Monday, 6 March 2017

Baldur's Gate for Neverwinter Nights

Of interest to veterans of Baldur's Gate is that some campaigns built in the Aurora Toolset are notably inspired by it and/or "Baldur's Gate-esque". Given a rundown in this post are the ones that I have personally played and heartily recommend to Baldur's Gate fans. I'll likely build on this list as I continue to explore the jungle of NWN community content, but for now this is it. Now, to save repeating myself in each entry, these are award-winning campaigns that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, so it goes without saying that they are of professional-level polish and worth the trouble to download and install.

Newbies should note that you will obviously need BioWare's Neverwinter Nights to play these campaigns, the Diamond version of which can be picked up from GoG for chump change. But the following campaigns are FREE to download and play.

      S w o r d f l i g h t      
by Rogueknight 333 (2008-2016)

The beginning of an epic series, you begin this tale as a novice adventurer looking for work in the bustling city of Calimport. A chance meeting in a tavern may provide more than you bargained for, leading to a dangerous journey through desert and dungeon. - DM Rogueknight.


Rogueknight's Swordflight is a highly reactive campaign. What does that mean? It means that the campaign reacts to the character that you have chosen to role-play; for example - and to put it quite crudely - it frequently checks your gender, race, class, stats, alignment and the decisions you make over its course, thereby determining what you can and can't do. So, whichever character you choose to play, you are going to be made to feel that you are that character, which is quite a feat when you consider the build options offered by the D&D ruleset. Now, in respect to reactivity Swordflight leaves our treasured Baldur's Gate 2 in the dust. The only RPGs that I know of which are as reactive as Swordflight are Planescape: TormentArcanum of Steamworks & Magick Obscura and Mask of the Betrayer. That's the sort of company it's in.

Swordflight is mostly set in and around the desert city of Calimport but also takes you to the far-flung Marching Mountains and Forest of Mir: regions known to those who have played Throne of Bhaal. Three chapters have been so far released to the public, with the series projected to six or perhaps even seven, all told. They seem to come out every four years but Rogueknight has hinted at quicker releases in the future.

Now, the first chapter is the shortest but features a grueling multi-level dungeon crawl and lots of reactivity. The second chapter raises the bar in that it has you exploring the quest-dense urban hub of Calimport and its outskirts in non-linear fashion, similar to how Athkalta can be explored in Shadows of Amn. And in the third chapter the protagonist breaks into epic levels and stops over in exotic lands en route to the citadel library of Candlekeep, where the Bhaalspawn Saga began!

Swordflight is as good as it gets, guys! Srsly, if you fancy yourself a hardcore BG player then look no further than this masterpiece. Download it now!

by Savant (2003-2007)

In the Kingdom of Aielund, trouble is brewing. While the king leads an army against enemies in the far west, the poorly-protected realm is under attack from brigands, goblinoids, and barbarians from the east. And rumors of a conspiracy are growing as the remaining military forces do little to stem the tide. Into this vacuum of power steps a small band of daring individuals, who must try to keep the region intact while tracking down the conspirators who seek to divide the land for themselves. - DM Savant.


Savant's Aielund Saga is an epic high fantasy D&D campaign consisting of four sprawling Acts, with Act IV broken up into three Parts. It is THE flagship heroic adventure for the NWN platform and a great showcase for community custom content. If you're just beginning to explore the jungle of NWN campaigns and adventures then I don't think there is a better introduction than this epic, especially if you grew up with classics such as Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale.

The saga takes you from first to about 37th level: from humble beginnings in a rainy backwater town, the protagonist gets caught up in local problems that turn into political intrigue - and then it goes epic, just like Baldur's Gate. Notable features include companion romances, siege warfare and mounted combat. The Aielund Saga has it all.

Savant has since gone on to write nine novels and design his own role-playing system.


To many, the town of Daggerford is of little consequence. To others, however, it is of immeasurable value. The nearby great cities of Waterdeep and Baldur’s Gate would do well to look over their shoulders at what is brewing in this once sleepy town. Prepare to delve into the dark mysteries surrounding Daggerford... - DM Ossian.
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Ossian's Darkness Over Daggerford (2006) is an EZ, polished adventure that employs sidequests very similar to those found in Baldur's Gate. By far and away its standout feature is the incorporation of a custom World Map System complete with random waylays, just like in Baldur's Gate. In fact, to my knowledge it is the only NWN campaign that employs one! (Which, to my mind, is a tragedy.)

