Saturday, December 20, 2014

November 2014 Custom Content Challenge

Pretty impressive stuff coming out of this past month's Custom Content Challenge, most of which the product of Shemsu-Heru.  Future modules will have the opportunity to add amazing new townsfolk models that are vast improvements over the stock NWN1 fare.  And on top of that: the gnomish battle machine!!  A few select favorites:

And, finally, "oh hells yeahs!!"

Friday, December 19, 2014

Review: The Grim Company

It's long overdue, but I finally was able to read Alazander's first novel, the Grim Company. Alazander, aka. Luke Scull, is one of the great module authors for Neverwinter Nights, both for his original work as well as his subsequent efforts with Ossian Studios. Here is my review of his book, which I posted at Goodreads:

The Grim Company by Luke Scull is set in a world where a group of mages rose to such power to defeat the gods themselves.  In the generations that passed since that conflict, the most powerful of the surviving mages took territory for themselves, and now wage war against one another.  While their fortified cities and impossibly powerful magic provides protection against the demons that encroach on the world now that the gods have been exterminated, the magelords rule as tyrants.  In Dorminia, home of the Magelord Salazar, a small group of resistance fighters have been quietly waiting for their moment to strike back.  While the odds seem close to impossible, they have a few tricks up their sleeves: the deep pockets of a successful merchant, drugs that permit them to escape the notice of Salazar's patrolling mindhawks, and Davarus Cole.  Cole, an orphan, possesses his father's enchanted dagger, Magebane, a magical blade that provides magical defenses against the Magelord's magic.  He would form a potent weapon, were it not for that two-copper head of his...

The thing that stands out the most about this book is the setting.  While I hope this is not offensive to say, Scull's world reminds me a bit of a post-apocalyptic Forgotten Realms: a high-magic world with a rich history and powerful, meddling deities...but set in the turmoil after mortals rose up to destroy the gods and rule on their own.  We "meet" only four of the Magelords.  Each is unique in his/her own way, and the personalities of their kingdoms follows from their masters.  It's a fantastic setting, one in which the history is every bit as exciting as the current events.

I am familiar with some of the author's prior works, and the thing that has always stood out to me was his ability to create three-dimensional, interesting characters.  That knack unquestionably continues in his novel.  We have Daravus Cole, the outrageously cocky, virtually clueless, wannabe hero.  There is Brodar Kayne and his companion Jerek the Wolf, two highlander mercenaries on the run from the North.  Sasha, the brave, adopted daughter of the resistance leader and his lieutenant.  And we have Isaac, the curiously adept manservant of Eremul, the halfmage.  It is an intentionally ragtag bunch, but each has his or her own, important role to play in the story.

As much as I ended up liking them by the novel's end, however, the thing I struggled with the most in this book was that it seemed to take a while for the depth of these characters to shine through.  Each of the heroes (antiheroes?) is presented, at least initially, as little more than the stereotype I describe above, as are most of the villains in the story.  Cole, in particular, is presented as so over-the-top-ridiculous that it was hard to continue reading through his initial strutting and immature angst.  With the exception of old Brodar Kayne, none of the characters were particularly likeable from the start of the book.  Furthermore, there were what seemed to be an inordinate number of penis mentions in the first third of the book, which I found to be off-putting (and I don't consider myself a prude).

As the book went on, however, we see more sides to each of the characters.  They are challenged, they crack, and sometimes, they find the strength to go on.  Or, they die.  Somehow, along the way, I found myself caring about all of the main characters--even Daravus Cole.  The plot develops quickly as well; far more happens in this book than I expected from the first in a series.  This book is not just about introducing threads to be wrapped up at a later time.  Rather, events happen that will permanently change the power structure of the region.  Despite the satisfying ending, there are more than enough open lines of mystery to make purchasing the next book an easy decision.  I am very much am looking forward to Sword of the North!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Musings on Dex Fighters

Maybe tanking with a rogue isn't the best strategy?
I'm currently playing through the Prophet, Chapter II by Baldecaran. My character in that module is a rogue/ranger, and is pretty similar to my character from Swordflight: a dual-wielding, dex-oriented fighter type. In Prophet, my character is a halfling with many more rogue levels than ranger levels (I think he's 8 rogue/3 ranger or thereabouts; in Swordflight, he's a human fighter/rogue, with equal levels of each).

I enjoy this character type a lot, but I'm having a little bit of trouble in the Prophet II. The module author made use of a lot of physical damage resistance on his monsters. That's fine if you're a power-attacking fighter, but for a rogue/ranger with very little strength, it's tough to lose 5 damage on each hit I land with my shortsword and dagger. My halfling has only STR 10 (probably a mistake on my part, but I was focusing on DEX, INT, and CHA for these rp-oriented mods), so he really relies on the extra attacks from dual-wielding to keep his damage rate respectable. There haven't yet been any +STR ogre gloves, nor have there been many potions of bull strength available in shops or dungeons.  My character does have 5/- resistance to all three physical damage types as well, and pretty good armor class, so he can hang in there.  But the battles have become these long, kind of boring wars of attrition because neither side can do much damage to the other.

I think the solution moving forward will be to move a lot of my protective gear from my character to the Ranger henchman in the module.  I've been letting him hang back and snipe with arrows while my rogue basically tanked, but it'll make more sense to reverse roles.  That way, I can take advantage of my character's sneak attack more easily.  I'm sure this was the obvious strategic move, but I have a bad habit of trying to horde useful equipment for my PC's and neglecting my henchmen...

