Tuesday, December 20, 2011

BouncyRock's Neverwinter Nights 2 Halloween module compilation

BouncyRock's Halloween module perfectly embodies community spirit. It begins with a Halloween TV special-like introductory credits cutscene, and then a friendly rhyming beholder disguised as a pumpkin explains to you the framing setting. It's Halloween night, and you are in a gazebo in the middle of a breezy, well-designed neighbourhood, with grinning, glowing jack-o'-lanterns in front of the houses of the more than two dozen modders who contributed their own segments to this module. The focus is on the individual houses, but the exterior neighbourhood is also really top notch and deserves high praise.

With glowstick in hand (which acts as a stone of recall/hearthstone to bring you back if you happen to get stuck), you're free to trick or treat in this large neighbourhood (strangely bereft of other trick-or-treaters) in any order you choose.

My enjoyment of holiday-themed entertainment is not contingent on the actual calendar date, so it doesn't matter that I'm playing this mod somewhat later than the Halloween time window. The content of the houses runs the full gamut from whimsical and wacky to true no-nonsense horror, which suits the "trick or treat" theme well. Each house is a unique experience, with content inside that so far has been of the length most contest seem to go for -- about an hour or two per house, on average. If that time frame holds, then this module as a whole must contain anywhere from 25-50 hours of content. Impressive!

I started this with a new character, because I didn't notice the field on the module's page that said "level 5 minimum" -- I usually look for that kind of information in the general description text or the readme file, and haven't yet gotten used to looking in that spot on the Vault pages. Nonetheless, the initial dialogue gave me the option to give me enough XP to level me up to 5, so I did. I decided to try playing as a bard for a change, since they seem like they could be more than just a support character, which is how I usually saw them in Baldur's Gate, and how I had used Grobnar in the NWN2 OC.

I was hoping, however, that I wouldn't need to do much combat in this module, since I really do hate solo adventures in NWN2. I'm sure they're perfectly fine for those who prefer to play mêlée classes, but I don't. So far, there hasn't been much combat, though.

So, as I play through this mod, I'll describe the different houses I visit, in the order I visit them.

Small shop

This is just what it says on the tin. Starting as a new character, this is the first place I went, because I had no equipment, and I didn't know what I might be facing in the houses.

This is actually one of the best-designed shops I've visited in NWN2, either in the OC, the expansions, or any of the modules I've played so far. Shops in most of these games, including the professionally-designed ones, tend to be far too large for what they're supposed to be, and have a remarkable lack of inventory on display. Sometimes, the only way you can tell that you're in a shop at all is that there's an NPC standing there with a "vendor" tag on them, or who has an appropriate dialogue option.

This place was different, and should serve as a model for other in-game shops to emulate. It was of a much more believable and appropriate size for its function, it was lit atmospherically, and it had shelves upon shelves crowded with items and curios. It even had a whimsical little coin-operated mechanical fortune-telling device, for a bit of comedy! The shopkeeper was a grumpy monstrous humanoid of some kind, which I'm not yet experienced enough in this game to be able to recognise by sight. Perhaps a goblin.

After outfitting myself to the best of my limited budget, I went out to explore the town some more before choosing a house to try out first.

Jonny Ree & Liso's house

When I spoke of the TARDIS in NWN2 before, I didn't mean literally!I chose this house to start with mainly because it was so far outside the rest of the neighbourhood, past the walls and in the unpaved hilly area in the countryside beyond. Basically, I had walked that far, and didn't want to walk back to look around more (though it didn't occur to me until now that I could have used the glowstick to teleport back to the gazebo).

This one seemed like it was going for a survival horror theme, with a television filled with distortion being the sole light source in this cramped room, with no one sitting on the solitary sofa. It recalled to mind a similar scene in the earlier Silent Hill games.

However, upon interacting with the television, this house took a turn for the wacky, as I was sucked into a world combining Teletubbies with Dr Who. Not entirely wacky, though, since I found two of the Teletubbies lying dead under the mound where I found the Doctor imprisoned. The goal of this module was very short and simple, and involved freeing the Doctor and getting past some Dalek-possessed periscopes to reach his TARDIS, where we could be trasported back to the real world. The showcase was really the world, which reproduced the bright colours, music, sound effects, and the baby-in-the-sun that I know to be from Teletubbies despite never having watched an episode.

Actual game footage

Fighting the periscopes turned out to be the longest part of the module, for the aforementioned reason -- that I'm not a mêlée fighter.

At the end, I was given a sonic screwdriver as a reward, which appears to function as a low-powered long-range weapon, dealing sonic damage, appropriately enough.

The Grumpy Strumpet Tavern

Like the small shop above, this tavern should serve as a model for all game taverns. How many times have I seen "taverns" in games that are colossal meeting halls with almost no furnishings, and more importantly -- no tables?! Too many times, that's how many.

By contrast, the Grumpy Strumpet Tavern is exactly what I would expect or hope a tavern to look like. A short entrance hall, a central fireplace with chairs around it, walls lined with booth tables, and several free tables in the intervening spaces. Moreover, customers filled the place, sitting at seats, eating, drinking, playing cards, or standing and talking animatedly with each other. A waitress walked around, as well, but not aimlessly wandering. She went from table to table, welcoming customers, taking their orders, and asking if they needed anything else.

