Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Zeitgeist: The Island at the Axis of the World - Session 01

After a warm-up session before the holidays, yesterday my new D&D campaign started in earnest. The player characters are members of the Royal Homeland Constabulary of Risur. Risur has been at war with Danor repeatedly. The nation of Danor is a magic-dead zone, so they developed steam age technology and guns, which proved to be superior to Risur's druidic magic. So Risur has been industrializing over the last 40 years to catch up technology-wise. This is the background for the first assignment of the players: Providing security at the launch of the RNS Coaltongue, the first Risuri ship completely powered by steam, with no sails at all.

At the headquarters of the RHC the group received instructions and information from their boss, Assistant Chief Inspector Stover Delft. They got an itinerary of the event and a guest list. The elf of the party also received from the RHC skyseer Gaethan a vision of what she saw in the stars the night before: A crowd, a purple ribbon, the Beran city of Seobriga, an empty bed, a broken tin whistle or flute, and a girl with a lisp singing the Risuri royal anthem.

At the event there was a big crowd waiting to be let in. The regular police was charged to let in only 800 people to not overcrowd the docks. The RHC was in charge of making sure that among those being let in there were no troublemakers. They started that well, by identifying the groups that were most likely to cause trouble: The dockers, who are angry how the city treats them in the growing social conflict brought on by rapid industrialization. The primalists, traditionalists of the old Risuri druidic ways, unhappy about modern technology. Agents of the fey terrorist known as "Gale", who has a history of attacking industry. And finally the veterans of the 4th Yerasol War, who aren't happy that it is a Danoran tiefling who is building the Coaltongue.

With a series of skill checks the group identified 20 possible suspects among the 800 people let through the first security checkpoint. One of them was standing next to a tree with a purple ribbon around it, and got visibly nervous when the constables eyed him. Another was the only one not looking towards the checkpoint before being let in, instead apparently being very interested in a map of Ber in the shop of a cartographer. The group didn't look out for the girl with the lisp, but the vision had provided them with some clues.

Now there would have been a possibility to approach the suspects one by one, and send away those not deemed to be safe. Instead the group opted for a different method, letting through the 780 not suspect people through the second checkpoint, while detaining all the 20 suspects at one spot. Of course that group wasn't really happy when the constables started to question and search them. A few were found to be harmless enough, a war veteran who was willing to hand in his sword until the end of the event, a druid who still was royalist in spite of the king's passion for technology, and so on. A few suspects got fed up and wanted to leave. At that point Eldion, being an eager constable, decided that they should search the people wanting to leave, which caused some commotion. And during that commotion a group of 4 dockers, including the guy next to the tree with the purple ribbon and the guy at the map shop, made a dash through the second checkpoint and onto the bridge leading to the quay. The group went after them and combat ensued.

The dockers were armed with belaying pins, and later pulled knifes, but still managed to deal some serious damage with a few high rolls. But they didn't have much armor or defenses, and also missed a lot of attacks. In spite of me reminding the players that the event was on a schedule and there was no possibility to take a long rest after the fight, Aria the sorceress used her daily power in the first round and her action point later. That is the same player who used this alpha strike tactic consistently in the last campaign, and then always nagged the group to rest after every fight. I think he will find that in this campaign this will work a lot less well, as events are frequently on a tight schedule. The group used non-lethal damage on three of the dockers (in 4E D&D that decision is made on the last hit that brings the enemy down). Only the healer, annoyed at having received two serious knife wounds, decided to kill the one docker he brought down. The other defeated dockers were handed over to the police to be thrown in jail and to be presented to a judge the next day.

After the fight another docker turned up, who was known to Eldion, the deva invoker and politician of the group. Eldion had worked for one of the district mayors of Flint and had come in contact with this docker, Thames Grimsley, before. Thames is trying to organize a union, and is preferring less violent methods of class struggle. He came to warn the constables of a potential threat by a group of 4 dockers, but came too late. At least that confirmed that there weren't more docker troublemakers in the crowd that the party might have overlooked.

