“The Fire Elves long ago rejected the values of love and family. Everyone is property of the state. Hellwomen compete for the attention of males, paying dowries for their sexual attentions. If they conceive and give birth, the child is taken to be raised in a communal education center. The mother is paid for her contribution to society — and the greater the status of the father, the greater the payment.”— A’Lindra Ta’Lin, Sanctum of the Archmage: The Sight
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to contribute to the PC Gamer article on Beamdog’s EE revival of Bioware’s 2002 adventure RPG, Neverwinter Nights (or NWN). I don’t think I can summarize my thoughts on the 20th anniversary of this classic game better than the way I opened my remarks then, when I said that:
In 2002 I was software engineer working on a second graduate degree. I had an opportunity to work in quantum computing (which I ended up doing for about a dozen years), but felt I needed a better background in the science to do it properly. So to say that NWN came into my life when I could least afford the time to fully appreciate it — I was literally working a full time tech job and studying quantum physics in my spare time — would be an understatement. That’s why it took years for me to really get involved in the NWN “modding” community, which in hindsight is a significant life regret of mine. (I’m not doing quantum physics anymore, but I am still trying to write and make games.)
I wasn’t on the Bioware forums when it was brewing, but I’d heard the scuttlebutt about how “Neverwinter Nights” was going to be something new and unique in computer-based RPGs. So over the next couple of years I bought, played, and enjoyed the game and its expansions. I really wanted to keep going after finishing HotU (Hordes of the Underdark), and I’d heard, thanks to the toolset, that fans were making their own adventures. So I found IGN’s Neverwinter Vault (the place to go for them at the time), downloaded and played my first module, and was hooked.
I spent most of my available game time starting in 2004 playing one NWN module and campaign after another: Aielund, Lords of Darkness, Shadowlords, Dreamcatcher… the list goes on. And as I did, I discovered the first thing that would go on to change my life: that indie modders could often make better and more engaging games than companies with dev budgets in the millions. They usually weren’t as polished, but they were frequently more creative, better storytelling experiences, and more “on target” for what I was looking for as a player. And perhaps most important of all, they showed a willingness to experiment, to take risks in gameplay and narrative design, that I typically didn’t see in commercial games of the time.
I largely lost sight of the commercial games industry for years as a result. And by the time mid-2005 came around, I knew that I could no longer put off trying my hand at creating my own game. I had an expansive story idea that I’d originally developed as the setting for a D&D campaign years earlier, and that I’d made a (then stalled) attempt to turn into a novel series. So despite a challenging work and grad-school schedule, I began development on an NWN module of my own based on the backstory to that campaign: Sanctum of the Archmage: The Sight.
As I continued to play these modules, and immersed myself over the next few years in building my own adventures, I gradually came to realize that Bioware had — perhaps unintentionally — accomplished something truly unique and ground-breaking. By creating a game-building toolset that was simple enough for many people to use, it put the game creation process, for the first time, within the reach of talented storytellers. These were individuals with rich ideas, but without a commercial (much less AAA) budget or dev team to back them.
This provided a desperately needed “release valve” for the repressed creativity of a generation of frustrated game authors. The resulting firehose of adventures that exploded onto the NWN modding scene over the next decade not only proved and paved the way for some (sometimes controversial) trends that game companies finally began to adopt (such as better and more inclusive romance plots). It also democratized game design and development in a way that had never really been possible before — and as far as I’m aware, has never quite been matched since.
This latter point is worth emphasizing. For nearly every other game that I’m aware of, the word modding refers to making “modifications” to extend an existing, professionally developed game campaign. Anyone who’s played with Skyrim mods knows what I’m talking about: things like new companions and side quests dropped into the world to be played as a part of the base game. Neverwinter Nights (along with Neverwinter Nights 2, and the Bioware game that followed them, Dragon Age: Origins), are the only significant, 21st century games I know of for which modding also has another meaning: not just making modifications, but creating modules. That use of the word took its inspiration from the D&D (and other) “booklets” that Dungeon Masters could buy, which contained a modular adventure (standalone, or part of a series) that they could run for players.
