The Let's Play Archive

Neverwinter Nights 2

by Lt. Danger

Part 15: Act One Chapter Twelve - Qara

It's around about this point in the game that I realised I really liked NWN2.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the journey to Highcliff, and the three different companions. I knew this was a solid, if perhaps uninspired, D&D role-playing game.

But then I got this quest to patrol the Docks and the game just clicked for me.

Any other developer, you'd still be chasing wolves and running fetch-quests. I always feel a sense of dread when starting a new playthrough of an RPG... "Ugh, I'm going to have to get Perdue's short sword back from those gnolls again, aren't I? Oh boy, a sewer level full of mutants and I'm the only one that can kill them, great."

: ...and it wouldn't be betraying the Watch. I mean, not really.

So it was really nice to have a quest like this: where we're patrolling the Docks, checking in on our minions, rewarding the faithful and eliminating the traitors. The mechanics are all the same - we're still going here, talking to this guy, killing those enemies - but the way it's phrased and organised is different. It makes the player feel like an important part of an organisation, rather than a faceless errand boy (which is how most RPGs approach quests).

So we're doing our sweep of the Docks for Moire. There are four Watch outposts we have to check on and make sure are still willing to turn a blind eye to our illegal activities.

It's pretty much the same as the quest for the Watch, except approached from the other side. I will say, though, that it's a lot easier to keep things peaceful as a Shadow Thief. As a Watchman, every single guardsman is corrupt, and they all seem intent on getting the PC in on the action - on pain of death.

There are other encounters, though. These rival thieves are moving a shipment through the Docks.

: Kind of late to be delivering goods, isn't it?
: Delivery? Oh, you mean this. Uh... no, nothing like that.
: Just... you know... moving. That's all. Just moving our things.
: Is that all? Why don't you let me help, then?

We take the hardliner option for Lawful points.

: Moire doesn't own the Docks. You'd be smart to remember that.
: [Diplomacy] Moire will be more lenient if you just show me the contents of this wagon.
: [Success] Fine, have it your way. Go on, look.

Then we take it again for double the alignment points. Taking a bribe would make us Chaotic anyway... because we'd be, uh, breaking the law?

The thieves aren't too happy about it either way.

Too bad this wagon is absolutely loaded. I'll just have to confiscate it all.

* * *

I suppose I should take the time to explain the alignment system a little bit.

In D&D 1st-thru-3rd Editions, alignment was a sort of combination morality/politics/philosophy that reflected your character's attitude to the world. It was predicated on two axes: Good/Evil and Law/Chaos, with Neutrality standing in the middle. Good people believed in helping others, while those who were Evil believed in helping oneself; Law favoured structures and organisation, while Chaos preferred the spontaneous and independent. Neutrality meant you didn't care about the issue one way or another.

So someone who is Lawful Good believes that the best way to help others is through following the rule of law, working with the government and so on. A Chaotic Neutral character doesn't care how you treat other people, so long as you let them be free. Calliope is Lawful Evil, so we believe in the importance of institutions because they're the best way to benefit ourself.

In game terms, alignment is a tool to offset powerful class privileges. Paladins, for example, are holy fighters who get some clerical powers, really high saving throws and special unique abilities (like their very own horse). In return, they have to obey a very strict code of conduct - i.e. be Lawful Good. If they commit Evil or act Chaotically, they stop being a Paladin. Other classes are less strict; Druids used to have to be True Neutral but can now be 'any Neutral'; Monks can be any Lawful; Warlocks any Evil or Chaotic alignment; Bards any non-Lawful.

In roleplaying terms, alignment is a character trait and defines their flavour. Druids being part-Neutral is to reflect their detachment from the human world and their devotion to impartial Nature. Warlocks are connected to dark or fey creatures, so they have to reflect that in their alignment. It also serves a purpose as a part of a character's personality, which is where it starts to break down.

Alignment was originally inspired by Jewish theology - actions have morality. Wanna be Good? Give to others. Wanna be Chaotic? Don't kowtow to the duke. But we're modern people in a modern world and western philosophy draws heavily from Protestantism, in which it's not what you do but what you believe that gets you into Heaven. Now players come unstuck; "Is it Good to kill an orc because he's an orc and orcs are Chaotic Evil, or Evil because he hasn't actually done anything bad yet?"

