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ZEITGEIST Zeitvice: one GM's guide to the best AP

arkwright

Explorer
Good morning, folks. I hope no one will mind if I make a full thread for Zeitvice, my collection of tips and wisdom drawn from my experience running the Adventure Path to 99% completion. A single thread should help aggregate feedback, suggestions, and my updates on my progress writing the document.

As of 11/8/20, Zeitvice is in Version 0.3, my way of saying I have written advice covering up to the end of Act 1 of 3. Sincere thanks to Earth Seraph Edna for editing, to Ranger/Ryan for authoring Zeit and past forum replies, and to all Zeit fans I've spoken with.

Please feel free to post below, to get in touch, and to point out places in Zeitvice where misunderstanding, misremembering or bias has led me to stray from the AP text.

Introduction/Disclaimer!
Zeitgeist is, in my opinion, the greatest adventure path ever written. Every single one of its thirteen books are crammed with interesting characters, with fun and exciting encounters, with intriguing plot and thoughtful worldbuilding. It is ambitious in a way no other adventure is.

Yet- it has massive, glaring flaws. Some are clearly born from time constraints. Some are clearly born from the authors of the different books miscommunicating. Some are born from the curious ways it was written- the plot from a PF perspective, yet the encounters far better in 4e. Hence Zeitvice.

What you will find (within) can be roughly sorted into two sets of advice. First, ways to run Zeitgeist well; problems and how to avoid them, information from later that is useful if known earlier, tips on encounter math. Secondly, ways to run the perfect Zeitgeist; where you seize onto the half-complete ideas in Zeitgeist and attempt to construct what was intended, to apply your own ideas, or both.

Edit 1/9/2020: Updated to include Book 2 and some overall Act 2 thoughts.

Zeitvice is written independently of Ryan Nock’s sequel setting.
 

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Tormyr

Adventurer
I know you felt this was too "editorial" to be added as a resource, but I read the latest version and still feel that it deserves a spot on the Resources even though it is less "crunchy". Resources come in all shapes, and this one allows prospective GMs to see what is coming up, even if they might feel differently about a particular element. It also creates its own discussion thread linked to the resource.
 

arkwright

Explorer
Mmm. On the one hand, the resources post are extremely crunchy; NPC face-cards, a translated player's guide. On the other hand there are basically no resources aside from the official player's guides, so perhaps there isn't any forum norm that resources not be editorial. I'll have a think.
 

Crispy120286

Explorer
This is fantastic! My group is mid way through the 4th module and you have pointed out some things I haven't noticed yet or good ideas on expanding or improving storylines. Great work!
 


Lylandra

Adventurer
This is a very wonderful and richly detailed insight into ZEITGEIST and its modules, so thank you :)

Should I ever try to DM it myself or make a more novel-like writeup of our campaign, I'll definitely use it as a second opinion. I have and will continue to discuss some of the issues or thoughts in my own thread and I do believe that our thoughts very much overlap on many occasions and don't on others (for example, I have very different thoughts on Nicodemus' character :D)
 