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Swordflight, Chapter One, Review

Hacking up rats has never been so much fun!
With dreams of glory, wealth, status, or other motivations, you arrive in Calimport and enter a tavern in search of work as an adventurer.  While early jobs are rather mundane--rat hunting and the sort--you quickly find yourself in the company of another would-be adventurer and on your first well-paying assignment: caravan escort duty in the Calimshan Desert.  That job, minor as it might seem, is what ultimately results in your entanglement in plots that involve bandits, undead, and even extra-planar beings.  Here are my comments to rogueknight333, the author of Swordflight, Chapter One:
I really enjoyed your module.  The story might not sound original on the surface, and employs a lot of fantasy tropes, but it's well-told.  As you mentioned below, it's clear that you try to put a twist on all of the fantasy tropes that you wield.  The result is a fresh and engaging tale that got my youthful adventurer off the ground and on his feet in tales fit for bards.  The entire module is meticulously polished, and was a blast to play through.  
Mysterious desert ruins!
Combat is most definitely very challenging.  Heeding your warnings about combat difficulty, I brought a level 2 fighter/rogue that I had from another module into this game.  The module seemed very well-balanced for him.  In fact, in a lot of ways, the module seemed custom-made for my character.  I've never made so much use of usable items like choking powder, potions, etc.  And because he had good use magical item ability, he was also able to make heavy use of magic wands against foes.  The result was a really dynamic combat experience that I found really enjoyable.  My character would probably do better if he had a henchman to tank for him, but he held his own.
Thanks for the fun module!  I'm eager to see what the next chapter will bring for my character and his companion!
Hmm...what's this?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Review: Fire in the Blood by Erin M. Evans

Having survived the Shade's internment camps and come to grips with the missing years in their life, Farideh and Havilar travel to Suzail, capital city of Cormyr.  There, they hope to give Brin time to work out the problem of his engagement to the Princess of Cormyr, Raedra Obarskyr.  At the same time, Farideh must wrestle with the recent discovery that she is a Chosen of Asmodeus, and the terrible power that comes with such an arrangement.  Dahl and Vercaras also are in the city, and hope to investigate the disappearance of one of their Harper operatives in the city.  But hoping for any respite to get one's bearings proves impossible, for Cormyr is at war with the Shade, and life in a country at war is anything but predictable.

Fire in the Blood is my second Erin Evans book.  I began reading with The Adversary, which I thought was excellent.  This book, however, was another step forward.  The challenge in the Adversary was largely one of isolation.  This book, however, puts Fari and Havi at the center of a vast conflicts that erupt not just among political factions within Cormyr, but also between the nations of Cormyr and Netheril.  

All of the major characters undergo a great deal of development in this book.  Havilar must wrestle with the strains that reality place on her now-adult relationship with Brin, who is pulled between duty to his country and his love of Havilar.  Farideh must continue to struggle with her relationship with Lorcan, the half-devil, and the question of whether to pursue it as a romance or write it off as nothing more than the pact.  The character, however, who really surprised me in this book was Dahl.  After returning, unexpectedly, to field operations in the Adversary, Dahl is back in full action in this book--and proves time and again to be exceptionally good at his job.  He continues to be plagued by his fall from paladin-hood with Oghma, but his regrets over his past no longer smother him.  In fact, he often thrives, and may be the most effective character in the book.  We are also treated to a full development of Princess Raedra, who proves to be a nuanced, powerful figure in her own right, with no shortage of humanity.  In many ways, this book is her story, and it's worth every page turn.

As with the Adversary, all of this goodness is rooted firmly to Forgotten Realms lore, both on Toril itself, as well on other planes, including the nine hells.  There are nods to current events in the realms, including the current Tyranny of Dragons storyline.  There are also references to events in other recent Realms books, such as the siege of Marsember in Troy Denning's The Sentinel and the future massing of armies to attack Myth Drannor, as told in Ed Greenwood's The Herald.  I also found neat connections to other Realms stories that I'm reading.  For example, Raedra made mention of Alusair Obarskyr, the Steel Regent, a prominent figure in Cormyr's history.  She also made an appearance in Tiberius's Neverwinter Nights module, Saleron's Gambit, which I was playing as a read this book.  It is these kinds of connections that makes reading and playing in the Forgotten Realms so much fun.

This was the best book I've read all year long, and I've had a lot of fun reading this year.  Highly recommended to everyone.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Saleron's Gambit Review

This is one of many posts I've made on Saleron's Gambit.  As the last "review" I made was for Chapter III of the series, I'll begin by assuming that module as background.  The series is available as a combined download on Neverwinter Vault, so this post focuses on chapters IV and V.  If you'd like to read my thoughts on the first three modules, they can be found here: I, II, and III.

Chapter V features some amazing tilesets.
Having located Natalya in Chapter III, you have learned of how the two of you, along with Saleron, are linked by your murdered parents.  Now united in your goal to rid yourselves of the sinister threat imposed by the Dread Lord Vraxilom, you travel to the remote island of Ajit-Kuhn to find instructions for a ritual that might free you.  Little did you know that it was there that you would finally come to learn the greater truth about your parents, and ultimately make your mark on history.  Here are the comments I left on the Vault's module page:

This was a terrific module series.  The story begins as fairly traditional "Farm Boy Rises Up" tale in the early modules, but gradually goes far deeper.  The story becomes increasingly complex, but it is told in a way that makes it both approachable and, most importantly, personal.  I think this is ultimately one of Tiberius's great strengths.  He allows me to connect with stories on an emotional and personal level.  His NPC's are well-realized,  his locations richly presented, and the story is well executed.  But he keeps the focus squarely on the player character and his place in the story as well as any other module author. 
I'm never above some goblin smashing.
I loved that this series is, in some ways, an homage to some of the great Infinity Engine games of the past.  Areas, events, and characters from Baldur's Gate II appear prominently in chapter III and, more ephemerally, chapter IV, whereas parts of Chapter V take strong inspiration from Planescape: Torment.  Moreover, it is extremely well-grounded in published lore of the Forgotten Realms, again featuring numerous appearances from known NPC's, areas, and even plot ideas that have been published over the past decade.  In a favorite example of mine, the Steel Regent, Alusair Obarskyr, makes a prominent appearance in Chapter 5.  What's great is that I'm currently reading Erin Evan's terrific Fire in the Blood, and the very night I encountered Alusair this module she (or her ghost, rather) appeared in the book.  This is why I love reading and playing in the Forgotten Realms!

It also is an important module because of its emphasis on low-power gameplay.  While there are a handful of magical artifacts in the game, they are rare and well-prized.  Your character's innate abilities, along with consumables like potions, are what ultimately make the difference for your character when trying to survive through his modules.  Combat in the last two modules was very well-balanced for my melee-oriented bard, who could use his buffing spells and abilities to overcome his native weaknesses in attack modifiers and HP.  I'd guess that it would work well for a fighter-type as well, as long as you made aggressive use of potions.  Wizards and Sorcerers, provided they can survive the first module, really would seem to shine in this game.  Their spells would largely be unmatched by your non-magical opponents, and you will do battle with several magical casters that prove very potent opponents for those without a good way to penetrate their defenses.

