Monsterhearts is a story game set in a high school, albeit a high school attended by vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of strange powers. And it’s less about their monstrosity per se than it is about interpersonal confusions. (At one point, my character, a wiccan able to conjure up visions, had to try to explain birth control and teenage dating customs to her boarding school roommate, a werewolf who had grown up feral.) The game comes with a set of “skins” — different preset monster types you can be for the duration — and each monster naturally has its own powers and abilities.
The mechanics of the game emphasize the fact that characters know themselves incompletely and control themselves even less. Everyone has a “darkest self”, a side to their personality that can be triggered if things go sufficiently wrong, in which they’ll be motivated to do antisocial or outright evil things. It’s possible for any character (on winning a roll) to turn on any other: sexual attraction is not entirely at the discretion of that character, though no one else controls how the character reacts to being attracted.
Monsterhearts doesn’t have a pre-set act structure (in contrast with the way Fiasco or Shooting the Moon or A Penny For My Thoughts run a small set number of scenes) and doesn’t require characters to define specific goals at the outset. The opening of play takes a bit of hashing out while people RP their way towards having narrative hooks, and a GM is required. Consequently, Monsterhearts is harder to one-shot than most of the other stuff I’ve profiled here. Indeed, after a session that ran about four hours, we had to call for time at a point that left many story threads unresolved: one of our characters had just undergone a dark ritual involving blood samples from many of the other students, and the principal was possibly undead.
Nonetheless, this was one of the more straight-up entertaining storygaming experiences I’ve had. Character moves encouraged a certain amount of inventiveness: for instance, my witch character could gain a point to a ritual roll if she did something morally or sexually transgressive in the process of the ritual. The character skins provided opportunity for much hamminess, and our GM did a good job of introducing sinister mysteries about the school itself in order to provide the story some focus. Character creation includes setting up ways that the characters might be indebted or vulnerable to one another, which was welcome and made it possible to start the game with some attitudes towards the other participants, rather than taking them at face value; this made it faster to get to conflicts and more fun to interact.
For one-shot play, I think I might have wanted to add some rule that encouraged players to reveal themselves to one another sooner, because we got through our entire session without anyone having actually told his or her classmates about their secret powers, and those moments of revelation can be a lot of fun and help motivate the plot. Maybe more character recognition would have happened naturally over a longer campaign.