Saturday, December 17, 2011

Neverwinter Nights 2, part 3

Qara the sorceress

I met the 4th recruitable party member when I got to Neverwinter. A haughty sorceress named Qara, whose name apparantly includes a phantom "u", since everyone pronounces it "Quara" instead of "Kara". From playing as a sorceress in Baldur's Gate, I recognised her as one of that class when she scorned her fellow Academy students for needing to study spells instead of casting them instinctually as she can. Personally, I think the masters at the Academy must be blind not to recognise her class, if they've been trying to teach her. Sorcerers can't learn spells from books or scrolls.

Now, she's very pompous and full of herself as I mentioned before, but I have to say she has my sympathies, as I understand how it feels to have to sit through classes whose material she already fully comprehends. It's enough to drive one to be chaotic neutral, I'd wager, which is what she is. She is not, however, the criminally insane "chaotic neutral" of Planescape: Torment's character Ignus, despite her having an affinity for fire. She's rather more like a spoilt child who always wants to get her way, because she's the best there is. And who knows? Perhaps she is. But she's quick to take offense and can't seem to restrain her temper, which causes situations to quickly spiral out of control.

The only inconsistency here is that she has 18 points of charisma. That is the sorcerer stat in this ruleset after all, but shouldn't it also translate into people liking her despite her attitude? That's what charisma is. Shouldn't she come off more as a charming scoundrel rather than a snooty debutante? Instead, she evidently piled up a large number of enemies at her old school, who hate her so much that it's not enough that she's no longer attending the school, but they actually seek her out in groups to try to murder her. Moreover, the father of one of the students hates her so much (for "insulting and threatening" his daughter -- the one who confronted Qara in an alley with murderous intent), that he sells his own students as slaves to the enemy country of Luskan, to arrange a particularly sadistic death for Qara. Insane! So, I take Qara's side in this.

When adding her to my party roster, this was the point where I found that the NWN2 OC has a 3-companion limit, just like Dragon Age, and so I left Elanee at the tavern and brought Qara along. No need for two druids in the group, I'd say, even though Elanee's alignment better suits my playstyle.

Qara seems to fill the kind of role that Edwin did in Baldur's Gate -- a stuck-up, powerful jerk who's hilarious to have along for the ride, especially for the entertaining in-party bickering. The argument between her, Khelgar, Elanee, and Neeshka in the tavern was priceless.

Alignment shifts and questing

Perhaps I don't need to worry about losing my ability to keep leveling up as a druid due to alignment changes. I'm still in the unexpectedly long City Watch sideline that's keeping me from getting into the closed-off district. I can't even remember why I needed to get in there, now. But while I was in danger of becoming Lawful Good, I'm now just slightly on the lawful side of Neutral Good again. I can't say I understand the game's justification for adding or removing points for some of these decisions, though. Somehow, when I made the decision to side with Khelgar in the situation with the weapons smuggling in the docks, where he wanted to attack both the criminals and the corrupt City Watch officers who were facilitating the weapon smuggling, I somehow was shifted toward Chaotic Evil! I'd hate to think what would have happened if I had accepted Qara or Neeshka's offers to set a building on fire to draw away the City Watch and make the smugglers easier to kill.

I might actually have to replay this section later just to experience whatever alternate content there is for if I had chosen to work with the thieves rather than the City Watch in the first place, because it's turning out to be an amazingly long divergence. Several hours into the City Watch missions, it occurred to me that these quests were taking quite a long time, and I still hadn't gotten into the Blacklake district, which is the reason I had joined the City Watch in the first place. I began to wonder what my missions would have been like if I had chosen to work for the gangs instead, so I took a look at a guide. Incredibly, the "evil" option takes you on a path that's just as long as the "good" path, and doesn't converge again until you take a mission outside the city!

Party member variety

By this point, I had picked up three more party members, and was feeling the restrictiveness of having only 3 along in the party at a time (not counting yourself). Happily, I found a console command that allows you to raise the limit to 5 (6 total), which is enough for me. Actually more than enough, considering the pathfinding AI (I've made a cursory search for a mod that would allow me to teleport any errant party members to my side, but haven't found anything like that as of yet). A total of 5 party members allows for a good variety.

