My Thoughts Upon Neverwinter

To whom it may concern:

This is an open letter to Cryptic regarding their upcoming Neverwinter game. This is my personal comments on what I want to see as parts of the game's design and my concerns about how it may develop.

Originally Completed on: August 31, 2010

Updated on Sept 2, 2010: Added suggestions on handling Loot. Revisions to Guild Features and Power Timers sections to make ideas more clearly state. Guild message board idea struck.

Updated on Sept 3, 2010: Changes to reflect the VE interview. PvP section struck.


To start with, I have to admit that it is somewhat unclear at this point (August, 2010) what sort of game Cryptic is trying to make. Very little info has been released so far, just those bits in interviews Jack Emmert has done regarding the game.

What I have gleaned from these is this short list of what we do know so far:

  1. It is a co-op RPG or OMG, instead of a typical MMORPG, and designed for party based play.
  2. Solo play will be an option, but significantly more challenging.
  3. Hireable mercenaries or allies to assist you in your fight (to fill out your party?).
  4. Five classes at start. (Fighter, Wizard, Rogue, Ranger, Cleric)
  5. Races will be classic Elves, Humans, Dwarves, and a few that haven't been mentioned yet.
  6. It is based on the 4E D&D rules.
  7. Abilities will reset on a timer, so a Daily power would reset every few hours.
  8. Action Points are earned in combat and spent to power special abilities called 'Boons'.
  9. Healing surges are limited and work similar to how they do in 4E.
  10. There will be dialogue choices and multipe-choice answers in dialogue.
  11. It will be limited to Heroic tier play at start. (Levels 1-10)
  12. There will be a content creation tool tentatively named Forge.
  13. It is uncertain whether their will be a DM mode as in the old Aurora NWN toolset.
  14. Online play only, you must login and connect to the game servers.
  15. No PvP content.
  16. That there will be a beta as it was mentioned in interview on Aug 23, 2010.

While the game has been described as "Dragon Age meets Oblivion" from the descriptions so far it sounds to me somewhat like it is the unholy offspring of a drunken tryst between DDO, Guild Wars, and NWN.

Or a re-invention of the old "Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom" or "Shadow Over Mystara" arcade games from the 90s.

While I hope that it is far more the former than the later, let me explain why I mentioned those games in particular:

DDO - This is probably the best D&D game to date. It is a good interpretation of 3.5 rules within the limits of an online game, it does a good job handling module / adventure style play in how the games quests are structured and instanced, and with the updates and improvements since it went F2P it is a pretty solid, pretty fun game to play once you get past the outdated graphics engine and the limits of character appearance customization. And that it is set in Eberron, but you take what you can get.

Guild Wars - This game is where I set the bar for what I see as OMG style play (at least for an online fantasy game). While it masquerades as an MMORPG you really have a small party co-op game with small public social hubs and then large private instanced adventure areas. It also is probably the best game out there for party vs party PvP.

NWN - Given that it is also set in Forgotten Realms, using a previous edition of D&D, and the name of the game is practically the same the playerbase will be expecting most (if not everything) of what they could do in NWN both in terms of gameplay and in content creation to be in Neverwinter. Players will be comparing these two games constantly up until and after launch and Neverwinter will have to be very impressive to do well versus fans nostalgia for NWN and the rosy spectacles they will be viewing the previous games through.

With these assumptions and data points in mind, here is what I personally want to see happen with Neverwinter:

Character Design

I have to state right now that one of my worse nightmares about Neverwinter is that the character you get to play is simply one of those silhouettes that you see on the page (ala Diablo) and the only customization you get to do is changing the skin tone, hair, and facial features of them. That you are simply stuck choosing between a human fighter, elf cleric, tiefling wizard, eladrin rogue, and half-elf ranger and trying to make them as pretty as you can.

However, this is a game by Cryptic and if there is one thing Cryptic does well it is the character creator.

I look forward to being able to make short fat halfling fighters, slim bald female dwarf rangers, human wizards with a nose so beak-like it looks like it could be used to slice cheese, and everything in between.

Speaking specifically on various aspects of character customizations:


While the races of Human, Elf and Dwarf have been mentioned already I am assuming that the most iconic races will be the first races chosen to be included in the game. Those being (in my eyes) the Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and Half-elf.

That makes fives races, what then of the other thirty-one playable 4E races?

From the art on the site I am assuming that either Tiefling will be playable or that the wizard in that picture has quite the awesome wizard-hat. Personally, I rather like Tieflings so I am hoping they are one of the launch races in their horn-headed betailed glory.

Eladrin is a PHB1 race, and while I am not overly enthralled with the Feywild and it's related concepts myself, it is an elf-like race which means that their will be people wanting to play them and with their stat bonuses you are almost guaranteed to have a dozen Eladrin wizards named E1r0nd made in the first few hours.

Dragonborn should get considered because it is both a very unique race in terms of appearance, but also if you are going to deal with tails on characters anyways with the Tiefling race you might as well make double use of that armor modeling effort and include the Dragonborn as well. At the same time, they are the most unusual of all the PHB1 races in appearance and would require much more modeling time and effort to get a good scaled look for them working.

Warforged is a No. Simply, no. Not. At. All. They are not a Forgotten Realms race. They are an Eberron (DDO) race and should not be part of Neverwinter, imho.

PHB2 included the Deva, Gnome, Goliath, Half-Orc, and Shifter.

Gnome and Half-Orc are both traditional D&D races that were core races all the way back to 1st edition. Though pushed off to PHB2 with 4E, including them would make sense in that they were in the previous NWN game and they are popular with the D&D base (much forum-rage when Gnome wasn't in PHB1). They are also races that aren't in DDO so it would give you an additional perk to draw DDO players to Neverwinter and to differentiate Neverwinter from that game.

Next we come to the FRPG (Forgotten Realm Players Guide) and the two races in there.

Drow are almost a must to include. Given the insane popularity of R.A. Salvatore's character Drizzt Do'Urden, to make a FR game without playable drow at this point would just be an invitation for massive threads of people begging and whining for them to be added (and you thought the Caitian threads on the STO forums were bad (I am still holding out for playable Horta)).

