The Let's Play Archive

Neverwinter Nights 2

by Lt. Danger

Part 26: Act One Chapter Twenty-Three - Lie Down On The Couch And Tell Me About Your Mother, Khelgar

We met a halfling explorer called Guyven in the mountains around the Bonegnasher lair. He mentioned finding the ruins of a dwarven stronghold to the south. An Ironfist dwarven stronghold, to be precise.

This sounds like a good place to bring Khelgar. Oh, and look! Here are some dwarf friends for him to play with!

: Khelgar, who is this?
: This here's Khulmar, one of the best scouts of the Ironfist clan and good in a fight. Neither one, of course, explains what he's doing here, though.
: It's clan business, not for outsiders.

: We are scouting out the old Ironfist clan hold in these mountains, seeing if it can be reopened - or retaken.
: There are bugbears blocking the way, but they will not do so for long.
: Bugbears? Then what are we waiting for? Let's bury them!

He's right. We're not allowed to attempt this quest without Khelgar in the party.

So what happens if we left Khelgar in the Sunken Flagon, back in Neverwinter?


{Khelgar comes running in from off-screen}
: {Sees player} Ah - there you are, running around, butchering orcs without me.
: {Quietly to herself, rolling eyes} And doing fine without you, I might add.
: {Warning tone, responding to insult} Eh? Thought I heard something like a sneeze and brimstone, but maybe I was mistaken, eh?
: Khelgar? What are you doing here?
: {Hmmphs at beginning} You don't expect me to sit around on some bar stool waiting for you to get back, do you? Especially when a good fight's waiting to be had.
: {Quietly, to self} I would have thought a tankard would have been enough of an anchor - was I wrong.
: These are members of my clan, heard word of them while I was in the Sunken Flagon - turns out one of our old clanholds lies in this area, and they were scouting it out, reporting back.
: {Gruff, disapproving, actually criticizing Khelgar here} The clanhold here is no mystery to those who know our history. {Reprimanding} We have sought to take it back for some time, Khelgar.
: Oh, this here is Khulmar.
: {Disapproving} These are your new allies, Khelgar?
: {Not noticing the suspicion and disapproval} They are - they're a good bunch, good in a fight. Could help us break those bugbears.

I suppose they can move faster on those stumpy little legs than I thought.

: Maybe so, but nothing your thieving hands will see, fiendling.
: Why does one even need to ask?! It sounds like a tale waiting to happen-

Calliope, we found the emissary already. C'mon, Khelgar's our buddy and needs our help. Besides, Neeshka's right, even if she just blurted it out in front of everyone.

: We are grateful for the... gesture, but such false courtesies are wasted on us.
: Khelgar, stay with your new band, we neither asked for your help nor require it. This is Ironfist clan business.

: You seek to learn how to fight, but you have cast aside the why of it - clan honor, duty, these are things you have forgotten the value of.
: If you wish to help, then know that the door is sealed to the clanhold - and if you can recount the legend of King Loudram, then you will know how to open it... I think that part of our history is fresh enough in your mind.
: Whether you return or not, it does not matter to me, and it does not matter to the clan.

Oh, Christ alive, Khelgar. He still doesn't get it.

Khelgar's problem is that he's always talking about how wonderful the Ironfists are, and how strong, and how brave and noble... but for all his words, he's still running around the Sword Coast, getting into tavern brawls and acting like an adventurer. To claim membership of a group (and its associated positives) without doing anything with them, without even being around them, is... well, parasitic.

: If you truly want to help us, then come back to us when you have done something of note, not words, Khelgar. Until then, we have little more to say.

This should be fun. So far we've been doing a lot of fighting - across mountains, in alleyways, inside crypts. A dwarven ruin sounds like a proper dungeon though, in the classical sense, with traps and puzzles and such, which we haven't seen much of yet. Let's go!

* * *


To be fair, bugbears aren't as egregious as orcs. They're rarer and a bit more low-key than their green-skinned cousins. Orcs are always off raising a massive army and leading their race in a massive campaign against the civilised world; bugbears just sit around drinking beer and beating the shit out of goblins all day.