Behind the bar was a bartender, and behind him was a door into a large, well-decorated kitchen, complete with a cook, a boy stomping grapes in a vat for winemaking, and a freezer room with an ice mephit supplying the chill. The only thing missing in this kitchen, from what I could see, was fire for cooking. There were several ovens along the wall, but none of them were lit. The kitchen also had a door to the basement -- another well-designed and believable storage basement for a tavern. It, predictably, had a rat problem, but here that trope was played for laughs, and supplied the more interesting of the two quests I found in this tavern. I won't say what happens, but that it's fun and unique, and it starts by drinking from a bottle in the basement.

To the side was a door to upstairs, where there were three rooms -- a large, well-furnished one where the owner of the tavern (Mokah) lived, and two other, smaller rooms, presumably for guests to rent. Mokah's journal mentions the rat troubles in the basement, and also that she's been experimenting with using kobolds alchemically for her drinks (probably to point the player to the experimental still in the kitchen, where you can mix potions that temporarily transform you into various monsters). It also mentions a reason for her absence, being some kind of moonstone expedition. The reference, if it is one, is lost on me.

The other activity in this place, aside from the rat one, is to hunt for a total of 20 letters to the Grumpy Strumpet, which are hidden all over the place. I could only find 18 of them, missing #10 and #15. None of them are readable, even though they're supposed to be. Activating them brings up a book-like interface, but the pages are blank. On the forum, the author explained that they use an interface that's supposed to be include with the mod, (Readable Books), but even after installing that mod separately, the letters cannot be read. A nice idea, but I would rather the letters be made into the same kind of readables the rest of the game uses, so I could actually read them. [Addendum: it might have worked if I had tried this version of Readable Books instead.]

Actor of Veil's house

This house is actually a large castle on the inside, and is almost completely unfurnished, with unnecessarily long empty spaces to run through to get from one point of interest to another. It started out well, as a rather comical take on a theme park-style haunted house guided tour, with a ghost-host explaining the tragic story of each room, before disappearing and letting me speak to each spectral inhabitant with wacky dialogue. Each of these encounters ended with a sudden "boo!"-type moment, with a hand-drawn illustration of the ghost's terrible secret, accompanied by frantic organ music.

If it had continued on along those lines, I would have enjoyed it, but the "tour" elements stopped as it went on, and the rooms and hallways got bigger and emptier with nothing happening between them, and ultimately what had at first been a benign exploration mod took a sharp turn toward difficult and unfairly balanced combat for my level.

The ending was abrupt, with only a note saying "The end" on the way to the exit, where the rest of the mod had been full of hand-drawn cutscenes and dialogues. It all came across as rushed and unfinished, and could have been greatly improved by reducing its scale by at least 80%.

Chaos Wielder's house

The town wall was broken in one area, and a little path led down into a nicely-designed swampy area with the houses of Chaos Wielder and Skunkeen. I visited Chaos Wielder's house, noting the sign in front that suggested putting away any light-emitting items, like torches, for the best effect.

Lighting was the showcase in this mod, as well as atmospheric sound effects and a creepy manor-type décor. One of the creepier painted portraits was a repeated motif here, often lit up with an eerie glow. The Silent Hill feel was very strong here. Most areas were very low-lit, with coloured lights in interesting combinations, with rooms that seemed very realistic for a family manor. There was even a bathroom with bath and toilet.

Certain rooms had extremely harsh red lighting with stark black shadows and scary ambient sounds, with solitary elements like a shiny rocking chair, or grim statues.

When I got into the basement, the whole place had that kind of lighting, and moreover the walls and floors were crawling around. Creatures moved behind barred doors, and there was a strange cutscene when I went through a door down there, which transported me to a plant-filled room, with a friendly lizardman. He broke character and addressed me as the author of the mod, and basically told me that his part of the module was finished. The door, however, led nowhere, and I would have been stuck down there if not for the hearthstone glowstick provided by the module's framework. Overall a good house for atmosphere, but ended very abruptly.

Skunkeen's house

This was the other house in the little swamp area. I feel like I'm missing something in that one. Skunkeen himself was standing in the middle of the room, dressed like a fancy bard. In his conversation, he offered me a musical instrument, which I accepted. I'm a bard myself in this game. I don't know if he offers other items to different classes, or if it's just my luck. There was nothing more to the conversation, and no explanation for the ghost child, the dead body by the table, or the levitating hag by the upstairs door. Neither of them spoke, and the only other door was locked. Perhaps if I get the lockpicking skill or a knock spell I can see if there's something in there, but otherwise, there's nothing special about this house, unless it's broken.

Addendum: After obtaining lockpicking skills, I returned to this house and tried the door, only to be told a specific key was required to open it. If there are some hidden activities in this house, they're hidden too well. I can only conclude that the house is unfinished and that the unexplained elements are red herrings.

Tiberius' house

Now this one's shaping up to be good! The house is modestly sized and well-furnished, and right away I could see there was something going on. A portal glimmered in another room, with the sound effect of a jacob's ladder, evoking old Frankenstein movies. Well, it wasn't Frankenstein, it was Dracula! The author of the module (Tiberius, whose name is misspelled as "Tiberious" in one place in the module) was trapped in a glowing sphere by a gnome who lay dead on the floor, apparently killed by Dracula, who was brought to life out of fiction by the module author. So, to combat Dracula, the author told me to go read some of his books and pick a character or three for him to bring to life to accompany me (all apparently from his previous modules).

