ZEITGEIST [Spoilers] Arkgeist Chronicles

arkwright

Explorer
Hullo, all.

Adslahnit, one of my players, has with the assent of the rest urged me to upload logs of what is affectionately named Arkgeist, our journey through the fantabulous Zeitgeist adventure path with me as GM. Thus, what follows.

DISCLAIMERs
  • My players a terribly large fans of anime art, anime-esque roleplay and anime-esque verbal tics. And, after so long running this game and others, I've probably also become infected (curse anime, with its exhaustively and thus seductively tagged boorus). We don't have anyone going nyaaa, but we have (or had) tics close to it, so if anyone is allergic to the animays, do not read on.
  • We play text-only on Discord, using the wonderful Maptool program for dicerolls & mapping.
  • We play the 4e version, with a heavy set of house-rules, and as of Saturday we have hit level 30. For most of the AP I have not altered Zeit encounters. As time went on, I have occasionally worked to increase the challenge by multiplying foes, and now that we are in late-epic I have become willing to incorporate high-quality third-party 4e encounter components (such as the Living Forgotten Realms epic adventures) to make certain Zeit encounters more complete and challenging.
  • Below, I will be including logs from our numerous side channels. Our usage of these steadily increased as we got more familiar with the style of the book, and as we grew into our respective characters- them with their PCs, me with my NPCs. Books 1-3 were mostly by-the-book, off-script began in Book 4, and revisions have fairly steadily increased all the way up to where we are now, in Book 12. With that said, I have worked hard to keep new material well within the bounds of 'vanilla' Zeitgeist, or expanding only upon areas that are flagged by the books as avenues for expansion.
  • In age-rating terms, there should be no nudity, but in-keeping with anime tropes, there will be a fair amount of 'suggestive' content, scantily-clad cartoon girls, and briefly lewd conduct. Before you judge, do note that this is the AP that includes the Akela Sathi, Legion succubi, and the legendary Captain Thrusty.
  • Zeitgeist is, in my opinion, the greatest D&D adventure of all time. I say this to convey my overall judgement of the AP, to make the following criticism less harsh: it is also, in my view, an AP that is riddled with flaws. Its encounter math ranges between 'good', 'janky' and 'bad', mostly in the 'janky' camp. It is clear that at certain points, Messrs Hillman and Nock did not communicate well when writing their separate books, or did not plan well. The Player's Guide's setting information is heavily aspirational, and includes elements that contradict the AP or a skipped over so completely that they effectively do not exist. Nicodemus the Gnostic has far less of a philosophical agenda than it initially seems, as an invitation for GMs to insert their own to fit their group, an invitation I did not realize until quite late. Mechanics for planes, their abilities and manipulations seem to change from book to book as the AP progresses. It has 'remnant plots', elements which were introduced and then decided against later in the writing stage but never properly deleted from the AP. Despite all those flaws, again, it is in my considered opinion the greatest D&D adventure of all time. If you like I'll post a screenshot of my Act 1 hardcover as proof. My players are in broad agreement with this.
  • (Placeholder for future DISCLAIMERs that will only occur to me later/when prompted).

PLAYER CHARACTERs
  • Queen Ruri Eccles, the Monitor, previously a Corporal then Major in the Risuri Navy, played by the redoubtable Lily Fae. Ruri has been with us from the beginning along with her trusty airgun, a calm and battle-tested ruler chosen by the now-stepped down King Aodhan.
  • Seer Ayesha Saraswati, the Princess of weretigerbunnies, the Ultimate Mage, the Rearranger of the Planes, the Tamer of Dreams, played by the irrepressible Earth Seraph Edna/Adslahnit. Similarly having been with us from the beginning, Ayesha is the child of two Elfaivaran skyseers and a compassionate partner and mother, beloved by many.
  • Constable Maaya the Githzerai, played by the honorable Aiden, retired. Present from books 1 to 3, IRL issues meant that Maaya dropped out thereafter, hence to fade into the background whilst still performing good work to promote peace between Flinters and Githzerai immigrants from the Border States, once the colonial subjects of the mighty and cruel Elfaivaran Empire.
  • Cerise Fleur, AKA Cheryl Blossom, claimant to the heritage of Egal the Shimmering, played also by the dauntless Aiden, retired. Present from books 5 to 9, Aiden is now beloved alumni from our game whilst Cheryl fights an off-screen crusade against the tyrannical Golden Legion.
  • Gwyndolin the Dark Sun, played by a fellow for a mere two or three sessions amidst Book 4 before vanishing. His PC survives now as a secondary antagonist, favored servant of the Voice of Rot.
And now, the logs. These were retrieved thanks to the terribly necessary Discord Chat Exporter program written by Tyrrrz, in the absence of Discord itself including this feature.
  • ic, our central in-character channel.
  • side, our central in-character side channel.
  • side-and-downtime, our secondary in-character side channel.
  • side-ruri, our channel for Queen Ruri's side adventures and discussions.
  • side-ayesha, our channel for Seer Ayesha's side adventures and discussions.
  • bonds-ic, our in-character channel for when we completed the Bonds of Forced Faith oneshot.
  • side-cheryl, our former channel for Cheryl Blossom's side adventures and discussions.
Chances are I'll need to update this when and if people respond with questions.

