ZEITGEIST Death of an Author during Gears of Revolution

MarkM

Explorer
The new setting book came out, so I know that lots of Zeitgeist fans are ready to dig into the new era. For those still in the past (like me)...

Our party has finished Crypta Hereticarum and Always on Time and are eagerly awaiting Cauldron Born to come out for Roll20. For those who haven't run the whole Gears of Revolution path yet but who can't wait to run the amazing Death of the Author adventure, it can fit nicely into Gears with only minimal changes.

In our campaign, a constable witnessed Cardiff selling secrets to Ulrik Pevedin, but was on her own and unable to apprehend either of them. The RHC has been investigating (offscreen), and is sending the newly-formed "B-Team" to follow up on a lead -- that Pevedin is linked to the Kuchnost crime syndicate and is sending an agent to Endswile Island to sell the Danoran millitary documents.

Easy changes to adapt Death of the Author --
1. The item for sale is Danoran documents, not spaceship plans
2. The last name of the family who owned the manor house has been changed to avoid giving away too much too early; the scientist whose family formerly lived in the manor is the uncle of the doctor who appears in Gears (he found his uncle's writings and used that research to conduct his own family project), but the party won't know that for a quite a while.
3. The host uses the younger-looking portrait and is an influential philosopher only, not a Chancellor; his dwarven bodyguard is Karlin Bolgar (already in the adventure) who has a different rifle

There are some other minor changes, most easy to do on the fly. The timeline before the adventure is a little different, Delkovich has secret connections to the radical branch of eschatologists (in order to undermine his rival), etc., but for me it all seems to fit very well. It gives the players a chance to create their "B-team" characters and introduces them before Cauldron, and provides a perfect opportunity for Heid to discover and send warning about the chance of a radical eschatologist plot.
 

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That's a neat idea.

There's a bit of NPC backstory that might need some tweaking. Budwati could just be the child of some other matriarch who is on the run after joining with the Harimau (and this would showcase the Harimau elves a bit long before the party meets them again in adventure 8). Julius could be a more generic pious spy, since the Ottoplismists don't exist yet. Or he might be with the Family. And Nargio could still have been involved in some sort of military disaster, perhaps one that involved a Vekeshi mystic, to keep him angry at elves.

A bit of script rewrites could make it all work, yeah.
 

MarkM

Explorer
Thanks, Ryan. My plan was mostly as you suggested -- Budwati's story stays essentially the same but her mom is the leader of a band of generic elven terrorists/freedom-fighters who make guerrilla attacks on the colonies to try to drive foreigners from their ancestral lands. Since Ber hasn't been in a war for a while, Nargio isn't a veteran. Instead, in my version he was the curator for the Ber wing of an "Indigenous and Primitive Peoples" museum in Tropaeum. The band led by Budwati's mother hit the museum (offended by the portrayal of elves); Nargio was the sole survivor and became a local hero for protecting his wing of the museum (Delcovich later accuses him of just hiding until the rebels left). Julius was going to be a pious spy (helping the Church prepare for possible future conflict with the Godless Danorans), but the Family is an interesting idea... have to thing about that one.

If anyone sees any other holes, ways I might inadvertently spoil a future reveal, or have other ideas, I appreciate the feedback!
 

Well, if the VIP dies, you'd need to think of someone else sympathetic to take his role in later adventures. Heck, maybe Kvarti finds his calling in carrying on eschatology.
 

MarkM

Explorer
Yike. Dead VIP would not be good at all! Maybe the dwarves of Drakr have invented bulletproof vests... I think that's how it works in movies -- the key character "dies," then once the fighting is over they sit up and pull the bullets out of the vest they'd secretly been wearing under their clothes. Of course, then my players will try to buy or steal one.
 



MarkM

Explorer
I've been busy and traveling a bit, but we're still working our way through DOTA each week. They defeated the monster and sealed the well last time, so are heading back upstairs to solve the murder (sans a couple of limbs). We will probably finish up tonight; maybe next week if they spend a lot of time searching the rest of the mansion and speaking with the NPCs before combat breaks out again. I'll give a better update soon!
 

