log in or register to remove this ad

 

WotBS WotBS critiques for Zeitgeist planning?

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I don't disagree with your logic. If I were you I might make the same point, and might also disregard my suggestion. And naturally, as I am running it, I am removing those that don't mesh well with our play.

However, understand this:
1) Objectively, so far WotBS has "a lot" of NPCs. Whether used by the DM or not, simply having them adds overhead to the game planning (as well as adding many positive things such as a rich setting and deep and complex environment).
2) when those NPCs carry information or plot hooks, it is not easy to "exclude" them.

Perhaps there is a more happy medium. Perhaps not. I defer that to the authors (and publisher) to decide, but wanted to share my opinion.

The answer, probably, is simply to make it clearer in the text that they're optional. Any of 'em can easily pass on their info and disappear (and even reappear if the DM needs them to).

Perhaps what's lacking is a "DM Advice" sidebar. A short paragraph could solve that easily.
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

LightPhoenix

First Post
I run it with three PCs as well. So my perspective is with so many NPCs, the party itself becomes 'overwhelmed'. Different strokes for diffwerent folks. I have had no trouble adjusting encounters by removing baddies/replacing them with minions.

I typically don't run full-on NPCs, just companion characters. They only have a couple of powers, so they're not complex, and they don't tend to overshadow the PCs. Honestly though, I like them mostly because I simply don't have time, nor the desire, to go and re-balance every encounter. Like you said, different strokes.

However, I agree that as presented in WotBS the NPCs need some work. Most of them are written up as full PCs, and understandably so since this was before DMG2. For example, I would drastically pare down Torrent per the companion character guidelines; as she is, she's way too complex and I could definitely see her stealing the spotlight in combat.

My experience has been that encounter adjustment really depends on the mix of roles. My group is two strikers and a leader, so while they can spike damage, they're pretty terrible at dealing with large groups or heavy hitters. So, something like using more minions tends to increase grind. Therefore, for WotBS and my current group, I would probably make Crystin focus on minion control (new MM, Burning Hands, probably Expeditious Retreat).
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
My experience has been that encounter adjustment really depends on the mix of roles. My group is two strikers and a leader, so while they can spike damage, they're pretty terrible at dealing with large groups or heavy hitters. So, something like using more minions tends to increase grind.

Heh - my players have the exact opposite group. Two leaders, a controller, and a defender. No strikers at all!

It's group optimized for grind - they never die, but they take ages to kill anything!
 

Zinovia

Explorer
I find this confusing. They're completely optional and excludable. Why deny them to those groups who find them useful?

You can use them as little or as much as you want to. As the DM, you make that call. Including them allows people who would make a different choice to you the option; omitting them gives those people no option.

I can't get behind the concept of excluding options because 100% of the customers won't use them. Better to include them and let people choose to not use them.
In WotBS some of them are closely tied to the plot in ways that may not be obvious until 2-3 modules later. A DM who has eliminated Torrent in module 1 without reading Shelter from the Storm (#3), may not realize how important it is that one of the PCs have a connection with Lee Sidoneth, and probably the Lyceum as well. Missing this makes it harder to run Shelter as written.

Haddin reoccurred near Vidor at the beginning of module 5 after I had killed him off previously. Surprise! Most of my reading ahead in the series has been from the 3.5 version that I bought originally, and this was an added plot thread in 4E, so I had no idea it existed. I used Paradim instead, since he escaped the fight at the end of Shelter (actually his fate is never mentioned) and my characters despise loose ends and escaped villains. Also that stuff with trolls in Vidor wound up being resolved as they traveled through on the way to Bresk, rather than on the way back as written. There is no way my group would ever hear about a village in immediate danger and ignore the problem until weeks later when they got back from their diplomatic mission.