The module features fantastic, cinematic cutscenes.
I've played both this series and the Maimed God's Saga.  Both are excellent, but I think the tone of the two modules is different.  Maimed God is very mature, gritty, and serious.  Saleron's Gambit, on the other hand, is a bit more jovial and lighthearted, despite the fact that it is quite challenging.  The villain in Saleron's Gambit, for all his power, is a bit of a buffoon, and is quite a contrast from what you fight against in Maimed God.  Nevertheless, the story itself is gripping, and just becomes more and more interesting as you move into chapters IV and V.  I'm glad to have finally had the chance to play it all the way through.
More screenshots after the jump!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Rise of the King by R.A. Salvatore

Having tied up some loose ends in Night of the Hunter, Drizzt and his companions begin their trek toward Mithral Hall.  There, Bruenor hopes to reclaim his throne and rectify what he views as his error in permitting the orc king of Many Arrows to establish a peaceful kingdom that borders the Silver Marches.  Little do they realize that the Drow are already moving, and war is coming to Luruar.  Orcs, giants dwarves, elves, men, and even dragons clash in this book of conflict and struggle.

This is among the most enjoyable Salvatore books that I've read, and in my view is definitely the best of the Sundering era.  The action is fast, furious, and epic.  While other books have featured exciting, small squad skirmishes, this one gives us those as well as epic battles for the fates of cities.  On top of the battles, we are treated to reconnaissance, espionage, and another hearty helping of political machinations among the Drow.

Regis, who in many ways was the star of The Companions, took something of a back seat in Night of the Hunter.  In this book, however, he was back to playing a central role, and in my view has easily become the most dynamic and interesting character in the crew.  Furthermore, while Jarlaxle spent Night of the Hunter reacting, in this book he seems to be back on the offensive.  As we might expect, of course, exactly what he's after still has yet to become clear.  Beyond those two, I'm not sure that we see a lot of significant character development, aside from some continued discussions between Drizzt and Catti-brie on the inherent nature of orcs and goblins.

I really enjoyed the book, and will, of course, look forward to reading the next in the series when it is published in 2015.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Torment: Tides of Numenera

So, I happened across Tides of Numenera recently.  Today I noticed that they had a first-peak of the gameplay.  It looks awfully promising.  Definitely one that I'll keep my eye on!

I'm familiar with Numenera from afar, having seen references to Monty Cook's new game that he made after bowing out of 5th edition D&D.  I've always enjoyed some of the final fantasy games as a blend of fantasy and science fiction, and this looks to do that as well.  I'm looking forward to the game.  It's been a while since I've followed a PC game before it came out.  I think the last one was...probably Neverwinter Nights 2. :)

In NWN news, I'm playing Saleron's Gambit 5 right now, and am nearing the end.  It ultimately isn't quite on the level of Maimed God's Saga, but it's really fun.  I can't wait to see what happens in this plot that has been building for five modules now! :)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Sanctum of the Archmage - The Sight

Greetings, king of beasts.
While exploring some abandoned ruins near your home, you suddenly experience a powerful sense of dread.  You've long had a sense of premonition...dreams of what might come.  And strangely, more often than not, they seem to come true.  And now, that sense telling you that something terrible is about to happen at your home where your parents currently dwell.

So begins the Sanctum of the Archmage - The Sight.  Andarian's modules came along after I more or less bowed out of the NWN1 community to focus on NWN2, and his modules were consistently ranked at the top of the NWVault's charts.  I finally had a chance to play this one, and I am ever so glad that I did.  Here are my comments to the author.

I absolutely loved your module.  There are very few mods that do such a good job of combining superb roleplaying opportunities, deep and relatable companions, puzzles, and combat as well as this one.  The inclusion of science fiction elements was really unexpected, and yet fit beautifully with the setting and story.  I really enjoyed getting to know each of the principle NPC's, as each had some surprising depth to them.  I also loved how you used objects, books, etc, to tell the story, and not just dialog. 
I'm swimming!
Combat seemed about right for my wizard/rogue, though some of the battles skewed to the difficult side of things.  Starting him as a rogue fit perfectly with the story, and I alternated between wizard and rogue levels from that point on.  I had to reload a number of times during a few key setpiece battles.   
Nevertheless, I think the only time I had to go to the spoilers document was versus a certain giant monster, and that was mostly just to verify that I was, in fact, supposed to be able to kill it.  Several of the puzzles also required some help from the spoiler document in my case, but it was so well organized that I could often solve the problem from the preliminary "hint" section before being completely spoiled.  Some of the ones that I did solve on my own, such as what to do with the owlbear eggs, were extremely gratifying.   
Not quite what I expected when I entered ancient ruins.
There's a lot of custom content here, including custom scripted items, crafting systems, and the death system.  I liked all of it a lot.  I did run into one issue where I think the death system didn't always interact well with characters that had a regeneration item.  I'd given Orion one such item, and I think he might have resurrected with the regen before I used the bandage on him.  The result was a standing Orion that could move around, but wouldn't respond to requests to talk to him.  I reloaded from a saved game and repeated the battle to make sure he was ok. 
Nevertheless, the module seemed extremely well polished, with great writing, action, and adventure throughout.  I do hope that you are able to release the second chapter again this fall.  I did also download your book on amazon when you had a sale, and I'm looking forward to reading it as soon as I finish the book I'm currently reading.
As a small note to potential players: there is a long, daunting list of custom content that you will need for this module. Andarian provides clear instructions on what you need (and don't need), however. Just bite the bullet and download it all. It's worth it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Black Scourge of Candle Cove

Welcome to Candle Cove, Docks District!
My character: level 10 wood elf ranger, who has played through Avendale and (some of) Misery Stone.  Advanced to level 13.
Time: About 20 hours.

