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Tuesday, 26th June, 2012, 06:52 PM #1
Acolyte (Lvl 2)
Thoughts on Running "Always on Time"
As requested by gideonpepys in another thread, here are my thoughts and comments regarding my first session running "Always on Time" for my gaming group. I am running it using the Pathfinder rules. My party consists of the following PCs:
Sir Will Hawkins, human cavalier/rogue: Yerasol Veteran
Mariah Colt, half-elf wizard (spellslinger): Gunsmith
Oliver James, half-elf bard (court bard): Vekeshi Mystic
Stefan Lejeur, tiefling alchemist (vivisectionist): Technologist
Piotr, dwarf druid: Eschatologist
We started the session with the meeting with Chief Inspector Delft and the planning montage/skill challenge. The players seemed enthusiastic aobut going "behind enemy lines" in disguise to try and pin down some members of the Obscurati. They decided to split into two groups for their cover identities. Mariah and Oliver would be a recently engaged, wealthy couple on a trip to celebrate along with their manservant (Piotr) and their exotic pet (his animal companion, a wolverine). Meanwhile, Will would be a retired military man with a lung condition, traveling with his doctor (Stefan) in an attempt to help ease his pain by moving to a less humid location than Risur. Since the adventure assumes the PCs are all going to stay in the same cabin, I had to add an extra car to the train with two more first class cabins to accomodate the splitting of the group. I'm not sure yet whether I will keep the extra cabin empty or come up with another group of NPCs to rent it out.
Piotr's player was a bit flustered since his druid didn't have a lot of relevant skills to help with the skill challenge, but I encouraged him to spend his time coming up with contingencies for the mission instead. He was able to make the Perception check to find the spies, though, which allowed Oliver to use Diplomacy to charm the secretary Candace into feeding her contact false information. They ended the skill challenge with a total of eleven successes in maintaining secrecy (two automatic ones for spreading a false trail five weeks in a row) and eight successes in developing their cover identities, as well as five or six different contingencies.
Since they succeeded at the skill challenge, the trip to Beaumont was relatively uneventful. The appearance of the Cachalot spying on them was met with trepidation, but when no encounter happened, they just assumed it was a standard Danoran patrol ship. They seemed satisfied as well that things were "back to normal" on Axis Island.
Once the time came to finally board the train, the real fun began. Will Hawkins recognized Bree from his time in the war: I made it so that he had served in the unit with the druid whose summoned jaguar tore off her limbs. He made it a point to try to avoid conversation with her in case she recognized him through the disguise. The Grientos engaged Mariah and Oliver in conversation since their cabin is next to theirs. My players seemed amused by the "half-orc in a suit" and the antics of his children.
Halfway through the first day on the train, more passengers board. All of the players were instantly intrigued by Elanor's veiled companion. They each tried to get the enchantress to reveal more about Isobel, but she remained tight-lipped. Will even tried to feign drunkenness to get close and look behind Isobel's veil, but Elanor's Sense Motive check saw through his Bluff and she threatened to call the train guards, so he relented.
Olivert Boone came into the first-class lounge next and began to shamelessly flirt with Mariah, even though her "fiancee" was standing right next to her. Piotr, meanwhile, wandered through the second-class cabins and saw Verzubak scribbling in his notebook and fiddling with the dice in his pocket. Then he came to the dining car to see the commotion about the man who had choked on the nut. He reported back to Stefan, who, as a "doctor," was allowed to examine the dead man. He was told about the picture of Verzubak and the poisoned dagger and was able to determine that, yes, the man had apparently just choked on a nut.
When the train reached Cherag, the party split up to follow various leads. Mariah and Oliver chose to follow Elanor, while Will shadowed the Grientos. Stefan wanted to watch Verzubak, while Piotr stayed in the train just in case.
When the players made their characters, they made it a point to ensure that the whole party was very good at Stealth, so they were able to follow their targets without much issue. I cut between each group of PCs after each check they made to keep everybody interested. Mariah and Oliver followed Elanor all the way to the manor, and Oliver managed to get close enough to see her activities with her host. The players strongly suspect that Isobel is a female elf and that Elanor is trying to sell her, which has their characters both extremely angry. They are discussing ways to try to get her free without blowing their covers. Will intereceded on the Grientos' behalf when the drunken militiamen started bullying them, beating up the men and letting the half-orcs get away without injuries. This has Damata hoping he may have found a friend.
Stefan followed Verzubak to the bar, where he noted both Boone and Bree's presence. After the dwarf's toast, he let Boone leave without comment, but when Bree got up to leave, he tried to start a conversation with her. She brushed him off and left, but he decided to follow her instead of keeping eyes on the dwarf. Boone bumped into him as he passed his alley and distracted him a bit, but he rolled really high on his skill checks (he was using his alchemist extracts to increase them), so he was able to shadow Bree's carriage all the way to the Sovereign's mansion. He knows that she must be involved in something big.
Since Piotr stayed at the train, I had him witness the guards chasing Mister Mapple and his escape from them. It made him feel like his decision to stay behind wasn't wasted, as he got some information that the other PCs would not have.
We ended the session after that. Piotr's player expressed some concern that his PC isn't really well suited for this adventure, since his druid is not designed for social interaction and intrigue. I assured him that there would be some places where his PC might shine later on, but he has already expressed in the past that he thinks druid as a whole is a lackluster choice for this adventure path, so he may be making a new character before next time. Other than that, everybody had a great time. The players are really enjoying interacting with the NPCs and discovering just exactly what they are up to, and I believe it's only going to get more interesting as the rest of the NPCs board the train along the way.
My advice to GMs running this adventure is to make sure you have a good grasp on the personalities and motives of all of the NPCs. There are quite a bit of them and it may be hard to make the distinct from one another while roleplaying them, but if you put in the effort to really make them come to life, the players will respond and become more invested in the game. One of my players commented that the NPCs in Zeitgeist feel like actual people instead of the generic bad guys that populate some of the other adventures I've run for them. Part of the kudos goes to the writers for developing complex personas, but much of the onus falls on the GM to interpret the written word during actual play.
Unfortunately, we don't play again for another three weeks, but my players and I are all chomping at the bit to continue this excellent campaign!
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