Of course they investigated immediately, and so found biomanced trolls and Paradim, who despite being about 4 levels higher and having lots of nasty trolls with him, they killed just before he could escape alive. It's okay though, his remains teleported away as they killed him. My group may think I was trying to deprive them of treasure, but it's actually because he had already crafted a phylactery and bound his soul to it. He'll be back. :devil:

Katrina is pretty thoroughly woven into the story, but you don't have to drag her along for three modules before dropping her off in Seaquen. The problem there is actually getting the party to talk to her enough to influence her course of action in later modules. They rescued her, they see she found a job as Simeon's secretary, she is no longer their concern. That's where I am at right now.

In any case, various NPCs are woven into the story in ways that the DM may not have anticipated because he hasn't read ahead 3 or more modules from the current adventure. What you could do is include a sidebar for each NPC with information on what to do if the NPC doesn't go with the party or is eliminated entirely.

i.e. What if Torrent Doesn't Go With Them?
Torrent's relationship with her mentor Lee Sidoneth and background as a student of the Lyceum Academy wil be important in future adventures. If you choose to remove Torrent from the story, or have her stay in Gate Pass rather than traveling with the party, then it is important that one or more of the PCs have this connection instead. Any arcane caster could be a student of the academy, or perhaps one of the characters grew up in Seaquen and knew Lee from his time there.

The problem with eliminating any NPC now is that I don't always know when that character will come back as a plot element in the future. It hasn't stopped me from doing it, but I always feel I need to read ahead a lot so I can find out the consequences before making a change. For instance Tiljann never went with them so all the stuff with Etinifi is really never going to come up until they find him. They won't know who he is or particularly care that they have found him. Just another crazy prisoner. I will need to rewrite a lot of that. So a decision I made in module 2 is creating an issue in module 8.

Make it clear to the DM which NPCs are strictly optional, and the changes you need to make if you remove them, and that solves the problem. Stat them out as companion characters to make them easier to run and you're golden.
 
Last edited:

Honestly, when I was working on WotBS, the idea was never "have lots of NPCs fighting alongside the party." It was more like "show that a lot of people are fleeing Ragesia, and give the party a chance to help these refugees." Also, I wanted to build a stable of allies the party could turn to later on, and give the conflict a broader scale.

Obviously it didn't quite work for some people. Not to worry, though, because ZEITGEIST will have a distinctly different story structure than WotBS. Several adventures are city-based, so there won't be NPCs "tagging along." Rather, the party might decide that they'd like the help of some NPC or another, and they can call in a favor to get some short-term assistance.
 

pneumatik

The 8th Evil Sage
There's a lot of cool story in WotBS, but the PCs don't always get to participate in it. I've been running the second 3.5 adventure online for a while and I've found it really difficult to get the PCs involved in the story of the forest. The story about Anyariel fighting the Shahalesti off, her and Timbre falling in love, Gwenvere's unrequited love, and starting the forest fire is great; the mod should be about that. Instead it's about killing a monster to lift a curse. I don't dislike the actual plot, I just wish the PCs got to experience the cool stuff instead of learning some of it from NPCs.

I get the feeling that the relationship between Leska and Coaltongue, and the whole story of how they became immortal, is similarly not experienced. I've only skimmed that far ahead (it's a lot of read in pdf), though, so I could be wrong.

Now not every adventure is like this. Gate Pass has the PCs absolutely involved. I think Mad King's Banquet will do likewise. But please, if Zeitgeist has cool stories in it let the PCs participate in them instead of hearing about them after the fact.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I get the feeling that the relationship between Leska and Coaltongue, and the whole story of how they became immortal, is similarly not experienced. I've only skimmed that far ahead (it's a lot of read in pdf), though, so I could be wrong.

No, it's not experienced. It's backstory which happened 50 years before the campaign starts.
 

No, it's not experienced. It's backstory which happened 50 years before the campaign starts.

Well, it's partially experienced, in the Temple in adventure 7.

But yeah, it's kind of like having the PCs be spies in World War 2, and trying to find a way to let them experience Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s, or the Russian revolution in 1917. Those are interesting stories, but a little out of our scope.

In ZEITGEIST, though, the party does get acquainted with some movers and shakers from the very first scene.
 

