Today I cooked up the Animator.

Today I cooked up the Animator.

Today I cooked up the Animator.  

The inspiration was trying to create a necromantic skin that could cover both Anita Blake the Vampire Hunter and Ned the Piemaker from Pushing Daisies.  It ended up focusing on the power fantasies of a kid who lost someone close to them in a traumatic and scaring way. 

#monsterhearts   #skin   #pushingdaisies   #anitablake   #necromancer   #undead   #reanimator  

15 thoughts on “Today I cooked up the Animator.”

  1. Oof!  There are some great ideas in there.  Most of the moves are excellent and the Darkest Self is about perfect.

    But… Anita Blake and Ned the Piemaker as the same skin is a problem.  Monsterhearts goes very strongly into the Monster-as-metaphor school of storytelling.  And The Animator seems to be just something you can do rather than a part of the real world experience turned up to 11 (in the way that the Ghost is a trauma sufferer turned up to 11 without hitting real world triggers much, or the vampire is a cold manipulator turned up to 11).  

    The way I’d handle it is to take The Reanimator as someone who’s lost someone close to them and never got over it.  Keep all the moves except Reanimation (just make that your clique advance – it’s far, far too DM dependent at present).  But I’d also add a move something like the following (note: this is a very rough draft).

    The Departed (Mandatory move)

    You lost someone close to you.  Who was it?  Why do you hold yourself responsible?  You also swore an oath:

    * To bring them back.  It will be a long and difficult process – what will it take?

    * To always do something they would have wished that has a personal cost.  What was it?

    When acting to fulfil your oath in a way that would inconvenience you, take 1 forward.  When going against your oath roll to hold steady.  On a failure you enter darkest self.  On a 7-9 if you carry out the action take the condition Oathbreaker in addition to any other consequence.

    And from your background

    *Someone reminds you of the person you lost.  Gain one string on them.  They gain two on you.  (Note: If you are going to want to try to bring back your Departed in the body of the person that reminds you of them you might want to discuss this out of character in advance)

    That way you don’t get Ned the Piemaker and Anita Blake – but on the other hand you get Ned the Piemaker, Victor von Fries/Mr Freeze, and Barnabus Collins (Dark Shadows, which I had the misfortune of watching last night). 

    Anita Blake is a chosen who’s got a couple of cross-skin moves and appears to have bypassed the Growing Up moves to change her skin to Queen.

  2. On Anita Blake, there are a couple of dozen novels with her in it, so I suppose I should qualify where I’m drawing my inspiration.  The subset of Anita Blake that I think fits this skin is the one who lost her mother in a car crash at age 8, who’s father remained a real bitch, who since then has had various dead animals reanimate and invade her home at night, who got sent away to Grandma Flores to learn to “control her powers” but Grandma was afraid that training her vaudun rituals would be evil.  It is this isolated, young adult who has lost family, friends, and her place in the world who I think would be a perfect animator.


    The Animator is absolutely the kid who lost someone and never got over it; but it is also the power-fantasy of what would you do, what would you give up to get it back, even if what you were getting was only a shell of what you once had.  Maybe you don’t have friends, but could you be satisfied with a few rotting corpses who look up to you?  Is it worth the life of a pet or a stranger for a few more moments talking with your best friend who committed suicide? This is your monster as metaphor; everyone who has lost someone thinks about how they could bring them back, or what they would give up to do it.  The Animator CAN bring them back if they are willing to pay the price.


    I agree both Reanimation and Interview with the Dead are very MC dependent to provide interesting costs.  I’ve tried to put a little guidance for what I’m going for in the “Playing the Animator” section; however that is the part I’m most interested in seeing if it works in play.  Further testing needed for sure.


  3. Ah right.  I see where you’re coming from now – but I can’t think of any time that;s been a driving motivation for her rather than a background.  (Of course I gave up four or five books in).  

