The Let's Play Archive

Neverwinter Nights 2

by Lt. Danger

Part 52: Act Two Chapter Seventeen - Crossroad Keep

Combat in D&D breaks down after a certain point. If low levels are horrifically lethal, then high levels are repetitive and tedious. High level characters have so many hitpoints and so many spells and so many magic items that it becomes very difficult to construct a challenge that actually, well, challenges them.

The traditional recourse is to involve players in politics. Land ownership brings with it a whole new set of obstacles and problems that can't be solved via swinging a +5 Holy Avenger (it's generally considered impolitic to murder the monarch of a nation, no matter the circumstances).

We're approaching that stage in NWN2 right now, and Crossroad Keep is Obsidian's way of keeping us engaged in the campaign.

Plus it's also really fucking sweet.

Crossroad Keep Theme

This is our castle. The entrance to the map is on the left, where the road winds down the side of the cliff. Nearby are some fields and a few houses.

The gate in the first wall is actually a transition to another area - Crossroad Keep is so big the map had to be split in two.

The second half begins at the second wall. There's a small courtyard with several buildings scattered around and a ramp up the hill, past the third set of walls to the keep itself.

Now for the guided tour:

Immediately to your left as you enter is the merchants' shop. It's currently uninhabited.

Directly ahead is the smithy, one of the most important buildings in the Keep. It is also defunct.

On the right is the tower. We won't be able to use this until Act 3.

Up at the far north end is the old church - again, we can't use this right now.

To the south are some building supplies and a few houses which we can't visit. However, this large building by the ramp is the Phoenix Tail Inn, which unlike the other structures has already been rebuilt.

Companions that aren't in the party now hang out in the Keep - in the Inn, we can find Bishop, Khelgar and Neeshka. We've also picked up an innkeeper - Sal, the bartender from the Sunken Flagon.

Elanee, meanwhile, chills out here by some shrubbery.

Let's head inside and meet our subordinates.

This is our adjutant, Kana. The man standing by the table in the background is Master Veedle, our architect.

: Lord Nasher has given you a great honor. But rebuilding these grounds will be a considerable undertaking.
: And one I look forward to. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Captain. I am Master Veedle.
: I won't lie to you. This keep is in a sad state of repair. We will need all the resources you can bring to bear to fix her up.
: With the help of my crew, we can turn this place into a true masterpiece of engineering.

Yes, we came to the same conclusion, and we've only seen half of what there is to see.

: The courtyard itself is in a shambles - but that can be fixed quickly. Strong backs and long hours and you'll see the shape of the Keep.
: And - well - what's underneath won't be pretty. But before long we'll have the Keep cleared out for you.
: We're embarking on a true adventure! Men, set the camp over there. I'll draw up plans for the work.

Kana and Veedle are the two core NPCs of the Crossroad Keep minigame. You'll want to talk and keep talking to these two every time you visit the Keep.

Veedle hangs out here, by the entrance to the main keep structure. He handles upgrades to the Keep. He's also the main drain on funds.

There are four parts of the Keep that can be repaired: the Keep itself, the courtyard buildings, the fortifications and the walls. Each has its own benefits and eventually you'll want to fix them all - but you can only repair one thing at a time and repairs are expensive.

Nasher's given us 70k to start with but the final bill for the fully-repaired, fully-upgraded Keep is ten times that: 713,500 gold pieces, to be exact.

Here's the lowdown on repairs:

We're going to get the smithy and merchant shop repaired first, because I need them to finish this update.

You should probably be aware that most of this update isn't happening - the game asks us lots of questions on how to run the Keep from the very beginning and for some reason I want to consult you lot on what to do with Crossroad Keep, but I need to introduce the Keep first so we'll be reverting to an earlier save very soon!

* * *

Kana introduces herself more formally. First Zhjaeve, now her... what is with all these oaths of loyalty lately?

: Long have I waited for my blade to be in the service of someone worthy. My waiting is over.

: I take my vow of service seriously, Captain.

