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ZEITGEIST The Hounds - a Zeitgeist Campaign

MarkM

Explorer
We have been running the Zeitgeist Adventure Path on Roll20 since the beginning of February (with individual sessions before that). One of my players keeps a detailed journal (2 others journal as well, but not as consistently) written by his character, who is named Jovan. He has given me permission to share it with you.

In this campaign, RHC constables are the elite of the elite, and hundreds of people apply for every open spot. The premise of this particular team of constables is that none of them met those high standards individually, but Inspector Delft saw something in each of them. Delft's view (not shared by Saxby) is that instead of choosing the best individuals and throwing them together, instead the RHC should be looking for a balanced and exceptional team where the sum will be greater than its parts. Here are the members of the Hounds (they wrote individual backstories ranging from a few to 20 pages, but here's a quick summary (written by one of the players after they met for the first time):
  • Vic Greystar - Human Forge Cleric
    • Smaller muscular woman, pockmarked face, craftswoman, either the tallest dwarf you’ve ever seen or one of the shorter humans out there. Heavy armor user, worships an old dwarvish god that not too many people pay homage to anymore.
    • Failed RHC tryouts but was stubborn enough that she kept showing up until they let her in
  • Jovan Prosser, i.e. “Roach” - Yuan-ti Rogue who becomes a Bladesinger
    • Yuan-ti man, Academy graduate, captured and imprisoned for a number of years by pirates, Nimble and lightly armored. Has a notebook that he writes in constantly, even when we are in friendly conversation
    • Independently tried investigating the Ragman murders. Where he ran into Delft and demonstrated his potential as an investigator
  • Gyldiel Eveningsong- Eladrin Paladin/Diviner Mage
    • Eladrin man, shiny armor, dreamy and not quite altogether focused
    • Very socially odd
      • But his dreams seem to come true sometimes...weird
    • “Used to be in the RHC, then he wasn’t Now he is again” (20 years earlier he found information about the Obscurati; his memory of this was wiped and he was sold as a slave to drow living in the Bleak Gate; was rescued a year ago, but is having trouble resuming normal life)
  • Bellum Quartzight - Gnome Artificer
    • Gnomish ancestry certainly, claims to also be descended from dragon tyrants, but that may just be family legend
    • Loves, guns, gadgetry, and the occasional barfight, though we managed to avoid one this time
    • Wants to know everyone’s “deal” though is initially reluctant to elaborate on his own.
      • But he can pull guns from pockets that definitely shouldn’t be able to hold/hide them.
  • Lady Sylvia Locke- Half-elven Paladin who worships gods of the Clergy; took one level of Warlock as part of a deal with Beshela who saved her from drowning
    • Rich girl? Her family is at least. Coffee fortune.
    • Appears half-elvish,tall, blonde, Forge ball player, heavy armor user. Good at talking and relating to people
 
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MarkM

Explorer
(Here is some additional lore my player constructed as he developed his backstory:)

The Reavers- Toward the end of the war between Risur and Danor, a company of sellswords became very famous. They were led by a giant half-elf named Reiland and called, “The Reavers.”
They became famous for their renowned martial prowess and their unwillingness to break a contract once agreed to. However, they would only sign on for short periods of time or singular conflicts in a contained area. This led to their services being hired out to both sides of the war quite often (though never at the same time).

Fearing betrayal despite the Reavers reputation for never breaching a contract, both Danor and Risur eventually signed an accord with one another that mercenary bands would no longer be hired for wartime purposes. Knowing this wouldn’t be a popular decision to companies like the Reavers, word of this accord reached the ears of many mercenary Captains at the hands of assassins. Many sellswords lost their leaders during this time and simply disbanded. Reiland and the Reavers, however, defeated or evaded any attempts at assassination and swore a blood vengeance against both nations.

If they were famous before, their infamy now grew to fairy tale proportions. Mothers living in coastal towns and villages would coerce their children into compliance by telling them, “If you don’t behave, the Reavers will come get you!”

