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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tyranny of Dragons - Neverwinter MMO

I normally write about tabletop D&D, but today I'd like to write about the online MMO known as Neverwinter, which came out a little over a year ago. I tried it and liked it when it came out, but I moved on pretty fast (tabletop D&D takes up a lot of my free time).

Recently I realized that Neverwinter has released two Tyranny of Dragons expansions for the game - "Tyranny of Dragons" (not "Hoard of the Dragon Queen") and "The Rise of Tiamat". I thought about it for a minute and realized that I had to see if I could actually play through a version of the tabletop adventure online. How cool would that be? At the very least, there's probably new material in it for me to steal for my game.

I've played it. It really isn't a conversion of the adventures at all. But there are some elements and NPCs that overlap, which I really get a kick out of.

First, I am going to talk a bit about the actual Neverwinter game. Then I'll get into the Tyranny stuff and we'll see if there's any ideas we can use for the tabletop.

Playing Neverwinter

Neverwinter is an MMO - you run around killing monsters and leveling up alongside other real life people. It's an "action" game, where you control every swing of your sword. I use a guardian fighter, which means when I want to block an attack I hit the shift key to hold up my shield.

Once you hit level 60 (which is the highest level in the game, at least until next month when it is increased to 70), then you get into this whole thing where you try to acquire better suits of armor and weapons. You have a "gear score" which is a mathematical expression of how powerful you are. In some of the newer content, you need a certain gear score to even go to a specific zone (like Icewind Dale - I can't even go there yet. The pirate dude who is in charge of who gets to go keeps insulting my gear).

Freshly minted level 60 characters will have a gear score of around 9,000. The highest gear score I've seen is 24,000!

Seeing D&D Lore on the Screen is Fun

This is set in the Forgotten Realms, which is very cool. The city of Neverwinter itself is awesome. There's hovering earthmotes (an inn literally floats above the city) and a volcano is seen in the distance (Mount Hotenow, site of the first D&D lair assault - Forge of the Dawn Titan). It is so fun to play in a realm you've read about in the tabletop game.

Certain zones are pretty awe-inspiring. The first time I went to an underdark drow city, it felt really special. Drow cities are such an iconic part of D&D, I loved getting to creep through one with it's weird spires and purple light. When you fight a drider, it takes it to a whole new level.

Heading to the mind flayer realm
There is also a mind flayer zone. I felt like they didn't get it quite right. There is a cool feature where, to get to it, you have to pass through quasi-dimension with odd geometric shapes in it. But the place itself doesn't use enough actual mind flayer lore for my liking. I would have liked to see more of the concepts from The Illithiad in it like the illithid touch-script (qualith), brain golems and vibrissa-gauntlets.

I haven't gone through all of the content yet, but I'd also have liked to see more use of the Elder Brain and tadpoles. It seems like the developers just took some basic 4e mind flayer stuff and left it at that. Frankly it feels under-developed. You can't skimp on mind flayers.

The Economy of Neverwinter

A lillend, one of the coolest companions you can buy
The game has an utterly ridiculous economy. In order to stretch things out and keep you playing, you are supposed to spend your time trying to upgrade your weapons, artifacts and equipment. I find the whole thing a little insulting, but I do understand that there is only so much content and they need to find a way to keep people playing.

Neverwinter is free to play. In theory, you don't have to spend a dime. But they sure do try their best to get you to throw down some cash to circumvent their ludicrously time-consuming gear grind. There are literally dozens of types of currency. I am not kidding. Every module has about 4 types of currency. One type of currency sometimes buys another. Then that currency is used to buy module-specific gear. There's three main types of currency in the game:
  • Zen: This is bought with real money. You can use it to buy the best mounts (who come in three speeds), companions (sidekick NPCs who are pretty essential, IMO) and assorted gear.
  • Gold: You'd think gold would be the main currency, but it's not. It's got it's uses, but quickly you learn that the real main currency is...
  • Astral Diamonds: These are not like the 4e AD, which are worth 10,000 gold each. When you buy stuff in the auction house, it's with astral diamonds, not with gold. NPC vendors sell the best gear for AD, not gold. There's even an astral diamond/Zen exchange, where you can spend vast amounts of astral diamonds for a tiny bit of Zen. I think it's usually about 400 astral diamonds for 1 zen. In the zen store, most things cost anywhere from 700 zen to 3,000 zen.
I spent some time reading up on "how to make astral diamonds" and there are these gigantic guides. Just glance at this one and you can see just how insane it all is. People have spent inordinate amounts of time on figuring out how to make a profit on a fictional currency. At some point when reading it through, you will likely ask yourself "why aren't these people putting this kind of thought into making money in real life?" Who knows, maybe they are. But it becomes very apparent that this all takes an awful lot of time.

