The Let's Play Archive

Neverwinter Nights 2

by Lt. Danger

Part 45: Act Two Chapter Ten - Gilgamesh, Arjuna and Luke Skywalker

Lorne has been defeated, Torio expelled from Neverwinter and Garius' plans have been thrown into disarray. We're ready to track down Ammon Jerro's Haven!

Or not, as the case may be.

: Came in here all rattled, he did, mumblin' about some silver shard. Said he needed to talk to you right quick.
: When was this?
: Two days ago, maybe. Dory tried to get to you, but those snobby old priests chucked her out.
: I'd better pay Aldanon a visit, then.

First, though, Shandra's looking a bit befuddled.

: But don't worry, I'll try to keep up, so don't trouble yourself. All right?
: Look, if you have any questions, ask. I'm here to help you.
: All right - I mean, I know I haven't been around you as much as say Khelgar Idiotfist...

: I think I need you to explain to me, one more time, what we're doing. We're being hunted, and accused, put on trial, and... and... you've got silver things in you.

No wonder she's confused, random companions keep butting in all the time.

Yes, yes, I know you're there, but this is Shandra's time okay?

: I derive pleasure from clarification, Miss Jerro.
: Anyway, with all that's been going on, I'm not sure I understand why it's been going on.
: What don't you understand?

This is an in-game way of recapping the plot. There's a lot of white noise in Act 1 and it's hard to remember what parts are significant and what parts are not. Some of it is pretty obvious - it's hard to miss the whole 'silver sword' thing, seeing as it was the whole focus of the Act.

: What are they shards of?
: A powerful sword of an extraplanar people.
: Okay, see, that's where you start to lose me. Why is this thing inside you? Why is it broken?
: And what are you supposed to do with it? Kill a dragon, or...

And now it gets confusing. Act 1 was so busy introducing all of the various different characters involved in NWN2 that it didn't really give us time to actually get a handle on who these characters are.

I mean, the name "King of Shadows" has popped up several times now, as a part of history and as the power behind the Shadow Priests, but I've gotta admit I don't really see how he ties into the story as of yet. The whole basis for this line - for making the King of Shadows the villain of the piece - is a single line uttered by Zeeaire at the end of Act 1, shortly after we defeated her.

: I have no idea - yet.
: But you're willing to keep trying to find out?
: It's not like I want to - I could care less (sic) what he does, but his minions have been crossing me.
: You mean this Black Garius... he's also helping the King of Shadows, right?

Same with Black Garius. We're a little clearer on him, thanks to all those cutscenes we've had, but it's still a fuzzy line connecting him to the King of Shadows and the main plot. In terms of player knowledge, all we know is that Garius is the current top wizard in Luskan and he's working with the Shadow Priests for nefarious means. We really don't have a lot to go on at this stage; it's a tenuous link between him and the King of Shadows and you have to have the memory of a savant to make the connection off-hand.

We can ask a few people about Garius (Sand and Haeromos among them) and of course we've gotten up close and personal with his two pet minions, Torio and Lorne, but he's still an unknown entity even partway into Act 2.

: They want the shards... and the sword back.
: But one of those shards is in your chest. If it comes out, you're dead.
: That's part of the problem, yes.

: Not now, Grobnar.
: All right.

Nice words, but to be honest all we're actually going to do is bounce around from one plot point to another until the plot kicks into gear and we actually do something.

But time enough for that later.

: All right, well, as long as you don't get me killed doing it, I'll do what I can.
: Don't worry, I have faith you'll pull through.
: Well, I'm glad you think so. But thanks, I appreciate the support.

Like Nasher said, for defeating Lorne we win his possessions. A magical sword for Evil characters only and a Belt of Strength (handy).

And this is a gift from Lord Nasher. The Amulet of Truth casts True Seeing, which dispels illusions and invisibility. This would be a godsend in Baldur's Gate 2, with its many wizard fights, but it's less useful in NWN2.

* * *

This is Blacklake. (Neverwinter Theme)

We've had access since the beginning of Act 2, when the lockdown was lifted. This is the first chance we've had to actually look at it though.

It's changed since NWN1; now it's the seat of Neverwinter's government, but previously it was just a rich man's suburb. Castle Never was originally located in the City Centre, aroundabout where the Merchant Quarter is now.

We find a gnome artist painting his model in the middle of the street.

: Bad time. Terribly busy. If I look away, I'll lose the moment - there, you see, just a glance at you and-
: By the Golden Hills! My lady! Thou art a vision!