First I got the gnome bard Grobnar. So I was right to have saved all that bard gear that I'd been finding! I had never used a bard in my party before, and by the time I found Grobnar he was of sufficient level to have what looked like a good variety of support buffs and skills, including some healing spells, so I brought him along. He had some interesting things to say, and provided information about a mechanical device we found in one of the caves. Also, as a bard, he has the highest lore stat of the whole group. This saves me the trouble of memorising Identify spells or carrying scrolls or potions to do it, because I can just hand items to Grobnar and have them automatically identified.

Personally, I found Grobnar to be a good sidekick, and not annoying. His jokes often did fall flat, sure, but things that he didn't mean as jokes were often funny. There was also another slapstick sight gag when he was introduced, relating to his personality. I always enjoy those!

Casavir is a paladin, and I acquired his services soon after retaining Grobnar. Paladins, like priests, have a "turn undead" ability, which I've tried to use on many occasions, and I almost never see any effect. I can't even tell what it's supposed to be doing. When I had him on the team, I saw him use his ability automatically, but I still couldn't tell what good it did. I ended up leaving him in the inn, carrying all the stuff I didn't want to keep in the party. Incidentally, there's no party storage chest at the inn, but there are three crafting benches that can hold items. They're more or less safe, as far as I can tell, though there is a point in the plot where the inn is replaced by a different inn for a special plot event, and the benches in the replacement are empty. However, after you've advanced the plot one step further, the original inn returns, with items intact. I tested this by placing some worthless items in each bench, and looking for them before, during, and after the event. Alternatively, there's another bench at Sand's shop across the street, which is always open. The advantage of just storing all your junk on a party member at the inn, though, is that you can access their inventory from anywhere, if you use the menu item to edit the party roster and bring that storage character into the party.

After that, I was sent off to rescue Shandra Jerro, who was the farmer whose barn was burnt down earlier, from some githyanki -- presumably the same group responsible for the attack on my character's hometown. For some reason, Duncan thought it would be useful to have a ranger along for the ride, so he ordered a guy named Bishop to join me. Bishop had been hanging around the inn since the beginning, I think, and every time I tried to talk to him, he brushed me off rudely. He was no more gracious when he had to join my party, as a result of some obligation he had with Duncan. He was rude the whole time, and made hateful and inflammatory comments and threats to NPCs I was talking to. Finally, it occured to me to check his character sheet. Aha. Chaotic evil. Duncan sent a chaotic evil man with me to rescue Shandra. I dumped him as soon as I got back to the inn. But if he's chaotic evil, I don't see why he was honouring this mysterious debt of service he owed to Duncan. That seems like it should be more lawful or neutral.

What do you mean "our" band, kemo sabe?

Regardless, Bishop remained selectable as a companion after this mission, and so did Shandra, once she was rescued.


I was beginning to think that Blacklake wasn't actually a real district that I could walk around in at all, because when I finally finished the City Watch missions and was allowed to enter the Blacklake District, I wasn't allowed free rein. Instead, I was "escorted" (teleported) directly to the house that related to the plot, talking to Aldanon the Sage about the silver shard. (Aldanon was very friendly and helpful, by the way, and I liked his absent-minded professor personality.)

Afterward, I was escorted to the archives, which is where Aldanon told me to go next. After that, I was teleported back to the City Watch HQ. So it seemed like this fabled "district" was just a setpiece for the main quest, and not the quest hub I was expecting.

Ah, but after I had done just a little more quest-dictated running around, I ended up getting caught up in some cutthroat political machinations, and this entitled me to enter Blacklake as I pleased. It turns out it is the quest hub I was expecting. I'm not sure why they needed to restrict it so much until this point. Most of the quests there don't seem like they require the plot to have advanced to any particular point, unless it's just because this district is where Lord Nasher's castle is located. I can understand wanting to keep players away from there until a certain plot point, but surely they could have just had the guards refuse me entry until some NPC told me to go there.

Incidentally, the quest in the archives was very enjoyably designed. There were hidden items that could only be seen with a special veil, secret doors containing plenty of treasure in nice big chests, and a series of trivia challenges that select random facts out of several lore books that can be found around the archives (not the same questions every time, as I found). It looked like the lore skill could also be used to answer correctly, if it's high enough, and answering correctly gains influence points with Grobnar.

