The Let's Play Archive

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer

by Lt. Danger

Part 14: Call Me Virgil

Act Two Chapter Six - Hagspawn In Disguise

Back in Mulsantir for now.

Up until now I've tried to avoid delving too deeply into Mask of the Betrayer. I don't want to accidentally talk about something before all the connections become clear.

: It's like attempting to negotiate with a merchant, while having a merchant-devouring beast standing next to you. It makes things more difficult... or easier, depending on the conversation.
: Also... in our battle with Okku, something changed.

However, I think we've got enough that we can start making some headway on one of our companions: Gannayev-of-Dreams.

: What? Why?
: I am not certain of the cause of this, but where once your mind was a mirror, now you have an undertow that was not present before - a mirror to a flowing river, as it were.
: I think your dreams will be stronger, and... that is interesting.

* * *

Mulsantir is the home to several minor sidequests. Some are not particularly relevant to this playthrough. Others we cannot complete yet.

This is one of them. Welcome to the Avolov home.

: As if a waking dream left its mark on the world here.
: How is that possible?
: It takes a powerful walker of dreams to bring even a trace of dreams to this Plane - usually they are filtered through art, writing, poetry... but in their raw form, that is a feat not even I can perform.
: Whoever dwells here, I would wish to meet them - they may be a natural conduit to dreams.

Not that we actually answer her question. But why do adventurers ever do anything?

: I am half-drow. My family originates from the Shining South, in the land of Dambrath. My grandmother... brought me here when I was very young. Too young to remember.
: My grandmother told me that her dream-walking abilities caused her to be branded a "sleeper" and exiled from Dambrath, by her own son - my father.
: Skyla's kin, and my kin too, I suppose, were too superstitious to kill a "sleeper." So they blinded her and tied her to a horse to be dragged away from Dambrath.

Half-drow are one of the new player races introduced in Mask. Just in case you were wondering.

: My grandmother has kept much of her dream-walking from me. She said I was not a "sleeper" and cannot dream-walk as she does.
: She claimed that she helped others whose dreams endangered them. And she said that in her dreams she battled other beings who prey on dreams.

: Well, I don't know for certain. Until she suddenly disappeared, she often spoke of the hags as if they were hunting for her.
: And on the same day after she went missing, a group of hags and hagspawn were seen travelling east out of Mulsantir.
: Where would the hags have taken her?
: I don't know with any certainty, but grandmother once told me of a place where the hags congregate to share in a collective dream of some sort.

* * *

This is the Madatov home, where we'll find the second sidequest for today's update.

In Rashemen, magically-gifted children are taken away to be educated by Wychlaran, so that they might use their talents in defence of their homeland.

Unfortunately not every child is cooperative. Hathrans and vremyonni (male wizards) must give up their individual identities to better defend others.

Yelina Madatov's brother was taken away by the witches to become a wizard. Now the witches want to do the same to her - but she doesn't want to abandon her imaginary friend, Misha.

: Uh huh. But Misha only talks to me. He won't talk to you.
: Why won't he talk to me?
: 'Cause you're a grown-up. Misha says grown-ups have been taught to lie, so he doesn't like to talk to them anymore.
: Your friend Misha is a spirit animal, right?

Aw, c'mon. It's just an imaginary friend. How can threatening an imaginary friend be Evil?

Well I'll be.

* * *

Gann's our trickster companion, our changeling. All smoke and mirrors, this one is.

: All right - tell me a lot about yourself.
: What, do you think I am some sort of long-winded braggart? My, your charm spells seem to be failing one by one.

: Oh, well, now that is a different matter.

Smug bastard, isn't he?

: I make deals with spirits, speak with the mountains and forests, and tell tales of old that bubble up from the brooks and streams of this land.
: Were you born here?
: Now there's a tale. Actually, I was born from no mother or father, but from dream itself.
: I was conceived as an idea, a stray thought, that had to fend for itself in this harsh land.
: It made me strong, capable... and ruggedly handsome.

There's two themes to keep in mind when talking about Gann. The first is family, which we will cover in due course. The other is truth, so consider Gann's words accordingly.

: But you are a hagspawn.
: Do I look like a hagspawn? Come now.
: [Diplomacy] Shall we trade bits of background?
: [Success] Very well, a game... now that interests me. And while I despise fairness, I must admit I am slightly curious about you.

