ZEITGEIST Campaign Journal of a Parallel World


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I have recently undertaken a derivative of the superb (to read, so far) Zeitgeist campaign. Given the strong following of this AP, I am pretty sure it will be a blast to play as well.

I am blessed with players who will undoubtedly derail the campaign at some point, but it is expected: the stakes of the Zeitgeist campaign ending are fitting for an epic-level group, and high-powered D&D players have capabilities that make planning a lot more difficult. We are speaking of a group who spend a substantial part of an evening experimenting with the demiplane spell to try and understand whether the demiplane was losing thermal energy over time... [and having a blast doing so]. Having however just set up a game with a "police station in Sharn" pitch, I felt I needded to port over the plot over to Eberron. I intend to do many name switches and give nod to the setting, but I'll try to stay as true to Zeitgeist as possible. The Malice and the Mourning are fundamentally different events, but with the cause of the Mourning left untold, merging them should be possible. I feel I made enough preparations to reuse most of the plotlines ; if anyone already attempted it and ran the campaign to its end, I'd be delighted to read about their experience.

We're 6 sessions into the game and still on the Axis Island, as I took a hint from other threads and started with a "session 0" retracing player recruitment into the RHC and bonding together. With part of the group rooting for the Duchess already, I guess I'll have to plan for anything...

Over the time, I'll use this thread to post about the progress of the group and the difficulties/peculiarities of this porting, should it gather interest among the readers.

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In 2010 I also ran a Sharn cops game, and I've played a few short campaigns in Eberron, so I'm curious whether you've got some analogues in mind between Z and E.

Where are the PCs based? Is there a 'Cauldron Hill' in Sharn? Are there fey filling a role comparable to the Unseen Court? Is Elfaivar the same as Xen'drik, or Aerenal? Are the Gidim going to be Quori?

Any specific things you need help with?


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
In 2010 I also ran a Sharn cops game, and I've played a few short campaigns in Eberron, so I'm curious whether you've got some analogues in mind between Z and E.

As Adslahnit pointed out, it will be a daunting task to integrate thing as best as possible and I might have to alter many details.

I think that Risur is a slightly darker setting than Eberron, so I spent a part of session 0 emphasizing some "dystopian" aspects of Eberron. My goal in session 0 was to endear the players with the characters in their Sharn Watch station and characters, so they will feel heightened stakes when it will risk being blown up in adventure #3. So I gave them opportunities to interact with several NPC and get into their Watchmen characters (arrest, don't kill...) and introduced some themes: sending them on a chase after Gale, having to deal with factory worker protesting against Warforged competition for jobs, using and establishing contact with the less savory times through informants... I'll be able to leverage this later. Basically, my goal in the "atmosphere-setting sessions" was to present the themes of Zeitgeist and mesh them into lower-stake adventures before engaging the main storyline. It will also fuel the audit by adding opportunity for successes and failure.

With regards to analogs, I set them in Breland, with Flint being Sharn and Wroat as Slate, as that's the default assumption. Finding countries with which Breland was at war was easy... but we need Danorans identified, and it's an odder choice that came to mind: Zilargo. Zil are Breland's neighbour, they are industrious, are pioneering elemental-binding technology (so the idea of a technological advance from Danor can be maintained, especially since gnomes are highly-sought inventors). Plus, they have a tradition for trying to preserve neutrality, and that would be a good hotbed from the Obscurati plan to hatch: neutrality will be preserved if everyone think alike for the greater common good. Plus, the plan involve experimenting with quite-unknown tech... Something that would attract the Zil... The Axis seal is obviously a creation of the Gatekeeper druids. The planes obviously need mapping and adapting -- I have idea but I am still ironing the details out, even if I have ample time before that -- and hoping to keep the player interested until it the crux of the campaign.

Where are the PCs based? Is there a 'Cauldron Hill' in Sharn? Are there fey filling a role comparable to the Unseen Court? Is Elfaivar the same as Xen'drik, or Aerenal? Are the Gidim going to be Quori?

Cauldron Hill will be in the City of the Dead, a burial place for the very wealthy outside the city. It would fit the bill. Obviously, it's less high in altitude than the mile-high Skyway, but let's say that stargazing need to have your feet firmly in the ground to make meaningful predictions as you're connecting the Sky and Eberron... It's not too far-fetched. The fey have connection to the secular powers of Khorvaire, with Thelanis being a plane very close to the material plane. Eberron cosmology allow for varying plane influence, so the "old ways" dying in the city would be the result of Thelanis being remote from some time, and their renewed influence by a recent change in closeness, becoming coterminous with the whole Breland. It can work. Gidim will be Daelkyr. I need to compress the timeline somewhat to have the Great Malice being the Mourning... The whole "country-destroying cataclysmic event" must be reused :)