: Rebuilding the Keep itself Master Veedle can handle. But training the Greycloaks to defend its battlements is very important.
: Training a few men can be done quickly with the right teachers, but Sir Nevalle has promised half a hundred men for you shortly. And if the Keep grows, so will your retinue and your command.
: So we must start with the basics and turn these farmers and shepherds into fighting men.
: Besides training what needs to be done?

: This section of the High Road has also been plagued with bandits since Crossroad Keep fell to the King of Shadows long ago. We have been given the right to tithe merchant trains that come through.
: But until the road is made safe, any tithe collectors will find the road empty. Merchants prefer safer, longer roads - especially if they make more profit.

Kana's basically laying out what she does for the Keep - or rather, the things you'll have to consider as Captain of the Keep.

: Anything else?
: I will carry out your orders when you are away. Once the men are trained, there are more things they can do.
: As our numbers swell here, I could use more able sergeants to oversee the men. I can train and assign tasks to sergeants if you find some for me.
: The decisions you make here may have a large impact on the 'Cloaks and the people on your land. After some time, I'm certain Lord Nasher will have direct orders for your men - but until then they are yours to command.

Oh, and there's a third NPC who's also critical to running the Keep - but only for Shadow Thieves like us.

: I am not here to judge you, but is there something I should know, Captain?
: Don't worry. I'll see to Uncus personally.

While Kana organises the day-to-day running of the Keep, Uncus handles the shadier side of things. If you sided with the City Watch in Act 1, Uncus is just a fence - menacing, unfriendly, but offers lots of gold for all those expensive magic items you've been lugging around since the game began. He'll join you so long as you agree not to ask too many questions about his merchandise - Lawful Good types will want to turn him down, but he's a good catch for everyone else.

As a Shadow Thief, he's our link to Axle and our spymaster - as a result, he's a lot more useful. We can't send him away, but why would we want to? He's still a good merchant - a lot friendlier, too - plus he has additional bonuses for crooked Captains.

: Axle's still going to have the occasional - how'd he put it - "suggestion" for you. He'll be able to support you, too.
: Main thing he wants is us turning a blind eye - and let those cleared by the Shadow Thieves by.
: The Greycloaks aren't like the men in the Docks - this could be difficult.
: I know - some of these farmers pray every night and every morn, there's no way they're going to let... the shadier element go about their business.

: Axle is a generous man - especially to those moving up in the world. The trinkets you may have got before are nothing compared to how he rewards his more well-placed friends.
: Axle doesn't give me orders any more.
: These aren't exactly orders. You're a squire now, making you one of the most well-placed people with ties to the organization.

That's our relationship with Uncus in a nutshell. We don't have to do what he says (in fact, a lot of the time it'll hinder the rest of our Keep development) but it'll help us squeeze more gold out of our new property.

We'll talk to Kana in a little bit but first let's take a look around.

You may have spotted Casavir hiding out in the back of the main hall. Qara, meanwhile, chills in this little corridor here. See the doors? We haven't started repairs inside the Keep yet so they're locked off for the moment.

The west wing is mostly clear but, again, there are several locked and barred doors.

One room is open, though: Guyven's room.

If you don't find and speak to Guyven all three times (Old Owl Well, the Githyanki Lair, Ember) then he won't show up here. Later on in the game we'll find some cool/interesting locations - if you've recruited Guyven he'll give you an experience reward and a story or two.

Downstairs is the crafting room. Here we find a full selection of the tools needed to craft items: a smith's forge, an alchemy station and a magician's workbench.

This is where Grobnar stays when he's not in the party. The Blade Golem we found in the Githyanki Lair is here too.

We'll come back to Grobnar and his golem after we visit Arvahn.

This is the ritual chamber that we fought Black Garius in. At the moment it's almost empty, but it'll become more interesting in Act 3.

Kistrel the giant spider is waiting for us here. Is it just me or has he gotten bigger?

All right, skipping ahead a little bit... Here Veedle has reconstructed the west wing for us. There's a kitchen, a dining room and the War Room - nice but functionally useless.