A villainous sea hag and her band of ogre pirates has shut down the lighthouse of Candle Cove, and that, along with the formidable firepower of her ship, shut down all trade out of the lucrative harbor of Candle Cove.  You have just arrived in the town as a traveling adventurer, and decide to answer the Mayor's call to help out the town.  What follows is a challenging, engaging adventure that combines a fairly linear main plot (though with some choices) with a decent sampling of sandbox-style adventure in its sidequests.  Here are my comments to the author:
Dive!  Dive!
I finished last night and I really enjoyed the adventure.  It's an engaging story with a lot of great flavor mixed into the module, and more gameplay than I anticipated when I began the module.  While the adventure itself doesn't really claim to be a "pirate adventure," in that you're going after the pirates and not living as one yourself, there's a lot of those themes mixed into the setting.  A lot of the foes you encounter use "pirate speak" to great effect, especially as flavor text as you fight them.   Candle Cove is a great port town, and I appreciated the innumerable small things that were done to add depth, immersion, and entertainment to the setting (also, my daughters greatly enjoyed the names of the horses near the magic shop).  It's also a Forgotten Realms module, through and through, with a lot of attention paid to backstory coming from that setting.  The Temple of Sune is probably the most direct example of this, which was a far cry from the variety of Sune worship from Harp & Chrysanthemum (and, in truth, probably more in keeping with the lore).  Nevertheless, from the backstories of the companion characters to the items, there's a lot of other lore that works its way into the game. 
Well, hello!
Area design is spectacular.  The city of Candle Cove itself is a delight to navigate, but the most spectacular areas are unquestionably the underwater areas.  I've seen underwater zones implemented in other modules--mostly NWN1--but never as well as was done in this module.  There is also a huge, underwater cavern that you get to investigate that also has to be on the shortlist for spectacular exterior area design.  The entire module is a visual treat, and your ears get treated to a nice selection of nautical themes. 
Combat was very challenging for my two-handed ranger.  While he may have been a bit underpowered when he began the module (he was dual-wielding +1 weapons), he seemed a pretty good match for the companions that are provided in the game...and, after he finished his first small adventure near town, he was quickly able to upgrade his weapons from the more-than-ample selection in the various stores around town.  By the module's end, he was dual-wielding +5/+4 weapons, with some +6 bracers, +3 to all saves, some elemental resistance, etc. I didn't give the companion characters quite as much attention, but they were still very well equipped for level 10-11 adventurers.  Nevertheless, despite being pretty decked out, the final part of the module proved extremely challenging.  This was clearly by design, because you battle through hordes of weaker foes before being faced with a set of very challenging enemies with some key resistances.   It was always possible to survive, and I don't think I ever actually had to load from a save, but it required a lot of buffing, item use (summoning!), and consumption of healing pots and kits to make it through.
Overall, it's an excellent, polished, engaging module that definitely falling into the must have category.  Congrats on the module, and thanks for giving it a release!

Custom UI pop-up boxes!  ...although these eventually
seemed to stop working as the module
went on.
As a note to other players, the module gives you import your own part, make use of the provided companion characters, or do a mixture of both.  I opted to use his companions, but if I were to do it again I'd probably have brought my own wizard along (a pre-existing level 10 character already in my vault).  The characters definitely have some dialog, and one (apparently) has a side quest that I didn't find, but they're far from essential to the experience of the module.  If you were to use one of Tchos's characters, though, I'd definitely recommend the rogue.  She has some great dialog of her own, and knows a few people around town that you'd otherwise never get to meet.

More screenshots after the jump!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Custom Content Challenge July 2014: Dieties and Demigods

Pretty impressive stuff this month from the CCC.  Here's a sampling of my favorites:

Kali by Plush Hyena of Doom

Fenris by Plush Hyena of Doom

Egyptian Goddess by Shemsu-Heru

Malimshaer by Merrick's Dad

Selune Shiedl by Shemshu-Heru
I particularly like that shield.  It's so simple, but I love both the in-your-face symbolism as well as the more subtle half-moon border.  I think I've seen amulets like the border before.  Very nice.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Ill Met in Lankhmar

Ill Met in Lankhmar is a novella in the guise of a Neverwinter Nights module.  Designed as an ode to Fritz Leiber's classic story of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, playing this module allows you to experience the story.  If you enter the module with that understanding, it makes the whole thing work a lot better.

I haven't had the pleasure of reading the original story, but I've added it to my to-read list on goodreads as a result of playing this module.  The writing is witty--almost to a fault, but not quite.  While the adventure takes on a dark tone as the story progresses, the style of the dialog, in particular, is whimsical and delightfully engaging.  I'm guessing that the vast majority of the writing came directly from the book, and I think the zeal of the module's author for the source material comes through in spades.

The areas are extremely well designed, with lots of little flourishes to enhance the experience.  The city streets are filled with a kind of unhealthy smog, for example, and the player character of Fafhrd is rendered larger than life using custom content.

The main critique is that this module is probably the most linear that I've ever seen.  There are a handful of optional interactions, including a few stops at merchants, but that's it.  There is a ton of dialog, and there were times when nearly 30 minutes went by as we moved from cutscene to cutscene.  I was just trying to get to the next down moment so that I could save, and the result was a late night.  That all said, it was a neat experience.  I enjoyed playing the module, and especially meeting these characters who have so far not caught my eye.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Humble Beginnings and Lowena

Wait, the goblins took what?
The first Neverwinter Nights 2 module featured by the Adventurer's Club at The Vault was actually a pair of modules by Jezla: Humble Beginnings and Lowena.

Humble Beginnings, by the author's description, is more of a sidequest than an actual adventure.  You happen upon a girl in the woods who has recently been accosted by goblins.  Assuming that you are willing to help her, you plunge into the caves in pursuit.  Lowena, on the other hand, is a bit larger in scope.  After accepting a caravan job, you quickly find yourself stuck in the middle of a distressing political conflict that threatens to destabilize an entire region.

Both modules ultimately bring the player to a critical, often challenging choice.  In my mind, there was no clear "good" vs. "evil" choice available in either case, which I liked a lot.  I was inspired to play a Lawful Good monk in this module after running across one of the Broken Ones as an NPC while playing Saleron's Gambit 3 the night before.  He was a follower of Ilmater, and therefore was dedicated to not only fighting evil, but taking on the pain of the masses for the betterment of the greater good.  It was this latter principle that I used to guide my decisions.

