ZEITGEIST 5E Character Backgrounds and the Overall Plot

So, pending the arrival of 5E Island at the Axis of the World, I've been introducing my players to the world of Zeitgeist and having them make characters.

One of them will be a Heid Eschatol Sorcerer (white dragon blood), who's a little bit crazy -- she was technically a serial killer before the RHC brought her in, but since she was exclusively killing Komanov cultists who had clear plans to do unpleasant things in Flint, they decided to recruit her.

And she took Hermit as a background, and would like its Discovery to be something about "the Dwarven Apocalypse."
FEATURE: DISCOVERY
The quiet seclusion of your extended hermitage gave you access to a unique and powerful discovery. The exact nature of this revelation depends on the nature of your seclusion. It might be a great truth about the cosmos, the deities, the powerful beings of the outer planes, or the forces of nature. It could be a site that no one else has ever seen. You might have uncovered a fact that has long been forgotten, or unearthed some relic of the past that could rewrite history. It might be information that would be damaging to the people who or consigned you to exile, and hence the reason for your return to society.
Work with your DM to determine the details of your discovery and its impact on the campaign.
Now, it's easy enough to write up a cryptic clue. Something like "The world isn't going to end in ice after all. Or fire, or flood, or anything anyone expects. The world is going to end in hubris. So. Much. Hubris."

The problem is that Features generally have some kind of beneficial game effect, and I'm at a loss as to what it could be...
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Perhaps some implicit understanding of the Sacrament of Apotheosis (if you get that far). Or a bonus when fighting against the avatars of hubris such as Nicodemus and the Voice of Rot (and maybe Governor Stanfield). It could even extend to Macbannin at the end of adventure 2; Lya at the end of adventures 4 & 6, depends on how early you want to see the benefit apply.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
Background traits always seemed to me to have a very low mechanical benefit compared to their narrative benefit. Honestly, I think the payoff of the cryptic clue that the world ends in hubris could be great on its own. There should be a real light bulb moment there for the player.
 

efreund

Explorer
The Zeitgeist campaign encourages investigation and RP. The Eschatologist theme especially is concerned with philosophy.

If you're comfortable with a new-school-style of blending RP with mechanics, consider the following:
Hubris will be the world's undoing, and you seek to understand its mysteries before it does. Your solemn quest is to expose others' hubris for what it is. If you can expose another's hubris (for example, in the pre-battle philosophy-slam-down; or perhaps as part of witty-repartee during the combat) you can remove one of that opponent's defenses. Err on the side of removing exotic "hubristic" defenses (e.g. fast healing, damage reduction, energy immunities, half-damage due to incorporeal, etc.), but if nothing applies, you can always drop AC by 3 or so. You can also use this to neuter particular exotic ("hubristic") attacks, but only in a narrow fashion: for example, MacBannon's curses may allow a save every round to undo.

What counts as exposing another's hubris? Well, that's super-subjective on your part. As GM, make sure to "lead the horse to water" on this one, and start off by throwing some softballs at the PC, so they understand how you intend to use the mechanic. Also, don't jump straight into combat, and give the PC a chance to talk. My recommendation is *not* to tie this to any die-roll (Diplomacy, Religion, etc.) and keep this purely in the realm of roleplay. Let them solve the RP!

Alternatively, if you're really daring and new-school, you can let the PC "assign" hubris to a NPC, by inventing a new narrative quality and having it stick. For example, let's say the PC is up against Sijhen, and the PC decides that Sijhen's hubris is that he thinks he can eat brains forever and never suffer for his gluttony. (I'm deliberately picking an example that isn't really supported by the written adventure (I know Sijhen is more pride/wrath than he is gluttony), because more often than not, your PC will come up with random stuff like this.) The PC can then spend his once-per-session (once-per-adventure?) ability and apply the "bloated on brains" attribute to Sijhen, which he [the PC] gets to make up the results (maybe DEX score -2, and -10 feet movement?). You'd have to have a lot of PC-GM trust to go this way.
 
Hmm. All good ideas.

gideonpepys' version could be summed up as "always has advantage against designated villains," which would be simple enough, but I am leaning towards efreund's first alternative. I think I'd have to pass it by another of my players, who's a mathematician and better at working these things out than I, who would rather use a calculator than manually add two three-digit numbers. :blush:
 
A separate background question for RangerWickett: The 5e guide doesn't mention backgrounds giving boosts to Prestige, like Vekeshi and the Unseen Court. Is this a deliberate change?
 
It was mostly just because only a few character themes got prestige boosts, and I didn't want to worry about 'balancing' the ones that did with the ones that didn't.
 

SanjMerchant

Explorer
Background traits always seemed to me to have a very low mechanical benefit compared to their narrative benefit. Honestly, I think the payoff of the cryptic clue that the world ends in hubris could be great on its own. There should be a real light bulb moment there for the player.
Sort of torn here: on the one hand, I agree with Tormyr broadly that Background Features are designed to help with narrative and downtime elements (eg Acolyte or Folk Hero mean you never have to worry about lifestyle expenses; Sage and Criminal give you free access to plot hooks). On the other hand, the official converstion on en5ider makes the canon backgrounds more powerful, being much more closely equivalent to feats.

If you do with the former, an alternative to the hubris thing (which is very good) might be that they're among the first to realize that the future (as foretold via skyseeing) appears to end rather abruptly rather soon. Perhaps worded such that they can't be sure if it's a sign that the future stops or just the ability to read it stops functioning, but that might also give them a hint as to the Shape of Things to Come that will hopefully have that "Aha!" moment when they start realizing that the plot revolves around an attempt to fill said blank space.

Not sure how this would translate into the background-as-bonus-feat thing the official conversion does, though.
 

Tormyr

Adventurer
Sort of torn here: on the one hand, I agree with Tormyr broadly that Background Features are designed to help with narrative and downtime elements (eg Acolyte or Folk Hero mean you never have to worry about lifestyle expenses; Sage and Criminal give you free access to plot hooks). On the other hand, the official converstion on en5ider makes the canon backgrounds more powerful, being much more closely equivalent to feats.

If you do with the former, an alternative to the hubris thing (which is very good) might be that they're among the first to realize that the future (as foretold via skyseeing) appears to end rather abruptly rather soon. Perhaps worded such that they can't be sure if it's a sign that the future stops or just the ability to read it stops functioning, but that might also give them a hint as to the Shape of Things to Come that will hopefully have that "Aha!" moment when they start realizing that the plot revolves around an attempt to fill said blank space.

Not sure how this would translate into the background-as-bonus-feat thing the official conversion does, though.
The options in the En5ider conversion have been labelled as themes rather than backgrounds. A CP gets one of them in addition to their chosen background. So the player is not choosing the hermit instead of eschatologist (or another theme) but in addition to it. So the hermit feature can still be more focused on role play than mechanics.
 

SanjMerchant

Explorer
The options in the En5ider conversion have been labelled as themes rather than backgrounds. A CP gets one of them in addition to their chosen background. So the player is not choosing the hermit instead of eschatologist (or another theme) but in addition to it. So the hermit feature can still be more focused on role play than mechanics.
Heh, I did get around to re-reading the campaign guide and realized I had indeed forgotten that the character themes/bonus feats were in addition to, rather than instead of, the normal backgrounds. So... that's a thing to remember when reading my previous post, I guess.
 

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