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Codex Review RPG Codex Review: Neverwinter Nights – Tyrants of the Moonsea

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
Tags: Beamdog; BioWare; Luke Scull; Neverwinter Nights; Neverwinter Nights: Tyrants of the Moonsea; Ossian Studios

Of all of Beamdog's Enhanced Edition rereleases before they switched to making DOA multiplayer games, Neverwinter Nights: Enhanced Edition was probably the most poorly budgeted and least hyped. Ironically, it might be the Enhanced Edition that ended up providing the most value to the game's legacy. In part, thanks to its belated recognition of Ossian Studios' cancelled premium modules from the 2000s. One of these was Neverwinter Nights: Tyrants of the Moonsea, an adventure set in the Forgotten Realms' Moonsea region which was finally completed by its creator Luke "Alazander" Scull in 2019 as an official DLC for the Enhanced Edition. In the years since then, Luke has continued to remaster his other classic modules for free while working on his upcoming Blades of Netheril sequel campaign and appears to have earned a good reputation on our forums. Yet it's not clear how many Codexers actually played Tyrants of the Moonsea. As I recall, many users were unhappy about having to buy Beamdog's version of Neverwinter Nights in order to play it. One of our resident Neverwinter Nights connoisseurs, the esteemed Gargaune, feels the module never got the attention it deserved. I suspect his outstanding review might persuade some of you to give it a second look. Here's an excerpt:

Structurally, the module can be split into three main segments. The sequence that takes you from Voonlar through Hillsfar and two major locations after that is a fairly linear progression despite already presenting you with a beautiful world map, a feature that Ossian first brought to NWN with the original release of DoD. You’ll have a good supply of optional side content to engage with but, by and large, you’re on a straight path taking you from one place to the next, Icewind Dale-style. Once you’re through with that, however, and have experienced a couple of plot twists to boot, you get access to a ship that puts you within striking distance of the four other major destinations you get in the Moonsea – Mulmaster, Thentia, Melvaunt and Zhentil Keep. At this point you’re told to tackle them in whichever order you like, digging up leads on your quarry, picking up side quests and, naturally, hitting the shops. Each one of the Moonsea’s urban centres will have a couple of quests to be started in them, some resolved locally, others requiring travelling to other places, and an optional dungeon of some manner. Aside from this, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of serendipitous exploration, as the odd unmarked location can turn up questless combat encounters and, naturally, loot! The format here is similar to Baldur’s Gate 2’s non-Athkatlan locales (think Trademeet or the Umar Hills), each city has one or two main areas and a tidy amount of content but none of them are massive mainstays to explore nor does TotM ever set you loose on a contiguous countryside, like Darkness over Daggerford or the original Baldur’s Gate. Once you’ve had your fill of the open world and turned up some key leads for your main plot, you can chase up those directions and get nudged (albeit not exactly shoved) into the adventure’s climax, and I can honestly say it’s a pretty epic affair!

But if the plot demands you visit all city hubs, is it a TRÜE open world? Sort of... Per the old BioWare formula, you'll find yourself strung along to all the major locations at some point or other, but the game won't force your nose into every nook and cranny and some significant things can change depending on how you prioritise certain steps. In other words, there is a point of no return which can lock off an amount of side content, a point which may be intuited but isn't necessarily signposted. I'm being coy because I don't want to spoil stuff for you, and if you want to experience TotM completely blind, you should stop reading this paragraph right here and move on to the one below (seriously, right here!). If, however, you want to be sure you maximise content on your first playthrough, I'll give you the slightest hint - make sure you wrap up all your sightseeing before you go galloping across any wilderness, you'll know when you get to it.

I’ve mentioned dungeons and TotM has a healthy supply of them. Ossian’s other NWN entry, DoD, was quite lacklustre in this department, so it’s a relief that this module alternates open wilderness and proper dungeon areas regularly, with the usual variety of traps and bespoke encounters. The biggest criticism I can level at them is that they don’t tend to be particularly labyrinthine – some are large enough to accommodate a couple of forks and traversal loops, though quite a few come down on the smaller and more linear side. But while none of them could make a claim to being branching “mega-dungeons” filled to the brim with secrets and puzzles, and you’ll find much more impressive constructions in other modules, TotM’s spelunking sessions aren’t five-minute affairs either, they’re well-paced and well-stocked and should be able to hold your interest for the duration. Puzzles aren't all that plentiful or memorable, either the dungeon or quest sorts, but they are present and range from rote "find the four thingamajigs to slot in here" to more organic affairs, e.g. some players will know what's up when told they're to fight a Magic Golem, the rest had better explore available dialogue or they're in for a nasty surprise.