On the other side of the Keep is the library. It looks a lot better now, doesn't it?

You can find Sand and Aldanon here, along with lots and lots of spell scrolls and a few books full of Forgotten Realms lore.

And this is the Captain's suite. The desk drawer is locked; open it with a key found in the War Room and you find a Bag of Holding, which lets us carry heavy stuff without becoming encumbered.

This is Kana. She's a combination secretary, personal assistant, consultant and advisor. All your decisions for running the Keep go through her.

Here's the report of Crossroad Keep as it stands. This is from right at the beginning of the Keep minigame so the statistics are at the super-low baseline.

Let me break it down:

Phew. This is a very complicated minigame!

It's the best part of the game and I don't think I've ever heard a bad word said against it (although I'm sure someone will prove me wrong). There are lots of options and different opportunities for different characters, and it makes a change from combat and dungeons. There isn't really a 'wrong' way to play the minigame - I mean, yeah, you can do your best to make your lands safe and secure and filled with happy peasants and polite Greycloaks but it's gonna cost you a lot. Or you can squeeze every penny you can out of the place but good luck when the King of Shadows moves against Neverwinter and your walls are full of holes!

Most of the crunchy management goes through Kana. Every visit to the Keep should include a check-in with her, first thing, especially since talking to her triggers special events.

The report is the most efficient way of viewing information about the Keep but you can also ask Kana directly, and she'll give a fluffy response. The only drawback is you don't know exactly what she means in terms of numbers; when she says "the men are as well-trained as any other Greycloaks," does she mean their Training is Good? Very Good? Or maybe only Average? The report is the best way to know when your men are done training and need to go out on patrol or recruiting.

Most of the Crossroad Keep minigame elements are recycled from the cut Hollows questline. It's the same basic principle - you organise your men, train them up, recruit specialists, go on missions and maintain order - but on a much larger scale, and for much longer. Most of the characters involved are the same too.

Now, I'm gonna repeat myself slightly here, but just to be completely clear: there are three main ways to develop the Keep.

So let's go find some of them.

* * *

: Well, I think I'm due for a change of scenery. Maybe there's a nobleman in Neverwinter who needs an extra blade by their side.
: Come work for me. I could use someone like you.
: Hmmm. Well, judging from what you've done out here I'll wager you'd definitely have interesting work for me.

Casavir's old friend, Katriona, is looking for work in Old Owl Well. She's our first sergeant (our only sergeant for Act 2).

Pentin, the half-orc half-prick miner we rescued from orcs, is also willing to work for us. We use the Appraise skill to charge him rent.

* * *

Edario's an armour merchant in Highcliff who's bored of village life. He'll become our armorsmith.

And in Fort Locke we find Jacoby. We outrank Commander Tann now, so we order Jacoby to come with us.

Cut: a small quest in which you'd kill a local notorious bandit called Jared Widowmaker to get Jacoby to work for you.

* * *

Our old friend Orlen awaits in West Harbor.

* * *

And in Port Llast, Calindra the ore merchant becomes our second miner.

* * *

Here's a familiar face.

Deekin the kobold is a merchant in Neverwinter's Merchant District. He's also an epic-level Bard/Red Dragon Disciple, so be nice to him.

Everybody's favourite kobold first appeared in Shadows of Undrentide, the first NWN1 expansion pack. The first act of SoU was a four-part fetch quest for four mysterious and evil artifacts stolen from the watchful eye of your Harper master - and Deekin had gotten a hold of one of them. He was a potential companion for the pack and much more popular than all the other henchmen (I think around about this time people suddenly became very interested in kobolds as non-goblinoid enemies). It's not surprising; Bioware has always been better at writing comedy than the straight stuff.

He re-appeared in Hordes of the Underdark, the second (far superior) expansion pack, as the only companion that would accompany you throughout the epic-level quest to save the whole multiverse from a terrible evil.

But he's retired now. He's a merchant who sells very expensive equipment tailored for prestige classes - as in, you have to be a member of a prestige class to use them.