EDIT: Adslahnit has requested that I post some material from Arkgeist.

First, Graves of Elfaivar, small epitaphs/last words from Ascetian souls of women who died in the Great Malice.

Secondly, the 'sheets' I created for the various convocation factions, including what specific planes they seek to invoke, and then some new ones that cropped up.

Planes of the Obscurati
Miller's Pyre, Arboretum, Watchmakers, Colossus, Panarchists.
Minor Factions, Radical Factions.
MAP, Colossal Congress, Watchmaker Watchmen, Miller's Clock, Colossal Conquest
SPS 2.0

Ryan Nock, the whole Zeitgeist team- thank you for writing what has given us nearly two years of top-quality enjoyment and meaningful storytelling.

And now I'll sign off with a few memes and images we have created or commissioned or found over the course of the AP.
 

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Adslahnit

Explorer
I am one of the two players in this take on Zeitgeist. This adventure path has been the single greatest premade adventure path I have ever played, but that comes with a disclaimer of me having high standards for adventure-writing. This overall campaign has likewise been the single best campaign I have ever played, but that likewise comes with a disclaimer that much of it was due to the DM heavily expanding upon the presented material, which had significant shortcomings in many spots, and I doubt that the campaign would have been anywhere as good or as memorable if the DM simply ran the campaign as-is.

I like Zeitgeist, I really do. It is, again, my single favorite premade adventure. But it has holes, so many holes, and more than half of the plotlines fall flat in some way. At the very least, the setting as presented in the player's guide has so many subtle yet major differences from how the setting is depicted in the actual adventure path. The biggest disappointment is how Nicodemus and the Obscurati fall flat as an antagonist due to not having that much of an actual philosophical agenda when closely scrutinized.

There are so many other smaller cases of plotlines fizzling out as presented at a baseline by default, like the industrial tensions, the fey technology sickness, the role of Heid Eschatol, the Vekeshi as a whole (you will notice that I am playing an eladrin, yet more or less completely sidelined the Vekeshi idea, and I think the adventure path does a bad job of selling the Vekeshi as something to take interest in), the Obscurati convocation at Mutravir, Roland Stanfield as a villain (he gives a really nonsensical speech), the Voice of Rot as a villain (so much for the "cry out, for at the end of time, I rise" foreshadowing), and so many other plot threads.

Quite a few plot threads rely on the PCs never really asking questions or poking around, like spotting the Pardo-duplicant in Ber, internalizing the importance of Axis Island, remembering that the Voice of Rot actually exists, or realizing that there is no way that the Flint lighthouse ritual (which makes absolutely no sense from a narrative perspective) is the actual Axis Seal ritual.

The various "rules" on how planar magic and esoteric magic (e.g. the Sacrament of Apotheosis, Mortal Possession, duplicants, hiveminds and gestalts, Borne's travel times through the Dreaming, wayfarer's lanterns, planar lighthouses, the properties of the Axis Seal, planar traits) work have been extremely inconsistent, frustratingly so. That has been a problem, because I have been trying to play this adventure path in a somewhat "scientific" manner by experimenting with the many magics the adventure presents, and the adventure path can never actually handle them in a consistent manner. All of these strange magics work almost entirely differently from one book to another. Ironically, it is hard to play a character trying to tackle the age of science and invention in an actually "scientific" manner, because the rules of the world keep changing for no reason.

Indeed, I am the type of player who keeps on pointing to various things that crop up in the adventure path and asking quetions, like "Why did the Great Malice work in the way it did?", "What is the actual philosophy of Nicodemus and the Obscurati?" (the really big question here), "What is the deal with Ingatan and Hewanharimau?", "How do hiveminds and gestalts actually work?", "Why are all these eladrin ghosts in Ascetia?", and the adventure path often shows its cracks in the face of these inquiries.

I understand that much of the above can be chalked up to page count and word count issues, though. Zeitgeist really is a vast and sprawling adventure, so there are many plot threads that are poorly explained and/or dropped outright, leaving the DM/GM to fill in the gaping gaps.