Difficulty-wise, TotM is pretty much along the lines of vanilla NWN content like Hordes of the Underdark, which is to say it isn’t especially hard while also not a walk in the park. Grizzled Swordflight veterans are unlikely to find anything particularly challenging, but regular gamers can be well served by playing on D&D Hardcore Rules, meaning the steady string of trashmobs will be effective as a source of progressive attrition, softening you up for some boss encounters which can genuinely put you through your paces, and controlling for disabling factors like Fear or save-or-die abilities is meaningful. The game swaps enemy palettes regularly and with wide variety, you'll fight undead in one place, cultists and demons in another, goblinoids over there or even hostile adventuring parties and so on. There's enough variety that you could make good use of all the different specific enhancement bonuses offered by the Altar of Blessings if you cared to, but most trashmobs aren't difficult enough to warrant it. This is common for Epic-range 3E D&D, as the power curve past level 15 tends to favour the player and it becomes challenging for designers to guard against all moving parts while also not making the game impenetrable to the average consumer, and I probably wouldn’t advise playing on low difficulty levels unless you’re new or really struggling for some reason. The module’s generous with special utility loot, trinkets like Gems of Seeing, Ioun Stones or magical rods, which will expand a given character’s abilities beyond their natural competencies and provide that additional versatility in tackling various battlefield situations. Personally, this is more up my alley and I found TotM to be gratifying in terms of general challenge, but hardcore min-maxers aren’t likely to break a sweat.

I suppose this would also be the appropriate time to remind people of Beamdog’s upgraded Party Control feature – this isn’t a TotM system, it’s an (unfortunately hidden) engine-level option that was added to NWN:EE, but it can make a big impact on the quality of your gameplay. Basically, these new controls allow you to manually select one or more party members (including your own PC) and issue precise instructions to “move there” or “attack that.” To enable it, go into \Documents\Neverwinter Nights\settings.tml and change the value of player-party-control to true. Then, in-game, you can select one or more party members by holding down Ctrl while left-clicking them or their portraits (or you can even hold down Ctrl and click-drag a marquee selection) for a blue circle highlight, then hold down Shift while left-clicking a target location or enemy. Note that a single click is “walk to” while double-clicking is “run to”, and you may want to issue a Stand Your Ground order beforehand if you don’t want henchmen to come right back. Restricting it to movement and combat might seem short of modded solutions (e.g. Balkoth’s Minion Control) but it also means it’s applicable to all NWN content, limiting the potential to break properly-scripted modules, and while it’s not a panacea for the game’s obstinate AI, it’s more than enough to make a huge difference in play. All classes will benefit tactically, but especially ranged and mage types (also endowed with spellcasting AoE indicators in the EE), who can now enjoy more build variety safe behind a leading warrior.

[...] Looking back to the Infinity Engine and even many of its contemporary peers, Baldur’s Gate 2 is king (no matter how much that might make some of the local fauna seethe), but why? Icewind Dale had better combat, the first Baldur’s Gate had better exploration, Planescape: Torment had better writing etc. – all of that is true, but Baldur’s Gate 2 was pretty darn good at all of it. That's what gets it top billing and the same qualities apply to Tyrants of the Moonsea for NWN – you should easily find other modules, official or fan-made, that do better in various individual respects, but Ossian's title scores high on all counts and if you enjoy NWN at all (if you don't, you should never admit it!), passing on TotM would be a big mistake.

Now, if the byzantine brandings and histories have left you confused, allow me to make it simple – Tyrants of the Moonsea is for sale on GOG, Steam and the Beamdog Client. If you also want to check out its prior episodes in the Alazander series, they're free on the Neverwinter Vault as Siege of Shadowdale Enhanced Edition and Crimson Tides of Tethyr Enhanced Edition or in NWN:EE's integrated content browser. For historic purposes, links to the Diamond Edition distributions of those two modules are on their respective Vault pages under Related Projects.

