At 19, I was a mess. I was missing all of my classes at university, arguing with my girlfriend all the time and I’d managed to get thousands of pounds in debt. All I wanted to do was check out. Neverwinter Nights got me through it. It wasn’t the lacklustre single-player campaign, or even the long list of phenomenal mods — it was the persistent worlds.
A persistent world is essentially a mini-MMO using Neverwinter Nights and its robust Aurora toolkit — still one of my all-time favourite game editors — to create living RPG campaigns. I hadn’t done a lot of roleplaying before, certainly not with strangers, so I felt awkward at first, rolling a character and trying to type in his voice. He was an alcoholic gypsy bard, and over the course of a year, he discovered that he had a long lost brother and a serious case of demonic possession.
That server became my home. When I wasn’t working as a night manager at Blockbuster (RIP), I was playing Neverwinter Nights. With the powerful DM tools, our dungeon masters were able to craft all manner of epic fantasy adventures for individuals or huge groups — everything from murder mysteries to massive invasions. Those of us who worshipped the patron god of bards even used to put on plays. One of them even got me temporarily banned for being too saucy. No regrets.
At the time, it felt every bit as ambitious as any MMO, but with the added benefit of being entirely run by players. But my fondest memories are of whiling away the evening in the tavern, swapping stories and beckoning new players to join us by the fire.
Eventually I drifted away from the server and, with a bunch of friends I’d made there, created a new world to play in. It was smaller and more intimate, and we never had a large player population, but crafting and running bespoke quests for a small number of people turned out to be even more rewarding than playing on a busy server. It felt more authentically D&D.
I still vividly recall staying up till 7AM to help run a criminal trial after a player got into a fight with a shopkeeper. It was meant to just be a quick conversation between the NPC — who I’d possessed — and the aforementioned player before I went to bed, but instead I was jumping into the role of a prosecutor trying to build a case against a badly-behaved Elf. After hours of arguing and deliberating, we chopped off his hand and removed his duel-wielding perk. OK, we were a bit mean.
The PWs are calling to me again. With Neverwinter Nights Enhanced Edition in the works, I wonder if new ones will be born, and if I’ll ever have the time to dive into one again. I’d like to at least be able to dip my toes in, though I might come out the other end a couple of years later. At least I’ll have a few more anecdotes.