The mechanics are one of my biggest sticking points. We have had to toss out virtually all of the mechanics from the player's guide, because they have been badly written in so many ways, particularly the theme rules and the firearm rules. The monsters in the 4e version are lovingly crafted, very much so, and they often adhere to generation 3 math, which is genuinely impressive and praiseworthy. But the monsters are amateurishly and sloppily designed on the whole, unable to really hold up to the rigorous standards of people more experienced with 4e and its encounters. Various other mechanics in the 4e version have also been on the completely unfun side, most notably the many cases of antimagic (which really, really, really do not belong in 4e at all). In many cases, I have been called in as the 4e rules expert to judge how well-written a given mechanic in Zeitgeist is, and my assessment is usually, "No, this is not all that well-written."

I have recently been making preparations to (re)start my own Zeitgeist game, which has been on hiatus for a while. Since the middle of last year or thereabouts, I have been studying Zeitgeist together with arkwright essentially every other day, if not every day. This has been one of our biggest hobbies together, and we really put a strong effort into picking apart the adventure path, scrutinizing its every detail, and trying to make it better. Arkwright and I love Zeitgeist, we truly do, and our specific brand of appreciating it together is diving deep into its innards and trying to figure out its shortcomings, so that we can make the adventure better in our own games.

It has been quite the metaphorical ride, Ryan Nock. Thank you for everything thus far.
 
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I dug the half of the memes that I understood, while the others I didn't get the references of.

I'll cop to changing things on the fly and not having the finest sense of how to balance 4e encounters. I'm not sure anyone really did, based on my own playthroughs with WotC's high level content. Honestly by the third act, I was worried there were only one or two groups still playing 4e, since the 5e playtest had begun, and most of the GM comments seemed to be for PF groups. My own gaming group had moved on to, I think, the Star Wars RPG, so I know I was less attentive to the mechanics of 4e, and didn't have any interested gamers to have idiot check my ideas.

My apologies for that.

But I will push back on the idea of Nicodemus and the Obscurati not having a philosophy. In a way, I set them up as a self-criticism of me and other progressives who feel like our goals are selfless and noble, and that we're just held back by people with old power bases who resist change. True, I never wrote out a full treatise like Summa Theologica or the Federalist Papers or something. But the philosophy was, at its core, that we have an obligation to impose on others our idea of how to improve the world. (Edit: And that we should change the rules that apply to everyone, rather than simply trying to inspire change within individuals or ourselves.) More specifically, it's the idea that reducing the total amount of suffering is the metric of 'goodness,' and that suffering is simply the result of a lack of understanding and empathy. It's a philosophy where only selflessness is moral, and if you try to help those you care about but don't care about hurting strangers, that's unacceptable.

The conspiracy accepted a much wider field of people, who shared the common belief that if not for, basically, conservative thinking, they could make the world better (though their sense of better varied wildly). It was rather 'ivory tower,' playing into tropes of how people criticize me and my friends when we get to talking about politics. And, well before the term 'cancel culture' was mainstream, the Ob implemented that pretty viciously, preferring to kill their own co-conspirators who didn't share the 'right' ideas.

The core pitch of the campaign to Morrus was, "What if you woke up one day and everyone agreed with you?" But 'you' really meant 'me,' and I really wanted to think about that, to be skeptical of my own sense of high-mindedness. And my answer was, without someone to check my power, I'd be just as tyrannical as anyone else in history who thought it was their responsibility to decide how things ought to be.

---

A few other quick ones:

Ingatan and Hewaharimau were not even an idea until we started writing adventure 8, because, like the Eurocentrics we are, we hadn't done enough planning and seeding of ideas for what Elfaivar would be like. If they feel underbaked, that's why.

Eladrin ghosts were on Ascetia because the Gyre is a cosmic swirling drain for things that are catastrophically destroyed; and also because I realized the Vekeshi/eladrin storyline had floundered for a while and needed something important and symbolic at the finale.

And generally I am content with magic - especially things tied to thoughts or belief - being hard to pin down because magic is ultimately that which we don't understand. I care about rules being sufficient to resolve a scene in a game, not serve as a physics engine. (I am reminded how, in Half-Life 2, there are special rules for gravity near balconies, so that enemies who get shot on them tended to ragdoll over railings because that was more dramatic.) Plus, what we perceive as reality is being processed by a slab of electrified fat that has a silly knack for interpreting two small dots and a line as a face. There are definitely rules in there somewhere, but I'm more a semiotics guy than a neurobiologist.

---

In the span of, what, five years, we put out something like 600,000 words, and I often served as my own editor, which was an unfortunate financial necessity. I wish we had planned better how to integrate all the bits from the setting book all the way through the AP, but I feel like I accomplished my two main goals. The first was to plan a layered mystery that would drive a long series of adventures, and make sure the reveals made the investigation feel worth it. (I loved Babylon 5 for pulling this off, and hoped to avoid the Lost/BSG/X-Files situation of not knowing how to weave revelation and conflict all the way to the climax.)