: No, it's your friend who drew my eye. Such uncalculated beauty, such accidental grace! My lady, are you even conscious of your own power... but of course you aren't, and that's what I must capture!

Oh, why, thank you! It's so nice to finally meet someone who appreciates my looks!

Oh, he was talking to Shandra. Well, we still have Casavir and Bishop I suppose.

: And that artless tumble of hair... so untended and yet so real. My lady, you're the very picture of pastoral beauty!
: Heh. Looks like you have an admirer, Shandra.
: My lady, I must take your likeness! I insist upon it, as a matter of honor. My future as an artist lies balanced in your shapely, ever-so-slightly-calloused hands.
: Uh... I'm not sure whether to agree with him or attack him.
: Do you want to do this, Shandra?

: Wonderful! I shall begin at once. You there, clear out of the way!
: Hey, what's the big idea? You're supposed to be painting me! You said I was... you said I was "the very model of womanly mediocrity."
: And indeed you are, my lady, indisputably so. Now shoo! Artistic priorities have shifted, and one must always obey one's instincts. Go on, out of the way!

* * *

: My dear, I have captured your very soul and made of you a goddess. A goddess of field and sun and gentle breeze.

: No, no, no - you don't have to do that! Please, really, don't.

A little cattiness from Elanee there.

Anyway, we buy the painting for more than it's worth.

And Shandra is pleased by our generosity.

We receive a warm welcome in the Temple of Lathander, the Morninglord.

Odd timing. We left West Harbor ages ago, but this priestess acts like she's been expecting us, as though we'd only just arrived in Neverwinter.

: We were acolytes together, years ago. Hmm... I don't suppose you're planning on returning to West Harbor any time soon?
: Well, it's a long journey. A long, expensive journey...
: Naturally, the church will reimburse you for any expanses you incur.
: What do you need me to do?

What she needs us to do is take a box of tithes to Merring in West Harbor for him to spend spreading the faith.

Outside, we stop to talk to Shandra again.

: I think I might understand more than you think.
: What do you mean?
: I did grow up in a small community, not many friends, and with a father that might as well have been dead.

It's a good thing I decided to have this conversation with Shandra now and not, i.e., in the middle of my home village of West Harbor which is very obviously a village and not a huge city north of here like Waterdeep? (which is to the south anyway??)

: Anyway, I didn't mean to lose my temper with you all those times before. There wasn't any call for it.
: No harm done. Forget it.

* * *

Back to West Harbor.

I know the usual trick in RPGs is to destroy or lock the starting town in order to unsettle the player and thrust them into the big bad world, but that doesn't happen in NWN2. We've been able to revisit West Harbor ever since we first left it - it's just that there hasn't been any point in coming back until now.

First things first: we can fiddle with the box some. With enough ranks in Search and Disable Device, you can open the tithe box without breaking the seal and triggering a nasty fire trap.

But we won't do that because we haven't got enough skill pointswe're Lawful.

We give the box to Merring for a small XP reward.

We also need to ask about what's been happening in the village.

: The Mere continues its slide into bleaker seasons. Lizardlings have attacked some of the outlying farmers.
: Poor Bevil was assaulted right after you left, as well. He took weeks to recover - but he won't tell a soul what happened.
: Who attacked him?

We can't do anything at the moment, but we need to hear about what happened to Bevil for something to happen later in the game. It's easy to miss - if you don't ask anyone about Bevil, you miss out entirely.

While we're on the subject of Starlings, we bring Retta Starling some bad news.

: I... still find it hard to believe that Lorne was working for those Luskanites. He was such a gentle boy.
: I don't doubt that you had no choice but to fight him. But I do wish there had been another way.
: What would turn Lorne against Neverwinter?

It's a question that'll come back to haunt us as well.

We have a quick word with Georg as well - as do a few of our companions.

: Ah, I see you have - look at him. A little smaller than I expected, though, for a giant. Looks close enough, I suppose.
: And I thought you were the only fool to be spawned from West Harbor, but here we are, not long in your village, and already this fellow proves me wrong.
: Hnh. Where'd you pick this one up?

That's one possible interaction. The other is with Elanee:

: Ah, I see you have - look at her. She looks a little smaller than I expected, though, for a giant. Looks close enough, I suppose.
: Ooooooh... the giant swamp elf. Yes, obviously you haven't heard. It still lives, constantly growing, constantly feeding.
: Of course, now that it's forced to range farther and farther... well, I imagine it will be here soon enough.
: What? There's no such thing.
: Yes, it may seem that way now. Talk to me again after it attacks, maybe that'll change your mind.

