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


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Crispy120286

Explorer
Awesome!

Ark, i have a question. I asked it in its own thread but i never got any replies. I'll expand upon it here. One of my players is a Technologist. Kieran Oddcog, younger brother to Tinker Oddcog. And during digging for lies, he became attached to Benedict Pemberton. Pemberton even personally invited him to his gathering at the Faire and shown him the B.E.A.R. prototype and he got to use it briefly. After Pemberton wrote his book he even sent Kieran a Signed copy.

My big question is, what happened to Pemberton in Risur? I see that he went on tour across the nation and had things to say about Danor peace talks and made veiled threats to Ber. Then it says he was recently discredited and his offices are abandoned waiting his debtors. What exactly happened to him to be discredited? Did he just abandon Flint and move to Ber?

I do want to have an awesome reveal shwoing that Pemberton is a villain (Surprise!) And omfg a dragon! I dont think im going to have Lee spoil that in my game because my group is attached to Pemberton.
 

arkwright

Explorer
Crispy, it looks like you're referring to this building in Book 5:

Pemberton Industries Office Building. This squat complex once served as a testing ground for the discredited Pemberton Industries’ experiments with personal arcanoscientific devices. Now it is locked and lightly guarded until Benedict Pemberton or his debtors can clear out the labs. The university briefly had a department of arcanoscience based here, but now the students have been forced to find other accommodations, most of them much less safe in the event of accidents.

There are also these lines in Book 6:

Today, Gradiax goes by the name Benedict Pemberton, owner of Pemberton Industries, which until recently manufactured experimental military technologies in Flint, the industrial heart of Risur. Harkover Lee and Pemberton both know each other’s identities, and Lee has kept an eye on his fellow dragon’s business, wary of betrayal.

My best guess- between Book 4 and 5, Harkover and Aodhan got suspicious of Pemberton and either started investigating him or ordered him to close down operations. Maybe they didn't like him getting involved in politics (in it, he argues that the Risur-Danor peace conference scheduled for early Spring 501 could kill the nation’s progress in technological innovation, since without the threat of war there will be no motivation for research. Critics charge he’s making a veiled push for war with Ber, about which he makes derogatory claims throughout the book.) I think he then fled for Ber with his base and his corporate holdings there.

Brainstorming for Zeitvice Book 8 is going well. I've read through my game's OOC logs and come up with 40+ issues to mention, and there'll likely be more after I finish re-reading the book.
 


Crispy120286

Explorer
Excellent! Great write up.

I do have one question however. Is there ever a grand reveal during the campaign that Miller IS Nicodemus? Or are the players supposed to sus it out during the many Nicodemus memory events throughout adventure 8?
 

arkwright

Explorer
Per Book 12, the party might learn his true name from Book 8, or Kasvarina can tell them, or linking with Ascetia will tell them automatically. If your party hasn't figured it out in Book 8 then they must have missed a lot of memories, including Pala, which isn't ideal.
 

Arcaneshield

Explorer
Wow. Don't think I've ever more strongly disagreed with your take on a book before. Wonder if it's because I actually started running it before I read your zeitviece and thus made up my own mind first. Hmmm. Very interesting.
 


Arcaneshield

Explorer
I think less about facts and more about personal opinion and interpretations of Elfaivar and the setting. I find you to be generally unfair to the writers of Zeitgeist and your biases are in full view. Perhaps I'll take some time after work to offer more detail but for the moment I feel the disagreement lies more in interpretation and soft value than facts one could get strictly incorrect.

If I was being charitable I think ultimately I would say that both of us saw holes in the setting and story and came to very different ways to fill those holes. It is difficult for me to determine if my disagreement is with your interpretation of things as they are written or simply that we are on different self constructed foundations looking at a text we've diverged on several books past and it's only now coming to a head.
 
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Arcaneshield

Explorer
Alright I've got a bit of time now so I'll touch base on my disagreements and how I saw things. Namely the big disagreements are in Elfaivar gender dynamics and all that comes form that and from the little side bit with the edgy blacksmith.