Genasi on the other hand can probably wait until after launch. While I'd love to be able to play one myself (I enjoy playing my Earthsoul Swordmage Genasi in LFR) they are a more complex race both graphically (his heads on fire! that one's hair is made of crystal! that one glows in the dark!) and mechanically (four different racial bonuses and racial powers) to add to character creation. It would actually be simpler to break them into four seperate races, one for each elemental manifestation, than to set them up as one race with four wildly different sets of graphical options. I do hope that they do get included in Neverwinter at some point as they are an interesting race.

That then would leave us with eleven starting races: Dragonborn, Drow, Dwarf, Eladrin, Elf, Gnome, Half-Elf, Half-Orc, Halfling, Human, and Tiefling. With only five classes at launch, 11 races would make for a very wide range of possible characters people could create.

The rest of the races can be added later to the game, since while they may have fans (I'd love to play a Gnoll myself) I don't think they would be as much of a draw to players or that people would complain as vocally about them being missing as they would about that set of eleven.

Mechanically, none of the racial powers are more complex than the class powers that exist in the Heroic Tier in PHB1. I imagine that the restricting factor on how many of those eleven races make it in game before launch would have to be based around how much time the modeling and character art team have to devote to working on them.

Honestly, I expect the game will likely launch with only six or seven races but I still hold out hope to see that full group of eleven shortly after launch as I believe they all have something to add to the game.


In one of the interviews Jack Emmert mentioned "Dragon Age mixed with Oblivion". One of the things Dragon Age did that made for interesting characters was including as part of character creation a bit of a background choice.

4E does have rules for background options in the system that would make for an interesting added quirk to character design. From pages 76 to 129 in the Forgotten Realms Players Guide are small descriptions of various regions as well as small regional mechanical benefits that you gain from being from them.

This looks like it would be a relatively simple feature to add that would help differentiate one players Human Ranger from anothers. Even if the mechanical portions of the backgrounds (the bonuses) are stripped out, adding in that small choice during the creation of characters would be one more way to add depth and variety to character creation.

It could fit into a title system (which I assume will exist, always fun to have titles to brag or show off) by making 'of Waterdeep', for example, a players default starting title as well as it being a description of the region they are from.

It could also show up in mission dialogue, where NPCs react differently to players based on where they are from. Not that it would be mechanical differences in modules, but part of the flavor of them. Maybe the barmaid finds men with Impiltur accents sexy, or the tired old lady in the corner reminisces fondly after hearing your character speak because her dead husband was from the Great Dale too and hearing the lilt of your speach reminds her of him.

Just small things like that which you stumble upon and discover during play can help make the experience between one character and the next different, make the world seem deeper and more intersting, and help increase the games replayability.

Class Features

You've already announced the five classes at launch and they are a good selection of classes as they are both classic ones D&D ones and they fill all four roles in 4E. The concerns I have then is how many of the build choices within those classes will be available at launch?

Looking at Fighter for instance, it is about as straight-forward a class as you get. In PHB1 all they have is a choice between "1-Handed Weapon" or "2-Handed Weapon" for their weapon talent. However, with all the books that have come out since then they now also have choices of "Battlerager Vigor", "Brawler Style", "Tempest Technique" and "Arena Fighter".

So I have to wonder if we are going to be stuck with just the basic of choices, those that were in PHB1 only, or if we will have access to the much wider range of options that are available in 4E now.

Things like the Fighter Talents, Wizard Arcane Implements, Rogue Tactics (and Rogue Weapon Talents), and Ranger Fighting Styles are pretty potent choices that are made during creation and affect the entire range of build choices you will make.

While they could be changed as part of a retraining process (not something you've said the game would have, but being able to respec is pretty standard for games these days and it is in the 4E system in limited form as retraining), and that would allow you to add more choices post-launch without requiring players to make new characters to take advantage of them, but I would still encourage you to include as many of them as you have time to before launch.

With only five classes having as many options as possible within those classes, to specialize and differentiate your fighter from all the other fighters out there, would make it feel as if there were a lot more choices than just five.

At the same time, while I'd love to see all of the possible powers in-game I can understand that the numbers are pretty daunting. Just in the heroic tier their are:

To be honest, if you managed to include even close to half of those at launch (which would mean some of the build options would be lacking in power choices and would be a very valid argument for not including them all of those choices at launch) I will be very impressed as that is a huge range of abilities requiring animations & art & testing.

While this may seem like a reversal of what I was saying a couple of paragraphs above, I do want every build option for each of the classes to be available, but I'd much rather have them be complete and actually mean something and make a difference during play, than to have multiple un-finished incomplete build choices so if options need to be left out at launch to give more time to complete the powers that benefit / are affected by them I would fully understand and be supportive of that.

A wide range of choices is very desirable, but those choices being fully-fleshed out and completed options is more important.

Additional Classes

While it may seem absurd to talk about post-launch content additions this far before the game is launced, I would make the argument that talking about the games future post-launch is never wasted words as it can affect the choices you make in the game design during development.

Or to put it another way, it is best to talk about when and how you mean to include classes with features like the Shaman spirit companion or the Psion's power points and augmentable abilities now, rather than to launch the game and suddenly realize that the code base is lacking the flexibility needed to make adding them to the game a task worth the time and effort involved.

With that aside, here are my thoughts on the matter.

Classes post-launch shouldn't be added to the game individually, but in trios (or at least pairs).

The reason being that at launch, with the five classes, you have a everything you need to make a balanced party. A leader (Cleric), a defender (Fighter), a controller (Wizard), and two different styles of striker (Rogue and Ranger).

The moment a new class is added you will see 'Shiny Syndrome' affect the playerbase. A portion of the players will drop their existing characters and rush off to try out whatever the shiny new class is. If you just add one class at a time, for example just adding Paladin to the game, you suddenly have a disproportionate number of people playing defender role characters and getting disgruntled with the game because they can't find people to play with as all the parties out there already have one or two defenders and are instead looking for someone who is a striker or controller.