: Deekin is bard, singer with scales, running from danger, and writer of tales.
: Maybe you read some of Deekin's works? Hard to find sometimes, Deekin have to look very hard to see where books are, sometimes finds them in trash heap.
: You write books?
: Yes. Deekin write a few. Not carried so much in Neverwinter, but hear they are big in Icewind Dale.
: Of course, Deekin think not much to do up there but read, but he not heard so much about Icewind recently. Maybe on last legs, good as dead.

: Deekin little kobold, but big traveler. Deekin been to Shadowdale, Waterdeep, Underdark, Amn, and many mountains and forests and caves.
: Sometimes Deekin even stop and look at these places when not running and screaming in fear.
: Neverwinter next stop for Deekin, so here Deekin is. Deekin go where the stories are. As long as stories are outside. Deeking very, very tired of being in dungeons and caves with bad people that throw spells at Deekin.
: Is Neverwinter much of a change from Waterdeep?

Deekin is so incredibly meta I don't even know where to start

: Deekin collect many strange things running around world. Hard to carry.
: Sat them down for a moment on Neverwinter street to catch breath, and suddenly, people start coming up to Deekin and asking to buy things from him.
: Deekin hungry, so Deekin figure that all right. His back hurt from carrying all that stuff anyway, good riddance to all that junk, Deekin thinks.
: Deekin not sure how long market will last, though. Big troubles in area, very scary to Deekin. Deekin hear bad things in Luskan city. Luskan city smell bad, but easy to hide there.
: Looking to do any more traveling?

: Deekin might move if Deekin had little shop with a roof to keep out rain and cold and no white dragons and no one to call Master.

This is our cue to recruit him, but there's some more stuff I want to show first.

: While Deekin getting tired of Neverwinter, Deekin not miss adventuring life... Deekin probably need loooooong break before follow after big hero again with pen.
: Deekin likes collecting and selling things, gives him time to write. Between Undrentide and Waterdeep, Deekin needs a little break from golems and mages and snake ladies.
: Golems?
: Deekin meet golems, on travels, yes. So many golems. And golem nostrils flaring. Very confusing to Deekin.

Okay, here follows Obsidian's interpretation of Deekin's interpretation of the NWN1 expansion packs.

: There was also dwarf wizard, too. Deekin miss him, make chest hurt thinking about it.
: Let just say Deekin happy to be on solid ground, and that be enough for Undrentide.

Shadows of Undrentide was about the attempt of Heurodis (a medusa and former apprentice of some big mean wizard) to Take Over The World by reactivating ancient Undrentide, a floating magical city from the old Netherese empire that crashed into the sands thousands of years ago. The player became involved when Heurodis convinced some kobolds (Deekin's tribe) to steal some magical doohickey from the player's master, a Harper wizard called Drogan. Drogan ends up sacrificing his life so that you can stop the evil Heurodis from activating the magical ritual of blah blah blah typical fantasy plot. Undrentide is raised, Heurodis dies, the spell fails and the city falls back down again. You and Deekin escape through a portal into the Plane of Shadows.

: Tell me about Waterdeep.

: And too many drow. Lots of drow elves. Didn't like to write about that part. Too much books about them already. Need more books about kobolds.

Hordes of the Underdark began in Waterdeep, under siege from an Underdark army led by drow. Through a series of complicated events the player (same character as in SoU) descends through the magical dungeon of Undermountain (beneath Waterdeep), the hostile caverns of the Underdark (beneath Undermountain, and most of the world), and the frozen landscape of Cania, eighth of the Nine Hells (beyond all time and space). It's the only decent NWN1 official campaign and it's worth buying the (now very cheap) NWN1 just for Hordes of the Underdark. Oh, and Deekin was there too.

Deekin has a point about drow. Nerds get a little... weird about elves (because sexual politics in fantasy is horribly regressive and most nerds are socially maladjusted) but the fetishisation of dark elves is even worse (because you're mixing in racist myths about the "dark-skinned lustful savage" along with a "matriarchal" society). So you find a lot of books about drow - drow as villains, drow as unlikely heroes, drow society, drow this drow that and the other...

