When opportunity arose to participate in the design for the Neverwinter project, I jumped at the chance. Not only did the Neverwinter Campaign Setting
represent the triumphant return to Forgotten Realms
print products, but from the outset the plan was to tell a vast, sweeping story in which players could immerse themselves.
Character backgrounds, motivations, and goals are the lynchpin holding much of Neverwinter together, in the form of one of the coolest (in my opinion) 4th Edition mechanics around: character themes.
Neverwinter Character Themes
Character theme tie-ins saturate every print Neverwinter product, especially the D&D Game Day adventures: Gates of Neverdeath, and D&D Encounters: Lost Crown of Neverwinter. Simply put, the players’ approach to the story varies depending on what themes they choose, simultaneously enriching these adventures as well as sculpting them around the players.
Some themes make natural allies, such as the lycanthropic Dead Rat deserter and primal Pack Outcast, or the disinherited Neverwinter Noble and Heir of Delzoun (both of whom search for a lost heritage). Some, on the other hand, make for natural enemies (the Harper Agent and the Scion of Shadow, for instance) who can nevertheless find common ground and even become close friends. Alliances can shift during a campaign, as the heroes achieve more of their goals and are forced to make decisions.
In the two Neverwinter adventures (Game Day and Encounters), I made a concerted effort to tie every encounter to at least one of the themes. Some themed characters might get bonuses to deal with the situation at hand, while some might simply get extra information the rest of the heroes wouldn’t otherwise know. For instance, part of the Gates of Neverdeath adventure deals with Thayan operatives in the city, which means a great deal to the Renegade Red Wizard that is trying to put necromancy and Thay behind him. He gains bonuses to learn about certain enemies, but might find himself the main target of their wrath should his desertion be discovered.
Also for example, parts of the Lost Crown of Neverwinter Encounters season deal heavily with the spellplague, which is just a (albeit strange) sort of magic to most heroes but of extreme significance to a hero with the Spellscarred Harbinger theme.
Weaving a Story: The Lost Crown
The primary uniting force of the adventures and the Neverwinter campaign as a whole is the fabled Crown of Neverwinter, a mythical artifact of great power and significance to the city. It is said that whoever proves worthy of the Crown shall sit upon the throne of Neverwinter—and so it draws claimants from all corners, including Dagult Neverember the Lord Protector of Neverwinter, the Sons of Alagondar rebels, and numerous villains operating in the region. It is also one of the main quests of the Neverwinter Noble theme. If such a hero can acquire the Crown, then that proves a major step in his ultimate goal of reclaiming his birthright.
Other themes might be equally interested in the Crown for their own reasons. The Oghma’s Faithful would relish the chance to study a relic of such power and history, while the Heir of Delzoun might see it as a key to unlocking the mystery of Gauntlgrym. The Harper Agent and Bregan D’aerthe Spy want the Crown for the same reason: to elevate a strong ruler to control the region. Their motives vary, of course, in that the Harper is more likely to want the true heir restored, while the drow operative wishes to install a puppet ruler that answers to his master, Jarlaxle. The Iliyanbruen Guardian might view the Crown as properly belonging to her people, while it might hold almost religious significance to the Uthgardt Barbarian as a powerful totem. More practical characters, like the Dead Rat Deserter or Pack Outcast, might want to sell it as a beautiful trinket. The possibilities are endless.
Plunging into this sea of story was precisely the fun as well as the challenge in writing these adventures.
Neverwinter’s Political Intrigue
Building on the concept of various and often-conflicting motivations, a major theme of the Neverwinter adventure series is navigating the turbulent political waters of a troubled city. The Lost Crown represents a valuable prize for anyone who would claim the throne of Neverwinter, and figuring out which faction to support (or to strike out on their own) falls to the heroes.
In designing Neverwinter, we didn’t want to cast any particular NPC as a clear-cut good guy. Hence, Lord Neverember is powerful and extremely effective in stabilizing the city, but is also corrupt and imperialist. While the Sons of Alagondar have the best of intentions in resisting the foreign usurper, they have made shady pacts with dark powers, such as the Dead Rats gang and even the Thayans under Valindra Shadowmantle. Both of these relationships surface over the course of the adventures, the intention of which is to instill doubt in the heroes about whom to trust.
In the Gates of Neverdeath and Lost Crown of Neverwinter, this same ambiguity runs true. In the Game Day adventure, circumstances thrust the heroes into a struggle over the fabled Crown of Neverwinter, and though it is clear that the primary villains (the Red Wizards of Thay) can’t be allowed to have it, the adventure leaves it purposefully unclear as to whether returning it to the heroes’ patron is the right thing to do.
This theme continues in Lost Crown, where the heroes will have even more decisions to make, and with even bigger stakes.
Upcoming Neverwinter Events
Gates of Neverdeath takes place on Saturday, August 6, and games will be available at Gen Con. For details on the Neverwinter D&D Game Day, go here.
Lost Crown of Neverwinter, the next D&D Encounters season, starts on Wednesday, August 10. Look for details on the D&D Encounters page soon.
Forge of the Dawn Titan, part of the new Wizards Play Network in-store program, Lair Assault, starts on September 1. Details on the program can be found here.
Upcoming Neverwinter Products