The areas were beautifully rendered, with a number of little touches to bring the world to life.  For example, a little housecat roams about in a bar, and seagulls fly overhead as you approach a sheer cliffside.  Musical choices were also superb, with several stirring pieces that I don't normally hear in modules.  I also really liked the setting: you are living in the remains of a toppled empire, with small fiefdoms (city-states?) representing the only meaningful government in the region.  It reminded me a bit of the Nentir Vale, although with far less danger of the monstrous sort...and more of the political sort.  It has a ton of potential.

Breathtaking cliffs...and I love the seagull
If I had criticisms, it was mostly just that the modules were so short!  There was pretty minimal combat, and as such a lot of the module just seemed to involve running back and forth between NPC's across areas (lots of running involved!  Thank goodness for the monk's speed boost).  This was intentional in terms of the author's vision for the module, but I still would have enjoyed something more.  I also found some of the NPC's actions to be a little forced... but it wasn't that big of a problem, and probably necessary for the story to work.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Saleron's Gambit 3

A return to the Copper Coronet of Baldur's Gate 2
Last night, I finished up Saleron's Gambit 3.  This module was one that I reviewed for the old vault review guild.  It was also one of the modules that I think really spurred the Overlooked Modules Project.  It was an early submission to that project by a player who championed it, and I don't think it's an overstatement to say that the Overlooked Modules Project as well as my review were important in helping this series gain enough momentum to really take off.  Of course, it's the quality of the modules that ultimately led to their success.

In any case, since it's no longer available except by, below the fold is my review of Saleron's Gambit 3.  It's glowing.  I think I largely agree with the assessment after this play-through, although this time I thought the dialog was occasionally written a bit over the top.  The character descriptions he provided, however, are still second to none.  

It's Alro's Curiosity Shoppe!
It was a blast to play it again; it's been long enough that I'd pretty much forgotten everything!  This time around, I'm playing as a bard, which is a great fit for the module.  Given that there is such minimal magical equipment, the bard's magical abilities--and especially his song--really gets a chance to shine.  I'm not sure he's my preferred bard design.  This one is a 14 str, 14 dex character, and wears a breastplate that he has to pull off whenever he casts a spell.  As a result, all of his casting is dedicated to buff spells, because he can't be pulling his armor off mid-combat.  I think I'll try a bard at some point that tries to just go with robes (or at least light armor) and ranged combat.  That said, in Saleron's Gambit 3, unless you can open your own locked doors, you're probably taking the rogue NPC.  As a result, you really do need to be your own tank, which makes my character fit pretty well as-is.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Adventurer's Club, Round 1

The vote are in, and the first two modules have been selected for the Adventurer's Club!  The discussion will begin on Monday, August 11th.

For Neverwinter Nights 1, we're playing ILL Met in Lankhmar by Udasu.  This module was nominated by Werelynx:
Game: NWN1
1. ILL Met in Lankhmar by Udasu
3. Pregenerated Fafhrd character fighter1/rogue1
4. About 1 hour
5. Module by Udasu, storydriven, loosely based around Fritz Leiber's epic heroes, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouse. Short for starters to try out how to orient our adventruing gears in this club.

For Neverwinter Nights 2, we're playing a pair of short modules by Jezla.  The first is very short, and they form a small series.  The modules are:
Humble Beginnings was nominated by Sir Adril:
Game: NWN2
Module Name & Author: Humble Beginnings by Jezla9
Neverwinter Vault Link:
Character starting level & info: Starting Level 1, ending Level 3-4
Estimated hours of play (if available): ~10 minutes
Why submitted: Short, with little to no combat, this module is the first in a series that is meant to be played with other adventures interspersed to bring you up to the correct level.
Lowena was nominated by its author, Jezla9:
1. NWN2
2. Lowena by Jezla9
4. Level 5 (new characters will be leveled up on entry)
5. 1 hour
6. It has the same virtues as Humble Beginnings for being short with largely optional combat.  Despite the length, it has four possible endings, some use for skills, and is (if I may say so) very polished. 

I've played all three modules, and have written up preliminary comments that I've saved here.  I'll post those here once the discussion begins on Monday.

Hope to see you there!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

FRW Character Creator Update

I've updated the FRW Character Creator to version 3.0!

It's really not a big update, despite the big click in the numbering.  That's justified more by the time since the last update than anything else, as well as the reversion of authorship.

Changes in this update:
* Support up to level 30 with appropriate gold.
* Ability for level 1 characters to get *some* gold (ask Chatter to make you level 1).
* A new +4 item store.
* As you advance in levels, you can access your current level's store, as well as the previous store.  This can be good when trying to buy a few low-cost items to round out your characters.
* Traps available for purchase in all stores (thanks to GCoyote for the suggestion!)
* Removed persistent companion support.  That hak unfortunately no longer works with of SoZ.

The new module also does require MotB and SoZ, because that's what I'm running NWN2 on now.  I've left legacy files to continue support for those who might not have expansions at the Vault.

Happy gaming!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tales from the Lake of Sorrows

My Character: level 1 Blessed Soul, reached 13 (almost 14) by the module's end.
Time Played: ...50 hours?  More?
My Vote: 10 - A Masterpiece, Genuinely Groundbreaking

A delightful little hamlet seen early in the game
As a would-be adventurer just starting on your way, you arrive at the small village of Lakeside that is in need of someone to help solve a mystery.  After teaming up with a vagabond of questionable background (Ember), you begin your investigation.  Quickly, you become embedded in a complicated plot that involves dozens of key players: lords, commanders, clerics, wizards, cultists, and no small number of innocent bystanders.  What follows is a module of incredible breadth that rivals the official campaign in both both length and scope.  By the time you finish, you really have lived the life of your character, and impacted innumerable non-player characters and their families.

How did I get myself into this?
The core Tales from the Lake of Sorrows is its story.  It is a fairly linear game, and PJ makes this clear from the outset in the module description.  There often are a number of intricate and interesting side-quests.  Nevertheless, the area designs are such that they are often more or less on rails, and many do not encourage exploration.  But that's really ok: if there is anything lost by its linearity, the module more than makes up for it with its story.  It is a complicated tale, but the pacing throughout is excellent.  PJ's masterpiece is set in the Forgotten Realms and focuses on small, rural villages where a hero could really make a difference.  As with villages in real life, you meet many key families that have deep roots in the rural society.  I loved that these characters were recurrent throughout the adventure, so that some that you meet in the first couple of chapters show up repeatedly in later chapters, often providing new insights into their sordid histories.  That's not to say that the entire module occurs "in the sticks."  As you progress, you travel to prominent cities...and to even stranger realms.

