The best thing about Neverwinter Nights was its persistent worlds

NWN

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.

14 Comments

  1. jeremyalexander says:

    Wow, your 19 sounded a lot like my 19. Getting older sucks, but I’m glad that part of my life is behind me. My 19 drugs of choice were Doom and Ultima. God I wish someone would remaster the Ultima series, but EA holds it and we all know what that means.

    • Viral Frog says:

      I wish my drugs of choice at 19 were video games. Doom and Ultima would have been great (although quite dated when I was 19 :P)!

      26 and I’m still struggling with the financial disaster I put myself in. Despite my incredibly successful career and more well informed financial decisions, it seems I just keep going deeper down the hole.

      But at least now I have Plunkbat.

  2. geldonyetich says:

    Persistent state worlds have certainly been my lasting fixation. Neverwinter Nights’ implementation was more robust than expected, what with the ability for players to be in multiple zones at once and such.

    In time, I grew weary of its d20 System legacy, its randomness hobbling my capability to play the game effectively somewhat. But the draw of its persistent state mechanics remained.

  3. nexuzjaja says:

    Great article, I´m goign to check Neverwinter again thanks to you. Lets hope for the best on this one

  4. wackazoa says:

    That’s pretty cool. Stories like this always make me wish I had gotten into D&D type games. My teens and 20’s were kind of busy for games and when I did play it was either the Sims 3 or some sort of RTS type games (Tropico, Civ, a historical war title, then Paradox titles). These stories you D&D guys tell all sound so cool.

  5. Lobotomist says:

    Ah…the good times….

  6. abrokenchinadoll says:

    My favorite thing about NWN was the adult +18 older S&M worlds with giant dildos as weapons..and nude figures and fabio bad guys lol.

  7. Ejia says:

    Neverwinter the MMO tried to do a little bit of the module thing with its player created missions, but unfortunately it’s still an MMO.

  8. nunka says:

    What a nostalgia bomb. NWN persistent worlds were the best! RIP Zombieland 24/7. I’ll never forget your e-friendship, Peri. :(

  9. Scytale says:

    I spent a good party of my university writing the NWN persistent world Three Towns (3T). The challenges to overcome were immense – bot scripts, zone spawns/despawns, databases that worked on memory hacks, players finding every bug/exploit available … Awesome times!

    • SmilingSilence says:

      Three towns was excellent! I was one of those players trying to exploit the systems and the endgame content was suitably murderous. I liked the opening of the isle of ice so much I used my one and only custom texture character to become a wandering Frozen Terror, making it a monk/assassin/shadow dancer to be fast and terrifying with great success. Then I spent weeks grinding to level 40 on the one spot I could solo in bugtown, because you never plan for the leveling…

      My first epic character was a pale master with the plan of having access to almost all immunities and Mordenkainen’s Disjunction while still being really dangerous up close with her scythe. Caused a whole lot of trouble in some of the pvp arena events, even more in the ex tempore battles among the regulars around the low level zones :)

      NWN persistent worlds really highlighted how much a few dedicated world builders can give to a lucky bunch of players. I never had quite the same experience in any other MMO. Thanks Scytale and team!

      • xvartframtid says:

        Chiming in to say that 3 towns was (and still is, albeit occasionally) one of the best gaming experiences of my long and arduous life. I’ve checked out a few PWs, but none have had the depth, community, and overall “fucking cool RPG-y” vibe that 3 Towns has. And it’s still active. Recommendé.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Harlander says:

    The persistent worlds were great (I spent a lot of time on Haze) but what I really thought was the best was having a DM run players through a custom adventure. More intimate and responsive than a PW…

  11. BenWH says:

    So excited to hear there is a version on the way that includes Wyvern Crown of Cormyr. I was always a little sad it became so hard to find after the Atari issues sort of shut down the DLC programme (and it hit me personally since I designed and wrote it) – but anything that opens up all those old feelings when trying out the new mods, PW and DM managed sessions – felt like a whole new era at the time, and nostalgia is a fine thing!

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