Reiland took his men up and down the coasts of both nations raping, pillaging, and plundering. This continued even after the war and still does to this day. Attempts have been made at finding or killing the Reavers but none have been successful.
 

MarkM

Explorer
Meet the Author: Introducing Jovan Prosser
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I'll provide some additional detail on character who is "writing" these journals to help give context. Here is a quick summary of his 10-page backstory:

Jovan grew up in the wetlands near Shale. His mother died young, so he and his brother Asi were raised by his father, a librarian of yuan-ti descent. At 18 Jovan was accepted to the prestigious Battalion Military Academy in Flint. Things went well until he went out on a routine training mission along the coast.

Jovan's ship was attacked and captured by the Reavers and he was taken captive. He did what he had to to survive, including things that he is not proud of. Over the next couple of year he earned enough of their trust to go from slave to deck swab to a junior member of the crew. After two years as a pirate, he escaped and went home. Days later his family was killed, presumably by Reavers. He wandered as sort of a hobo for part of the year, then made it back to the Battalion school where he resumed his studies, fearful that someone would find out he had been a murderous member of the pirate crew, not just a prisoner.

Just prior to graduation, his classmate Marwin Costa was murdered, presumably by the serial killer known as the Ragman. Marwin had been more of a rival than a friend, but Jovan became obsessed with finding his killer. During his unauthorized individual investigation, he met a beggar named "Old Stoli" who seemed a bit too observant and curious. When the officer lists were released, instead of getting a military posting Jovan was assigned to the RHC. When he arrived for his first meeting, he realized that Old Stoli was none other than Asst. Chief Inspector Stover Delft, who had seen Jovan's potential as an investigator while he had been looking in to the murders himself.
 
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MarkM

Explorer
Chapter 1, A Traitor’s Lament

Session 1 (2-4-21):
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After a full few days of tests, interviews, and probing, I sat alone in a small room at the RHC. I wasn’t sure if I’d made the cut or not… I was just left alone to sit.

After a bit of time, a young man came to the room to get me and led me, along with 4 others, to an office upstairs. An older man… one I recognized was waiting for us. It appears as if Old Stoli was more than he seemed… which I knew but this was still a surprise. The beggar who I spoke to on my Ragman investigation was actually Inspector Stover Delft. He told us we’d been assembled as a team in a unique way for the RHC. While none of us might be the best individually to normally work for the RHC, together, we were meticulously complementary of one another.

He told us to get to know each other and he’d be back shortly. There was a very short human woman named Vic, a tall Eladrin man? Woman? It’s hard to tell with their kind. His name was Gyldiel. A tall half elven woman named Sylvia Locke was also there. And last, a gnome named Bellum.

We talked for a bit… all a bit awkward in those first few moments. After a while, Delft returned and told us he’d have our first assignment in the morning. In the meantime, we should continue getting acquainted and come up with a name for our team if we could. He also told us to head to the quartermaster to requisition any equipment we needed. He then proceeded to show us to our collective office and left.

As we stood there alone, there was some expensive champagne as well as other treats that made me a little nervous. It felt like a test to see if we’d partake while on duty. But, the others didn’t seem to feel the same and they shared in the goodies. We stopped by the quartermaster and picked up a couple of things and then made our way to a bar soooo much farther from headquarters than made sense to me but… I was just along for the ride.

On the way, Sylvia I think it was, asked about my investigation into the Ragman and if I’d learned anything. I told them all I’d picked up and they seemed intrigued. After our time at the bar, they even wanted to stop by the bridge to see the markings underneath. Sylvia and Gyl confirmed that they were Sylvan and a spell or curse of some kind.

We all went our separate ways after that and met back up in the morning. That’s when Delft told us we’d be working the crowd at the celebration of the Coaltongue in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, we were to track down any suspects that might be out to sabotage or ruin the event.

We could think of folks from Shale who weren’t happy they didn’t build the ship, Danorians who might not want us to have steam powered ships, Gale the Fey who is being blamed for terrorist activities all over Flint, and military veterans who didn’t appreciate the ship was designed by a Tiefling.