On the whole the writing is entertaining (you'll get giggles out of it) and there is a staggering amount of attention given to Realmslore and item/object descriptions. It's pretty evident that the devs had a lot of fun building the campaign, too! I was a lil' critical of DoD in my write-up but only because I compared it directly to Swordflight. And I can't deny that new players, and those who just want to have some casual fun, will enjoy the adventure immensely.

• My commentary in five parts • Official Neverwinter Vault entry • Ossian's Official Site. Update: Developer Damian B, aka Luspr, has posted insights into DoD's development beginning with this comment. He also commented here a while back, too.

      C r i m s o n  T i d e s  o f  T e t h y r      
by Alazander/Luke Scull (2005)

After many years of war, Tethyr is finally enjoying a period of relative peace. Despite this, problems still continue to plague the realm. Beasts roam the countryside, pillaging and slaying at random. The Knights of the Black Gauntlet, an order led by the priest Teldorn Darkhope and dedicated to the evil deity Bane continue to plague Tethyr's eastern border. However, the greatest threat of all has arisen recently in the form of the huge monstrous coalition known as the Sythillisian Empire. - DM Alazander.

"Old friend, I fear that Tethyr's future is once again in the balance. The Sythillisian Empire has turned its gaze towards us for reasons I cannot fathom. How can this recently healed nation hope to defend itself from the untold thousands of goblins, orcs, ogres and giants that lurk on its northern border?" - Excerpt from a letter by Royal Court Sage Gamalon Idogyr to Elminster of Shadowdale, 1372 DR.


Realmslore. If you want to play a campaign built by someone who knows their Realmslore and can match the tone of FR literature, then you can't go wrong with Crimson Tides of Tethyr, a four-part epic that starts you off questing in the city of Darromar before marching you north to the Forest of Tethir and tree city of Suldanessellar, where you will meet Queen Ellesime of Shadows of Amn fame and explore Irenicus' Tower! This was the first notable BG-esque module to come out and one of the first NWN campaigns that I played, so I'm pretty nostalgic for it.

AL2: CToT was a cancelled premium module that was preceded by AL1: Siege of Shadowdale and followed up by AL3: Tyrants of Moonsea, which was also a cancelled premium module. Of course, AL4: The Blades of Netheril never came out.


These setbacks did not faze Alazander, who subsequently went to work on Darkness Over Daggerford (2006), Mysteries of Westgate (2009) and Shadow Sun (2013); and also publish three novels.

One notable but largely unmentioned aspect of CToT and TotM is that they feature the odd gory or horrific scene. Don't be surprised if you come across projectile-vomiting and skulls stuck on the end of pikes, for example. They are also a little more gritty in tone than traditional Realmslore adventures.

Lastly, a strong argument can be made for CToT and TotM featuring the best custom music of any campaign on the NWN platform.

• My commentary in four parts • Official Neverwinter Vault entry.

Other campaigns that might fit the criteria: Demon Soul 1, Tales of Arterra, Adam Miller's Trilogy, Sanctum of the Archmage, Saleron's Gambit.

***

Well, I hope you enjoyed reading this write-up and got something out of it! If you have any questions about these campaigns, including their installation, don't hesitate to inquire in the comments section. And if you know of any other campaigns or adventures that are notably inspired/influenced by Baldur's Gate, let me know. I freely admit that this list is not, by any stretch, exhaustive, and intend to add to it in the future, anyway. I may repeat this template for NWN2, too.

Next post: Bedine Commentary.

EoP

28 comments:

  1. Thanks for posting this! Indeed, this bladuresque climate and abundande of extremely good modules is what makes us cling to NWN after all of these years. I would add a few worthwile (my rating 9/10 or 10/10) balduresque NWN modules to the list: Shadows of King's Justice (Director's Cut), Runes of Blood and Harper's Tale (a series). They are all downloadable from neverwintervault.org

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  2. Tales of Arterra (https://neverwintervault.org/project/nwn1/module/tales-arterra-lost) is another highly regarded NWN module series that was heavily influenced by Baldur's Gate. I am sure there are others I am forgetting about, or never heard of in the first place.