: Hmm. Not as interesting as I'd hoped. Still...
: Very well. I was born in a city that lies beneath water... where this city is, I do not know.
: I see it sometimes in my dreams, but its location eludes me. As do the faces of my mother... and my father, if they existed at all.
: I never knew my mother, and my "father"... he was more of a guardian than a father.

: I shall raise you one better - I am an orphan as well. I do not know the fate of my father, but my mother - I believe her to be the one that cast me out.

That's not ironic, that's just incongruous!

I'll tell you what "ironic" is - a man who uses jokes and wordplay to hide the truth about himself, and in so doing reveals more than if he had answered normally.

: How did you survive?
: The animals of the world took me in - the dead shepherded the living. It mattered not to them.
: I learned their speech, their greetings and farewells, the cries of the wild and the whimperings of those lost.

: So you were left to wander the land?
: There are worse fates. And the more I spoke, and bartered with the dead, the more the spirits would come to my aid.

: Did you ever try to find your homeland?
: No, because I dream of it - it is close, a place of night and flowing water through stones.
: I... feel its presence sometimes, but I do not know if I ever truly wish to return. It cast me out once, and I do not think I would enjoy being treated the same way a second time.
: And... and I fear that my mother was not the ruling power there.

: Oh, I can indeed tell you but a little, for little is all I knew of them. A human for a father, yes, a hag for a mother, yes, but who they were... that is not known to me.
: Good riddance to them, then.

* * *

Gann's deceptive, and I don't just mean his character. At first glance, he's the least connected to the spirit-eater and Betrayer's Crusade storylines; all his content revolves around the hags of Coveya Kurg'annis. Dig a little deeper though and he's actually the most central in the story.

In a previous update I referred to Kaelyn as the Apostate. Allow me to build a little scaffolding when I now dub Gann 'the Heathen.'

The Wall of the Faithless is (eventually) a key concept in Mask and it's especially important to our core group of companions because, well, they're all set to get screwed over by it. I mean, ask Gann what he thinks about religion and:

Indeed. Safiya isn't much better (and I'll explain why later). These characters do not believe in the authority of the gods, and thus are doomed to the wall. They're atheists - not as you or I understand them, but they are atheists nonetheless - and both of them reject the Wall of the Faithless. And as for Kaelyn? Technically, she's all right, thanks to her faith in Ilmater, but I doubt Kelemvor is appreciative of her efforts to bring down the Wall.

(Okku can be dismissed for the purposes of this argument - not something you can usually say about a 1500lb bear.)

In Gann's specific case, his problem is that he's already chummy with the spirits of Rashemen. It may help to think of this in terms of real-world religious history: Gann is the pagan shaman who follows an ancient animist tradition, resisting the efforts of Christian missionaries to save him from damnation. He's comfortable where he is, living in sin: no gods, no masters. But then the question to ask is: why is Gann like that? Why is he so resistant to the idea of the Wall?

Here's a hint, because you haven't seen the whole conversation: it's not because it's needlessly cruel. Gann doesn't believe the Wall even exists. It almost sounds like he just plain doesn't like the idea of being judged for his actions in life - for taking responsibility for his actions...

* * *

Of all the companions in the party, Gann is closest to Evil. It's hard to notice, under the Chaotic Neutral alignment and gentle mocking, but think back: think about Anya, and his attitude towards her sickness. And remember the encounter with the uthraki? I didn't show it, but of all the party Gann's the only one who advocates killing the children. And compare Gann's work as a dream-walker (meeting girls, getting laid) to that of Gabi Avolov's grandmother, who fought hags in dreams and defended the weak from harm.

It's a cover, of course. Or 'mask', you could say, as the game seems inordinately fond of dropping that word into every conversation.

We'll use persona because it's Greek Latin and sounds intellectual.

Gann's persona is that of an asshole. But you see where this is going, don't you? That's just the mask he wears - the real Gann is somewhere underneath.

There's two conversations that illustrate this perfectly. The first is with Magda, in the Veil theatre:

I won't bore you with obvious commentary, I'm sure you can work out the subtext for yourself.

: No, wait, wait - what your friend suggests might be a play with meat on its bones - indeed, not the paltry fare we provide.
: But one must ask why the dreamwalker walks. There needs to be some motivation, some purpose to his movements.
: Why, adventure, of course. The thrill of an open road - and an open mind - is always a lure.
: Many tales have started with little more.