This is the first segment in the module that actually provided me with a party! And since I had no idea if there would be any others, my immediate reaction was to leave the house and go to some other ones, because the dialogue stated that Tiberius would send the characters back to their own worlds once Dracula was dead, and I didn't want to lose them. I just wish one of them had lockpicking skills, so I could try out that locked door in Skunkeen's house, and the locked cabinet at the Grumpy Strumpet, where maybe those two last letters are hidden! (Addendum: No, both were key-locked.)

JClef's house

This one is a much more normal Halloween trick or treating house. The author's avatar JClef and a woman named Ms Macabre wear masks in the central room of their house, which is set with small tables of Halloween goodies, like bowls of candy, grab bags, cups of "pumpkin cider", and a plate of fruit for comic effect. "Lame!" says the character. The candy can be munched, the cider gulped, and the grab bags each give you a potion or some other item, which may be random. There are also two books, one of which only has a description, and refers to the Misery Stone, which I assume is a reference to the module by that name set in the Ravenloft world, which I plan to play in due course. The other book tells, in a dialogue window, an abridged version of the story of the origin of the jack-o'-lantern. A simple but enjoyable Halloween house to visit.

Vendalus' house

Very interesting. This one is a classic murder mystery! As an outsider, my task was to interview the party guests, most of whom had motives to kill the victim, and determine the killer. I did wonder if it was a normal sort of party murder mystery, where it's just a big game, but the host actually had an answer for that question, and assured me it was real.

There was no combat in this game, as it was entirely a 1-room affair consisting of the suspect interviews. Vendalus wrote some very detailed backgrounds for all of the characters involved, and how they were involved with each other. Information was doled out piecemeal as I spoke to each person and learned small bits of info that I could use either to barter for more information or to elicit minor confessions and interesting revelations. Some of these led to bonus rewards! In the end, it was all tied up neatly and satisfactorily. I recommend it.

Shaughn's house

This one starts out alarmingly, as I began in a single, cobwebbed, dimly-lit room with the exit missing. A note in the middle of the floor described the "game notes". A couple of blue-flame braziers and a sealed door with a talking knocker was the only other element.

Upon opening the door, I was led down a hallway, interrupted every few steps by things like signs appearing and ghostly children running by. At the fork in the hallway, I ignored the direction the sign was pointing and went the other way, further ignoring the "stop!" sign and voice that appeared to warn me away. It ended in a little alcove designed to satirically extol the necessities of planning out your mods and to decry the perils of tinkering aimlessly with the toolset.

The rest of the mod went in a similar fashion -- half serious narrative and puzzles, and half modding in-jokes. Like Tiberius' house, it made reference to what appears to be other characters created in another mod by the same author. The serious parts of the mod were well enough designed to stand on their own, without the jokes (especially the vampire puzzle), but it was nevertheless interesting to read the author's thoughts and experiences in modding.

It ended with what I assume to be a representation of the author's actual house, with as modern furnishings as could be approximated with NWN2 assets from the looks of it. There were many locked doors, however, which would have been better if they had been non-interactive, because they made me think there might be something behind them to experience. And maybe there is, because I managed to catch a glimpse of a mind-flayer through the wall behind one of them! I got enough experience points by this time to level up and add some points into lockpicking, but all the locks are set to 99 difficulty, so I'm guessing I'm not supposed to be able to open them. The module is designed for level 5 players, after all, or is supposed to be, and you can't have that much skill in lockpicking at that level.

Adam Miller's tomb of discomfort

There are three buildings in this nicely designed graveyard, and this is the first I entered.

Adam Miller's avatar is rude, and cast a shrinking spell on me, and the dialogue even includes the option "I thought you'd be less of a jerk," as a farewell. I had trouble with this one at first, but I believe it was due to the scripts not expecting me to have companions. I tried it again without the companions, and it worked fine. The first time, he simply shrank me, and I remained in the same spot, with his servant Grunto making comments behind a locked door. The second time, I was shrunk and teleported to a small cage in the room on the other side of that door, and my task was to escape from the cage and figure out how to use the items and situation to bathe myself in water, as a nearby book helpfully advised me to do, to reverse the shrinking spell.

It was a pretty straightforward but enjoyable task, though for some reason I had to repeat it three times, since I was not returned to normal size on the first few showers, no matter where I stood in the flowing water. I thought I might have to find a way to move the empty washtub under the faucet, but it was not an interactive item. The shower eventually worked, though, and I was released from the room.

A book in Adam's bedroom makes some remark about stealing ideas from other modders and covering it up with sex and comedy, which can be taken as either cynical or bitter. Adam also gave me a strange-looking piece of candy, that appears to do random things when used.

House of BlackRain

The sign out in front mentioned the Umbrella Corporation, so I expected zombies, because that's the company in the Resident Evil games, which I know mainly from references to it that I've seen here and there over the years, and a brief time playing one of the games on a friend's console years ago.

In fact, this segment is a giant tribute to the Resident Evil games. Right from the beginning on entering the house, I could tell that that's what the author was going for, as it began with a cutscene of my character entering the room and looking around, as tense custom music played (presumably from the Resident Evil games). The camera controls suddenly became awkwardly set in two of the modes, as well. I think this mod was trying to take control of it in the same way the Resident Evil games would often use dramatic camera angles whenever you entered new rooms or certain areas of a room.