One of the things I liked about Baldur's Gate was that there were neither orcs nor goblins. Xvarts, kobolds, hobgoblins and gnolls, yes, but no orcs or goblins. Just a little thing that took the edge off the Forgotten 'THIS IS MIDDLE-EARTH' Realms setting.

The other good thing about bugbears is that they don't spawn in right on top of you multiple times throughout the whole dungeon.

: If I had been leading this expedition, we wouldn't have been caught by surprise by the bugbears, I can promise you that.

It's time to begin Khelgar's treatment - and right away we run into one of the biggest problems with Influence.

Influence is a straight-up linear "do you like me circle one (yes)(no)(maybe)" scale. To gain Influence with a companion, you do and say things they like; to lose it, do things they dislike.

The end result is your character ends up being dominated by four or five little tyrants, all of whom have absolutely no tolerance for dissent and none of whom can agree with any of the others.

One step out of line, and bam! you lose Influence. The only way here to avoid losing Influence with Khelgar is to slobber all over his knob. "Oh yes, Khelgar, now you're here you can save the day! Hooray for Khelgar!"

Some bugbears have captured one of Khulmar's scouts and are going to eat him! Let's stand here and watch.

: We should roast him, blacken his skin until he crunches in our teeth.

: Hah! I'll enjoy listening to your screams when we put you over the fire. Especially when your insides start to cook.
: Maybe we should boil him instead. His meat might be a little tough.
: No... we'd have to keep the pot covered. Can't hear the screaming as good that way.


: Ah, more meat... I prefer it when the food comes to us.

You know, I feel the same way with XP. Funny, that.

: Nothing serious, just a few bruises. Are the rest of my clansmen safe?
: Yes, we left them down in the canyon.

I admit there isn't always room for nuance with Influence. Sure, there is here (snapping at Khayar upsets Khelgar; if you say the bugbear fight put you on edge, he forgives you) but there are a lot of Influence shifts scattered throughout the game just for Khelgar, never mind the other ten companions - adding in opportunities to reverse unintended Influence shifts would be a nightmare.

: Good to see one of the Ironfists again - I've been away from home for a while.
: I thought you left the Ironfists to come to Neverwinter.
: Left them? I didn't leave my brothers behind.
: Did you know they were coming to these mountains?
: Well, no, but they didn't tell me. Not like they could.

It's a nice idea - really, it is. It's a structured mechanic for party interaction. Khelgar and the companions have individual thoughts and feelings, and they express them. In other games, companion interactions have no weight because they always end with "Whatever you say, skipper," or they never trigger because Bioware overestimated how much time it takes to complete Baldur's Gate 2.

But it's a double-edged sword. Like any mechanic it has positive outcomes and negative outcomes. It's hard to feel comfortable with this conversation outcome when big yellow text appears saying "YOU HAVE LOST INFLUENCE WITH KHELGAR: -1 (WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU)". It discourages character investment - why attempt to roleplay a Paladin when it's just going to lose you precious Influence with Qara and Neeshka? Only perversity could find that rewarding.

Of course, that's the point - take any large group of people and someone's going to piss someone else off, it's inevitable. But it doesn't help to have your nose rubbed in it. All it does is make the contradictory Kinds of Play in NWN2 apparent.

I capitalised Kinds of Play for a reason; there's an essay about it somewhere on the internet but Google white noise is stopping me from finding it. Essentially, though, games work in several different ways: some games are structured and about rules (e.g. chess, or even D&D) while others are freeform and about creativity (any kind of "let's pretend" children's game... or, hell, D&D). Some games you play to win at all costs, others are less competitive. The thesis is fairly old and well-established so I'll see if I can find it later.

Influence is a clear example of two kinds of play clashing - an intensely competitive play in which we 'beat the game' by getting maximum Influence with every character, and a more mellow, creative play in which we create a character and see how he goes about making friends on his own. Both are perfectly legitimate ways of playing D&D (you can see them elsewhere, in min-maxing character builds and the like) and in most cases they need one another to thrive, but they don't work well together in close quarters.

