Neverwinter Nights: The Blades of Netheril Interview

Article Index

GB: Have you tried contacting some of BioWare's old developers to learn of any scrapped plans they may have had for a campaign like this? And if so, do you plan to use any of those ideas?

LS: I considered contacting Rob Bartel, David Gaider, and Naomi Novik to ask them about scrapped plans for a sequel or possibly even invite them to contribute some writing on the project, but I imagine they are busy with their respective, highly impressive careers. I’m very happy with the story I eventually penned, which was only possible using all the skills and knowledge I’ve picked up over the last two decades.

GB: Is this a predominantly solo project?

LS: As of right now, yes. I may reach out for some help once the skeleton is all there, but the design and writing stage (including all the dialogue, etc) is something I will do alone.

GB: And while I'm still baffled as to why BioWare decided to throw away that particular story after all but telling us to expect new adventures, I have to ask - why undertake such a colossal task, and why now, two decades after the game first launched?

LS: This project has been in development in one form or another since 2006. The original, cancelled Tyrants of the Moonsea left a niggling regret that only went away after the finished premium module was released in 2019. I made several efforts at getting a fourth module off the ground, but with Tyrants truncated and somewhat broken, my heart wasn’t really in it. Also, my financial situation didn’t allow me the luxury of spending time on an unpaid project. Things are different now: I’m earning decent royalties on past games and books and finishing Tyrants of the Moonsea reminded me how much fun I’d had with the Neverwinter Nights toolset. An effort to get another, extremely promising premium module with Ossian off the ground was unfortunately unsuccessful... but that desire to create the ultimate Neverwinter Nights campaign, and justify (at least creatively) the existence of the Enhanced Edition itself, was thoroughly reignited. I never walk away from anything unfinished, though years and decades may pass. I’ve always been motivated by creative desire rather than money. I’m just fortunate to have made a decent living along the way.

GB: This being a continuation of a campaign that took our characters all the way to level 20, does this mean we're in for an epic high-level adventure?

LS: The first chapter is intended for a character around level 17 (a little higher or lower is fine). It’s therefore safe to say the player will be hitting epic levels from the second chapter onward.

GB: And in general, how do you feel about high-level D&D campaigns, and what can game designers do to make them not feel trivial and over the top ridiculous?

LS: Honestly, high-level campaigns are rarely as fun as lower-level campaigns, at least as far combat and character progression are concerned. D&D becomes very difficult to balance after the mid-levels and the thrill of new powers and items fades. It is also very difficult to provide a consistent threat within the understood parameters of the setting: even in the Forgotten Realms, you don’t get armies of liches or hordes of dragons rampaging around to challenge extremely high-level PCs. At least you don’t outside of Warlock’s Crypt or the Year of Rogue Dragons...

One of the biggest challenges of writing a story for a 60-hour high to epic-level campaign is to provide a constant stream of challenges that don’t contradict the spirit of the setting or undermine the larger aspect of the stories. Some will say it is DM wish-fulfilment or a power fantasy. Well yes, it is also those things in addition to an epic story that occasionally gets metaphysical and has, at various points, the player leading a mercenary company, raising an army, and potentially even rewriting history. It’s high-level D&D. Yeah, I’m cool with pleasing myself and the player.

GB: NWN is often criticized for its limited combat engine where instead of having a party, you have to constantly babysit your hirelings without even the proper tools to do so. And so, I have to ask, since you have experience working with both Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2, why not use the sequel as the platform for your new module?

LS: Neverwinter Nights 2 simply takes too long to develop for and lacks the active user base of NWN1. It is also mostly separate from the shared world narrative I’m going for. It is its own thing.