While the first of the invited guests arrived, the group had a debriefing meeting with their boss, Stover Delft. He introduced them to Harkover Lee, Principal Minister and closest advisor of the king. Both congratulated the group on having handled the troublemakers without causing any inconvenience to the guests, and apparently nobody was much troubled by one dead docker. The group was invited to provide further security on the ship, once it was christened by the king and the guests embarked. Right now only crew and staff was allowed on the ship, the group saw for example a halfling chef bringing a tray of chocolates on board, and some crew members carrying instruments. Due to the vision of the broken tin whistle or flute, the party checked whether any of the instruments were in fact disguised weapons (think blowgun), but found that the marching band actually used rather larger instruments than a flute.

A lot of invited guests assembled close to the ship, waiting for the king to arrive. There was the tiefling engineer Geoff Masarde who had built the Coaltongue; Captain Rutger Smith, who would captain one of the escort ships, the Impossible, which was actually a ship of the Royal Homeland Constabulary; Flint Governor Roland Stanfield; Principal Minister Harkover Lee; Industrialist Benedict Pemberton; and Duchess Ethelyn of Shale, the king's sister. A lot more NPCs than in my previous campaign, and there were signs that the players suffered from a bit of information overload and started to worry how to keep track of all of them.

When briefing the constables, Harkover Lee had mentioned that some guests might be not too pleased about the king's speech, looking at the king's sister, who had arrived with an elven handmaiden in tow. The duchess waved to Malicia, the paladin, because her family was close with the royal family, and Malicia knew the duchess and the king since she was a child. When Merian, the avenger and only character in the group with some connection to the Unseen Court of the fey from his childhood, went to check out the handmaiden the duchess gave her servant some instructions, and the handmaiden called Merian over to talk to the duchess. Duchess Ethelyn was feeling tired, and requested that the constables would organize a room for her on the ship to take a nap.

From that request the players jumped immediately to conclusions, thinking that there was a danger of the duchess being assassinated and started making plans on how to prevent that. This was interrupted by the arrival of the king, who christened the ship. Then the king went onto the ship, and the guests began to embark. At this point we stopped the session, and the next one will cover the events during the maiden voyage of the RNS Coaltongue.


If you want to help your players remember the NPCs, print or draw a picture of the main ones. Doesn't even have to be anything special, maybe Duchess Ethelyn looks alot like Angelina Jolie for example. Just a thought. :)
Actually, even easier if you get junk mail - just cut out whatever clothing models fit your characters. *shrug* :P
The Zeitgeist campaign comes with a set of NPC cards. My players have a portrait of each NPC, and even a handout with some words of description of some major characters. It doesn't help that the handouts are in English, and we are playing in French, though.
Maybe you could "filter" the NPCs a bit for them, by only handing out portraits of some of them? It will make it easier for them, of course (as you'll have to hand out the ones that are critical to the adventure), but it they don't enjoy sifting through lots of NPCs to identify the important ones it's all good.
The problem is avoiding the scenario where the group is in a whodunnit plot and concludes that the villain must be one of the three NPCs they received portraits of.
this sounds like a fun storyline
@Tobold: Well, yes. That's the downside. There's still a ton of stuff going on, so it depends on the group: Do they enjoy the whodunnit elements, or would they rather do other stuff? Or, for elements where a seemingly irrelevant character is later revealed to be the big bad, is the recognition ("hey, we've seen him before!") Worth the hazzle of the Group getting confused by all the NPCs?

You could also just present more NPCs if there's a whodunnit element coming. The Group will probably Wonder why you're suddenly hitting them With a deluge of NPCs, but again, a trade-off between revealing specific information vs drowning them in background and atmosphere.
Do they enjoy the whodunnit elements, or would they rather do other stuff?

It is definitively a challenge, both for me and the group. And just like the docker brawl, we are probably not going to avoid a lot of avoidable fights, because the group is fond of fighting. On the other hand I think they do enjoy not being murder hobos any more, but being integrated in a world with which they have various links and relationships. More Game of Thrones, less dungeon crawl, that necessitates a certain degree of complexity.
Re: lots of NPCs for players to remember. I found it useful to pick a miniature for each important NPC. When speaking as or about that NPC, have the mini in front of you. Helps players follow who is who. Worked for my group at least.
Hopefully the portraits will do enough to keep them interested in the NPCs! Do you have one set of portraits? If you have two, you could give the players the portrait for each NPC as they encountered them, and then you put the other portrait in front of you whenever they encounter them.

If they want to interact more with the world, it's worth the trouble!
Glad to see you finally started your new adventure. Hope you and your friends had a good time!
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