In the other room was a representation of a Playstation console, and when I activated it, the real tribute began. What seemed to be the original audio taken directly from one of the RE games formed the soundtrack to a recreation of its opening cinematic. My characters were nowhere to be seen, and the usual user interface was gone. When I was given control again, I was controlling Jill Valentine, following the orders of Albert Wesker and Barry Burton in exploring a mansion in which we took refuge from zombies. This whole thing was heavily scripted and included many cinematics while exploring. All the while, Wesker, Burton, and Valentine spoke lines that clearly came from that game. In between rooms, loading screens displayed trivia about the Resident Evil series.

Eventually, the screen shattered, the Playstation broke, and I was returned to the normal controls and world, where, as expected, I was attacked by zombies before given a final reward.

An interesting idea, and a well-executed tribute, and it didn't wear out its welcome by being too long.

Church of Dave Eat2Surf

Dave himself greeted me in the entrance hall of this room. He was standing near a desk with a computer, with references to modding with the toolset. He welcomed me to his house and invited me to look around, maybe try some thunder bowling upstairs, but warned me not to pull the level in the bell tower.

Several rooms surrounded the central room, which led upstairs. I explored the downstairs rooms first. Dave's wife tasked me with killing bugs and spiders and cleaning out the junk in the corners, and picking up stray toys. Many objects spawned these bugs and spiders when activated. Various containers had loot. The "toys" were little living action figures, whose desciptions said they'd summon a creature if I used them.

One room was the "tiki room", which had tiki statues and a little waterfall and some plants, and played a tiki room song every so often.

I tried the bowling upstairs. The "pins" were big mushrooms. A container held the balls, and activating it started an automated scene where my character threw it at the pins. Both times I tried, it destroyed all the pins, so I figured there was no point to keep at it. Various windows showed descriptions claiming that the night outside was a bit too dark and quiet.

I went up to the bell tower, and looked around. There were more ominous windows, and the lever. I decided not to pull the lever yet, and instead go back downstairs and see if Dave's wife had any reward for all the cleanup I had done, but when I tried to use the ladder, it said "You almost fell down the ladder!" and I stayed in the same spot. I tried again, and it did it again, but this time the game crashed.

I reloaded, and this time I went straight up and pulled the lever. Zombies spawned, and during the fight, the game crashed again. I decided this house was not to be, reloaded, and just did the downstairs stuff and left. I don't know if there was supposed to be any resolution to the activities there or not.

Wylonus' house

This house had "under construction" appended to its name on the world map, and it does indeed look unfinished. I won't say much about it in its existing form, but it probably would have been an interesting house if it had been finished. I don't think it should have been included in the compilation as-is.

ENoa4's house

This house is another in the very popular genre showing the modders talking about the experience of modding the game. Ernie Noa takes a self-effacing view of his projects, as represented by a basement workshop full of junk, broken 2DA files, and half-written dialogue. The monsters are manifestations of these modding problems, including spirits of dissatisfied players.

The environment was well-designed and interesting, and the themes were fairly amusing as well, though it suffered a bit from being used by so many others in this module. Several NPCs from this author's other modules show up here to talk about their roles in those other projects (even unreleased ones), which was actually a pretty clever way to inspire some interest in playing them.

However, one very bad thing in here was a "Demon of autosave corruption." It appears that when this demon dies, it releases a fireburst that does 100 points of damage to the whole party (or rather to the player, since the only reason I have a party at all is because of Tiberius' house.) At level 5, none of my party has that many HP, so it's an instant wipe with no respawning. Was this supposed to be funny? A statement that autosave corruption ruins everything? It was not funny, since I had to reload and retreat a lot of steps.

I left the basement soon after that. I think I saw everything there was to see in there anyway. But then I found that this was another house whose front door didn't work from the inside, so I tried to use the glow stick again to teleport back into town. The glow stick didn't work either! So I had to reload a save from before I entered that house at all, which was a ways back. Good thing I keep so many saves, even for a casual module like this!

AmstradHero's house

This one seemed to focus not so much on area design, but other kinds of content. There were several books with synopses of spooky tales, and various items and set pieces that could be examined for some spooky flavour text. The host offered a "treat" to be found somewhere in the house, and it turned out to be a mini-game of a kind of tower defense variety, where you have to use some statues to banish good and evil souls to upper and lower planes, as they come in heavier and heavier swarms, until it's impossible to banish them all because of the time it takes between one activation and another. As a reward I received an item that would let me cast Bless or Bane.

Eguintir Eligard's house

This author made his in-game avatar look like the same red-hooded elder gentleman in his forum avatar. Strangely enough, the author chose to portray himself as rude and unpleasant, as had one or two of the other authors in this compilation. Well, it seemed strange at first, but after more dialogue, it seemed that this was just a colourful character portrayal designed to fluster him when he had to make accomodations in the face of possible disruptions to his dinner party plans.

First I was given a guided tour of the house, with dialogue and NPC interactions with the maid (conspicuously brewing a gigantic stew) and the butler. I was warned not to touch anything (and to step only where Eguintir stepped, as Gandalf had once said), but there didn't seem to be anything touchable anyway. One such exhibit was an aquarium which was supposed to have fish in it, but did not. Possibly something was missing from the compilation, similar to the Grumpy Strumpet unreadable letters.