If you add classes in a group of three (or two), and you make certain that those classes are in different roles, then even if 'Shiny Syndrome' strikes you are more likely to have a happy playerbase adventuring away and enjoying their new characters because not all of those new characters are competing for the same role in the party.

The downside of this is that it takes longer to build and complete three new classes than it takes to complete just one, so releases of new classes may be delayed for longer than if you put them out as each individual class was completed.

Regardless of how they are released, here are my suggestions for the order to complete and release additional classes in.

First set: Paladin, Bard, Druid

This does a couple of things. One, it gets most of the rest of the really iconic classes in-game. Paladins, Bards, and Druids have been around since pretty much the beginning of the game and all are classes that people easily and quickly recognize. This also adds a 2nd defender into the game (Paladin), another leader (Bard), and another controller (Druid). It also introduces the first Primal powersource class into the game. Technically Druids and their Wild Shape power may be the most complex near feature all of these suggested classes may have (I'd guess that the 2nd most complex bit would be Shaman's companion) so keeping them in mind during development of the game and making the choices early on that will one day allow you to implement Wild Shape smoothly is one of the reasons I am bringing up this whole subject now at this point in development.

Second set: Barbarian, Swordmage, Warlord

This is a slightly odder mix of classes. Barbarian is another somewhat iconic class, as well as being a very simple concept for people to get in terms of what the class is. Swordmage and Warlord are a bit less familiar to people. I chose Swordmage over some other classes for a couple of reasons. One is that it is a very showy, flashy class and would be a very visually pleasing choice among a trio of classes that are otherwise just 'people hitting things'. Second is that I would hope by this second update in classes that the Genasi race would have made it in-game and it is a class that very much complements them visually. Warlord I put in this trio because it is the only Martial class that would not already be in-game and you can never have enough choices between ways to buff / heal the party.In terms of roles it would be striker (Barbarian), defender (Swordmage), leader (Warlord).

Third set: Warlock, Shaman, Monk

Okay, I break my own rule here in that this trio consists of two strikers (Warlock, Monk). My excuse, is that the two types of strikers are very different (arcane ranged vs psi melee) and would play very differently in terms of their roles in a party. Monk is the last of the really iconic classes as well and while it is technically a Psionic power class, mechanically it plays like a Martial class (though with odd Full Discipline rules). Aside from Monk, I include Warlock and Shaman as they are both classes that would be visually appealing and different from the previous ones. Shaman also is something of a pet class with it's Companion Spirit and putting it this far out in terms of development means time to come up with a good UI to control the spirit and make sure it is where you want it to be to get the most out of your Shaman powers.

Fourth set and later...

There are 11 other classes I haven't mentioned, and while I'd love to see all 25 in-game someday (by the time the game comes out there will likely be more than 25 classes with next Marchs release of the Shadow source book) these are the ones that I would focus on first. They are a good mix of gameplay styles, interesting mechanics, and visual appeal.

Regardless of which classes, and what order they are released in, I hope to see them released in a way that continues to give players a wide range of choices and styles of play to choose between.

Back to the top.


Thier is currently a dearth of information regarding gameplay mechanics so some of this section may be more wildly off-base in terms of the game Cryptic is designing, more so than the other parts of this document. However, I still hope that there are some useable nuggets of idea here that can serve as useful fodder for thought about the game.

Power Timers

From what I've read so far, I rather like the way the At-Will, Encounter, and Daily powers are being handled. Setting them off of a timer makes a bit more sense in terms of gameplay rather than having to script into the content periodic places for extended rests so people can recover their powers.

I would assume that At-Wills reset after just a couple of seconds. Basically just long enough to make certain that animations finish and that a second At-Will being hit doesn't interrupt or over-write the first before it finishes executing. They are meant to be used as often as your turn comes up, and include basic melee attacks. So allowing for animation delay is about the only reason to have a timer / reset time for them.

Encounter powers I am a little less sure on how long the reset timer would be. I think mostly it depends on how long individual encounters actually take to fight / play through. I could see them reseting as quickly as every 3-5 minutes or as far out as every 10-15 depending on if fights are more arcade'y (*pew pew pew victory!*) or more tactical ("Kill the artillery first to keep the wizard safe, then engage the brutes one at a time. The Fighter will hold the attention of the rest!").

One idea that might work if Encounter powers have that longer 10-15 timer is to have the timer count down more quickly when characters are out of combat. This would be similar to how other games have your character recover HP or Mana (or Shield Power, etc.) faster while out of combat than while in combat.

You are meant to be able to use these powers once per combat encounter, and having a longer timer would mean that combat would likely end before the power reset for a second use and then paired with increasing the reset speed out of combat it would help make it more likely to have reset and be ready to be used again before they stumbled into a new combat encounter.

Daily powers were mentioned as resetting every few hours. I suspect that 'few' will eventually end up something closer to 'two' rather than larger numbers. But again, that will depend on how long the individual modules of content are going to be. If the design is such that players run into climactic main boss fights, the sort of fights that would be the high-point of a story or module, more quickly than their Daily powers reset than it may be that the dailys are on too long of a timer. This is something that will simply have to be discovered via testing.

To sum my thoughts on it up, the timers are a good idea but they will have to reflect the content design and the pacing of how players actually end up playing the game. The timers on the powers should be long enough that using the powers in combat actually means something, but not so long that they become enforced downtime that causes long delays in actually enjoying and participating in the games content.

Power Slots

This is an idea I've been going back and forth on suggesting, and have been hashing out the details of to try as a homerule in my PnP game.

How it works is that instead of being limited in how many total At-Wills, Encounter (and maybe Utility) powers you know, you instead have a limit in which ones you use that day.

Or, to put it another way, it would work for all classes like the Wizard's spellbook does but for powers other than the Daily ones.

I make especial note of the Daily powers in that because I tend to feel that the spellbook class feature that allows wizards this freedom with their Daily powers is an important feature to restrict just to wizards and that for other classes it would be odd RP'wise to have someones Daily (the peak of their ability, their most powerful action) to change from day to day.

I could see this sort of system being of benefit in a OMG especially.