I would like to first off state that I feel the campaign is pretty clear on there not being an really true good guys or bad guys perse. There's a lot of unaligned people and governments and a lot of 'ends justify the means'

Now firstly you make a good point that it seems that female elastin are very inconsistent in the setting. I agree. Almost like the players or setting guide was written before the campaign itself was and the writers didn't all communicate. Totally agree with that.

I'm not big on on ascribing moral failings to a writer because they depict things I find morally distasteful and I would caution against uncharitability like that. I personally know this writer from years ago and do not at all care for them so I'm not saying this out of a pro bias.

Now the goddess dying you make a point of it not making sense who all died. As I understood it, the god of war represented war so killing that God would kill their martial desire. I thought Sasrama was like the mother goddess and so when she died, since she represented femininity in Elfaivar it killed nearly every woman.

As for the aftermath. Eladrin women are now extremely rare. That makes them valuable. As I understood it some Eladrin women were able to leverage that value for political power or to keep their existing power and became the matriarchy. Whereas in other areas they sadly became a commodity fought over by evil or just desperate males.

And remember historically Elfaivar basically collapses. We know some women flocked to conclaves and lived in hiding but others would have been caught by clergy forces and seeing they are a value a slave industry does sadly make sense that it could come about as the internal value on Eladrin women gets revealed to the continent at large. Scarcity is a value all its own.

Now if you look at the men of Elfaivar we can see a utter despair take over them. The sexual dynamics are completely out of wack now. Males are even more expendable in society as they vastly vastly outnumber the women, the older men lost their wives and families while the younger men have no hope of continuing their line.

Even with the few Eladrin women taking multiple husband's they'd have their pick and the men in that relationship would be sharing a woman with many other men. I see a great diaspora of Eladrin men leaving Elfaivar because there's no future for the vast majority of men there. Why wouldn't they try to find life outside their home? Find an elf in risur or a human even and have the chance for a family and to be valued?

That's also why I think the seven year brothel thing came about. The matriarchs were suffering a drain of their menfolk from their country. They probably had societal unrest from less than fortunate males without the political clout to attract a woman to add them to her harem. It is cynical and messed up but I see the ruling matriarchs instituting this practice to give their menfolk something to work towards and I personally headcanon this also serving possibly as a breeding program as well. And remember just because a few women rule the conclaves doesn't mean that the other women have power. I doubt kasvarina herself offered her body up for the task but rather the skoely building younger generation.

And as for the edgy blacksmith. Their prisoners are colonizers. They hate them, especially those of the clergy. There's nothing to indicate Elfaivar is an especially moral or humane society. I'm sure that Athrylla knows the blacksmith is doing what he's doing and it's absolutely approved.

Now please note this is all typed on my phone before work. Feel free to pick it apart and disagree I'll aim to be more charitable and argue my points back and forth when I have time
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
I am somewhere between your two positions regarding adventure 8 and Elfaivar. Given that ZG follows a structure akin to a TV or book series, I can see why the lack of "progress" can be seen as a problem from a gaming narrative, where it isn't necessarily one from a character development perspective. In my opinion, book 8 is one of the most DM- and player-background dependent entries. For us, it was all about Kasvarina's development and our relationship with her. But our DM did bring her back and he let us influence Asrabey's story arc.

And I guess NPC story arcs is something that should definitely be looked into as a DM, and should there be another "definite" version of the AP somewhen in time. Nicodemus is a prime example as there should be a final word on whether he was a moral shades of grey from the beginning (as implied in his poisoning scene) or whether he was more of a kind heart turned to bitterness and utilitarianism (as implied in his crypta scenes and his interaction with Kasvarina).

