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

Lylandra

Adventurer
I wasn't trying to call anybody a sexist either, I just wanted to point out that we as presumed westerners are always doing stuff with certain conscious or unconscious biases in mind. Take for example the fact that we almost always assume fantasy societies being based on a western-style nuclear family as the default, with the occasional clan to add variety. Which is something that I learned when I studied the few real-world matriarchies or matrilineal societies for Zeitgeist.

We can see this in Kasvarina's family with her husband and two daughters and the fact that she didn't remarry after Pillai's death. So can we assume that Eladrin society was kinda like our modern society, but maybe more egalitarian? Should we try to generalize from this sole example of an elfaivaran family? Or is it just a coincidence, written without too much of an afterthought? (note: Even if it is the latter, don't see it as critique on the source material! I'm only interested in the author's intention)

I had this very same "problem" when I asked myself whether Crisillyir was based on a patriarchal structure or not. There are hints that it could be (historically more men in positions of power and this sentence that called Eladrin the "green temptresses", plus its very italian/catholic church vibe), but are these enough to warrant a definitive answer?

On a wholly different topic, what really put me off regarding the Akhela Sathi is that the way it is written could imply that any man could just go in and have sex once a year. Add this to the fact that the place is supposed to be your party's inn and keep in mind that other adventures are much more written from a male perspective with a male audience in mind and very lenient when it comes to brothels and arm-candy and you can see why this is potentially problematic. I had a quick exchange with RW about that, and he assured me that it wasn't intended and that the Akhela Sathi were for their enclave's population only.
 

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arkwright

Explorer
Actually you're wrong there, Lylandra. Book 8 repeats several times that Kasvarina had many husbands. In the book, the party meets two of them- Asrabey and Bhalu. There may very well have been more.

Crisillyir/the Clergy definitely does give off the vibe of being the not-Catholic Church, and at times the adventure treats them like they are. But for this issue in particular, I would disagree that the Clergy is patriarchal, given the many women in positions of power; Ottavia Sacredotte, Natalia Degaspare the secular leader and Savina Tullius the religious leader (in the absence of the Prime Cardinal.) The Family might be a more patriarchal Crisillyiri faction.

The book does state that 'any resident or visitor in good standing can request a night at the Akela Sathi', which does come a little close to 'any man can just go in.' And the book straight-up says 'if the party needs to rest and take a load off, the best place in Sentosa is also the most awkward', directing them to it. The Akela is volunteer-only, but consent can easily get iffy given the Elfaivaran condition.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
I was referring to the time before the Fall, to try establish how eladrin society may have looked like. If I remember correctly, Kas married Asrabey, Bhalu and several others as a commodity to further her plans, and that was after the Fall.

Same for the Clergy, and I agree that the theocracy is fairly egalitarian in the present day. I'm just interested in the state of the nations of Lanjyr from 500 years ago. But maybe the paragraphs from the Player's Guide were written before the concrete idea of how Crisillyir works was set in stone?
 

Arkwright, I always appreciate a critique and analysis. Likewise, for everyone involved in the conversation, it heartens me that people were engaged enough with the story that they'd want to debate what they perceive as its warts. And in the places where I let you down, yes, I often wish I'd spent more time and gotten more insight from others in the writing process.

I need to push back on what I feel is some targeted criticisms at Thurston Hillman. He and I collaborated a lot in the planning of this adventure, and while he wrote the initial version, I did all the editing, so I am ultimately responsible for anything you feel to be sexist, tone deaf, or just icky.

I will say, my intention with the Akela Sathi was never to have it come across as women being forced to sexually service men, where the men could just waltz in and ask for sex. I did expect it to be a bit of a fraught concept, and Kasvarina certainly did not approve of it. But in my conception of it, the eladrin society of Sentosa in the year 501 saw the Akela Sathi as a ritualized, almost sacred place, where the women who ran it were of high status, and were the ones determining what was the proper way for people in their culture to relate to sex and companionship.

(I think I probably should have used a clearer phrase than 'in good standing.' I meant it more like, "If they adhere to the standards that the matriarchy sets for how a man should behave, and have distinguished themselves by serving the community with respect and honor.")