When you are playing a PnP game (outside of RPGA / Living campaigns) you generally have an idea of who the other characters at the table are and when you level up and build your character you make choices that synergize well with the people you play with. But in an online game you really have far less of an idea who you will be partying with and what they will be able to do from day to day.

Thus, the ability to tweak your Encounter and At-Will choices a little, to be able to setup up your tactics to be able to be a slightly better fit with the party or module before you head out into combat could be a benefit to co-op play and being able to swap between which powers you have slotted and equipped is a far simpler way to do that than requiring a respec or retrain.

This would also in a OMG allow for character growth and improvement between levels and could make for interesting quest rewards ("For saving Lord Quimbly he offers to teach you his family sword technique as a reward."), or as a way to siphon excess money out of the game economy (paying to be taught an additional power choice).

However the downside is that this does make characters more complex and it changes how a fair number of game mechanics work (Humans having one more at-will slot as well knowing one more power, replacement power levels like 13th instead grant an additional power, multiclass feats and paragon multiclassing work differently, etc.), it removes a bit of the importance from the choices you make when you level-up as you aren't stuck with just the powers you pick then, but when you look at the added character flexibility and choices during play it may be of benefit to consider a system like this.


I'll sum this section up quickly: Break levels into sub-levels.

You already did this in STO where you had Ranks (the major increments) and Grades (the minor increments). For a D&D game, DDO did the same thing with it's Levels (major) and Ranks (minor). It makes sense to do something like this in Neverwinter.

The argument for sub-levels is that you want players to feel as if their characters are improving and advancing without rushing them through the levels and towards the cap too quickly. With only 10 levels in the heroic tier at launch (and with D&D only going up to level 30 at all) you need to break those into smaller bits so that characters can progress and be rewarded for their time played without rushing them quickly to the level cap.

With Neverwinter, I'd actually suggest something somewhat half-way between STO's and DDO's way of handling it.

Each level would be broken into five sub-levels (call them ranks, grades, whatever as long as they aren't tiers or any other term already in use within the 4E / Neverwinter glossary) and at each sub-level their would be some reward.

I will admit right now that some of these suggestions may be awful ones, that all of them are pretty vague ideas, and that it is possible none of them fit into the current design for Neverwinter. As I haven't seen the game in action yet and have only the bare bits of info in the interviews their may be much better choices for awards at the various sub-levels than what I have suggested that already exist and wuld work within the mechanics of the game.

Regardless of how your character advances, and is rewarded at each sub-level, I think that it is a system that should be strongly considered to allow for character growth without powering characters up and rushing to level 10 too quickly.


This overlaps somewhat with the Levels I just talked about, and the entire Module Design section of contents a ways below.

The summary of my thoughts would be: Exp rewards for objectives, not for kills. Award at the end of the module for completing the module (or award partial exp for the objectives they completed if someone has to abort a mission mid-way) instead of throwing out exp after every kill.

When you sit down to play a game of D&D the DM does not after every kill during combat say, "And for that Kobold Minion you earn 25 experience. Congratulations, you leveled up! Lets pause mid-fight while you heal back to full and assign new skill points!"

Instead, at the end of the session or at the end of the adventure the DM totals up the experience earned and awards it then based not just on what you killed but on the challenges you completed and the objectives you completed.

If there is any single system that I would want you to steal wholecloth from another game, it would be to take this from DDO. This is how DDO handles their experience assignment. Not grinding for kills, not camping spawn points, not wandering the map looking for monsters, but for going on an adventure and overcoming the challenges and completing the objectives. For example, a typical DDO end of mission exp allotment looks like:

You tried this early on in the Closed Beta for STO, where experience was from completing episodes and patrols, but later backed off on that to include kill exp and reduce the overall mission exp. While I can see how that had to be done given the gameplay design for STO, I think that it would have been much more fitting for the IP if the content had instead been designed towards supporting players coming up with alternative routes to complete their goals without their having to murder everything in sight to get full exp for the mission.

In a D&D based game it is just as fitting. If you can overcome a challenge with wit and skill (a rogue's sneakery, a ranges fieldcraft, a wizard's utility, etc.) instead of just by blunt brutal force then you should be awarded for such. Either way you accomplished your goal (assuming of course that your goal wasn't just 'Kill 25 orcs') and you should be rewarded as such.

This is the sort of system I want to see handling exp awards in Neverwinter. DDO does it well but I don't want Cryptic just to copy their system as I honestly think Cryptic can come up with something better. But I do want a system like that where at the end of the module you are awarded exp based on what you accomplished, what you got done, and have that be the primary focus of earning experience and advancing your character instead of encouraging people to spend their playtime engaging in the wanton murder of helpless kobolds who were just on their way home from the store after buying dinner for their families.


The monster has been defeated! The dungeon has fallen! The heroes have saved the day! And now, comes the hardest part of the quest...

Divying up the loot.

We've probably all played through dungeon runs in MMORPG's where there was one player who hit NEED on every item, not because they actually needed it but because they were greedy jerks.

Or been on a raid run and seen some piece of gear that would be absolutely perfect for your character, you in fact might be the only one there who can even equip and use it, only to see it go to some other player because they had more DKP points and they plan to disenchant it or auction it off instead of actually use it.

Of if you ever played in the old RPGA Living City campaign then you probably at least once sat at, or saw a table nearby, that reached the end of an otherwise fun round of play only to have it devolve into a screaming argument between players who couldn't agree on the treasure split.

I would suggest then that treasure is split into three categories.

The first is the monster drops or trash loot. These items show up on the map when the monster dies (or scenery is broken) and are mostly low-value consumable items. Arrows, the occasional low-end potion, small amounts of coinage, maybe the occasional unenchanted weapon. Basically the gear that you pick up because it's there, it fills your inventory, and might be useful (arrows, rope, lockpicks for rogues, etc.) to get through the dungeon.

The second category is the quest drops. These show up on the map like monster drops but are required items for quests. These should be reserved by party member.

For example, if the quest is 'Gather 10 Yeti Pelts' and you have 5 party members, this makes it so that you don't have to hope and murder monsters until pelts drop 50 seperate times to complete the quest for everyone. You just need them to drop ten times as each time they drop in a group with enough so that there is one (reserved) for each party member who has the quest.

