ZEITGEIST I absolutely love the power scaling of Zeitgeist

I am miffed right now, because Pathfinder 2e released an adventure with a city with two-man (sometimes, four-man) patrols of 17th-level town guards. It is a superhuman eugenics city, but 17th-level is still way too much for beat cops on constant patrol.

I would like to be positive and rave about something that genuinely makes me very happy. I absolutely adore the power scaling of the Zeitgeist adventure path/setting, especially its 4e version. It is the only published D&D/Pathfinder-type setting I have ever seen, the only one, that fully embraces the idea of letting the PCs evolve into legendary superheroes of completely unprecedented (in-universe) power level.

Not even Eberron (3.5, 4e, or 5e) does this, because Eberron's incarnations still have publicly-known superbeings actively running around, like the Lord of Blades. Not even 4e's Points of Light does this, because again, there are publicly-known superbeings actively running around, especially in the planes. Not even demigod-RPGs like Exalted 3e or Godbound do this; yet again, publicly-known superbeings taking activity.

Zeitgeist, a Victorian occultism and pseudo-[steam/diesel/magic]punk setting about playing super-special government operatives, is a little different. There are 13 adventure books. In 4e, they go from levels 1 to 30. About two-thirds into book #9, there is an empowering event that supercharges certain people, making them viable antagonists, revives ancient threats, and creates new enemies. Pre-empowering-event, the state of the setting is low-powered.

Dragons are extinct. The gods are extremely distant, and their existence is heavily disputed. The public knows of five lesser-god-like entities (level 28 solos, pre-empowering-event), but they are all in a deep slumber. The local planar system's most powerful magician (and war magician, at that) is a level 22 standard. The most powerful, non-top-secret, supernaturally-empowered warriors in the local planar system (yes, counting even monsters) are all level 20 standards, and the PCs meet a few of them right at level 1. The world's super-duper-elite special forces in militaries, DEVGRU- or Delta/CAG-tier, are level 11-12 standards. The typical police trained soldier is a level 5 minion, and the typical police officer is a level 1 minion. By 4e standards, this is a very low-powered planar system.

Right from the start, at level 1, the PCs are very special. When trained soldiers are level 5 minions and police officers are level 1 minions, the PCs are indisputably elite. The level 1 PCs may not be DEVGRU- or Delta/CAG-tier, but they are still special forces. They feel like heroes from the start, and book #1 really emphasizes this by having them spectacularly save the day and further embark on a high-profile, Mission-Impossible-tier spy operation.

About one-third into book #5, the PCs hit level 11. As anyone familiar with 4e knows, even a middlingly-optimized (e.g. simply picking blue or sky blue options from handbooks, taking math fix feats, buying item bonuses and dragonshard bonuses for damage, selecting a strong build and paragon path) level 11 PC is vastly more powerful than a level 11-12 standard, and a highly-optimized level 11 PC is transcendentally more powerful than a level 11-12 standard; a strong level 11 striker can one-turn-kill a level 12 standard with an encounter nova. This means that by this point in the adventure path, the PCs are already significantly past DEVGRU- or Delta/CAG-tier, and are the single most collectively powerful special forces team in the entire local planar system. The world is definitely taking notice of them.

During the leadup to book #9, the party gets the opportunity to reshape the international politics and technological development of the entire world. They broker peace, enact vast and sweeping reforms, and use super-science to introduce technologies like electrical power and radio transmissions to the world. The PCs completely shake up the political and technological status quo of the setting.

At the start of book #9 (out of 13 books, remember), the PCs are level 20, in a 30-level system. Again, middlingly-optimized level 20 PCs are so much stronger than level 20-22 standards, and highly-optimized level 20 PCs make level 20-22 standards look completely laughable. This means that the PCs have vastly surpassed the local planar system's most powerful, non-top-secret, supernaturally-empowered warriors (level 20 standards), and magician and war magician (level 22 standard). The entire setting is dropping its jaws at just how unprecedentedly strong the PCs are; nobody in the past couple of centuries has ever been anywhere close to the legendary power level the PCs currently display. The PCs are superheroes, and virtually nobody is at their level.