So there you have it, I've led you to the water, I've even forced your snout in, the rest is up to you. Drink and you'll get the full flavour of competent writing and design, solid production values and artistic direction, fun combat and exploration… To put it simply, Tyrants of the Moonsea is, at this time, the definitive single-player NWN experience.​

Read the full article: RPG Codex Review: Neverwinter Nights – Tyrants of the Moonsea
 
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I poured countless hours of several years into NWN. It's highly nostalgic for me, but the experience is uneven. NPC companions are a major sore spot for the engine. Modules that are built & balanced on the assumption you'll be having one or more tend to make me hesitant to try them. I want to try some modules like this, but I hate the blundering imprecision of companions. Is there a mod that gives you total control over NPCs, similar to the IE games?
 

Late Bloomer

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Awesome write-up. NWN will always be a favourite of mine. I love the passion it's longtime fans have. Makes me want to start up a playthrough.
 

Stokowski

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I never knew this module was completed. The first two by this guy were solid, but definitely favoured a melee class. Then the third appeared, started awesome, and then stopped. Just stopped. And that was it. Game Over.

It was rather annoying really.

(Almost as bad as contemplating allowing Beamscumdog any recompense by picking up the EE.)
 

Bester

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Infinitron

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Is there a mod that gives you total control over NPCs, similar to the IE games?
I didn't try it, but I think Beamdog added it, even though you have to activate it in the .ini file and it's undocumented. Then you can control companions fully.
Gargaune should know or just search this thread https://rpgcodex.net/forums/threads...-now-with-new-premium-modules.119226/page-145
Or just read the original post of this thread...
 

Darth Roxor

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TotM is also the third instalment in the "Alazander" series (Scull's moniker in the NWN scene), continuing the story of the Siege of Shadowdale and Crimson Tides of Tethyr community modules, both of which have recently been retooled for Beamdog's Enhanced Edition. The three modules centre themselves around standalone events - unrest in Shadowdale, a monstrous invasion in Tethyr, demonic raids in the Western Moonsea – unconnected to one another at first glance, but unravelling their plots begins to paint the picture of a common, underlying conspiracy, and they can be played with the same PC or a new one for each episode. Indeed, TotM presents itself as a soft sequel to either CtoT or DoD (which also ends in a similar level range) when, halfway through the game, the PC has an opportunity to reference the events of these adventures as canon, though it's purely a matter of flavour and the protagonist is also afforded the option of denying any connection to either.

Separately, Scull's been working on a new Blades of Netheril series of community modules, the first of which, Doom of Icewind Dale, has recently entered Closed Beta and I suspect may release to the public this coming April or May. Ostensibly, this new epic-range series is intended to continue the story of the Hero of Neverwinter, the discarded protagonist of NWN's original campaign, but will also serve to resolve the common plot of the Alazander series by its finale, tying the two together.

Imagine putting all this effort to make content for NWN of all things. Goddamn.
 

Alpan

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Fantastic review, thanks Gargaune. The module wouldn't have drawn my attention otherwise and I'm especially surprised by how good the environments look.

Also to underscore Infinitron's point on NWN: EE added value, it's worth noting that the game, owing to a single recent version update made entirely by the community, loads near-instantly now. That includes zone transitions, and in a game like NWN this alone is a massive quality of life improvement. One wonders what the BioWare guys thought they were doing with the loading code back in the day...
 
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Bester

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One wonders what the BioWare guys thought they were doing with the loading code back in the day...
Old games all used to be single threaded, before Pentium 4 introduced multiple threads and then Pentium D, followed by Duo Core introduced multiple cores.
However, I don't remember loading times to be particularly slow. It was the HD era. Now it's all SSD.

Seeing the incredible care NWN is getting is painful to me because of two simple words: too late.
 

Alpan

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One wonders what the BioWare guys thought they were doing with the loading code back in the day...
Old games all used to be single threaded, before Pentium 4 introduced multiple threads and then Pentium D, followed by Duo Core introduced multiple cores.
However, I don't remember loading times to be particularly slow. It was the HD era. Now it's all SSD.

Seeing the incredible care NWN is getting is painful to me because of two simple words: too late.

I played the original NWN on a Pentium 4 machine with an HDD, so I know what you're talking about. And I remember something like the initial load of Act 1 of the original campaign taking like a minute, if not more, to load. It takes less than a second now. If I recall correctly I never tried NWN on an SSD, but the improvement here is very far beyond what a typical switch from HDD to SSD generally looks like in other games (given that most games can't saturate the SSD bandwidth anwyay).
 