The second was to interrogate my own views and cast them as the villain. I . . . I suppose I'll accept the criticism that apparently my personal philosophy wasn't particularly compelling to you. :)

Thanks for the extensive feedback, and the accompanying much-needed poke to deflate my ego. I'll do better . . . maybe not next time, since I'm not going to make anything so big any time soon, but eventually. And in the meanwhile, I'm making sure that "dieselpunk space exploration" is at least an option for those who want to go there.
 
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Adslahnit

Explorer
There remain pockets of interest in 4e around the internet. We belong to many different camps, some more mechanically- and optimization-inclined than others, and even those who are mechanically- and optimization-inclined tend to be broken up into sub-camps that do not quite get along with one another. The online 4e community is very fragmented, dare I say balkanized, in its perspectives and philosophies on 4e. Still, we do exist.

Your work on 4e mechanics is admirable by amateur standards, and I say that with genuine praise. It shows plenty of raw effort and hard work. It is just that it is not backed up with in-depth understanding and experience with the mechanics of 4e, and tainted every so often by bringing in preconceptions from 3.X and Pathfinder, most notably the completely out-of-place antimagic mechanics that persistently crop up throughout the whole adventure path.

This does mean that we have had to heavily revise more and more encounters as the adventure path has gone along, but at least we appreciate the raw effort you put into the mechanical side of the 4e version. We particularly appreciate the flavor text present in many of the monsters.

I am afraid I still do not quite process your point on Nicodemus. Most of his speeches, primarily those in books #7 and book #10, revolve around lofty goals of, "We are going to change the world," but the adventure path as presented seldom actually proposes how Nicodemus wants to change the world. There are heavy shades of globalism (e.g. all the efforts to make Danor and Risur friendly with one another, the efforts to make Ber accept other nations' culture), and some shades of a world ruled by an enlightened few, but the adventure path is never explicit about this. I can understand what you are saying about reducing the total amount of suffering, and increasing understanding and empathy, but I do not think the adventure path books really sell the idea all that well; even the Miller's Pyre proposal is glossed over as one of the many ideas that the Obscurati noncommittally spitballs around.

The most damning thing about the Obscurati, in my opinion, is that the Mutravir convocation has to happen at all. If they had any actual, uniting philosophy, then they would have had a pitch for a planar configuration ready to go. Rather, the Mutravir convocation is all about pitching various planar configurations, and even Nicodemus himself does not go into the convocation knowing what he wants, instead expecting someone to conveniently pitch a configuration that seems vaguely acceptable to his morals and ethics. That is my real issue with the Obscurati: they make a big deal about changing the world, but they are indecisive and wishy-washy on how to change the world, and that weakens them as a philosophical antagonist, lacking a guiding ethos.
 
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arkwright

Explorer
As much as I might criticize your 4e encounters, I would still consider the 4e version to be absolutely indispensable to every Zeitgeist GM out there. The effort put into designing and flavoring custom monsters, all the little fluff-texts on their attacks and abilities. I really cannot over-emphasize how valuable and delightful I find them all. I would go so far as to say that there are numerous NPCs in Arkgeist who are beloved by my players, and this is entirely because of your extra little touches on the 4e statblocks. Also, to be clear, when I criticize 4e Zeit encounters for being 'jank'- jank is entertaining, fun. Much better than encounters in other adventures where they are boring rather than janky.

The philosophy of 'but for old power bases/a lack of understanding and empathy... y'know, I have to say, the more I think about it the more I see where you are coming from. The lack of an Ob plan at the convocation is not a symptom of a lack of policy, but rather a mechanism created as part of their policy of 'impose change upon the wrong-minded'. I... honestly think I might need to take a few days to think about this in-depth, to think about whether this makes parts of Zeitgeist better or worse. I'm still fairly open to the possibility that the philosophy of Nic and the Ob is not one that works well through the medium of an Adventure Path.

I would echo Aslahnit's point about the convocation by mentioning the Forward Symposium in Book 10. Its distinguishing features are firstly that all the world leaders are convinced to invade Risur right before the PCs turn up and for little given reason, and secondly that Nicodemus is interrupted mid-speech by Hivemind shenanigans and thus he does not have to explain the exact steps and policies and ideas he would like to implement in Lanjyr.

In regards to magic- I can appreciate a desire to keep things loose when they are best kept loose, rather than having tight rules for everything. Though the way Act 2 and 3 waver between planar 'aspects' and planar 'traits' is a bit vexing.

