Dear readers, I am annoyed. In fairness, that’s pretty much my default setting, but in this case I’m particularly annoyed.
I had a plan, you see. Sword Coast Legends is being billed as a sort of follow-up to Neverwinter Nights, in terms of it letting you create modules and even have one player act as a DM, guiding the hapless adventurers through it. I planned to build a module, do a quick randomly-generated Dungeon Crawl with Peter Parrish (PC Invasion’s dungeoneering equivalent of a mine canary) to get the hang of the Dungeon Master controls, and then DM him through my module.
We’d then post up a screenshot-filled article showing off the module’s playthrough and what each of us were doing at any given moment, followed up by me explaining how I built it and what I thought of the module creation tools. Then I’d maybe fix the module up a bit to make it slightly less shit, and share it online for anyone who wanted to experience true disappointment. So, over the course of a few hours, I got the hang of how everything worked and built that module.
The next day, a few hours before we were due to start… the preview code got a 4GB update and my module vanished into the Nine Hells.
So instead, we did a couple of quick Dungeon Crawls, and we’ll probably write about our experiences with that another time. Today, though, I’m going to walk you through what was one of the worst things to grace the internet since that one link that everyone keeps tricking you into looking at.
Here’s the good thing: module creation is really simple. Here’s the bad thing: module creation is really simple. I kept wondering if I’d missed a checkbox enabling Advanced Options or something, because the modules you can build feel a lot like customised Dungeon Crawls, only with linked areas and a thin plot.
You can’t, for instance, carefully recreate The Temple of Elemental Evil. As far as I can tell you can’t even create in-depth NPCs with conversation trees, and maybe skill checks for conversation options. Hell, as far as I’m aware, you can’t even create NPCs you can converse with, outside of those that are quest-related – and even then, it’s only to accept or decline the quest.
Likewise, every above-ground area – cities, mountains, forests – are all pre-made areas, and every dungeon is randomly generated, so you can’t construct the beautiful, misty thicket of forest paths that you wander in your dreams, or the confusing Escher-esque labyrinth of your players’ nightmares.
Having had a quick glance at the review copy, none of this seems to have changed (including the amount of areas available, so Head Start players, you’ve already seen the module content; yes, it looks like there are still only a handful of pre-defined bosses), and there don’t appear to be very many areas or enemy groups at all so custom modules are probably going to get a tad repetitive quite quickly.
I’m sincerely hoping that I’ve missed some sort of option that makes all of this stuff possible, and if so I profusely apologise for being so misleading… but if that option exists, I couldn’t find it. I’m also sincerely hoping that a number of enemy groups and areas are still disabled in the review code. As far as I can tell, some of this stuff (conversations and the like) is indeed possible, but only through modules that have a DM present, and not stand-alone ones. I’m also sincerely hoping that maybe some are currently locked away because of the game’s story mode, with certain enemies and areas becoming available either once the game’s been out for a little while or once you complete sections of the main campaign.
Still, what the hell. Maybe we’ll get a load of free DLC to fix these issues as time passes, with paid DLC adding in more esoteric regions and enemies; we already know there’s a Rage of Demons DLC Module coming free to pre-order customers, so hopefully that’ll offer some new enemies and areas. In terms of offering a base product and then expanding it massively over the next few years, I maybe wouldn’t complain too much. Maybe. Except that it’s £30, which is quite a steep introductory price.
But enough whining. We’re here to talk about the worst Sword Coast Legends module conceived by man: the PC Invasion Module.
This module starts in the basic adventurer’s camp (which would’ve been the PC Invasion Bunker, had I been able to find a way to build anything resembling a bunker), and the first thing I need to do is create an NPC to act as a quest-giver. Since I’m bizarrely narcissistic despite cripplingly low self-esteem, this is going to be Tim McDonald, Knight of the PC.
He’s got fairly basic Fighter stats and I couldn’t find a way to adjust his level (likely due to the game’s automated level-scaling, so I’m stuck with a “level offset” to match him above or below the average party level), sooo I guess he’s just some guy in vaguely okay-ish gear. I was going to give him a rolling pin as a weapon, but opted for the slightly less weird rapier/shield combo you see there.
Once he’s been plonked into the camp, I realise that we also need a shopkeeper so that our adventurers have both somewhere to buy better gear, and to sell whatever crap they loot from enemies. Obviously, this can only be Paul Younger, Quartermaster of the PC… who I decided to create as a giant blue dog, because I’m easily amused.
The module’s plot revolved around another Knight of the PC who’d gone missing while searching for an ancient PC artifact, and because Tim McDonald is incredibly lazy, he’d rather send your party of adventurers out to find out what’s going on rather than actually do it himself. Also, this is a fantasy RPG so there will definitely be spiders, and he’s really not up for that.
You’d find his corpse in a nearby forest area – the Dynamix Road, because obviously the ancient PC artifact was some sort of Incredible Machine, and if you groaned loudly at that then you’re exactly the sort of person this module was aimed at – filled with goblins, but the corpse itself showed signs of attack from something a bit more sophisticated than goblins. The route he was following led into the treacherous Troika Mountains (complex, beautiful, full of sudden and unexpected pitfalls that would often leave adventurers trapped with no escape), where players would find a band of mercenaries who’d been hired to kill the deceased Knight of the PC.