KidSnide

Adventurer
My biggest request for Zeitgeist (over WoBS) would be clearer descriptions of the important NPCs, what they want and how they are trying to do it. I just finished Innenotdar, and it was hard for me to figure out (1) what or who brought Indominatability to the forest, (2) how or (3) why that worked. Maybe that's not critical to the PC experience, but a substantial part of the module is about figuring out what happened to create the current situation, and it was difficult to adjudicate without really understanding how it happened.

I think all this information was present in the module, but it wasn't organized in a single place. I'm prepping Shelter now, and I find the "what's going on" information to be similarly distributed. Even if I understand a given encounter, it's not always clear why that encounter matters to the story. To take the Shelter example, it's very important to realize that exposure to the Tidereaver's Infusion is a coincidence that is critical to making the module work. I'd find it a lot easier to handle these modules if they started with three sections:

1) Backstory. Here's what happened.
2) Rogue's Gallery. Here's who matters, what they want and how they are trying to do it.
3) Outline. Here are the expected encounters and how they relate to one another.

On skill challenges, I'm not sure that I'd vote for fewer per se. (I really like encounters that are dependent on skills.) However, I'd agree that the skill challenges need to be less dependent on the standard WotC X successes before Y failures model.

For me to run a good skill challenge, I need to have a better sense of the underlying situation. For river rafting, I need to know about how the river has several sections that are differently suited to individual skills. That way, the PCs can decide whether to run the rapids or walk along the shore. For persuading NPCs, I need to know what those NPCs care about, so I can hand over modifiers of +/- 5 or 10, depending on whether the players come up with compelling arguments. Just like combat, a good skill challenge needs to draw upon both the player's ability to judge the situation and choose the right approach and the character's inherent talents.

Also, I really like custom feats and paragon paths. They make a huge different in creating a PC party that's tailored to the world. However, I wish the feats and paragon paths in WoBS met standard 4e design standards.

Lastly, although I'll echo the desire to have the different tiers feel distinctive, the lack of "traditional" planar travel is one of my favorite parts of WotBS. I don't want my PCs to have to leave the world in order to find adventure past level 11.

-KS
 

Fox Lee

Explorer
Okay, here's one. My group just finished playing through the Fire Forest (4e). I loved this adventure on paper, but in practice it dragged a bit. We talked about that tonight and decided it was for three reasons:

  1. The Fire Forest feels like a distraction from the main quest (get the case to Seaquen)
  2. In the 4e version, the party spends three levels inside the forest. That's a long time in the same scenery.
  3. There isn't a lot of variety or opportunity for roleplaying.
I gotta agree. There were aspects of it I really liked, but when I needed to drop something for a campaign that was starting at sixth level, the fire forest was the easiest thing to cut. And it was kind of a relief ^^; Really, I think it may have made a better solo adventure - it feels rather like it was supposed to be separate to begin with.

Further critique:
  • In the 4e version, I was frequently concerned with the control powers available on monsters - immobilises to a lesser extent, but prominently dazes and stuns. There seemed to be lots of these that were available frequently on non-boss fights (as at will powers in plenty of cases) which is overdoing it a bit as far as I'm concerned. I can't say whether or not it's a problem in practice - I had to redo the fights so far, to compensate for the level gap - but I know there's nothing my players hate more in combat than having to stand there and do nothing.
  • In a different thread, somebody observed that from a GM perspective, the information is kind of spread-out between all the sidebars, encounter index, etc. I admit I had to read through the Fire Forest, in particular, several times to work out what the devil was going on. Other information - like, for example, the names of the trillith inside Kathor and Crystin - isn't even included in the first place they are mentioned. As a GM, I really want to have as much information as possible up-front, so I can plan accordingly. The Campaign guide was a useful tool for this, though I would have preferred it to be more open in addressing many NPCs' goals and motvations, too. Preserving the mystique is nice, but once again - I gotta know this stuff!
 

pneumatik

The 8th Evil Sage
But yeah, it's kind of like having the PCs be spies in World War 2, and trying to find a way to let them experience Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s, or the Russian revolution in 1917. Those are interesting stories, but a little out of our scope.

