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Creating Dialogue in Neverwinter Nights


Dialogue is the module designer's primary method of revealing, and directing the story, through the Non-Player Characters. This story is what drives the game forward, and it becomes a dynamic experience as the players take the role of the central characters, or the heroes.

By allowing a player to interact with an NPC by choosing from a list of responses, she may direct the course of the story. Also, she may reveal her character's personality, her strengths and weaknesses. Dialogue can be used to check the character's abilities, and exploit them to her advantage or to her detriment.

Keep dialog short and tight. Twenty-five words or so has been suggested by BioWare, but you can go up to about 40 words if you really need to. Any longer than that and you risk it being too long to fit in the regular dialogue box that appears on the screen. When the word count is running unnecessarily high, review the text and shorten it. Also consider pacing. After several wordy exchanges, use a few shorter ones.

Match speech style to character. Peasants do not speak the same as nobles. An arrogant mage will not speak the same way as a servant. Consider the NPC's personality and use language to reflect it. There is a big difference between, "Please, sir, can you spare a moment?" and "Hey you!"

A Simple Dialogue

Let us imagine a situation in our story where the PC(s) need to pass a guard to see the town's mayor in his mansion, but they need an invitation to enter. When the player approaches the guard standing before the mayor's residence, the guard says, "If you wish to see the mayor, I must see an invitation from him."

The player's choices might be:

1. "Very well. But I'll be back."

2. "I don't need an invitation!"

3. "I'll give you ten gold pieces; is that invitation enough?"

Remember also that the PC can choose to ignore the guard, and just keep on walking. This doesn't need to be a dialog choice, that is just how NWN works. So in this situation you can place a trigger behind the guard that tells him to yell a warning, call other guards, and then attack those who pass him without showing him the mayor's invitation.

The dialogue presented above is pretty basic. It succeeds in telling part of the story - the player needs an invitation to see the mayor. It does not, however, give the player many options, and it ignores who that player is in terms of his abilities. Of course, you don't need to do this in every dialogue, but for our purposes we will discuss how to do so using this conversation.

One option is to take advantage of the PC's abilities. If he has a high Wisdom score (14+), he might realize that ten gold pieces isn't enough to bribe the guard, and would only make him angry enough to call the other guards to have the PC arrested for bribery. So a player with high Wisdom might see a fourth option:

4. [Insight]: "I'll give you fifty gold pieces to let me pass."

If the PC has a high Charisma, the guard might accept the ten gold pieces anyway. On the other hand, a PC with low Intelligence score (8 or less), might not even think to offer the guard a bribe, and that option wouldn't show up in the dialogue.

If a character has low Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma, then she just wouldn't have access to as many options or quests. Some characters might be better at combat, and therefore better at the quests that require it... but many quests can be solved in more than one fashion, and some don't require combat at all. You should allow the player to use stealth & persuasion to by-pass combat in some encounters.

Persuade, a new skill in Neverwinter Nights, is a combination of the D&D skills Bluff and Diplomacy. It can be used in conversations by having a simple script make a skill check, and display a dialogue choice for the player based on the success or failure of the roll. In our example above, we might find this choice added if the check was successful:

5. [Persuade]: "Fine. But by the time I get an invitation the mayor could be murdered, and I'm here to prevent that!"

However, if the skill check failed, the player might get a different choice.

5. [Persuade]: "If you don't let me see the mayor, you'll be in big trouble, mister!"


Alignment can be incorporated into dialogue choices as well. If the PC is evil, the player might want to threaten the guard.

6. "Let me pass or I'll slit your throat."

There may be other situations where a good or evil PC would choose different actions. For example, if a reward is offered for something they did, a good PC might turn it down, while an evil PC might threaten for a bigger reward. It is important, however, not to limit a player's choices based on his Alignment. The above choices should be available for all alignments. A good PC might choose to say the same thing as an evil PC, but have no intention of acting it out. If he does actually follow through on a threat, you can script a check for an alignment shift, and if he is good, his alignment might inch closer to being evil.

Know your audience. Profanity, off colored jokes or suggestive phrases are sometimes necessary for character development, but may offend. Other times, they take away from the story. Is your module geared towards the player who likes to role-play or the type looking for something to kill? A good module will be able to cater to both.

Comedy and one-liners can enhance dialogue and help develop characters. However, there is a point where if everything is funny, nothing is funny. Know when to spend it and when to save it.

Remember, you are not writing a novel. Shave down dialogue and put the rest of the History of the World in a tome. Players who want to read it will. Add lore to in game items. Readers can be rewarded with hints that lead to unspoken rewards.

Sometimes words aren't even necessary. A town where everyone avoids the heroes and a weapon shop that only sells silver arrows, wooden stakes and holy water are things that make you go "hmmm". Placeable objects, lights, and sounds communicate; often they say more than words. A character that runs away when spoken to says something. Use the environment and setting for exposition.

After you think you are finished with a dialogue, it is important to test it out with different options. If an NPC says the wrong thing or a PC dialogue option fails to appear where it should, you will need to track down where it is that your dialogue tree fails to connect.

7. "What are you talking about? I've already seen the mayor!"

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