Gears of Revolution: Notes on my campaign


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- My players stay out -

This thread is for behind-the-scenes notes and discussion on my Zeitgeist campaign. As such it will contain spoilers.

[Reserved for update information]

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First Post
My group is hoping to kick off its Zeitgeist campaign this weekend. I was one of the lucky few to see Island at the Axis of the World before its official publication date, but I have refused all attempts to persuade me to run it early or reveal its contents :D

Instead we plan to kick things off with a background and prequel session to get the PCs and the group bedded down.

The purpose for the session for me is to:
  1. Crash-test the MapTool framework that we're going to be using for the campaign to make sure that it works.
  2. Lay down some of the themes that lie at the heart of the AP so that there's no confusion among the group.
I'm planning on running an ad-lib session where I extract background information from the players by using a question and answer format. Hopefully, their off-the-cuff responses will make the party a little more cohesive when the formal campaign starts with Adventure 1.

I'm stealing this idea from DM Samuel's Ruboryn campaign, and his ad-lib session is available to download as a podcast here.

As the capstone of the session, I want to co-operatively create an investigation with my players, to give them a chance to think about how their PCs are going to solve mysteries and engage with the world. I currently want to put some focus on the politics of the setting (and thus the idea that not every bad guy can be gutted like a fish) and on the sort of threats that the RHC is called on to deal with (ie. supernatural, foreign or significant ones).

With that in mind, I'm currently leaning towards a crime at the Danoran consulate in Flint or a threat/assassination by the eladrin terrorist Gale.

If the former, the culprit will turn out to be a member of the Danoran staff and will have some form of diplomatic immunity. If the latter, Gale herself will get away, but the PCs will get to deal with some fey involvement and lay the groundwork for their future decisions on that issue.

I'm open to suggestions.


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Sounds pretty good. I like the idea of a prologue session to sort of kick the tires and knock the dust off.

Since this is a prologue, it might actually be one of the few times where I would recommend having the party not know each other before hand. In other words, this session could be the explanation of how they came together. If you go with the consulate example, the party could get caught up in the attack or as suspects, or with Gale they could be innocent bystanders in the attack who, being heroes, rush to protect others/defend themselves, etc.

I would also recommend having this session perhaps be about a year before the campaign so that by the time Adventure 1 rolls around, the party is now trusting of each other, etc. More I think about it the more I like it since the campaign has the default assumption that the party are all members of the RHC (which is a bit railroady though on a minor enough issue as to not be problematic).

Colmarr, you make me feel a bit uncreative, because for your prologue you picked two prominent elements in the 2nd adventure.

If you don't want stuff to get redundant (or contradictory), maybe involve a different country, or just not the Danoran consulate itself.


Colmarr, you make me feel a bit uncreative, because for your prologue you picked two prominent elements in the 2nd adventure.

I had to read this twice to make sure I understood. Colmarr hasn't seen the second adventure? And he picked the Danoran consulate and Gale to focus on?

Wow. That's a freaky coincidence! Having been through a play test of the plot of adventure two... how did you do that, Colmarr? Seriously, that adventure features both the Danoran consulate and Gale very, very prominently.


I had to read this twice to make sure I understood. Colmarr hasn't seen the second adventure? And he picked the Danoran consulate and Gale to focus on?

Wow. That's a freaky coincidence! Having been through a play test of the plot of adventure two... how did you do that, Colmarr? Seriously, that adventure features both the Danoran consulate and Gale very, very prominently.


Well, we only mention a couple dozen interesting 'things' in Flint. It's not that unlikely.


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Gale in particular seemed like a possibility based on the player's guide but no worries, I'm sure the adventure will prove to be plenty creative.

Frankly, to make the player's guide readable you can't list too many possibilities otherwise you'd be looking at a 100 page document that most players probably wouldn't want to read. Though some of us would absolute eat that sort of thing up.

The Danoran Consulate seems less obvious a choice from what I recall, but still, its not like there's dozens of consulates to choose from.


Yeah, I haven't finished reading the Player's Guide yet, so I hadn't realized that there were potential plot hooks described within it. That makes sense. Why would Ryan fill the Guide with useless information that never comes up? It's logical that the things mentioned in the Guide are likely to show up at some point in the adventure path.


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Colmarr, you make me feel uncreative.