Who knew Elanee had a sense of humour?

Well, we've shown Shandra around our home village. Time for another chat.

The question I wanted to ask this update is "Where do heroes come from?"

I won't argue that this is one of NWN2's significant themes, because it isn't; like most games, NWN2 is more like a collection of things that happen rather than an actual coherent narrative. But it's heroic fantasy, so the question is kind of implicit in the genre.

: I heard he was a little eccentric, but harmless - he died a long time ago.
: My mother told me that he saw me a few times as a babe, but I was too young to remember. Mother said that he would cradle me and sing to me, and I would... uh, well, pull out his beard hairs.
: Why would a "harmless" wizard construct a lethal haven?

You're all probably familiar with Joseph Campbell's monomyth which tends to crop up in these discussions regardless of merit. If you want further detail, consider watching Star Wars with your head turned 90o.

: I mean, the whole "inescapable deathtrap" and "thousands of spiders from the Abyss" thing - it was hard to take my mother seriously when she said things like that.
: Do you know where we could find his Haven?
: I've been thinking about it, but honestly I have no idea where it is. I doubt it would help much anyway.
: And the whole idea of having to spill my blood to get in there - well, I'm not in any real hurry to find it, either.
: Does it have to be Jerro blood?

You're telling me; I put him halfway across the map so he wouldn't be in shot.

: And a whole pint of it - that's a little much.
: Well, if we need to, we'll need some blood.

Uh... moving on.

What is it that makes a hero? Why is it that some people become great warriors, mages, tricksters while others languish in obscurity? What is the internal framework used to justify our character being an active agent of good, a problem-solver, while practically everyone else (including NPCs with character levels) is a passive non-entity, a prop in our ever-growing heroic journey?

Essentially, what I'm asking is why am I, why are we PCs heroes while Shandra, Bishop, Cormick and Lorne are followers, companions and enemies?

It's hard not to make the comparison - in fact, it's already made for you. A couple of updates ago, Bishop mused on how Calliope had risen to greatness while he and a thousand others became murderers, thieves and outcasts. I've already suggested Shandra as one-half comical outsider, one-half miniature PC-in-replica. Lorne and Cormick are both described as the previous 'big heroes' of West Harbor, its greatest sons sent out to adventure.

What are the similarities, though? What makes a hero tick (aside from the fact that Calliope is the Player Character and a lot of the SF&F genre is straight-up power fantasies)?

: There's not much to tell. To be honest, my mother died many years ago - bad marsh fever, not much I could do.
: As for my father, well, I didn't really know him, died when I was very young. He's more like a blur than a memory.

: My family?
: Yeah. I mean, if you want to talk about it. I mean, your father... or your Uncle, he seems very nice.

Is it your origins? Some stories believe it is something bred in the bones, something inherent to an individual. The very earliest heroes were gods and the children of gods; Hercules, Susano'o, Krishna.

Some RPGs take this too literally: the protagonist of Baldur's Gate is the child of the god of murder, Bhaal. Shandra's in a similar sort of situation - she's only in this mess because her grandfather was a scholar and expert on the githyanki. Being the granddaughter of a hero (or the bastard son of a king, or reincarnation of a mighty sorcerer) is almost as good as being the daughter of a god.

Our own origins are fairly murky - our mother was an adventurer, our father unknown - but this is mostly intended to allow players to choose unusual PC races: drow, genasi, gray orc, etc. Still, a little mystique can't hurt.

: He was? He looked like he'd been a tavern keeper for... well, forever.
: Hnh. He seemed so down to earth to be an adventurer. No offense.

: My father - my foster father - was a little distant.
: Distant? Why?
: He never seemed to like me much - I'm worried he blames me for the death of his wife.
: You mean your mother?

: She died along with my mother in a battle in West Harbor - died trying to save me.
: That's terrible. I... I really don't know what to say.
: She must have loved you very much. I didn't realize what you'd been through - that you lost your mother.

But that's old storytelling. Post-modernism has subverted traditional heroic construction and we no longer favour divine provenance (or, for that matter, prophecy, fate, destiny and other related structures).

Today we see a lot more self-built heroes (especially with the secularisation of literature): characters who have made themselves strong, tough, skilled through their own efforts rather than the blessings of the gods or what-have-you. Contemporary and futuristic heroes are almost all atheists, in practice if not belief. They may have superhuman reflexes and reactions but this is always 'natural' or, at most, created by Man/Technology. These are characters that are The Best Soldiers, The Smartest Hackers, The Most Persistent Cops.