You receive up to five companions in the game, and none of them will travel through the entire game with you.  Companions enter the story as circumstances allow, and at times they are pulled in different directions and must take their leave.  Most of the time, they do return to adventure with you at some later date...often when other companions are called elsewhere.  All of the companions have interesting backstories, and most become critically engaged in the plot.  The relationships you cultivate while adventuring with your party drive a lot of your character's engagement in the story.  There is a romance available with one of the companions.  While I'm often not particularly excited about in-game romances, I found this one to be very well done.  You grow together gradually as you play, and the relationship is one of maturity between adults as opposed to teen-style crush romances that are sometimes featured.  Roleplaying opportunities are very strong in the game.  The dialog options provide you with real choices that allow you to shift between a heroic crusader to for-the-money mercenary without much trouble, and your choices can have impacts on how the campaign plays out.

Combat is also really well done.  While I would never say that this isn't a combat-intensive module, there is very little filler here.  Virtually every combat has a purpose.  It might be a major setpiece battle between yourself and a known villain, a raid on a large enemy fortification, a trench-to-trench battle to re-take farmland from an army, or even a minor skirmish between guards outside a keep or cave hideout.  You almost never fight the same group more than once, and it all makes sense in the game world.  Furthermore, often times, there are significant tactical considerations in these fights.  One really can't just run in and mash your way through, especially as you approach the end of the game: you need to use tactics, make careful choices of spells, and keep your spellcasters and archers safe behind your tanks.  My blessed soul was a great match for the game: he focused on buffing spells to keep his fighting ability on par with a fighter, and provided healing, restoration, and spell protection as needed.  There are no cleric-type companions, so if you do not bring one with your NPC you will need to be aggressive about purchasing potions of healing, restoration, etc.

Taking the orc fortress
Finally, I do need to take a moment to commend PJ on his area design.  This module is one of the most visually spectacular that I've ever played, and I took a TON of screenshots where I found myself marveling and saying "wow!"  There are a lot of areas in this module, and some are only experienced briefly.  Nevertheless, all of them are crafted with care and skill.

Critiques: I don't have many.  The biggest is probably that, no doubt due to the sheer volume of dialog and custom item descriptions in the game, there are a fair number of typographical and grammatical errors.  Some could be caught with a spellcheck plugin, whereas others would just take a lot of proofreading time.  That said, the writing is great in flavor, feel, and emotion.  The journal also seemed to get a bit "wonky" as I progressed through the game, with several entries from the first chapter, in particular, that were never completed and cluttered up the journal throughout the rest of the module.

In any case, this module is a really impressive achievement.  It's a dramatic, thrilling story that will immerse you in a wonderful cast of companions, allies, and villains.  And best of all, there's more to play: PJ just released out with the next chapter in his series, The Soul Cages - Chapter 1: Loose Ends.  Furthermore, there's a companion module to Tales called From This Comes Strength, which tells the story of what happened to one of the NPC's while she was away from your group.  I'm eagerly looking forward to playing both modules.

Many more screenshots below the jump! (with minor spoilers)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: The Herald by Ed Greenwood

While the events of the other Sundering novels occurs, and while the deep-pocketed Netherese march on the elven city of Myth Drannor, Elminster and his close allies are instead focused on a smaller, yet no less important task: traveling from site to site around Faerun and strengthening the anchors between the Weave--the field of energy from which all arcane magic is derived--and Faerun.  Such subtlety cannot last long, however, and soon the heroes are wrapped up in a mighty struggle that spans across much of western Faerun.

The Herald is a fast-paced action novel that tells a critical story within the events of the Sundering.  While many questions go unanswered--indeed none of the novels really address the issue of Toril separating from Abeir, in particular--it is nevertheless a fun and fascinating romp through many classic locations within the Realms.  This was my first Ed Greenwood book, and from the reviews and comments I've seen it is one of his best.  Yes, the dialog, the battles, and the themes are often over-the-top.  But it's a really fun ride, and showcases two treasured areas of the realms: Candlekeep and Myth Drannor.  The pacing is superb throughout, with twists and turns that have me oscillating between despair and exhilaration at the author's whims.  It's not quite to the extent of a G.R.R. Martin story, but there are enough ups and downs that it appears no one--and no where--is completely safe.  The book had me up late turning pages many nights.

As someone new the Ed Greenwood's books, I found it pretty easy to step into the story.  I did find it helpful to hop onto the Forgotten Realms wiki to better understand a few of the characters after completing the book (especially the Srinshee!).  But even without doing that, I had little trouble following the story and understanding the stakes.  It's a good place to jump into Greenwood's series, and a fun wrap-up of the Sundering novels overall.  Having read the entire six-book series, I am eagerly looking forward to the Forgotten Realms campaign setting guide for 5e to get a more comprehensive overview of what has happened to each location.  It will be fun to read about each location that we've visited over the past six novels.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

From the Archives: My NWN2 Official Campaign Review

Following the demise of IGN's Vault, I thought it would be good to pull a few things from for safekeeping.  The first has to be my review of NWN2, which ran not long after the game came out.  Because this is old content, I'm running it below the jump:

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NWN Community Update: Sorrows, Heroes, and Adventurers!

It's probably pretty obvious that I'm getting back into Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2 again.  My copy of NWN2 is finally working (no idea what happened, but windows xp suddenly allowed steam to load!) again, so I am finishing my trek through the very impressive Tales from the Lake of Sorrows by PJ156.  I've entered into the last act of that module, and the difficulty has spiked considerably!  The story is excellent, however, and I'm enjoying the heck out of this campaign.

Several updates this week.

The Adventurer's Club

First, Sir Adril had a terrific idea on the Neverwinter Vault forums to start an Adventurer's Club.  The concept is to run a "book club" style group, but instead of reading books we will be playing Neverwinter Nights modules!  How fun, right?  Well, the group has formed, and we are currently taking nominations for our first cycle.  There will be concurrent discussion of both NWN1 and NWN2 modules.  Finally, Sir Adril also produced a fantastic newsletter / advertisement to kick us off.

