ZEITGEIST Pathfinder ZEITGEIST - aaand here... we... go!


Hi folks,

long time no posts. This has mostly been due to really-sweet-but-really-time-consuming-and-thus-not-altogether-RPG-conducive kid no. 2 seeing the light of the world a bit over a year ago. However, here we go again, starting a completely new ZEITGEIST Pathfinder campaign, this very Saturday, and I'm soooo excited!

I guess I just wanted to let you guys from ENPublishing know that, as of now, I'm firmly on the ZEITGEIST bus, and I'm extremely grateful for the exceedingly high quality work you have been doing! But I'm also going to keep some loose campaign notes - not a complete journal, but bits and pieces that I happen to notice, that stick out as extra-cool to my group, or that I have serious fun DMing. Expect me to post in this thread from time to time, ask around about background stuff or pose some questions or ruminations on my part, as well as letting you all know how it's going.

The party would seem to consist of a Halfling Gunslinger/Paladin, a Human Inquisitor, and a Human Bard - not what I'd call a powerhouse party, but then that shouldn't be an issue with this adventure path, given creative players. Said players seem to have a constant buzz of emails going, amounting to several dozen, counting this and last week, so I'd guess they're as pumped as I am. We'll be playing all of Saturday, starting at eleven a.m. EST and going deep into the night, so I think we'll successfully get everybody onto Axis Island itself. I won't be rushing anything, though - this extra long session is for everybody to get comfortable with their characters and get to know a bit about the campaign world and its mood.

That's all for now, I'll get back to you, and forgive me if I'm reserving a few posts at the beginning right now!

So we played a full day, and it was awesome! Might be my enthusiasm is just due to the fact that real good quality playing time has been few and far between over the course of the last year, but this adventure rocks, the players are digging the hell out of the scenario and their own roles, and I just looove the structure this adventure gives to my normally rather "let's see what happens, shall we?" approach.

So to give you some facts first of all:
I have three players in my group, all of which I've been RPGing with for a long, long time now. They sat down and created PCs on their own, all the while communicating a lot so as not to step on each others' toes. In the end, they decided on the following:

The PCs:
1. Cadugan Thistledown, male Halfling Gunslinger (Mysterious Stranger archetype), going to change over to Paladin at 2nd level and stay in that class until the end. He's a war veteran, even though he's taken the Gunsmith theme feat. Coming from a mango plantation in Flint's hinterland, he volunteered for the war, but due to his physical frailty, wasn't taken seriously. He ended up in a special R&D unit, testing new firearm models under rather unwholesome circumstances. Due to sheer halfling luck, he was the only guy out of his platoon to survive the war unscathed by munitions dump explosions, weapon misfires, irresponsible comrades leaving the safety off and such things. He was recruited into the RHC due to his strong sense of honor and loyalty to the cause in the face of grave setbacks.
Cadugan's an extremely likable guy, rather serious in most of his social dealings, but always very polite and humble, bordering on cute. He has next to no friends, not because people don't like him, but because he buries himself in work and has a duty-comes-first personality. Would secretly love to become a great folk hero, however unlikely that may be... Definitely the group's straight arrow.

2. Nathan Butler, male Human Bard with the Docker theme feat. This guy's backstory is almost classic, complete with the whole "orphaned street kid/pickpocket, tried it on RHC officer, was discovered, taken under wing, ended up taking mantle after father figure died etc." going on. He's the group's maverick, to Cadugan's chagrin, as he feels a devotion more to the greater good than to regular procedure. He has been on the receiving end of many a tongue-lashing by the Assistant Chief, but bears it with good humor.
Frequently lets minor crooks, street robbers, and especially fellow dockers get away, since "you're not seriously saying that guy is a danger to the crown, are you? Also, I know that guy, he's good with a flute".
Has his own small theatre company going, although it's all a non-profit, spare time, hobby thing for the time being. Likes to misquote famous lines from big plays to inspire people ("Once more unto the breach, my few, so lucky few, friends, romans, countrymen!").

