ZEITGEIST Zeitgeist: Some Record and Resources

whoever

Villager
I've been running Zeitgeist as a duo campaign and throwing off some resources/notes which I thought might be useful to post here. Despite being a large and complex adventure, I love the way the adventure is written; both giving the dm a lot of context and the player a lot of choice. We're playing the adventure in the 5E system, but I've been referencing 4e materials when I have them for flavortext (specifically the statblocks, which are amazing). I'm not sure how far we'll take this campaign; we might end after act 2 or drop off as life gets busy but in the meantime, here goes.
 

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whoever

Villager

Session 0​

Player Prep

My player was pretty interested in the campaign overall and was actually pretty excited to read the player's guide (Convenient, since I think only 1 out of 6 people would enjoy that in my main campaign :). That gives him a nice understanding of the world but restricted the changes I could make to names and characters. Ultimately, especially for a first playthrough, it's easiest to play everything pretty much straight.

DM Prep

I was really excited about this campaign and printed the whole thing into binders I could lug around with me to read (if you're curious, about 6 1" binders!). At this point I've read up to The Last Starry Sky (so 1-9), and the adventure summaries up to the end. I like this guy's (video) approach to preparation; basically a readthrough, a mark-up, and a pre-session skim.

I also looked at a lot of resources on this forum, such as arkwright's guide.

Duo Considerations

I'm doing this adventure as a duo, so a bit of rebalancing may be needed. To adjust, my player is running two characters (basically a buddy cop thing). The characters themselves are a little more powerful and use Homebrew classes-- one Hedge Mage and one Arcane Marksman. We used point buy +an extra ASI, which is a boost but well within what a good stat roll will get you. We'll keep an eye on the power level as we go and adjust as needed. Other things we might do are:
  • Rotate in a full third character as a guest or buddy character if it looks like a tougher adventure (maybe from the RHC backup team).
  • Make use of Zeitgeist's allied officer statblocks or Matt Colville's followers (paid content, here, recommend but not for this campaign since it's got a definite fantasy feel; you can just use a stripped down statblock if you're doing something similar)
  • Double up on themes as needed but choose one mechanical benefit.
  • Tune encounters. I get an idea of how dangerous an encounter is by looking at expected per round damage (which I call EPRD in my notes). If it seems really high, I'll tweak it. Another thing that's good to pay attention to is if, ie, there are several opponents with lock down abilities that will seriously unbalance the action economy. In that case I'll either modify those abilities/characters, or try to anticipate it and give the player more backup.
  • Communicate. Once the session is over, we can talk about whether a given encounter felt too swingy and how to improve it for next time.

Rules Modifications

I swapped the nature and survival skills with culture and engineering for the futuristic setting, similar to the Pathfinder or Level Up 5e system.

Character Creation

I wanted a way to integrate characters into the world without forcing players' choices, so I made a Zeitgeist character creation minigame. I included the sheet below in case anyone else is interested. Each character gets a few attributes (such as religion, nation, Zeitgeist ancestry, and Flint neighborhood). All the options for a category are thrown into a hat (you can also use a dice table) and a character can pick two choose one. Afterwards, we drew a up a couple of npc connections (using the relation and affiliation tables) this way. (You can choose which categories to pick from, but I'd only use cities for the npc connections, since much of the story is focused on Flint). You can make the connections pretty loose or redraw if you're unhappy; the idea is just to stir up ideas and hook the characters into the setting.

Ex: In our case, for character 1, Itschka, we ended up with Giant (we went with half-giant to make him a medium character), Ber and Drakr, Cloudwoods and Central, Panoply, University, and some other stuff that didn't make it in. For npc affiliations, we got grandparent, daughter, and niefling. My player chose the fighter class (in particular he wanted to try a trick-shot type class, so we went with Arcane Marksman) and the Gunsmith and Yerasol Veteran themes (gunsmith mechanically).

My player decided that his character lived in a big family in the Cloudwoods, where an enclave of Giants from Ber and Drakr has settled. He has a parent teaching in the university, a grandparent at home, and a daughter possibly attending, along with many nieces and nephews (For the time being we just picked names for the parents and daughter). For tough cases, he'll stay in an apartment in Central; pricey but worth it to skip a long commute. He and most of his family members are Panoply types. He was recruited into the army early on (his family is very loyal to Risur and also giants), but his best skills were actually his tactical brain and marksmanship. After the war, he accepted an offer to join the RHC and has served there ever since.

For character 2, Antoine, we got Danor and Tiefling (we were pretty lucky with the nation/ancestry matchups, but feel free to ignore one or resolve an unlikely combination in whatever way you please), the Nettles, Heid Eschatol, more parents, and an aunt connection.

