Stonetop AP Episode 4: Back Home

This is part 4 of our 10-part text AP of Stonetop. We posted part 3 last week. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, here’s the deep dive on Stonetop I posted a few weeks ago. Enjoy!

This was our last Stonetop thread until mid-October 2023. Lots of scheduling hiccups came up! But we had our first sesh fully back-home. I hesitate to call it downtime because that feels real structured like Torchbearer town phase or Blades-style downtime. Which Stonetop doesn’t do, exactly.

The deal with Stonetop is that there’s sort of an implied downtime insofar as there being a whole set of moves that are just “homefront moves.” One of those is a change-of-seasons move. But beyond that, being back home relies heavily on GM pacing. You could spend a lot of time playing out scenes at home. Or you could skim over weeks and months and nudge folks to leave again. Or you could do something in between. We did the in-between thing.


Our heroes returned triumphant-ish but knew their actions were going to have longer consequences. I felt like the players — one player in particular — were trying real hard to gloss over the fact that they had just killed a hillfolk spirit-talker. They can make a strong case in favor of self-defense. The hillfolk are making a case that it’s murder. There’s also the question of the undefeated Thing Below lurking out in the world somewhere just waiting to cause trouble again. And there’s the open question of just what kind of trouble Carwyn, the Fox, was running away from that was so bad that going home was the preferred solution.

Taking a note from how a|state leverages player versus character knowledge, I made it explicit to the table that those are the three threat clocks running. I used to not love doing that for ”immersion” reasons, but it’s a good and practical way to keep folks on track. And it’s a potent cure for the players who try to social-engineer their way away from their problems.

Around Town

I very much ran the evening as a series of vignettes interspersed with check-ins about their plans for the future. Designer Jeremy Strandberg offered me his draft of the Homefront chapter (not in Book 1 at the time) and the thing that jumped out at me was a reminder that these folks have obligations. There are no freelance professional adventurers! You have Shit What Needs Done, and if you’re not doing it you’re pissing folks off.

Madoc, the young would-be hero, is met at the Old Wall by his mother Nia. She’s been worried sick and the boy has returned a day late (goodness!). And he’s full of stories of derring-do that scare the hell out of mom! And the adults, charged with his care, keep digging the hole deeper and deeper. He is in so much trouble. And dad apparently has sublimated his own worry into gruff anger that nothing’s getting done in the fields while the boy is out galavanting around. There’s also the matter of his brother’s broken leg. When they finally get all the way home, Madoc is punished with five solid days of dawn-to-dusk work for himself and five more days for all the work his broken brother hasn’t been doing. Near the end of the hardest punishment, dad finally relents. It’s a nice scene and it felt very real.

The Only One

Another vignette was with Hafiz, the lightbearer. Upon reading the new Gods chapters in Book 2 that got recently released, I clarified to the player that Hafiz is the lightbearer of Helior: there’s only one! You’re it, buddy! So that was interesting. I feel like the player’s stated desire to play a trusted advisor and leader is starting to get tangled up in his head with falling back to being, you know, A Bard or A Cleric, a teammate and not a god’s personal spokesbeing. It’s actually a good tangle to work through and I’m so curious to see how he plays it. 

This player’s fallback is to Win The Game, and that’s where his vignettes pointed toward: using the Bolster action to basically burn through the spring and then start applying what he’s learned to solving the Narust (Thing Below) problem. He’s got three to-dos: Talk to Stonetop’s ageless chronicler about the last Thing Below that was defeated here, visit The Maw (“known” to be a passage straight to the Things Below, maybe Narust came out of it?), and talk with another spirit talker of the hillfolk. Knowing, of course, that the hillfolk have a serious beef with Stonetop now.

Too Real

Macsen, the seeker, has returned to his public house where one of the farmer girls has been holding down the fort in his absence. And Madoc’s mother has been checking in on Macsen’s infirm father, Alun. We hadn’t really dug into that much, so we started in on the uncomfortable reality of caring for an infirm parent. He’s had a couple strokes, can’t walk, can’t feed himself, needs to be changed out of wet clothes, the whole thing. X card went back out just in case but everyone was okay with this part.