We did our best to track down anyone who fit those categories and came up with a list of a few dozen people to watch out for day of.

When that day arrived, Bell and I dressed in plain clothes to walk the crowd while the others would be in full uniform. Oddly, Gyl mentioned a dream he’d had with several specific details that felt oddly connected to the day. We told him we’d keep and eye out and, sure enough, it seems our companion has a prophetic gift...

It was an eventful first few hours. Sylvia drew her weapon on a suspicious man. Gyl shot arrows at another. Bell pulled his gun on the kneecap of yet one more. And, finally, we threw down with a veteran in the middle of the crowd who tried to take Sylvia’s weapon. We dropped him but the crowd seemed to be close to panic and that would have been a bad situation.

But, a man stood up… Thames Grimsley, the head of the Dockers. He called for order and had a calming effect on the crowd. Folks settled down but there was still a lot more day left. The really important people were about to arrive…
 
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MarkM

Explorer
Session 2 (2-11-21):
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We moved over to the Isle where the ship was being built and the crowd that had been prescreened. That made our jobs much easier for the next couple of hours. Along the way, Delft asked to speak with us and commended us for handling the first portion of our assignment well. He told us to stay sharp however and not to bother him as he’d be speaking with members of the nobility.

The big shots began to all arrive including the King, his sister, and other members of the social elite. As that was happening, Harkover Lee, the king’s advisor and bodyguard stepped off the ship and in our direction. Delft, close by, came over and introduced us to Lee. He was a relatively friendly man who seemed to already know of Gyldiel… interesting. He also asked if we would be willing to come aboard for the voyage (not what we were originally supposed to do) to keep an eye out for things for him. I asked Delft if he had a more experienced team he’d rather give this assignment to but Lee laughed and told us Delft had asked him personally to include us… again… a little strange but definitely an honor.

So, we boarded the ship and within only a little while, we set sail. We mingled at the party for quite a while. Vic spoke to someone she was familiar with but who seemed to have a strained relationship with. Bell got his chance to talk to the Tiefling maker of this great warship. And, I had the chance to speak to Captain Smith for a time while stifling coughs due to the cigar he gave me to smoke with him.

While I was with Smith, the Duchess and her handmaid approached the other members of our team. The handmaid I’d later find out was an Eladrin disguising herself as an elf… The Duchess asked the team to find her a place to rest downstairs which my comrades obliged and led her down below.

About a half hour later, Delft asked us to retrieve the Duchess as the King was about to make his speech. It would be embarrassing for him if she was not in attendance.

We all went below to the room she was napping in… and found no guard had been posted despite our request that it be so. When Sylvia knocked on the door, the handmaid said they’d be out in a minute but a splash could be heard on the other side. We banged open the door and the Duchess was nowhere to be seen while the handmaid was quickly stuffing something into a drawer.

I walked over, opened the drawer and demanded she stop playing games. That’s when everything went to naughty word. She moved around me and cast a fiery spell at several of my companions and a halfling, hidden in the shadows, stepped out and attacked Sylvia. It was on! We dealt some significant damage to the handmaid while Gyldiel cast a grease spell which was well intended and placed but had the unintended downside of dividing our team into two locations.

Sylvia and I continued fighting the halfling in the room while the rest chased the handmaid down a level as she fled from the battle.

In our room, Sylvia and I eventually took down the rogue and knocked him unconscious. I found out later the handmaid led the others to the furnace which was packed with firestones and threw in another stone which started turning into a fire elemental. There were also two engineers in on it who were using rust monster antenna to seal the release valves shut… their intent was to blow up the ship!

We’d also later find out Gyldiel was messaging back and forth with Delft and apparently they tried to teleport the king away but it failed to take him… the Duchess was trying to assassinate him…

Sylvia and I eventually made it down to the others. Vic was doing a great job of controlling the flames in the furnace and buying us time. She also reached in a plucked the stone out, burning herself but stopping the fire elemental from fully forming. Sylvia and Bell tried to get the sealed valves opened while Gyl and I took down the handmaiden. Delft and the tielfing engineer finally made it down to us and we were able to save the ship and stop the explosion by firing off the main deck gun and releasing the building energy that was so dangerous.