Then there was the dinner party, with amusing conversation (albeit one which used the word "despot" nonsensically). Near the end of the conversation, I noticed the pattern to the names of the visiting dinner guests...notably the inclusion of a "Colonel" and a "Baroness". Those, along with the maid and butler, and the fact that the module didn't end with the dinner party, but had me going off to join the others in the guest rooms for the night, indicated to me that this was going to be a longer module, modeled after either the board game or movie version of Cluedo/Clue. Fun!

Well, after playing it through, it was an amusing story, but it was almost all made of cutscenes, with almost no interaction on my part aside from a token spot or two where I just had to walk from one end of the hall to the other to trigger the next bit, or click the only dialogue option given. Occasionally there were more dialogue choices than that, but it was more of a little movie than a game. I'm glad there wasn't any combat in it, anyway, since it really didn't warrant any.

Elysian Manor

This may have been my favourite house of all, at least so far. A man with a smooth Spanish-sounding accent welcomed me to the deceptively bright and clean house, and explained a few things before leaving with ominous parting words. This segment was primarily puzzles, almost in adventure game style, where you pick up everything, combine items in useful ways, and use the resulting items to progress through the game.

It used brief cutscenes and changes of scenery to great effect, and succeeded in being both atmospherically scary as well as providing a good puzzle framework that required some thought, but never made things so obscure that they couldn't be solved.

Of course, using an item to reveal a doorway was made much easier by the fact that I could see the doorway sticking up halfway through the ceiling on the other side of one of the walls. I've been meaning to talk about the upstairs doorways in the OC tilesets, and I'll do it at the end of this post, since it has nothing to do with Elysian's excellent mod.

JasonNH's home

This was a small house which started out sinister with the host, but changed to a more eerie/sad ghost story feeling shortly afterward. There was a lot of scripting involved, it seemed, and I think my having a party interfered with some of the scripts, because there were numerous times that things froze up, failed to advance, or party members were reduced to zero health during cutscenes. I ended up removing the party members for my last time through, and that worked without problems. A gnome girl (I think) was creatively used in this mod to represent a human child, which got around the problem of the standard human children always wearing rags and having very little customisation.

It was a poignant story overall, and I enjoyed it, though I ended up not being sure of who was a ghost and who wasn't (Were the hags? Was the girl?), and what exactly the hags had in mind with their plans, given those considerations. I might have taken things the wrong way due to certain similarities between this mod and the movie The Others.

BouncyRock HQ

Having finished the houses in the central area of the neighbourhood and the southwestern and western sections of the area beyond the walls, I went the the northeast where BouncyRock HQ was portrayed as a castle on a hill. I admired the pathways and design of the approach, but when I got there, the door was marked "closed for Halloween". The door was not key-locked, but had a difficulty of 118, which was far beyond my abilities. I really hate not knowing if certain doors are not meant to be opened, with nothing behind them, or if they're worth trying to get open later. Isn't there any way to make static doors in this toolset, which won't imply interactivity?

Anduraga's home

This was a nice tower on a smaller hill near BouncyRock HQ, and the design of the area was lovely. It made me wish I had assets like that for my Trouble in Rainesfere mod for Dragon Age.

Once opening the door, I found myself to be still outside, but dead, and with some stranger weeping over my body. A ghost greeted my ghost, and became a party member. Since this module provided me with a party member, I removed my others until this one was complete.

The forest area was convincingly designed, but the path to our destination was not clearly marked, and there was no marker on the map, so I wandered off in the wrong direction until I hit a barrier, and circled around it until I found the new tower. This was a very different tower than the one back on the world map -- much larger and more sinister with a giant skeleton as part of its design, and another dead body lying near its door.

Inside, it was spooky and interestingly lit. Large golems stood watch at every corner of this hall, and fountains and waterfalls flowed with red liquid that was no doubt blood. The interior did not look like a tower's interior, but a castle of some kind. The tileset was much better than anything I've seen in the OC, and fixes the things I mentioned as shortcomings before -- those mainly being the over-wrought normal maps and poor specular mapping, making everything look like excessively rough but clay-like stone. These walls, instead, were only as rough as they needed to be, and there was a gloss to parts of them that looked good in the low lighting.

In the middle of this room was the focus of this module -- a chest containing stones with single words on them, like life, laugh, truth, blood, etc., surrounded by four pedestals, and a book of instructions at the head. The pedestals each had separate bits of verse with missing words, and the task was to figure out which of the words on the stones fit the poems. They had to be added in order, the book said. I failed on the first pedestal, but I didn't know it yet, because I chose a different word that seemed to fit with the poem in a similar way, but there was actually a more appropriate word. When the second pedestal lit up after I added the stones, I knew the first one must be wrong, so I retrieved the stones from that one and went on to do the 3rd and 4th before seeing which stones were left for the first one.

Once all the pedestals lit up, the door opened, and I ended up free of the tower, and no longer dead. The module's host greeted me and told me it was all an illusion and that my treat awaited in the next room. That was a surprise. I was expecting more, considering I was given a companion. He never said anything after joining me, and there was no combat in the module. Perhaps there was more content planned.

I enjoyed this one, for the design, and the puzzle.