Don't feel uncreative, feel "very good at foreshadowing".

I'm desperate to do something with the Ragman, because it's such a cool idea, but i went with Gale because it would be easier to have her escape convincingly.

You're right though. I don't want to be repetitive, so I might use a Drakran diplomat instead, who's dabbling with his country's historical penchant for fiends. It lets me focus on the diplomatic theme. It's not as strong on the fey theme, but that theme obviously become apparent pretty early in the AP.


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The best laid plans...

I'm short one PC for tonight's game (I have a full complement of players but one of them hasn't settled his character), so I probably won't be able to run a combat session tonight.

I'm still going to run with the ad lib session, and I'm still going to use a Drakran politician as the wrongdoer, but I think I'll go with necromancy as the crime rather than use devils or demons. I'm not 100% clear on the role of the lower planes in Zeitgeist* so I'll stick with something I know exists: undead :devil:

*Specifically (MAJOR SPOILERS), is the "demonocracy in the east" referred to in the section on Drakr still there? If so, how do they deal with the Axis Seal stopping access to the elemental chaos? If it's not there, does that mean the Axis Seal was put in place after Triogenes lead his crusade against the demonocracy? But above all, does the setting include demons and devils as opponents** or is the aim to avoid them?

** I know "it's my campaign" but I'm curious to know what the official position is. Always seek to know the rules before you break them!

To answer your spoiler,

[sblock]A variety of demons and other extraplanar entities were already on the world when the Axis Seal was put up (which occurred several thousand years ago). They were all scattered around.

1700 years ago, Kelland subdues the fey titans.

Some time over the next few centuries, a powerful demon/devil/other ambiguously defined bad entity managed to create a small empire of its own, recruiting other powerful supernatural entities. They ruled where Drakr and Crisillyir are today, but never got their claws into the land that is modern day Risur.

Maybe this big-bad entity had been hanging around since the seal was shut, or maybe some ancient heroes a long time ago had their own epic campaign, and went up against another group who managed to open the seal long enough to let a few things in. Either way, the seal mostly does its job, which is to keep the armies of the multiverse from using this world as a battlefield.

One thousand years ago, Triegenes leads battles against the demons and takes down their leadership. Triegenes sacrifices himself, the demonocracy collapses, and the Clergy takes over.[/sblock]

In the setting, the default assumption is that demons and devils and other extraplanar entities are just incredibly rare, because they cannot stick around. Some occult master might be able to summon one for a few minutes, and if a player really really really wants to be from another dimension, it's possible for there to be exceptions, but otherworldly entities are not power players. They're usually just visitors.


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Session 0
(Story Hour updated)

Session 0 went ahead as planned, and I even had a chance to put together that combat after all.

The ad lib session went incredibly well (by my reckoning), and we ended up with a very realistic-feeling group. I think the impromptu nature of the questions together with a willingness to circle around and review the answers results in some very surprising results.

For example, one PC (Erik, the thief) ended up being the oldest PC and the longest serving member of the RHC, so when I asked another player "Who is the leader of the group", she duly nominated Erik.

That single question then prompted two significant character insights - that Erik is too fatalistic after his Yerasol War service to want to be responsible for the lives of others, and that Willheim believes that his lifetimes of service with the RHC mean he should have been promoted to leadership of the group.

You'll see from the PC summaries in the story hour that each of the players voluntarily linked themselves to the others in one way or another. It was quite pleasing to see it happen, particularly given that we went into our last campaign with the cliched meeting in a tavern.

After the ad lib session, we handled the investigation. I told the players that they were investigating the disappearance of the citizens of Parity Lake, and I specifically told them that the culprit would turn out to be a dwarven necromancer and his undead minions. Then, one by one, I asked them to describe one stage of the investigation and how their PC was instrumental in that stage.

There were no skill checks in ths section. It was pure interractive storytelling; sort of like those stories where each author writes a paragraph before handing off to the next. The purpose of this segment was to stress that the PCs were investigators, and not just warriors. I wanted each player to think of how their PC would contribute to the investigations that will no doubt form a big part of the campaign. They didn't let me down.

After reaching the deserted mansion in which the necromancer was conducting his rituals, they moved in to investigate - soon realising that only one of the PCs (Willheim the monk) has a free hand to hold a light source! Tok's stats are yet to be finalised, so hopefully Tok's player takes that into consideration ;)

For the combat, I reskinned a Goblin Hexer as the Drakran necromancer and Poisonscale Brawlers as his advanced zombies (both from MV). I also threw in some decrepit skeletons to serves as distractions.

