Stonetop

Created by penny lantern

A tabletop fantasy adventure RPG centered on a village community.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

Introducing: the Judge
about 1 year ago – Thu, Apr 01, 2021 at 07:34:44 AM

I'm gonna save most of the gushing gratitude and bewilderment for tomorrow. Right now, I just want to introduce our final playback:

Click for a PDF of the Judge playboo,

This was the first playbook that I wrote for Stonetop, and I thought it'd be fitting to post it here last.  As I mentioned in the Kickstarter video, this whole Stonetop thing was originally-originally a D&D campaign, back before I'd ever played Dungeon World or Apocalypse World. One of the players, Brian, made a paladin a named Einion. Einion was based on this mini, with it's big old hammer and book. Brian called the book the "Chronicle of Stonetop."  He gave Einion the title of "Judge." 

This is how traditions get born. 

Fast forward a few years. I started working on Stonetop as a "campaign playset" for Dugeon World, and shared it with a few folks who I'd met on the old Dungeon World Tavern (back in the days of Google+). Michael Prescott said something to the effect of "This is really cool, but the local bean-chewing farmer vibe clashes pretty hard with Titanius the Paladin riding in astride his warhorse, no?"

Damn. I thought. He's right

So I sat down and made a playbook for Einion, that paladin that Brian portrayed, the Judge.  And that led us to here.  

The Judge is a mix of an enemy of chaos, a tough-as-iron tank, a team player, and a lore-keeper. Like the Lightbearer and Blessed, they get to define a lot about the role of their deity, and how she is worshipped in Stonetop. The Judge also gets to define the nature of the Chronicle--no mere book, but an actual place in the village, where the town's records are kept. 

If you're wondering "why doesn't the Judge have a move for passing judgement?" it's because I always thought it was more interesting to give the playbook lots of narrative authority in this regard, but no mechanical weight to back that up. The Judge is great at handling straight-up threats to civilization and agents of chaos. But how well do they handle the heated dispute over the one neighbor's goat who keeps eating the other neighbor's tomatoes? The dice aren't going to answer that, not really.

Anyhow...

I just went digging, and was able to find the first public PDF I'd posted for Stonetop. It included a snippet of the setting overview, a piece of the Steading Playbook, and that first incarnation of the Judge playbook. 

We've come a long way. Jason's been a huge part of that, encouraging me to make the setting weirder and less familiar, to think bigger, to write more clearly and concisely. He took my barebones playbooks and made them into things that I think are gorgeous. He found Lucie, who has made the characters and the world of Stonetop come alive in a way I only dreamed of when I started.  I'm incredibly grateful to both of them. 

But, really, it was the playtesters that pushed this game where it really needed to be. Both the gang who played in my long-running home game, and the dozens of groups who volunteered to play and give feedback--they've all been invaluable in making this game come together. We would be here if it weren't for y'all. 

And of course, we wouldn't be here without all of you, the backers.  

The Judge was always a playbook about community, and Stonetop has always been a game with the community at its heart. 

And here we are.

Welcome to Stonetop, neighbor. 

A look at the GMing procedures, and some actual play
about 1 year ago – Thu, Apr 01, 2021 at 03:58:55 AM

The final-day push is well underway, and we continue to welcome newcomers to our not-so-small, not-so-isolated village.  Welcome, one and all!

I've noticed that we're piquing the interest of folks who are intrigued by the setting and premise of Stonetop, but who aren't familiar with Powered by the Apocalypse games. It's definitely a style of play that can feel strange if you've never experienced it. 

Even if you're a PbtA veteran, each game comes with it's own agenda, principles, moves, and unique perspective. Stonetop is no different.

So, here's the current draft of the "Running Stonetop" chapter. 

Click for a PDF of the Running Stonetop chapter

This is not the full extent of the GM rules, guidelines, and advice. There are further chapters that look at each of the player-facing moves (rules) in detail, with examples and clarifications and guidance for how to resolve them at your table. There are chapters that get into the types of preparation you might do, and how to run specific parts of the game. But this is the chapter and the framework that the rest of the game is based on.

Some actual play

No amount of reading can perfectly convey what it's like to actually run or play a particular game. And, heck, you might just enjoy watching good old hearth fantasy. 

Hobbes is currently still working on the Annotated Actual Play for Stonetop (the $47.5K  stretch goal). But it's a ton of work, and it'll take time for those to roll out. (Thanks, Hobbes!)

In the meantime, I ran a "long con" of Stonetop a few years ago, as part of the Gauntlet Con online gaming convention. We recorded the sessions and you can find them collected here:

https://spoutinglore.blogspot.com/2018/10/stonetop-at-gauntlet-con-2018.html

Keep in mind that:

  • The rules have evolved a bit since we ran this game, though the general flow of play and structure of the game is still very much the same. 
  • This was an abbreviated form of the usual startup process. Typically, you do a full session 0 during which you make characters, flesh out the village and the world, and otherwise get ready to play.
  • Despite the snazzy lead-in and lead-out cards and soundtrack, I did basically no editing on these. Sound levels are all over the place, and you get to listen to us hum and haw quite a bit. 