    AFAIK, Alazander has only published 3 novels (which I found to be pretty good, btw) at this time, not 6. Perhaps you were confused by the American and British releases having different cover art (or perhaps I do not know what I am talking about)?

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    1. No, you are correct. Having not read them myself, I only quickly counted them up in his right sidebar. Thanks for the heads-up on Tales of Arterra!

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    2. Thanks for recommendation rogueknight --- if such an experienced module builder as you recommend it, I will add it to my NWN waiting list :)

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    3. Just in case you can't tell, Rogueknight, we are big fans of your work!

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  3. Oh, I wonder if this should be the post where I tell-all about the behind the scenes during the making of DoD?

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    1. Why not? You can just post it in the comments section here or I can dedicate a separate post to your write-up if it meets my quality standards (j/k). It's up to you. (For those who don't know Damian B is Luspr, who was on the DoD development team.)

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  4. Well, there are a few reasons why not, but what the hell, it's a long time ago now :) Also please allow for a few possible errors in recall...

    I feel a bit like I should *sips wine* for this. Maybe for part two (yes, this is just the beginning).

    It's clear to anyone who reads the credits that the Daggerford team was basically put together from the modding community around NWN, but what is less clear is the sheer number of people who came and went, especially during the early months of the process. The turnover was really insane as people joined the team all pumped up to be working on something 'official' and then left again once they figured out it was a bit like real work and not just a laugh (slightly harsh but... yeah). I can't remember all of the fleeting faces but there were a lot of familiar names floated in and out of the core team (I can track that by searching email for 'SVN password changed'). It's worth to bear in mind that original estimate for the development phase was three months! (Not by me, I hasten to add). Some wise-old heads (hello, Dallo!) spotted that for the trap that it was and said 'No way!' from the outset. Anyway, all in all there was about 6 months of putting a team together and fleshing out the high level concept, and then around 12 months where the thing was actually built. For those 12 months I believe there was myself and Codepoetz around for all of it, Baron of Gateford for a good half of it, Lady Oonagh and Lord Alex for the latter part, and then MadWombat who, IIRC, worked pretty much exclusively on the world map part. Considering that we all had day jobs I think the volume of content is pretty impressive, but also one of the weaknesses, in that the massive scope of the area design needed a hell of a lot of content to fill it out, and it needed to be done fast.

    You can imagine why people got burned out by it.

    Regarding the design, as a 'former Premium module' a lot of the development cycle was done under condition that WOTC had to sign-off on the content. At one end of the spectrum that meant things like not killing off canon characters, or changing the official timelines, but it also had another effect, in my opinion, which contributed to the rather conservative design at many levels. Overall, the Sword Coast setting, and the core storyline of political intrigue around Daggerford and bands of Orcs, Goblins and most likely a few bandits too is real 'meat-and-potatoes' stuff, and I would personally have preferred to work in just about any other setting going, and skip the vanilla bad guys. I'll perhaps dig into this in a bit more detail later but for me the best content is the peripheral stuff, and the design team certainly had more freedom of expression in the side quests than elsewhere.

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  5. A lot of those core concept design decisions were driven literally by the ambition of wanting to build a BG-esque experience for Neverwinter. The location, sure, but also things like the world map (which I would say was really well done) and the 'between areas encounters’ which proved to be really problematic, especially when exposed to real players and the different approaches to the game. Those encounters scaled up using the default templates for levelling so we ended up with some people encountering devastating critical halberd-wielding über-Orcs on their way to the local magi-mart. Which we didn't spot until after the mod was released, of course. There were probably quite a few other similar examples of things which worked well in the original game, but translated less well to the Neverwinter environment.

    Developing as part of the Premium programme also brought its own pressures, and there were numerous deliveries to Bioware of the 'critical path', i.e. the central plot of the game which the player must follow in order to complete the module. Daggerford, some of the outlying areas, into Illefarn and back to Daggerford. This once again re-inforced a lot of the conservatism regarding the design, both driven into the design by the Bioware team, but also internally. At the end of the day this was the first production by Ossian, and their goal was to build a brand identity by going for mass popular appeal, and I think if you look at things like downloads, press recognition, the IGF award as well as feedback from players then there is definitely something to be said for it! The end result, however, most definitely will not be for those players who like something a bit more edgy or challenging.