    For Reanimation I’d replace it with

    Reanimation: You have three or four skeletons or zombies.  They are obedient servitors, allowing you to treat them like a gang you do not have to manipulate.  On the other hand they are obvious unless you have them completely covered up, and they have no initiative at all when you aren’t present, able to do little more than defend themselves.  Should it be relevant each one can take 2 harm and with the appropriate parts you can replace each one in a night.

    Because you just know that some pesky Werewolf or Chosen is going to smash them to pieces.  Probably when you aren’t there.

    The less MC interpretation the better.

  4. Here’s where I get personal. I love the Animator skin because as a teen, I lost a parent (and then multiple other people in my life). It inspired me to get more into the witchcraft religion I was already practicing, and try to contact the dead through various books, internet searches, and my own bizarre logic. I hunt out in graveyards. I emulated death and wanted to die.

    In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the first things Dawn does after her mom dies, is try to contact her. And she tries to bring her back. Buffy does a spell to see what’s attacking her mom when her mom is still alive. It’s natural for teens to want to “get it back” because it’s so final and leaves you feeling so helpless, and their emotions are already all over the place. To me, the Animator makes perfect sense. 

  5. That is the second highest level of praise a MH skin can have 🙂  “This is real.  It is my experience that is happening there.”    And if my criticism is saying I don’t think that the Animator has a very solid core then I sincerely apologise.  That is not the impression I want to give.  (And looking back I see my “Oof!” could have easly been taken in a way I didn’t intend – it was for the emotional impact).

    However I believe it needs two things to put it into the very top flight of skins.  The first is to cut down on MC negotiation as much as it possibly can – a simple critique there and one I’m trying to suggest fixes for.  It’s just tightening and polishing.

    The second is a conceptual leap.  It’s already made the “This is my experience” hurdle (which, incidentally, I think pushes it past a lot of the Second Skins and some of the core skins – notably the Chosen).    A truly great skin is one that if you gave an inveterate power gamer with almost no sense of empathy they would still play it as you would expect someone to in the real world situation it is mirroring because the moves directly lead you down that path rather than simply enable it.  The Ghost hits this level – and it’s the level I was aiming for with my Deep One.    The Animator isn’t there yet – but the foundation is good enough that if invited to I might make the time to go through line by line, move by move, background by background because I think it could become a great skin.  At the moment it’s emotionally real, which is a pretty good standard, but I think it has the potential to become out and out feral and haunt the dreams of people playing it even if they have never even considered the experiences it reflects.

  6. Francis Dickinson  and Kate Bullock  I absolutely appreciate your comments. 🙂

    One of the things that I think is important about this skin is that bringing back the dead has to COST something.  You have to give something up or minimally do something that feels a little taboo to violate the dead and the living in such a way as to bring the undead back to life.  I think it needs to be a choice you wrestle with, whether it is worth bringing back your friends dead brother so she can ask a question and say goodbye.  I also think the cost should change depending on who and how important it is to you that the person comes back to life.  

    I don’t have a good feel for what those costs could be, or if listing those costs on an exhaustive list wouldn’t feed into the power gaming desire to minimize costs every time.  The costs should have an emotional impact, and I don’t know how to quantify that, other than hope the MC in the circumstance specific to each use of Reanimation and Interview with the Dead make a judgment call for the most interesting and impactful thing.  

    (It could be after playing it a few times, some “typical costs” seem to shake out in play and those make it onto the playbook?)

    Either way I totally acknowledge this is an area that needs thinking and playing, but the solution needs to allow for the different emotional impacts of: animating a corpse to use for a bitching Halloween party vs. bringing your dead parent back to life after the Werewolf killed them.

    I think cracking this problem also leads to your second comment, crafting the skin to model experience we are trying to target no matter who is playing it in my mind focuses on the emotional impact and cost of raising the dead.

    (Which may speak to forcing the player to pick either Reanimation, Interview with the Dead or both on character generation; however the person who “seeks” solace for their loss by wanting to be dead and relating to being dead and chooses Macabre and Put them Back Together seems like a viable option for someone who takes this skin but wants to try a more pure-mortal-not-supernatural approach to it.)

