Online Role-Playing with NWN - A DM's Perspective


Recently I've been considering different ways of refreshing my gaming experience. After all, I've played for 15 years now, and although different games and different players have brought me varied experiences, eventually one settles into a rut and it can be a rough trend to buck. Gamegrene has a stable of writers who form a strong community to support the hobby, luckily. And for my part, I would like to add an experience with a (sort of) new and long-awaited aspect of our favorite pastime.

Recently I've been considering different ways of refreshing my gaming experience. After all, I've played for 15 years now, and although different games and different players have brought me varied experiences, eventually one settles into a rut and it can be a rough trend to buck. Gamegrene has a stable of writers who form a strong community to support the hobby, luckily. And for my part, I would like to add an experience with a (sort of) new and long-awaited aspect of our favorite pastime.

When I heard about Neverwinter Nights a few years ago, my excitement was off the charts. You see, as someone who has played in games with people who have since graduated from various stages of life and taken their chances in other parts of the world, some of my favorite players and GMs were lost to geography. As online programs take giant strides in shrinking the world, gamers are at the forefront and it was only a matter of time before we made a
true attempt at a GUI (Graphical User Interface, but you knew that) for multi-player table-top simulation on our faithful computers.

So after having played through several chapters of the single-player campaign and being increasingly impressed, I finally convinced a friend in San Francisco and my Most-Honoured Girlfriend to give me a whack at creating a campaign with the NWN Aurora Toolset. I am an employed coder and a proponent of visual tools in my games, so it seemed a natural progression.

Initially I created only a town skeleton, then slowly added NPCs, encounters, stores and waypoints. The toolset has wizards for most of the basic systems, so everything seemed to be well in hand. I had a little difficulty originally with the conversation editor, but since I wanted my game to be as open-ended as possible, I determined I would speak for any NPC, rather than make predetermined conversational flowcharts. I did, however, use the automatic store system, which allows me to choose to barter and haggle only when the characters aren't there just to have a beer.

The building of the town was no more time-consuming than mocking up a pen and paper campaign, and so with my town created and a few simple plotlines in hand, I welcomed my first players into the setting. Neverwinter Nights allows you to run along with the characters as an invisible omnipotent Dungeon Master, creating custom encounters or dropping items, gold or experience on the fly. As the DM avatar, you can also possess any creature, including the NPCs and PCs for more direct control over the system.

My players wandered around the town I had built, chatted with each other in character and spoke with me as I played some NPCs. In general, it was relatively close to a table-top experience, despite some mistakes on my part. We have not yet had any large combats, but it seems very straightforward in the few test runs we've had. Despite the impressive visuals the spells have and the animation devoted to each character, obviously combat is a little inflexible in that you do not have the open plain of options that you do when in the limitless ambience of a table-top game.

So, of course, there are places where this system fails to deliver that same atmosphere and experience we all crave, but for my money (and since all your players have to have all expansions packs as you in order to play in a world you've created, it can be expensive to the tune of around $100, not counting a computer to run it adequately) it's the largest step toward a combination of the immersive and social storytelling of a table-top game and the impressive visuals and diceless, seamless gameplay of a video game.

Pros To This Approach

  • Everything is visible immediately, resulting in no confusion about layout of buildings or position of PCs and baddies.
  • Play with people anywhere with relative ease.
  • Store system allows PCs to take care of business, even while you're engaged with other PCs.
  • Combat is resolved quickly, saving more time for role-playing and plot development.
  • Flexible appearance generator and on-the-fly encounters if necessary.
  • Highly customizable and almost limitless ability to create any kind of (D&D) game you want.
  • DM is able to improvise as necessary for most interactions and encounters. DM tool is very powerful, indeed.
  • Cheating (apart from hacking) is for the most part eliminated.

Cons To This Approach

  • Combat is somewhat inflexible and eventually repetitive and does not adhere to very strict rules, which may deter a more tactical or swashbuckler-type player.
  • Improvising when players wish to go somewhere you haven't created is nigh impossible.
  • DM client can be a little awkward and
  • Unless you have software to do voice, you lose some of the atmosphere a DM can create with his voice through an NPC.
  • Requires significant money investment for each player, though maybe not more than buying books and dice.
  • Game can be hacked and the DM might not be able to spot it.
  • Just not as social or personal as standard table-top.

There are no doubt more opinions on using this or other online systems for role-playing, and Gamegrene encourages such discussion. As a long-time GM this was just one way to rejuvenate my jones.

Interesting Development.

Obviously the more groups running around, the more difficult it is for the DM to be in control. Also he can't act if he's not physically present at the terminal. So I think that this game is best used like a tabletop game ie running a single group of characters, in a planned adventure, lasting a few hours, with people logging on at an agreed time.