    I’ll try to get to the juicy bits in the next part, such as the day that the Premium programme was cancelled, and the real story of why Daggerford had to be uploaded to the Vault with just 48 hours notice, or risk never seeing the light of day at all. But I hope that this has been a least a little bit interesting for your readers, and that I’ve met the exacting quality standard that we all know and love about Lilura’s blog!

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    1. Aww, you made me blush with that last part. :P

      Thank you for offering these interesting dev insights, Damian. Keep em' coming!

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    2. That's definitely interesting to hear, thanks, speaking as someone who's released some stuff as well.

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    3. For those who don't know Balkoth aka Magical Master built A Peremptory Summons and Siege of the Heavens (innovative hack n slash modules!), and is the current maintainer of the Aielund Saga.

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    4. Savant (Aiekund saga) was invited to the DoD development team sometime in 2005, but I don't remember many details. Presumably he wanted to focus on his own modules at least.

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    5. @Damian, thanks for posting this interesting insight into Daggerford’s production process. The map of the world, ability to furnish your own HQ by yourself with the help of a Gypsy female stylist, as well as envoys knocking at your door all contributed to very nice gameplay experience. In fact I would consider replaying DoD only to see the cozy Liam’s Hold again.
      In principle this module was much better that the original campaign – I don’t want to suggest anything, but maybe they didn’t want it attached to the raw NWN version, as it would comparatively show how poor their own campaign was? :) In fact many other campaigns prepared by amateurs were even better. The reason why DoD could not beat these better modules (such as Aielund Saga, Lankhmar Nights or Bastard of Kosigan, all made by one person utilizing custom content and their own creative juices) was mainly the fragmentation of the plot; from this fragmentation the final lack epic balduresque scope followed and the game tasted more like a collection of side quests stitched together by a short main plot. As you’ve just written that “the original estimate for the development phase was three months” I finally understood the fragmentation might have been caused by factors independent from Ossian, i.e. short period of time allowed for creating the game. Did I understand you correctly? PS. I know you might not be allowed to confirm or deny due to legal reasons. Anyway, thanks for your work and greetings :)

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    6. @Damian
      Thank you for sharing all this. Your story is really interesting so yeah, please go on. Really appreciating this.

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    7. I don't recall being asked to join development on DoD, but it was a long time ago and my health was pretty bad back then too. If asked, I would most likely have refused and given the apparent hectic dev schedule, I wouldn't have been able to stick with it anyway. Besides, I had my own epic to finish :)

      I'm also not keen on working on a world like FR where I'm not allowed to break other people's toys, and nothing big can happen without permission from the suits (shudder).

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    8. It is a long time ago! I expect the request was made via the Bioware forum messaging feature, so easy to miss.

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    9. I have to agree with Greg on DoD: while I enjoyed it I couldn't finish the module due to fragmented plot. Still, it was a very enjoyable experience.

      @Savant: I just want to say The Aielund Saga is my the most favourite NWN module of all time and wanted to take this opportunity to thank you. I just loved the amount of detail you've put into this game. I usually dislike playing low level D&D campaign but I thoroughly enjoyed first chapter of the Aielund Saga.

      @ Lilura: I haven't tried Crimson tides of Tethyr yet as I found Siege of Shadowdale mediocre but perhaps I should try it out since I read a number of good reviews of AL 2 & 3.

      @ Rogueknight 333: your module sounds very intriguing, will definitely try them out. But I disagree with Tales of Arterrra. I found this module rather disappointing. First chapter I found boring and mediocre. While the second chapter was vastly superior, I found the author borrowed too much concepts from Planescape Torment and other IE games.