And that word names the key distinction between a game mod and a game module. A module (standalone or series) is an adventure that stands on its own, as its own game. It may be connected to the setting of the original game (as with Wyvern Crown of Cormyr), or it may not (as with The Aielund Saga and Sanctum of the Archmage). It may use or repurpose assets from the original game, include new custom content developed by independent artists and musicians, or (more typically) both. But whatever the use of setting or assets, what Neverwinter Nights gave its customers, for the first time, were the tools to actually make their own games.
The value of that to a player base brimming with creatives hungry to do so, but not fortunate enough to have landed a job in the games industry, can’t be overstated. And for me, after years of trying to “find myself” professionally, it provided a life-changing revelation. I’m still trying to forge a career today as an indie novelist, and to start my own new publishing imprint. But those are an (admittedly strong) second in my list of true passions. After a couple of years of creating my own games with Neverwinter Nights, I knew I’d found my own first calling in life: creating technology enabled interactive fiction. Or, in simpler words: making storytelling computer games.
I also think there’s an interesting comparison to be made about the intersection between indie publishing today, and the growing indie games industry. Just as NWN provided tools (in its time) to enable the democratization of game building, so too has the explosion of indie publishing tools done the same for authors. E-books, print on demand, and audio, and the companies that now provide them, have set writers free from the publishers and agents who gatekept the industry in the past. It’s not an exaggeration to say that I, and most of the other indie authors of today, would not have been able to pursue careers as writers without them.
Similarly, the maturing gamedev tools of today are doing the same for the next generation of indie game builders. Development and engine toolsets like Unity and Unreal Engine, along with 3D and other modeling tools, are making it increasingly possible for the game creators of tomorrow not only to do their work, but to have a shot at making a living at it. And to do so while (at least, hopefully) escaping the creativity-stifling restrictions of the companies that gatekeep those industries today.
So, to sum up: what, on its 20th anniversary, would I have to say is the legacy of Neverwinter Nights in my own life? More than anything else, it’s the game that helped me to rediscover my passion for writing and storytelling, and for role-playing adventure games — at precisely the time that I needed it most. And it’s what helped me to finally discover my true calling in life: storytelling through games.
So Happy 20th Birthday, Neverwinter Nights — the game that changed my life.
Sanctum of the Archmage is an original two-chapter RPG adventure based on the story IP I’m developing for my novel series of the same name. With a player review average of 9.9 out of 10, it’s one of the highest rated mods on the Neverwinter Nights Vault. Although I’ve updated and improved it over the years (most recently for Beamdog ‘s NWN Enhanced Edition), the demands of my former “day job” have kept me from continuing and completing the adventure.
I’m pleased to announce that the third chapter in my module series for NWN:EE is now back in development. Based on a 64 page design outline, Sanctum of the Archmage: The Miracle Worker will be the largest and most ambitious game module I’ve attempted yet.
Screenshots and video clips from it, as well as the first two chapters, can be found at the links below.
I have a major announcement regarding the future of my writing and gaming projects.
Those who’ve been following my work likely know that for many years, I’ve had to juggle my novel writing and game modding ambitions with a full-time career as a data scientist and software engineer. That ongoing need to “earn a living” has made it necessary for me to prioritize time and focus on my “paying day job” over the Sanctum of the Archmage projects. As a result, and to the disappointment of some of my fans, I’ve only been able to work on them in what has not been a particularly copious amount of spare time. That situation has unfortunately only gotten worse in recent years, to the point where I’ve had to put most of my “indie” ambitions on indefinite hold.
In the near future, all of that will all be changing. As of this month, and after decades devoted to it, I have joined “The Great Resignation” and officially retired from my day job.
The next stage in my life will be what I’m informally calling “The Great Pivot.” That will involve, first and foremost, moving. I’m expecting our retirement relocation to take a good bit of my focus over the next six months or more, until we find and settle into a new home. During that time I also intend to position myself for more independent and self-employed work in the future. I may also do some software contracting, as needed.
