April 12, 2021

N is for Neverwinter and Northrend

         (My A-Z Blog Challenge theme this year is Mythical and Imaginary Places.)
        Neverwinter is a major city on the Sword Coast of Faerûn, the primary setting of the Dungeons & Dragons world of Forgotten Realms (and setting of an eponymous video game).  It is a cosmopolitan and civilized city of skilled craftspeople, famed for its beautiful buildings, magnificent gardens, and emblematic bridges — until the city was destroyed in a volcanic eruption.
        Northrend is a continent in the north of the world Azeroth, setting of the on-line multiplayer computer game World of Warcraft.  Since it lies so far north, the geography of its ten zones ranges from steppes and fjords to frozen wasteland (plus one thermally heated tropical basin).  Over time it has been the home of titans, trolls, vrykul, tuskarr, dragons, and undead, among others, and is best known as the seat of the dreaded Lich King.
        I use these two places (somewhat arbitrarily picked and assigned to the letter N) as representatives of fantasy worlds created to be the settings of role-playing games, both tabletop and computer-based.  D&D and video games both appeared on the popular scene around 45 years ago, in the early 1970’s.  They represented a new way to explore and experience fantasy realms, in which players were to create their own stories as they made their own choices about where to go and what to do.  (If you want to know more, there are several A to Z Bloggers writing about D&D and gaming topics this year.  You can look for them in the Master List.)
        Computer games especially have come a long way since Pong or Space Invaders.  Early games had little to no world-creation, but that began to change with games such as The Legend of Zelda in 1986, which made use of a certain amount of plot, and eventually back-story.  Through all the changes in technology, gaming platforms, and proliferation of game genres, there are games that revolve around following quest lines that reveal a story, and that type of game is often built on an astonishing depth and breadth of world creation.  World of Warcraft has had, in addition to the stories uncovered while playing the various games set in that world, a series of books and a movie, and all of these are rooted in a vast mythology and geography.  D&D’s world, too, has spawned novels, movies, and even an animated television series.
        Imaginary worlds conceived as settings for games do have some interesting differences from worlds imagined for books or movies, however.  For one thing, an author writing a book doesn’t really have to invent anything that won’t show up in the book (despite the example of Middle-earth).  A game that allows players to explore under their own steam, on the other hand, will require the entire area to be mapped out and/or depicted.  Games like World of Warcraft may not give players total free will in terms of story line, but both they and D&D allow players to explore anywhere they want to go, so they can’t have blank areas in the map.
        Secondly, worlds created for open-ended gameplay can’t have a beginning middle and end… at least, they can’t have an end if the game franchise is to continue!  So some games have a very static setting in which you can continue to play over and over for all eternity on a single set stage, while there are other games in which the world is completely different every time, depending on what a player chooses to do, so that it has no consistent borders at all.  D&D provides players with a “present day” map, and all manner of history explaining how it’s reached the point where it now rests, ready for you to explore.  World of Warcraft has several times introduced massive changes to its world to give it a sense of progressing history.
        Of course, for an ongoing game, the more things change, the more they stay the same — conflicts can never be entirely resolved, villains can never truly be defeated, and every quest has to be greater than the one before.  My personal pet peeve about the World of Warcraft is that it sometimes seems there isn’t a single character in the mythology who doesn’t go insane and turn evil at least once.  Of course, we’re not here to talk about the characters, but the places.  Well, a lot of the places in that world, too, essentially go insane and turn evil, including parts of Northrend infected by a hideous plague — but nevertheless, the variety and scope of the world is amazing.  (You can see a previous post about World of Warcraft here, wherein I mention some of my favorite zones at the time, including my favorite N zone: Nagrand.)
        Why bother building these worlds for a mere game?  What does it tell us that such worlds are important to us?  They reveal the importance of story.  Hunting for 15 basilisk scales may be an interesting entertainment, but it’s so much more engaging if we have a reason for needing those scales… and that reason is more compelling when it’s tied to a story…  And the story is more immersive when it’s set in a beautiful, detailed world.
        The MORAL of Neverwinter and Northrend: It’s always more fun to travel when the scenery is good.
              OR:  Ponder the limits of free will with your favorite role-playing game.
        So, what are your favorite games, computer or tabletop?  Or out on the field, court, or rink?

[Pictures: Map of Neverwinter;

View of Neverwinter from the harbor;

Neverwinter in the afternoon;

The Protector’s Enclave district of Neverwinter, unfortunately I can’t find any information about the artists, designers, or original sources for these images, but the computer game is by Arc Games, released 2013 (Images from Forgotten Realms Fandom here and here);

Map of Northrend;

Howling Fjord zone of Northrend, screen shot, 2018 (Image from WoWHead);

Icecrown Citadel in Northrend, login screen art, 2005 (Image from WoWHead);

Sholazar Basin zone of Northrend, screen shot, 2008 (Image from WoWHead), all screen shots from World of Warcraft computer game by Blizzard Entertainment, Northrend expansion released 2008.]


Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

I play World of Warcraft as well as AD&D and have for more years than I care to admit. Nowadays I do not care for the direction World of Warcraft is going and have jumped head over heels into the Iron Man Challenge, where the goal is never to die, but still make it to max. level. There's even a pacifist version, where you're not allowed to kill anything - no not even a critter. I have recently (after scaling mob levels were implemented) escaped to Classic.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Charlotte, my husband and I actually stopped playing WoW several years ago, not interested in the last few expansions. I play only family D&D. SO I can hardly be classes as hard-core for either! =)

Olga Godim said...