Regarding your positions on Eladrin and Elfaivar, I agree that it wasn't really fleshed out enough from the beginning. RW himself said that he wish he'd be more sensitive and that they wrote in too many Eladrin women over the course of the campaign. The problem is that it is really hard to do it right as Elfaivar is a multi-faceted beast: First, you usually don't have that many non-fetishized matriarchies in fiction, even less in fantasy RPGs. So you (ideally) have to carefully avoid the obvious traps. This is one of the reasons why I personally hated the Lonely Companion, even if RW offered an explanation how and why it would work. Second, the elfaivaran society is based on a tragedy, but it is still something that happened after a previous society collapsed. So in order to see whether it makes sense, we need to understand how Eladrin culture and society worked before the Fall of Srasama. The problem here is that 1) we don't know as we only get a few hints and 2) with all this blank space, many players and DMs just fall back to the human societies (or their stereotypes) that we know. I can even see traces of this in your interpretations:

As for the aftermath. Eladrin women are now extremely rare. That makes them valuable. As I understood it some Eladrin women were able to leverage that value for political power or to keep their existing power and became the matriarchy. Whereas in other areas they sadly became a commodity fought over by evil or just desperate males.

And remember historically Elfaivar basically collapses. We know some women flocked to conclaves and lived in hiding but others would have been caught by clergy forces and seeing they are a value a slave industry does sadly make sense that it could come about as the internal value on Eladrin women gets revealed to the continent at large. Scarcity is a value all its own.

Now if you look at the men of Elfaivar we can see a utter despair take over them. The sexual dynamics are completely out of wack now. Males are even more expendable in society as they vastly vastly outnumber the women, the older men lost their wives and families while the younger men have no hope of continuing their line.
In order to find your own hidden biases, just flip the genders and see if you'd come to the same conclusions: Would rare males be fought over by "desperate or evil females"? Would Eladrin males be seen as pricey trophy husbands? Would females be "even more expendable"? Would the sexual dynamics be similarly out of whack and young women fear not being able to continue their lines? If not, then you are just inserting your own human (more or less patriarchy-based) assumptions into your line of thought ;) (Well, you could add that you don't need that many men compared to women in order to have the same number of babies, but still...)

I also disagree that ZG fails to show the power of Eladrin women from Elfaivar, unless my DM really changed stuff for our campaign. Athryalla is a really powerful person, and so are Kasvarina and Latika. Even Gale is a very powerful person and possibly valuable ally.
And yes, Elfaivar shouldn't be depicted as a clear "morally superior" society. Are they now better than Crisillyir? Yes, most likely. Were they in the past? Not so sure (see slaves and racism).

That being said, I don't think the worldbuilding is weak. It was and is strong enough that I wanted to base my character in that society as it is a completely different scenario. It is based on a bold move, and it could benefit from a good polish. It could especially do a better job at setting a broad "norm" for Eladrin women and their place in their society: Make them rare, make them valuable, but show more, much more of the matriarch-led enclaves (especially when you have that perversion of Ushanti as the next best thing after Sentosa). Also, yes, please, let the characters save the Enclaves by warning them of the ritual. Beating those already on the ground doesn't feel too good, especially if you as a party are invested in them.
 

Arcaneshield

Explorer
An over reliance on sensitivity limits storytelling and closes off avenues of narrative exploration for the sake of sensibilities of individuals many of whom have no connection to the potential offended party and are getting offended on behalf of them. All that aside I'm not looking at this in terms of modern sensibilities, I'm looking at this in terms of what makes sense to me and what I feel tells an interesting story. I'm a rather politically incorrect person by nature and I protest to the assumption of sexism

However I'll explore your rebuttal all the same.

Would rare males be fought over by desperate or evil females?

Yes. Yes they would. Every species exists to propagate itself and the fundamental drive of most of sexual politics comes down to this biological reality. The sudden near eradication of most of one gender would effectively consign a people to eventual extinction. And it would have horrible social ramifications and would create a sense of despair and doom to those left alive, hence the words of Vekesh preaching to the Elfaivaran survivors not to give into nihilism and despair.

