Zeitgeist: The Gears of Revolution. An absolutely fantastic campaign and a real breakthrough, Alessandro Viola says.
It has been a long time from my last post. I’m working very hard on my games and books, and it’s very hard to find time for blogging.
Then, fortunately, my friend Alessandro Viola comes to my aid and send me sometimes his considerations and review. He already sent me an interesting reportage from the last Dragonmeet, and now he provides me with this review on a game I don’t know.
So, enjoy the Hero Engine with…
ZEITGEIST: The Gears of Revolution, a Review by Alessandro Viola
Zeitgeist: The Gears of Revolution is absolutely fantastic and a real breakthrough.
This campaign mixes some elements from the very early OD&D (Dave Arneson awarding level ups at the end of each adventure or adventures cycle, rather than adding up experience points) and “modern” / steampunk concepts (some nations or characters are more “conservative”, other are more open to modernity as the society overcomes the “old” feudal system and values), including popular and personal delusions leading to the very “modern” concept of Revolution!
It is a great conceptual step forward under many points of view (one of the many: you can deal someway with the highest levels of your nation from the very first adventure, without having to go through dull introduction adventures etc. bit by bit) and the layout of the adventures, the support information, the artwork, the flavour… all of them instant classic!
However, playing it I found a kind of conceptual contradiction: this campaign is a real step away from epic fantasy (where a single hero can grow level by level, becoming semi-divine and almost untouchable by “mere” first level, lower beings), but doesn’t use a ruleset that fits this “modern” and, I would say, “democratic” approach, where words can deal more damage that swords.
For example, in epic fantasy you can present a hero that at its highest point can turn tides of battles singlehandedly with his own might and sword, while in a more “modern” setting you could imagine a “Napoleon” that can turn tides of battles with his own intellectual or oratorical might, but maybe he’s just a little man that on a one-to-one could be beaten up but many components of his army!
D&D4 and Pathfinder are both made for that sort of epic fantasy with sword-wielding super-heroes and this really clashes with the underlying flavour and concepts of this campaign. It would have been more fit using a game system where you do NOT gain levels (that during the campaign de facto turn you into a semi-divine being), but you can gain skills, that can give you some small advantage, but after all a gunshot should be able to kill you straight away!
After all, this is the “revolution”: the king is not semi-divine, but is a man like all other men and you can shoot him (see what some anarchists did in modern history), or even behead him if you want. Epic heroes and Homeric heroes are unmasked as cheats! That is for me the background of the modern revolution and the right interpretation of steampunk in this adventure cycle!
I also wonder how this campaign could be helped by a ruleset such as Savage Worlds.
Do I think that ZEITGEIST: The Gears of Revolution would have had the same commercial success by using a different, simpler (and hopefully faster) game system (with no progression levels like D&D and Pathfinder), possibly even a system made up by them just for this campaign?
My answer is: absolutely YES!
This stuff is too brilliant on its own to owe any debt to any game system. In this case, the game systems used owe a big debt of gratitude to the campaign!