Just as an example as to how you can make astral diamonds, one method is to create a bunch of characters (careful, you have to pay zen for more character slots), log in with each of them and "invoke". Invoking is basically praying to your god, who rewards you with stuff - mainly astral diamonds. It's the game's way of rewarding you for playing. You can make, I think, 2,400 astral diamonds per day, per character, just for invoking. All of this money can be shifted to your "main" character's bank account.

So there are people in real life who spend a half hour a few times per day, every day, who just log in with each character, invoke, and log out. You may think they're rich, but most of the good gear costs around 700,000 astral diamonds each in the auction house.

Astral diamonds are so important to your character that the game sometimes takes on a "stock exchange" feel. I spent a few hours playing through the same limited-time event "skirmish" (mini-adventure) because every 8th time or so, I'd be rewarded with a druid companion that I could sell in the auction house for 13,000 astral diamonds.

I'm also hemming and hawing because apparently once this event "skirmish" ends, the price of the druid may skyrocket. It did last year (apparently each one sold for 100,000 astral diamonds). Also, with a new module on the horizon, a lot of returning and new players/buyers will hit the market. Do I hold on to my druids for a few weeks to get a shot at a massive profit or do I sell them now for a quick turnaround? Fantasy adventure at it's finest!


You can acquire gear through adventuring, but it takes a very long time to get it. A lot of gear and items can and should be upgraded in the massive time suck that is known as refining and enchantments. Most gear has "slots" for you to put in magic, enchanted gems. These enchantments give you stat bonuses. Enchantments have levels, or "ranks". The weakest enchantments are rank 1. The best are rank 10.

If you want a rank 10 enchantment, you have to level it up. Usually you can find a rank 5 enchantment on a dead monster. Then you have to dump weaker enchantments into it, which slowly levels it up to rank 6. But to get it to actually level to rank 6, you need refinement stones and a ward and even then there's a percent chance that the attempt fails unless you use a coalescent ward which costs around 500,000 astral diamonds. It is ridiculous. To me there is nothing less heroic than going on quests to make money to buy a stone which might help my magic gem be ever so slightly more powerful.

But again, this is a way to make the powerful items feel truly special and it keeps us playing. By making certain items so difficult to attain, it gives them a lot of social worth.

Also, the idea of magic enchantment stones is something that might be cool to add to your 5e D&D game. You've already got the rules for making magic items in the 5e DMG, you might be able to come up with some cool enchantment stones to embed into your PCs' items. When you consider that magic items are much rarer in 5e (at least, they are in the published adventures), this might be a really fun way to work around that while staying true to the spirit of the game.

The Modules

Since the game has been released, there have been expansions, called "modules" (an appreciated nod to D&D):
  • Fury of the Feywild - Yep, you get to go to the feywild in this game. The NPCs there have a mix of great and hilarious voice acting. There's a guy who starts off his speech with "Lady Winterwhite..." and the way he says it makes me laugh out loud every single time.
  • Shadowmantle - This is a cool undead area teeming with Red Wizards of Thay, including Rath Modar from the tabletop adventure! I will be stealing the dome of Underwing and using it somehow in my Rise of Tiamat game for sure. There's also a quest to destroy a sphere of annihilation by throwing a rod of cancellation into it, which is very usable, too.
  • Icewind Dale - This area is still locked for me, until I progress further in the first two modules.
  • Tyranny of Dragons - The Cult of the Dragon is spread out over a bunch of zones. Each one has a dragon for you to fight.
  • The Rise of Tiamat - You actually go to the Well of Dragons and fight Tiamat!
I am still progressing through the Tyranny storyline, although I have actually fought Tiamat, which was insane. I am far too under-geared to do anything but get mauled utterly by the horde of rampaging devils that accompany Tiamat.

The Well of Dragons
The Well of Dragons in the game is depicted as a barren desert teeming with cultists and red wizards. The desert is pretty dull. Periodically, five "dragon heralds" of tiamat appear there and there's this huge train of heroes that races across the desert and slaughters them all (and I mean... slaughters).

Weirdly enough, my favorite thing about this zone is the use of the red wizards. One thing I really like is how the red wizards have different flunkies. They've got Thayan Infiltrators (mooks who throw daggers) and Thayan Iron Golems, which are big clanky monsters. The red wizards are also often accompanied by legion devils, who teleport on either side of you as the red wizard pelts you with spells.