Gort

Explorer
I wish I'd read this before I started running the AP. I'd love to see some stuff for Act 3.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
My thoughts on Act 3 preperation/issues.
0.5) Work out if your group will be ok with one of them being monarch and not have problems with the power issue of one being in charge , if they will have problems with that make an NPC monarch , the plot works better with a PC monarch but it will split some groups and cause interplayer issues.
1)Be prepared for the vastly overpowered abilities of high level characters and the weird and wacky solutions they allow, unfortunatly that means improvising but be ready to do that. May be less of an issue in 4th/5th my impression is that the high end abilities of casters are less impressive than in pathfinder.
2) Think about the characterisation of Nicodemus and how you will react if your players try to reach out to the Ob. I feel it necessary to prevent a negotiation with the Ob, but have good reasons why they can't cooperate. I have blamed it all on Nic being unreasonable and refusing to allow 'lesser minds' and untrustworthy types to mess up his grand plan but this is a mediocre method so far, I Think perhaps having the Voice of Rot having done a better job of framing the pc's and Risur for the sabotage may help. Perhaps he managed to create or have created Simulcrums to take part in the sabotage so everyone has really good reason to blame them.
3) I had some issues with how the incarnation of the gods and their sacrifice worked, with my players asking questions I found hard to answer. Decide how your cosmology works , what the gods are and if this is really killing the god or just an Avatar. In general do a better job than I have on seperating the standard D+D cosmology from this setting so it does not mess with players expectations , this has been an issue for me from the begginning but I only worked out what was causing me hassle towards the end.
4) Look closely at the Gyre and decide if you want to mess with it changing some worlds or adding others which will complicate your players decision making. This has been a lot of fun for me and let me personalise the Gyre
5) Find out if your players want to to an advanced course in Universe building or keep it simple.
6) The final battles against the Voice of Rot and Nic. For all high level fights you are going to have to do some rebuilding to make them the appropriate challange for your groups. But think what sort of battle will work for your players, the battle agaisnt the VOR is really going to be a head to head violent confontation I can't think of another way it can go. The showdown on Axis island I think as written falls between two stools if you want a dramatic all aout battle with the Ob and the players throwing in everything they can then add Clergy angelic legions, Drakran Battle Tripods and Necromances, Danoran aerial gunships etc and let the players call on their allied Fey Titans, Risuri commando's , Beran berserkers , Vekeshi assassins whatever and make it an earth shatterring battle. Or make it more a philosphical confrontation as the players strip away Nic's allies and leave him alone to prove his righteousness against the world , this may be particularly satisfying if your players have worked hard to bring everyone on to their side and you want to reward them. I am leaning towards the Philsophical battle and secret reveal of the finals allies Nic has made which have driven his madness and unwillingness to reason with the pc's
7) The battle of Axis Island , after they meet with Pemberton on Axis island your group may like mine want to fight to defend the island, work out how you can stop them or how to run the battle. It makes no difference in the end of they win or lose as when the Ob takes over the world while the players are indisposed they will regain control to setup the finale but you players may decide they have to hold the island so be ready to let them try. My version of Risur and Danor's navies adjsuted to match real warships from history is on the boards somewhere prepared for just this battle
 


Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
I discussed a couple of things with my players and they agreed that if Nic had seen them (or their simulcra) at the sabotage of the ritual it would make his obsessive blaming of them much more understandable and it made sense that having met them on several occasions that the Voice of Rot could create such duplicates. I strongly recomend going with something like that to make things more explainable to the players in book 10,11 and 13
 

arkwright

Explorer
Have the Voice turn the Grand Design axis ritual sabotage into a false-flag attack by disguising some of his saboteurs as the PCs? Not a bad idea.

I worry it might make the PCs think 'ah, if we explain to Nic the truth, then we can make peace!', when Act 3 is meant to be Nic at his most petty, villainous and megalomaniacal. Plus I feel like Nic's explanation per the book of 'we don't know what happened but since the PCs are our greatest enemies I'm going to blame it on them/assume it was them' works reasonably well.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
I largely agreed with you before my players got a bit frustrated that Nic would not even listen, which is why this is something I thought of after discussions. My players would have liked to make peace and were annoyed at Nic's assumptions on little to no evidence and despite their presentation of counter evidence. I just aim to give him more evidence to support his megalomaniacal refusal to talk
 

arkwright

Explorer
What makes you say Nic would refuse to listen? What about the needlewire parley in Book 10? He's willing to chat and listen to what they have to say, though he isn't feeling very compromising.

No More Use Pretending
Nicodemus is courteous, but is subtly more on edge than the last time
the party met him. He laments the death of his agents and his own
inability to protect them. And he asks the party how they managed to
sabotage the ritual. The mastermind, who has had to deal with the
party’s interference for two years now, assumes they were responsible
for the explosion that killed him and many of his allies. Divinations
performed to find out what happened reported that the saboteur’s
orders came from Risur (technically true, since the Voice of Rot is
from Risur).

If the party denies their involvement, he’s wary, assuming they have
some trick up their sleeves. He assures them that if they’d only cooperated
with him, the ritual would have been safely completed. The world
would still have a sun, for one thing!

He promises that the Obscurati will try again, and this time they won’t
allow any resistance. Even after five hundred years, he had still hoped a
gentle hand could guide people to the right path, but now he will have to
take more forceful measures. Fortunately, Risur is the only nation holding
out against him. He is proud to announce that leaders of many nations are
en route to attend his Forward Symposium, where he will advise them to
rally against the rebellious Risur. Perhaps the ensuing war, while tragic,
will help cement the bonds forming now between the obedient nations of
the world.

