Stonetop AP Session 9: The All-Consuming Child

This is part 9 of our 10-part text AP of Stonetop. We posted part 8 a few weeks back, and if you want to start from the beginning here’s part 1. 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!

Sometimes I get very excited to nail down all the fun details of our sessions right away. Sometimes I just want to sit with what happened for a while. This session was one of those: emotional, fraught, as intense as anything I’ve played at any table. Honestly, a level of intensity I found a bit surprising at a PbtA fantasy-adventure table. Not that PbtA games can’t deliver! But Stonetop in particular feels more tuned toward community and world building, exploration, and action.

So Many Content Warnings

When we left off, our Stonetoppers had worked out a deal with a few of the Hillfolk leaders: we will grant you a year to prove your innocence at our next moot, if you face down this horrible child whose influence is sending our tribes into a spiral of despair, self-harm and death. They had come to the moot and discovered a death cult in the making, with a small orphaned girl at the center of the whole thing.

Super cool, fine, totally normal kid. She’s fine! It’s fine. Everything is … fine.

There were a few details left undiscussed, though. The big one is that only a couple of The Five, the ad-hoc leadership of all the hillfolk bands, had agreed to this deal. One of the Five was the aggrieved band itself – Carwyn, the Fox, had killed their spirit-talker, which was the start of this whole problem! – and another of the Five was an angry outcast band hosting the little girl at the center of the death cult. It wasn’t like The Five agreed to anything. They had cut a side deal and hoped they could sell it to everyone else later. Messy, messy. 

What Must Be Done

The actual blow-by-blow of this session is far less interesting than the core tension of their predicament, which has been revealing itself all season long. For one, there’s dealing with the girl her/itself: she’s clearly a monster! But she’s also clearly a scared girl. Or … maybe not so clearly. She’s manipulative and shrewd and really gets her emotional hooks into everyone around her. She’s not an easy monster to simply strike down. And our Stonetoppers are having a hell of a time amongst themselves steeling themselves for what must be done. Face a crinwyn or a stone automaton, no problem at all. 

But they do, ultimately. They go to face down Derba, the orphan, the all-consuming child the Upper Wolf Band has been harboring. Upper Wolf has received visions and messages from her, but the cost has been a catastrophic suicide cult to feed her. But in the course of facing the girl, the characters realize this suicidal despair seems to be spreading, like an ill wind or a curse. And it isn’t even the girl who’s doing it! It’s the would-be hero Madoc, who got corrupted in the cavernous bowels of the Stone Lord ruins. It’s him, hi, he’s the problem (it’s him!). They track the sadness all the way back to the kid.

Hafiz, the Lightbearer, knows that this godawful demon, Narust, can only inhabit one avatar in this world at a time. They’re scared that killing Derba (the current avatar) just means Madoc is next in line! Maybe, yeah, that’s a good theory. Are they ready to do this all over again with one of their own kind? Can they possibly just…capture Derba? Isolate her? Keep her locked in a cave somewhere while they work out how to defeat Narust itself? 


Unfortunately they never have time to do that. When the characters face Derba a few unfortunate misses and mixed hits means they in fact end up killing the child. Their co-conspirators in The Five are good with that, this is all they wanted to grant them a year, but where does Narust end up sprouting up this time? 

Just like when Madoc first got corrupted, I ask the player (and again this is such a killer technique, it just continues to blow me away): are you in fact the next avatar of this monster? Or nah? If so, I explain, I think it’s time to make you a Thrall. The Thrall is a playbook insert that introduces a bunch of really interesting and scary new rules to your character. We go the Thrall route and hope for the best.

There are some nifty elements to being a Thrall. For one, you get a new Instinct more in line with being a servant to a dark entity. You also get details and additional gifts related to being that servant. But it’s almost all carrots and almost no sticks: the GM will tell you when your demonic master needs something of you, and if you go for it you earn Favor. Favor, in turn, unlocks more goodies. Some low-key similarities to the Apocalypse Keys vibe here, where sometimes you really are better off submitting to your evil impulses so you can get stronger and do good later.