Commensurately, during book #9, the PCs face some totally bonkers opposition. Courts full of the local planar system's most powerful, supernaturally-empowered warriors, banding together. Ritually-resurrected, mighty dragons of old. Lesser gods temporarily awoken from their slumber (if a little handicapped). The most advanced bioweapons and robots that top-end arcanoscience can craft. And the best part: entire military units expressed as singular creatures. A dozen veteran soldiers could be a level 20 minion; while hundred wraiths might just be a level 17 standard. It feels so cool for these PCs, at level 20, to be one-of-a-kind superheroes of previously-unthinkable power levels, and for their opposition to be completely crazy as well.

Two-thirds of the way into book #9, the empowering event happens. Certain people get supercharged, ancient threats are revived, and new threats are created. But the PCs grow stronger, too. They shoot from level 20 to level 22, and they take up their epic destinies, becoming multiverse-changing demigods, the likes of which have never been seen before. One of the PCs, on top of their epic destiny, gets crowned monarch of the setting's most powerful and influential nation. The whole party becomes the undisputed Avengers of the local planar system. They were already influencing international politics and worldwide technological progression; now, they get to perform even wider-scope, cosmic-level changes to the multiverse. It is not just about resetting the status quo; it is about building a new reality.

Then, they still have all the way to level 30 and book #13 to go, with the scale rising higher and higher each time. Remember, full-on gods in 4e are fair game for PCs to fight.

All of this feels so, so cool, and it honestly makes me very happy. I have been playing this adventure path from books #1 to #13 now, and never before have I felt like such a one-of-a-kind superhero in a D&D/Pathfinder-type RPG, or even an Exalted/Godbound-type RPG. I would take this any day over Pathfinder 2e's style of, "You are 18th- to 20th-level now, so here is a city full of two- or four-guard patrols of 17th-level fighters in this 20-level system, who have always been around in town. You will be saving the world, or more accurately, a small portion of the world; but you are in no way unique, because two dozen other adventure path parties have done the same thing. Your own world is full of active, legendary figures who are vastly more powerful than you; and let us not even get into the wider multiverse with its many outsiders, demigods, and gods, whom you will never even come close to the influence of."

To date, I have found no other published D&D/Pathfinder-type setting that handles power scaling quite like Zeitgeist does. And so I place Zeitgeist on a pedestal for that.
 
In short, I like the Zeitgeist setting and adventure path for being the only published setting for a D&D/Pathfinder-type setting that actually casts the PCs as superheroes of unprecedented power (both by PC standards, and by monster standards), effectively making them the Avengers or Justice League of their world, and that lets these PCs change up the status quo of the entire setting with vast and sweeping reforms.

I do not think even Exalted/Godbound-type games handle it quite well, because you still have hundreds of Solar/Abyssal/Sidereal/Lunar Exalted and dozens of superpowered miscellaneous entities running around, or mortal Eldritches and parasite gods are running amok in this nation and that.

That is it, essentially.

To be fair, Zeitgeist has the advantage of being both a setting and an adventure path. In terms of worldbuilding, this means that it can afford to significantly limit the amount of extant threats and other superbeings, as opposed to leaving them around as plot hooks.

Also, I would like to clarify that I am talking about the 4e version of Zeitgeist specifically, which is by far the most superhero-ish incarnation of the setting. The Pathfinder 1e version of the adventure path casts the PCs as a little less superheroic. The 5e version of Zeitgeist is, due to the bounded accuracy nature of the setting, the most down-to-earth version of the setting and the adventure path, where even the max-level heroes are still vulnerable to being gunned down by scores of regular people pelleting them with ranged attacks.

I personally prefer the larger-than-life, (accidentally?) superhero-like version of Zeitgeist over the more down-to-earth, grounded version of Zeitgeist, but I recognize that both versions have their appeal.
 