Amraphael's house

Another pretty small mod, but a beautifully designed interior. I loved the lighting and colours. Some of the décor was rather familiar by now, though, such as the levitating hags with their arms crossed, which I've seen in 3 or 4 mods now. This must be something from Mask of the Betrayer, I'm guessing, since I know it involves at least a hagspawn.

Here, the host offered riddles, ghost stories, and candy, though he played a trick on me with the candy, claiming it was poison, and I needed to quickly pick the antidote. At least I assume it was a trick. At any rate, I followed advice and didn't die. Then I went and explored the rest of his house, found a secret passage that led to a little fight, and then spoke to his wife, who asked me another riddle. A short, but fun house.

Mooncalf's Carnival of Souls

This house supplied 4 party members -- a pair of star-crossed lovers, an undead sorcerer, and Bishop from NWN2 OC. Irenicus from Baldur's Gate 2 made a cameo appearance as well. The main carnival area has a merchant and several NPCs that offer flavour dialogue. The merchant offers a book of hints for this module, which was useful. There are also some coincidental Skyrim parallels (couldn't have been intentional, since this was released in 2008, 3 years before Skyrim's release): one of the companions is named Lydia, and the host says (almost exactly), "I used to be an adventurer like you..."

The idea here is that on one night a year, damned souls can attempt to complete some challenges in exchange for a chance at being returned to life. Somehow, even though I'm still alive, I also get to participate in this challenge. Those who lose are eaten by some kind of hellhound.

There are 5 or 6 challenges to choose from, with interesting names like "Witchfinder General" and "Puzzle of the Imps". Some are easier than others, and their length varies, but they're all pretty short. Some rely on dialogue, some on skill checks, and some on having a party member present. I'd recommend saving before each challenge, though, because one wrong move can cause you to lose a companion or two permanently.

One problem in this mod is that the sorcerer Professor Bones can't cast any of his spells, even after resting. I can't see any reason for this. I was unable to use him for this reason.

Another problem is that there are portals that take you back to the carnival after each challenge, but they're destructible. Three times, in challenges that included combat, errant AoE spells destroyed the portals, and made it impossible to go back, except by using the glowstick to return to the town centre and walking back up to the house. This also seemed to be the cause of the game not recognising that I had all three of the necessary gem fragments -- it didn't give me any acknowledgement of it until I had completed another challenge that didn't destroy the portal.

Still, it was a fun and varied mod, with plenty of interesting dialogue. I went through all the challenges for the fun of it, even though only three were necessary.

Gaming Parents Studio

This was a very good house as far as design and horror elements go (nice exterior too). Sound effects, voices, and spooky evidence (a severed hand, a cleaver, and a doll's head) create an excellent atmosphere, with horrific imagery in one place, à la The Shining.

It ends very abruptly, though, and I get the impression there was going to be more, since the three items mentioned above served no purpose, and the hosts only mentioned them as a side note (we'll just take those back from you when you leave). Definitely worth visiting for the atmosphere.

Wyreen's house

The entrance hall to this house was amusing. There were two grand fountains, with a heavy flow of water issuing forth from the groins of the imp statues on top. Wandering around the floor was a cat, who said things like "OH HAI" and "I can haz cheezburger?" when I clicked on it.

There were two sections to this house: the trick and the treat. I picked the treat first. It turned out to be an homage to the movie Army of Darkness (Evil Dead 3). Lines from the movie were quoted verbatim, similar situations and creatures were set up, and weapons were reproduced. Not bad. I had actually watched this movie again right around Halloween of this year, so it was fresh in my mind. Also, a lich version of H.P. Lovecraft showed up to say a few words about the Necronominon, since he was the one who had invented it before it was used as the MacGuffin in the Evil Dead movies.

The "trick" was a story that involved a possessed baby, a birthday party, a vengeful ghost, and a choice about who to believe and what actions to take. I made what appears to have been the correct choice, given the followup, but there appears to be no "good" ending to it. Enjoyable house.

Dark Cave (Lair of the Beast)

Nothing happened in this cave, and I didn't find anything to do in the two "rooms" There was no scenery, nothing to activate, and no creatures. A shame, since it was so nicely designed on the outside. [Note: more on this later.]

Dirtywick's house

Tavern music played, and people in colourful clothes mingled in this large room, amongst tables set with food and drink. The partiers' lines had a slightly questionable ring to them, saying how they have these parties every year, that they expect I'll be back next year, too, and that this is the only night out for most of them. There was also a strangely unused kitchen, which I thought at first might have been an oversight, but I think it was more likely intentional here.

Upstairs, Herbert West greeted me and invited me to drink large quantities of alcoholic beverages. Well, I recognise the name Herbert West from Lovecraft's short story "Herbert West: Reanimator", and the loosely adapted movie, so I guessed that all these party guests are reanimated dead. I was not disappointed. Everything changed, and led to some moments that would surely be horrific in retrospect to anyone who didn't see the change coming. ("Mmm! Tastes like chicken!" "Well, it's not chicken. Maybe next year you can help us prepare it.") An effective, well-scripted house with an interesting backstory.

Berra's estate of horrors

Entering this house, I was greeted by another rude and condescending reception, except that it wasn't the host himself who was rude this time, but his apprentice. The hall was set up with mannequins, a couple of exhibits, and some NPCs offering some conversation. It seems that the author chose to use this exhibit room as an advertisement for his other works.