I assume that the pc's can talk to each other and hold private conversations too ? Is that the case ?

I agree wholeheartedly. I don't use it to make my own MMORPG, and I still only invite players who are responsible enough not to exploit the weaknesses of the system.

As for conversations, there are channels and tells which give the players lots of options for speaking only to the DM or only to each other, as well as plenty of emotes for making their character laugh or taunt. For instance, one player chose a monk who is constantly repeating the phrase "damn your eyes!" at inappropriate times.

steelbuddha, this is a long shot, but do you have any matching opinions on the engine built into the Vampire: The Masquerade game that came out years before NWN? It purportedly had similar technology which would allow you to build your own world/adventures for people to play in. I'm not sure, however, if it allowed a ghostlike GM to follow the players around and interact with them as NPCs (I bought the game, but never found the time to actually experiment with the tools).

Sorry, no. I only got my hands on that game recently, and i haven't been able to install the copy my friend loaned me on Windows 2000. i have heard great things about the game, but without playing it, I can't make any comment. If you or someone you know has tried it though, I encourage you to comment here.

By no means is NWN the only online RPG system to make the attempt, but it's the first one that intrigued me enough to try.

I remember the Vampire game. I was only a player in the game, but it did have a lot of customability. In fact, fans had gone through and created .mods that allowed you to play all of the five from the WoD (Vamp, werewolf, mage, wraith, changeling). The powers were similar to some vampire powers, but it was sort of neat to do. I recall that people were trying to build an entire World of Darkness and groups were building different cities through out the world. I do recall some bugs with the game though.. the character development system didn't match the Storytelling system too well.

One thing that I noticed, the NWN system allows you to have the 'free form' DMing, where he can have the NPCs chat.. I don't think the Vampire game had that.. I think the DM/ST had to pre-program all of that. Or perhaps it was only in the games I played, that the DM/ST did that. For some reason the NWN toolset seems more robust in building adventures, and the Vampire game was more concetrated on building towns, etc.

Sounds interesting.

I'm not sure I'd use something like this for my "A games," but if you've got a group that is based out of Town X, then this sounds useful to take care of "B games."

For sounds like you can have your PC's go buy stuff and listen to tavern tales and whatnot. So, in the "downtime" between adventures, your PC's could sell their new loot...and maybe figure out a clue or two about their next adventure.

I like playing "downtime" games here and there, but my friends and I don't have the time to cover all of the details (dare I say sidebars?) in our campaigns -- this sounds like a useful tool to get around that.

Unless you're doing a strict in-town campaign (which can be fun), I'm not sure this would work well for the "main" game...mostly for all of the reasons stated in the article.

At any rate, it sounds like it could be fun and quite useful.

::curses crappy video card::

Damn you!

I spent $50 on this fucking game so waht do you mean you can't run it!

Stupid peice of shit!

::kicks computer::

::sits back down to play Pool Of Radiance::


This game sucks.

Amen. It does require a fairly new video card if you want it ro un well, if at all. I had to go without for many months after the release, much to the chagrin of Most-honoured Girlfriend, who finally succumbed to my whining, bless her.

I should have mentioned that the game tends to have issues with any ATI card, for reasons unknown. After months of wrestling with it and poring over forum after forum, (much to the chagrin of Most-honoured Girlfriend, bless her), I gave in and bought an nVidia. I've had no problems since.

Well, I actually have an ATI card in both my laptop and PC. (and both can run NWN) Both are a 9000 series (9800 for PC and 9600 mobile something for laptop). Doing research showed me that older ATI cards (even just a generation before the 9000's) had some issues! But they recently fixed it.. Apparetly, really new Nvidea's have issues now.. (I guess it goes back and forth)

As far as a player's persepective of NWN.. the multi-player games I have played have been really great, actually.. with the 'free form' DMing, it seemed a lot more like a table top.. you felt you could say anything and get a real response.. The funny thing is, combat is so quick now.. on table top, you could spend 30 mnutes in a small battle. Battles don't last much over 2 minutes.. which is a big change. One thing that we are doing to help our DM out, is we're building 'maps' of areas to populate the world.. I'm doing an area that is the temple where my monk trains, etc. that way my background is more real, and the DM has more settings options-- and our characters have those options now as well..
Of course not all players can put in that time!

If no one has mentioned it yet, anyone wanting to play NWN from the viewpoint of it being like a PnP game should check out

My experiences are written up here:

Initial Experience:

After Two Years:

In short, NWN can be run in a variety of styles and approaches, and the people at are often testing those boundaries (to some degree).

Check out for a total NWN conversion to Renaissance Roleplaying.