Sylvia told us the splash we heard was the duchess swimming away. She must have had a ship waiting for her somewhere or maybe she was going to use her magic to get away because she surely couldn’t swim her way back.

And, with this failed assassination, what was next? Does she have enough sway in Shale to get it to declare itself its own nation? Is this the start of a civil war?
 

MarkM

Explorer
Session 3 (2-14-21):
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In the immediate aftermath of the shock of the giant deck guns going off, the king calmed everyone down and called them to order. He still had a big announcement. That announcement turned out to be his desire for lasting peace with Danor. And, to ensure it, he would be marrying a Danorian noble in one year’s time. Most on the ship took that news positively though some were clearly shocked.

We also heard that the Duchess escaped on the back of a giant squid… which is very strange.

Following the speech, Governor Roland Standfill came up to us and congratulated us on a job well done. He told us he’d be keeping an eye on us in the future. Bell nudged me to ask him about his time on Cauldron Hill 100 years ago and if he could think of a connection to some of the Ragman murders. Nothing came to mind for him though and he seemed to think their defenses would keep the Ragman away. I was personally less worried about the Ragman physically bypassing their defenses and more worried about any occult connection…

We had several days of paperwork for us when we got back to work. Even more worrisome was we received word military forces were stirring in Shale.

After a few days a gentleman both Vic and Sylvia seemed to know came and told us Delft was requesting our presence… right now.

So, we made our way to his office to find him in the presence of a Danoran woman who carried herself like a noble. Her name was Lya Jierre… indeed a noble. She was quite famous as a martial scientist. I’d even read her thesis in one of my classes.

She and Delft together told us what our next assignment was going to be. The Duchess had captured a Danoran island out in the archipelago. To avoid war, we were to accompany a military force that meant to take back the island. Our role was relatively simple. They needed a civilian police force to be the ones to arrest her as a military arrest would lead to a more complicated situation.
Lya also asked us to find her cousin Nathan and turn him over to Danoran authorities. Last, the island had to be turned over to Danor 4 days from now.

All of the conditions needed to be met in order to avoid another war.

We set sail aboard Captain Smith’s ship a few hours later that evening. Also on board was the strike team that was going to be the first boots on the ground once we got there. One of them, a goliath called “7 foot Dan” asked if we wanted to spar with him.

Vic, Bell and I said sure knowing if he was as good as he was supposed to be… we’d be in trouble. His weapon of choice was a giant spiked chain… not sure how he planned to spar with that and not kill us… In the end, he did beat us but we put up a much better fight than either he or us expected. That gave me a good feeling about the mission to come…
 

MarkM

Explorer
Session 4 (2-17-21):
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Captain Smith called the other team and ours down for a mission brief. He told us we’d find an underwater cave, follow it to the entrance to the mines, make our way through the mines, and then either take the mountain route or the flat route around to the fort.

I, and seemingly the others, immediately rejected the idea of the mountain route as climbing in the dark sounded like the worst idea possible. That was especially so when we learned the flat route, while longer, would take about as much time as the mountain route. The danger with the flat route was running into patrols… a risk we’d take.

So, that night, we set out in a small boat. The other team jumped off in search of the cave while we waited behind. They told us when they pulled on the rope tied to the boat, come down.

They were gone for maybe two minutes when we saw flashes of light in the water and the rope went suddenly slack. Fearing the worst, but wanting to believe the best, we waited a few minutes. The rope started jerking violently and so we went down.

We found an insanely large rock slide that seemed as if it had been cut from the top of the cave in a very strange way. Burton the goblin was the only one in sight and his leg was pinned under rock. We were able to free him but he told us the rest of the team had been crushed… yikes.

We surfaced and found a place for him to hide and then our team decided we needed to press on. I was very unsure of that as… well… what are our realistic chances of success? But, the others were insistent and so we moved on.

We found a large room with ropes and ladders leading up. We were attacked by Danoran minors in the room who wrecked Vic with fire (yet again) but we were able to talk them down and convince them we were against the Duchess.