Hero's Path Module List

Second, I decided to reestablish the Hero's Path Module List.  This was probably my first big project for NWN1, and it was an attempt to catalog the modules that were best-suited to players who wanted to play with the same character across multiple modules by different authors.  It was last updated in 2007, and so in addition to being woefully out of date it was also was full of broken links in the post-ign vault world.

Therefore, I updated it with working links for all modules that have been posted to the New Vault.  And because I was in the mood, I also created a similar list for NWN2 modules!  The latter is something that I always wanted to do, but there just weren't that many NWN2 modules that had been published yet when I stepped away from the community.  I am going to keep these lists at Neverwinter Vault as articles for visiblity, but I have added links to them in my sidebar menu on this forum.

Forgotten Realms Weave Character Creator

Third, after some hesitation, I've taken the FRW Character Creator project back on.  At this point, it's been transferred only, and I have not updated it yet.  But my plan, in the near future, is to make a small update to include:

  • The usability updates that ladydesire included (e.g. leveling to lv. 30).
  • A new +4 item store, currently accessible through Chatter.
  • Ability to access lower-tier stores for characters level 5 and over.  This is handy if you just want a pair of cheap boots.
Most of that is already done.  Just a bit more conversation work, plus some testing, and we'd be set for an update.

Ladydesire added persistent companions while she was running the module.  While I love the idea of persistent companions, I hear that this hak is pretty badly broken by the SoZ expansion.  Therefore, I'm leaning toward removing those hak's moving forward.  I would keep her last version accessible for those who might like to take advantage of them.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tchos releases Black Scourge of Candle Cove

I've been following Tchos's work on his module for a long time--years, I think.  Today, he crossed the finish line!
A notorious sea hag pirate has been terrorising the port town of Candle Cove with her crew of ogres, plundering ships and sending men, women, and children to a watery grave.  Now she's gone even further, and seized control of the local lighthouse, preventing any ships from coming or going at all!
You and your party of adventurers have just come into town.  Can you do what it takes to defeat the pirates and free Candle Cove?

Major kudos to Tchos for releasing his module!  I'm looking forward to playing!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn Reloaded (NWN2)

There was an exciting announcement on the Bioware forums today.  The team that brought us Baldur's Gate Reloaded for NWN2 is working on Shadows of Amn Reloaded (SOAR)!

It's still a long ways off, but this team is nothing if not tenacious.

Update: drechner has a new post on the bioware forums with a long list of specific changes in development that their team is planning for SOAR.  I won't copy the whole thing, but it's written with the air of someone who has learned a lot from his process.

These folks love their game.  I'm so impressed with them.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Small Village Woes

How nice!  A quaint little church in the middle of
the village!
This is an oldie but a goodie.  Small Village Woes was released early in Neverwinter Nights 1's tenure, and arrived to a very positive reception.  This included a glowing review from my old pal Alazander (side-note: I still need read Luke's book!).  After a long time away, its author, Bort Son of Bort, returned to give his module an update.  He posted a beta of his update on the Bioware forums, and I decided to give it a go!

Summary opinion: it's a really fun, low-level adventure.  There's a touch of whimsy here to keep things fun, and it begins in fairly prescribed fashion as a romp through hordes of fairly easy to kill monsters.  Nevertheless, through a few good plot twists, the story manages to be have some depth to it.  If you look closely, you could even see a bit of social commentary in there.  Furthermore, the ending sequences are spectacular, with a number of fun surprises in addition to some great pyrotechnics.

You green scum!  This ends now!
There is a lot of action in the module, and I found it to be a well-balanced for my druid.  In this beta, the druid got a bump to level 2 at the module's start, and that is going away.  Nevertheless, even without that bump, I think the module would still have been pretty approachable.  Combat is initially pretty easy (on par with the starting sequences of NWN1's OC--lots of foes, but they're all easy), but ramps up to a pretty solid challenge by mid-module.  Between my character's companions, summons, and spells, he was pretty well protected most of the module as he moved between ranged and melee combat.  It's also a pretty low-power module, with just a handful of magic items even in existence.  I managed to buy a +1 armor, but that's about all I could afford.

All in all, this was a great three evenings of play.  Thanks to the author for making this module, and then taking the time to update it!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


Explore a highly customized, visual treat of a city
My vote: 9 - Outstanding, a Must Have
My character: lv. 1 wizard, progressed to lv. 3 by the module's end.

You are a fledgling member of the Auren Society of Weavers, having just completed your apprenticeship.  Ready for your first major task within the Society, your master gives you a task: go to Almraiven and investigate the recent string of strange murders that have occurred there.  The concern was that some form of sinister magic might be at play.

Almraiven is a really interesting module that was written and designed by Fester Pot, a longtime member of the nwn1 community.  It is one of the few wizard-specific modules available, along with Hugie's Tales of a Mage series.  While Hugie's series was focused on combat, this module is very much focused on the other aspects of mage-hood: summoning spirits of the dead, brewing potions, investigation, and research.  The author really dove into what it might be like to be a mage of one specialized school in the Forgotten Realms, and you get to experience a number of really creative innovations.  It's definitely a light-action module; one can play through this module with almost no combat, or you can (depending on your choices) experience at least one fairly large scale fight sequence.

What is here is a lot of fun.  There's a lot of dialog here, including an almost innumerable number of unique NPC's that roam and line the streets.  Everything is on a schedule, and most NPC's can only be found during an 8 to 12 hour stretch at certain times of day or night.  Many of these NPC's are merely "window dressing," which allow you to really immerse yourself in the world.  While the module itself is set almost entirely in Almraiven, you will meet NPC's from all over the Realms; this is a great opportunity to orient yourself to the map of Faerun!  Others will foreshadow major events that come later, which I found really well done.

Now what could these runes mean?
There are also two pivotal sequences that almost represent mini-games.  In one, you'll be roaming through a dungeon while trying to avoid a monster, and it is scripted such that it exists entirely as a first-person cutscene.  In another, you'll be infiltrating a large mansion, dodging guards as they walk around the keep.