My player wanted a magic character for the second, which made an interesting combination with Danor. He decided to go with the Spirit Medium theme. The character's parents were killed while doing magical experimentation near the Malice lands, but remain close to him and are the source of his power. After his parents were killed, his aunt brought him to Risur where she mingles in highbrow political circles and speaks out against Danor's political situation. Connected to ghosts and the undead, our character spent much of his youth wandering the Nettles, talking to the ghosts there and some of their friends. When he got older, he went into the military under the advisement of his aunt. While there, he met Istchka and saw something that shook him.
I'll probably make this something to do with witch oil, which I imagine could be quite traumatic for a spirit medium.
After the war, he joined the RHC, which was a natural fit for his abilities as a spirit medium, but after bringing in Itschka, he's spending more time in the field. Itschka also helped him out with his apartment in Central, where he stays most days.

One last thought for this character is that I might combine the character Amielle Latimar with his aunt for a little more connection to the conspiracy.
 

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whoever

Villager

Session 1 (Zeitgeist 1-A, Axis, part 1)​

We started out strong with Antoine and Itschka gearing up for the day ahead of the Coaltongue launch. They had coffee in a nearby cafe, read through the articles and briefings of the launch, stopped by the RHC to pick up a healing potion each and gear up if needed, and then made it to the landing around 7:00. (DMs Note: this allowed me to give a sense of setting and establish a character rapport, mention some of the "in the news" stuff and give some preliminary exposition about the Coaltongue and how it worked).

Resources

Encounter Pre-Notes, attached (I printed these to reference along my session)
Statblocks, attached
Corrected Coaltongue Map
Provided Maps (The Square) (links to EN's patreon download)
Player Handouts (People of Interest and Ship Layout) are also included in the module
Bridge Map

Find the Dockers

(Duo Tuning: Instead of having the characters make a check to remember who to look for, since I thought it would be obvious, I gave them a performance check to relay that info to some assembled regular police. If they'd done well, the police could help turn up a dissenter, but they failed in this case).

Antoine found one of the dockers and, after a bad charisma check, took a punch to the face that turned into a brief, successful encounter. In the meantime, Itschka started up a conversation with some of the troublemakers and (with the aid of some excellent charisma rolls) managed to convince them to bring their friends over for a game of cards during which they complained about the harsh treatment they were receiving. After losing gracefully, they thought he was alright and he convinced them to stand down for tonight. Afterwards Thames Grimsley approached Itschka with his request.

Investigate the Ship

I found the ordering of some of the interactions confusing (I think there's a party on the landing, but then Delft says you have a party to attend?). To cut through this, I had the players board the ship first to get familiar with it after Harkover Lee gets off. Then the important figures board, the duchess makes her request, the king boards, the ship takes off, and before the national anthem, Delft asks to check on the duchess. Perhaps not the most intuitive ordering but a little easier to balance, and hopefully allows the players to feel more ownership over the ship's working.

Details to Mention
Main deck: The brand and capacitator (ie weapons system)
Gun deck: guns and cargo
Third deck: Bunks (this is where they put the duchess), grating to allow air flow, and the firedust casks and one ward per room (might want to make players aware that they're hanging wards, not something in the walls)
Bottom deck: Fuel bins (ie bin full of firegems), cargo, and engine/boiler. There are alarms if the boiler room gets too hot, and the heat leaves the engine via relief valves.

  • You can also mention the gold wire around the windows and ship preventing teleportation outside the boat.
  • An important note is that (counter to the corrected map) the floor is made of metal, ie, the firegems will warp it but not set the deck alight if taken out of the boiler. This will also block the Message cantrip (oops :))

Launch Party

After the investigation, the characters had some interactions with the people on the ship, then went downstairs to check on the duchess, ending our first session.
 

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whoever

Villager

Session 2 (Zeitgeist 1-A, Axis, part 2)​

This session started out where part 1 left off, with the Itschka and Antoine going down to find the duchess. While Sokana tried to stall them out the door, Antoine checked the room next over and saw the duchess escaping. At this point Sokana started moving, claiming she needed the restroom, towards the boiler. Our players moved to stall her, and Ilton popped up to attack. At this point, the peace, and the jig was up and the chase began. Ilton delayed the characters enough for Sokana to get down to the boiler room, but not enough for her to rust the doors shut. Antoine messaged up for help (and his cousin Geoffre reluctantly sprinted down), Itschka knocked off the two saboteurs with a good piercing shot, and the other conspirators got away while Itschka and Geoffre started fixing the damage. Itschka took fire damage as he shoveled the coals out. The evacuation started on the main deck, and a prone figure outside the firedust room drew Antoine's attention to the missing wards there. He found them on the bodies of the saboteurs (forget if this is something they did originally or if I improvised, but it was a good indication that the wards were protective of people as well as rooms). He grabbed the wards to shield himself and Itschka from the remaining damage, and the encounter wound down as they shoveled enough fire gems away from the boiler.