There is one big stick, though: you have to roll to ignore your demonic master’s orders. And on a 6-, you hand your autonomy over to the GM until you’ve done something horrible. It’s a tricky flex in any game to have loss of agency as a possible outcome! Personally I’m completely fine with it and I think loss of agency is central to a horror experience. In the case of the Would-Be Hero, there’s an interesting intersection here: the playbook’s Iron-Willed move. The WBH can just ignore mind control by taking 1d4 damage. It’s a terrific second opt-in moment that reminds me a bit of Stress in FitD games.

Since defeating Narust is high on their agenda, I lean into this new system early and maybe too often. Maybe! It’s a nice dial I can turn up or down to complicate situations. And complicate them I do.

The Red Scepter

The other half of the session comes down to a mad dash to find Narust’s anchor in this world. Hafiz, the lightbearer, had received a vision from Helior a few sessions back, via a love letter. Narust’s anchor is an object called the Red Scepter, a horribly corrupted major arcana once wielded by a Stone Lord in their final days. During that same love letter session, our seeker, Macsen, had received information about this terrific major arcana called the Red Scepter: approximately what it did, and where one could find it. His Mindgem, the most problematic ongoing thing in this whole game, pointed him toward it.


The Red Scepter was probably back in the Stone Lord facility the characters had explored/escaped a couple sessions back. The place was so foul with corruption that they just wanted done with the whole place. It had already cost Madoc his innocence! The place just reeked of death and worse.

When the characters had brought the existence of this place up with the Hillfolk, the tribes uniformly condemned the place as forbidden. Although the Blue Hand Band had left behind a lot of signs that they’d been violating that ruling, which nobody would have discovered were it not for the Stonetopper. Now they’ve made an enemy of the Blue Hands as well, for outing them.

Anyway! The evening was getting late and I wanted to get through this bit. So they snuck out of the moot, avoiding their various enemies, and found themselves right back at the mouth of what the Stone Lord magical signage described as The Hive: a facility where their autonomous golem/mecha things constantly return to recharge and commune with one another and, perhaps, some sort of controller-spirit inhabiting the place. Still reeking of corruption and death, whee.

This was when Madoc’s new demonic lord, Narust, took an interest in ruining their efforts.

The Devil You Don’t Know

Back to the Thrall playbook insert! Besides receiving a new Instinct that replaces your playbook’s, the GM identifies your master’s Impulse. Well, easy enough, they basically map back to the impulses you work with to create a Thing Below in the first place. Narust’s is “erode hope/faith/honor/self-image.” It’s honestly pretty gross, especially combined with the self-harm thread throughout this whole sordid tale. 

The carrot/stick of the Impulse is a move: “when the GM compels you to act on your impulse, gain 1 Favor (ie another flavor of XP you spend to buy power from your Master) if you act as bidden. If you resist roll +WIS.” The outcomes are as you’d expect. 10+, you do you. On a 7-9, you don’t do evil shit but you’re also kind of useless. On a 6-, though, that’s the stick. The GM takes over and you come to your senses later. It’s very ugh.

This is all new territory for us, so I start out slow. First compulsion from Narust, as they’re standing at the mouth of the corrupted Hive thinking about what to do: “They will fail at this and return home in shame.” It’s not exactly an order, it’s more a “will nobody rid me of this meddlesome priest” type thing. I want to see what the player will do with that sort of vague mandate. It’s an experiment, right? 

So, yeah, he goes for it. It’s also good because it’s not so hardcore as, you know, “murder them in their sleep bwahaha.” I definitely want the player to think about going for it. The carrot has to be tasty enough that the stick isn’t so scary. Favor looks fun to spend! 

Manipulative Children

Madoc, the young would-be hero, tries to persuade everyone to just leave the scepter alone, spend the year they’ve just earned looking for “another way.” It’s not safe, he’s scared, big puppy-dog eyes, please don’t make me etc etc. But Hafiz, the Lightbearer? He’s fully shifted to righteous warrior facing down the Things Below. This is his wheelhouse, his calling. And it’s this player’s favorite thing, having a clear win/lose challenge before him. 

What proceeds at this point is a long string of escalations. Hafiz is unpersuadable so Narust urges the boy to cause enough havoc to chase them back out of the Hive. Once they’ve screwed up their courage and are in the Hive, Madoc fumbles around with the golem controls such that he mistakenly (scare quotes) activates all of them. Now it’s a vast cavern full of 20-ton stone Roombas staggering around. But they’re not corrupted like the one was a few sessions back, they’re kind of mindless and dumb, easily avoided. That’s not good enough! So the Thing Below urges the boy to shove Macsen, the Seeker, under one of them.