What this means for my creative projects is that I will soon be in a position to devote a lot more time and focus to them. They, and particularly my novel writing, will be my main profession going forward. In other words, I’m retiring to become a full-time author and IP creator-entrepreneur.
So Andarian Publishing is now a full-time business. Writing books and making games will be my job for the near and forseeable future. Here’s what that will mean for the future of the Sanctum of the Archmage novels and games.
Novels. For those who have been waiting for the re-release of my first novel, and for the following books in the series, I have especially good news. These will be my primary (although not exclusive) focus for the next several years. They represent a project I’ve been working on for decades, and there are ten volumes planned in the full saga. So this will be a major undertaking, and I expect that it will keep me busy for much of the rest of my life. Here is what I hope to accomplish in the near term:
- Finish re-publishing my first novel, Dawn of Chaos, as a series of six novellas. The first five are already on my website, and on the Kobo e-book store. The sixth book, Aftermath, only needs a cover, and will be published as soon as I have one.
- Finally publish Dawn of Chaos “wide.” This means getting all six books out on most of the major e-book stores: Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple Books. I’m considering a few other smaller online bookstores as well. This should be done by the end of the year, with print on demand and audiobook versions following sometime next year.
- I will likely also publish the rest of the first volume to Amazon Kindle (book 1 is there now). I have not decided whether to do the same for the subsequent volumes. My work will not appear on the Google Play store.
- Finally begin the serious marketing and promotion campaign for my novel writing that I’ve been putting off for lack of time. I’ve done a lot of research on how to do this, so I know most of what I need to do; I just need to actually do it.
- Write and publish the next two volumes in the series: Crucible of Heroes and The Sight. These will be made available in e-book, print, and audio form. My plan (which I now have the time to follow through on) is to get them out in 2022 and 2023, respectively.
Games. I currently have two separate game development avenues that I plan to explore. The first is continuing work on the Sanctum of the Archmage adventure modules for Neverwinter Nights. The second is exploring indie game development options for the series outside the modding community.
Neverwinter Nights Mods. One of my greatest regrets over the last dozen years has been having to disappoint fans of my Neverwinter Nights module series. I genuinely appreciate the enthusiasm I’ve seen from them for me to continue it, and in particular to complete and release Chapter 3: Mission to Rayche. And as much as I love writing novels, I love making games even more. As a writer and a computer tech, it is, to me, the ideal blend of storytelling and technical creativity. But modding is an inherently unpaid activity, and I have always had to put my job and book writing (which I can earn an income from) first. While that won’t change entirely with my retirement, I now have some flexibility to shift those priorities. So here are my near-term goals for the Sanctum of the Archmage modding projects.
- Sanctum as NWN:EE “Curated Content.” Beamdog has invited me (and I’ve agreed) to prepare my Sanctum of the Archmage modules for inclusion in its curated content program. This won’t be a small effort, but I think it’ll be a great opportunity to bring greater exposure and visibility to my work. I’ll be starting on this over the next several months, and it will hopefully be available sometime next year.
- Sanctum 3 is Now Officially Back in Development. Removing the major time-suck that was keeping me from my creative projects will enable me to finally set aside time to work on completing the next adventure module in the series. With the full title Sanctum of the Archmage: The Miracle Worker, the third and fourth modules (Mission to Rayche and Treason) will finally continue the game saga from the end of chapter 2: The Quest.
Indie Game Development. Although I’m currently treating this as a secondary side-project for some time in the future, I do have thoughts of building new, independent game content set in the Sanctum universe as well. Unlike my work on the NWN game modules, this would be something that would allow me to both explore and monetize my passion for game development. Starting any of these is likely a few years out, but options from visual novel projects to building a new, marketable implementation in something like Unreal Engine are all on the table.
That’s all I have to share for now. Thanks to everyone who read through this announcement! And if you have thoughts or feedback on it, please don’t hesitate to comment. Dialogue with my readers and players is something that I really enjoy, and I’m very happy that I’ll be able to devote more time to it in the future.