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    10. Thanks Suzie! I always prefer low-level adventures myself so that's why I put extra effort into act 1 ;)

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    11. Hi again, nice to see that a few folks have found it somewhat interesting to take a peek behind the curtain of the Darkness over Daggerford development process. I’ve finally found the time to note down a few more reflections, and I must say that it has been quite nice to think back over some of the events, re-read a few old emails (fact checking!) and so on. Overall I found it to be a lot of fun to be part of the Daggerford team, and I’m glad of the opportunity to build things with some talented developers and genuinely pleasant people. This state of affairs was actually what I was looking for all along, as working in the games industry was never something I particularly aspired to. Indeed, I was quite explicit that I was involved in the project for enjoyment of a hobby only, and as time went by and I became more familiar with the Premium Modules programme I was rather surprised at how many people were caught in its constellation and strongly driven to carve out games development careers for themselves, sometimes quite aggressively so. Bioware itself was also undergoing some quite disruptive changes it seemed to me, recruiting for their Texas studio and generally re-organising their staffing for the big crunches towards Dragon Age and Mass Effect, for better or for worse (your judgment call), so perhaps the overall atmosphere was just right for it. It always seemed to me to be a strange calling in that the creative pleasure can often be suffocated when filtered through the lens of contracted work, office politics and the whims of twitchy publishers. I suppose times were also different, and if I look around the mostly healthy community of indie developers where I live here in Copenhagen, and the availability of a new generation of tools like Unity and so on then maybe there are ways to find a good balance of hobbyist enthusiasm and the realities of supporting oneself, family and so on.
      Anyway, perhaps I should get back to the main dish. Greg makes an interesting note about the ability of solo module makers to achieve to a higher level through something like unity of purpose allied with the creative contributions of the community-at-large and that last point is actually quite relevant as Darkness over Daggerford was developed something like four years after the release of the original game but could not make use of any of the community content produced during that time due the fact that the licensing did not cover commercial use (i.e. Premium modules). I nearly died (not literally) when I realised I couldn’t use Gestalt cut scene system… What we did have access to was anything we made ourselves (and there were some custom creature models and placeables released alongside the module) as well as the not entirely insignificant presence of the TNO tile set offered by Bioware (made by DLA).

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    12. A lot of the disjointed nature which some people experience when playing DoD stemmed from that desire to showcase the full range of the TNO capabilities, coupled with the BG-style gameplay, so very early on there was a list of the various areas through which the player could wander without restriction, rural, coastal, urban, marshy and so on. Each one of these areas required, I believe, three sub-quests to ‘fill them out’ and that became a lot of content overall. The urban areas also featured more in depth quests, which was the part I enjoyed to build the most, especially around Liam’s Hold. In general the areas were shared out between developers and there was very little time to synchronise at any level. I remember cringing when I realised that Lord Alex has basically used the same joke as me in another unrelated area, but there was likewise no overall strategy regarding what should be sold in stores, power levels of items and important balancing aspects like that. Well. I say that, but there was a strategy of sorts – ‘we will figure that bit out at the end when there is time’. Probably not the best idea, that. Pretty much the only thing which happened in this regard was that I dropped a mysterious key into one of the other developers’ shops (without telling them) and then built a quest for it at the last minute, which depending on who you listen to was either the best of the worst thing in Daggerford. Mission accomplished.
      Obviously this problem was then multiplied by that fact that the overall main storyline was basically not strong enough to stand above all of the additional content which filled out the overall gameplay. I was never convinced that the ‘emotional hook’ of searching for your lost companion worked very well when you basically only met her for about five seconds before she gets abducted, and I found it rather difficult to write the dialogue for Talarrene’s ‘doppelganger’ Astriel to reflect that on some level the PC should basically hate her, while also being completely reliant on her to unveil what to do next. She went through several iterations of essentially being ‘dumbed down’ for reasons alluded to in the previous posts to ensure that the protagonist could always go to her to be pushed to the next event in the main storyline, and in the end I imagined her like some kind of female James Bond (in a formal dress rather than black tie) who never goes anywhere but somehow or other always has an ‘intuition’ of where to go and what to do next and lives in a permanent state of ‘almost but not quite’ being in peril of discovery by ‘the enemy’. The results were so-so, in my estimation.
      In the end there never was the time to go back and fix these issues as we had hoped, although not for the commonly believed reason of the cancellation of the Premium Programme. That in itself was a complete shock and really did come with no warning, but for me at least it didn’t make sense to cancel the project after investing the best part of a year in it, so it was easy to commit to finishing the job. It was only at this time that the number of Premium modules in development became clear, with a lot of communication between the various teams to figure out how to proceed, but there was no changing the decision – for most of us ;) There was one exception which, as Alan Miranda diplomatically put it, seemed “perplexing”, especially given that the project was arguably further away from completion than DoD at the time. All of the other projects ceased immediately.

