This Week in Stonetop: Mind Control & Revised Interfere in Action!

This Week in Stonetop: Mind Control & Revised Interfere in Action!

This Week in Stonetop: Mind Control & Revised Interfere in Action!

Had a fun session of #Stonetop earlier this week that really highlighted a lot of the system & setting tweaks. Thought it’d be fun to share.

First, the setup: the PCs are exploring the Ruined Tower (crumbling giant-sized-tower about a day from home). They’re partially there for loot, partially there cuz they think their neighbor-turned-cult-leader-sorcerer Iwan was living there, and they want him dead.

They’re up in the 2nd story of the tower, poking around an old study and giant-sized bedchamber, where Iwan has been squatting (though he’s not here… he’s fled into the tunnels beneath the tower, for now at least).

While exploring, they found the head of a dead merchant from Marshedge pickling in an urn. They also removed some protective runes that they assumed were meant to keep intruders out. But what they actually did was let the merchant’s ghost loose.

Interestingly, I hadn’t even planned on the merchant’s head or the ghost being there. But in exploring the study, we referenced poking around a crowded storage unit with a flashlight, y’know, like in Silence of the Lambs. Someone asked if they found a head and I ran with it.

Now, one of the things I do for any undead (and particularly for Stonetop) is categorize them based on why they are undead. I.e. what keeps them here? This ghost was pretty clearly (to me) a specter. In my taxonomy, specters are the vengeful dead, who stick around because of some great wrong, things of almost mindless rage (instinct: to punish the living). They’ve got your usual array of vengeful dead/poltergeist moves:

• Fling things about telekinetically

• Generate creepy environmental effects

• Stoke the flames of anger, hatred, rage

SO! PCs just let the specter out. When they mar the runes, there’s a wind through the place that snuffs one of their lanterns. While they’re relighting it, the Fox (our rogue/thief analog) slips back into the room they came from, hiding in the shadows, expecting an attack from behind.

The Blessed (our shaman/nature priest) uses his Spirit Tongue move to ask “What spirits are active here?” and I’m like “oh, there’s totally a ghost here, an angry one. And right as you realize that, you notice Nolwenn’s breath… you can you see it, and the air just got super cold.”

The Fox, hiding in the shadows, looks around carefully, on guard for any threats, triggering Discern Realities. He rolls a miss! So I hit him hard with the specter’s stoke the flames of anger, hatred, rage. I say how he’s watching the Blessed standing in the doorway, and thinking of all the times he’s been dismissive of the Fox or hidden things from, and how he’s kept that fancy white magic spear all to himself, and how he’s sure he’s planning something to get the Fox killed, GODS you just want to stab him in the throat.

For this, I go to my standby mind-control move:

When you are compelled to act against your will, mark XP if you act as bidden. If you resist, roll +WIS: on a 10+, you shake off the compulsion and act as you wish; on a 7-9, choose 1:

• Stand dazed, fighting for control of your mind

• Start acting as compelled but stop yourself at the last moment

• Harm yourself to regain control (1d6 damage, ignores armor)

On a 6-, you come to your senses having done gods-know-what.

I didn’t even have to finish saying “I’ll give you an XP” before the Fox was acting on it. “Yeah, I’ll sneak up and stab him in the throat.” The character’s didn’t really have much animosity before this, just a little bit of distrust. This was mostly just the Fox’s player being keen on drama and conflict.

Now, the Fox has a move, Catlike, that basically says “if you move slowly and with care, you make no noise; if you keep still in shadows or darkness, no one notices you until draw attention to yourself.” And the Blessed had already said that he wasn’t keeping track of the Fox… the Fox wanders off all the time. So it was pretty much a given that, yeah, the Fox could get into position and Ambush (i.e. “Backstab”) the Blessed.

Before I let that trigger, though, I gave the Blessed an opportunity to Interfere. “The Fox comes lunging out of the darkness, murder in his eyes and his knife going at your throat, you’ve got like split seconds, what do you do?” I nix the Blessed reaching into his sacred pouch and casting a spell (not enough time), so he goes with the obvious: “dodge!”

This triggers Interfere. Stonetop doesn’t use bonds, and I’ve never been happy with original Aid/Interfere move, so we use this instead:

When you try to foil another PC’s action, say how you do it and roll +STAT: On a 10+, they pick 1 from the list below; on a 7-9, they pick 1 but you are left off balance, exposed, or otherwise vulnerable.

• They do it anyway, but take -2 forward

• They relent, change course, or otherwise allow their move to be foiled

I’ve only gotten to see this in play a couple times, and one time was a miss, so I was pretty stoked to see it in action. It worked GREAT.