It also certainly wasn't intended to be a focal point of the whole culture, but I do look back and realize that Elfaivar didn't get as much time to breath in the narrative. Then again, that's how a lot of the setting ended up. Risur got the most attention, and after it Ber was the only place to get an entire adventure devoted to it. I think at the time I was more thinking about delivering an ongoing mystery and less about being culturally sensitive and avoiding played-out tropes.

I'm now of course a bit anxious to see what folks think of the Elfaivar section when the full setting book is released. Arkwright wrote the first version, and then I edited. It's already in the process of layout, but, well, if two or three people wanted to read the final text and offer feedback, let me know. It might help me avoid another generation of unintentional misogyny.
 

arkwright

Explorer
-Lylandra
Oh yeah, we have much less information on Elfaivaran and Clergy society pre-Malice. Something that interests me is the possible-Triegenes empire that likely stretched from Danor, across Drakr to Crisillyir, the greatest the world has ever known.

-Ryan
An subtlety of book I like is that amnesiac-Kasvarina condemns the Akela as 'institutionalised prostitution.' However the Book's portrayal of it as a quasi-sacred place, and the gender imbalance, does a good job of indicating that Kasvarina is judging it by the standards of pre-Malice eladrin. At the same time, she voices feelings some players may have about the institution.

Elfaivar does get some other lore beats, like the gods and the subtlety that perhaps post-Malice Srasama has ironically become far more important than she was pre-Malice. But many plot points throughout the AP do tie in to eladrin as trophies; Gale's backstory, Isobel Travers, the Akela to some degree.

I think Book 8 offers great opportunities and material for a GM to flesh out Elfaivar and tie it in to Kasvarina's character arc.

I have confidence in what I wrote, partly thanks to my work benefiting from the kind help of a friend of mine who is a skilled writer and worldbuilder, as well as very good at creating compelling and sensitive female characters. Of course I would still be happy for Ryan's final edited version to be read over and checked by anyone interested.
 

Arkwright, you make a lot of good points about the seventh adventure, but I do want to clarify that I never intended for the Obscurati to be getting planes from the Gyre. They were using telescopes to examine planar traits and create icons, and so had thousands of stars in the night sky to choose from. The PCs are the ones with limited options.

I suppose that raises the question of whether the PCs could ever have gotten their hands on the details and golden icons of the many Ob planes, and I'm sure if it weren't 3am I'd be able to think of a way to let them find some if they put some effort in.
Actually, you guys did give this directly to the PCs in Schism. In the meteorite mining facility, they run across a log book detailing all the planes and planar effects the Ob has gained access to, over fifty iirc!

The problem is, you forgot to detail the contents of the book.
 


arkwright

Explorer
No draft.