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    13. Nonetheless, I think the cancellation of the programme did create a new kind of time pressure to release something before motivation faded away and we did start moving towards a wrapping up mode of working, and this proved to be critical as there came a point when we realised we had just days to release the module or risk it never seeing the light of day at all. As mentioned before, there was custom content used in Darkness over Daggerford, and it has ‘been rumoured’ that it was suddenly demanded that a critical piece of this be removed, or suffer the consequences, which it was intimated might prove to be unbearably costly. Obviously if the module was already uploaded to the Vault this ‘threat’ might be unenforceable.
      The days surrounding the release of Daggerford were a crazy mix of bug-fixing (several hundreds of) and anxiety, with an undercurrent of frustration at not having the time to address all those game balance issues discussed above, but also a sense of achievement and positivity about the overall reaction of the community. Yes, the hype exceeded the reality (plus c'est la même chose), yes the backlash was harsher because of that expectation level, yes I once did get ‘hate email’ about a typo I had made (haha – what?), yes it needed a bit more polish, but as often happens, events outside of the developers’ control had the telling contribution regarding how and when DoD came to the community.
      There was a short support period after the initial module release, but this was limited to bug fixing and there remain to this day a few parts of the game which can be knocked over, one of which I can claim ownership to – I think it is possible to break the spawning of Lula in Daggerford town by a certain set of choices regarding whether or not to basically feed her to an actual Vampire in another cosy village (she’s just a wannabe). It’s shame, as Lula was always one of my favourite characters and quite well developed across that storyline as a whole, but that bug was discovered quite some time after the release, and while I had observed it once during development I thought I had included enough safety loops to be sure it could never happen again as I could never recreate it and discover the true cause.
      After that the team dived straight into pitching a Premium Module to Obsidian/Atari, minus a few members, adding a few new ones, although the eventually realised Mysteries of Westgate was only conceived of after the initial pitch was turned down for being too similar to something that Obsidian already had in its own development pipeline. That something turned out to be Mask of the Betrayer, and you can see the mask concept also survived into Westgate, but our pitch was also a story set in Rashemen and Thay, and featuring Red Wizards, Witches and all that good stuff. I really wanted to work in that setting and was quite centrally involved in coming up with story concepts for that module, although I believe it was Alazander who actually pulled everything together into a coherent proposal. I never could get interested about Westgate as a setting, or the storyline proposed (I was determined to not do more vanilla fantasy after DoD), and that, along with some personality clashes and changing real life circumstances meant that it had become the right time to part ways with Ossian. They, of course, went through possibly an even more traumatic experience with the Westgate module for NWN2, although it was, eventually, released as DLC at least, and they then went on to release their own IP for mobile devices, The Shadow Sun.
      Well, that just about wraps up my reminiscing about Darkness over Daggerford and related subjects. Ever since I found Lilura’s excellent blog I have been pondering whether or not it might be a good place to tell the less well-travelled tale of Daggerford’s development, and for better-or-worse here it is. Thanks for listening, and best wishes to all! If there are any questions, feel free to ask.

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    14. Sorry for the loss of carriage returns while pasting the text :(

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    15. Thanks for that retrospective, Damian, interesting to hear a lot of that stuff (especially the lack of overall strategy). I can also greatly empathize with the whole "This is fun as a hobby but I don't think I want to go into the industry" as that I was the situation I found myself in as well.

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  6. Great list! Keep them coming. And yes, it would be great to have a NWN2 list.

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    1. I'll see what I can come up with. I won't be covering the remakes, though.

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  7. Thanks for posting Damian. I always loved DoD and MoW. David Jones' music is still some of my favorites.

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  8. Great, these are all exceptional campaigns (and I played them all)... I only would add to list the Shadowlords, Dreamcatcher, and Demon trilogy made by Adam Miller, they are not perfect but I think they deserve more love.

    I especially liked the war part in Dreamcatcher (Shadowlords was a bit rough, but this was due to the inexperience of the author, that later improved really a lot).

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