I will, however, draw your attention to a few connections you might not have made for yourself. I think, anyway... I don't know. Are you surprised that Magda, an actor, a woman who pretends to be other people every day, understands double-meanings and hidden truths?

: Why would the dreamwalker walk the lands of Rashemen? Surely, one with the ability to walk the dreams of others would choose somewhere else - perhaps... perhaps instead, he runs from something.
: Runs? A hero such as he?
: Come now, you've already lost me as an audience memebr, do not lose more.
: Actually, I'm intrigued. Go on, Magda.
: We need something, something to add to the drama.

Masks and theatre go hand-in-hand as well (obviously). Modern western theatre rarely uses masks save as a gimmick, but the Ancient Greeks and Romans thought differently, as did the practitioners of early-modern Japanese Noh theatre. And make-up is just a flimsier kind of mask...

: Ah, sowing chaos, perhaps? Living a life of whim and fantasy? But why? He does not seem to be a being without choices - why would he choose that?
: The chaos around him might be him rebelling against routine, order, and stability - but what symbolizes such an order? Hmmm... cities?
: I'd go with cities.
: No, for he would find some comfort there. Something closer - what would be more structured than a town? More confining? Or seemingly so?
: No, I think something more intimate would be called for.
: Ah! Now we are back on track.

And much early drama (and masks) is related the histories and tales of God, gods, angels and demons. Mythologies, passion plays, and others - stage performance is the media by which these are passed on through the generations. Now, okay, there are lots of good, sensible, historical reasons as to why this is so (mass illiteracy, prevalence of God/gods in human cultures until circa the modern age) but let's be honest and admit that the performance and viewing of theatre is basically a kind of religious act. And the same goes for its successors: film and (oh dear) video games...

: Why prey on the dreams of others? Is he alone? Is that why he wanders? So many mysteries.
: Hmph - try to suggest a play to liven things up around here, and already you have murdered my idea. Where is the amusement in such a play as you suggest?

The other conversation is with fellow companion Kaelyn the Dove.

: Your eyes are unusual.

Kaelyn the Dove is called Kaelyn the Dove for a reason. White hair and feathers, dark skin... and eyes black like a bird's.

: I see.
: I hope you can, with eyes like that. I'm a lot to take in at once, so feel free to study me at length if you must, I am used to such attention.
: You might need to step back to look at Gann - his ego alone can fill a castle.

Sad to say, Mask doesn't have much interaction between the companions. It makes for a more peaceful party but also a very granular one, like Obsidian didn't expect you to pick up all the companions.

This is one of the happy exceptions, and it's a good character moment for both Gann and Kaelyn.

: I would never do such a thing. Although with eyes like yours, do you know what light is?
: You are strange. There is much about your heritage that evidences in your behavior.
: I am curious what this ebony-eyed creature of the slopes of Celestia sees in a humble hagspawn such as I. Pray, priestess, continue.

Hear Kaelyn describe Gann

: You toss about words like a wind around you, in the hopes that their speed and flurry will deflect questions and prevent you from being seen for what you are.
: You are hurt, Gannayev-of-Dreams. And that pain drives you to hurt others, for you have been taught that that is the wheel that turns the world.
: You saw that from looking at him?

Not smiling now are you, laughing boy?

And quick as that, he's back to his old tricks. But the veneer has been broken - we've seen the cowering boy underneath.

The good thing is that Obsidian avoided writing Gann as a sad, mopey individual forever dominated by his traumatic past. They also managed to avoid writing him as an upbeat optimist who went through some shit, got over it, and definitely isn't Carth Onasi I swear. The trick is to write Gann as a normal character and include all the bad history in the things he doesn't say. Trust the player to make connections, with prodding. Hide the truth in plain sight, as it were.

Now, before you jump to conclusions: yes, Gann's a broken individual and his wry, witty persona is just an act. But let's not be so quick to assume that Gann is actually a gentle, loving, Chaotic Good soul underneath. Masks - sorry, personas - overlay a face with a false image, but at the end of the day it still has to fit. Gann's cruelty isn't false, it didn't come from nowhere... something or someone gave it to him. Eventually, we'll find out who.

But not anytime soon. Next update, we're off to see the Wood Man!