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Episode 1.1 went well. My players seemed to be digging the start of the adventure. They took upon them to improve the royal welcome since they were tasked to ensure everything went well. So they scoured the city bribing people to sing the national anthem and shout praise to the king, hoping to drown any protest in case they missed protesters... Knowing of many orphans after the Last War, PCs tried to use the Prestige system to request funding and "buy" the attendance of a whole orphanage. I had them visit the Gallo school for boys (OK, there is already a lot of foreshadowing in the campaign but since the PC wanted to spend more time on orphans than protesters...) They apparently struggled to find ideas to fuel the skill challenge, though, after all this creative impetus. The one player to arrest a would-be protester was also the PC who had taken a staunch pro-establishment stance in former interactions with dockers, so... a brawl was in order. Both combattants fell in the water (I know fumbles are no longer a thing in 5e but sometimes it's too good to pass up when you see strings of 1s) and another PC jumped to rescue the docker first, the RHC fellow second. So basically Thames Grimsley saw him as a "good guy". Not exactly as planned, but fun. On the Coaltongue, the PC focussed on their police duty and avoided engaging the higher ups. It was a bit disappointed as a matter of roleplaying but expected given their lower station. The chase went well, the fighting was fun and the countdown tense. Except in the aftermath, half of the party started rooting for Ethelyn, thinking she's a misguided ruler with good intentions (there are several players who came up with several pro-fey background... so they don't view the development of new techs as a good thing... I had to make the Coaltongue an elemental vessel, fitting with the Eberonnian premise, and a part of the PCs started discussing the morality of elemental binding and slavery... What did I do?

All in all, a good adventure.


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Episodes 1.2 and 1.3 went well over the last few sessions. The PCs enjoyed the trip on the ship and the interactions went well. I almost felt sorry of killing the team of infiltrators off, because I felt the players had grown attached to them. The players dig the prestige system for requisitionning material (I feared they'd want their own gear) and used it to get better meals during their cruise). But they needed to be in charge on Axis Island, so it was more or less mandatory. Playing in 5e, the (mild) grittiness of the system compared to PF and 4e is showing, but the players are quick to improvise (Mold Earth cantrip can't cause damage, but what about weakening the pillars supporting the platform Dupier is standing on? and so on... I let the players go with creative use of their powers to emulate the heroical feel). The Axis Island countryside had to be developped more as, despite the time pressure, the players wanted to explore it all and find local forces to rally. They only remembered the risk of the fleet attacking without the signal in the last moment. Trying to get to the lighthouse included interesting, unplanned moments as the most sound plan they devised was trying to turn a superior officer to their cause, thinking the rank-and-file hadn't been informed by the Duchess of her betrayal and were still thinking they'd be doing the will of the King. It could have worked if they had actually bothered to take prisonners and not slaughtered their way wholesale. So they fell back on another plan: taking the powder magazine, thinking the Axis Fortress should have SOME cannons and at least some firedust somewhere, to storm the lighthouse. They used it with great effect to stall the advance of the rebel forces. Due to the group being extremely low on resources (even if the royal fleet heals them, it can't replace a long rest, so they were wary of intervening against the Fey leader... I had to entice them a little and removed part of the encounter, notably the maze. I am thinking this part in 5e is a little too taxing on the PC's resources, but it could be because they had more encounters than planning within the fortress.

Still proceeding well... Fingers crossed! (not because I don't trust the AP, I don't trust myself as a GM to do it justice...)


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Back for the first two sessions of the Dying Skyseer, and a few observations.

Wow... When preparing the adventure, I read it and "got my mind" into the logic of the steps needed to pick up the lead. The presentation of the three "threads" was quite logical and convincing. Then, the plan met my players. They decided to investigate like the layer of an onion: "let's do one minuscule step of investigation toward track 1 (say, following the track of the doctor) then... when they discover where he was a guest, they stop following that lead and investigate another track completely (let's locate the known accomplice and discuss the problem with them)... then... "ok we could probably bargain with them for information... let's get back to that first track). It's either methodical (they take great care of noting each and every lead they have) but it's totally jumping all over the place. I am feeling they'll soon, after two sessions of not fighting, have a session where they will have to deal with the extraction of the doctor, the meeting at the dock and the cauldron hill night in a row. Preparing the adventure made me able to "jump" all the way, but this episode needs a lot of knowledge of every scene if you don't want to "force" your players down a specific path. That, and they decided their income was not enough as officers and decided to invest in buying an inn. I will probably have the owner of the Thinking Man be willing to retire at some point. I made only a small mistake so far: when they investigate the body, I described something wrong and the players deducted she was dead before falling on the spike, killed by bullets. Not something of importance except the doctor couldn't have spoken to her. I'll make the doctor a Spirit Medium who heard Nisala's post mortem plea instead. It fits with the Dr field of research to have him interested in all things dead after all.