From there it's a short step to "Chaotic Neutral is against all order, therefore I'm crazy" and "if I'm True Neutral, does that mean for every act of kindness I have to commit another act of cruelty?" Or alignment becomes personality: all Chaotic Good types are rebels with a cause, mavericks with a devil-may-care attitude and roguish good looks. 4th Edition sidesteps all these problems by redrawing the alignment map; now it's a straight line, from Very Good to Very Evil, and thank all the gods in heaven for that.

The way alignment was originally presented makes me think it was supposed to be more of an institution; characters had an Alignment Cant, a secret language used for communicating key ideological concepts that was intensely personal and private; finding out someone's alignment was a bit like looking at their googly bits. The Good/Evil/Lawful/Chaotic alignment compass could work in a world where they are more like churches or religions, I think. As it is, they just sort of float around in the air, a half-defined fuzzy concept along with character classes and the exact nature of Hit Points.

* * *

Introductory essay over. Phew.

Real essay begins now.

NWN2 uses the same system for alignment that NWN1 did - and Planescape: Torment before it. Actions have consequences, including shifting your alignment. Important for Paladins, Monks and so on; not important for anyone else.

: [Success] You're right - I may have accepted some gold to look the other way in my time... but at least it's always been Neverwinter gold.

Alignment in games is a bit of a bugbear for me (and a lot of other RPG players). It's pretty much inevitable that Lawful actions and Good actions end up corresponding to the same thing; same for Chaos and Evil.

Good characters end up like Dudley-Do-Right, while Evil characters become psycho-killers. Remember the option we had to brutally murder the Mossfeld brothers back at West Harbor? To kill people over a stupid childish rivalry?

It's not the developers' fault, though, for three reasons.

Firstly, developers can only spend so much time on minor conversations and sidequests. Lawful Evil characters are pretty much required by their alignment to manipulate the law, using the authorities to get what they want while evading the law themselves. Obsidian is relatively good about this - lots of options to [Lie] and take bribes - but setting up manipulative situations is a lot more work-intensive than just adding in a generic 'Give me all your money or I kill you' option.

It's hard enough allotting an alignment to actions as it is. If I [Vow] to support an anarchist organisation, is that Lawful or Chaotic? What if I [Lie] about it instead? What then?

Secondly, there are problems with the campaign world. Most D&D games use the Forgotten Realms as the campaign setting, although almost any traditional high fantasy setting falls into the same trap. In the Forgotten Realms, almost all institutions are Good. You know Nasher, lord of Neverwinter? Former adventurer. Then there's the Sword Coast, along which you find Neverwinter, Baldur's Gate, Waterdeep... all benevolent mercantile city-states. There are many churches of Good-aligned gods, many alter-egoes of Ed Greenwood powerful Good or Neutral heroes... the world in which most PCs operate is one in which the King is a Good Guy, the Kingdom is Righteous and Just. Villains are revolutionaries, attempting to overthrow the established authority - and the PCs are always the ones who stop them.

(This is part of a larger thought on high fantasy which I will talk about later).

Yes, there are evil organisations: the Shadow Thieves, the Zhentarim, the Church of Bane... cabals of demon-worshippers, orc nations, the lands of Mordor... but games rarely feature adventures primarily set in Zhentil Keep. A game set in a place where superiors have no compunction about executing subordinates who displease them would have a very steep learning curve.

A world that draws more inspiration from the authoritarian dystopias of 1984 or the twisted bureaucracies of The Screwtape Letters would perhaps have more success in encouraging a Chaotic-Good/Lawful-Evil bias. Even so...

Thirdly, there's an ideological bias in the alignment system. Good is concerned with helping others; Law encourages people to form groups to deal with problems. The inherent flaw in the system is that Good is predisposed to favour Law over Chaos, since 'groups' tend to constitute 'others' more so than individuals do. Similarly, the individualism of Chaos and of Evil is almost identical - all that differs is the aggressiveness and ideological commitment to freedom. What difference is there between "My freedoms, my freedoms!" and "My wants, my wants!" save that one infringes more on the rights of others?