What's especially annoying is that there's a good chance you played KOTOR2 before NWN2, and in KOTOR2 maxing out positive/negative influence with your companions was really important (as it was the only way to get special abilities, new classes and important dialogue). In NWN2, Influence rarely results in rewards - Khelgar is the exception, rather than the rule. There aren't a lot of Influence checks in the game and most of the time they don't have any real, actual, interesting effect, so maxing Influence is not particularly important. Of course, you don't know that on your first playthrough...

The other thing about this conversation is that I'm trying (and failing) to help Khelgar overcome his personality flaws. Obsidian are sending mixed signals here: we've got a Journal entry telling us to fix Khelgar; we've had two NPCs, Hlam and Khulmar, tell us to fix Khelgar; we're in an area doing a sidequest that just screams "Fix Khelgar!" - but all our attempts are failing because Obsidian haven't turned the lights green yet. We're not actually allowed to fix Khelgar until Obsidian says so.

So I'm just shedding Influence points with Khelgar for no reason. Blegh.

* * *

You probably can't see it from where you're sitting, but this area is actually a geographical copy of the Eyegouger Clan Approach. Same mountains, same valleys, just different monsters.

Bugbears are big and mean, but not that much tougher than orcs. Most of the time they're all equipped with crossbows, which are fine at a distance but less rewarding up close. They don't even have any spellcasters to make things exciting.

But they do have ogres!

: Maybe we'll find orcs, too. We're getting tired of having to avoid them, Gruum.

This is a new tileset for us - Dwarven Ruins.

Sadly, there are no traps. There are no puzzles. That cryptic comment Khulmar made about remembering Ironfist history to get inside? Doesn't happen. There were plans for special unique traps (like what we saw in the Tomb of Betrayers), but they never made it in.

We need this later. It's important to pick it up now, here at the entrance, so that you don't have to backtrack through the whole level to get it at the end

After fighting some bugbears in a corridor, Gruum and Grishk (two ogre brothers) come barging through a door and smack the party around some. Ogres are strong and tough but we're Level 10 - big dumb bruisers are no longer a major threat to us.

Don't worry, we'll get a better picture of an ogre soon.

You need 15 ranks in Hide to avoid detection. If you fail and Neeshka is in the party, though, then she takes over and leads you to cover.

: We only killed two of the dwarves, Pashtak, and you killed one.
: So I share most of the gold with Morgrim.


All that for 800 gold? (We're on about 80k, for any of you accountants out there).

My question exactly.

: So what does it do?
: Well, you see that lever? It's connected to the grommet underneath the casing, which connects to that gear over there...
: Go on. And?

* * *

* * *

I don't know what we're sitting on there.

: And the rachety-cog does what?

: The problem with this device, though, is, well... well, it doesn't work.
: Maybe this part I found belongs to it.

Oh, yes, I have another bugbear (aha) with Influence. Although it's usually apparent what you need to say to please a companion, it's not always apparent who you need to take along on a quest in order to get an Influence dialogue option - or what options in a conversation lead to Influence points. Here, for example, we're getting an opportunity to gain Influence with Neeshka - but this is spliced in from another dialogue run-through. If we ask Grobnar about the machine, as above, he takes over here and we miss out on this Influence opportunity entirely.

It's tempting to use a walkthrough just to know when to bring who where, just so that you don't miss out on any extra content.

Again with the talking about stealing things in front of everyone. Jesus wept, Neeshka.

: We're not here as scavengers, Neeshka.
: Oh, fine. But this thing's a waste of my talents if there's no gold involved.


: You just watch your hands when we get past this door - our leader's right, we're not vultures.
: There. I think I figured out where that part went. Ok, stand back while I start it.

Positive Influence for Grobnar. This is the first one in the game, I think.

: Oh, yes. Why thank you - and yes, let's see what it was protecting. Maybe something even more complicated!

This is what it was protecting: Grausch, the oldest and meanest of the Billy Ogres Gruff.

Wait... if the machine was broken, how did he get in here?

