Gosh, where to start…
First thing, biases on the table: Stonetop, even unpublished, is in my top 10 RPGs. Maybe top 5. And while I think Dungeon World has done good things for the RPG scene, I don’t actually think it’s a good AW hack or a particularly well-designed game. So I’m hardly a neutral observer here.
In no particular order of importance to me:
First and most prosaic: Stonetop runs much cleaner than DW. All the painstaking, nitty-gritty editing work @Jeremy_Strandberg has done clarifying the function of the basic moves pays off in spades. Play feels smoother, simpler, and more pleasant. Added to that, advantage/disadvantage is just so much more intuitive than tracking endless +1s forward.
Tonally, Stonetop couldn’t be more different. I don’t know why precisely, but even with active attempts to set tone every DW game I’ve played, GMed, or watched ends up drifting towards goofy/silly/tongue-in-cheek. Further, there’s some very real gonzo/absurdist tendencies baked-in because of the inherent “yes, and” tendencies of the game (above and beyond what’s usual for AW-adjacent games). Stonetop is grounded, and tends towards treating the game world with seriousness and integrity (I think perhaps because it actively encourages/demands emotional investment) along the lines of the fantasy literature I’m more looking for.
Stonetop also feels rooted in a way that DW’s murderhoboing doesn’t. The specific detail of the setting, the fleshing out of NPCs, the care given to the mundane details of survival (beyond just “mark off one ration”). The last session my group played was probably the strongest we’ve had yet, and it was a homefront session. All we did, basically, was interact with NPCs and follow the characters around the village and the daily texture of their lives.
Speaking of NPCs, I think DW is a weird outlier among first-wave AW-adjacent games (Monsterhearts, Sagas, Urban Shadows, etc) in that it doesn’t really care about people or their lives? Every other original hack of AW is deeply engaged with NPCs, and their feelings and humanity, and the emotional landscape of the world. Dungeon World kind of lacks that, where Stonetop has it in spades.
I could go on endlessly. The playbooks are phenomenal (the Lightbringer is 110% my choice if I ever get to play). The minor & major arcana are all superb. The setting is a perfect blend of familiar and intriguing, with so many spaces and hints at more that pique the curiosity. The maps, illustrations, and art style are gorgeous (shoutout to @jasonlutes).
Also, as a designer it’s been super influential on me.
I think it’s a strange irony that Dungeon World’s marketing and discourse has replicated the same bad habit Adam loves to excoriate D&D for: claiming it’s the perfect game for all fantasy narratives. I want more specific, thoughtful PbtA games exploring niches of the fantasy genre that aren’t just “D&D with less math”.
Seeing how well Jeremy did hearth fantasy with Stonetop got me started writing my own fantasy PbtA game and provided constant inspiration.
So. Yes. I love Stonetop. It’s very different than Dungeon World, and very good.