Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
Zeitgeist 5E - Session 2

In the previous session we started playing the Zeitgeist Adventure Path for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. In this session we played the first act of The Island at the Axis of the World. Now I had already played the same adventure with a different group in 4th edition D&D. However 5E is somewhat faster than 4E, my new group is somewhat faster than my old group, and the new group also plays longer sessions (6 hours on a Sunday afternoon, as compared to 3 hours a weekday evening for the old group). So we are covering a lot more ground and will get through the adventure in fewer sessions.

Now I had several reasons for wanting to play this campaign again. It is a very good campaign, at least the early part that I want to play. And it is somewhat more open to different groups solving the same problems in different ways. Last but not least I had spent a considerable amount of money at the time of the 4E campaign to have all the battle maps printed in poster format, and wanted to reuse them.

Traditionally in D&D the players only play their own characters, and the DM plays all the NPCs, and all the world around the players. Besides that being a lot of work for the DM, it also has the disadvantage that you can end up with long sequences in which the narrative isn't interactive at all. The DM talks and talks, and the players slowly fall asleep. So for the start of this session I had something different in mind. I let the players not only introduce their characters, but also let them decide on the nature and organization of the Royal Homeland Constabulary of which they are part now. Does the RHC wear uniforms? Are they helpful to the people, or are they a feared secret police kicking in doors and kidnapping dissidents in the night? Do they accept bribes? If somebody from a crowd protests by throwing a tomato, do they reply by throwing a fireball or do they use a more commensurate response avoiding collateral damage? All of these things aren't detailed in the adventure. So I told the players that it was up to them to decide, and that the rest of the RHC would adopt the same culture as they did. That worked brilliantly, leading to a lot of interactive discussion, and a much better identification of the players with the constabulary.

I am not going to re-tell all the details of the story, which I have journaled before. What we played through was mainly a "skill challenge", a 4E concept adapted to 5E here, in which the group as RHC constables identified trouble-makers in a crowd at the occasion of the launch of the RNS Coaltongue. And after that we played through the main event of this part of the adventure, the sabotage of the RNS Coaltongue, in which servants of the sister of the king tried to kill the king by blowing up the ship.

Having played the 4E version I immediately noticed that the 5E version was missing the fire sprites in that encounter. The remaining saboteurs, a sorceress, an assassin, and two engineers, looked a bit underpowered compared to an experienced group of five level 3 characters. So I added the fire sprites back in, using the magma mephits from the Monster Manual. That turned out to be a very good idea, because even with them the fight itself still was easy enough. The difficulty instead was that with the fire sprites added, the sorceress and the engineers had enough time to complete the steps of the sabotage, overheating the boiler and rusting shut the furnace door as well as the relief valves. So once all enemies were dead, the group was on a clock with a boiler that was building up pressure and would explode in 12 turns.

Most of the group basically attacked the steam engine, destroying the furnace door to get it open again, and breaking open a relief valve. That slowed down the pressure buildup, but didn't stop it. So they started to remove the heat source from the furnace, but that resulted in them taking fire damage. Finally the warrior, Fernand, had the brilliant idea to use the ships magic weapon, which was drawing its energy from the furnace. Compared to the previous group the success was one step less, because the 4E group had managed to not disturb the king and the party while dealing with the sabotage. This group had already raised the alarm and started launching the lifeboats.

The last bit we played was the aftermath of the event, in which the group was told what their next mission is. The king's sister has re-captured Axis Island (where the intro adventure played) from Danor. To prevent another war with Danor, the group has to infiltrate the island and the main fortress on that island, open the sea gates, and thus allow the king's fleet to take the fortress, arrest the king's sister, and hand the island back to Danor. That will be for the next session.

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