: Kill them. We'll find the other dwarves after we're through here.

That's it for the Ironfist stronghold - the rest is buried under rock and rubble.

: My clan history may not be what it should, but I know what these are - the Gauntlets of Ironfist, held by the first of our kings...
: Torim Ironfist, our last great king, was said to have worn them when our homeland fell to the orcs. But that would mean this clanhold is...

: Oh, it's much more than that. We Ironfists wouldn't wear something like these if they didn't have a practical use, too.
: Anyone who wears them gains the strength of ten, maybe twenty... it's how the clan earned the name Ironfist. With these, you could probably punch through a stone wall.
: Why would I want to punch a stone wall?
: That's not the point, I was just trying to give you an idea of how powerful these are.

*hint, hint*

Warning: if you've been investing Khelgar's feats into Dwarven Waraxe, his starting weapon, you may experience a sinking feeling around about now.

: So the tale goes. It's not like anyone's still around that actually saw these gauntlets in action.
: It must be destiny that I've found them. It must mean that the Ironfist clan shall reclaim our home.
: And to think... I would never have come here, met my brothers, if you had not brought me here to these mountains.

This was an opportunity for a very serious moral dilemma. The gauntlets are very powerful magical items, so it's tempting to keep them for yourself.

Except you can give them to Khelgar and they'll still stay in the party inventory, so it doesn't actually matter what you do with them...

...except you get a massive Influence boost for giving them to Khelgar, so you might as well do that. If giving them to Khelgar meant actually giving them to Khulmar and the clan to keep, maybe this might have been a more interesting challenge.

The gauntlets give a nice boost to Strength, so we'll equip them on Khelgar. He's now even better at hitting things and can carry a bear on his back if needs be. They're also a decent gauntlets choice if you should decide to make Khelgar into a Monk as well.

Speaking of which.

: Eh? Like who?

: They're a stone's throw more tolerable than some of the other kin, but she's still an elf. Their kind stood with the shield dwarves in the North, so I'll stand by her if need be.
: She needs to comb her hair, though. And put a little meat on that slim belly of hers. You'd think she was trying to be a tavern dancer with a belly like that - makes my stomach churn.
: It may be crazy, but it may qualify as meeting the Trial of the Even-Handed the Tyr monks put before you.
: Eh? Not a bad idea.

It certainly isn't. One down, two to go.

Back at Khulmar's camp.

: We explored the stronghold, but it's collapsed. There's no way through.
: Hnh. The rock in this region has always proven difficult to carve, and it's not one for keeping its shape without a good hammer disciplining it.
: We'll have to find another way, then - there's other entrances we might be able to uncover.

: By Clangeddin's hammer, are my eyes blinded... are those the Gauntlets of Ironfist?
: The same. Who knows what other treasures are buried deep in the clanhold, Khulmar, but if we found these after a quick search... well, who knows even the rest of it might be down there.
: You've found a relic, Khelgar... part of our history.

And if the rocks had shifted slightly the other way, the Gauntlets of Ironfist would be buried under a hundred tons of rock, forever. Then where would you be, Khelgar?

: And the gauntlets, well, they should rest with the clan, I think.
: No, Khelgar - if you two found them, then they were meant to be held by you both - for a time. When your journey is done, perhaps you shall return them to us.
: Are you good to keep traveling these mountains? If you like, I c-
: Our wounds have healed, and you've already given us enough aid. Perhaps we were too quick to judge your allies, Khelgar.

: And Khelgar... if your path lies with this one, so be it. But the clan shall await your return.
: It shall not be long, I think, Khulmar, but someone needs to watch out for this little one or else she'll be lying in a grave.
: I think I'm the one watching you.

And that's the Trial of the Maimed done. We can't complete the last Trial just yet, but Khelgar's made excellent progress today and I'm really proud of him. He's done very well!

You know, in the end, it wasn't our therapy that helped Khelgar, nor our impassioned entreaties - but rather the acquisition of a powerful magical item.

Says it all, really.

: Well, that was a chance encounter - and a chance to do some good, I think. The Ironfists have had rough times these past few years.