MarkM

Explorer
We finished DOTA last week, so I'm a bit behind in my updates! With some modifications, it fit very nicely into Gears and allowed me to add depth to Drakr in general, the schism in the eschatology movement, malice beasts, and the mysterious briefcase of military plans from Always on Time.

Here is the script from the dinner party with my small adaptations. It's tricky to balance getting all the info with still allowing players to drive the conversation during and between "volleys," but seemed to go well. I had everyone roll their insight checks and tell me who they were closely observing at the end of the previous session, so wherever the "/w" bits are, those were whisper messages I prepared in advance to send via Roll20. This allowed me give insight into the various NPCs without stopping to type or telling the whole group, and I think gave players something to chew on during some of the monologuing.

DINNER PARTY

Volley 1

Maurice Sesto: “Please, feel free to partake and converse while waiting for the hosts to arrive.”

Julius Bellack: “I really hope none of the stuff we caught made it into this sausage.”

Budwati Nalit: (to Morrisey) “I’ve never been to a dinner like this outside Elfaivar. Can you help me understand the etiquette?”

/w Player1 You are carefully observing Budwati, and are pretty sure her confusion is exaggerated and that she understands local etiquette better than she is letting on

Volley 2

Marlot Chenne: (pointedly at Nargio, who is looking at the variety of forks skeptically) “Not used to dining with utensils?”

Pritchard Dunsmore: “Oh please, don’t antagonize the gnoll. Thanks to my country’s guiding example, his people have made great strides. A few generations ago they were gnawing on raw carrion, and now they are mostly quite civilized.”

With perfect dinner etiquette, but without making eye contact, Nargio picks up the salad fork and takes a bite of his salad.

Nargio Pina: “Many look down on the tradition of ‘blooding’ practiced by some tribes in my homeland. It is a ritual of adulthood that culminates in an adolescent using their teeth to kill an animal. What do you think it symbolizes, Blirt?” “Ciel?”

/w Player2 You notice that Julius didn’t appreciate Marlot and Pritchard mocking Nargio and his people, but he swallows his irritation and conceals it

Volley 3

The door from the kitchen opens and the cook Red comes in holding a tray with two bottles. She goes around offering either Crisillyiri red wine or Drakran vodka.

Budwati Nalit: “Anyone else excited to find out who called us here?”

Red Waltz: “I had some theories about that! I thought, what if they were necromancers looking to swap bodies with a group of young, fit folks? Or maybe, what if they were cannibals, and they wanted to have an international meat sampler? I had all sorts of fun ideas. I mean, this mansion is haunted, and all sorts of Malice varmints show up on the shores— what on account of the witchoil, I suppose—so I thought, what if for once we’d have some scary guests. But boo, it’s just a pair of boring dwarves who spent all morning talking.”

Pritchard: “Well whoever our hosts are, I thank them for their alcohol.” (turning and raising his glass of wine in the direction of Morrisey and Calypso) “Calypso, what shall we toast to?”

/w Player1 The moment Red mentions witchoil, Marlot starts to try to subtly get her attention like she wants a private chat.

Volley 4

Maurice clears his throat, then snaps to attention. Trilosa smiles and moves to stand in the southwest corner where she can cover the southern doors and has a clear view of all of the windows. Karlin moves nearer to the door, standing guard. He’s the only person in the room who’s armed: a pistol at his hip and a rifle on a shoulder strap behind his back.

Maurice Sesto: “I believe you have all met Karlin Bolgar, unsung veteran of several Drakran special military operations in the frozen north, expert marksman, all around a brave and loyal, ah, he’s a soldier. And for the preacher, who I believe has not yet had the pleasure, allow me to introduce wizardress Trilosa Nedelle, a native daughter of nearby Arrovia, who studied in arcane residency with the mages of Nalaam, and who now serves as mystical bodyguard for figures of renown. Madam Nedelle, it is an honor to have you at the Friedrich Manor.”