After a bit of back and forth, Nicodemus thanks the PCs for dealing
with the threat of She Who Writhes, informing them that it will be much
easier to conquer Risur now. Once the conversation reaches a natural
close, Nicodemus asks the party to make sure this woman survives, and
then he vacates her body.

If the party brings her back to the cars, Pemberton has her sent away
with his gnoll minions to be kept prisoner in the fortress. Then, unless
the party pays close attention, he just kills her when they’re not looking.

He is less eager to listen to reason after the emergence of the hivemind, but that is because the AP is trying to hurry him along to total villainhood.
 

Andrew Moreton

Adventurer
He listens , But does not LISTEN. He talks and chats and is willing to have them follow his vision but he will not accept anything which does not agree with his masterplan , He will not believe the players were not involved in sabotaging his master plan despite the fact they were busy elswhere at the time and he will not change his plans to incorporate their suggestions instead he rolls out his master plan regardless of inteference with the resulting threats of invasion and fighting. My players wanted to cooperate with the Ob to build a more sensible world but he blocks this regardless of the sense of it because his Undead inflexibilty, Megelomania and Arrogance combine to make it impossible for him to see any other alternatives. I still though find that my players would consider his attitude less inexplicable if he had better evidence of their involvement than faulty divinations.
I have another reason for hsi growing intransigence, he has made/is making a deal with Oswyn of the Shining legion to build this world into a shining perfection, hence his plan for the New World Order the influence of the Archdevil Oswyn makes him more arrogant and intransigent. The main reason I am doing this is the players will have stripped him of allies before the final battle and I want to give the players another threat to worry about as they build their worlds
 

arkwright

Explorer
I can appreciate that your players would find it frustrating that Nic believes they were on Axis Island when they were on an entirely different landmass, taking down Roland Stanfield in full view of the city, after foiling the Ob assassination attempt against King Aodhan.

I am not sure if the best route for you to go down is to add more reason for why Nic might think that the PCs were responsible for the ritual sabotage. You might be better off focusing on Nic's resentment of the PCs for thwarting his plans, for daring to challenge his ideas, for giving the world's nations an alternative to the Obscurati. Talk about his personal flaws, the immense arrogance that marked him even when he was alive as William Miller and led him to murder his own patients.

In my own game, Nicodemus was forced to revise his master plan due to the PCs convincing all of Nic's allies to change sides, and the PCs pointing out the major holes in Nic's Watchmaker configuration. His final solution was Nicodemus' Clock, choosing an unstable and non-ideal planar arrangement that will come with the boon of rewinding time to just after the Great Malice, giving Nicodemus the opportunity to use his immense power to create his perfect order. He chose this rather than cooperating with the PCs because of his arrogance, and because of sunk-cost-fallacy taken to the Nth degree.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
Don't have the time to write a longer essay right now, but I wholeheartedly agree from a player's perspective. We also desperately wanted to make peace and tried to opt for a compromise. Especially as we got the evidence on our side (Stanfield...) and got some fricken awesome social skills. Especially when you consider that Nic has very superior wisdom AND insight skills which would enable him to figure out what's the truth and what's a lie.

My husband made a proposal that could explain why Nic would be so stubborn and irrational.... by making him highly intelligent and charismatic while being totally wisdom-depleted and lacking any kind of "people knowledge". Just think about it, he has the habit to trust the wrong people when it comes to crucial tasks. So he would naturally also distrust those who are genuinely well-meaning.
 

I acknowledge the 'middle book syndrome' issues.

Revelations
I think with hindsight, it might be possible to use getting info from Tinker in book 6 to be akin to the Death Star Plans. They'll reveal some weaknesses, and without them, you cannot stop Borne. Of course, you actually don't fight the colossus until 7 adventures later.

Maybe the focus could switch from, "We are dealing with that colossus, and Tinker is step one," to, "The king dealt with the colossus. But here is the guy who designed it. We want him working for our country. Go get him. And sure, if you can find out more about the colossus in case it comes back, great."

I would be a little careful about the idea of the Ob recruiting Vairday Bruse; I wouldn't want to create the impression that Berans needed foreign aid to unite as a country for themselves. The Ob tend to get their hooks into people who are fed up with how change isn't happening, and Ber is meant to stand as an example of people actually making change happen through a mix of good leadership and a communal sense of purpose. However, I guess I could have seeded more Ob interference, or maybe have them recruiting wide-eyed eager Berans to try to fix problems in other countries.