Motherhood and Fatherhood is a strong aspiration of the majority of the population at one point or another in their lives, and if ones romantic and reproductive prospects are fatalistically limited, one could enter a very real sense of hopelessness. Add in Elfaivar being a defeated and broken ethnostate with their very peoplehood and culture constantly under attack, individuals could and likely would be pushed to drastic measures, and the few able bodied males left would be valuable, either as, sadly, commodities, or as powerful kings in their own right, depending on the actions of themselves and those around them. You are correct that the biological realities of men vs women would change how this would affect the sexual and social dynamic but even so there would be battles fought, slaves taken, men seen as status symbols or rulers, and you would likely have a large diaspora of eladrin women from their nation to seek to settle down elsewhere and seek partners from other races.

Nothing of what I said had anything to do with gender-specifics and if you flip the genders the outcome, while different somewhat due to BIOLOGY, would not be overly different socially. And I resent the implication otherwise.

As an addendum. Given that in order to contribute to reproduction all a male has to contribute is their sperm, whilst a woman must carry a baby to term, it could be argued that in the flip of this if most men died, it is more likely that men would not experience an increase in power, creating a patriarchy, because they could have bouts of intense sexual activity impregnating upwards of fifty or more women, and then recovery periods. They would probably not, by virtue of their sex and their value for future reproduction, become elevated individuals in society. If anything they might be treated more poorly, something akin to a pleasure slave. And I see a similar brothel still being set up.
 
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arkwright

Explorer
-Arcaneshield
Zeitvice does focus on what I consider to be the flaws and holes of the AP, so it can come across as pretty cutting and condemning. My introduction still stands, however- I think this is the greatest AP ever written. I just think it still embodies the core flaws of AP design, such as having multiple authors.

The section on Thursty may come across as a little more scathing than I intended. While I do think 'creepy' is justified, given how the Player's Guide describes Elfaivaran society immediately fighting wars over chattel-women, I do tend to think of Thursty as a loveable rascal who occasionly does his thinking with his other head.

If killing Srasama who represents femininity wiped out all women, why would killing the Clergy god of war not wipe out all soldiers and more besides? Or, if killing the god of war would wipe out martial desire, why would killing Srasama not wipe out all feminine instincts, resulting in a nation of tomboy women? Leaving aside the additional backlash of the ritual that for some reason turned the Clergy hierarchy into tieflings and de-magicked Danor.

I do appreciate that the Great Malice is basically an apocalyptic event for Elfaivaran society. Social, political and economic structures break. However, I think it takes more time and justification before society degrades to the point of fighting wars over women. Especially if you don't want to suggest that 'ordinary' people promptly began scooping up women as soon as their chances of having a child plummetted. As Lylandra says, would the reverse happen if many men died?

The Akela Sathi absolutely came about as a desperate attempt to fix the gender balance. My quibble is that I don't think the system properly reflects a matriarchal society. It veers away from 'akela women are noble lionesses who pick and choose their mates' and closer to 'akela women are sheep given to the wolves as a sop to their hunger.'

Book 8 states that Iomar the smith had the captives 'smuggled into Sentosa by malicious fey.' I should clarify that while I think it's possible he has the tacit approval of Athrylla Valanar, there is no way he has full approval. Even if the Elfaivarans are cool with the torture, they might object from a security perspective.

-Lylandra
I very much appreciate that time spent developing character and backstory is not time wasted. I suppose Book 8 leaves a sour taste in my throat because it ends with the party suffering the random bad luck of being time-skipped into the Dreaming. And then Act 3 fails to pay off Kasvarina's strong character arc by giving her a greatly diminished role.

Elfaivar is a little personal to me because I also made the same mistake. In my first draft of the expanded Elfaivaran history for the sequel setting book, I went along with 'and then all the women died so the remaining men fought like starving wolves over the survivors.' A friend helped steer me in the right direction, and I am very proud of the work I did fleshing out a society where matriarchs and femininity are powerful, and define power in that society.