Let’s Talk About Alibi

Interesting moment here. Madoc rolls to resist his dark master and gets the 6- result. He can still use Iron-Willed to just blow this off! But he doesn’t. Alibi starts doing some interesting work at the table at this point. He shrugs and lets Narust take over. Macsen of course sees the change in affect in Madoc and finally takes this threat seriously. He Defies Danger and doesn’t get crushed by a golem…but Madoc’s dog (also corrupted!) tears into his leg, leaving a nasty injury. But at least Macsen isn’t pancaked. His trust in the boy is broken, though.

The characters end up finding the Red Scepter. As the expert on All Things Maker and Thing Below, Macsen takes possession of it. The Red Scepter is both of those things, apparently a personal project by the Stone Lord who ran The Hive. I hand him the Major Arcana card with the deets and his eyes get so, so big.

Which is perfect. Because it’s high time we have the Macsen-Hafiz mega-argument.

Immovable Object, Meet Irresistible Force

There’s a whole string of interesting Persuade rolls at this point! And they keep getting constructed such that they don’t really invalidate any other Persuade. At every step, I ask: are you persuadable on this point? In every case both characters are. 

With the Red Scepter in hand, here’s how everyone’s positions fall out:

  • Hafiz needs to find out from the Hillfolk the location of a “bottomless hole” they know about somewhere. His vision from Helior said they only way to truly destroy the Red Scepter, and therefore Narust’s anchor in this world, is to chuck it into this hole and return it to the Things Below. He asks Carwyn to steal the scepter from Macscen in the night and run off to the Hillfolk to discover the location of the hole.
  • Carwyn won’t allow Madoc to be left alone. He feels responsible for protecting the boy.
  • Macsen wants to hold onto the Red Scepter and spend the year finding another way to deal with Narust. He’s just completely overwhelmed with greed and lust for this thing.
  • Macsen also needs to get Madoc out of their traveling group immediately, because he’s scared out of his mind of the possessed kid. So he orders Carwyn via the power of the Red Scepter! Without the player having read all the rules about it, he charges it up with his own blood and uses the thing to incite Carwyn to violence! Which Carywn absolutely will not do per the above bullet. So he catches fire from this fucking cursed magic item, and now Macsen is genuinely torn about keeping it at all.
  • Madoc continues to receive marching orders from Narust to foil their efforts to destroy the Red Scepter. He continuously fights Narust at this point and is bleeding HPs every time.

The final argument comes down to this: Hafiz pleads with Macsen to hand over the scepter so they can end the battle with Narust once and for all. And Macsen, having seen the scepter is straight up evil, is persuadable! Hafiz rolls a 10+, and Macsen reveals how he can be convinced: Send Madoc home, now, alone. 

But Carwyn won’t leave Madoc alone and Hafiz’s instinct is mercy. And Madoc is slowly dying as he fights against Narust’s will.

Hafiz’s player literally freezes up for five solid minutes at the table. We all just watch him grind his gears. It’s marvelous. 

An Unlikely Solution

Ultimately Hafiz cuts this Gordian knot in two! He says, “Let me sleep on it, and I’ll give you my answer in the morning.” And he looks meaningfully at Carwyn, who has already agreed to steal the scepter and escape into the night.

Right. So, yeah, the Fox can trivially steal the scepter off the Seeker via a move. But the real challenge here is for he and Hafiz to slip out of camp without anyone noticing. So they Defy Danger to sneak out. Carywn of course does, but Hafiz doesn’t quite. He wakes Macsen up but doesn’t know it.

As the lightbearer and fox slip out, Macsen finds himself alone with the sleeping, corrupted boy. The scepter is gone and he can seen the other two slipping away into the dark. And he sees his opportunity to rid the world of what he’s convinced is a monster dressed, once again, in the skin of a child. 

And that’s where we ended.

3 thoughts on “Stonetop AP Session 9: The All-Consuming Child”

  1. What a place to end the session! Love the dramatic tension. I wasn’t really interested in Stonetop but your posts have changed my mind.

  2. It really came together for us. In fact I’ve been kind of bummed that our last few games didn’t come together as well as this one did.

Leave a Reply