When Macsen first arrives, it seems like dad is having a coherent conversation with…someone? Something? Nobody’s there but he seems completely fine. Saying words clearly, no palsy. And then Macsen makes himself known and dad falls apart again. The old man clutched at Macsen’s bag, desperate to hold the Mindgem. No idea what he’s getting out of that! Or what the Mindgem may be taking from the father. An open, uncomfortable question.

Macsen did some seeker things to unlock a minor arcana (a pot with a spirit within) as well as start poking at the rest of the Mindgem major arcana to-do stuff. All pretty straightforward and very little in terms of “scenes” per se. “Loose play” as Jeremy calls it.

The One He Lost

Carwyn, the Fox, of course is preoccupied with Marwen, the girl he left a decade ago. These were the most emotionally poignant bits but they also lent themselves to taking up the most bandwidth. I want to know what will happen between them as well! It’s just how the character is tuned, and it reflects the player’s wish to explore the r-map drama.

Mechanically the big thing here was that he now had time for The Key (minor arcana) to finally unlock his mind’s eye. The migraines have stopped! And if he meditates very carefully — which he does with Macsen’s help, since The Key is Maker shit — he can read minds with it. It also makes a bright light shine out of his forehead. Not super sneaky, then.

Not that it’s a violation of her privacy or anything but Carwyn sneaks off to her home in the dark of night (he asked the publican to point her out, since the fae had stolen all his memories of her out of his head) to read her mind. Brings a heavy cloak and hopes, hopes that the light can be covered. Defies Danger and it works out. We have a nice scene where he gets to see her very adult concerns: bored and restless with her husband, pregnant again, building up her courage to make newer and even worse bad decisions with Carwyn again, knowing that her violent, angry father might actually kill either or both of them.

Good drama and I could run entire sessions of just Carwyn’s nonsense. But he’s got obligations now, to work the fields alongside Madoc for his dad. They spend a lot of time hauling stones from the Old Wall.

Weird Kid

At some point I decided that the “weather stone” Madoc stole from the spirit-talker was actually a delivery mechanism for a major arcana called Ineffable Words. Taking the stone imprinted the Words in his mind and the boy is now starting to babble in tongues. His very first go at this, entering a delirium as he and Carwyn did the backbreaking labor of hauling stones to the farm, he rolled snake eyes. So the ineffable words remain ineffable.

But Carwyn has heard these words before! They were spoken, in a different order and with actual meaning, by the woman from whom he stole The Key. She’s some flavor of priestess or sorceress, they don’t really know what yet, and she’s who Carwyn has been on the run from this whole time. Is she doing some sort of magic seeking him out? Is she working through Madoc’s opened mind? Who can know?

Back To The Grind

Finally they made their Summer roll and got 2 “seasonal gains.”

They had spent their starting 1x Surplus back when the town was fighting off the gwead — that was the cost of their Pull Together move — and looked ahead at what exactly one does with Surplus. Looks like Surplus is how the town survives winter, yikes! So their first seasonal gain was to replace that 1x Surplus.

The second choice was a “valuable insight.” This is such a smart situation-making move, alongside “interesting news.” Their valuable insight was a two-fer: their traveling merchant, Urssla, passed back through town with news that the hillfolk are BIG MAD at Stonetop about this dead spirit talker and have gathered in a moot for the summer equinox to decide how they will serve justice. This is an opportunity for them to plead their case, maybe? It’s also a good excuse to take a big trip south, check on these menhir stones Hafiz has heard about from the chronicler.

The second part of the two-fer is Urssla’s news that a lot of the hillfolk seem to be under the sway of this orphan girl they found out in the Flats this spring. Doesn’t seem to know who her parents are. Speaks true things about the future with unerring accuracy. Requires so, so much food, like, all the time.

They call her Motherless. And, jokingly, the All-Consuming Child.

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