Because Stonetop wants you to zoom out and see the passage of time, and because players are encouraged to co-create the village and its traditions, I’d often prep questions for my players to think about prior to the session. Initially, I’d send these out with a reminder for our biweekly game.
My warmup questions were always to encourage my players to do some world building. Not all players are comfortable improvising in play. So then my players asked to get the questions the day before, so they would have some time to consider their answers. They started bugging me if I hadn’t given them their “homework” yet, as they called it!
Example 1, with actual answers
- Siska, your Uncle Owl has been unwell. You’ve been tending him as best you can. What do you worry about if he were to die? How did you help with the harvest? “Uncle Owl is very knowledgeable about planting any kind of crop. He knows how to locate good soil, good drainage and how to keep insects, rabbits and other small pests out away from our crops. If we lose his experience and support, it will be difficult for all of us.”
- Yorath, who do you personally think has been stealing from folk? Those refugees from Marshedge? How did you help with the harvest? “The town constable should investigate where the refugees from Marshedge have any stolen property. I have been manning tower watch as is my job, overlooking all outside work in the fields.”
- Wynn, the old timers are agitated about all the changes to Stonetop (the mill, the windmill, the refugees). What have you been saying to them? How did you help with the harvest? “Darn Luddites. I listen to their concerns and acknowledge the changes. I give gentle reminders of the benefits of our growing town (better food, improved living conditions, talents of the refugees). I invite them to a sumptuous meal made by the refugees and try to find common ground in the dinner conversation.”
- Grell, does anyone in town ride Crinwin [the horse he’d rescued from Winoc]? Have the other two horses in town only known the yoke or have they been ridden? What are the names of the other two horses? How did you help with the harvest? “No one else in town has ridden Crinwin. Most people are nervous about riding and prefer walking (safer, touching the ground is ‘right’ riding is ‘wrong’). The other two horses (Brynny and Betty) have never been ridden. I help with the horses and loading the cart with the harvested grain to bring it to the mill and deliver it to individual homes of people who are not able to pick up their share for whatever reason (sick? old? bedridden?).”
- Passan, what do you find refreshing about how people do things in Stonetop vs. Barrier Pass? Where have you made your home and set up your laboratory? How did you help with the harvest? “The only reason that the Southerners are able to live like this is because of the hardened culture and fight of us Northerners. I have set up my lab and home in a house near the stable that was abandoned by a family who left to Marshedge. I helped out the town by using Blyth to speed up the mill.”
I’m looking forward to our game tomorrow night!
- Question for everyone but Passan: Early summer activities – while the Seeker was making new paving stones and spending time meditating with moss in the Great Wood, what were you up to? What’s something interesting that happened to you?
- Grell, what did you learn about working with horses that surprised you, thanks to time spent with the horses and Aeln, the refugee from the Hillfolk?
- Yorath, what did Aeln boast to you about, regarding how the Hillfolk won a surprising victory over Gordin’s Delve?
- Wynn, what staggering defeat that the Hillfolk suffered at the hands of Gordin’s Delve did Aeln confide to you, when you promised not to tell anyone?
- Siska, as your Uncle Owl has gotten to know some of the immigrants to Stonetop (Aeln, Callach, Catlin, Ciara, Nill, Torin, Wanchu), which one’s care of Owl when he was sick and assistance to him when you were traveling finally softened his heart towards Stonetop’s new residents? What did that person do that won him over?
- Passan, what strange behavior have you seen from Wanchu recently? What rumors have you heard from travelers about attacks along the road from Gordin’s Delve?
It’s been a harsh winter for Stonetop, and the food supplies may not last the winter.
- Yorath, game has been scarce in the forest this winter, and when you have caught game, you’ve run into trouble. You had brought down a young buck, but what happened that prevented you from bringing it back? How did you and Whimsey barely escape with your lives?
- Wynn, you’ve been helping ration the beans, potatoes, and barley. Who do you suspect has been stealing from the stores? What problems have you encountered with rationing?
- Eamon, as you’ve become reacquainted with Stonetop, what surprises you the most about Stonetop today? What has been gained, what has been lost?
- Passan, what have you been working on in your lab? What have you been researching?
- Passan, what did you leave for the others to find in your lab, in the hopes that they would use it to the benefit of the village?
- Yorath, as a hunter and trapper, you are more comfortable with dead bodies than most villagers, so you’ve been the main person to clean up Passan’s house. Still, what did you find among the mutilated corpses that shook you to your core?
- Makios, you’ve spent time reverentially studying the great standing stone, listening to lightning strike it, and worshiping Tor (Rainmaker, Thunderhead, Slayer-of-Beasts!). What has most delighted you about how Stonetop residents worship Tor? What has most disappointed you?
- Wynn, did your journeys ever take you as far south as Lygos? If so, what most stands out from your journey there? If not, what made you afraid to travel there?
- Eamon, your experience with the Lady of Crows, and your long absence, have made you worry that if you are not more careful, you could be the last Judge. What have you done to share more about being a Judge with your apprentice? What are they clearly not ready for?
This bit of routine prep really helped engage us. The answers fueled further improv during play. It became a nice “start of session” ritual. We reviewed the answers, and—sometimes—if a player hadn’t answered their question prior to the session, they’d improvise an answer then.
Writing these warmup questions would sometimes get me in the mood to start with my regular prep. (For Stonetop, mainly updating the threat map.) Other times, it would be the way I ended my session prep. For me, they are less work than love letters.
This blog post is copyright 2023 by J. Alan Henning and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.