With regards to the other stuff:

Anyway, we recruit Deekin to be our merchant in Crossroad Keep.

: A shop? You would give Deekin a shop?
: As long as no dragons there. Deekin done with dragons and their humor. No dragons?
: Not since I left, but anything could have happened since, trust me.

That's not all we can get out of Deekin. Remember when I said Deekin was Grobnar's direct spiritual ancestor?

What do you think would happen if they shook hands?

: You know, I had heard about a talking kobold in Waterdeep, but I hadn't put much stock in it - thought it was one of those "wild human stories." You know how humans are.
: Stories? Deekin like stories, epic tales about kobolds. Deekin even write a few of those until fingers fall off.
: Wait one big hairy moment - you're the one who wrote that tale of Undrentide!

: Oh, well, my - I read the version where all the "the"s and "a"s were missing, couldn't make sense of it, but it was a fascinating read, even about the dragon urine!
: Deekin find it hard to find good proofreader, and tale seemed like it kept starting and re-starting all time. Difficult to keep pace and flow. But pee was true.
: But you're a bard, too! You sing, right? By the Gods, this is inspiring! I'm so happy to be able to talk with you!

Perhaps I should have called this "The Deekin Update."

: No, no, no - not yet! Why, we've barely begun speaking! I say - do you know any gnome songs? I so rarely meet a fellow musician and writer!
: Deekin know... one... gnome song. But heh... Deekin throat dry.

: No, please! I would love to hear it.
: Deekin not write this one. But Deekin sing it anyway.


: How... pleasant. Now Grobnar, I'm sure he didn't m...

: You can almost feel the angst and pain of the gnomes as they are filled with arrows... and put on sticks. And the theme of the piece... now, that is tragedy, in its deepest, most primal form.
: And the climax, the uplifting portion, where the affirmation of liking gnomes is confirmed...
: And then brought full circle with the physical and emotional double-meaning of them being in the mind and in the stomach. Amazing.

So this is what it's like when doves cry.

Let's get out of here.

* * *

Back in Crossroad Keep, there's been a few changes.

The smithy has been repaired. Jacoby and Edario stand outside - you can buy weapons and armour from them, or spend gold to upgrade your Greycloaks' equipment.

Orlen is outside, by the fields. He provides a bonus to your peasants, making them (and taxes) more profitable.

Calindra and Pentin are our two miners.

We've found about five or six ore deposits while adventuring - and this is what we use them for. For each ore deposit you find, Calindra will give you some money and Pentin will give you an ore sample (for use in crafting). Each ore deposit you find can also be used to upgrade the Greycloaks' equipment - you can't upgrade unless you've got the necessary ore for smithing.

You only need one miner to collect ore but you'll want both for the full bonuses. Calindra is better than Pentin because gold is more useful than ore ingots, and she's nicer than Pentin. Pentin is also buggy and currently thinks he's in Act 3 for some reason.

Inside the Keep, we can assign Katriona to duties.

And this is the merchant store.

Inside is Deekin. His store has been upgraded slightly from what he had in Neverwinter, plus he pays good dosh. There's another merchant we can recruit, but not until Act 3.

There's one last recruit we can hire: Torio Claven.

Yup, that's right, our old enemy. Looks like Nasher caught her before she could flee to Luskan. Also I'm pretty sure she wasn't Garius' consort.

At least... I hope not. Ew.

Unlike the other recruits, Torio doesn't really serve any mechanical purpose - instead she helps the player find other recruits by reporting rumours and gossip. Handy on your first playthrough, not so much second time around.

I'll let you decide whether we spare her or execute her. In fact, I'll let you decide a lot of things.

* * *

Running the Keep involves a hundred very small decisions on a near-constant basis. I can't ask you readers to make the decisions because we'll be here all year, but I can ask you to outline a general strategy for me to pursue.

I've come up with a few basic ideas for how we could run the Keep - if you have any suggestions, feel free to make them. Otherwise, choose one of the following:

Your choice.