Writing a Neverwinter Nights Module: The Beginnings of a New Module Idea
I’ve been trying to write a blog post about an ongoing learning project I started in August of 2011. I’ve been working on building NWN modules to increase my chances of getting an industry job, while also giving myself something meaningful to do (and not go crazy in the long run). Since then I have built two story driven modules—both are now posted on the website ModDB.
My last module “The Job Search: An Adventurer’s Tale,” was loosely built around the theme of work. The player took on the role of an unemployed denizen of the Forgotten Realms who signs up with a job agency in order to become a contract adventurer. After doing a number of ‘jobs,’ the player is sent on an adventure across the Faerun Interior.
I chose the theme of work for the module because at the time, I was reading a lot of articles about the Great Recession and how the continued down economy affected people around the world. ‘Occupy’ happened and I thought it would be interesting if I could merge my own experiences trying to find fulfilling work (I have worked in temporary data entry for 2+ years and spent 7+ months working for an indie game developer in Toronto) and current events in a story driven game.
In the end, the module became more or less a straightforward adventure—the player grows from neophyte adventurer to a more experienced one; he/she struggles in the quest; and finds victory in the end—straightforward ‘hero’s journey’ type stuff.
Why Still Work?
I am in the midst of writing a new module idea. Still I want to create the module around the theme of work. I decided to take one idea from the previous module and create a larger story around it. In the “Job Search,” the adventurer visits Riatavin and finds the citizens have organized their own ‘Occupy’ movement to protest everything from austerity measures to logging. The player isn’t put into a situation to solve it—it is a waystop, though it is an event in which I decided to revisit in this new module I’m writing.
Riatavin is the focus of the new module. The player is a citizen of the city and unlike the previous adventurer character will be exposed to the movement. The player will take part in quests—each of them written in a way that reflects the malaise.
The Occupy movement allowed people who would not protest otherwise to get out there and voice a myriad of concerns stemming from social and economic inequality.
A Detective Story
At its heart, it is a crime drama. The player will investigate various crime cases ranging from murder to white collar. With the Occupy Movement raging in the background, the city is open to criminal elements, and as a detective consultant to the guard, your work is cut out for you. Each quest in some way is related to people, work, and society. The first case the player is tasked with is finding a missing factory owner.
Les Miz: The Video Game?
Not quite. One thing I wanted to make clear to myself is that while the module’s story backdrop is Occupy, it is still about solving crimes. However as the player takes on each case, one may find someone concerned about their job prospects, or a shopkeeper living out of a tent. One may run into a person going from market stall to market stall asking for work. What I want to illustrate in this module is that Riatavin is going through hard times, and hard times create social malaise.
Detective Work: DnD Style
How would a detective solve crime in DnD? I decided a great deal of gameplay would use the extensive DnD skills list. Bioware implemented a range of skills in NWN such as Search, Lore, and Spot for both combat and non-combat purposes.
This module will use skills in an atypical manner. For example, according to the official game description for ‘Taunt,’ the game rolls a check against an opponent’s Concentration DC (difficulty class). If the attack is successful, the game penalizes the opponent with an AC (armor class) penalty and a percentage of spell failure. For the purposes of the module, ‘Taunt’ will be used in dialogue as one of the many options the player can use to elicit information.
I created an xp table to determine how much xp to give depending on current skill level and a maximum skill level set at 70. There is increased granularity because I have to account for 28 separate skills (of which 13 are still being looked at for usage); dialogues may use on average three or more of these skills and for higher level skill requirements. In an early prototype test, I earned 690 xp going through and investigating every possible object involved in a single case.
A basic range at 0 to 22. The usage of a skill at 0 nets the player 30 xp, increasing at a rate of 10 per skill level.
An advanced range at 23 to 45. The usage of a skill at 23 nets the player 260 xp, increasing at the rate of 10 per skill level.
An expert range at 46 to 68. The usage of a skill at 46 nets the player 490 xp, increasing at the rate of 10 per skill level.
A master range at 69 to 70. The usage of a skill at 69 nets the player 720 xp, increasing at the range of 10 per skill level.
It seems unlikely the player will enter the expert and master range. Also it is also unlikely the module will exceed even the advanced range. Part of the reason why my current xp table for skill usage is so spread out is that I plan on using two mechanics for levelling up. Part skill usage xp rewards, and cash in advancement.
Interrogations will also use an xp table based on skill level, but the amount of xp rewarded depends on the objective. For example, if the objective is to ‘make sure the factory owner lives,’ a full xp reward is given. If the player fails, a half reward is given instead.
The interrogation xp table is split up in the same ranges as the xp skill table. A basic interrogation reward at the 0 to 22 range is 100 xp, increasing by 100 per range. The half reward for a basic interrogation starts at 50 and increases by 50 per range. The xp table for interrogations is much less granular due to the higher reward scale.
Cash in advancement is the second mechanic for levelling up. This is the ‘fast track’ method whereby the player can spend the gold accumulated for solving cases for xp. For every 1000 gold, a player can earn 1000 xp. Gold is only used in this manner. The main reason why I am implemented two methods of gaining xp is that this module is also an experiment for non-combat.
My last two modules involved combat —this module will have none, so I needed to find a way to give xp to players. By giving xp through successful interrogations, investigating, and rewards for solving cases, this makes up for xp given for killing things.
Combat is prevalent in video games since (I think) it is the easiest way to demonstrate conflict. You have two groups of people bent on defeating one another for ideological reasons—one side has weapons, the other side has weapons; so let them at each other. Whoever is left, wins.
In crime fiction and in crime drama, the’ detective’ character is usually an intellectual. They rely on their wits to solve crime and often times without a weapon. It might be that a ‘normal’ day could involve tripping over bodies, but they never have to resort to violence. The module will be reflective of these ‘conflicts,’ rather than smacking things over the head.
Inspiration for the Module
I watch a lot of crime drama—that’s it. I’m not a detective fiction writer who hounds real detectives for story ideas or the forensics department to ‘get things right.’
I liked playing LA Noire and Deus Ex, and looking at the dearth of detective crime story modules for Neverwinter Nights; thought the game could use another one.
Cases have ghosts, lichs, and demons in them. The main character can be any DnD class and gender. But as is the case in crime fiction, the monster is rarely the Minotaur in the labyrinth.
That’s it for Now
This is a good overview of my module idea. It’s also what I’ll work on so that I don’t go crazy while on my job search. I hope as I work on creating a prototype of it, I can post up more stuff about it.
Here are two jpegs of Riatavin. It is an entire city connected with area transitions. The player will spend much of his/her time here. The player can also use the sewer system to get to other parts of the city. I’m not using any existing campaign maps—it is a creation of my own.