Talking to the host is what starts a conflict event, and the NPCs recommend saving it until last. Berra, the host, sits in one of the corners, and comically stands up and sits down frequently during his conversation, even when the apprentice goes crazy and decides to destroy Halloween.

The special effects are pretty nice when that happens, and going into the transformed "basement" is an interesting experience. The land is different than I've seen in other mods, though navigating the terrain was a bit counterintuitive. I thought I was doing something wrong by climbing up impossible slopes until I got to the enemy at the top.

After fighting the very easy demigod, I was sent to a new room, presumably part of the original building I was in before, where I was given my reward and some more advertisements for the author's other work.

Hallows' End

A cosy little tavern was occupied only by a barkeep, who started to tell me about why his tavern was empty of customers, and then broke the fourth wall by telling me that JClef ran out of time and rushed his quest (I guess he did two houses, since I already went through a house marked "JClef's home"), giving me a very laconic journal entry that said, "You've heard the story of the urban legend which haunts the local area. Destory!!! [sic]" And then nothing. Where was I supposed to go? There were no doors or other interactive items in this tavern, and the barkeep had nothing further to say. Was this all?

I reviewed the chat log for any further details to make up for what wasn't written in the journal entry, and noticed it mentioned a "beast". Perhaps that was referring to the empty "Lair of the Beast" cave I explored earlier.

That's what it was, all right. The barkeep really should have been a little more informative, because I could have missed that. It's pretty much the opposite extreme as Berra's estate, which told me repeatedly what I could do and what I could expect to happen before I did it, which was a bit too informative.

Anyway, the Beast was just a large imp, and when I killed it, the journal was updated, ending the quest. The barkeep had nothing further to say. JClef wasn't kidding about being rushed.

Raith Veldrin's home

The last of the houses! This one was very dark, and I needed to use a torch to see anything. Then I saw it was using the monochromatic black-and-white filter. Yuck. Raith was standing around the corner, made a reference to some tragedy a year ago, and offered me a potion, which was done in an amusingly surprising way.

Raith's dialogue was rhymed, and one of the responses was "I hope you knows, you speak in prose." It's verse, not prose. Prose is what I'm writing here: text without any metrical or poetic structure.

Tiberius' house, part 2: Back to Drac

Having finished with the rest of the houses, the time was right to return to Tiberius' house and put these companions to the use for which they were intended!

When I stepped through the portal, the howls of wolves rang in the distance as my companions began to speak. Charissa, a paladin of Tyr, predictably demanded to know the alignments of the rest of the party. Tancred the ranger (neutral good) reacted with exasperation at this typical paladin behaviour, and she immediately judged him to be evil, to which Saleron the wizard (lawful good, just like the paladin) pointed out the logical fallacy she employed. I laughed along with him until I saw that my only dialogue option was to say, essentially, "Huh?" Then the ranger of all things went into a detailed lecture about denying the antecedant, and Saleron lumped me in with the paladin in his estimation of ignorance. I checked the character sheets afterward, and my INT is 2 points higher than the ranger's, so what the hell?

The approach to Dracula's castle had a couple of encounters. The music, sound effects, and décor were all pretty straight, but the dialogue was often flippant, so I'm not sure really what the tone was supposed to be here. Even the encounter with Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde (who spoke of the Headless Horseman) was more or less straightforward classic horror all the way. Hanged men and bodies impaled on spikes also announced the cruelty of the new noble in the castle, while a ghost warned us away, and a statue spoke of riddles to come.

Inside the castle, I found the first puzzle, and it was to determine which painting hid a key to open the door to advance. I have to admit, although I enjoy puzzles, I found this one to be too obtuse. The paintings were all said to look toward the one that had the key, and I checked all of them, until they sent me into a loop, with one pointing to another that had already been checked. Then I checked the one that was never betrayed by the others, and found that the painting stared straight ahead with confidence. Surely that was the one that held the key! But no. It was actually the daughter-in-law's portrait that held it, even though she pointed to another painting.

On the other side of the locked door was the laboratory of Dr Frankenstein, with his "modern Prometheus" on the slab! This module has been a real tour of classic horror literature! The puzzle in here is to figure out which of a chest full of different power crystals is the correct one to bring the creature to life. The wrong one will still bring it to life and make it open the door so I can advance, but I would have to fight it afterward. The statue claims that I need "the smallest", and a book on the table gives more cryptic words that may or may not be hints. Are these descriptions of crystals that were tried and failed, or the correct one(s)? It mentions "one with crack", and the only cracked crystal is a large one, not "the smallest" as the statue suggested. At any rate, I tried three of the smallest crystals, one at a time, and all failed, so I don't know what's going on with these puzzles.

There were two more puzzles, though both of their doors led to the same room, so only solving one was necessary. I tried both of them anyway.

Again, I regret that the puzzles eluded me. One was a room of eight statues, one of which was "fake", whose destruction would open the door. A book offered clues, but it didn't rule anything out. "Some say it was this one, others say this, or maybe this." A sundial was in one corner, and a gong in another. The statue in the direction of the gong (probably alluding to the "thunder" in the clue book) was the correct choice, but I destroyed several other statues first.