In ZEITGEIST, though, the party does get acquainted with some movers and shakers from the very first scene.
It's not so much about being with the movers and shakers, it's having good, interesting, complex stories from the past that influence current events. I expect at the end of the campaign to explain the Fire Forest and Coaltongue and Leska's adventures because those stories played a major role in the adventures they played through but the players never learned them. I just hate ending campaigns with OOC explanations of what really happened.
 


KidSnide

Adventurer
Hm. I figure if PCs cared, they could ask Timbre, Gwenvere, or any of the Seelae about Anyariel, or ask Etinifi (or hell, Coaltongue if they get him back) about Leska.

I think that's the wrong way of going about it. WotBS (and I presume Zeitgeist) are the only 4e adventure paths that are about interesting story. You've got to assume that the PCs care. If the PCs don't care, they're in the wrong adventure.

Sure, there should be mystery about the back story -- part of the fun is in piecing things together. But there should be an expected method (better still: more than one) for the PCs to learn any of the story that turns out to be really interesting.

I don't want to take away from the fact that the story of the campaign is the PC's story - not the NPC's story that went before. (That's very important.) But the context of the adventure path should be interesting enough that the PCs want to get to the bottom of it, and the adventure path should made it possible for the PCs to figure it out. If the PCs don't care, it's easy to cut. But - if the PCs do care - it's surprisingly hard to write in.

As GMs, we're reading the campaign. Likely, we're reading the modules on short notice and without the chance to fully master each module before we start. Even if I do fully understand the backstory, it's hard to figure out how to bring it out without spoiling important mysteries. When to reveal the backstory is a critical part of how to run a module and I'd like guidance for that from the author.

-KS
 

KidSnide

Adventurer
One more thing I wanted to add:

None of these comments are very important for a good-to-great GM who has had plenty of time to prepare the adventure. WotBS is a very good adventure path, and such a GM will run a terrific table. Of course, a well-prepared good-to-great GM can make practically anything fun.

The makings of a good module come into play when an average GM (or an ill-prepared good GM) picks it up. The more time I spend prepping Shelter, the more I think that 95% of the information I need is in there. It's just hard to get a handle on it all. So the more you make the Zeitgeist modules easy to run without compromising the underlying complexity that made WotBS great, the stronger the campaign will be.

To take an example from WotBS, a 1-2 page campaign synopsis is very helpful. When I'm first looking at the campaign, I need to get a hold of things at a high level. But it would also be helpful to have a 10-20 page synopsis that explains how the various adventures connect. It would be equally helpful to have a list of the 15-30 most important NPCs along with the role they play during the campaign. That way, when such an NPC shows up, the GM knows they are important and what role they play in subsequent adventures.

-KS
 

UnknownAtThisTime

First Post
"Must spread XP before giving to KidSnide...."

I hope that this thread will end up being as valuable as I intended. I think it shows there are a lot of customers that are pasionate about the EN World Adventure Paths!
 

Zinovia

Explorer
I expect at the end of the campaign to explain the Fire Forest and Coaltongue and Leska's adventures because those stories played a major role in the adventures they played through but the players never learned them.
While they are inside Castle Korstul the characters in my game will experience a vision of events that happened the night of Coaltongue's assassination. It will play out as a vignette, with each of the characters taking the part of Coaltongue's guards. They will have a chance to talk to him and learn more of the background and what happened that night. This idea was inspired by the great prologue from the 4E Campaign Guide. I wanted to get this material out of the DM background information and into the hands of the players.

Modules all too often fail to provide a means for the players to learn the backstory, even if the information is written up for the GM. An example of this is Kalarel in Keep on the Shadowfell. The DM knows who he is and what he's up to. The characters in the game have no way to learn any of that. They meet him for the first time in the climactic finale. WotBS is much better about this, but there is room for improvement. The story of Coaltongue and Leska would go unheard by the players without some intervention by the DM.