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Galandris

Adventurer
In short, I like the Zeitgeist setting and adventure path for being the only published setting for a D&D/Pathfinder-type setting that actually casts the PCs as superheroes of unprecedented power (both by PC standards, and by monster standards), effectively making them the Avengers or Justice League of their world, and that lets these PCs change up the status quo of the entire setting with vast and sweeping reforms.
I concur. Among its many draws, I think the Zeitgeist AP selling point is the fact that it totally captures the progression, not from farmboy to knight in shining armor, not even from yellow belt martial artist to wuxia warrior, but from commoner to world-altering demi-god, as it should be if you consider the class abilities. Many campaign fall short of this, with the ending being quite similar to what could be the ending of a 5th-level adventure, just with high CR villain instead. The ability to take part in world defining events is something that should be at stake for high-level adventurer. Clearing a dungeon is something they sent their armies to do while they focus on more important things and as you pointed out, Zeitgeist strikes true with the ever-increasing stakes.

I do not think even Exalted/Godbound-type games handle it quite well, because you still have hundreds of Solar/Abyssal/Sidereal/Lunar Exalted and dozens of superpowered miscellaneous entities running around, or mortal Eldritches and parasite gods are running amok in this nation and that.
And even a beginning Solar has nothing to fear from a mob of commoners... The gap is so huge that you must very quickly get involved in "high level play".

Also, I would like to clarify that I am talking about the 4e version of Zeitgeist specifically, which is by far the most superhero-ish incarnation of the setting. The Pathfinder 1e version of the adventure path casts the PCs as a little less superheroic. The 5e version of Zeitgeist is, due to the bounded accuracy nature of the setting, the most down-to-earth version of the setting and the adventure path, where even the max-level heroes are still vulnerable to being gunned down by scores of regular people pelleting them with ranged attacks.
I've yet to reach this point in play, but 5e takes a step down in power level, mostly because it assumes a dearth of magic items compared to earlier editions. At the end of the AP, characters are supposed to have the resources of a kingdom at their disposal, and it means they should get easily the best equipment available for the task. It doesn't negate bounded accuracy, but it certainly amps up the feeling of being "someone" in the setting.
 
I do not think Zeitgeist starts anyone off as commoners. PCs start off as special forces, in-universe, what with the mission to Axis Island. They definitely do become demigods, however, as early as the start of book #9, I would say.

The 5e version of Zeitgeist is definitely on the more down-to-earth side. That may be a good thing for some, or a bad thing. Max-level 5e characters simply lack the same scale of superhuman skills (including mental skills and social skills) as max-level 4e or Pathfinder 1e characters, and they definitely cannot take on great swaths of lower-level mooks quite like max-level 4e or Pathfinder 1e characters can. I am personally not a fan of the 5e power scale at all, but I recognize that many prefer it for a relatively more "realistic" and grounded setting.
 

Galandris

Adventurer
I do not think Zeitgeist starts anyone off as commoners. PCs start off as special forces, in-universe, what with the mission to Axis Island. They definitely do become demigods, however, as early as the start of book #9, I would say.
They start competent professionnals, but nothing above the power level a regular guy could achieve, I was trying to say "common, regular people". In 5e, it is suggested they start at level 3, a notch above your regular police force, but quite comparable to their very regular opponents. The first potential fights pit them with regulars dockers statted as bandits (2HD, +3 to hit), led by a seasoned sailor statted as a bandit captain (65 HP, 2 attacks at +5) and a special ability. If they screw up (or are just very pro-establishment) the protestors gain the help of a berserker of equivalent threat level. 3rd level fighters have around half as much HP and can be optimized for +5 to hit, but I'd say a duel between the seasoned sailor and the hero would more often than not go in favour of the sailor. So, they are not complete newbies, but they are still rank-and-file.

and they definitely cannot take on great swaths of lower-level mooks quite like max-level 4e or Pathfinder 1e characters can.
I'd stat great swaths of mooks as a swarm to emulate this feel. Zeitgeist stats a 64-men miltary force, complete with magical and artillery support, as a CR17 encounter. Definitely something a 20th level fighter could withstand (though with great difficulty) while a single, lowly fireball clears them all.
 

gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I don't play the 4e version any more - only got up to adventure #5 with those rules - but I second, third and fourth all of this. (We play Cypher, with Supers optional rules post-Eclipse, which I hope comes close to the epic feel that 4e would have had.)