This is not to say that Law is Good and Chaos is Evil, just that there is a definite bias towards a Lawful-Good/Chaotic-Evil axis - and that it's obvious Law and Chaos are always subordinated to Good and Evil. And we're not even touching on Neutrality, which is just Good, without the drive to help others.

Christ, that's a lot of words about a bunch of stupid made-up stuff that doesn't actually matter. Still, it's better than most theologians manage.

The last Watch guard post is just behind- oh.

What's this then?

: And the instructors aren't here to shield you. Go on, set fire to this whole street and this sad tavern, and you'll never be able to return to the Academy, let alone Neverwinter.

That "Rrrrr" is supposed to be a meow - you know, as in 'catfight'? Oh Khelgar, women are allowed to have an argument without it having to be sexualised somehow!

: What in the Nine Hells did I do to deserve th... oh, thank the Gods you've arrived - do something, these ladies are about to start throwing spells outside my establishment.

: I don't know, but whatever you do, do it quick - they won't be able to ferry enough water from the harbor to put out a blaze if things get out of hand.

: "Friends" of yours, Qara? Sent to bail you out, perhaps?
: I don't need anyone's help to turn you into ash.

: Yeah, if Qara's so superior to us, then I say let her prove it, without the Academy instructors stepping in to stop things.

: I've heard every word you've said about me. Always talking behind my back, ridiculing me, just because it takes you a shoreman's hour to cast a cantrip.
: And you think setting fire to a stable while casting yours is any better, Qara? I practice... restraint... not showy, excessive displays.

: If you knew how dangerous I was, then you should have known better than to push me this far.

I've had enough of this.

: Yes, wizards. From the academy. But we don't want any trouble with you, just Qara.

I don't think they quite get it.

How about now, ladies?

: Very well... this isn't worth it. You're fortunate this time, Qara - next time, you better not let us catch you outside the Academy walls.
: Come, Glina, I think we've smelled enough of the Docks for one day.

: Did they? Sounds to me like you were quick to insult them back.
: Those noble-born want-to-be mages are just jealous - they don't like the fact that I can summon more power from my thumb than they can with a day's worth of concentration.

: So you study at the Academy?
: Well, the thing is - I'm not a part of the Academy anymore. I... quit. Sort of. After burning down the stable.

: You'll be paying me back, you will - for all my lost business, for a tarnished reputation and for putting me and my kin in danger like that.

: No, Duncan's right - I'm thinking you owe us.
: No, lass, you will, or by the Gods, you'll bring down a fury from me like you've never seen.
: And not only that, if you don't, you'll be proving those other girls right. I don't think you're willing to admit you don't have discipline, restraint, or a sense of responsibility, like they claim to have.
: Besides, I doubt you'll be welcome back at the Academy.

* * *

Qara is voiced by Jenna Lamia (Listen here)

Qara's a hot-headed impulsive drop-out of the Academy of Mages in Neverwinter. She's probably the bolshiest of all the companions - if something is irritating her, she's not afraid to say so (and set fire to it for good measure). On the other hand, if you get on her good side, she's intensely loyal.

Her positives/negatives:

A word of warning: Qara's influence is actually one-half of a combined influence system, with the other half belonging to the aforementioned Wizard companion. If we have a high influence with Qara, we cannot be friends with the Wizard, and vice versa. Still, I can't just ignore Qara for the rest of Act 1, so tell me: like or dislike?

(Again, a largely negative response from the thread, although in part because many preferred the Wizard companion - Ed.)

Qara's a Sorcerer, as you can see. Sorcerers are like glass cannons: lots of firepower, but tremendously fragile. As an arcane caster, Qara has access to some devastatingly powerful spells right off the bat, and as a Sorcerer she can cast her spells multiple times a day. Unfortunately her spell list is limited: if you prefer flexibility or want to cast something other than Fireball, you're out of luck.