The other room had several puzzles. There were red and yellow vases by the door, one mounted animal head with missing eyes and another head with ill-fitting eyes, a painting that pointed toward a secret scroll, and a yellow and red stone. The statue said that colours were the key, so I did the obvious and put the yellow stone in the yellow vase and the red stone in the red vase. Nothing happened. I put the eyes from one head into the other head, and it spawned a bear to kill. I read the scroll that I found and it summoned the Invisible Man, who dropped a red jewel and a yellow stone just like the one I had already put in the vase. I tried putting these new red and yellow stones into the vases, and still nothing happened. Finally, I gave up and used the other door that led into the same place.

Dracula himself lay beyond his herald gnome, who declined to stay. Before I spoke to Dracula, I examined both of the wooden stakes I had found, but neither of them could be equipped or activated. After some dialogue, we fought Dracula, and he returned to his coffin. There is where the stakes came into play, because when I activated the coffin, I was given the option to impale his regenerating body with a stake, and did so.

This won the game, and I was treated to some final farewells from the companions and the host. This made a fine ending to the Halloween module compilation, and I'm glad I saved it for last.


I think this review may set my record for most screenshots in a single post.

I wish there had been a trash can container in the central area, or in the small shop, or perhaps the tavern. Many of these mini-mods left me with several unsellable items when I was finished with them, and very few houses had any containers at all. Just dropping items to get rid of them is slow, because you have to drop them one at a time, and each one leaves a separate bag on the ground. Chaos Wielder's house had a few chests in it, so I ended up dumping several mods' worth of items in there. There is a box container at the Grumpy Strumpet, too, but I was already using that to store all the letters I had found, and didn't want to clutter it up with junk. I never found the last two letters in the Grumpy Strumpet.

Regarding stairs in NWN2 in general, it's a surprise to me that I haven't seen any fixes for these upstairs/downstairs doorways that only go halfway up or down, oftentimes with a room on the other side of that wall, which that doorway would open up into if it weren't just a fake black passage behind it, and which often texture-clips into that room's wall anyway. Dragon Age: Origins handled stairways much better -- it had a tile where you would just see a doorway with a little stairwell in it, leading up or down to the side, not straight on, and you just click on the doorway to transition to the next level. That worked very well. Alternatively, just a simple closed door on ground level with a label saying "upstairs" would be enough. Let the player assume there's a staircase behind that door. No need to go up to floor 2.5.

I wish there were a good readme included with spoilers for all the houses, so I could go through and see if I'd missed anything, especially in those houses that seemed unfinished. Perhaps some authors will find this review and add their comments or explanations.

It took several days to get through all the content in this module. As a showcase of the variety of mods and range of talents out there on the Vault, I think it makes an excellent sampler.

Next, I'll go through the shorter list of minimods which were entered in Obsidian's module contest with the theme of Grimms' fairy tales.


  1. Awesome review! Sorry about the hallows end tavern. I really did try to make it more than that, but the deadline was very close. After designing the exterior, the crazy intro, the small shop, my own house and tying all the mods together in the toolset, Halloween was fast approaching, so I said "ah.. screw it". Oh, and no - you're not supposed to enter the BouncyRock HQ. That was another addition that got chopped due to time constraints. I should've just right-clicked and made it static - doh!

    Anyways, this was an enjoyable read and really cool to hear someone else's perspective on the mod. Chaos Wielder actually put something similar together called SoZ Holiday Expansion Project. Check that out, for sure.

    Happy Gaming!

  2. Hi Tchos,


    I just noticed that the link you have made goes to the incorrect version of the books used. You have linked to the older 2da based system. My own was an improved script based system that is to be found in teh HoF with this link: http://nwvault.ign.com/View.php?view=NWN2UI.Detail&id=99

    It is important to note the difference as they work differently.


  3. Jclef: Well, considering all you had on your plate, I'm glad you put your priorities where you did! It is perhaps unfortunate that deadlines always bring with them the spectre of cut content, but at the same time, without deadlines so much less would ever be released, and those tastes of what could have been can serve as an inspiration to others.

    Thanks for pointing me to the SoZ Holiday Expansion! I'll definitely try that one after I'm done with the fairy tale contest batch. :)

    Lance: Thank you for the correct link, and for posting it here, since the other post was just a temporary alert for a sale, and not a permanent entry. I'll update my link to the one you provided.

  4. Hi Tchos,

    No problem. Happy to help.

    (I just sent you a mega email. Hope you get it OK. Let me know if not.)


  5. Hi, I came across your blog, and when I saw that you had written about the Halloween module, I immediately zeroed in on that post. I'm glad that my Elysian Manor was among your favorites. It came as a shock to me, however, to discover that I had a secret door sticking out, revealing its location. I hadn't noticed it when I playtested my work, and none of the other contributors to the Halloween mod told me about it during their playtests. Still, I'm glad that the puzzles had the right level of challenge for you and that you found the atmosphere scary. I had great fun making the Elysian manor, and I'm proud to have contributed to this wonderful mod.

    1. The visible stairway door was in the kitchen, on the other side of where it's supposed to appear. I generally play in a far overhead view in exploration mode, and upper stairway doors are always visible on the other side if they're up against a room tile, in my experience. For my modules, I'm going to avoid using those stair tiles altogether.

      I think one of the best parts of your module was the bit where the zombie emerges from the closet. :)

      Heh, and coincidentally, I just found and subscribed to your blog yesterday, and have been reading through your posts there!