Moving out of the mines, we stuck with the decision to take the longer, flat path. Here we go…
 

Thanks for the updates.

Do your players read this thread? I don't want to discuss spoiler stuff if they might see it.

How are they liking the campaign so far? If you started in February, how far have you gotten?
 

MarkM

Explorer
Thanks for the updates.

Do your players read this thread? I don't want to discuss spoiler stuff if they might see it.

How are they liking the campaign so far? If you started in February, how far have you gotten?
I'm hoping they don't know about and read the forums, though they may at some point. They have access to the journal elsewhere, so shouldn't be following this thread.

They absolutely love the campaign this far. The world is so immersive, and they all have detailed backgrounds and storylines weaving in and out. We finished Chapter 3 about 3 weeks ago, so are doing some non-Zeitgeiat one-shots with rotating DMs while eagerly awaiting the next chapter on Roll20.

My players tend to explore every avenue, so I would guess we are slower than most groups (also, online play can be slower). I also added some additional content (to integrate back stories, but also to try to avoid getting ahead of the Roll20 content). I think their only complaint about the campaign thus far is the pace of level-ups; there are so many sessions between levels. With the complexity of Starseer plus about 3 sessions of homebrew content, they were at the same low level for a LONG time.

That said, I think so far it is the best campaign we have done (and we have been playing together for 20 years as a group). The deep storylines, complexity of plots and villain motivation, and immersive integrated setting are perfect for experienced players. Also, Tormyr's conversions and resources are great. I still spend hours a week preparing sometimes, but my time is spent on the story, integratong things that pull in individual characters, and making things flow rather than on maps and statblocks.
 



MarkM

Explorer
Session 5 (2-18-21):
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Coming out of the hills, we could see a village up ahead. We were going to simply move around it but… it was a little too quiet… a little too dark. I moved up to get a look and stepped on something… a hand! There were a few bodies around me. They were Danorians and I assume the former residents of this village. Calling the others up, we moved cautiously into the village and found a large building Bell pointed out looked like a factory of some kind.

We entered it and had a hard time figuring out what they made here at first. But, after looking around a bit, we found an ingot of adamantium. It looked as if they’d figured out a way to manufacture it out of lesser materials… quite a discovery indeed.

Sylvia noticed movement just outside of town while we were in the factory. But, by the time we got out, whatever it was had moved on and gone south. That wasn’t the direction of our mission so we packed up and started on the road that would lead us to the fort.

We moved quietly for a little over an hour trying to keep an eye out for patrols… which we found. In fact, both groups almost stumbled into each other.

It was a short fight where we took out 4 men and 1 who appeared to be their leader. He was a spellcaster. Through dialogue during the fight, we were able to discern that they were indeed aware that what they were doing was treason and that they fully supported the Duchess.

This led to an interesting moment of tension when the fight was over. I wouldn’t have been sad if some had died knowing what we know now. This is a war, a rebellion. Didn’t seem like Bell had any issues with that either. Sylvia and Vic (particularly Sylvia) though still wanted to leave people alive if possible. But, Gyldiel took it to another level beyond even Bell and I. After the soldiers were chained up to a tree and gagged, Gyl moved to kill all 5 of them. It took Sylvia and Vic standing in his way to stop it.

He said it was too risky to leave them alive. Had he followed through with it, to me at least, that would have been a war crime that not only cost us our jobs but potentially much worse. Sylvia reminded him our mission briefing stated we should leave any alive we possibly could. These were Risuri soldiers after all, and maybe even misguided patriots. That seemed to satiate him and we moved on leaving the enemy alive behind us.

Not too long after that, a very disturbing event occurred. As we were walking, our vision blurred and it was like we were somewhere else. The sun was blue like for the other team right before they all died. We all thought that might be our fate for a moment too but then it blurred and we were back. But, we had mud on our boots from that other place. We were actually there! Very odd.

