Part 43: Bonus Chapter - The Trial III: I Throw Myself Upon The Mercy Of The Court (And Miss)I've shown you how to win the trial, with a margin to spare. Now I'll show you how to fail horribly.
(Though I'm not sure if it counts as a bonus update if it's longer than most of the other updates in the LP).
Our first step is to establish minimum parameters for starting the trial. Least effort put in -> smallest gain resulting.
: Perhaps you are confident in your ability to conjure a verdict of innocence from nothing, but I do not share that confidence.
Nevalle won't let us go to trial without having spoken to Haeromos in Port Llast and finding at least one piece of evidence.
I don't see why - it's not as if the evidence really played an important part in the trial anyway. Still, what Nevalle wants, Nevalle gets.
We speak with Haeromos in Port Llast for (literally) a few seconds...
...and pick up the Quartermaster's log from Ember. It doesn't have to be this clue, it could be any clue - but this is the easiest to find.
Actually, as a completionist, I can't imagine why anyone would start the trial without having completed every sidequest in Ember, having spoken to every person in Port Llast. If you don't get all seven pieces of evidence, you may as well not bother getting any evidence at all!
But I digress.
We also tell Nya to go stuff herself when she asks for our help. She can pack up her store for one day and go do her business in Ember, can't she?
Finally, we don't confront Elgun about his tale-telling (though we do find out he's lying from Malin and Haljal).
Now we can start the trial.
* * *
Our first opportunity to mess things up is when Torio first takes a jab at us.
: Enough! Order in the court - both of you will be silent until spoken to.
That didn't go down too well.
: Look... let Uskar speak, give the formalities, then we can attack - all right?
We're going all the way with this anti-social gimmick.
Poor Sand. He's been handed one hell of a case, and we're sabotaging his efforts at every turn.
The trial's a massive set-piece and it's an impressive one. There's a lot of dialogue, lots of options and variables, lots of ways to run through it all. In a lot of ways it's one of the centrepieces of the campaign.
It's really cool and I don't think I can properly explain it in words - though I suppose that's what this update is for. It's quite a brave quest as well - many games, many developers are afraid to let five minutes go by without a swordfight or gun battles or a chase; but ever since the beginning of Act 2 we've barely had any fights at all. In fact, the only unavoidable fights are the Vigil ambush (compulsory) and the Glowstone spiders (optional, but you either fight them or don't). The majority of the quest has been walking and talking, nothing more.
Really, you can compare it to Act 1 and see the complete difference in design. In Act 1, if you're not fighting someone, something's gone wrong; not all that dissimilar to most other games. In Act 2, though, you're immediately hit with a large, overarching quest that doesn't involve combat in any degree - instead it's about dialogue and roleplaying. And all your fancy builds and magic swords and arcane spells are so much dust in the wake of Torio's scheming. Put your dice away; this isn't going to be solved without putting your brain in gear.
Our utter failure to investigate Ember properly does not go unnoticed.
I said before that the trial is very long, but even two separate updates don't convey how long it is.
The trial's conversation file consists of fifteen individual parts. Fifteen. An intro, the evidence, a final verdict, and twelve different witnesses, complete with cross-examinations.
All right, so you won't get all fifteen parts in a playthrough. Some are mutually exclusive. Others only appear if you're a Shadow Thief (Watchmen don't get any special content). Even so, you'll still get nine or ten or so, and that's a lot of words. Yet the dialogue somehow manages to be consistently entertaining and/or humourous.
Let's look at our first optional content: Elgun.
Heh. Back to our old tricks again, Calliope?
Uh oh. That didn't go so well! Well, that's another point lost.
: But let us hear Elgun speak of what he saw, "squire" - you will have your chance in time, I promise you.
: Now, Elgun - you said you saw the murder at Ember, did you not?
: So you can confirm the accused was at Ember - and you saw the murder of those villagers?
: Oh, yes. Those poor helpless farmers, cut down by that one there! I tried to save them, you know, but I was only one man against many... and demons as well.
Elgun's testimony isn't helping our case. This is what we get for not exposing him earlier.
Almost every witness for the prosecution will lower your standing with the court by two points through their testimony, and it's unavoidable. You can, however, potentially make up the points through careful dialogue selection - or lose even more if you're clumsy.
: Please speak freely, Elgun - you have nothing to fear from the accused here, she cannot harm you.
: No need to defend me, Lady Torio - I can handle myself. If any bloodthirsty killer tries to come at me, they'll get more than they bargained for.
: I doubt that would stop him from speaking, trust me.
Great. Our turn.
The usual suspects make an appearance, but we won't be taking them. Why use skills to solve this encounter when we can just use brute force instead?
: Dozens - and other foul creatures as well, demons, I believe.