Gargaune

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Is there a mod that gives you total control over NPCs, similar to the IE games?
I didn't try it, but I think Beamdog added it, even though you have to activate it in the .ini file and it's undocumented. Then you can control companions fully.
Gargaune should know or just search this thread https://rpgcodex.net/forums/threads...-now-with-new-premium-modules.119226/page-145
Or just read the original post of this thread...
Yeah, we've talked about it in the NWN EE and the NWN Modules thread before. It was Jack Of Owls who first cleared up the system for me, I'd originally not paid attention and thought it wasn't working, so I gave up. But now that I've seen it, I don't wanna play without it, makes a huge difference and that's why I wanted to highlight the EE Party Controls in this review.

But like I said, it's just "go here" and "attack that." For more, you'd need to find a module implementing the full scope of Balkoth's Minion Control (linked in the review), which supports stuff like activating objects or picking up items etc. As for actually assuming full personal control of a henchman, there's nothing for NWN that does that, only wizard familiars and DM mode.

Imagine putting all this effort to make content for NWN of all things. Goddamn.
Thing is, NWN's Aurora's probably the highest yield RPG-making platform. Not for commercial purposes, obviously, but if you just wanna satisfy a passion for making your own stuff, it doesn't get any better. You can spend like a hundred hours making a half-hour Skyrim dungeon, or you can commit that same level of effort to a complete, polished little five-hour adventure module. Just can't beat that level of accessibility and power.

Fantastic review, thanks @Gargaune. The module wouldn't have drawn my attention otherwise and I'm especially surprised by how good the environments look.
It's why I went so heavy on the screenshots, it really looks pretty good for a twenty year-old game. :-D
 

Bester

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And I remember something like the initial load of Act 1 of the original campaign taking like a minute, if not more, to load
I don't remember how NWN installed back in the day, but it probably had a typical multiple option: minimal, medium and full. And any non-full installation had to read from a CD, which is slower than HD.
 

Infinitron

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The fast loading probably relies on memory capacities that weren't available 20 years ago.
 

Jack Of Owls

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Awesome write-up. NWN will always be a favourite of mine. I love the passion it's longtime fans have. Makes me want to start up a playthrough.
Same here. I always come back to NWN with modules every few years or so. However, I was brought to my knees with Swordflight 3 a few months ago, either because of the insurmountable difficulty ramp or my unoptimized build (a simple paladin, when I should have at least used a Champion of Torn), probably the later. But if I do start a new playthrough of NWN it will likely be with this remastered trilogy. Always wanted to play a Luke Scull module but never got around to it (though I must have played dozens of modules since the game came out).
 

Darth Roxor

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Thing is, NWN's Aurora's probably the highest yield RPG-making platform. Not for commercial purposes, obviously, but if you just wanna satisfy a passion for making your own stuff, it doesn't get any better. You can spend like a hundred hours making a half-hour Skyrim dungeon, or you can commit that same level of effort to a complete, polished little five-hour adventure module. Just can't beat that level of accessibility and power.

kotc2 :negative:
 

Zeriel

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Awesome write-up. NWN will always be a favourite of mine. I love the passion it's longtime fans have. Makes me want to start up a playthrough.

For me it's both nostalgic and sad, because it represents a path unfollowed in gaming that could have led to a wonderful renaissance of user-created content. Instead it exists as a largely forgotten dinosaur. The NWN MMO's user-created dungeon system that was abandoned is in the same vein. The actual technology behind it was impressive, but they did their best to kill it and render it useless.
 

Ryzer

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Thing is, NWN's Aurora's probably the highest yield RPG-making platform. Not for commercial purposes, obviously, but if you just wanna satisfy a passion for making your own stuff, it doesn't get any better. You can spend like a hundred hours making a half-hour Skyrim dungeon, or you can commit that same level of effort to a complete, polished little five-hour adventure module. Just can't beat that level of accessibility and power.

kotc2 :negative:
Too niche.
 

Gargaune

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Looks a little rough and the way everyone keeps talking about it, I always suspected I'm just not t3h h4rdc0rez enough for it. Are the tools really as powerful as Aurora, scripting, custom content, the works? If so, I might pick it up some time just to dig into its kit.

