Stonetop AP Episode 5: Summertime

This is part 5 of our 10-part text AP of Stonetop. We posted the love letters that set up this session 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!

It’s been a month since we played but we finally got our Stonetop game back up and running. A month is the longest I’ve ever let a game go and attempted to restart it. I think it worked!

The bulk of the work started with the love letters I wrote for each character. They all got each player aligned with what I understood to be their primary interest areas: Macsen’s into doing Seeker (treasure/artifact hunter) things, Hafiz feels called to defeat a Thing Below they discovered in the spring, Carwyn has drama on the home front. Probably the only character I semi-fumbled on was Madoc, the Would-Be Hero, although his love letter prompted lots of additional material for us to jump off of.

Off Like a Herd of Turtles

I started by going over the broad strokes of our last session, where everyone came home from their Spring season journey and then settled into homefront life. This also gave me a chance to restate and reframe a misunderstanding I had about the map: I had thought the Hillfolk lived in, you know, the hills, ie the foothills to the north. Nope! They live in the Steplands, to the south. It’s fine and good, but it meant we had to sort of start over again on their travel plans. 

Then we got into each player’s love letter move. I had them each read the full move and then make their choices. Macsen, the Seeker, went first. Go back and look at his move: he picked all three thingies, because it’s a powerful motivator to do so but so, so scary if you still miss the roll. I’m enjoying that design very much. Anyway he made the 10+ and got the lead on not just a new Major Arcana but a whole facility to the south. The Mindgem told him about a garage, of sorts, the Stone Lords used to create and maintain their automatons. The commander of this facility was known to wield an item called the Red Scepter. So of course the Seeker makes his Know Things roll and he knows all kinds of interesting things about it! Neat. All it cost him was his father falling into a coma after beating the town’s ancient chronicler to death with the Mindgem and nearly killing a 13 year old girl. Yay?

Then Madoc, the Would-Be Hero, made his move. He chose two of the three triggers and kept Dog, the dog, safe from possible harm. But it meant that in his delirium he called out to the sorceress Farouza who’s been looking for Carwyn (the Fox), and he stumbled upon the dead body of a farmer who had gone missing in the spring. The corrupted gwead-spirit had gotten to him, a reminder that Narust (the Thing Below that possessed the gwead) is a damned problem.

The Red Scepter. Ugh!

Cool cool. Hafiz went next, rolled really well, and had to make two choices. The player genuinely struggled, which was interesting. I included a “make trouble for yourself” option in the list and sure enough, he almost went for it. That’s gotten me thinking about move design in general, but specifically “what “make trouble for yourself” is such a great way to center yourself and buy some spotlight time.

Hafiz doesn’t go that way. He learns, instead, that Helior’s Shining Ring (a Minor Arcana) is at the bottom of the cistern in town, tossed there during the last Lightbearer’s battle with darkness in town three hundred years earlier. And he learned that Narust’s tether in this world is a corrupted major arcana! Some widget called a Red Scepter, which must be destroyed to remove Narust from the world. The players sighed and just…looked at each other.

Finally Carwyn made his move to face down his ex-girlfriend’s drunk father. He ended up with the delicious 7-9: the remaining elders will take up the case of exiling Carwyn as a troublemaker and trouble magnet. The player breathed a big sigh of relief that he didn’t come up with a miss, because those options went dark

This all took maybe a third of the evening, in total. It also prompted everyone to want to jump back in on homefront play! Of course. Sigh.

How To Kick Adventures In The Butt

I think what I came away from this session with most strongly was that Stonetop has a perpetual tension between being out in the field, being back home, and being pulled way back to do major town projects. And there’s nothing mechanical influencing that tempo. It’s purely a GMing lift/tool/opportunity. Being aware of it is all you need, I think, but it’s really easy for the players to just settle into their homefront stuff. In our case, there was a lot of unfinished, or at least interesting, business to be done in town. But also I need to get them out the door and adventuring

Farouza, the sorceress, has arrived in town with her interesting entourage: the big muscley guy, the nebbishy scholar, the flashy blade-wielder from exotic Lygos. She’s on the hunt for Carwyn, who we learned had actually worked for her before he stole the magic key from her. She of course also wants that key. Meanwhile Corwyn is laying low elsewhere in town because the boy Madoc already met Farouza outside town and was very excited to tell everyone about the interesting lady. And Hafiz has gone to talk to Madoc’s parents about their plan to leave for the Steplands for a couple weeks

I had roughly sketched out Farouza but really I should have done her up as a full Threat, with moves and tags and all that. It was an oversight I should have expected would happen because of how I’d built Madoc’s love letter move. So I kind of half-ass improvised her awesome facility with just a mess of interesting arcana. Which suddenly triggered a fear in my head: oh shit, what if the Seeker, or everyone, decides to try and take her down? Have I just walked a cache of a dozen Arcana into the game? Stupid. Stupid! Ugh.