With that said, these sessions were a joy to run, and if y'all ever get a chance to play with David, Horst, Taylor, or Greg, you should jump at the chance!   

As always, I'm happy to answer questions!  And that you all sooooo much for your continued support and enthusiasm!


-Jeremy

Introducing: the Blessed
about 1 year ago – Tue, Mar 30, 2021 at 12:14:24 AM

Every time I come back to this page (and let's face it, it's been pretty often today), the numbers keep ticking up. We passed 2,000 backers around lunch time, and 10 hours later, we're over 2100. That kind of growth feels almost... magical.

Speaking of magic, and growing things, I think we're passed due in meeting...

Click for a PDF of the Blessed playbook

This playbook took a lotof work to develop. The Seeker actually took longer to write, but that was only because I had to invent the whole major & minor arcana system first. Looking at my design notes, the notes for the Blessed are at least three times as long as the notes for any of the others. That's probably because there were two completely different versions of the playbook.

I knew that the Blessed would be an overtly "magical" class, but I wasn't sure at first how I wanted that magic to work. At first, I was enamored with the idea of runes and writings--sacred marks. That was originally the primary mechanism for their magic.

Mechanically, though, the sacred marks ended up feeling too similar to the Lightbearer's Invocations. And the idea that the Blessed's magic primarily came from sacred marks made them feel more closely tied to the Makers than to the spirits and the natural world. 

So, the second draft--the one that evolved into this version--made the Blessed into much more of a spirit-talker, a sorcerer, a nature priest. There's no more "spell list," but rather a number of moves that let them do magic. The idea of "marks" remains woven into a number of those moves, but it's not their core schtick. Their core schtick is dealing with spirits. 

The Blessed's magic is meant to be reminiscent of shamanism, folk-magic, and witchcraft. It's potent, but it's also fairly subtle. The only truly overt, flashy magic they have is Danu's Grasp--and that only works on spirits or perversions of nature. 

There's a bunch of stuff that I really like about how the Blessed finally turned out. I like how Amulets & Talismans, and Veil, and Wards & Bindings all make you wait to roll until the magic is tested.  I like how Spirit Tongue and Call the Spirits open up and entire field of play that isn't there for other playbooks, and how it can create unexpected solutions (or problems) for the PCs. I like the extraordinary qualities of their sacred pouch. I like how a number of their moves have creepy little undertones where you could see a Blessed "going bad" and using their powers for ill. 

Along those same lines, I'm quite pleased with how the Blessed's choice of background, combined with their choices for The Earth Mother, can really shape what Danu's roll is in the village and the world. If the Blessed picks Raised By Wolves, and says that Danu's shrine is given wide berth by most, and that folk leave her offerings of blood, burnt flesh, and metal nails... that's a very different vibe than an Initiate of Danu, whose shrine is dripping with offerings from the locals, offerings of whisky, rain water, and incense.  

How about you? Which of the Blessed's moves or backgrounds strike your fancy? What would your sacred pouch be like? What clever ways would you put your moves to use?

Happy to answer questions, of course!

-Jeremy

Final 48 hours, international shipping news
about 1 year ago – Mon, Mar 29, 2021 at 02:08:36 AM

The Final Forty-Eight

Here we go into the last sprint, and holy @#$! we are looking to break 100k. Honestly, it feels a bit unreal when you set out crossing your fingers hoping to ship maaaybe 500 sets of physical books at the outside, and end up closer to 2,000. What's also amazing is that more than 500 of you backed for just the PDFs! Thank you all. Your encouragement has spurred us on to write, edit, lay out pages, and create artwork with renewed energy.  

International shipping news

At this point I can say that we will cover VAT and customs duty for international backers. Unfortunately, any further local taxes beyond VAT and customs that apply in your area will not be covered. To be clear, for ~400 sets of books shipped overseas VAT and customs alone will cost us 7-8K USD. That's kind of nuts! But we want these books to go as far and wide as possible, and thanks to your extraordinary support we now have the budget, so we're going to do it.

 Holdfast Station is GO!

That 85K mark whizzed by us like an errant asteroid, clearing the way for the "Stonetop in Space" RPG that Moe Poplar and Michael Low have been cooking up. One of my favorite things about developing RPGs is putting my design and art direction skills in service of someone else's vision, so this will be a fun project to collaborate on, not least because I get to step away from my usual old-school fantasy/Iron Age aesthetic and into the realm of sci-fi. I'm also really looking forward to helping playtest their game! 