El Extrano's absence is absolutely my bad. The idea for him came from a Kickstarter backer, and I just forgot to include him. But I like the idea of him having no domestic jurisdiction. Maybe there could even be a kobold show up to liaise after the Pemberton coup, apologizing that, per their charter, if the Bruse is claiming Isla dolas Focas is Beran territory, then El Extrano is forbidden to intervene.

Schism
I dispute a bit that this amounts to nothing. Perhaps I overstated how much influence the PCs could have on the actual plan the Ob devise, but the mission is "Find out what their plan is and how to disrupt it." And you do that.

Also, maybe I could have foregrounded the opportunity more, but the PCs could have rescued Ob members whom Nic and the ghost council try to purge. I couldn't possibly write every contingency for what PCs might do with the people they meet, but I figured by that point of the AP the PCs would be managing to glom onto NPCs they meet.

Diaspora
Similar to 6, if the PCs get Kasvarina on their side, it can help them deal with Borne . . . 5 adventures later. What actually happens is that yeah, you end up learning about Stanfield's betrayal (which many players guess anyway) and the assassination plot, and you can piss off Nicodemus by keeping him from getting his hooks back into Kasvarina. It can be a moral victory, but not ideal for an adventure.

Now, if I were writing it as a novel, there's stuff you could do in the climax that isn't as feasible in an RPG. I might have it so you are able to strike a first blow to crack Borne's armor, which causes Nicodemus to pull the plug on the encounter and retreat with Borne. Have it so the wound is only possible because you lure him to Methia, maybe, because of how little magic there is? Borne would still be too tough to destroy, but with the info the PCs got from Tinker, and a distraction from Kasvarina, they can hit it in a vulnerable spot which shatters some wards. But that climax is already really complex with the memory event happening concurrently.

If you did this, though, it does justify Nicodemus really being opposed to the PCs through Act Three, since that damage could be why Borne was vulnerable to the Voice of Rot's interference. Even if the PCs want to cooperate on the overall project, Nicodemus insists on being in control of Kasvarina, so he wouldn't be up for compromise in this scene, and then by the next time they see him, he blames them for ruining his grand design.

Last
Now that you mention it, an idea has come to me about making Stanfield's goal here more critically nefarious.

After Borne broke out, the damage to Cauldron Hill has left the city with a sort of open wound to the Bleak Gate, and the Ob realize that since their plan is to move Av, that will make the mountain a dangerous portal that alien forces could come through. So their plan is to do a ritual that will seal that planar rift (perhaps using the lighthouse beacon to shine at the top of Cauldron Hill), with a consequence of forcing a mass of eerie spooks and spirits from the Bleak Gate into Flint, which would kill thousands. They don't want to evacuate and risk the public figuring out their plan and trying to stop them.

So now you're not just stopping them from pacifying the public, but from killing thousands. And in this version, Flint is one of the first places afflicted by the hivemind phenomenon because there's an easy extraplanar rift right in the middle of it.
 

arkwright

Explorer
Very good of you to respond so lengthily, Ranger.