DM Note: To make this encounter a bit more intuitive, I filled a jar partway up with some red gems (I think these are the ones I used), with forty gems left to get to the top. At the end of each round, I dropped in another gem (or just dropped ten in if a minute had passed), and I let my player remove X gems for however many rounds they took off the timer. It was a nice visual aid and kept up the tension, especially during the fight.

Resources

Statblocks
 

Attachments

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whoever

Villager

Session 3 (Zeitgeist 1-B, Axis, part 1)​

This session was a little off-module. I wanted a way for the infiltrators to stick around; they seemed like good backup characters or contacts for the duo campaign. I also thought it would be fun to try another timed encounter with a non-combat goal (in the style of the Coaltongue), so I added a "Save the Infiltrators," encounter that took up most of the session space. Before that...

  • Antoine and Itschka warned the Stanfield to lay off the dockers. (I had him walk out of the Delft's meeting for a last shot at this, since the Coaltongue wrap-up was a bit chaotic).
  • They handily beat the three towers riddle, winning Lya's respect.
  • I made up some common magic items to pick from that were a bit more powerful than usual, to compensate a bit for the player count.
  • Itschka wanted to learn more about this island, so he tracked down a couple of veteran (now docker) friends to ask about it. (He was most interested in trying to figure out if the duchess could have planted something in the last war). The friends, Stevenson and Gooli (now short for Godolphi :LOL:) mentioned that they were hanging out at a place called The Thinking Man and mentioned he could buy them a round.
  • The characters boarded the Impossible and learnt a few tricks from the infiltrators that they could follow up on their downtime. (I added this element to give more of a sense of colleagues within the RHC and an added incentive to save them later).

The infiltrators then went under and we went into the new encounter. The characters recovered all four infiltrators, but spent a few resources on it. One final change I made was to add an item in Tanya's pack for the players to use; prototype shocksticks in a bag with a strange, triangular gear. I thought this would be a fun weapon against conflux creature's sharks, which are vulnerable to lightning damage (though they ended up fighting the sharks first). I also
thought this would be a good way to introduce Tinker Oddcog early (the shocksticks have a magic mouth spell on them telling them to fill out the customer use survey and mail it back to his factory), and might be a good way to highlight/incite tensions later with the dockers. The Shocksticks are meant to incapacitate, but they have a risk of outright killing the subject. They may be have been commissioned as a mechanism of riot control, but that tactic is very double-edged.
Itschka dug Burton out with a scroll of passwall (I assume that was an intentional thought from the module, hence the two scrolls, but he picked up a spare from Tanya anyways), Antoine saved Letmas and they fought a shark, they came around to the others (I renamed 7-foot Dan to give Itschka more cred as the biggest person in the room), in time and picked up a couple of undersea pearls for their troubles.

All in all, a fun session, and looking forward to next time.

Resources

Encounter Pre-Notes, attached
Mission Critical Items (Gem of Brightness, Greater Healing Potion, Scrolls of Passwall, Faerie Fire, and Silence, and Potion of Waterbreathing)
Tower Riddle, attached (I inscribed Lya's portals with "Mavisha," "Urim," and "Jiese" to give us a little name recognition early on)
Scrubbed Axis Island Map (this is the best I could find; has anyone seen a bigger one?)
Save the Infiltrators Maps, attached (along with "Aqua Jelly" statblock, original map credits: this post, patreon)
Homebrew Common Items, attached (handouts4.png, handouts5.png; credit to the original artists).
 

whoever

Villager
(Looks like the attachments didn't post; let me try again).
 

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whoever

Villager

Session 4 (Zeitgeist 1-B, Axis, part 2)​

Antoine and Itschka found Burton’s things (including a request for a letter of reference from one Wolfgang, creased), and entered the cave, acting as infiltrator substitutes. They encountered Dupiers and took some damage and strength drain from the shadow, but managed to persuade him that the Tiefling and the giant were not Risuri at all. They got what information they could from him but left him with his icons of protection, which they interpreted as fey or Druidic artifacts. They also noted the broken pillar in the middle of the cave. They took to the road, coming across drops of witch oil, a flash of dimensional weirdness, and an overturned wagon with weapons (made some perception checks and failed to gather data, moved on). Antoine had an adverse reaction to the witch oil, which brought him back to the Incident. The group moved through the trees to the fortress, crossed the barracks, and were starting on the stairs when, thanks to a natural 1, they ran into one of the duchess’s troops.

Resources
Unlabeled Star Fort Maps
Statblocks
 

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