Some notes with regard to the adventure...
1. I think having a spirit medium can tremendously change the immediate beginning of the investigation. The party had one, but the player was missing on that day so they didn't have the benefits of hearing her. Maybe it was why the players didn't "priorize" their investigation at the consulate?
2. The favour system seems... off. The players seem to dig it (as they realize they won't be buying equipment anytime soon, they are trying to leverage the favour system, and treat each morning as a session with Q from James Bond. Problem is... I am not sure the 5e system is balanced. You can have some very high result even with starting characters which make even big favour possible too early. For example, Prestige 2 characters with the RHC, the PCs can expect to have 2 common items each and 2 uncommon to share among the group. Nice. But... suppose they decide, suddenly, to requisition a Legendary item, a level 7 for the group, they would need a DC 8 + 2* level of the favor (7) = 22. This is high, but :

1. CHA 18 is a starting possibility, so +4
2. Persuasion training means adding proficiency, +2 at this point, +3 when they are level 5
3. As an investigative party, my players didn't optimize for combat. However, the party face has Expertise in Persuasion, so the proficiency bonus is doubled, for +8 and soon +10
4. They can cast guidance for an additional d4 (may the gods help you in filling requisition form 24B)
5. They have not yet but will pick up the idea of casting Eagle Splendor to roll with an advantage...
(6. At some point, the party skyseer will roll a 20 and instead of saving it for an ally's attack roll he will say "today is the day when the RHC's coffers are fated to open for us, as the stars are aligned to ensure our administrative success").

That's a regular +9/+13 to meet a DC 22, even without the dice shenanigans. The PCs could get a legendary item with a month of downtime (if they roll to expedite), starting at adventure 3 and get one in a day during adventure 4 (when they are probably at Prestige 3 with Risur). No sane DM would allow that, though. During the Dying Skyseer, on the other hand, they could semi-reliably get a "raise dead" spell cast for them (a level 5 favor) if things go ugly (agreeable) or routinely enlist the help of 100-men companies of Risuran soldiers... (less agreeable). The bard has requested a cittern of Mc Fuirmidh, and it's currently awaiting delivery... I'll make sure the delay will be explained to him as the delay needed to "convince" citizen Mc Fuirmidh to part with his precious masterwork item, the joy of his life... but it will just me being mean, despite the request being totally in-line with what they can have (uncommon should be in their reach by RAW). So caveat emptor with the magic item distribution. So far, no brokenness ensued in the game, though. The party is only calling favour to improve the meal quality at the staff canteen (that's when I noticed the high roll they could consistently get), and that is not bound to throw the game off balance.

3. It can be definitely combat light at the start. It's not a problem, though... but restless players could get into a brawl or two more. The module correctly aknowledges that and I tried to "insert" a fight at some point, but very few opportunity arise organically for that. I fear they will try to be foolish when they meet Lorcan Kell as it might be the first opportunity to rough a ruffian or two they meet. I'll make sure I point out they are outnumbered by far...

Those are little quibble. Everyone is having fun so far.

Really, the requisition subsystems in the D&D 4e and Pathfinder 1e versions of the adventure path are sketchy enough, but the requisition subsystem in the D&D 5e version is especially dodgy, because it implements a magic item economy in a game that never committed to a magic item economy in the first place.

As you point out, the DC to requisition a legendary item is essentially trivial.

Wolfgang von Recklinghausen does hail from Arrovia, a Malice city-state wherein the use of ensouled witchoil is seemingly legal, so I suspect that various people in Arrovia would develop spirit medium powers from being exposed to so many incinerated souls.

One hook that the adventure path never really capitalizes on is that "As the dwarven writings of Heid Eschatol became popular in his homeland, Wolfgang became convinced this focus on death was short-sighted in a world where resurrection was a known—if exceedingly rare—occurrence. After years of intense study and experimentation, his marriage in tatters and his fortune nearly depleted, Wolfgang finally achieved his goal of combining medical knowledge with sorcery in order to restore a corpse to life," but this is never seen. Andrei von Recklinghausen is something else entirely, more akin to Frankenstein's monster, a flesh golem, a Chronicles of Darkness Promethean, or a D&D 4e blaspheme, rather than a corpse restored to life.