3. Liliya Stranger (born Sokolova), female Human Inquisitor (Inquisitrix?) daughter to immigrants from Drakr's borderlands fleeing poverty and violence. When Liliya was only five, she witnessed her sister's rape and murder by marauders. Her sister's spirit stayed with her for a time, saying goodbye and consoling her as best she could, revealing Liliya's ability as a Spirit Medium. The family fled Drakr after that. A short, ill-fated stopover in Danor led to Liliya hating all things Danoran with a passion. The family then moved to Risur, finally settling in Flint.
With her parents working in one of Flint's many factories all the time, she had a lot of spare time, which she used to arbitrate disputes among youths in her 'hood. She's a strong-willed person and very perceptive, to the point of being frightening to strangers. She used her inborn talents to pursue her similarly inborn devotion to justice and fairness, forming a neighbourhood watch of youths and even some adults when she was only 16. At one point, her Watch messed up an RHC agent's undercover with its activities, bringing Liliya to the bureau's notice. Ironically, she was recruited on the spot by the same agent whom she had endangered. This led to a severe falling-out with her family, who wanted her to marry within the Drakran immigrant community.

I decided that the PCs, strong personalities all, would be working together in a temporary unit, to be distributed as future officers to other cells in Risur. Their teamwork is therefore not free of competitiveness, since only one of them can become an Inspector in the RHC's Flint branch and lead the cell in the future. As the adventure starts, the PCs are in the final days of their training. Getting the Coaltongue to launch without a hitch is their final exam.

The adventure begins (containing SPOILERS):
I started the session with the PCs sitting in Stover Delft's office, being briefed a final time on the morning of launch day. I intended for them to take the day making preparations (using the favor system), which they did, but in the end they forgot to inquire about e.g. getting a healing item "just in case". At least they made a close study of the rally grounds at the docks, checked for possible sniper locations, got a guided tour of the ship, and arranged for Liliya to be provided with a Stewardess' uniform, so one of their number could mingle with the festive crowd without being obvious. The players also familiarized themselves with some NPC dossiers and stuff like that.

Nevertheless, finding and identifying the dockers proved harder than I'd thought. The players took a bit to settle into their unaccustomed roles of law enforcer - they loved it once they were in character, but they needed rather more time than I'd anticipated.

Then, there was character-specific problems. We had decided beforehand that Halflings are the target of some racist bias - they're mostly thought of as cute, but inconsequential, not much more than children. So when Cadugan Thistledown tried to enlist the cops' aid, they laughed him off, leading to an irate Liliya chewing out the cops and creating a bit of a scene. Also, Liliya was convinced the only problem they'd be likely to face would be Danoran agents looking to deprive Risur of its newest weapon. Finally, Nathan couldn't get it into his head that some of his fellow dockers might be, if not a real threat, then still an embarassment to the state.

So, yeah, they didn't do too great, but by the end of the scene, they had snugly settled into their characters. I believe the players really enjoyed the scene - there was a tense moment when they realized there must be a fourth troublemaker, whom they hadn't staked out yet, and that gave them a thrill. They managed to succeed in the end, although I felt I had to throw them some minor bones here and there, pointing out flaws in their reasoning etc., just so the very first scene didn't end in embarassment all around.

Then there was the launching party, which I covered rather quickly, concentrating on the PCs' doings while it all went down. I made sure to attach the greatest significance to every gesture and detail, as I wanted to make sure the players were as tense as Secret Service police at a presidential dinner - even though everybody kept telling them to "enjoy the party". Delft also politely asked them to please, please, not screw up...

The PCs were very aware of the dangers of sabotage (although all the dangers I had ever mentioned were embarassment and possibly some political intrigue), and established a patrol of their own on the lower decks. They liked duchess Etheline, and when the sabotage plot became apparent, they blamed Sokana Rell and theorized she had charmed or dominated the duchess. Cadugan, who had the patrol, was very quick to spy the saboteur technicians, but since he was, initially, alone, he couldn't kill them quickly enough, so all of a sudden, there were only some 20 rounds left on the clock.