If I were to draft it, issues would be...
  • Book 9 feels like it doesn't know what's in Book 10.
  • Feels a little strange that the Great Hunt need to be tricked into harassing the Hedgehog Court with the rabbit, when the Great Hunt are at the Unseen Court's command. But, maybe that's fey politics for you.
  • The Winter Culling may make the fey a bit more evil than you prefer. Consider whether to drop it.
  • As mentioned before, the PCs randomly get dumped into the Dreaming at the end of Book 8, randomly just long enough that the Ob can achieve all their plans. If players notice, this may annoy them.
  • Try and convey that the Voice of Rot is more than just a powerful snake that the PCs need to defeat to progress. The Voice has a whole Act 3 story of scheming to end all life in the world and ascend to divinity. Indeed, his own schemes are about to set Act 3 in motion.
  • Over the course of Act 3, 99% of Av (the Dreaming and the Bleak Gate) will get shredded by the Gyre, and the remaining fey will be killed or enslaved by the Golden Legion. This is... a bit rough, after Book 9's Midsummer Night's Dream funtimes. Consider having the PCs push for an evacuation, which takes place en masse before Stanfield's downfall thanks to time being irregular.
  • As-written the assasinations involve repeating a lot of fights. Might be best to drop.
  • Ship Graveyard- Stanfield's treason led to the defeat of a Risuri fleet, and the probable war-crime of leaving the sailors to die at sea. May make Stanfield and Danor more evil than you want.
  • Why are the Ob using lighthouses? Can't be necessary for the ritual, the Ancients didn't have lighthouses. Could be to prevent the star-meteor effect that wiped out the Ancient-Yerasol continent; but that was probably the Gidim, who did a last-ditch strike that 'devastated the Ancient civilisation.'
  • By this point, you should have resolved the questions of 'why don't we attack Axis Island', 'why should we oppose the Ob's utopia plan (especially if their 'victory' is inevitable)', and 'why shouldn't we interfere with all the city lighthouses being set up across the planet.'
  • Why is Stanfield doing his lighthouse plan? Book 9 says it's to place all of Risur under mental domination, but Book 10 makes clear that mental effects are mild and everyone is mostly free-willed. Best to say that Stanfield is doing an extra lighthouse-effect that will dominate Risur. Why? To make the Risuri accept Stanfield as King of Risur, empowered by the Rites of Rulership and able to take down the Fey Titans if they cause trouble.
  • Stanfield's speech is not going to be well-received by most parties. Partially because it's a bit rich, coming from the immortal would-be dictator of Risur's free will. Partially as these ideas have never really been introduced or explored over the AP (PCs have lots of money, seeking peace while building weapons is contradictory). Best to swap it for something else, more justifications for why someone would support the Ob agenda.
  • Rakshasa Stanfield; neat, and sort of flavorsome, with 4e evil-devas reincarnating into Rakshasas. But this may be anti-climactic.
  • Read Book 10 for a description of what the Gyre looks like. And to understand what the Voice of Rot has done.
 

Crispy120286

Explorer
My party seems to recieve theb narrative parts very well. At least they can suspent their belief well enough. It helps because I label my modules as Seasons and sessions as Episodes. I try and make it as cinematic as possible and warn them that sometimes the black bars come down and this part will be a "cutscene" for example.

When I pitched Zeitgiest I made sure to let them know of its 3 act structure and at the end of act 2 they will have suffered a great defeat but will come out stronger because of it at the conclusion of act 3.

I'm almost at the conclusion of module 6 so i have a long way before i'm ready to run module 9, however I do worry about the trick. trying to trick the players that everything is happening in Flint instead of Axis Island. I'm considering going the route of letting them know everything is happening on Axis Island but making it so they NEED to be in Flint. I'm just trying to lay the groundwork for it before i get there and make sure im prepared when that part eventually comes.

As usual Ark, your insight is very helpful.
 

arkwright

Explorer
Mmm, lots to consider with this particular issue.
  • It's hard to trick the players that Flint is the key ritual site when there is a 500-ft iron colossus elephant missing from the room. But, that's only a problem on the day.
  • Your players may quickly deduce that Axis Island is where it's at. My players figured it out from the Convocation materials- not the stuff I created, just Han Jierre's vague description of the ritual site.
  • To some degree you don't have to trick the PCs because falling into the Dreaming at the Lance of Triegenes ensures that they are in Flint with not enough time to go to Axis Island (short of teleportation, but then the island is well-defended anyway).
  • But, you do need to explain why Risur isn't promptly seeking out and invading the real ritual site over the course of Act 2. The answer I came up with is that Danor is fortifying the island with everything they've got and even a full assault is not guaranteed victory or to even stop the ritual. Which is kinda hard to believe given how war works (short of the entire navy being at Axis Island, Risur could surely temporarily break through and seize the island). But then, Axis Island has war-colossi.
  • If you tell the party/the party figures out about Axis Island, there's the question of why isn't Risur interfering with the ritual. The convocation shows some nightmare post-Ritual scenarios, and as-written the party has no idea what the final system will be. For all they know, they could wake up in Watchmaker world.
  • It's possible that Kasvarina is your best bet. 'Well, the ritual is going to happen and it doesn't look like we can mobilize in time to interfere/prophecy says we won't succeed. Best bet: track down Kasvarina and get her to interfere with the ritual to either stop it or insert more benign planes. As an Ob triumvirate member, she should have that power/opportunity.'
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Great advice as always, Arkwright. Thanks for the write-up.