The final category of loot is the chest loot. The treasure stashes you find hidden along the way, the old iron bound chests hidden in the storerooms of the fallen noble houses of Neverwinter, the loot the final boss keeps hidden behind his throne at the end of the dungeon, etc.

This would be the good stuff, the stuff you don't want to share.

My suggestion would be that you don't have to share it. Loot chests would be something that each party member would click upon, and when they did the loot that comes up would both be reserved for them and would be generated based upon the class they were playing.

If you are playing a Wizard, you get loot from the wizard loot table (scrolls, cloth armor, etc.). A Fighter gets fighter loot (weapons, metal armor, etc.). Basically the loot you get is loot you can actually use and that your character would want to have.

Philosophically, I think that earning loot in missions should be about beating the module and completing combat. Not about fighting and arguing with party members to get your share, or having to hope that the random number generator favors you and your NEED roll over the loot-ninja's. If we earn a reward, if we participate in completing the module and saving the day, then we should get a reward. And if the reward is actually something our character can use, something that we could or would want to have, than all the better.

Now I should make it clear than when I have said 'reserved' when talking about loot, I didn't mean that the loot had to be 'Bind on Pickup' or similar. Just that your character is the only one allowed to pick up the loot and move it into their inventory. What you do with the loot after that is up to you, but you should be able to pick up your share of loot without having to fight other people for a chance to do so.


I have to pretty much assume that their will be some form of PvP in Neverwinter. Not just because it has become one of those semi-standard features that people demand and ask for, but also because after 25 years of playing PnP D&D I know that there are some players out there whose characters you'd really just rather brutally kill than have to split a share of treasure with.

That said, my suggestion for PvP for Neverwinter is to make it entirely team-based.

D&D does not balance well for 1v1 encounters and the effort to make abilities balanace well for 1v1 PvP fights could be spent quite more productively elsewhere.

As the game is already being planned around party-based co-op play, set PvP up the same way. 5v5 fights where you don't have to worry about individual character balance as much because the party as a whole needs to balances out and that should hopefully account for individual character differences.

Just make sure to make the battlefields interesting and not just plain open fields or arenas.

Ruined buildings where LoS may be obstructed or there are places for Rogues to hide and sneak attack from. Where Rangers can climb up to a balcony and shoot arrows at those below them until an opponent finds the hallway route that leads up to the doorway behind them and bullrushes them off.

Look at the small team FPS maps and think about how those hallways and rooms would work when built as ruined buildings or the hallways of underground crypts. While Neverwinter isn't a FPS, there is a lot of good thought that goes into the design for FPS PvP maps. Choke points, blind corners, defensible locations with multiple routes of approach, etc.

I don't think or expect that PvP will be a major focus for the Neverwinter design team, but there is a lot of potential for good fun gameplay there that hasn't really worked out in previous Cryptic games due both to the focus of PvP being about individual players and the lack of interesting maps to PvP on. Even if you don't pursue PvP as a launch feature you should think about the sort of maps and environments people would want to PvP in after launch as you can expect that players will be demanding it be included (especially if you keep describing the game in terms of Borderlands or L4D both of which have PvP).

Back to the top.

Module Design

Initially I referred to this section as 'Content Design' but given that it is a D&D based game, I thought that 'Module' design would be more fitting.

This is also the section that I have the most vested interest in. I've written long screeds on the forums for both CO and STO, before and during the betas, about how I thought content could be structured to make for gameplay experiences that were more unique and more fun than other MMOs in the past had been. I've written big long reviews of the content that was in the game during the betas suggesting how to make improvements to the existing content and how to make it more interesting and more fun to play.

Clearly, I have a lot of opinions about this and I want to take this chance now to get them all out in the open while the game is still somewhat early in development.

How Much Is Enough?

Short answer: As much as you have time to make as you can never have enough.

A slightly more specific answer would be: At least twice what you actually need.

One of the differences between single player games and an online multi-player games is the assumption about the games playtime and it's replayability.

For most people, you play a single-player game once from start to finish and then you are done. Maybe it has some interesting features (i.e. ME's morality choices) that make you want to play it again, but for most people and most games it is start-to-finish once and then the box goes up on the shelf (or traded in as a used game).

For an online game there not only isn't a 'finish' per se but generally you keep playing it as long as it is fun, as long as you have friends who are playing it, and as long as you have something to do in it. That means that you will likely make multiple characters, play through levels and segments of the game multiple times, and simply expect the game to deliver a lot more 'stuff' to see and do than what you would expect out of a single-player game.

One example of a MMO that did content well was this one a company named Cryptic did way back when called City of Heroes. CoH had so much content that it was actually impossible to play through every mission in each level range before you leveled out of the range without intentionally and repeatedly dying a lot to max out your experience debt.

That was a good thing.

Back in mid-2008 on the CO boards I got into an argument about the amount of content a game should have. My position was that the game should have far more content paths through the game than was actually needed. One of the of the other posters made the argument that to do so was wasted development resources as it was developing content that not every player would see and the development time was better spent elsewhere.

I disagreed then and still do now.

If the content is there, it will get played. If someone is enjoying the game enough to be sticking around and playing week after week then they will either see it on a second character on a second playthrough, or see it while help out a friend or guildmate, or just seek it out and go slumming and do it despite their being over leveled for it.

No content, or time spent developing content, is ever wasted. (Well, as long as it is good content being produced.)

The two biggest problems I have had with the content in CO and STO is that in both games there is just barely enough content (and by content I mean stories, not the exp filler that is PvP or exploration/help a citizen missions) and a lot of the focus on adding additional content has been on adding it to the end-game.

CO at launch literally did not have enough missions to be able to level all the way up. There was a gap for a while where you could run out of missions to do before you got enough exp to level up into a new range of missions. STO isn't quite as tight as that, but that is more because the missions give far too much exp (imho, you level up far too fast) for the time spent on them and I suspect that was done just to keep you from running out of content before you hit the level cap.

As for content additions, until just recently everything was focused on the end-game. Which was needed so that there was something to do for those players who were at the level cap but it didn't do anything for those players who were leveling more slowly and enjoyed stopping and smelling the roses along the way with their multiple characters.