Sokana was intercepted by the other two (good thing Cadugan used a pistol, or they might have been unaware what was going down - namely, the Coaltongue!), but managed to get past them using Burning Hands and a well-timed Fey Step. I noticed she's described as an Eladrin in the flavor text, but as a regular elf in her statblock - I treated her as an Eladrin, so she had that handy option.
I also realised that she's supposed to use Flare Burst to get past inquisitive PCs, but that won't happen. Dazzling is a condition so light it's next to unnoticeable, and won't provide any clear benefit here. Sokana's tactically best option against 1st level PCs is clearly Burning Hands. She almost downed Liliya in one shot (fast healing via Judgement helped a lot), and later nearly killed Cadugan with the same spell!

Cadugan proved deadly, though, while the other two were distracted, first by fire sprites, then by Ilton (btw, a Rogue adversary should really be getting a flanking buddy! The only threat he really poses is the waste of time dealing with him, as his damage output is minimal). Cadugan shot both technicians, then staggered Sokana.

This was actually a theatrical and very cool bit: Liliya had initially damaged Sokana, but used nonlethal damage, which she always prefers doing (can't question them when they're dead). Sokana ran for the engine room, encountered Cadugan, and burned him severely. In response, he shot her, bringing her HP total equal to her nonlethal damage and staggering her. Both held their actions next, with Sokana making as if to throw the fire gem into the furnace.,Cadugan told her "you don't have to do this, you know. Stop now and help us clear the engine, and I will let you jump overboard". "I cannot do that, Constable. I am sorry" was her reply, to which he answered "I will have to shoot you. Please reconsider whatever you are planning to do with that gem". "I must. I must do my duty!", she said, tossing the gem into the fire. To which Cadugan replied "As must I", shooting her down. He proceeded to get the firegem out of the furnace using his bare hands, and passed out at -12 HP (Con 14!). Luckily, the others were able to get to him and cast a Stabilise in time!

The players loved this action-packed, tense scene. I periodically altered the pressure gauge, which I had drawn right into the battlemap, to let them know roughly how close the engine was to exploding. It was rather close at one point, but Cadugan's heroic effort, and some luck on the others' part opening the steam pipes, saved the day - it would all have been hopeless, though, if they hadn't quickly put one of the fire wards from the magazine in front of the furnace opening. They then repaired the saboteurs' damage simply by shoveling firegems out of the furnace.

They even managed to keep everything quiet and not disturb the party, resulting in a resounding success of their first mission! They spent some awkward and tongue-tied minutes with King Aodhan, and some more with his first minister, then were relieved to just be questioned by their superiors in the RHC. We wrapped up right after the briefing with Lya Jierre; I'll let you know how it all goes on, promise!

Things I noticed: some minor issues with tactics: Sokana's tactics as described in the module are poor; Ilton doesn't have much going for him if the PCs survive his initial ambush, and won't be able to keep anybody's attention for long. Also, some more clarification of the saboteurs' timetable would be nice, I struggled to be clear on where everybody was at what point in time, who killed the magazine guards and when etc. (all this was important due to the patrol the PCs had set up); music suggestions for the national anthem (in a rush of creativity, I wrote the text for one myself) would be nice, I guess?

Otherwise: excellent stuff - linear and easy to follow by the DM, but very complex-feeling to the players, without overwhelming them with the sheer amount of stuff to do. Interesting NPCs characterised in just a few sentences. Fantastic encounter design, taking multiple options and outcomes into account. Thank you very, very much so far!
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Just posting to let you guys know this is updated now, after our first session. I probably shouldn't have reserved so many posts, but as you can see above, I'm a... verbose little fella, so I'm confident they'll get filled in time.