: It's lucky they believed me dead, else I would have shared the fate of those poor, poor people from Ember.
Asking questions the 'normal' way results in a lot of moments like this; the witness says something shocking, the crowd murmurs and gasps, we lose a point. I've omitted most of the crowd reactions from the trial, but feel free to insert your own mutterings whenever someone says something dramatic.
Another one. This isn't doing us any favours.
: I had to rush to the aid of the village, as quickly as I could - innocent lives were at stake!
Aha! Talking to Malin (or being a Druid or Ranger) has its payoff after all.
This is one of the few occasions class plays a role in the trial (beyond Rogues and Bards having a significant advantage, that is). Many commentators have already pointed out that Paladins should get off scot-free, since they would have noticeably and obviously Fallen for committing an act of slaughter. Still, I don't know how aware the people of the Realms are of D&D rules; Torio could always just argue that the PC isn't a Paladin at all and Sand is faking his powers or whatever. It's not hugely important, since the real focus is the courtroom drama, not a 'whodunit'.
Huh? Oh yeah, I was going to say that Clerics get a few options too: when Torio mocks the evidence, for example, you can say that her words offend you and the gods and she should shut the hell up, which is nice.
: I... I saw plenty, I don't know what you're trying to prove.
: This is meaningless, there were deer aplenty in the woods.
Ah, is Torio getting nervous? Time to press the advantage.
: Are you certain?
: Oh, yes - it was you and others, allies. But I remember you, I do. That horrible look in your eye... and those bodies all around you...
Well, that was dumb of us.
: What? Oh... well, I heal quickly, is all. No scars - they must have hit me with a club or something. It was from behind, so I'm not certain.
Torio steps in hastily to cover for her witness. I think we can call her bluff, though.
: Uh... the chest, down to the stomach.
: But you said you were hit from behind.
: Well... yes, but they also hit me in the chest before... well, before they knocked me out from behind.
: Well... I... I've gotten better. I mean, I practice when they're not looking, they don't know everything.
There's actually quite a few opportunities to make up the points lost by Elgun's initial testimony, enough to make it a tempting prospect to not do his quest in Port Llast and just expose him for a fraud in the trial. But you'd still have to talk to Malin and Haljal, and you'd have to be careful to avoid the more idiotic questions ("Could you again confirm for the court that it was I who killed all those people, please?").
We'll finish off with a Bluff.
: [Success] What? No, I don't. Not that I am, mind you.
: I mean, this is just a trial, but divine retribution... I wouldn't want to be near you when it comes not at all.
: What do you mean? My story's true... all that I remember, that is.
: All that you remember? That sounds... convenient.
A good thing nobody bothers with perjury in the Forgotten Realms, Elgun.
: Perfect. Well done.
: I have no more questions, Reverend Judge. It seems the witness has retracted his story.
: Very well. Ambassador, do you have another witness?
This is the other optional witness for the prosecution. Obviously, as we've seen, helping Nya makes her a witness for the defence.
: I have traveled far, yes.
We were extremely rude to her in Port Llast. I see no reason to stop now.
: Nya, do you know the accused?
: I do... we have met before.
: You met the accused in Port Llast and asked for his help on behalf of the people of Ember. What was the accused's reaction?
: The accused was... unwilling to help me - and did not seem to care that the dead of Ember might rise if not given the proper rites.
: I am certain that is the case - and after killing so many, I doubt Ember would have been beyond you. But Ember is what concerns this court, not your other killing grounds.
: When you spoke to the accused about the massacre, Nya, did you see any sympathy for the poor people of Ember?
: None that I could tell, no.
: How could one hear of what happened at Ember and not be moved to help? Moved to show some sympathy?
Ahahahaha, that's quite good.
: Your wit is not sharper than the headsman's axe, Sand, that I promise you.
: Does the accused wish to question the witness?
: Yes, we have some questions concerning her story.
: Ask your questions, then.
Unlike Elgun, Nya is one big pitfall for the player. She isn't lying and she's not being manipulated; if you wanted to come out of this smelling like roses, you should've done some more digging around in Ember.
In other words, you aren't getting any points back from her.
: No... but how is it you have become so numb to death and helping others? Could you not have spared some time for those poor people?
: I am not saying you are guilty of what happened at Ember, that is not known to me - but I know that you would not help another when they needed your help, and that is all I can judge you on.
It's actually a good example of the bias in RPGs against evil characters. We've seen that all the stereotypical, callous Evil answers just make things worse for us in the trial. And, of course, the Evil option in Nya's sidequest is to refuse to help her, which not only makes the trial harder but also denies us valuable XP and a magic item.