Both STO and CO have gotten better about this, CO's most recent update 'Serpent Lantern' was built for any character that is past the tutorial levels and STO's weekly episodes are similarly setup.

But the mistake of focusing on just adding content for end-game does not need to be repeasted as for every player there is who sticks around after reaching end-game levels, you will probably find that not only do they have multiple lower-levels characters that they are struggling to be interested in playing as they slog through the exact same content again with, but that their are also several other players out there who may never reach end-game but have multiple alts and are also trying to find a reason to be excited about playing through the limited amount of available lower-level content with each of their characters.

The more content you have at lower-levels, the more reasons people will have to try out that idea they have for a second character and who are wondering what they missed the first time around.

If I was to describe what I feel the break down of desired content by level in a MMO should be, I would describe it as looking like a pyramid with a board balanced upon top.

When you are at the lowest levels, the base of the pyramid, you need a lot of content in the game. Those are the levels that get played the most, both with new players joining and looking for content that interests them and with existing players repeating the lower levels again on new characters and not wanting to do the exact same missions over again.

As you go up in levels the amount of needed content narrows. The higher you get in level, the fewer times the majority of your playerbase will ever actually play through that level range. While it is always good to have some variety in the stories and story-arcs available, so players can choose something that interests them, you don't need quite as much variety as they won't be returning to those levels as often.

Finally when you reach the highest level, the peak of the pyramid or end-game, your need for content again grows (the board balanced upon top). Once you reach end-game, you no longer have the incentive of additional levels to keep playing. No longer is it about the experience rewards of the mission, now it is about how fun and interesting the stories and missions are (okay, it is about end-game loot too).

The most important missions in both quality and quantity, then are going to be those at the lowest levels where you are trying to hook new players and get them to invest themselves in their characters and the game, and those at the end-game where you have the players who are starting to feel like they've 'been there, done that' and who need a plethora of new experiences to want to return to the game and keep playing those high-level characters week after week.

To sum it up: There is no such thing as wasted content. If content is there, it will get played. You should have at least twice as much content as you mechanically need to level up with, and the preponderence of content before end-game should trend towards the lower and more played levels.

Difficulty Levels

There is no good reason not to include selectable difficulty levels.

Difficulty levels allow for players to make sure they feel challenged when content is too tough, to enjoy a relaxing bit of play when they want content to be weaker, and they add to the replayability of content (especially if you alot bonus exp for the first time they complete a module on a difficulty setting (see Experience)).

One thing about difficulty is that it can make solo play more viable than otherwise. In one of the interviews it was stated that solo play would be an option, but would be extremely hard.

Now, as attractive and fun as the co-op model has been lately you are still going to have people who will want to play solo instead. I am likely one of them. I like playing solo not because I think it is the best, or the fastest, or the most ideal way to play a MMO but because I want to make sure I have a chance to actually read and experience all of the story that exists.

Having a 'solo' difficulty would let people still be able to see the story, experience it without having to worry about having to cater to someone elses schedule (or forcing someone else to cater to your own if your life is prone to interruptions) but the trade off of playing solo would be lower exp rewards and not as much or as shiny of loot rewards.

With that argument for a solo difficulty made, what do I think the difficulty setup should look like?

Given that the game is built off of the 4E ruleset, it should be relatively easy to work out the mechanics for how encounters level up or down. (There are rules for that in the DMG, and tools at the site.) While those PnP mechanics don't and won't necessarily translate exactly to the OMG they are still a start to possibly coming up with a mechanic for handling leveling up and down a modules difficulty (or at least presenting suggestions within Forge on how to do it) without having to necessarily hand-craft each seperately difficulties set of encounters from scratch.

Aside just from the monsters present in a dungeon, higher difficulties should have more traps or tougher puzzles or doors that were open on lower difficulties requiring keys dropped by sub-boss foes or other challenges that make difficulties mechanically different from one another.

That both reflects the increased expected challenge a higher difficulty should have and it keeps the module feeling fresh so when you replay it again on a higher difficulty setting the actual experience of wandering through it and exploring differs rather than just the fights being a bit harder.


If a module is fun to play, let us repeat it.

If a module has a good piece of loot, let us repeat it.

If the module has an intriguing story, let us repeat it.

If the wind is coming from NNE or a blue moon is rising or we just want to, let us repeat modules.

Just don't give us full experience for repeating a module if we've already completed it once at a difficulty level.

Letting us repeat modules means that we can pick and choose what content we want to do.

If we have a choice between a module full of slimes and oozes that we really don't enjoy fighting and a module full of life-draining blood-sucking undead that we do enjoy but that we've already played through before, left us repeat it (just not for full exp again).

We just shouldn't get the full experience again because we've already seen all the suprises and tricks and traps in that difficulty level, but we should still be able to go back and replay an enjoyable experience again if we want to.


One way, besides difficulty levels, to keep modules interesting is to include an element of randomness in their design.

D&D way back in the day used to include 'Random Encounter Tables'. Basically a chart the DM would roll upon to find out what sort of weird stuff the party stumbled across that made their life interesting but wasn't necessarily part of the campaigns ongoing storylines.

While just throwing random unrelated monsters at the party may be amusing if you have a DM to oversee it, that isn't quite what I'd suggest for Neverwinter.

What I had in mind, rather was that when you have a wing of a module, a set of rooms. Say there are seven rooms and of those rooms four will have fights in them, two will have traps, and one will have a treasure chest. Make it random. Don't make it the same rooms and the same fights each time you go through the module.

One time through you might find the kobolds hiding out in the castles barracks, hiding behind upturned beds with a treasure chest behind them. Next time through the module those kobolds might instead be camped out in the armory while their treasure chest is in the mess hall and guarded by the wild dogs that turned out not to be as good of pets as the kobolds thought they'd be.

The same basic encounters, same basic ideas to a section of the module, just in slightly different arrangements and placement.

That is part of how L4D is so successful. There are only a few maps and campaigns in L4D but everytime you play through them it is a unique experience because while you know the zombies are coming and you know where you have to go to complete the map, you don't know what EXACTLY is going to happen between when you arrive and when the map is over.