Why is it that so many beautiful cities in myths and tales are destroyed by volcanoes?
I never played a role-playing game in my life, but I love stories, especially fantasy stories, set in worlds different from our own. I guess that's why I write speculative fiction too. Imagining a different world is so much fun.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

I know Neverwinter, but not as much as I do other D&D cities like Greyhawk or Glantri City.

Erin Evans does a great job of describing Neverwinter in her "Brimstone Angels" novels. If you are not a gamer but like these worlds I highly recommended her.

Tim Brannan, The Other Side: 2021: The A to Z of Monsters

Lisa said...

I don't play either of those games, so don't know the places. What came to my mind reading the names though was Neverwhere. Sort of a place, right?

I play computer games. Match-3, solitaire, and hidden object/adventure. Anything 3-D makes me feel sick, so I miss out on a lot of things! I have a closet full of board games too, but tend to overlook them.

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

I so hear you about not being interested in the last couple of WoW expansions. These day I play exclusively Classic WoW, And if you're interested I have written some rants about what I find wrong with those expansions on my blog. World Of Warcraft -labelled ;)

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I mostly enjoy playing racing games, though I did enjoy "The Shadow of Mordor".

Ronel visiting for the A-Z Challenge with an A-Z of Faerie: The Nightmare Steed

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Olga, I guess everyone loves a good volcano (or a bad one)!

Tim, I think I have never actually been to Neverwinter in any D&D adventures I've participated in. As I said, I'm small-time.

Lisa, first-person games make me sick, too! Anything where the point of view slews around too much and I just can't handle it. I play a lot of Babble on the computer, and we play various board games when my kids are home, especially Scattergories, Clue, Wise and Otherwise... I always want to play Pictionary, but no one will play with me because I'm too good! =)

Ronel, the racing games are definitely not my thing -- no more young, twitchy reflexes!

Melanie Atherton Allen said...

Ooh, gaming worlds! Cool! I've never played World of Warcraft, but I do play some video games. Mostly, at the moment, just Mordheim: City of the Damned, which is based on the tabletop game Mordheim, which I have played and like quite a lot.
And, though I do tabletop war-gaming (Warhammer 40k is my go-to, there), I don't really play role-playing games. I find that I am most creative when I am alone, with a pen and a piece of paper, and lots of time to think things out. I tend to get a form of what I've got to call stage-fright when I try to role-play. Can't really enter into my character's head. I love reading role-playing source-books, though. And fortunately my boyfriend owns quite a few of those, so I'm well-supplied.
I remember Legend of Zelda for the SNES very fondly. In fact, I now own a Retron, and a rare cartridge of the game, and have played a little bit of SNES Zelda kind of recently. It was cool, but not as cool as it was for me when I was a kid.

Anne Higa said...

I love open-world video game worlds! I realized some years ago that I was that rare MMORPG player who likes to solo a lot (people would tease me about it, like why play an MMO if you don't want to be around people??) I don't mind people (much), but gradually I realized my true love was the immersive world system! Yeah, you have offline worlds but they're never as crazy detailed as an MMO, except maybe Skyrim(?) or some of the newer action games like the new Tomb Raider and Horizon Zero Dawn. Okay I love open-world games in general.

I wish they would make an open-world game without violence in it. I hate strolling around looking for herbs and talking to villagers and then I have to get into some fight scene where I might die. Are there games like that? Talos and Myst was pretty good with the puzzles, but they weren't really detailed, because all about the puzzle.

Anne from annehiga.com

JadeLi said...

I've played quite a few role-playing board games with my kids, but the one we have started playing a digital version of because of the pandemic is Talisman. With it there is the main board but there are expansions on each corner with the city, the dungeon, the woodlands, and the highlands. It's taken me a long time to get up to a decent speed to keep up with them. It's a lot of fun and each section of it has its own vibe to it.

My "N" Tull tune of the day:

Sue Bursztynski said...

It has been years since I played D and D, but it’s amazing how much creativity is involved in creating a gaming world. And not only the world building, but what people do with their figures - I have a gift from an artistic friend, a tiny figurine made for a role playing game, painted delicately with a tiny brush. I have it on my dressing table, just to enjoy.

JazzFeathers said...

RPG do have their charm. I plaid with an online group for a few years, many years ago, and it was fun. And sure, the places are incredible and real... per personally I prefer the creation of a writer who has a story in mind rather then a never-eading adventure which often doesnt' ahve a true purpose - on a narrative level, I mean.

The Old Shelter - The Great War

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

I do tend to agree with JazzFeather (and Melanie) about preferring a story written by an author who actually worked out how to make the story be the best possible narrative, rather than being somewhat random and made-up as we go along. If what you really want is a story, read a book. But I enjoy the gaming for the social aspect of deciding together what to do next.

Sue, I painted a small collection of miniatures when I was in high school or so, maybe just 10 or so. I enjoyed it, but it's an expensive hobby to do a lot of. I couldn't afford it!

Anne, I'm with you 100% on wishing for a non-violent version. (Charlotte, I had heard of people trying to do WoW without killing, but I don't see how it's possible! lol) I enjoyed trying to tame all the possible pets in World of Warcraft, and hated having to interrupt my taming with fighting.

Charlotte (MotherOwl) said...

Anne, I see how taming pets could be a problem. I made it to level 44 (before the squish - she's 19 now) before I died through my own stupidity. If not doing an Iron-man, it would be totally possible, there are many gather this, talk to her, fetch this, hand in that ... quests and CHests / Exploring / Herbalism / Mining gives XP as well.

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I worked on an open world videogame as a screenwriter once. It was definitely a lot of work, but also a really fun experience :)

The Multicolored Diary