All arguments and feedback aside- I would like to give you credit, Ranger, for reading my post and responding to it in so much detail, and taking our criticism on the chin. This is an age where 'dev feedback' can be dismissive or deceptive deluded or even completely absent, and you are very much a bright spot amidst all that.

Along with that- I would like to extend you the courtesy of not dragging you into an in-depth argument over Zeitgeist in this thread. All I want to do here is share our experience in Arkgeist, and hopefully entertain or inform some folks.
 

Adslahnit

Explorer
Elfaivar in book #8 seems underbaked, yes. This is not even a matter of word count, since I think you placed too much effort and word count into places that never see in-game action, such as the various Elfaivaran colonies. There is not enough spotlight on things that are actually bound to come up and provoke questions, like Seedism, how the Holy Wars even started (my DM and I poked into this matter deeply and realized that the chronology and conquests of Crisillyir do not actually add up), the various sects of the Vekeshi, and how the enclaves genuinely work. We talked about this in another thread, and I do not think the Kasvarina angle, as it relates to Elfaivar, is all that well-explored. There are a tiny few news reports that hint at radical revenge cultists, but we never really see how this plays out on-screen, nor do we see the various modes of Vekeshi mysticism.

I am playing a non-Vekeshi eladrin, so I was naturally asking many questions about Elfaivar over the course of book #8, and my DM had to make up most of the details. Much of the lore on the Elfaivaran colonies saw no in-game action at all.

I like the way my DM handled the Ascetia angle (my DM forgot to include their very well-written "graves of Elfaivar" section), but the baseline method of presenting Ascetia came across as shoehorned to me. There was minimal foreshadowing on all of these eladrin ghosts having conveniently wound up in one specific Gyre plane, let alone the prospect of resurrecting a bajillion eladrin women, or even the significant consequences of suddenly resurrecting so large a population back into the Waking, which itself is a very thought-provoking topic. Plus, it did not help that the way the Great Malice played out was different from the established rules on the Sacrament of Apotheosis, which was quite puzzling.

Magic being inconsistent works in some settings, but I do not think it works particularly well in this setting, not when the adventure path makes a big fuss about viewing the world through a scientific lens and building pieces of "arcanotechnology." All throughout this adventure path, our group has been playing with two distinct thrusts: one, "scientifically" understanding the world and its many magics and technologies, and two, using our superheroic skills and magics to change up the status quo of the whole world on many cultural, political, magical, and technological levels.

The adventure path's baseline has been sufficient to support #2, because while Zeitgeist can be played in a lackadaisical manner with unambitious parties, it has a strong foundation for letting an ambitious group really shake up the status quo and change the world in vast, sweeping ways. But the adventure path has been shaky at best for #1, and that has been a huge disappointment, because it makes trying to develop new ways of using magic and technology a crapshoot at best. It is tough to play an inventor, especially a magical inventor, of all the "arcanotechnology" that the adventure path loves to emphasize, when various important pieces of magic keep changing from book to book. The way planar traits and planar lighthouses work is the most egregious example of this.

I think that you accomplished the first of your goals, Ryan Nock. I strongly appreciate the broad strokes of the storytelling, if not the finer details when more closely zoomed-in. The broad strokes of each major plot point make for an absolutely incredible narrative. The "layered mystery," as you put it, has had rough edges when closely scrutinized, but overall, it has made for the single best adventure path I have had the pleasure of experiencing.

I see that for the "sequel," you will be trying to throw some metaphorical bones towards those few groups who tried to play Zeitgeist in a more bombastic, "scientific," overturning-the-status-quo manner, those groups who used the course of the adventure path to change the world into a wild society of heavy arcanotechnology and abundant otherworldly magic. I strongly thank and appreciate you for doing so.
 
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Oh, hm. I intended it rather that Nicodemus still wanted Miller's Pyre, but wanted to have everyone realize the common sense of it, thus validating his ideology. He expected a few outliers, and had a contingency ready to kill those who were 'too selfish' to realize what the right course of action was.

The conspiracy's cell-pyramid was inspired by The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and some sort of convocation was necessary to end the imposed separation of the cells and get everyone on board. Nicodemus figured a debate would make people feel invested in the decision they 'decided upon,' rather than having to take orders from a ghost/man most of them had never met. And he was open to the idea of refining and improving his idea, as long as the core remained the same. (He loves a good airship as much as the next guy.)

The other options at the convocation akin to a philosopher saying, "Let us consider X. Here are its merits, and here are its flaws. Repeat for Y, and Z. But let's go back to A, which was my idea this whole time. See how flawless A is compared to those things?"
 

Adslahnit

Explorer
(I edit my posts frequently, Ryan Nock, so I urge you to have a second look at the post just above yours. My apologies for that.)