  • As-written the assasinations involve repeating a lot of fights. Might be best to drop.

I'm currently preparing these encounters for my players. Do you have more specific advice on this? Would you recommend fewer fights with more fearsome foes? If so, any suggestions for cool enemy powers?

  • Why is Stanfield doing his lighthouse plan? Book 9 says it's to place all of Risur under mental domination, but Book 10 makes clear that mental effects are mild and everyone is mostly free-willed. Best to say that Stanfield is doing an extra lighthouse-effect that will dominate Risur. Why? To make the Risuri accept Stanfield as King of Risur, empowered by the Rites of Rulership and able to take down the Fey Titans if they cause trouble.
This is more of an aside, but the plot that the Ob would make Stanfield king is strange to me. I know it is mentioned in both Book 8 and 9. But, in Bonds of Forced Faith, Stanfield could not be named as king "because the rites demand the monarch must be mortal, and Stanfield perpetually reincarnates" (as cited from King Lorcan Finn's Character Goal). Arguably for the same reasons, a ghostly Catherine Romana could not challenge the king for his throne.

I've rejigged this clause in my campaign, wherein the rites of rulership demand that the ruler cannot be immortal/have eternal life. This slight change in wording allows ghosts (but not Stanfield) to assume the throne.
 

arkwright

Explorer
As-written, the assassination is a smorgasboard of fights, and the GM is meant to basically pick a few encounters for the PCs to fight and let NPC allies handle the rest. By 'repeating a lot of fights' I'm referring to the six lanterns, each protected by the exact same set of enemies. Obviously, try to avoid having the PCs repeat that fight six times. Maybe remove some guards outright so the PCs just need to defuse the lantern, maybe NPC allies take care of the mooks around the lantern while the PCs handle the headliners, etc. Check the 4e version for power ideas. Though if you do that, don't port the antimagic mortar people.

Good catch with the Rites. Stanfield being king definitely isn't mentioned in the AP, but it's what I went with. It fit my Stanfield, who was a person who chafes under the restrictions of lesser, shorter-lived folk under the facade of a humble old man.
If you still wanted to go with 'Stanfield wants to make himself King', you could go with either;
  • Stanfield can remove the Immortal prohibition once he has secured the mentally dominated support of the people and the nobles.
  • The Axis Ritual resetting magic/inserting Planes will remove the prohibition/allow for the Rites to be created anew.
  • Stanfield intends to magically resurrect and reincarnate into his original human body.
 

Echolocation

Explorer
Thanks for the assassination advice. Professor Bugge has become a bit of a big bad in my campaign, and one of my players absolutely despises him. I've used the assassination to show off all his marvelous undead creations, which should give a lot more variety to the encounter whilst still maintaining a coherent theme.

Stanfield being king definitely isn't mentioned in the AP, but it's what I went with.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply you were wrong about Stanfield being king. I think it's an inconsistency within the adventure path. As I mentioned above, Bonds of Forced Faith explicitly states Stanfield cannot be king. In Methia, Nicodemus says "That's why we have Stanfield. After all he's done for us, let him be king." In the introduction to Adventure Nine, Stanfield is expected to taunt the party, by claiming that "[A]ll that remains for him before he becomes ruler of a new, better Risur is to kill the party". I guess this inconsistency could be waved by claiming Stanfield and Nicodemus (at the time of the Methia flashback) were not privy to the full Rites of Rulership. However, as written, a ghostly Catherine Romana is privy to enough information on the Rites to challenge the king but somehow is unaware about the clause concerning mortality. I think the simplest explanation is the mortality clause was omitted from Adventure Nine. GMs with astute players should keep this in mind if they are running both Adventure Nine and Bonds of Forced Faith.

Then again, maybe this is just a me problem, because one of my players is a real-world lawyer who asks a lot of questions about the Rites of Rulership.
 

arkwright

Explorer
Mmm, good catch. I think the best resolution would be that Stanfield intended to rule without the Rites. I can see Nic being happy to have Risur ruled by someone not so empowered or responsible to the people, who could not become a challenge to the Ob.
 

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