One of the most impressive adventure path’s I have ever used was the War of the Burning Sky written by Ryan Nock and published by En Publishing. Nock’s writing style emphasizes PC Choice over story telling, and Burning Sky really pushed that. The only problem was the story still felt locked in place during some adventures.
With Zeitgeist, Nock has now perfected the technique of presenting an adventure path, and has handedly beat Paizo at their own game.
Zeitgeist is the new En Publishing Adventure Path that will be released over the next two years. It features a unique setting of a fantasy world going through an Industrial Age. Before the first adventure was published, the adventure path released player and campaign (DM) guides for both 4th edition and Pathfinder. The free supplements were extensively detailed and worth downloading if only to use in other campaigns. Instead of developing a slew of new classes for the campaign, they instead tell you how to use existing core material, this also includes the new gun rules from Paizo’s Ultimate Combat.
The Adventure Path stems around the country of Risur as they began to leave their magical history behind and move into a new steam and steel way of thinking. An overarching mystery permeates throughout the path, putting the PCs in the middle of the changes in this world.
The setting is innovatively brilliant. It is not a steampunk world. Instead truly feels like Nock took a traditional Greyhawk type setting, plopped it in the middle of the 17th century and said grow up. The game still feels like Dungeons and Dragons, only in a slightly more aged setting.
The first adventure, Island at the Axis of the World, introduces not only the setting, but an organized new method for laying out an adventure. The layout emphases the fact that the PCs are fully in control and includes notes and sidebars to accommodate players who travel off the beaten path. The adventure is broken down into 3 acts, each of which divided into sections. The section headings tell you what type of encounters the PCs will face during them. It also includes what NPCs are affiliated with it.
The problem with Paizo’s adventure paths, is that I find myself frequently deleting creature encounters that have little to nothing to do with the campaign, they are only there so that Paizo can reach some arbitrary XP number that must be met. Thank goodness Nock eliminates the whole nonsense from Axis by simply telling DMs when to level their PCs.
The art and layout throughout the Zeitgeist book is great, allowing the setting to show through the industrial color schemes. There are battlemaps included for every described combat encounter.
For the Dungeon Master
The final ship encounter is an intense, tight encounter that will really impress your players. The helpful guides and sidebars will insure that as a DM, you are never lost as to where your players should go or what to do next. I mentioned above how much I enjoy the de-emphasis on XP, but I also should mention that the de-emphasis on party loot is a nice touch as well. PCs are required to turn in all loot to their superiors and then receive a stipend to buy it back later. This creates a more orderly way of handing out items.
The Iron Word
There is a firm difference between a writer who writes adventures and a DM who writes adventures. Nock is a DM who writes adventures. The material throughout the campaign is designed so that the DM can relay things to their players in a fashion that is easiest to them. The open writing style allows DMs to institute their own ideas, side stories and PC shenanigans and still keep up with the campaign. If the next adventures are anywhere as different and exciting as Axis, this is going to be one of the epic Adventure Paths of this decade.