I can understand the idea that Nicodemus actually wanted Miller's Pyre for a baseline, but I do not think that book #7, as presented, actually conveys the idea all that well. In other words, your intent did not carry over into what the adventure actually shows to the DM/GM and the players. Book #7 comes across more like Nicodemus and the rest of the Obscurati having no idea what sort of society they actually want to implement in the world, and hoping that some enterprising individual magically pitches something that sounds awesome.

I think that the convocation is actually one of the weakest parts of the adventure path. Other issues with the convocation include the cell compartmentalization making no sense whatsoever (the ring-based identification never made any sense either, due to its many impracticalities, and book #7 seems to have forgotten about the rings altogether), and the PCs' actions making no impact whatsoever on Nicodemus or the planar configuration in the long term. Indeed, book #7 posits that the PCs might pitch their own configuration, which may even win the vote, but this ultimately does nothing whatsoever for the views of any of the Obscurati. It does not help that the explained system for planar mechanics and planar traits does not actually line up with how things work in books #12 and #13, which is frustrating for someone actually trying to understand the setting's planar mechanics.

Book #7's Mortal Possession is also a mechanical nightmare from a 4e perspective, snapping game balance in half on many counts. Furthermore, this society-changing magical ritual is completely forgotten about later. It is mind-blowing just how much mind transference into fresh corpse vessels can change civilization, yet this is never touched upon.
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I disagree that the Ob are inconsistent and wishy-washy. I think they are the best villains in any campaign I’ve ever run. My evidence is the amount of time and effort my players have spent just arguing with them. A yet-to-be reported session has Korrigan engage in trying to persuade William Miller to help them defeat Nicodemus, a conversation that played out over multiple emails so as not to dominate table-time.

The convocation on Mutravir was a masterstroke IMHO. A combination of big reveal and spy mission that exposes the hollow heart of the Ob’s designs, the arrogance that makes them and keeps them a villain, despite their high-minded goals.

When it can to the internal inconsistencies of the campaign world, I agree that some elements could have been handled better in an ideal world, but understood why they had withered on the vine, or faced flat contradiction: in order to DM this campaign, I have read and reread our own campaign journal four or five times, discovering things each time that I had forgotten, or later contradicted within our own narrow narrative. Keeping all those plates spinning across the entire AP would have challenged the resources of a major publisher.

I guess what I’m saying is not so much a disagreement, as you guys are clearly big Zeitgeist fans, merely an attempt to register the fact that there are those of us out there for whom the flaws you point to didn’t really amount to a whole hill of beans. The devil, for me, was not in the detail.
 

Adslahnit

Explorer
I think that the Obscurati are serviceable antagonists. In the broadest of strokes, they are absolutely amazing, but my DM and I do not think that they hold up to a closer scrutiny on what their ethics, morals, and philosophies actually are. Ryan Nock has explained much of the thought processes behind them, but I do not think that enough of those thought processes actually made it into the writing of the adventure path.

There is a difference between how the adventure path is actually written and presented, and how each individual DM/GM presents the adventure path. Arkwright here has been an overwhelmingly outstanding DM in presenting and expanding Zeitgeist, but everyone at the table is quite clear on what parts our DM is presenting faithfully, and what parts our DM has had to write in custom content to fill in the gaps for. It is only through this blending of baseline content and custom material that our playthrough has been so memorable, and I do not think we would have had quite as entertaining an experience if we just played through baseline Zeitgeist.

My DM and I are very detail-oriented. We have plenty of time on our hands, and for us, it is not just about the broad strokes, but the precise detail in which those broad strokes are carried out. That is how we are able to spend every other day, if not every day, discussing many points about Zeitgeist and thinking of ways to improve it in our own eyes.

I can understand that in a product this large, and with no editors, there were bound to be many things that wound up neglected. That is understandable, but it does not render the product immune to criticism. I think that this is a fantastic product overall, but I am not going to overlook its shortcomings.
 

arkwright

Explorer
How very interesting hearing your thoughts on the convocation, Ranger. Perhaps I misread or misunderstood the book, but my feeling was that Nicodemus entered the convocation entirely open to other proposals, and it was for very shaky reasons that he attempts to institute MAP in Book 9. I'll be honest and say that, at the time, I felt the preeminent reason for instituting MAP in 9 is to make Act 3 easier to write.

If you intended to convey that Nic was insistent on the Pyre from the beginning, then I think perhaps you should have done a few things differently. Allowing for the various systems to be mixed together and redesigned- Colossal Congress, MAP- and then having Nic be on board with MAP undercuts the idea that he came into the convocation with preset ideas. Linking directly to the ENWorld forum debate where different configurations were proposed and you the authors went with one choice and were open to many, is confusing if you mean to convey that Nic instead has preset ideas. And... well, I have half-formed thoughts that something on the Pyre handout should be different, perhaps something related to how much Kasvarina is mentioned, how Cula is used rather than someone with a relation to Miller or the Crisillyiri.