 Stonetop "beta" preview

Jeremy and I are hard at work on pulling together a PDF collection of the core material to share with all of you after the campaign closes.  Although it'll be a little rough around the edges and lacking a fair amount of supporting material, you'll have everything you need to run the game. With any luck this preview pack will be ready to download within the week.


See you on the other side of the finish line!

—Jason  

Introducing: the Ranger (and travel)
about 1 year ago – Sun, Mar 28, 2021 at 09:28:54 PM

As I write this, we're at well over 1,600 backers and we just passed our last stretch goal, $85,000. That means Lampblack & Brimstone will be publishing Moe and Michael's Holdfast Station, which I'm really excited to see and play.

So, what lies beyond this?  Uncharted territory! Seems like a good time to meet...

Click for a PDF of the Ranger playbook

The Ranger is the only "class" from classic D&D fantasy that survived with it's name intact. Fans of Dungeon World will definitely recognize a few of the DW Ranger moves. Rangers are, of course, good archers and hunters with moves like Blot out the Sun, Call the Shot, Big Game Hunter, Predator, and Stalker. They can also choose to have an Animal Companion, using the follower moves that I talked about in the Marshal update.  

But what really sets the Stonetop Ranger apart is how competent they are in the wild and on an expedition. That's important, because most adventures that the PCs go on involve a journey--and journeys are dangerous.

Journeys

Adventure games often gloss over travel, taking the stance that travel is filler between the "good" parts of the game.  Dungeon World's Undertake a Perilous Journey does so very intentionally--you make a series of rolls, have probably one encounter on the way (plus maybe you get lost/find a shortcut, and maybe you have food-related shenanigans). It's a totally valid approach--but it's not what I wanted for Stonetop.

For Stonetop, I always wanted the journey to be the adventure, or at least an big part of it. Yeah, sure the scene where we try to slay the bears in their den might be the climax of the adventure, but the journey there (creeping through the Great Wood in winter,  dodging crinwin) and back (sledges laden with bear meat, racing against the cold and the setting sun, hoping against hope that the crinwin don't find us) adds a real sense of texture, danger, and suspense to the whole thing. 

When we first started playtesting, we used the travel moves from The Perilous Wilds. They worked well, and I think that they really capture the "feel" of an old-fashioned hex crawl. But a hex-crawl is a distinct thing--I find that it's an approach best suited for somewhat aimless wandering. 

But in Stonetop, the PCs leave town for a reason. They have a goal. They head out towards that goal, try to achieve it, and then go home. That's not wandering, and a hex-crawl sensibility didn't feel right.  

After a few iterations, I hit upon using a structure similar to the Wizard's Ritual move in Dungeon World or the Savvyhead's workshop in Apocalypse World.  The players tell the GM where they want to go, and roughly how they plan to get there. The GM tells them the requirements and challenges. And then we play them out.

Travel plays out as a point crawl. You figure out what the next point of interest is--the next landmark that we haven't seen on screen, or the next place where you know that you'll want to frame a scene--and then look at what lies between here and there. That's the next leg of travel

You play out the leg of travel in differing levels of detail depending on how familiar the terrain is to the players, or how dangerous it is. You ask lots of questions (as I discussed in detail on the Stonetop episode of the +1 Forward podcast). You introduce the challenges you told them they'd face. You see how they deal with them.  Eventually, probably, they get to the next point of interest. Play out the scene(s) at the point of interest, and then continue on to the next leg of travel (or head home). 

For reference, here's the Expeditions spread from the GM's "playbook:"

Click for a PDF of an excerpt of the GM playbook

An Example

Let's take a recent example from my home game. Gorlas the Trapper had stumbled home from a few days out in the Great Wood. He'd been jumped by crinwin at his farthest-out snares, a couple days' journey from town. When he woke (barefoot, his good iron knife gone, probably concussed) he stumbled through a faerie glamour into an old ruin of the Green Lords. The whole place was infused with fertility magic, but there was also something dark and malevolent. The PCs, of course, were all sorts of interested. 

They Charted a Course and I told them:

 [ ] It'll take at least 4 days there and back, likely 5

 [ ] You'll need to bring warm gear (rain, chill)

 [ ] You risk drawing the attention of the cyndaraig that's been roaming near Stonetop

 [ ] You need to watch out for crinwin

 [ ] You risk getting lost (as you look for the ruin)

This was the first time we'd seen the Great Woods in play, so we took our time with it. The first point of interest was The Stream near town. I set a scene there, described it, and asked questions. We learned about local ritual where, when you ford the Stream, you tell it why it should let you pass and why it shouldn't sweep you away. (And that led to some nice characterization.)

The next point of interest was a rocky outcropping where I figured they'd make camp, but they had a good day of travel to get there. I asked questions ("Eilwen, what's the most unexpected thing about the Great Wood?" "Alix, what's the worst part about this?" "Korina, what's the worst part about travelling with these two?").  