The Blessed rolled +DEX, got a 7-9. The Fox allowed his move to be foiled, mostly because the player didn’t really want to Ambush the Blessed (the Fox’s Ambush could have done upwards of 20 HP damage, vs. the Blessed’s 21 HP!). And that is one of the things I really like about this version of the move. The players can go at each other really hard, triggering some pretty awful moves, but an Interfere 7+ gives the aggressor an “out.” They can just let it whiff, or relent, or whatever with little consequence.

So, the Blessed jerks back and avoids the Fox’s attack, but he got a 7-9 so he’s off balance/exposed/vulnerable. I have him tumble back onto the floor, losing his grip on the magic spear. And there’s the Fox in the doorway, murder still in his eyes.

The Heavy (fighter analog) uses his town sheriff version of I am the Law and orders the Fox to stand down, gets a 7-9. The Fox’s player, though, picks “attack you.” Not actually what I expected! So he moves to launch himself at the Heavy, while the Heavy says he’s going to shoot him in the junk with his crossbow, and the Would-be Hero tries to get in both of their ways.

The Would-be Hero is trying to stop this, so that’s another Interfere. She rolls with STR, I think, and gets a 7-9. Again, the Fox has to choose: relent or continue at -2. This time, he continues. We apply the same roll to the Heavy’s action; he chooses to relent and not shoot.

The Would-be Hero is still blocking the Fox’s path, though, so if he wants to stab the Heavy (and he does) he has to Defy Danger against her (at -2, because Interfere). He’s nails it, parkours around her and launches himself at the Heavy.

Now, that’s clearly going to be an attack but the Heavy saw it coming. He says he drops the crossbow and wants to dodge and grab the Fox as he attacks, locking his sword arm and pinning him up against the wall. We decide that’s the Heavy Interfering with the Fox’s attack. Again, a 7-9 to Interfere. The Fox chooses to Hack and Slash with a -2, and still gets a 10+. We resolve that as the sheriff’s maneuver failing and Fox scoring a cut on him, and (because of the 7-9 to Interfere) the sheriff tumbles back and the Fox is looming over him.

Everyone but the Fox is basically staggered or stunned, this all happened so fast and they all got 7-9s on their Interferes. The Fox has the chance to press the attack against the Heavy, but I’m like “you feel that rage welling up again, do you go with it? Or resist?” And the Fox’s player is like “wait, I can resist this?!?”

(In retrospect, we were all fine with how it shook out… the first attack, he had gladly accepted the XP; the second attack was in response to the I am the Law move, so this was really the first “pause”).

The Fox does in fact resist, rolls +WIS and gets a 7-9, and chooses to hurt himself to regain control. He’s looming over the Heavy, about to stab, and instead he stabs himself in the side of the butt (butt-stabbing is an established theme with these guys… don’t ask).

From there, the specter stopped “riding” the Fox and blasted everyone with a telekinetic shockwave as it hoisted the Fox by his neck. The Fox tried cutting at it where it’s body must have been, but had no effect (ghost, mundane sword) and took some damage for his efforts. The Blessed (who can sense and interact with spirits) Discerned Realities to see where the spirit really was (it was otherwise invisible), the grabbed his magic spear and impaled the thing! (The spear has an “unlock” that’s triggered by impaling a spirit and keeping it stuck until it burns away, so he was game… even though melee is not his strong suit.)

From there, it was pretty typical (but awesome) Dungeon World. The spirit, impaled on the only weapon that can hurt it, is flinging everything in room not bolted down. The Blessed has to endure a few flying projectiles while he keeps his grip on the spear. The Heavy finds a big-ol’ copper plate and uses it as a shield to Defend the Blessed. The Would-be Hero jumps in to help the Blessed brace the spear, while the Fox finds a bunch of sacred herbs and lights them to keep the specter distracted, and eventually the things burns away like in those episodes of Supernatural.

All in all, a super fun session! The mind control worked and didn’t feel like it was stealing any player agency, and led to a really cool scene. And I’m really happy with how the Interfere move worked in play. We had to be careful about what everyone was doing, but it felt a lot more forgiving than the standard Interfere with its “-2 penalty” on a 7+ and “exposed to danger, retribution, or cost” on a 7-9. The choice of “press on but -2 or relent/let it fail” feels a lot better, and the “left exposed/off balance/vulnerable” gives a lot better guidance on how to resolve the move, I think.

9 thoughts on “This Week in Stonetop: Mind Control & Revised Interfere in Action!”