It's all pretty well directed, but I will unabashedly admit to making use of the walkthrough in several circumstances.  I was glad to have it; most of the time, you have a pretty good idea of how to accomplish your goals.  But there are times that I needed a prod in the right direction, and the detailed walkthrough was very helpful.

Overall, it's a pretty impressive module.  I think my own bias is toward a bit more of a mix of combat and questing these days, and so there were times when I found myself itching for a fight.  Part of that's my fault; this was my first module that I've played since returning to NWN1, and I was looking for some combat and looty goodness.  But if you are looking for an excellent roleplaying module that lets you really, truly play the part of a wizard in the Realms, this is a great module for you.  The series continues in Shadewood.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review: Fallout 3

Credit: Paul Porthouse
You have spent your entire life in a vault.  And then, suddenly, one night your father, the vault's physician, simply disappeared.  In his wake is chaos.  The Overseer has clamped down on security, while simultaneously there has been an invasion of radroaches that are killing citizens within the vault.  Furthermore, simply because of who you are, your life is in danger.  There is one solution: you must leave the Vault and venture into a dangerous and unknown fallout wasteland.  Now.

So begins Fallout 3, Bethesda's first foray into the Fallout universe.  I purchased this game at release, played it avidly, and then set it aside for a time.  Then, during December 2012, I picked it back up, started a new character, and have been playing it off and on ever since.  Fallout 3 is enormous.  I logged well over 100 hours in the game, and by the end I was making decisions to explicitly skip areas and quests and just finish the dang game.  I wanted to finish it before traveling abroad this fall.

The neighborhood has gone to hell.
I think the most amazing thing about fallout 3 is its ability to convey its atmosphere.  While it is not quite as jovial as the previous games in the series, it still retains some of that tongue-in-cheek absurdity that contrasts with the desperation of the desolate wasteland.  As I remember the Bethesda folks describing, mankind isn't really don't that well in this setting.  Things are desperate, and the game is filled with incredibly powerful excerpts of the efforts people took to survive--and often their failures.  You come upon houses where the skeletons of children still cuddle with their toys, notes left from desperate parents to their children, and the personal logs of people caught up in the conflict when the bombs dropped...or in the chaos that has ensued afterwards.

Even more amazing is the opportunity to explore the ruins of Washington D.C. in the game.  You have the opportunity to visit the national mall, and visit many of the museums and monuments there.  These include the Washington monument, the Lincoln memorial, the Jefferson memorial, several of the museums (American History, Technology (i.e. the air and space museum), and the National Archives), and the Capitol itself.  Outside of the Mall are other notable locations, including the bombed-out remains of the White House, the Arlington Cemetery, and the Pentagon.  While the external maps had to be scaled to fit within the game, I was amazed to find how well I knew Washington D.C. geography having played this game during a recent real-life visit to the city.  Even many of the smaller locations match reality: the subway terminals are largely based on real life, with the names and sequences of stops in the game often matching reality: Metro Central, Chevy Chase, Farragut West, Foggy Bottom, Vernon Square, Falls Church, Anacostia Station, etc.  Really neat.

Hey, does this planetarium projector still work?  Yup.
But watch out behind you.
Fallout 3 is technically a shooter.  That was my biggest hesitance about playing it, as a master of shooters I am not.  Fortunately, the designers created the VATS system, which, in homage to the original games, allows you to pause the game and select body parts (or just torsos if need be) to attack.  Each shot in VATS consumes action points, just like in the original game, and so you can only use it so often.  Fortunately, I found that I could usually get off enough shots in VATS to kill an opponent, after which point I could either shoot manually at other foes (point-blank with a combat shotgun does not require aiming) or take cover until my action points refreshed to take more shots.  And eventually, once you hit level 20, you can take a feat that replenishes your action points whenever you kill someone in VATS, giving you virtually unlimited action points.  VATS was enough of a crutch that I found my lack of skill in shooters was not that much of a handicap in the game...and by the end, 100+ hours in, I found that I was actually getting to be a pretty decent shot without VATS as it was.

Lincoln's Repeater.  Best small gun in the game,
if you can keep yourself in 44-ammo.
All of the various guns are a blast to use (hehe), with each weapon having different strengths and weaknesses.  I focused largely on small guns, using the hunting rife (and eventually the spectacular Lincoln's Repeater, which I felt was best small gun in the game) while roaming the wasteland, a unique chinese assault rifle for mid-range dungeons, and the combat shotgun for in-your-face enemies.  I only used a sniper rifle in special circumstances, where the range was too great for my hunting rifle.  By the end of the game, I also started using a plasma rifle energy weapon for variety, but I'm not sure it was better than my small guns.  Big guns, grenades, mines, etc, were fun, but mostly inferior to what I was already using...except when dealing with robots, when pulse grenades became essential.

Welcome to the history museum!
Mind the ghouls.
There are a zillion little locations in this game.  Most do not have named side-quests, but most dungeons or other locations have their own stories and tales to tell.  Some are pretty minor, like a father using a radio broadcast to call desperately (and, as it turned out, hopelessly) for help.  Others are major events, like a son who pursues his father into a horror-filled warehouse.  The broader story is also really good, and far more personal in this game than in the previous titles of the series.  The ending itself was mildly disappointing (though there's an expansion for $5 that apparently improves it), but I felt personal motivation to finish the main quest.  You truly have a chance to do more to save all of humanity in this game than has been possible in the prior games.

It was a great game.  It's hard to say if it was better than the original games because they are so different, but at this moment I am leaning toward saying yes.  While the others were arguably more innovative, Fallout 3 brought it all together in an incredibly world that you get to experience like nothing else.  This game is so big and so incredibly satisfying that finishing it feels like I've just completed a chapter in my life.

An easy 5/5.

Postscript.  I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I made heavy use of eolsunder's Fallout 3 walkthrough.  I'm not great with open sandbox games like Fallout 3, and following a walkthrough helps me keep focused on the fun as opposed to wondering what I should do next.  Eolsunder's walkthrough was perfect for me: concise, generally averse to story spoilers, and yet still enough detail to help me solve some of the hidden riddles and puzzles that I sometimes would get frustrated with.  I know walkthrough's aren't for the cool kids, but I like them, and I like eolsunder's better than pretty much any walkthrough I've used thus far.  Kudos!