Thank you for putting into words yet another superlative element of the AP. It’s one I had been enjoying without consciously appreciating how unusual it is.
 
The 5e version starts the characters at 3rd level simply to cut down on the relative grittiness of 5e, and even then, the characters are not that superheroic, true. It is nothing compared to the 4e version's level 1 characters, especially when those go up against the level 1 minions of book #1.

The great swaths of mooks illustrate a major difference in campaign feel between the 5e version and, say, the 4e version.

In the 5e version, a 32-soldier unit (the player's guide says 32, not 64) is translated into a challenge 17 enemy in a 20-level system, wherein a challenge 17 enemy is equivalent to an adult red or gold dragon.

In the 4e version, in order to give the enemies a fighting chance, a 100-soldier unit has to be presented as a level 17 standard enemy in a 30-level system with minion/standard/elite/solo status for enemies, wherein a level 17 standard is equivalent to a run-of-the-mill, plain frost giant or osyluth (bone devil). If the enemies were instead broken up individually, they would be completely trivial to a high-level party.

There is a tremendous difference between the two that imply vastly different tones and power levels for the campaign. I personally prefer the second, though it is ultimately a matter of personal taste.
 
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Also, I was wrong. The 5e version of the player's guide stipulates that it is actually 32 soldiers comprising a challenge 17 unit, so those 32 soldiers have the same fighting power as an adult red or gold dragon.

That is a colossal, sweeping difference from the 4e version.
 
Also, I mentioned that Zeitgeist has the advantage of being a combined setting and adventure path, which means that the worldbuilding can be hyperfocused on the adventure path, with no extraneous elements lingering around simply to serve as plot elements.

I have come to realize that the Zeitgeist adventure path is, essentially, structured as a JRPG. Specifically, a single-player JRPG in the Final Fantasy or Tales of structure (leaning more towards Tales of, however). The entire world is tailored precisely for a single, grand adventure that takes place across all corners of the setting. It is a linear adventure, and the ability to stray from the preordained plotline is limited (that is simply how this kind of adventure path works), but the protagonists who embark on the grand quest are guaranteed to travel across the entirety of the setting and be the biggest, grandest heroes who ever lived. They are not merely joining the ranks of heroes; they are becoming superheroes of unprecedented power, top dogs.

The party is at the cutting edge of prying apart what makes the setting actually tick on a fundamental level. The protagonists are destined to uncover the deepest, darkest, cosmic mysteries of the setting and change the world in vast, sweeping ways. They will face the biggest upheavals the setting could possibly experience, inevitably of a highly magical nature, often related to the very creation of the world itself. By the end of the adventure, the setting will be a tremendously different place, thanks to these heroes who have always stayed at the forefront of the setting's deepest, inner workings.

It is this JRPG-like structure that makes Zeitgeist so special, I think. It is less about "You are part of a larger universe," and more about "You and your party are the center of the universe," at least by later parts.
 
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Thinking about things this way, I have come to realize that under my sensibilities, an ideally world-built RPG setting is not simply one that is pretty and satisfying to read about, and that PCs can go on all kinds of adventures inside.

No, what really makes a good RPG setting for a power fantasy is a world that is built to be toppled like a stack of dominoes, and then reconstructed into something new. A place ripe for vast and sweeping advancements and reforms at the PCs' hands.