It became clear that Eilwen and Alix weren't really used to hiking long distances through the woods.  I called on them to Struggle as One.

This is probably one of my top 3 favorite moves in Stonetop.  You use it when multiple PCs in the party are defying the same danger(s). The move results in one three basic outcomes:

  • Everyone gets a 7+ and we do a quick little description of what that looks like and then move on
  • Someone gets a 6- and ends up in a spot, but someone else gets a 10+ and can get them out of it--which creates this fun little vignette (and then we move on)
  • Someone gets a 6-, and no one has a 10+ to save them, and so we zoom in on the trouble that this PC is in and play out the scene in detail from there. 

(This move gets used a lot during journeys, and that's one of the reasons the Ranger is so great to have along. Because of Home on the Range, they can't roll a miss.  The Ranger is never the weakest link on a journey, never the one who needs saving. It's not a sexy move at all, but in play, it makes the Ranger extremely, reliably competent and that just feels right.) 

In this case, Alix and Eilwen were both trudging along, so they rolled +CON.  (Korina was off scouting ahead, very much used to this sort of thing but otherwise occupied and unable to help.)  Alix got a 6- and their old chest wound was acting up, hurting like the devil, and they were starting to sweat profusely and fall behind. Eilwen got a 10+ though, and produced some willow bark from her gear to help Alix deaden the pain. It was a nice little moment, giving them a little scene together, and that was that.

Meanwhile, I had told them that they might draw the attention of the cyndaraig (a great-big rage drake). So I pointed at a looming danger and told Korina that her dog had found something, a torn-up wisent corpse in the brush, clearly killed by something big and fierce and toothy.  She studied the scene (Discerning Realites), got a 7-9, and learned that, yup, the cyndaraig had done this, but a couple days ago, and if they were quick and lucky and didn't draw attention, they'd (hopefully) avoid it. 

Cut ahead to the next point of interest, a rocky outcropping with a menhir carved in Forest Folk glyphs, which Korina and other hunters and trappers knew to generally be a good place to camp. Of course, the Seeker stirred the cruel wind spirit bound in the menhir, and Lightbearer's invocation of the sun god failed to protect them, so the Would-Be Hero ended up getting goaded into almost walking off the cliff in her sleep.  It was a whole scene

The next day was another day of travel, but with slightly better weather. This leg we glossed over, because it was similar terrain and they'd already done a lot of PC-to-PC interaction while making camp. I mostly just jumped ahead to the next point of interest--another stream, where I knew it was likely they'd encounter the cyndaraig.  

They did, in fact, encounter the rage drake, but it was chomping on a deer and probably wouldn't have noticed them if they'd just left and crossed the stream. But they had managed to split themselves up, and when she heard the thing roar, the Would-Be Hero tried to be a hero and blundered a bit, making a huge gonging sound with her bronze shield and drawing the thing's attention.  They didn't so much fight the cyndaraig as fend it off, but they did prevail and send it packing.

And so it went. They had another leg of travel, an encounter with crinwin (spurred by a missed Discern Realities roll), some awesome roleplaying, and a night making camp protected by Helior's holy light. The following day they found the faerie glamour and we spent the next session exploring the Green Lord ruins. The following session, they headed home.  

The trip home was through familiar terrain. They'd made their strong impressions on both the crinwin and the cyndaraig. Thus, there wasn't much in the way of danger. We used Keep Company to give the trip a sense of time passing and give the PCs a chance to reflect on their recent experiences.

Eilwen and Korina had a bit of a falling out while exploring the Green Lord ruins, so Eilwen asked Korina "What do I do that you find annoying?" and that prompted a scene with them having and out-and-out row, with Eilwen accusing Korina of treating her like a kid and Korina stomping off into the woods as sunset approached. 

I then asked Korina (as her dog) "What do we find ourselves talking about?" and she told us about how she processed her feelings by doing and not talking, and together we established a Lygosi (southern big city) rite of adulthood involving a particular flower, so Korina started whittling a wooden flower and eventually brought it back by way of an apology. 

For the next day of travel, Korina asked Alix what was on their mind, and we learned more about Alix's bloody past and their shame and doubt over being chosen as Helior's vessel. 

(I'm sadly forgetting what question Alix asked, and of whom, but I remember they were all great questions and answers and made the trip home feel like a meaningful denouement for the adventure and my players are wonderful and you should be jealous.) 

Anyhow...

It's late, and this has gone on longer than I intended.

I was hoping to talk about gear, and outfitting, and the inventory sheets and the Have What You Need Move, but that will need to wait until tomorrow.

I hope you enjoyed this rather long-winded issue of "Let Me Tell You About My Game."  Thanks again for all your support, questions, and encouragement. And if you're interested, hop over to the Holdfast Station Discord server to give Moe and Michael a high-five!

As always, happy to answer questions! 

-Jeremy