Following their trail would eventually lead you to the Black Isle Fortress – long-abandoned, and now full of weird cultists – where a traitorous Knight of the PC, renowned war criminal Peter Parrish, was trying to reactivate the long-dormant Infinity Engine. You’d take him down in some sort of climactic battle, possibly involving golems because that was about the only thing I could think of that could substitute for an Infinity Engine. Maybe there’d be a large machine pumping out golems, or something, and you’d have to periodically disable it to stop the flow of rocky murderbots, just to add a bit of puzzle flavour to the fight.
So yeah, it was basically full of crap gaming-related jokes and puns, loosely tied together into a Dungeons & Dragons RPG.
I’d also planned to expand it with plenty more stuff, given time. As an example: quest-giver Tim McDonald would pop up at the start of the final dungeon area and would help you out in the final boss battle, but only if you killed off a hidden, super-hard spider enemy somewhere on that floor, as a sort of side-quest, because he was too scared to proceed otherwise.
The problem is that most of this… wasn’t actually do-able. Which is sad, because as far as basic RPG stuff goes, it was hardly ambitious.
The final dungeon, for instance, was two floors: the upper floor was a castle, while the lower floor was a set of catacombs. While I could fiddle with the specifics of the encounters and place enemies and decorations and so on where I liked, I couldn’t customise the actual layout of the dungeon.
I couldn’t find a way to set up the spider boss (Boris the Spider, titled “Tim’s Nightmare”) as a separate quest, because dungeons are only allowed to have one boss, and that was obviously going to be Peter. I might’ve been able to set it up as a generic “kill one spider” quest… but I couldn’t set up any flags that would allow Tim McDonald to join as a follower after that quest finished. I couldn’t set up conversation trees asking why Paul was a blue dog, or why Tim’s armour was bright pink, or why the guards (in a town mocking generic RPG conventions that I didn’t have time to build) couldn’t handle their low-level quest themselves. I couldn’t do a lot of stuff that honestly doesn’t seem complicated. Bizarrely, though, it’s the conversation trees that really get me, considering how much flavour dialogue tends to add to things.
As a specific example, one thing I tried was in the Troika Mountains area (which was chosen from a grand total of two possible “mountain” layouts). When you arrived, there’d be loads of dead mercenaries around, and every living mercenary would be on around 20% health. Examining one of the bare tables in their camp would note that there was no food around, and that this was clearly some sort of fatal bug.
For the uninitiated, Troika made ambitious, complex, and usually wonderful games that tended to have game-breaking bugs that were even more spectacular than the game itself. Please see Arcanum, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines for reference.
I set up the corpses, and the tables, and the text that played on examining the tables, and lowered the health of the Mercenaries. But, uh… on actually testing the module and visiting that area, they all seemed to have full health. I’m not sure if my “Alter Creature Health” thing lowered their maximum HP, but it looked like it only impacted their current HP. Quite useful when you’re DMing a live game and need to quickly make things easier – and it uses basically the same interface, so I imagine that is what it was doing – but not much help when you’re building a module.
As for the final boss battle… yeah, that just came down to a fight against Peter Parrish and some cultists I shunted into the room. Golems weren’t part of the enemy sets I had for that region (Demon Cultists and Mercenaries, I think?) though I could’ve put them a couple in as individual characters… although I didn’t actually see golems in the enemy list anywhere. And having a machine occasionally pumping them out to add some spice and a bit of a puzzle element seemed way outside the scope of the editor.
So no, unfortunately, the module editor is less “create a stand-alone RPG thing of your very own!” and more “customise a Dungeon Crawl with some quests and a few extra areas based on pre-defined locations!” From what I can gather, playing a module with a DM does allow a lot of this stuff (like conversations, and so on), but as the update ate my module like Tomb of Horrors eats parties, I can’t really talk about that. I can say that DM-ing a Dungeon Crawl was kinda hilarious, but I’ll let Peter tell you about the random appearance of fireball-spewing rats.
Again, I can’t speak to the full capabilities of the module editor because it looks like a large part of it is invested in actually having a DM run the module rather than having it run as a stand-alone adventure. And again, I really hope that I’ve got something horribly wrong and I just didn’t enable the Advanced Editor or something. So let’s be fair: there is a chance that the DM mode fixes a lot of these issues, and is a pretty good way of gathering a party and venturing forth via the 8th-level magic of the internet.
I hope to find the time to build a module and DM Peter through it so that I can get to grips with how powerful the DM tools are in a module setting (and, hopefully, the answer will be “considerably moreso”), but I’m not sure if I’ll have the time. I’m also hoping that patches and free DLC will massively expand the module editor, because – right now – Neverwinter Nights this ain’t.
On the plus side, actually DM-ing that Dungeon Crawl was a lot of fun, and if nothing else, randomly hopping into an online game full of lunatics and either acting as DM or acting as player to a DM might be a bit of a treat. But we’ll talk more about that in another article.