  1. I tend to get anxious about mind-control stuff… That leads to loss of agency – something that can be sometimes triggering/traumatic. I sense this is why Avery (in Monsterhearts) completely puts the actual reaction to Turn Someone On in the hands of the person being turned on.

  2. This whole thing is amazing, and i am definitely going to write down that Mind Control move so that i have one in future. I have attempted that once before (With a specter, coincidentally), and it failed miserably.

  3. Shane Liebling are you saying that you, personally, have found mind control in games triggering/traumatic? Or that you know specific people who have that experience?

    If so, are you willing to talk about that? I’m well aware of how mind control in an RPG can suck, but all the reasons for that that I’m familiar with come down to breaches of expectations and social contract.

    The trauma/triggering angle is new to me, so I’m curious to hear more.

  4. Sounds awesome! Quick question: If the Fox had gotten a 7-9, or chose to take an attack on his 10+ for H&S to get +1d6 damage against the Heavy, how do you handle this? Can the fox interfere? Are there limitations on what the Heavy can respond with? Does it require a roll?


  5. Andrew Alwood Yeah, I thought about that myself, after the fact.

    In this case, if the Fox’s H&S had missed, it would have gone like the Heavy said: dodge, arm lock, pin.

    If the Fox got a 7-9 (or 10+ & draw attack) we would have just said that the Heavy pulled off his arm lock and pin, but after the Fox scored his hit.

    Either way, though, I’d have to account for the Heavy having been “off balance, exposed, or otherwise vulnerable.” So I’d probably have immediately given the Fox an opportunity. Probably playing off the Heavy’s “You Can Never Have Too Many Knives” moves (basically, he’s always got a knife to hand) , and say something like “Fox, the Heavy’s got your sword arm pinned and the side of your face pressed up against the wall, but your left arm is free and you spot one of the Heavy’s knives, just in reach, he won’t see it coming, OMG this guy needs to DIE who does he think he IS? I’ll give you an XP if you stab him. Or you can roll WIS to resist. What do you do?”

    And who knows where it’d go from there?

    If the Heavy, though, hadn’t clearly established a counter-attack as part of his Interfere–if it’d been more like dodging away–then the “exposed to an attack” part of the Fox’s attack would have resulted in an opportunity for another PC to make that attack. I’d probably have given the the Blessed a chance to cast that entagling spell he originally wanted to cast, and not really have given the Fox a chance to Interfere with that.

    Make sense?

  6. Shane Liebling Kate’s article is describing the skeeviness of giving player characters the tools to remove consent from others, and presenting it as “no big deal.” Which, yeah, I can get behind that (though I think there’s an interesting conversation to be had about why that is problematic while we don’t bat an eye at giving out murder-tools to our PCs).

    But that’s not an argument for rejecting mind control as a source of adversity for the PCs. Folklore, myth, and genre fiction are full of mind control tropes, probably because it’s a creepy-ass thing to imagine. It’s a known thing, like illusions or lycanthropy or petrification. An expected trope. I’d argue that most anyone playing a game with vampires, mind flayers, and dryads knows that mind control is on the table. Remove it’s threat from a fantasy game world and you’re removing a potentially powerful element.

    As for player agency over their character: I don’t buy the argument that its some sacrosanct thing.

    Yeah, haphazardly stepping on a player’s agency is crap GMing. If you’re crouched in a doorway, Discerning Realities about the crumbling floor and looking for a safe way across, and you roll a miss, the GM shouldn’t be like “you think it’s safe and you walk out there and it collapses under you,” because that’s the GM dictating your character’s decisions while they operate under their own volition.

    But that volition is a thing that (in a fantasy setting) can be threatened and attacked, just like a character’s life, body, gear, reputation, and relationships can be threatened.

    There’s crappy ways to do it, sure. Like, saying, “no, you missed your roll, you have to keep attacking your friends, what do you do?” and forcing the player to act out their character in a way they don’t want to… that sucks.

    But on this move, you handle the loss of control with a fugue state: “You come to your senses having done gods-no-what” means that you don’t have to play it out. The GM either jumps straight to the consequences, or temporarily treats you as an NPC. Yes, it’s unpleasant, but so is having a sahuagin bite your PC’s hand off or having your character freeze in fear while facing a terrifying dragon or having your PC’s leg break cuz you fell 30 feet into a pit.

  7. Interesting business here. I can see how “mind control” could be really difficult for someone, but I can also how removing it from a “D&D setting” is limiting, and how not remembering anything after doing something under mind control is both interesting and somewhat viable as a way to sidestep culpability.

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