Unfortunately, I threw the skeletons at the PCs a round before the zombies and necromancers really engaged, and the result was predictable (ie. not many skeletons survived to see the second round). I must remember to use minions as the second wave in future. Chalk that up to a novice 4e DM.

When the combat was all but over, the necromancer pulled out his diplomatic papers and declared his immunity. For a second it looked like the players were going to ignore them, but then they did the "right thing" and took him in. Score one for setting conventions!

Things are looking good for session 1 in (fingers crossed, looking at you [MENTION=1]Morrus[/MENTION] and [MENTION=63]RangerWickett[/MENTION]) two weeks time.

So now that you've seen the Campaign Guide, Colmarr, what do you think? Any thoughts on things you'd like to see show up later? I mean, there aren't that many folks responding, so if you say that you really really want sharks in spike-filled acid pits, I might just oblige.


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To be honest, after what I've seen in the campaign guide I'm hesitant to suggest anything at all. What you've come up with already is 9000 ;) times beter than what I had imagined based on the early teasers about the AP.

The storyline revolving around Borne is top-notch, and I can't wait to see how my players react. Likewise with the revelation about 'succession' (hope that's clear enough without being a spoiler. I have some players who will have definite ideas about who I should be focusing on :)

I'm a little concerned about the fait accompli nature of the end of paragon tier, but I can easily see how undoing an event of that nature is 'epic'.

If there's one thing I really love about Island at the Axis of the World, it's that the scale of the adventure is so far above the sort of mundane goblin-hunt that i would have created for level 1. The end of tier storylines are suitably awesome as well and I think the only real writing challenge remaining for you is to make sure that the intervening adventures don't act as dampeners on the high points.

Oh, and like I've previously said, you better do something with the Ragman. or else :)


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Aye, to be honest, I'm a bit concerned about the end of paragon tier as well. Seems as though it could potentially come off a bit heavy handed. Perhaps if the adventures are structured such that the PCs have an opportunity to affect just "how bad" the end of the paragon tier event is that might be a bit better. Perhaps some sort of victory point system that allows the PCs to mitigate the damage some?

Other than that, from what I've read, I'm pretty impressed. I still need to read the synopsis of the epic tier adventures (had a full weekend off with the wife which never happens!), but all in all I am impressed.

About the only thing I might change is require a second feat to reduce the reload time on firearms (i.e. one that is separated from the expertise feat). I guess to me it just seems like a no brainer since Firearms Expertise allows a minor action reload (plus multi-shot powers). True, a minor action is not nothing, but most of the classes that are really going to benefit from frequent firearm use will usually be able to absorb the minor action cost. My ideal would be to have a system set up wherein firearms and bows are just as enticing -- even for rangers, etc. As it stands now, I don't see a ranged attack ranger NOT taking firearms as an example.

/shrug that's a minor quibble though and one that can easily be corrected. Plus, to be fair, I have not tested it out yet.

Paragon tier (and Watchmen) spoiler.

[sblock]"I'm not a comic book villain. Do you seriously think I would explain my master stroke to you if there were even the slightest possibility you could affect the outcome? I triggered it 35 minutes ago."

I just really want to have the main villain of adventure 9 start monologing when the PCs show up, then reveal that even if they defeat him and stop his ritual, they won't have changed anything.

Plus, dammit, the villains never get to win in D&D.[/sblock]


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Something I had considered as a house rule for firearms was making them Load Move and combining that with the Gunsmoke alternate special rule. That way anyone can keep using a firearm turn after turn, but have to eat accuracy penalties for staying in the cloud, as well as the problems of being immobile. It makes less sense for a pistol or carbine, granted, but it works if you assume lower-tech muzzle-loaded muskets are the norm.

If you just wanted two feats to be necessary for proficient use of firearms, you could have Firearm Expertise replace Load Standard with Load Move, and then have Rapid Reload be required for Load Minor.


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[MENTION=59182]Colmarr[/MENTION] I'm loving your set up for the campaign. I'm a big fan of letting players do a lot of the leg work telling the story, and I'd love to hear more details about what questions you posed to your players for first session.

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