Anyway. Once in town, Farouza has scoped Macsen out as a fellow Seeker and tries to talk sense into him: we just want this asshole former employee back and we want what was stolen. He tries to Persuade her to accept a trade instead: a couple of his Minor Arcana and you leave Corwyn alone. Oh…and you hand over the broken bits of the helm the Mindgem requires. I had sort of forgotten that he had learned of Farouza previously! And she had the bits of this helm required to activate the stone mecha.

He rolls a 3. So good. So bad. Farouza decides Macsen is a dumb townie in a town full of dumb townies, and has figured out he is not loved in town. Which is true. He’s made some enemies with his singlemindedness. So Farouza and her goons seize Macsen, toss his house, and grab the Mindgem. After all, she’s got this helm and needs the Arcana to power it.

The player is totally frozen, sees that he’s wildly outclassed. And he sees the town is … sort of letting this happen. They’re all overawed by Farouza’s entourage, don’t want trouble, and don’t particularly care about Macsen’s well being. Interesting moment. But Macsen locks eyes with his serving girl, the 13 year old who was beaten half to death by his dad the previous week, and she slips off to get help.

She goes to Carwyn, who’s hiding from Farouza for obvious reasons, and pleads with him to come help. He really struggled with it a bit! But his Seek Insight comes up a miss…and Farouza’s blade-y guy has gotten the drop on him. He puts a knife to Carwyn’s ear and takes him prisoner.

Meet The Parents

We cut away to Hafiz making his case to Madoc’s parents about this two weeks away he wants to take to the Steplands. The PCs need to negotiate with the gathered Hillfolk about the murder of their shaman, and Madoc needs to be part of that. It’s a really good conversation! Very honest, felt real, and it felt like the parents were acknowledging that their son needed to be a man. Afterward, they all headed to the public house to celebrate the trip…which is where they see Farouza and her entourage. Macsen is being held, Carwyn is now a prisoner, whole thing is a mess.

Hafiz has a new move after leveling up that lets him whisper to anything flammable and it will ignite. But I clarify it’s you whispering to the thing and convincing it it’s now on fire. It’s not a whispered spell that ignites anything in your line of sight! So he needs to Defy Danger to get close enough to the blade guy to whisper to his hair. That doesn’t really work out, and Hafiz ends up dazed after being kicked in the head.

But now Madoc is mad. He’s so mad. I think the Would-Be Hero is my current favorite playbook but I wish it had a different name. Don’t know why, maybe it just seems a little too self aware? It’s got this move called Anger Is a Gift, which gives you neat bonuses you can cash in for fictional benefits. He charges in to knock the blade guy away from his hero Carwyn, but he also inspires allies and bystanders to follow your lead. The town won’t fight to defend Macsen but they’ll follow the kid! So they do.

What follows is a chaotic scrum as the town takes up anything they have at hand and rush to the defense of this brave young man charging into danger. This is where I, the GM, realize “oh lordy have I just handed this whole deck of stuff over to the players?” And I have Farouza whip out a glowing sword that cows the townsfolk charging in. 

Macsen has a nifty new move after leveling up that lets him observe any magical effect and understand how to counteract it. I think my main discovery is that leveling up four heroes at once suddenly made them a lot more flexible and powerful! So, sure, if you can cover up the glowing sword, the crowd won’t be scared off by it. That’s a tough ask, but fair I think.

And Finally…

Anyway! Farouza’s entourage scoots out of town, run out by the angry mob. Macsen makes one more offer: take my two Minor Arcana and give me that broken old helm, or you’ll walk away with nothing. Well, Farouza’s Instinct is to collect, and two working Arcana are better than one broken helmet, so sure. They make the deal and are driven out of town. 

Meanwhile all this nonsense – is it nonsense? – has pushed us to the end of the night, so they slap together some quick plans for leaving town, provision themselves, we talk a bit about how trade works (Macsen wants to bring a Value 2 thing to trade for a Minor Arcana blanket he knows the Hillfolk chieftain has), and we call it a night. 

Kind of an interesting session in that not a lot “happened” relative to our more frenetic evenings, and it was all in the context of both ramping back up to the game’s fictional position after a month off, and me nudging them out of town to do stuff.

Leave a Reply