Trilosa Nedelle: “Thank you everyone. I’m sure you’ve been curious about what tonight will look like, and about your hosts.” (addresses Phylo) “First, as I am here to ensure their safety, could you tell me who in this group is capable of spellcasting?”

/w Player2 Red flinches at Maurice’s cough, then slinks away, clearly afraid of the deva.

/w Player3 Maurice caught himself during his introduction of Karlin as his level of knowledge of Karlin’s history suggested familiarity, but for some reason they are pretending not to know each other.


Tableau 1

Trilosa: “Thank you. Now, a quick lesson first on etiquette. These are two distinguished philosophers whose ideologies are shaping the future of Drakr and the world. I’m sure you have questions, but I encourage you: until they finish their opening remarks, silence is golden.”

Julius: (laughing) “‘Silence is golden?’ Then the dead must be very rich!”

Pritchard: “I wish you’d learn some manners.”

Trilosa: “And I wish to remind you that if you interrupt, I can transmute your tongue into a toad. And now your hosts: noted philosopher Jaromir Delkovich, and the father of Eschatology, Vlendam Heid.”

Into the room walk two dwarves—the first holds a cigar and has a beard in the modern speartip style, while the second wears thick spectacles and a classical bushy beard without any decorative plaiting or adornments.

/w Player4 Pritchard does not appear surprised to learn that Heid and Delkovich are the hosts.

/w Player5 You don’t think Trilosa is bluffing about the toad thing; she really wants an excuse to cast that spell.


Tableau 2

When Heid speaks, he’s upbeat and oratorical. His accent is much lighter than the first dwarf Karlin.

Vlendam Heid: “Good evening everyone. With me is Jaromir Delkovich, scholar of the mind and originator of ‘Delkovich Nihisol,’ a philosophy of solipsistic nihilism. I’m Vlendam Heid, and I popularized an ideology called ‘Heid Eschatol,’ or simply: eschatology. “The details can wait until after dinner, but in brief, we invited you here because he and I have an intractable philosophical disagreement, and we hoped fresh opinions might help us get beyond our impasse. If we cannot find a path forward, I’m afraid my country of Drakr is in danger of being divided in a way that will weaken us as a nation.

“Heid Eschatol seeks to ensure people take a long view of life’s affairs, to make sure we have good endings. After a century marked by foreign wars and domestic strife, a lot of the people thought my ideas helped them survive that dark time. To my immense surprise and honor, my book became the most published work on the continent. “And now, two decades later, you know, times change. New ideas resonate. And I want to make sure that when my time ends, it ends well.”

/w Player3 Jaromir Delkovich looks surprised to see the PCs, and spends the first part of Heid’s speech glancing around the room like he’s looking for an ambush, though his expression is more annoyed than fearful.

Jaromir quietly scoffs. His voice is far more gravelly, his tone alternately intense and smug.

Jaromir Delkovich: “Yes, all’s well that ends well. “I imagine you hardly care, but my philosophy is that people must doubt what they believe, even doubt reality itself. We should focus inward, understand ourselves, and only then can we act with purpose. All the naughty word other philosophers talk about is pointless. Heid just doesn’t like that people are questioning his views.”

The bodyguard Karlin interrupts.

Karlin: “He is also concerned that your nihilists encourage radical eschatologists to assassinate directors of government bureaus. If you are so unsure anything exists,” at this point he pulls out his pistol and aims it at Delkovich’s knee, “perhaps you will not mind me pulling trigger. Perhaps bullets do not exist. How ever can we know?”

Heid: (annoyed) “Karlin! Please, put that thing away. I’m sorry, Jaromir. Did you have more?”

Jaromir: “Not much. Your hired gun makes my point: everyone sees the world differently. There is no objective truth, and when confronted with something that would challenge us, we lash out. If we do not understand our own mind, we are slaves to our desires.”

Julius: “I’m a slave to my desire for food. I don’t think well if I’m hungry.”

Heid chuckles and moves to sit down, graciously gesturing for Jaromir to take a seat first. Karlin remains on guard by the door, but Trilosa moves back to her seat and gives Julius a glare as if to say “you are being rude.”