  7. Maybe the answer is flipping it on the player some how; make it their responsibility to say what they are willing to pay.  If the MC accepts, then they can make their roll?

  8. How dark a path do you want to go on?  Because I’m looking at a cost system that escalates based on the number of times a given spirit has been brought back (including this one).  And a list of costs something like:

    * Eight hours rather than one.  You can pay an extra cost to reduce the time to a couple of minutes.

    * One harm to you

    * A treasured possession and the memories that go with it.  Describe them.

    * One harm to a willing participant

    * Three strings you hold on any one person.  They fall into a coma until the undead is banished but can see and feel everything it does.  If a PC they may hold steady to disobey orders for a scene.

    * The ability to smile before seven days are up

    * Two harm to an unwilling participant

    * Two harm to an unwilling participant

    * The death of an unwilling participant

    * End the ritual as your Darkest Self

    This means that an unsmiling necromancer in Darkest Self can start the ZombieApocalypse with enough corpses, paying with their Darkest Self and the Ability To Smile to raise a corpse every few minutes – this is a feature, not a bug.  Also the first four costs are relatively benign and the third should be intense.

  9. I love a lot of your examples.  

    Have you seen the 1st look for Vincent Baker’s new Apocalypse World: Dark Age?  This is sort of inspired by how he is handling Helping:

    “When asked to pay a cost, tell the MC what you are willing to pay. It must be something that would obviously and naturally be required to complete your ritual.  Everyone at the table, especially the MC, must agree that it is enough.  It is your responsibility to think of it, but you can ask questions to clarify the situation as required.  Depending on what you must pay, other moves may be required or materials may need to be gathered before you are able to pay this cost.”

  10. My suggested costs were inspired by something else in AW:TDA 🙂  The thing is that the effects of both Reanimation and Raise the Dead are well defined.  Open ended costs belong to open ended moves (e.g. the Infernal’s “With strings attached”).  A move to bring someone back temporarily with their knowledge and free will would certainly have an open ended cost – but Interview is little different to Gaze, and Reanimation seems to bring back an interchangeable shambling zombie.

  11. As far as how the mechanics for Reanimation and Raise the Dead work, I hear what you’re saying; however I think I want to see the skin in play a bit to see if will work the way I’m imagining, or if I need to reevaluate per your suggestions, so for now I think we may have talked that point to death.

    I would love to hear any other comments you have, I’m sure there is some language in the skin that could be cleaned up to be a little punchier. I will interpret all nitpicking with the best of intentions. :)

  12. Fair enough 🙂

    And in places in the skin you’ve fallen into a very common trap.  Monsterhearts is a game about teenage monsters with teenage problems, which the Reanimator has set out to be.  Far too common is someone writing a teenage monster with monster problems which is the way your mechanics have often veered.  (A third problem is someone writing teenage monsters, cursed by awesome – but I think that’s rarer).

    Taking Ned the Piemaker as an example, his backgrounds aren’t due to his relationships to the dead, but the living.  Olive Snook is a Mortal – I’m quite convinced Ned’s strings on her at the start come from her background.  So we’ll leave her to one side, and look at Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles, and Emerson Codd.  Neither comes close to fitting the background you’ve laid out – and it’s a little bit abstract.  So try something like the following:

    * Someone was there for you at the tragedy or drew you out afterwards.  Gain one string on them and they gain one string on you.  (Emerson)

    * Someone reminds you strongly of the way things were before.  Give them two strings on you (Chuck)

    The latter is, of course, a chance to send the reanimator into really creepy territory as you try to bring back the dead in the body of the person that reminds you of them.

    Macabre and Put Them Back Together suffer the same problem – Monsterhearts is generally a game about relationships with the living.  For Put Them Back Together I’d allow it to also apply to the living (you know more about anatomy than anyone) – but for it to leave them with a condition like Creeped Out.

Comments are closed.