That bit of suspense, of unexpectedness, could add a lot to Neverwinters modules. It wouldn't be quite the same or quite as varied as the L4D experience is, but then it doesn't have to be because your character will be leveling up and moving on to other modules instead of just being stuck with the same small number of maps to play over and over.

Plus it would drive the people who write game guides insane as they'd never be able to write a 'definitive' guide to the content as it'd never be quite the same twice.

Epic Experiences

STO had some of the more memorable epic fun ideas for stories that I've ran into in an MMO ('City on the Edge of Never', 'Past Imperfect', 'The Doomsday Device') and then it also had some of the most singularly pointless missions I've ever seen (like the 'Pico System Patrol' where you "search" for a ship directly in front of you and "escort" it to somewhere directly in front of it or the original beta version of 'Labor Day' where you got to the end only to find that the NPC went over your head and got the Admiral to agree to their demands before you even had a chance to finish the mission).

Clearly one of those examples you want to repeat in Neverwinter and the other you do not.

The sort of stories that you want to tell are the ones where it feels like your character made a difference, where your character saved the day, was the crucial element to success, and the time and effort you spent on playing the module feels like it was well spent because of what you accomplished.

It has to be memorable, it has to have rises and falls, challenges to overcome, points where it looks like you are on the verge of success only to have it stolen away only to persevere and overcome in the end.

This doesn't have to be 'save the world' stuff, it can simply be 'save the girl' or 'save the orphanage' or 'save the farmers cow'. As long as it is interesting, well told, and the player suspends disbelief and comes out of it feeling like their character made a difference.

It helps if every module needs a hook. Whether that is a twist in the plot, or stakes that are high, or just an unusual character or situation, an usual puzzle to challenge the party, or a deadly fight that tests their mettle and teamwork. There should be something unique and individual about it that makes it stand out from the other modules.

The test for this is that there should never be a time when you try to describe a module, without using it's name or the specific name of any unique characters in it, and people can't figure out which one you are talking about by describing the adventure or the NPCs traits and features.

If people don't recognize it, if it doesn't stand out in their memory well enough that they can't tell right away which one you mean, then the module probably needs more work.

Puzzles & Traps

Tomb of Horrors.

That, right there, should be argument enough to include a variety of traps, puzzles and tricks in the game and the Forge toolkit.

For those that don't know, "Dungeon Module S1: Tomb of Horrors" is one of the most memorable D&D modules ever written. It is one that shows up repeatedly at the top of lists when players are asked to list their favorite or more memorable D&D experienecs.

It is 30-odd rooms/encounters culminating in a fight against a demi-lich. Along the way, among those thirty rooms, and before the final boss encounter, are about as many fights as you can count on one hand.

It is memorable because you had to think. If you rushed in, if you came seeking quick fights and quick victories and a quick finish you were going to die. Horribly.

To make a module challenging you don't have to fill it full of fights, you have other options instead. Put in a puzzle, or a series of traps. Make players navigate a floor of trap triggers to escape a room instead of just throwing a few more monsters into it.

Engage our minds while we play.

A puzzle or a trick or a set of cunning traps challenges us as players in a way that no horde of enemies ever will. It tests our ability not to click on a powerbar and make our character swing their sword over and over but rather our abililty to know which button to or not to push. To solve the riddle and figure out where the safe places to step are. To look for clues and put the puzzle togethor and see the bigger picture.

Very few MMOs ever do this, or do it well. However DDO is one of the few exceptions and if you can't manage to at least compete or compare to what Turbine managed to do five years before Neverwinter is going to launch, it will be pretty disappointing.

Multiple Routes & Secret Doors

Consider allowing for multiple paths through modules.

D&D for a couple editions now has had skills like Climb, Jump, Swim. So let us use them.

If a path takes a curve but we can see that where we want to be is on the otherside of a tall wall, allow someone with a high climb skill to just climb up and over the wall. Let them use a consumable '50 feet of Silk Rope' item to add a dangling rope to the wall to allow other less climb-endowed party members to follow them up the wall.

If the floor has given way, let those people with high jump skills leap across and tie a rope on the other side letting people climb down to whatever is below and then back up the other side.

Give us other paths, paths that make use of our characters abilities that aren't combat related, to interact with and make our way around and through the games environment.

Not just skills either. Rogues and Wizards get utility powers like 'Great Leap' or the 'Jump' spell for situations just like that.

The powers and skills exist in 4E to be used, consumable items like ropes can help party members follow along, all that is missing is making sure that the module environments are designed with these things in mind.

Along with simply making a characters contribution to a module more interesting, multiple routes adds to replayability for a module. It encourages people to want to want to spend more time exploring, more time looking up and around instead of just focusing on where the next fight is going to be. It would make people want to come back to an earlier module levels later after they've gained more skills or powers just to see what they might have missed before.

To go with this don't forget to put in a plethora of secret doors and hidden hallways.

While it is always fun to find a hidden treasure chest behind a secret door (and your party will love you for it), or an alternate path to a room further in the dungeon, simply knowing that they might or might not be there. That there is a chance that something could be hidden. Makes you want to spend more time searching, more time exploring.

Whether it is an alternate path through a 2nd story window, or a hidden door in the back wall of the room, any way to vary the experience someone has on a module and give them options other than just traveling in a straight line from point A to point B will make a module more memorable and make the player feel like they have more choices and more control of their characters fate and play experience.


If I got access to the Forge tools today, I would cancel my pre-order of FFXIV in an instant and spend all the time I would have spent playing that just seeing what sort of modules I can create.

I don't even care about being able to play yet, I just want to be able to start using the module creation tools.

This is, to put it simply, the aspects of Neverwinter I am most looking forward to and that I have high hopes for.

My requests for Forge then are both simple and demanding.