She's also Chaotic Neutral, apparently. Despite her alignment, she comes off as Chaotic Evil most of the time (see what I mean about alignment?), always fussing about her individualism and her right to do what she likes. Like Neeshka, she's Evil-friendly, so choosing Evil options in dialogue (like "burn anyone who stands in your way") will net us influence with her. Likewise, Good and Lawful options will lose us influence, so Calliope has some flexibility in approaching Qara.

* * *

Turning the last guard post is almost an afterthought.

Done and dusted. This district's in our hands now.

But why stop there? Let's stretch ourselves a little. There's a merchant up round the back of the Watch station that we haven't seen around here before. Time for a warm Docks welcome.

: Business could be better, but I have no complaints. There's been some interruptions in shipping, but... well...
: But here, have a look at my goods. I even have a few fine pieces of silverware from Cormyr if you're interested in that sort of thing.
: It'd be a shame if anything happened to such rare goods.

: Ah, yes. That's why I've a policy that I always handle my inventory until a sale is made. Makes things a little inconvenient, but it guards against just such an accident.
: Look, I'm saying that for a small fee I could guarantee that nothing will happen to your inventory.
: Why, that's very kind of you. There are probably a lot of businesses that could use such a service. I really don't have much use for it, though.
: You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you?

: Protection money, my word. You could have saved some time, you know.
: You're handling this much better than I expected.
: Don't you see? I'm a success again! Moire wouldn't be interested in someone who wasn't successful.
: Right. So how does 50 gold a week sound?

: Of course. You have a reputation to consider, after all.

Okay, so maybe we were the ones getting shaken down, but mission accomplished either way. Back to Moire.

: And I like what else I'm hearing. I've got men crawling to me, begging to work for me - just to make sure you don't visit them.

This isn't quite fair. I used force on one gang - one gang, just for the Lawful points - and suddenly Moire thinks I'm a psychopath like her. Blergh.

: As for the way you handled the Watch... I think you've made them more "agreeable" to my future requests.
: I helped you. Now help me get into the Blacklake District.
: You still want to get into Blacklake? I may control the Docks, but get you into Blacklake... no. Not yet.
: You see, even with your success at the Docks, the Watch still has fools who just aren't listening.

: If you prefer to charge in there with an axe, then there is little I can do to save you. I think you'd want to find a better way.
: So I leave the details to you... but I want that structure burned to the ground.

Moire gives us a torch and sends us on our merry way.

We now get to play a cool little stealth mini-game. Sort of.

There are three piles of crates/bales of hay/Michael Bay props scattered around the Watch station walls. We use our torch (equipped)... set light to them. The only obstacle in our way are a couple of patrolling guardsmen. If they see a fire and spot you nearby, you get this conversation, in which you can try to bluff your way out or just kill them:

Torch? What torch?

After all three are lit, you can head inside to warn Cormick. I mean, we're both Harbormen; we owe it to him to give him fair warning.

Obviously we don't get this quest if we side with the Watch. We just end up coming back from our patrol to see the station going up in flames, and Cormick tells us to regroup at the Watch headquarters in the Merchant District.

Now this is definitely bugged. Moire's supposed to say something along the lines of "The Watch station burned down - but funny how so many Watchmen got out alive, isn't it?" if you warned Cormick - which we did. Unfortunately this is going to slightly screw up our meeting with Axle Devrie.

: Any that survived will soon be knocking at my door, eager to make peace - and pay respect to the one who truly runs the Docks.
: I still think this move of yours was a mistake.
: I didn't ask for your opinion, and that is because it means nothing to me.
: And before you ask about Blacklake, let me tell you that there have been... difficulties.

Who's Axle?

: I am in charge. It's just that I was not the one to seed the operation in the Docks.

Axle is the asshole keeping us out of Blacklake.

: However distasteful I find it though, he runs things and I am not so foolish as to cross him once a direct order has been given.
: How do I find him?
: A meeting has already been arranged. Your deeds in this district have attracted his attention and he wishes to speak with you.

He's seen what we're capable of and has decided to acquire our skills for his own use. The good side is we're moving up in the Shadow Thieves and we're about to meet someone with a bit of class.

The bad side is that we're still just errand boys after all.