Adslahnit has requested that I post some material from Arkgeist.

First, Graves of Elfaivar, small epitaphs/last words from Ascetian souls of women who died in the Great Malice.

Secondly, the 'sheets' I created for the various convocation factions, including what specific planes they seek to invoke, and then some new ones that cropped up.

Planes of the Obscurati
Miller's Pyre, Arboretum, Watchmakers, Colossus, Panarchists.
Minor Factions, Radical Factions.
MAP, Colossal Congress, Watchmaker Watchmen, Miller's Clock, Colossal Conquest
SPS 2.0
 
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Adslahnit

Explorer
Arkwright's particular method of revamping/expanding the convocation and the Ascetia has indeed led to some of the most well-written sequences in the campaign thus far, and I appreciate the intense amount of effort that went into doing so.

Also, throughout our interlude between books #11 and #12, and all throughout book #12, hiveminds have been of significant importance, between my character's ambitions and the DM's method of accommodating them. Indeed, one of the major, custom NPCs in the campaign so far is a hivemind.

Since Zeitgeist's plot threads on the various gods of the Clergy, Elfaivar, and the rest of the multiverse were almost all dropped by the adventure path itself, the DM has been diligent enough to expand on the topic themselves. I have been heavily impressed by the DM's method of filling in the gaps on Zeitgeist's deific lore.
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
All fair enough, of course. I wonder how much these differing perspectives and approaches are a factor of the manner in which our groups game. A text-based game is bound to allow for and encourage more focus on detail, while our pub-based tabletop group is a lot more broad brushstrokes.
 

Adslahnit

Explorer
It is true that our game is of the purely text-based variety, so our roleplaying can more readily afford to focus on the nitty-gritty details of the setting, and the many gaps left open by the adventure path. It is simply the nature of the beast that is text-based, heavy roleplay.

If anyone here has any questions on how we have handled certain plot threads, or expanded upon them, they are certainly free to ask.
 

Lily Fae

Villager
"it is in my considered opinion the greatest D&D adventure of all time. My players are in broad agreement with this. "

Hey now, I did said Zeitgeist is good! But that Temple of Elemental Evil had some really really nice frogs in it!
 

Lily Fae

Villager
All jokes aside,
Hello there! One of Arkwright's players here, playing the bunny eared Ruri Eccles.

I think we've had a unique experience with Zeitgeist, due to having had one and a half very inquisitive players determined to "100%" the campaign, along with a permissive GM who has allowed a lot of free rein to explore themes, concepts, and eventualities, except where it conflicts with the hard coded events of the AP.

After playing through the vast majority of it, the adventure really is broad and deep in scale, with an impressive combination of allowing the players to enact significant change in the overall state of the world and both allied and enemy plans, while also looping back to the structure of the AP taking into account the changes.

I would also note that the majority of the frustrations of the GM and fellow players were from the fact that some of the plot threads were not followed through on; essentially, they were sad there was not more of those factional lore and story that we could play through. The fact that we were 100%ing this made the shortcomings more evident, in comparison with the overall structure.

The standout highlight moments for me -
The Coaltongue incident
The Intrigue aboard the Railway
The Reunification of Ber
Stanfield's Betrayal

And, TVisiting Every Destroyed Plane in the Gyre, or What We Did On Our Holidays.

I myself had touched on the technological and ethical treatment of the many changes going on, and am sad that I was unable to have been able to spend more time getting involved that Adslahnit had put in.

Overall, it really has been a blast to play, and from the moral and philosophical queries of hiveminds and use of religion for the greater good, to touching on the plight of "common folk" in a Zeitgeist (title drop) of culture, of technology and more. Both in thanks to the writers and the GM and other players.

And we still have one more book to go!
 

Adslahnit

Explorer
The Coaltongue incident was run mostly by-the-book, since the DM was not changing much then. Arkwright did change up the way the duchess and Sokana were introduced, how Sokana made it to the engine room, and how difficult it would be to repair the engine room.

Book #4, the train adventure, was among my favorite books. Arkwright presented the material therein reasonably faithfully, though expanded it with scenes and dialogue of their own creation.

I talked about this in another thread, but the "reunification of Ber," as Lily Fae puts it, played more towards book #6's sidebar on shaming Bruse Shantus than actually playing along with his game. It definitely took some extrapolation of events, and the DM had to revamp several events and drop the railroad-building minigame entirely. Still, it was quite entertaining.

