even a less-than-ordinary mortal. In the game, these monster-types are called Skins and act a little like a class would in a standard RPG.
However, rather than providing the player with a collection of cool abilities and features to play around with, Skins are more akin to a way of life that the player characters in Monsterhearts 2 are bound to - benefits and flaws alike. For example, all Skins in the game have powers they can use to achieve some incredible phenomena, like stepping through the borders between worlds or phasing through walls. But they also all have an aspect called their darkest self, which will manifest in times of deep distress or in response to something they've done that reflects their deepest insecurities, and will cause the character to turn on themselves and those around them.
Thanks to platforms like Itch.io and Drivethru RPG, as well as a general shift away from wargaming to storytelling, queer creators have found new and more accessible avenues to share and sell their tabletop roleplaying games.
Monsterhearts 2 may be a melodramatic TRPG set within a high school with classes and a prom and such, but it's also a game that can be used to tackle some pretty serious topics. The players and the games master are encouraged to not make their characters' lives boring, which can be interpreted in any number of ways, both good and bad. Throughout the game, players can use action moves - like keeping their cool when provoked, lashing out if threatened or pulling strings to get what they want from others - which can, and often will, result in them testing their relationships with others and having to confront the worst sides of themselves. All in all, the world of Monsterhearts 2 can be a pretty monstrous place.
Nevertheless, there are also opportunities to find love, or at least companionship, in the game as well. Depending on their actions and how they interact with others, player characters in Monsterhearts 2 can form relationships with other player characters and non-player characters too. One of the potential action moves that characters can perform is to turn someone on, which - if their stats and dice rolls align - could lead to them experiencing an intimate moment with whoever they've performed the action to. Consent is essential in Monsterhearts 2 and mutual attraction isn't always guaranteed, all characters involved must want the same thing.
Monsterhearts 2 is a game containing mature content, with the player characters able to perform a "sex move" when experiencing intimacy with another, which isn't so much a physical act but more of an ability that's unique to each Skin performing it and doesn't necessarily always result in a positive outcome. This mechanic cleverly reflects some of the potential messiness of sex and relationships that people experience in real life. Including mechanics around sex and relationships doesn't just fit with Monsterheart 2's gothic teenage romance aesthetic, it allows players to engage in a fluid spectrum of sexualities - including asexuality and aromantic identities, with specific rules focusing on asexual characters featured in the rulebook.
There are also safety tools, such as an X card that players can hold up if they ever feel uncomfortable with the current scenario or discussion, to ensure the players and the GM don't stray into potentially distressing territory without meaning to. Despite its adult themes and monstrous nature, Monsterhearts 2 is a game where players are supposed to have fun being queer, in whatever way they choose to be.
The session of Monsterhearts 2 we recently played on the Dicebreaker YouTube channel was honestly one of the most emotionally affecting and affirming roleplaying experiences I've ever had. To be able to explore my own sexuality so openly through an RPG and to form - albeit fictional - bonds with other queer folks in the game's world made the story feel so much more than just a silly thing we were doing for a stream. Even though I'm way past my teenage years, I find I'm still figuring myself out, and Monsterhearts 2 has somewhat helped with that journey.
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