Partly it's because heroic fantasy is about helping others, and mostly it's because it's easier to write NPC interactions as "Will you help me? Y/N", but it's still horribly prevalent throughout most RPGs. Obsidian's fairly good about it, but there are some developers (Bioware) that really love to punish evil players.
: There are many reasons one could think of - as I do not think in that manner, there are likely many more I have not considered.
You know, this update reminds me of "Goon in a well".
: Often necromancers wait until a period of time after the dead have gone to ground before raising them - in which case, you may have been waiting in Port Llast until the corpses in Ember were ready.
: Or... or you may have thought I might go to Ember and find something that would incriminate you, so you wished to deal with me. But I am just guessing, like you asked me to.
Like I asked you to.
: I think you have given us all a great deal to think about, Nya. Thank you.
Okay, well... the skill check worked for Elgun. We can try on Nya too, right?
: [?] I... I don't understand. What do you mean?
: [Intimidate] I asked why you're helping the enemy! The ones who killed all those poor people at Ember!
Oops. Now she's crying.
: I was just trying to lay them to rest. I'm only thinking about those poor villagers and making sure... making sure they're safe.
: And all you're doing is yelling and trying to save yourself and you don't care anything about those poor people... what made you so cruel?
: How could you claim to be a knight of Neverwinter and act that way! I... I...
: Nya, it's all right... it's all right. Just gather yourself, we'll see to it the accused harms no one again.
The best thing about this trial (in fact, this whole section of the game) is all the different options available to the player. As we've seen, so much of it depends on what you did in Port Llast: did you help Nya, did you confront Elgun... but also who you sided with in the Docks War, how you solved the Reylene encounter...
It's nice to have multiple solutions to a quest (in fact, that ought to be the standard in all games). But it's another thing altogether to have those solutions remembered and recalled later on in the game, to have an impact beyond the initial choice. That's impressive.
Trials in general seem to be really good parts of RPGs. One of the best was a sidequest in the NWN1 OC, surprisingly. Unlike most of the game, you had multiple options to bribe, intimidate, bluff or schmooze the jury, the witnesses and the defendant. It was a great quest, tightly-designed, and totally out-of-place in a dungeon-crawling hack'n'slash. And one of my fondest memories is getting convicted of kidnapping the princess in Chrono Trigger because I ate some guy's sandwich.
It's probably because trials require lots of effort and lots of writing. You can't just throw some lizardmen at it and call it a day.
Next unseen content is on Alaine.
: Yes. I... I didn't know she'd survived Ember... where has she been hiding?
We didn't speak to Alaine in Port Llast so this is coming out of left field for Bizarro-Calliope.
: Well, can you say anything? Do anything that can help us?
Oh no! Shandra doesn't like us!
We only needed 5 Influence to pass this check, and we couldn't even get that.
You can't avoid losing some points from Alaine's testimony, but you can avoid losing all of them. That's not what we're here for, though!
If you don't have enough Influence with Shandra and didn't talk to her in Port Llast, the only way to not haemorrage points with every question is not to ask questions at all.
: You... you were finishing off the last of the villagers when I arrived... the quartermaster... then...
: Be strong, Alaine, you can do this.
: The quartermaster... he was on his knees, begging, and you just chopped his head off, right as he was pleading with you...
: I... I am sorry, I can't say anymore.
Some of the options allow you to recoup points.
: What? Why... yes, yes, that's what I said.
: I am not known for my exceptional strength - was this quartermaster especially thin in the neck?
: Why, no... he is... was... a very large man. But I...
We pick up a point here - but you're plain out of luck if you have more than 14 Strength. It's not all bad after all!
: It would probably be as easy to do that as magically impersonate someone, wouldn't you say, Ambassador?
: I think we all are quite tired of this line of questioning. If there are no more wild speculations...
: Well, that seems to settle that.
Maybe it is bad, then. If only we'd spoken to Alaine earlier...
: How did you survive Ember without a scratch?
: Go on... Alaine, tell them the tale.
: I saw the flames first, and then the shapes... moving through the village, cutting people down... it... it was terrible to watch.
: I stayed and watched because I could not turn away... and I was too frightened to act.
: I should have done something, but I could not move.
: Then how did you find your way to Port Llast, then?
: Eventually, I did realize I had to run - after everyone in the village was killed, then I realized that I would be next... so I ran as fast as I could to Port Llast.
Oh, Sand, you have no idea.
: Oh? Trade season had been light, so I was forced to take goods to Port Llast and some of the other surrounding towns and villages.
: Why was trade season light?
: Well, none of our regular shipments had arrived that month, so we had to cart some of our crops to market ourselves and buy the supplies we needed.
: Where were these shipments supposed to come from?
We know the answer to this already, we saw it in the Quartermaster's logbook. But we can't say it without the Intelligence check, and only when cross-examining Alaine.