Settings like the Forgotten Realms and Eberron may be heavily fleshed-out, but their potential for change at the PCs' hands is middling. Settings like those of Exalted and Godbound are, in theory, asking to be heavily altered by demigod PCs, but the preexisting competition is plentiful enough that the PCs will only ever have a relatively small share of the world-changing deeds. Although Zeitgeist does present competition, they can be completely wiped out, letting the PCs become the sole determinators of the new shape of the world.

Zeitgeist has significantly changed my overall perspective on RPG settings.
 
The Obscurati generally favors assimilation more than decimation, if book #13 is anything to go by.

It is not unreasonable for some parties to favor assimilating the Obscurati rather than destroying them; the book generally does not care whether the party kills or assimilates. Our own run of Zeitgeist favored assimilation, as early as book #7, running off with a large majority of the convocation's officers.
 
Your group may want to look at Way of the Wicked for PF1E, there is the same chance to change the world by overthrowing the existing order and by the end of the campaign there are only the pc's and their direct peers the champions of good who have reached earthshaking power levels . My players avoided the final battle by challanging the princess to a duel pointing out that the armies no longer matterred and they could save the useless effusion of blood between their armies as whichever champions won could defeat the enemy army on their own
 
I was a fan of the setup of Way of the Wicked, but the precise execution left much to be desired. I do not think the worldbuilding was good enough for the one island nation for me to really get too invested in it; the setting felt very hollow and one-dimensional, and the entire adventure path felt more like a relatively low-level campaign for evil characters rather than a 1st to 20th campaign.

It would be like if Zeitgeist was set in Crisillyir and little else.
 

Speed_demon

Villager
Oh, I definitely love it too, the power scaling is great. The PCs can and do feel like daring adventurers and spies in just the first adventure, first session even really. My group uses 4e, and we've really liked that, I feel the 1st level characters there are a bit more robust to start.

The game scales well, giving reasons as to why things are capped to begin with, the PCs fairly skilled from the get go, rising up as competent investigators to some of the greatest agents in the world throughout the first book, then to the nation deciding levels in the second book, capable of preforming incredible feats, surviving mind-boggling dangers and seeing incredible magical and technological advancements, and finally opening things up to Epic as it hits the final four adventures, deciding the fate of the world and changing reality itself. I love it so much.
 

Lylandra

Explorer
I was a fan of the setup of Way of the Wicked, but the precise execution left much to be desired. I do not think the worldbuilding was good enough for the one island nation for me to really get too invested in it; the setting felt very hollow and one-dimensional, and the entire adventure path felt more like a relatively low-level campaign for evil characters rather than a 1st to 20th campaign.

It would be like if Zeitgeist was set in Crisillyir and little else.
Without wanting to derail, but yes! We've played Way of the Wicked and really loved its premise. Especially as it pulls off the "how to make an evil campaign that does work out for all involved players" really compelling. But it does fall flat in many ways, being far too strict in terms of railroadyness regarding the plotline. Oh and... it really overdid the "good guys being intolerant 'bad guys'" a bit.

(And Yep, we tried to be on really good terms with Thorn, as our youth-like characters saw him as a mentor figure sent by Asmodeus. So the betrayal literally came out of nowhere. We brushed it off as "he was overcome by fear of our growing power and thus too weak to rule")
 
My viewpoint on Way of the Wicked may have been warped as I ran about 5 or 6 extra AP modules in parts of it as sub and side plots . The amount of time that added is why I am trying to add very little to this campaign.

I don't think my players felt railroaded after book 2 as they then had a lot of discretion about how they carried out their orders , and they always expected to fall out with their allies as they were too ambitous to be second fiddle and thought his plans were too unsubtle.

Also never let players add the Vampire template to their characters and then get the Occult ritual which protects then from all the bad features. It leads to Diplomacy scores sufficient that if you pay any attention to the rules , then they can just talk to any Paladin and persuade him to become a asmodeus cultist.

In fact one of the pc's from that campaign is probably makeing a guest appearance in this one as a bad guy , just because my players fear this.
 

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