I especially like how the red wizard illusionists can create mirror images of themselves. These mirror images are their own monster, that can exist permanently away from their creator. They are made of purple fire and they hover above the ground. I think that in the tabletop game, battling purple fire mirror images of Rath Modar long before actually meeting Rath is a great way to build up the fact that he is an important and anticipated figure in the game.

The Cultists

The cultists are utterly fantastic in this game. Neverwinter handles them like the hack and slash blog did - the cult is split into colors, and each color has their own power/gimmick. They are awesome and you should definitely steal this! The cultists in the game:

Blue: Knights in blue armor with swords and shields. They can conjure these lightning shields for a few seconds that are impenetrable to harm. You have to run around behind the lightning shield to harm the cultist. Frequently these shields are used to protect their drake allies. Might make for a cool mechanic in the tabletop game.

Green: These ladies give me a lot of trouble. They have bows that fire off spells. They can create these roots that stick me in place, and then they fire off these charged green beams of energy that do a ton of damage. Basically, she sticks me to the ground and then the other cultists rush in and pummel me. It's horrible.

Black: These guys look quite like the cultists in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, except they can read these scrolls that enlarge them. Once enlarged, they do a lot of damage and are a real pain to defeat.

White: These knights have a really wacky attack where they spin and hit you over and over. As they spin, they emanate these ice orbs that freeze you in place if they hit you. I'd take out the spin but keep the orbs.

I assume there are red cultists, I just haven't met any yet.

The Dragons

The dragons in the tyranny of dragons module are awesome. At the very least, you can steal the names. The dragons look and sound really cool, and give you a great feeling as to how a D&D dragon fight can look and sound like. It makes sense to me that I end up always trying to get at the dragon's side to hack into it. You do not want to be by the tail or head!

In the game these dragons are fought in "heroic encounters". The dragon shows up every 20 minutes or so, heroes assemble, and usually a group of 10 or 15 adventurers rush the thing and have this epic battle. It's a lot of fun.

Steal the names: Charthraxis (Green), Merothrax (white), Venfithar (blue), Vartlingorax (black) Vilithrax (undead?)

NPCs We May Be Familiar With

They could have used a lot more NPCs from the adventure and I wish they had. Maybe there's more, but so far I see no sign of Rezmir, Talis the White or Neronvain the Green.  Also, now that I think about it, Skyreach Castle would have been incredibly awesome in this game.
  • Severin: He is the villain of the D&D tabletop Rise of Tiamat adventure, and he's in the MMO, from what I understand (cultists frequently shout "For Severin!"). I haven't faced him yet. He might have been in the Tiamat fight - I don't know, as I did that fight once but it was utter chaos and I was in way over my head.
  • Sandesyl Morgia: This vampire is in your camp at the Well of Dragons. In the tabletop, she's in the final episode of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. My heroes made relatively quick work of her. In this MMO, she's aiding you against Tiamat. Whoever did her voice deserves $50,000. I could listen to her talk all day.
  • Elminster: Elminster is at the camp! I don't think he's voiced by Ed Greenwood, which is an utter crime against humanity. Apparently the inclusion of Elminster is in response to player requests - they want to see more "famous" D&D NPCs in the MMO. This brings up the question as to why Elminster isn't just dealing with all of this himself, as he is insanely powerful and, if you recall, in one novel his girlfriend took down four pit fiends with her many hair-wielded magic wands. It's cool to see him in the game, I guess.
I would have liked to see more NPCs from the published adventures in the game. For example, in the MMO, harper quests are doled out by "Harper Windle". It seems like it would have been pretty easy to use Remallia Haventree from the adventure instead.

It also would have been nice to see the Council of Neverwinter, or in particular the metallic dragons. How cool would it be to get to meet a gold dragon in the game? As far as I know, the evil sword Hazirawn isn't in the game, either. That's a bummer.

Not Too Shabby

All in all, it doesn't seem like the MMO took advantage of the material in the tabletop version. I am guessing this kind of thing sounds easier to implement than it actually is. It's too bad though, because I think it would have helped create more cross-interest. At least, it would have for me.

It also doesn't help that the Neverwinter link page on the official D&D site is so dry. The first sentence puts me to sleep. Sell me on it, people! I can fight Tiamat in a computer game for free, why wouldn't I want to try that?! I should have the opportunity to adventure alongside Mike Mearls and Chris Perkins' characters. Heck, DMs who run the game in the store should get special loot in the MMO, am I right? Anybody?

If you are thinking like this game is worth a try (it is, in my humble opinion), you should know that in a month they are launching the Elemental Evil module in conjunction with the new D&D adventure! How cool is that? It's a great time to be a D&D player.

If you want to know more about Neverwinter, Sly Flourish has a great review of the game here.

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