  1. If it happens in a pre-made module, I want to be able to do it too.
  2. I need to be able to build the sort of module that I've been talking about above. One with alternate paths, traps and tricks, epic battles and dramatic scripted scenes.
  3. That it is well documented as the last thing I want to have holding up my module writing is confusion about what the options are on a function call.
  4. That it is regularly updated. I am sure that after launch new bits of content will be constantly getting created to be used in future Cryptic expansions, please don't make us wait too long before we get those options added to Forge as well.
  5. That it is intuitive. The UI may make sense to those of you working at Cryptic, you've been using similar tools for a while now and have gotten used to the things that confused you when you started. Grab a relative who isn't a content designer and see if they can understand what things do without your having to hold their hand.
  6. That the scripting engine is robust. I can think of a lot of very complex things I'd like to be able to do in Forge, all the way up to coming up with a dungeon that is nothing other than a giant Rube Goldberg device for feeding rust monsters that players activate by switching a lever in a room and then watching a series of triggered behaviors go off throughout the dungeon. Impractical, silly, of no real exp value, but I should be able to build it anyways just to amuse those people who like giant sight-gags like that.

Until I get to play with it, or at least see it in action, I can't really make a more specific demand or request. But I should be able to make the memorable sort of content in it that I want to be able to play.

Back to the top.

Social & Community

Other than content, the one area where Cryptic needs to improve the most over their last two games is in the area of social and community features.

Guild Features

Think about the tools you use to organize your project teams at work. You have calendars, you have memos, you have mailing lists, and you have meeting rooms.

These are all tools and features that guilds should have in-game.

Give us a calendar to schedule events. Not a list of text dates but something that actually looks like a calendar. With boxes that can be assigned colors based upon what sort of events will be that day and where members can leave notes saying which days they will and will not be available to login.

Give us a guild message board. Where we can leave messages and have private threaded discussions about events we want to do and ask one another questions or just share jokes.

Mailing to all guild members is something that eventually made it into STO (though not at launch) and is a pretty basic way to ping and remind members of upcoming events or that they need to check the guild message board.

And guildhalls. Private social areas, where a guild of characters can login and meet before they form into parties and go adventuring.

Give us guildhalls in Neverwinter and let us raise them like characters.

The city of Neverwinter is ruined, so let guildhalls start as a ruined building that improves based upon resources the guild spends upon it and the fame and repute we earn while playing.

Give us some basic options at the start, and then as the guild earns fame from it's members completing modules and storylines, let us buy improvements for the guildhall like Clerics who cast blessings (buffs) upon us or Merchants who sell items like potions or foodstuffs or other consumables (and whose range of goods we can improve by investing more money in them).

Give us a range of options we can add to the guildhall and then restrict the number we can have at any time, based on how much we have improved the building the guildhall is in, so we have to choose and decide on what we want the guild to focus on and so that every guildhall is potentially unique and different.

And make all of these features available on the website in a 'guild only' section that shows up under either our account or a community tab so that we can visit and check up on the guild during the day, when we are at work or at school, and want to keep in touch with the guild but can't login to the game.

Social Areas

My assumption about the game, from the little that I've read, is that the social areas of the game to meet up with people and form parties are relatively small. Something more like GW with limited social area and then large private instanced areas instead of the typical MMO with a wide open social world and then limited instanced adventures.

That said, give us a variety of social areas to hang out in.

Some characters may want to hang out at a tavern (there has to be a tavern, every D&D PnP game starts in a tavern (okay, not every, but c'mon...). Others may want to hang out at one of the cities ruined temples with the other divine types. Or maybe the remains of one of the cities great libraries with the other arcane types. Regardless, there should be some choice for the sort of social hub we hang out at.

And avoid text lobbies. Seriously. Text lobbies to find party members and join up? That is soo 9 years ago.

Given that character customization is such a big part of what makes a Cryptic game a Cryptic game, it seems like it'd be a tragic waste to not have social areas to show off what your character looks like.

As well, I find personally that it is far easier to remember if someone is a person I enjoy partying with or cringe in pain at the idea of spending time around if I can actually see a visual reminder of who they are rather than just a name in chat. Having social areas where players meet up before going out adventuring would just make it easier to remember that 'Torgo the Dwarf Fighter with red hair' is someone I like and 'Trogo the Dwarf Fighter with white goatee' is someone I despise.

Web Features

Aside from the aforementioned guild features on the web, a few other things would be nice to have.

CO has a My Characters page and STO has a My Captains page and while they are both good ideas, they also both also far less than what they could be. A My Hero page for Neverwinter would want a more stylish appearance, a paperdoll showing what the character has equipped, stats showing things like the toughest monster they've killed, or most recent adventure they've done, or similar interesting facts and info about the character (which would also be nice to have in-game now that I think about it). There should simply be something there that makes you want to show it off, even to non-players, because it is just interesting to look at.

Something else that is going to be needed is as a compendium or wiki for the game at launch. A lot of people coming to the game may not be D&D players, or may not be familiar with 4E yet. Given that helpful and informative manuals seem to be a artifact of the past in the game industry, Neverwinter will really need a big plug of information explaining how things work.

Part of this is also going to have to be teasing about future features in the wiki. While the Paragon tier is not going to be in-game at launch, the game wiki should list info about the paragon tier so players who are advancing through the Heroic tier can make informed choices. Knowing that certain paragon paths (or feats) will be among those made available when that tier launches, and what their requirements are, can help people make decisions about what sort of character they want to play when they start at the Heroic level.

In general, the games website should be functionally useful and not just something you glance at every other week or so to see what the news on the front page is.

Back to the top.

Closing Thoughts

In closing it is pretty clear that I have a lot of hope, demands, and expectations for this game.

I am also fully aware that not all of them are necessarily consistent with the game Cryptic is making and I expect most of them will be crushed.

There are a list of other features I could have talked about (a fame/repute system, dialogue trees and NPC conversations, etc.) but what I mentioned here is the core of what I am hoping for in Neverwinter.

Hopefully this document will inspire conversation and talk within Cryptic about the design and features of Neverwinter.

With that said, if anyone wants to discuss this with me further I can be reached at @Hythian in either CO or STO, or as Hythian on Coldfront IRC in #neverwinter, or by email at hythian 'at'

25 years of D&D playing & DM'ing
CO & STO lifetime subscriber

Back to the top.