We ran across another strange scene on the road a little while later. It was an overturned wagon with swords and firearms scattered on the road. However, they were placed in such a way that it was obvious they couldn’t have fallen that way… it was staged. We looked around quickly, fearing an ambush. Vic spotted a sniper’s nest a bit into the trees and she and Gyl sprinted toward it to spring any trap that might be waiting for us. But, there was no one there. Odd… whoever it was left sometime ago. So, it was hard to tell if it was a Danorian trap or something left by the Duchess.

Also, the weapons on the road had strange magical glyphs on them that likely would have done something nasty to us had we touched them.

Further on and very close to the fort, we heard a crashing up ahead. We took cover and a headless metal golem came stumbling by us. I figured it was one of the fort’s defenses that the Duchess’s forces wrecked but it ran away before it could be finished off.

After it passed, we finished our travel and took a short rest outside the city to patch up a few wounds and catch our breath before it got really hard.

We approached the wall and cast a Passwall spell to get through the outer defenses. Our plan was to disguise ourselves using the uniforms of the soldiers we’d met out on the road. We’d never pass close inspection but if we acted like we belonged, hopefully no one would give us a second glance. We intended to pass by the makeshift brig we knew about and get a sense of the jail’s defenses so we could come back after the gatehouse and look for Jierre’s cousin Nathan.

We didn’t see it directly but there definitely were more patrols in that area. Further on, I took to the roof to try and guide the rest of the team away from any patrols that might stumble on them. Unfortunately, I stumbled at one point and someone came out of a house and almost blew our cover.

But, we handled it and finally arrived at the wall that would lead up to the gatehouse we were here for. We bluffed our way past a couple of guards but, as we got really close to the mission objective, someone asked to see our papers… the fight was on.

We took out several guards, including a wizard. Making our way into the gatehouse, Bell found the controls, activated the gate and gave the signal to the ships out in the bay.

It would take them about 15 minutes to get to us and, unfortunately, we discovered we couldn’t simply break the handle off. Anything that stopped the hydraulics of the sea gate would simply cause the gate to start closing and not just stay in whatever position it was in. That meant we’d have to hold our position against the enemy for most, if not all, that time.

We had caltrops, fire stones, enough furniture to barricade the doors, spikes to make the doors even more impassable… it was a very defensible position… but against how many? This was starting to make my blood pressure rise...
 

MarkM

Explorer
We did the "hold the sea gate" as waves of tactical combat rather than a skill challenge. One of my players in particular loves city battles. This one didn't disappoint, and it and the battle on the Coaltongue were among their favorite sessions. I really played up the "these commandos are the baddest Navy-SEAL types in Risur, and you are just rookies sent to do paperwork & support until the Duchess is delivered safely into your hands. You are going just so that her arrest is technically civil/criminal and and won't to do a millitary tribunal.:" That made them feel like total underdogs, but the scene turned really epic when they used the fortifications to fend off wave after wave of superior foes. (And turned again when they tried their luck with Asrabey!)
 

MarkM

Explorer
Session 6 (2-25-21):
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The first wave came at us within a couple of minutes and also turned out to be our hardest fight. For whatever reason, luck wasn’t with us and they not only got some solid hits in on us, they even made it into the control room by busting down the door before we could take them down.

We thought we might be done for based on how that first fight went. But, the next was a bit smoother. We heard them coming up the ramp this time. Lighting up their approach, we were able to do some damage to them before they ever made it to the tower. By the time they arrived, we were in good position… and had better luck… so we took them down without too much fuss.

The third wave came at us with only a couple of minutes left before the ships arrived. This wave had a mage with them. I targeted him early and often and was able to bring him down before he did much to us. This wave made more of a fight than the last and several made it into the tower with us much like the first. But, we threw everything we had at them and found ourselves standing on a pile of bodies when all was said and done.

Captain Smith’s vessel was one of the first in through the sea gate and moved to dock near our tower. When he came out to find us, not the elite team, at the tower, to say he was shocked would be an understatement. He told us to rest up while they secured the fort and then we could head into the city once it was safe to find our secondary target and, hopefully, arrest the Duchess as well…
 

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