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Getting Started - Basic Steps to Create a Module for Neverwinter Nights


1. Setting

Choose setting may be a town in the Forgotten Realms™ world, or an entire world of your own design. No matter the scope, it should be a setting you and your players will enjoy, and will want to play in again with modules which may follow your first. If you are new at this, start with a small area like a village and the surrounding countryside — you will always be able to expand on the area as you create more modules. Write down some of the details in general terms to capture the flavor of your setting:

  • What is the political system of your society? Who is in power?
  • How powerful is the local law-enforcement? Who is in charge?
  • What are the major deities worshipped? Who runs their temples?
  • What guilds or other groups control or influence various aspects of society? Who are their leaders?
  • How do the classes fit in? Which classes are common, and why? Are some classes especially valued or disdained?
  • Which races are common; which are the minorities? What monsters are common in the area?
  • What are the attitudes towards other races? How do people feel about trade, magic, technology, religion, and the local government?
  • What is the history of your setting? What do the people think about its' future?
  • What is common knowledge and what is secret?
  • What makes your setting special? Is there something unusual about any of the above points that will help to make your world unique?

2. Synopsis

Write a synopsys, or quick summary of the story you want to present to your players. Although it is not necessary for your first module, you will want most modules to be like a chapter in the larger story. A series of related modules which advances an over-arching storyline is called a campaign, and is often more rewarding than playing a series of unrelated modules. You may write something as tried and true as having a local noble kidnapped and held ransom be a band of outlaws, and have the players rescue him in your first module. But you should think about how this might fit into the big picture for later modules.

The details for your story can help make the difference between a cliched dungeon crawl and a memorable adventure. Try to invent new twists and unique characters to bring the world to life. For example, what if the kidnapped noble is actually the leader of the outlaws? Or what if the outlaws were hired by the noble's brother to take him out of the picture? What if the outlaws are lead by a doppleganger, or a wight, or werewolf? By choosing to make some elements of the story more unexpected, you have more choices when creating the details.

3. Critical Path Flow Chart

Once you have a basic story, you will need to map out a flow chart of critical events. Start by drawing a box for the first event, and another box for the last event on opposite ends of a piece of paper. By choosing what must be that last event in your module, you will know how to end the module. In our example above, we know that the module ends when the noble is either killed or rescued.

Now we can connect the first and last events with other events that need to take place between them. Note which events are critical and which are optional. Also note if an event is tied to a specific location, so you can tie it to your module's map. Create branches where multiple paths can exist, as well as dead-ends and alternate ending events. Keep in mind that you should always present choices to players at critical event junctures. Provide obstacles that can be oversome in a variety of ways. Can the PCs make a frontal assault on the outlaw's encampment? Can they sneak in? Can they parley with the outlaws? Can they use magic to fool or thwart them?

In general, you should always include some obstacle events that can be overcome by either combat, stealth, or diplomacy, with options for specific feats, skills, and spells. But you may sometimes create a "bottleneck" location where one, and only one specific element is needed to progress. One of the better methods for doing this is requiring a spell the PCs don't have, to eliminate an obstacle. The spell might be contained in a magic item, written on a scroll, or known by an NPC.

4. NPCs

Non-player characters should breathe life into a module, bringing the story to life. You don't need to write up a complex history and personality profile for each NPC, but some of the ideas I presented for NPC creation should be considered. Of particular importance at this stage is attitude to the PCs, what an NPC's place is in the module (his occupation or role in society), and the NPC's own objectives and goals. Later you should put each NPC on a separate sheet, and add the other details as necessary.

5. The Map

Your module's map is where it all comes together. Sketch out a large-scale map of the entire module, and box areas that can be visited by the players. You do not have to map out every single building or tree, just the general layout. This will help you later to where you can place encounters and obstacles, and indentify where your Area Maps connect to each other. An Area Map is an area the PCs explore, and may be as large as 320 meters square.

It is always a good idea to include a "home base" area where the players may start, and can return to rest, buy equipment, and make plans. This can be a village, a keep in the forest, a city block that includes a tavern, inn and smith, or some other relatively safe encampment.

In addition to the usual landmarks, mark where the players will start, and note where plot-critical events should take place. Also indicate where NPCs important to the story can be found, and where the players might find themselves in danger.

Once you have a good idea of the Area Maps you will need, each map can later be fleshed out on its own sheet with the following details:

Environment (Tile Set): Rural, Urban, Forest, Sewer, Cavern/Mine, Dungeon, Crypt, or Building Interior?

Weather, Lighting, Sounds & Music: These elements can turn the same forest map from a bright and cheery paraside into a dark and gloomy nightmare. Weather may include rain, snow, and fog. Sounds include ambient background noises. Music can be categorized by the mood it evokes: royal fanfare, light traveling music, funeral march, and so on.

NPCs & monsters: List the NPCs found in this area, with their location, and a timetable if they are to move to another area. Also describe what each NPC or monster is doing in this area, and how may react to the PCs.

Encounters: For each encounter, describe what the players initially see, and detail how their actions effect the outcome.

Items: Any items in the area that are part of the story (such as quest items) should be described. Items my be hidden on the map, or carried by an NPC or monster. Items can range from simple keys to powerful magical artifacts.

Treasure: Rewards granted to the PCs, or loot found on monsters.

Triggers & special scripting considerations: A trigger can be a spot on the map that moves the PCs to a spot on another map – that is, an exit or entrance to the map. It can also be an area that, when crossed by a PC, triggers the appearance of an NPC or monster. A trigger can alert the DM that a PC has picked up a special item needed to finish a quest, or that an important NPC has fallen in combat. Triggers can help you, as a DM, handle certain tasks more efficiently, and even allow the module to be played without a DM, if the scripts attached to them are capable.

Dialogue: Every NPC the players encounter will likely speak with them. Start with greetings and opening dialog, and for a featured NPC you should write as many pages of dialog as you can to convey the story from that NPC's point of view.

Skill Use: List here how any skills, feats or spells might effect specific encounter elements like NPCs, monsters, puzzles, and traps.

Pop-Ups: These are special descriptions and other information detailing features and items that will appear in pop-up text boxes, and in-game signs, scrolls and books.

6. Refinement

Using the steps outlined above, you will have an outline of your module on five sheets of paper. Fleshing out your module is often the most rewarding part. Go through the outline a few more times, making connections and developing details. Each time you read over one of the above steps in your outline, add another sheet to fill in the specifics. You might add more about the setting, or a sub-plot to the synopsis; you can create some more detailed NPC sheets, or another area of the map.

For large-scale campaigns, you will be connecting your modules into a world. Like each module, your campaign should have its own outline, linking each module to it within a larger map or timeline.

When you have refined your first module's outline, you will hopefully have a hefty stack of paper (or files in your computer) with enough information to make your module using the Neverwinter Nights toolset. The only thing you'll need to do after you open the box is play the game, learn the toolset, and you're ready to create your module!

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