  • Revelations
    • Tinker's info does indeed call out 'use me as death star plans'. Perhaps a wise GM could incorporate Tinker's tips into more easily defeating Borne at the end of Book 8.
    • 'We want to recruit Tinker' isn't a bad idea, particularly since we have the Technological Revelations section as a starting point for what benefit Tinker can bring. I would still be hesitant to fully commit to it because then the PCs might ask 'well sure it would be nice to have Tinker but shouldn't we be investigating the Ob more directly?'. I would be tempted to actually make the Grappa revelation come in early. Perhaps Tinker is actually held hostage by Pemberton, compelled to work on technological marvels by the mental domination of the duplicants. The beginning of the book can be Tinker getting the word out to the RHC that he has super-important Ob info and could he please be rescued. You can still have all the Tinker fights due to, again, that duplicant mental domination.
    • I should have been more specific with Vairday; I very much agree with you about not wanting to undermine the Beran revolution by making it Ob-backed. In my game I had it that Vairday was approached by the Ob while alive, but refused. Only upon his death, after a little Ghost Council persuasion, did he agree to sign up.
  • Schism
    • "Ultimately there’s not much chance for the players to change what the Ob
      leadership decide to do, but they can influence some of the officers."
      I'd say you probably don't overstate how much influence the PCs can have on the Ob plan, though you can see how the entire setup can lead the PCs to believe their votes will matter, particularly when you cite the online forum debate and when there is no later explanation for why and how Nic decides to go with MAP over all else.
    • I would probably maintain my point that the PCs do not successfully 'disrupt' the Ob plan; the Ob come out of Book 8 with all the resources they need to commit to their plans as well as a satisfactory planar arrangement. It could be argued that the only person who actually disrupts the Ob plans is the Voice of Rot, since it is this meeting that enables the Voice to (very quickly) infiltrate and sabotage the Axis Ritual.
    • I can appreciate that working out consequences for recruiting 12+ Ob officers is difficult, mostly because in my game that's what actually happened and I had to handle it. To resolve 8's Middle Book Syndrome it would probably be best to more firmly ground the mission in 'let's Operation Paperclip some Ob brainiacs' and then come up with a Tinker Technological Revelations-style reward sheet. Of course, you had limited time and paper at the time of writing.
  • Disapora
    • Book 13, Kasvarina Varal is also aboard, either as a well-treated prisoner, or an additional foe in battle, depending on how the events of adventure eight shook out. Their presence gives a social axis to any fighting on the airship. Reaching and speaking with Kasvarina is one way to learn Nicodemus’s true name, and she is the catalyst for the Redemption ending. The idea of swaying Kasvarina being a way to unlock a true-ish ending is a good one, though I can see some PCs being a little cross that after half a book travelling the world with Kasvarina they still have work to do before they can get her on side.
    • I can see where you are going with the crack in Borne's armor, but I personally wouldn't want to pursue it. I'm imagining a table revolt once I reveal that all their combined efforts to deal a righteous blow to Borne only result in the literal end of the world, enabling the Voice's plan to drag the planet into the Gyre.
    • I personally don't think it is necessary to introduce new plot elements to explain why the Voice's Axis Ritual sabotage might correlate with Nic being angry at the party. I think the very simple idea of 'Nic thinks if only he wasn't distracted watching for the party and committing resources to Flint then he could have stopped the sabotage, because Nic is arrogant enough to blame his failings on others'. Alternatively, the Voice is a titan, which suggests a Risuri plot.
  • Last
    • Having Stanfield trying to seal a dangerous breach in his city definitely helps his 'villain with good intentions' status, though I worry it would be far more credible that the Ob would be fine with keeping the breach open, either as a way to soften up Risur or because they are confident that once the Grand Design is in place they can marshal the world's forces to defend themselves. Doesn't MAP exclude some of the planar-invasion protection planets?
    • In my own game, I had it that Stanfield was going to implement mind control much stronger than across the rest of the world so that an Ob-chosen king or queen would have the full belief of the people behind them, giving the ruler enough strength to take on the Titans. In my version the Ob predicted all the Titans were awake and were very, very worried about them. I like this idea as it requires less changes to the book, just giving Stanfield's plan its actual declared effect (mind control).
 

there is no later explanation for why and how Nic decides to go with MAP over all else.
Well, because that is the proposal closest to what he wants that has any sizeable coalition backing it, and the whole convocation was just cover to find the people who would work with him, so he could cold-bloodedly remove those who might stand in his way.
 

arkwright

Explorer
Well, because that is the proposal closest to what he wants that has any sizeable coalition backing it, and the whole convocation was just cover to find the people who would work with him, so he could cold-bloodedly remove those who might stand in his way.
Sure, but how is the party to know that? Over and over again, Book 7 tells the party that Nicodemus has no horse in this race.

"My name is Nicodemus, and though it was I who set this endeavor in motion, it is the right of you, the agents and officers of the Obscurati, to set a new course for all the people of this world."

“I do think any of these proposals would result in a materially better world. And I will support whichever wins, as will the Ghost Council. But only one of them will make a world good enough to balance out the evil we’ll create to get there.”


Yes, despite these pronouncement Nic begins slaughtering the Colossal Congress, but there is little indication whether his preference is for MAP, Watchmen or some permutation of either, particularly since MAP 'tellingly' drops the Empathy plane. Given the PCs' influence, it is very possible that the final tally could have MAP not achieving even a substantial count of votes.

In my own game I made it clear that Nic is feigning not caring about the vote- feigning it so much he doesn't even realize he's feigning it until my party convinced the Ob to vote against MAP, whereupon he realized that his pride couldn't stand the Ob voting against a proposal with his former-self's name on it.
 

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