Roland Stanfield's betrayal was one of the more heavily-revised plot arcs in our DM's run. We felt that it did not make much sense as presented, particularly the nonsensical speech in book #9 and why the Flint lighthouse was even necessary in the first place. We were deeply confused by what the lighthouse was supposed to do, because the lighthouses' function was established back in book #7, and book #9 tossed that out of the window while simultaneously contradicting book #10's outcome of events. This entire plot arc is why I really, really prefer for magic in this type of "scientific" setting to have consistent rules. So this plot arc was entertaining, but I would say that it was despite what the book presented, not because of what the book presented.

Book #12 had the most amount of custom content from the DM thus far. More than half of it was custom content, or expanded content. The metaphysics behind the Gyre were confusing and did not make all that much sense, but the DM was diligent in filling in the gaps of the lore and creating many new planes of their own making. Book #12 has been a great testament to our DM's level of skill and commitment.

Due to our rather unique style of playing through this adventure path, we already know what book #13 is about: coming back to Lanjyr delayed by months, liberating a mind-controlled world from the Obscurati (with some planar lantern/lighthouse mechanics that do not actually make much sense compared to how they were established in previous books, and some vaguely-handwaved "Ghost-Council-stabilized" hiveminds), splitting up to rescue four or five key locations via duplicants (we will likely be skipping the duplicants part, since we can teleport around with ease due to the planar configuration), and performing the Axis Seal ritual while competing with Nicodemus. We will be revamping a fair bit of this.

We have also already reviewed the mechanics of the final battle as a group, and we are dreading how janky and nonsensical much of it is. The final battle, as presented to the DM, is very naïve and ambitious. It reads more like how the author would want a Zeitgeist movie's finale to play out, while completely neglecting the turn- and round-based structure of RPGs and woefully underestimating the capacities of a max-level party. This section was definitely written by someone imagining a more cinematic and "rule of cool" battle, rather than the way, say, the epic Living Forgotten Realms adventures pay meticulous detail to providing intriguing mechanical and tactical challenges to a high-level party. In all likelihood, we are probably going to rewrite the mechanics and flow of more than half of the final battle, preserving only a few key statistics blocks.

On top of that, the details of the Axis Seal ritual itself are confusing, like the inexplicable double-slotting of planar icons, or the levitating Axis Seal that contradicts how the colossus was design to set the seal back down. (Never mind that the book #10's plot thread of Borne 2.0 being built in Cherage was completely dropped.)

The epilogue scenes have been described as "weaksauce." We will most likely be discarding them in favor of custom-written epilogue scenes. We have been very ambitious in changing the world, shaking up the status quo, introducing new magics and technologies, and making contact with the inhabitants of distant worlds and stars, so more down-to-earth epilogue scenes likely are not going to suit our needs.

Book #13 still seems very promising, however, and it looks like an epic finale to the best adventure path that we have ever seen.

Again, if anyone has any questions for how we have been handling some things in our game, or some of the more puzzling features in the logs, I am free to offer some clarifications. For example, my character (mostly) drops the annoying speech habit some time into book #8, and we are so engaged in the tactical and mechanical side of 4e combat that during fights, our text-based roleplaying in the in-character channel tends to be on the sparser end.
 
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gideonpepys

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the final battle. Haven’t analysed it too closely myself. What specific issues have you run across?

I was thinking myself of making the ancient seal site truly huge, because it doesn’t seem big enough to me. The thing in the centre is supposed to be 300 feet across isn’t it?

Anyway, that might create more problems than it solves. But it would mean that the sky ships would fit on the ‘map’, and it would take several round to travel from stone pillar to stone pillar. Separate groups or individuals would effectively be cut off from their allies by sheer distance.

I’m also thinking of having Pemberton’s gnolls in dragon fliers supporting the Ob, because I think there need to be more bad guys!

I’d love to hear your ideas.
 

Adslahnit

Explorer
Funnily enough, the Axis Seal is stated as being 100 feet in diameter in the campaign guide and in book #6, 200 feet later on in book #7, and 400 feet in book #13 and the actual battle map. In other words, the Axis Seal has doubled in diameter each time.

From what I understand, you are running the Cypher System, which is decidedly more narrative-oriented and loosey-goosey in its combat than, say, the nitty-gritty grid-based tactics of D&D 4e that our own group is using. I dare say that book #13's ambitious and heavily aspirational prescriptions on how the final battle should play out will actually be applicable to you, since you are running a system that supports more cinematic- and narrative-oriented combat. It is less likely to work smoothly for a group heavily entrenched in the thick mechanics of 4e, which are heavily gamist and have a tough time supporting more loosey-goosey, cinematic combat.
 

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