: I fail to see how any of this is relevant...
: Why didn't Luskan send any shipments? That seems strange.
: I don't really know - the shipments dropped off a few weeks before the attack.
: Almost as if they knew the village would be destroyed?
I always thought that was pretty damning evidence, but it seems nobody really cares that Luskan knew Ember was going to be destroyed.
Torio calls on Shandra Jerro...
: Is she someone who might do such a thing?
: Ah. And the tone reveals all.
...and we fail Influence. Blergh.
Afterwards, she calls on us.
: You refuse to defend yourself? Or are you concerned that your own words will confirm what we all already know?
We don't have to play her game - and there are good options for it, using Diplomacy and Perform and whatnot. But that's not how we're doing things.
: The accused wishes it be known that she believes the truth of this matter is already known to all parties, and she needs say nothing to see justice done this day.
: Then let her say it.
: My counsel has spoken.
Refusing to answer at all makes us look shifty and loses us more points.
Not long to go now. We didn't find Marcus or help Nya, so Callum and Shandra are the only witnesses for the defence. There's actually a section where you call Alaine to the stand for a second time, to undo some of the damage she did, but I think we've covered her pretty much fully.
So we're on Callum and Torio's just revealed that Sand was a Hosttower mage.
: That accusation shames me, and offends the people of Luskan, Lord Callum. I thought that such prejudices were behind us, but now I see that they are not.
: [Bluff] I say the ambassador lies! If what she says is true, let her prove it!
: [Failure...] Prove it? Let Sand speak for himself. Look at his face, people of the court, and tell me if you think it true.
I'm so glad Sand took skill ranks in Bluff.
Finally, we move on to Shandra.
: Ah... well, that puts something of a blanket on my plans. How about we just skip Shandra's testimony for the time being.
: Please [Shandra], if you can help, do it.
: [Influence: Failure] No! No, look, I can't. Torio already tore me limb from limb... don't make me go up there again!
Well, that was a wash. You can see how the trial can go quickly from an episode of Law & Order to an absolute trainwreck, based on a few skills and sidequests.
So maybe we want to skip the trial? I mean, it's a long sequence and if you don't have the skills to fend off Torio, there's not a lot you can do to stop getting steamrolled by her.
: Very well. Simply lie back, and allow me to expound upon your innocence. Rest your eyes, if you wish, this could take a while.
The best way is to let Sand handle it for you. The trial immediately skips ahead to the end, with all points acquired retained.
* * *
: I recommend immediate dismissal of all charges and an immediate hunt for the true criminals in Ember's massacre.
: If that is all...? Ambassador? Anything you wish to add?
: I have no other statements, Reverend Judge. Like his name indicates, the arguments of the accused's "defender" are shiftless and granular, unable to form into a coherent shape, much less an argument.
: And you, Sand? Anything more you wish to add that you did not say in the first three hours?
Hear Sand deliver this line
Almost worth skipping the trial just for that.
Denouncing the trial isn't as funny, and nets you an extra negative point for contempt of court. But I suppose if you're roleplaying...
: Enough! Be silent, and let the judgements be heard.
: The accused has chosen, by order, to forfeit the remainder of this trial, and put herself at the mercy of Tyr.
: The parties have spoken, now all that remains is judgement to be passed... Lord Nasher?
And there you go. Trial failed. Mission accomplished (?).
: What? No!
: Ah, hells... I didn't want to do this, but...
It doesn't change the outcome of the trial, though: just reverses it.
: Sand, what are you doing?
: What is this? Justice has been served, and now you wish to debate it with violence? How Neverwinter of you.
: But I believe the Reverend Judge will see this ploy for what it is. Justice has already been served in this court, I th-
It's a shame, I suppose, that in the end the game railroads you to the same outcome. However it couldn't really just let you fail the trial and be executed, especially since a Fighter with no skill ranks would find it almost impossible to get an innocent verdict, nevermind the bonus and the epithet feat.
: I was planning to go out fighting anyway, trust me.
: This is ridiculous. I can't believe what I'm hearing.
A final note: half the reason these updates have been so long is because of how much attention has gone into scripting the trial sequence. All of the cutscene cameras are custom-placed, characters have animations and facial expressions, there are reaction shots and other clever tricks (like just then: Lorne's interruption comes from off-screen, so you don't know that he's been hiding in the audience). There's a final total of seven hundred different voice-acted lines, which doesn't include the various player responses.
It's very cool and I just wanted you all to know that.
: A champion has been declared. Both the defender and the accused are required by law to report to the Temple of Justice in Neverwitner to undergo the Rite of Tyr... to cleanse themselves in a night of prayer and vigilance.