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
On the magic item economy, Xanatars GtE offers some rules on what to expect over the course of campaign. However, it supposes that magic items are randomly rolled, as there are a lot of reference to the use of the hoard tables. Hence, most of the 100ish magic items a party is expected to get over the course of a 1-20 campaign is bound not to be optimized, and there is a big loss of time/money expected when selling magic item for another one. The requisition system allows players to get the tool of the job, so it's infinitely more powerful. I am not sure I will find the perfect system, but if the campaign goes to its intended conclusion I'd like the PC in the 4th tier to be able to pack some punch (to lessen the "grittier" feel of 5e, magic items can take them to the upper hand of the bounded accuracy...)

XGtE estimates that a group (of typical size...) will get 75 "minor items" and 25 "major" items over the course of the play, with minor items being mostly scrolls, potions and limited charges items, or utility/flavor items. I am considering allowing the requisition rules to acquire only minor items, as it makes sense for an established law enforcement office to have alchimists on its payroll. But major items, I'd be tempted to complicate things, at least to have the players work for it a little more and not imbalance the game too much (I can always reinforce the opposition but that's more work, and I expect I'll have to do that anyway). Or I could make major items a favour of the Fey (or the Obscurati... Given their goal, which I find fitting for a subgroup of the Aurum, I fully intend to have all the powerful figures of the Ob to be members of this philanthropic club, but not taking it over [and not be the Shadow Cabinet itself, just a splinter group) to increase their appeal and bargaining capacity. At this point, I am not sure what the player will think of the grand design (they could go all-Ob, but I think they will identify them as villain and refrain from that)... but right now, most of the group is loyal, with one player openly rooting for the old ways and another who finds himself duchess-compatible. This is definitely something I want to use, at least in a side adventure. Having the fey tempting characters with magic items would help their cause.


Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Sessions 3 and 4 of the dying skyseer went well, with the group still trying their unusual methodological detective work of jumping from one thread to another. Their main achievement so far was to get their hands on Recklinghausen and his documents, after interrogating his coworkers thoroughly and convincing Kindleton. Since she's a bad liar, they followed the Professor extremely closely (the caster-heavy party is fond of using the Invisibility, which in 3.5 it was like 1 round by level IIRC, so it was of limited use in an investigation game, in 5e it's Concentration up to one hour, still low level (so can be recast) and can be metamagicked to last even longer...), noticed her meeting with the messenger and were ready to arrest her. So I had the Kell guild goons try to kidnap her just in time for the party to foil their attempt and earn her trust. After the Nettles Church episode, they had a thorough investigation of the ledgers and are now convinced McBannin is up to no good even before meeting him. Stover Delft stepped in to say he won't arrest a rising and influential politician with little proof as the ledgers could be a fabrication and unearthing the business transactions through an official inquiry would take weeks. And yes, a bard-improved use of the requisition system allowed them to expedite the requisition of highly experienced accountants to get the information they needed as soon as humanly possible.

The group is taking their "law enforcement officer" role extremely seriously, despite some hints that their organisation isn't a parangon of virtue (I tried to convey the message when they were interacting with their coworker at the headquarters). I did that because when preparing the adventure, I thought several interactions (with Cippiano, with Nisala's accomplices...) would be more interesting to play if the party was morally split between making deals and respecting the Law. So far, the behaviour of my group would shame a Paladin...

Despite wanting to blow up the Estuarial Reformatory (in order to make them even consider making a deal, I made the reformatory even bleaker), half of the party flat-out refused to make any deal to improve their detention conditions. After much debate, they accepted to transfer them and used their influence to send them to a high security prison in order to make sure their don't escape. They are now on their route to stop the wand smugglers, and I am pretty sure they will arrest Cippiano if he even tries to suggest an arrangement.

I will have to go off-script with the whole dying skyseer episode, because, from their decisions and discussions so far, they consider Gale to be their BBEG and I fear they would simply arrest Sechim and extract information on how to contact Gale instead of making a deal with someone they perceive as in league with the BBEG. I'll have to be prepared for that, at least. Especially if it involves using their official status to grant a priviledge to get in a restricted area (if it's restricted by the Law, it's obviously for good reason!). They don't have yet had the time to act on the information Heward gave them, but they will probably as soon as they stop the wand smugglers (we ended the session with them going to the wharf). I know they could totally skip the Cauldron Hill episode, but severing both Gale and the Skyseer thread would be much. Not that I couldn't roll with it if need be, but they'd need a way to get information on the conspiracy...

The players are totally digging the campaign so far, and I wouldn't want to spoil their fun by having Stover Delft step in with explicit instructions on how to handle the next step, of course. (They could accept railroad since they are in a hierarchical organization, but as adventure 4 is taking place on an actual railroad, I am reluctant on any move reducing player's agency until then...)

I would just like to point out the sheer zaniness of replacing Danor with Zilargo. Does this mean that Han, Lya, Luc, and friends are all pudgy manlets? Is Aodhan/Boranel marrying a gnome? What becomes of Tinker Oddcog?

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