Lylandra, I absolutely agree that ZG shows the power of many individual Eladrin women- often to the point of farce, with the sheer number of powerful female eladrin running around and the tiny number of male eladrin characters. My quibble is that Book 8 fails to show the power of Eladrin women as a whole- and not physical power, but social and cultural power.

'Could benefit from a good polish' is how I feel about many problems I have highlighted, yes. I know it can be unfair of me, to judge Zeitgeist in comparison to a hypothetical perfect-Zeitgeist, free of the time constraints Ryan and Thursty surely had. But Zeit is being run by GMs who don't have those constraints, so I feel my approach is valid.
 

Arcaneshield

Explorer
I feel I rebutted the 'flip the genders and think about it you sexist' in my previous post so I won't go further into that. Your arguments up to the gender dynamics I can see your point of view and can entertain that there is definitely some logical issues with that whole thing as presented. Wholly agree.

Now getting to the gender balance. I'd like to point to one of your statements, 'My quibble is that I don't think the system properly reflects a matriarchal society. It veers away from 'akela women are noble lionesses who pick and choose their mates' and closer to 'akela women are sheep given to the wolves as a sop to their hunger.''. Your statements seem a bit 'argue to feeling' for my personal taste but I also think you may be falling into your own biases on what you would like to see a matriarchy look like.

You're also making a common logical mistake in this assumption that Matirarchy and Patriarchy means all members of that gender are in positions of power. The assumption that because the ruling body are unilaterally a single gender that then power and dignity flows down to everyone of the same gender, which is not the case historically nor is it necessarily logical in this case either, even less so.

The fact of the matter is for the Elfaivar people they do not have the luxury of doing as they please. The ruling minority still have to answer to the males of their society who greatly outnumber them, and have many reasons to be fleeing Elfaivar in the droves. They do not have complete power like some fully entrenched Matriarchy and there's no indication from what I read that there is a widespread sociateal matriarchy top to bottom, just that the three conclaves are run by matriarchs. That does not follow that every Elfaivaran woman is of a ruling elite social class.

In order for the race and culture to last they have to regain their numbers while also hiding that societal program from the outside world. Again I see the brothel system as being a very strange and extreme response but I can see the internal logic of it and how the matriarchs might have instituted such a thing. Of course, as I stated earlier, its likely that like any ruling body they didn't submit themselves to this service alongside the common folk.

Now as to your statement about sudden widespread societal collapse with rape and enslavement widespread immediately, yeah you're right that wouldn't happen suddenly. However again this is my own sort of understanding mixed with the holes I filled in as a DM but I got the sense that the conclaves waited out a good deal of upheaval but not all eladrin made it to enclaves. The existance of the weretigers in the forest and the eladrin slave trade out of Elfaivar speaks to some eladrin not making way there. Now in a societal collapse where you're not in the fancy magic walled city, it could get a little mad max out there. Petty eladrin warlords trying to keep their society going fighting guriella warfare in the jungle fighting over the few women left alive.

EDIT: And I will add, I continue to be disappointed at your ascribing motive towards an author's work, trivializing what you disagree with as being 'written by a horny guy thinking with his dick'. I feel it is bordering on ad hominem and is in poor taste.
 
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hirou

Explorer
I try to abstain from criticizing Zeitvice, because it represents an enormous effort on the side of arkwright. I actually hope that his pedantry can be an advantage regarding upcoming ZG setting book.
ZG is truly gigantic in scope, both narratively and in terms of worldbuilding; it's inevitable that some plot holes would appear, and it's useful for DM to have a list of them. That said, I feel it's completely up for DM to follow or ignore arkwright suggestions, depending on what works for each gaming group. I remember that in Digging for lies my players discovered a definite, although meaningless, plot discrepancy, something about logistics of golden/wooden sword&staff between ziggurat and Flint. Is it technically a mistake of the authors? Probably yes. Did it hinder our enjoyment of the adventure? Definitely not.
 

arkwright

Explorer
-Arcaneshield
'The ruling minority still have to answer to the males of their society who greatly outnumber them'- actually, I very much disagree with this, which feeds into my criticisms of Book 8 Elfaivar.