I just had an interview on my novel and game writing projects published in Liberty Island Magazine. My thanks to Tamara Wilhite for arranging it, and for doing the interview!
Here’s my favorite part from it.
Tamara Wilhite: I’ve heard that fantasy sells much better than science fiction, because it is more accessible – whether or not it is a clear morality play of good versus evil like Harry Potter. Your books are clearly set up as a fight of good versus evil. What do you think this says about society?
Tony Andarian: I hadn’t heard that about fantasy being more accessible than science fiction, but it doesn’t surprise me. While there are exceptions (Game of Thrones comes to mind), I do think that trying to present a clear moral conflict is probably more common in fantasy – and one of the things that does tend to make it more accessible.
What I think that says about society is that people are hungry (and rightly so) for art that portrays a worldview with a clear-cut sense of right and wrong. Intellectual culture for most of my life has been dominated by a relativist philosophy that treated as an axiom that there was no such thing as “absolute truth,” and that moral ideals were somehow naive or unrealistic. Moral cynicism has been an intellectual fashion for decades, and to an extent still is. And as Ayn Rand observed, this often caused art that embraced the value-orientation inherent in moral action to retreat into “popular” art and literature, and to allegedly “less serious” genres. When culture treats heroes and morality as unrealistic, it’s perhaps not surprising that they should show up in fantasy.
As much as people may hunger for clear moral conflict, though, I also think that many of us are losing patience with the parade of false alternatives that we’re often offered for it. That’s why as much as the Sanctum series may look at the outset like a straight-up “good vs. evil,” story, a major theme of it is also about how who the good guys really are doesn’t necessarily jibe with what we’ve been told. Or, as Kosh from Babylon 5 put it: “Understanding is a three-edged sword: your side, their side, and the truth.”An Interview with Author Tony Andarian – Liberty Island Magazine, April 23, 2021
A couple of months ago I attended a very interesting event: ProWritingAid’s Fantasy Writers Week. ProWritingAid is a terrific piece of software that describes itself as “a grammar checker, style editor, and writing mentor in one package.” Not only is it all those things, but it actually does them well. I used it to edit the upcoming re-release of my novel, and found it so valuable that I decided to invest in a lifetime license.
Good as it is, though (and I recommend it to any serious writer), it’s not the focus of this post — so let me get back to that. Fantasy Writers Week was “a week-long series of events all geared towards fantasy writers and world-builders” — and, of course, how they can use their software to do what they do more effectively. Some of the sessions were extremely informative, and I took pages of notes.
The single most useful thing that I learned from it, though, was the existence of an amazing tool for authors and gamers like me: World Anvil. In the creators’ own words:
“World Anvil is a set of worldbuilding tools that helps you create, organize and store your world setting. With wiki-like articles, interactive maps, historical timelines, an RPG Campaign Manager and a full novel-writing software, we have all the tools you’ll need to run your RPG Campaign or write your novel!”https://www.worldanvil.com/
That’s a pretty ambitious set of claims for any tool. Half an hour into their presentation I realized with a shock that they weren’t exaggerating. After I picked my jaw up from my desk, I spent the rest of the session drinking in everything I could, and brainstorming about what I could do with it.
Imagine a huge wiki, structured with sections tailored precisely to provide logically organized information about an entire world — from flora and fauna to characters, traditions, and rituals. Something practically designed for someone who loves to immerse him or her self and get lost in a new world, and all the things.
That’s what World Anvil is like. And one of the most exciting things I realized in playing with it is that I have a lot of notes and information about the saga that wouldn’t work particularly well in a novel, but would be ideal for this kind of “world exploring” experience. All it’ll take to provide it is a little organizing and a fair amount of cut and paste.
There’s a lot that I could say about it, but I honestly think it’s better understood by experiencing and playing with it. So click the link and check it out for yourself — and while you’re at it, check out the nascent page I’m now building there for the Sanctum of the Archmage Saga. And let me know what you think!