The Second Course

Red brings out the second course of dinner: schnitzel (thin slices of fried axebeak, a sort of large emu native to the Malice Lands) with mustard, grape tomatoes, and pickled red cabbage.

Heid asks what brings the party here, and asks whether they are attracted more to his Heid Eschatol, or to Delkovich Nihisol, or if they ascribe to some other philosophy.


(philosophy talk; Budwati exchange; see adventure)

Pritchard’s Prophecy

Pritchard: “What a charming insult, to call someone a dragon. Powerful. Feared. In skyseer lore, dragons were often associated with the planet Jiese, which influences industry and war.” He clears his throat and stands. Thunder rumbles outside. Pritchard: “Seeing this international gathering, I am reminded of a vision I had. Nay, not merely a vision, but an urgent warning for the peoples of the world. We talk of freedom, but whatever free will we might think we have, it is constrained by destiny and influenced by the stars. “Last night, when I lay gazing up at the heavens, in the movements of that celestial sphere I read a message as clear and as certain as if I flipped to the last page of a book to see the final line. “Mr. Heid, Mr. Delkovich, my fellow guests, if I may spoil the ending for you: war is coming. “

Of the assembled listeners, Budwati, Nargio, Red, and Julius are enthralled. Karlin, Heid, and Jaromir are attentive but seem skeptical. Trilosa is impatient, Maurice is watching the clock with boredom, and Marlot repeatedly rolls her eyes.

Pritchard:

I saw a dark figure standing atop a hill, and his shadow stretched across the vast city and into the sea. He sang with the shrieks of the dead as he sought his lost father.

I saw a noble woman trapped in a magical tower. When she is freed, she will take her rightful place as ruler of the righteous and those who have been blinded will see.

Souls are reborn in the flesh. I see the great nations of the world banding together to battle the forces of insidious evil

And finally, (he pauses briefly and his tone shifts slightly), I saw a tyrant and murderer languishing in prison. Twelve hooks pierced her feet, her legs, her thighs, her shoulders, her arms, and her hands… but the thirteenth hook that sealed her mouth swung loose and fluttered in the breeze as she whispered a map that led to everywhere under the stars.

At this point, Marlot snorts in amusement. Marlot: Well, these parlor games…

Just then, red light flashes through the window, and a moment later there is an eruption of sound louder than thunder. Looking outside, an explosion at the dock rises like a pillar of fire to the heavens. *

/w Player3 Nargio looks stunned by the explosion. His body language suggests that the explosion triggered a traumatic memory, causing him to dissociate.
 

MarkM

Explorer
After the explosion at dinner, the party scattered. A couple of them went to check on the explosion, and others went searching for clues or stayed with PCs in the manor. After the two at the dock saw the lights and returned, they went upstairs and discovered the murder. After investigating the crime scene, they discovered the basement. Three of the NPCs, with whom they had made close connections, came to help.

The dungeon crawl in the middle of a murder mystery was a nice surprise for the players. The final battle in the basement was pretty epic, and by the time they arrived there the players had enough clues to have essentially put together the whole story of the manor. (I set the historical events in 475-480 AOV, and in my version it was the Baron von Friedrich and his wife who lost their son; unknown to the players, the baron's young nephew and heir came and found the basement after the tragic deaths of the family. He studied his uncle's research and believed he could improve on it.)

Be aware that the encounters as written can be brutal. One player had a hand pulped by the trap on the secret door, and then two players lost the use of an arm -- one dislocated and useless without healing and the other ripped right off -- during the end battle in the dungeon. For us, these are side characters who won't be used a lot, but if you're DMing the beginning of a campaign you may want to alter the res-mors to do less permanent damage. Alternatively, with all the stuff around, there could be a way to medically reattach lost limbs. I threw that in at the end (after the player with a lost arm was very grumpy about it), but then they rolled very low on the medicine check I'd called for, so the surgery didn't work.

After that they headed back upstairs. They decided that no one would be left alone, so everyone divided into pairs to continue the investigation -- each PC chose one NPC to try to connect with and/or pump for information as they split up and searched different parts of the house for clues.
 


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