The Gamemasters

The Gamemasters
What Manner of Game

Bruce Nielson | 6 Sep 2005 08:05
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"My Lord, if I may," Samuel said, "I do not know the history of the Veranites. Perhaps they once were all elves. But I assure you, I have the power of the Veranites. That is why we asked you to come here. I intend to use the Seeing Stone to reveal who murdered your daughter, My Lord."

The Sovereign looked startled, "You intend to what?"

"My Lord, this is some sort of human trick, surely you don't believe ..." KyMin interrupted.

"No, I don't believe it. Samuel, you are a human. Humans are not Veranites."

"My Lord, if you will allow CorWyn to let me use the Seeing Stone, I will both solve the murder and prove that I am a Veranite, for none but a Veranite could use the Seeing Stone," Samuel protested.

The Sovereign considered quickly Samuel's proposal, then gave a curt nod to CorWyn. CorWyn reluctantly gave up the stone to the strange human. Samuel took the stone reverently and walked over to the altar ...

The story above was part of my ongoing NWN campaign. CorWyn was a new member of the group. She lived in Glitterdale, an elven village that the party encountered during one of its adventures. There was tension between her and the group since she had joined, because elvish beliefs differed from those of the party.

This whole scene was roleplayed by the players very convincingly and with real emotion. My experience is that people in NWN naturally roleplay very well, without practice. I've played with random groups - more than half of them consisting of newbies - on, and have found poor roleplayers to be the exception rather than the rule. This might be due to the culture of the Neverwinter Connections community, but I think there is more to it.

There is a long-standing belief that people "roleplay" while playing PnP RPGs. My own experience of 25 years suggests that it's rare for players to mentally become their character. Most of the time players say things like "CorWyn gets angry" or "I get angry at them and say to them..." When you're sitting around with a bunch of guys at a table, who look nothing like their characters, it's sometimes hard to get "into character." Trying to roleplay a romance with your buddy Charlie's female mage is even harder.

For the reverse reason, I've found that in Neverwinter Nights, players naturally roleplay well. When all you see of your party is what is presented on the screen, you quickly forget that there are real people behind these characters. Players consistently surprise me with the depth of their character's background and personality. In longer campaigns, characters often develop into fully three dimensional characters that seem very real. If we define "roleplaying" to mean literally to play or act out a role of a fictional character (as opposed to merely viewing the fictional character as a game piece, as most of my PnP RPG experiences have been), then Neverwinter Nights is the first and only roleplaying game I've ever played.

Another advantage of Neverwinter Nights over PnP is that in the above scenario, as Samuel used the Seeing Stone, a vision broke over the whole group, dramatically showing the party who committed the murder. In PnP games, this exciting climax of the game would have been kept brief. PnP players would have quickly become bored listening to a Dungeon Master describe what was seen in the vision. In NWN, a cut scene was used. The group all saw what happened, complete with musical scoring and special effects. Not having to hurry over a climactic moment like this built excitement for the plot twist that took place. Storywise, this became the moment that would clinch CorWyn's conversion to Samuel's cause, even though she would have to leave her beloved forest to join the party. Without the visual and sound effects I don't believe a dramatic moment like this is as effective in a PnP game.

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