Fantasy (and fantastical literature, specifically comic books) still hang on to the old ways but these were always conservative genres... and even then, there are exceptions.

: My mother's a mystery to me.
: Doesn't your father know anything about her? It seems like he would.

: What does Daeghun say about your mother? Did he know her?
: I suppose I should ask, but he's... a quiet man.

Shandra's a very down-to-earth character (it's part of her outsider schtick). She doesn't quite believe in the whole knights-and-wizards saving-the-day thing just yet, so she's reassured whenever we act, well, basically human. Y'know, talk about family and friends and act like normal people do.

That's the rub, isn't it, though? We're not normal people - we're heroes. Heroes are always a little off-kilter, a little out-of-step with the rest of the world. After all, you have to be outside the world to change it - and to challenge others who would change the world for their own ends. Heroes are a kind of autogyro, correcting our equilibrium whenever some mad king or crazed scientist attempts to disrupt it. After all, that's where the word "hero" comes from: to protect or defend.

That's part of why heroes were all divine or otherworldly in origin: not just as an explanation of their power, but also to allow them to reshape the world on their own terms, to fight and defeat enemies in an acceptable manner. When a normal person kills someone, it's murder; when a hero kills someone, it's justice.

Good suggestion.

: You still have the shard, don't you? Make your visit brief - you put us all at risk with your return.
: As welcoming as ever.
: Is that the sarcasm of humans that I detect? Sometimes it is so difficult to tell.
: I delivered the shard to Uncle Duncan.

You have no idea.

: How has the village fared since I left?
: It did not take long for our foe to discover that you had left - I fear you must have faced him on the road to Neverwinter. Does he still hunt you?

You know, for supposedly being on a mission to smuggle the shard to Neverwinter, we sure ran into a lot of bladelings.

: The dwarves and bladelings were commanded by a githyanki. They're still after me.
: A githyanki? I have heard their names mentioned only once or twice in passing. Invaders from the outer planes, a fierce foe.

Enough chitchat. This isn't why we're here.

: There were others with us - and some tales of our adventures were told. But not all such stories end well.
: One day we both realized that of the original band - only we were left. I had had enough of death, especially of those close to me.
: Did my mother give up adventuring as well?

So with secularisation has come alternative means of distancing our heroes: traumas (psychological problems), dark secrets, physical alterations (the Cyborg). Again, it serves a dual purpose - justifying our hero's actions while marking him out from the rest of the herd.

: A heart can heal over time - I had become content. One day when Esmerelle returned she was thick with child - you. Those were... good times.
: Before you ask - she never mentioned any details about your father. And in my homeland, we respect such silence.

There's another dialogue with Daeghun that was cut - one that shows rather than tells his deep melancholy.


: {A little reserved, this isn't good news, he's thinking back to the adventuring party he lost a long time ago} So others have joined your quest.
: Well met, I'm Shandra. Are you her father?
: Foster father.
: {Trying to make awkward conversation} Ah. Well, good to meet you. This is a wonderful village, good to see where she grew up and all, meet the people.
: I would not recommend staying - in case others hunt what she took from the village in the first place.

Calliope has it both ways, I suppose. We're destined for greatness through fate: we are the embodiment of a silver sword, an avatar of a powerful artifact of an otherworldly people. It explains our strength and makes us unique: we are the Shard-bearer, the Kalach-cha, not just some mook with a sword.

At the same time, it's just dumb luck that we got the shard embedded in our chest. And even then, it's nothing more than a plot hook, a reason for us to be involved in the story; ultimately we're a hero because we go out and Get Shit Done.

Is that what separates us from Bishop and Shandra and the rest of the cast? The will to power? Mere player agency? I don't mean that in a glib way either; the entire concept of heroes, of heroic fantasy, is rooted in 'Great Man Theory': the idea that history is shaped by a few exceptional titanic figures who imprint their will upon the cosmos. That's fairly discredited by now, by the way - it's now all about social forces and the history of people, not persons.

But RPGs are still playing catch-up. We're shifting away from demigods to self-made heroes (say, Commander Shephard of Mass Effect) and characters who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (the Vault Dweller of Fallout). Ideally, beyond that is a more mature form of story where there are no heroes, only protagonists, and the emphasis of the game is conveying a story rather than hitting levels 1-20 on the Hero's Journey.

So far, though, I've only seen one of those (Vampire: Bloodlines, by Troika). A shame.