Solasta was another promising prospect, but they skimped out on the tools in the end, just shipped a basic one-shot dungeon editor. Reminded me of what Sword Coast Legends had going.
 

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Looks a little rough and the way everyone keeps talking about it, I always suspected I'm just not t3h h4rdc0rez enough for it. Are the tools really as powerful as Aurora, scripting, custom content, the works? If so, I might pick it up some time just to dig into its kit.

Solasta was another promising prospect, but they skimped out on the tools in the end, just shipped a basic one-shot dungeon editor. Reminded me of what Sword Coast Legends had going.
The Solasta editor is nowhere near as powerful as NWN, but it did eventually become advanced enough to support campaigns with a world map and towns. Artyoan can tell you more.
 
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Artyoan

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Looks a little rough and the way everyone keeps talking about it, I always suspected I'm just not t3h h4rdc0rez enough for it. Are the tools really as powerful as Aurora, scripting, custom content, the works? If so, I might pick it up some time just to dig into its kit.

Solasta was another promising prospect, but they skimped out on the tools in the end, just shipped a basic one-shot dungeon editor. Reminded me of what Sword Coast Legends had going.
Solasta's dungeon maker at its final iteration with the release of Palace of Ice is capable of full campaigns. They have a decent variety of location types with the ability to chain them together with entrances/exits now. There is a dialogue system, quest system, weapons can be given custom damage with conditions inflicted on a chosen save, most base game enemies can be used with assigned custom stats, the world map can be used as well, custom inventories/loot-packs, and a variable system ties everything together. It isn't NWN but if you're flexible about what you wish to create, it can do quite a bit.

It's definitely missing some key features like an NPC maker, spell customization for enemy units, and full control over custom items. Some people sour on it when they realize it can't do what they wanted to do, which is fine. But I've sunk 2k hours into Solasta with most of that in the dungeon maker and I have zero regrets.

Worth noting that a very large mod called Unfinished Business can allow the creator to ignore asset placement restrictions which helps quite a bit in map making. Same mod more than doubles the game with capabilities like new feats, subclasses, spells, races, and allows for five/six character parties.

If anyone is interested in seeing what the dungeon maker can do, here are my creations: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=3166018488
The Red Crow uses everything the tool has.
 

luj1

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Imagine putting all this effort to make content for NWN of all things. Goddamn.

Of course. NwN has one of the best and longest-running modding communities in the RPG sphere, second only to Morrowind. Some modules are better than entire games. And ruleset implementation is second to none. I'd certainly rather mod classics than play potato-tier games like ELEX, like you.
 

Gargaune

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Solasta's dungeon maker at its final iteration with the release of Palace of Ice is capable of full campaigns.
That's pretty cool, it's encouraging to hear they took it further. Who knows, maybe their next go around we'll get a full successor to Aurora. I realise it'd be hard even for a AAA studio to pull it off with contemporary production values, but I keep hoping someone will manage some day.
 

Zeriel

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Solasta's dungeon maker at its final iteration with the release of Palace of Ice is capable of full campaigns.
That's pretty cool, it's encouraging to hear they took it further. Who knows, maybe their next go around we'll get a full successor to Aurora. I realise it'd be hard even for a AAA studio to pull it off with contemporary production values, but I keep hoping someone will manage some day.

I honestly don't think it is that hard, if you make ease of use your goal, rather than trying to make a dev tool. There are plenty of big games that provide the technology to do it, they just put in hard-coded limitations because they clearly don't want their users competing with them when they want to sell DLC. For example, Doom's level editor was in the same vein. The problems with the NWN MMO's level editor were all down to specific design decisions rather than a limitation of their capabilities. It was quite easy to use and good in level-construction regards... but intentionally sabotaged because they didn't want it to compete with them as developers for the main content, so you couldn't have actual loot or equipment rewards, and they eventually removed all XP rewards at all and removed it altogether. It's not a matter of "we haven't figured out how to do this" it's a matter of "we know how to do this, but we don't want to".

For another angle of this, look at first person shooter modding like CS:GO. Obviously, if you allow modding, why would anyone pay 10s of dollars or even HUNDREDS of dollars for a recolor of a gun that already exists? That's literally 1 second of work in a mod tool for any amateur, but it makes companies hundreds of thousands of dollars per "high value" gun.
 

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