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


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.

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Andrew Moreton

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


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

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


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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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