This was where I really took notice of the loot to be found in chests in this game, as compared to certain other games (such as Dragon Age: Origins or Elder Scrolls games). There are so many different items in this game, chests can really have some great stuff in them. In DA:O I would typically open a sparkling cabinet in a mage's study and find...a blank piece of vellum, or maybe an unenchanted ring. If DA:O had the kind of crafting as in NWN2, I could actually enchant that ring with up to three enchantments if I wanted to, or scribe a spell from my memory to the blank vellum where it would be a no-fail backup to use if I ran out of spells in the heat of battle, or give to another spellcaster in my party to either add that spell to their repertoire or to cast it without having to have memorised it. Or, if it were in NWN2, the scroll from the cabinet could have just already had a spell on it, instead of being a blank piece of paper with no actual use in the game other than selling for a couple of silver.

So these NWN2 treasure chests have not only a lot of loot as opposed to 1-3 items, but a wide variety of them, most of which can be used by at least one member of a well-rounded party (and since there are so many more classes, there's more variety of specialised gear). Plus, some of them are likely to be "unidentified" magic items. Some might see this as a pointless or annoying gameplay mechanic, but I see mysterious unidentified items as loot that comes in gift-wrapping! Do not open until X-mas, or until you drink a bottle of Lore potion, or visit a magic vendor who can identify it for you, or until you have a bard in your party -- so many options! In addition, containers in this game can be not only locked, but trapped as well -- a mechanic that was strangely left out of DA:O and Oblivion, even though previous games made by those companies had included trapped containers. Options and variety make a nice spice to these containers, which in other games are almost hardly worth the bother of walking over to them.

Elsewhere in Blacklake, there was a good side quest involving some upper-class teenage Goth girls sneaking into a crypt. The little sister of one of the girls (who, despite being upper class, was dressed in the same patchy rags as every other child in this game) said they were going in to meet with some black-clad boys, presumably to make out. The dialogue was remarkably unconcerned about the potential dangers of this meeting, considering that in this world it seems you always find ghosts and zombies in crypts, and spooky black-clad boys in D&D might not be just pretending to be vampires.

I don't want to spoil anything about the quest, but I found it to be a very satisfying quest with good conversations, skill checks, and multiple possible outcomes based on your personality, skills, or approach.

This is with the "Always Summer" mod installed


  1. I'm going to be honest and say I never really liked how D+D handled the Charisma stat. Charisma is supposed to be force of will and the ability to influence people, while it tends to be used as the popularity/physical appearance stat. (And then there's the Wisdom stat being used for Will saves...) That said, Qara's high charisma really should have given her some sort of benefit when it came to her classmates. It didn't even need to be a positive sort of influence; the Tarrasque has high charisma becauses it's so frightening. Unless Obsidian was trying to suggest that Qara was deliberately influencing the students to hate her so that she could feel superior...

    My ramblings aside, I'm glad you liked Grobnar. I never understood why people hate him so much, even though he did seem a little out there at times. And I feel bad for Casavir... I'm told most of his character development got cut.

  2. Well, it wouldn't be the first terminology issue I've found with these games, as you've certainly read. :) Using it as a popularity/appearance stat is surely a direct result of having called the stat "charisma" in the first place, if they meant it to be used for something else.

    As for Casavir, it's probably good that I chose to use him as a mule if his character development was cut. But perhaps if I go back and play through the City Watch/Dock Thieves plotline again with the evil path, I'll take Bishop and Casavir along as companions instead of some of the others I settled on, and see how that affects things.

    As for Grobnar, I'll just assume that if people hate him, it's similar to the automatic irrational hatred I see for gnomes in other games.

  3. Ah yes, Qara. I so very much wanted to throw her spellbook into a vat of acid and watch her fetch it. And Bishop...well...seeing his ugly face and being forced to put up with his sociopathic personality made me want to reach into the monitor and throttle him. (Apparently, he's quite popular with the female fanbase...have a look at DeviantArt or FanFiction.Net if you don't believe me.) It annoys me how the game forces you to take NPCs into your party; in Baldur's Gate, you didn't have to take anyone you didn't want to, and if they annoyed you, you could outright murder them if you felt like it)

    1. I think you misunderstand me. I like Qara, and she became quite the ally to me by the end. (Sorcerers don't have spellbooks, BTW.)

      I'm familiar with the Bishop fandom. There's some good art to be found there.