The enclaves are hidden away in demiplanes, and enclave matriarch wield some of the most powerful magics in the world within their borders. Even outside their borders, the matriarchs are still extremely potent spellcasters. My understanding is that the enclaves are the largest, most powerful and most secure eladrin settlements. The many male eladrin outside Elfaivar are harried by ever-expanding colonies and lack developed settlements.

This is also, however, a point where my understanding may be distorted by my work on the sequel setting. In my work I emphasised how the exterior male-dominated settlements are economically, politically, socially and militarily dependent upon the enclaves. This creates the 'power and dignity' that does not flow down to every female eladrin, but certainly those who are part of the enclaves.

-hirou
Do please feel free to criticise any erroneous facts or weak interpretations. But I do very much appreciate your respect for my 'pedantry'. It's very easy to lapse into 'why can't you just enjoy it' and 'why are you being a hater', especially when it's material that you enjoy. I've done it on occasion. Zeitvice is absolutely not a holistic set of instructions for running 'the perfect Zeitgeist', more a guide to potholes that some parties may or may not run over, and how the GM can fill them in.

As a side note- I have been critical in the past of the disconnect between Zeit's player's guide and AP, but after running the Paizo War for the Crown AP, perhaps I was a little harsh. War for the Crown Book 1 completely drops the entire core political conflict and political factions established by the player's guide, and the AP completely ignores all noble houses in both the player's guide and a later book expansion. Zeit's player's guide woes much lesser by comparison.
 

Arcaneshield

Explorer
I would like to state that I initially commented on how intersting I found it that we came to very different conclusions and I was considering making a point of how reading a 'guide' or 'review' before the text to prepare yourself can color your perception. However you asked for more info and I made my point and ultimately this is more picking each other's brains.

I take a very dim view of ascribing motive and discrimination to a person because they write a fictional world differently than you would. One that doesn't fit your personal mores.

Again I am not a politically correct minded person. So I did not find a moral deficiency in the portrayal nor did I seek to 'fix' any 'problematic' portrayals. I protest the assertions of sexism towards myself and Thurston but I consider I've made my points on these subjects. I was not stating your interpretation was 'wrong' and mine was 'right' but I did feel another point of view lacking in certain biases and having others was valuable to the discussion.

Ultimately I find your resource helpful and useful as another point of view but given the departure here I am going to be more mindful of coming to my own conclusion before looking at your latest chapter as a counterpoint. That is all.
 

hirou

Explorer
I was having a deja vu reading this discussion, and then I stumbled upon this link in Zeitvice (props to arkwright for including it). I feel that short but packed discussion in the linked thread perfectly demonstrates how the same portion of the ZG AP can be viewed very differently by different parties.
 

arkwright

Explorer
Arcaneshield, I certainly am not trying to slap a definitive 'sexist' label on either you or Thursty.

Of Thursty, I think he leapt to an idea he thought was cool, 'elf slaves', and didn't spend enough time thinking out or fleshing out the underlying worldbuilding. I think he's a cheeky rascal, certainly not an immoral or malicious person.

I actually find your discussion about the consequences of the Elfaivaran societal collapse and human drives quite compelling. I believe our point of divergence is how we view the current state of Elfaivar; you view the enclaves as being significantly beholden to a greater male-dominated exterior majority, and I view the majority as being beholden to the enclaves. I am sure there is information in Book 8 to support both perspectives, and I am sure my perspective is warped by how I tried to 'canonise' it in the work I did in the sequel setting.

I'm glad you still find Zeitvice valuable. Perhaps we can have another productive discussion once the sequel setting comes out.
 

Arcaneshield

Explorer
I don't know if I'll be interested. Zeitgeist as I have it in my hands is a bit of a product of the time. Given you're working on the sequel I'm not certain it's going content-wise something I would want to invest in. Plus it won't be for 4th ed which is my wheelhouse.
 

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