The stories are why we are playing this series rather than a dungeon crawl. Make it easier to get the meat of the story out where the players can experience it. This can be a Deckard Cain (Diablo game) type figure who tells them a story of the past, ancient documents or a journal they discover. It could be visions of events from long ago or far away, as you have in adventure 7. It is important to make sure the players learn the story, otherwise why have it? That's what we're here for.

  • Clear plot overview for the GM
  • Updates on how the story has progressed with each module
  • 1-2 page outline of the events of each module so the DM has a clear understanding of what is happening and any major story objectives the group is expected to achieve.
  • How NPC's are tied to the story and the consequences of removing or changing them
  • Clear timeline of major historical events for DM reference
  • Dramatis Personae of important NPC's
  • Vignettes, visions, books, storytellers, or other means of communicating backstory to players. The Conveniently Relevant News Channel works for more modern games.
  • Suggestions for when the players go off the rails detailing which events to keep for story purposes and foreshadowing and which can be discarded if the PC's refuse to do what the module expects them to (which always happens). An outline covers a lot of this, and WotBS already includes some suggestions along these lines.

WotBS is an epic adventure with a complex story. We have enjoyed playing it, and would like to see your future adventure paths be even better.
 

bert1000

First Post
Things to keep:

1) complex, interesting story

2) variety of types of scenarios -- city, wilderness, political, involved in large scale battle, etc.

3) notes for how to adapt the adventures if PCs take a different path (e.g., don’t ally with X, Y kingdom falls)



Things to improve:

1) please keep skill challenges (SC) but only use them when the outcome is important story wise and you are ok with the PCs failing. This is my biggest pet peeve of published skill challenges. The implementation of SC, I can do on my own (I personally use Obsidian), but setting up high enough stakes in relation to the story is the tough part. Do not have consequences like losing healing surges or slightly tougher combat as outcomes. For example, the wilderness trekking SC in WoTBS had low stakes outcomes like these. An example of much more exciting stakes is a situation where you have to navigate the wilderness quickly using a difficult shortcut path in order to get to a village before enemies overrun it. If you succeed, you get to participate in the battle and likely save the village. If you fail the SC, the village gets pillaged, people you met before die, and this has consequences going forward. Don’t be afraid to have real story consequences for failure (story consequences that hurt for the PCs/players, but don’t stop the action). The Star Wars Saga SC example in Galaxy of Intrigue is another good example of this. The stakes are getting away with your fellow prisoners or those NPC prisoners getting recaptured. If the PCs have befriended some of these prisoners, this is an outcome they care about. And failure hurts, but also opens up interesting story possibilities – maybe one of the recaptured prisoners holds a grudge and blames the PCs for leaving them behind. They can show up later in the campaign…

2) Be bold in combat encounter pacing! Don’t be a slave to the “official” rules of XP, encounters per level, etc. Avoid filler encounters. So how about this -- double the XP per combat encounter and have 1/2 as many quality combats per level with more non-combat action in between (exploration, skill challenges, general role-playing). BUT also actually include in the adventures at least as many combat encounters per level as is standard (10?) with the explicit intention that PCs will make choices and only play though about 1/2 of the combat encounters included. This would give you flexibility to really open up the choices for players. I also like no more than 3 combat encounters in one location. Of course, spice it up a little by varying this formula.

3) Find ways to impart juicy background information in-story to PCs/players. This is another pet peeve of mine with published adventures. Often there is amazingly detailed backgrounds of NPCs, plots, histories, motivations, etc. but no easy way to impart this information in-story to PCs/players. Think about interesting ways to do this without resorting to finding notes and diaries on every foe (ala Pool of Radiance gold box).

4) if you are going to include a bunch of different paths/choices the PCs could go down like noted in #2 above, include flow charts of how the action could unfold

Keep up the great work, and look forward to the new Path!
 

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top