A Dance with Rogues

This article is a duplication of the Hall of Fame & Module of the Year 2006 Interview from the Neverwinter Nights 2 Vault.
It has been archived here for posterity and should only be edited for presentation or formatting.

We have an interview with Valine about her NWN Hall of Fame module A Dance with Rogues Part 1 & A Dance with Rogues Part 2 which also won the Module of the Year 2006 Contest. Topics also include her background, the modules and their setting and her inspirations. These questions were compiled using Fan questions sent in for this interview, and we would like to thank those fan who did so. A full list of names can be found at the end of this interview. July. 2007

1. Could you introduce yourselves to our readers and tell us how you got into D&D?

Well, I'm from Europe, and I'm an assistant professor.

My first contact with the fantasy genre was totally by chance. I was on holiday with my parents and my brother, and I was like twelve years old. We were staying at a house that belonged to a friend of my parents (they rented it when they were not there themselves), and I got to sleep in the room of their son. He had a huge bookshelf full of books that were very different from the ones I had been reading so far, with monsters and swords and half-naked people on the covers, so I got curious and secretly started reading them in the evenings! A couple of things were really shocking and not really suitable for my age, I guess. But I felt brave reading those books, and I enjoyed some of them quite a lot, which got me hooked on fantasy (there were also a couple of Sci-Fi ones there but they were not really my cup of tea). I still read a lot of books. I think I'm a little bookworm!

I've never done any serious pen-and-paper role-playing, though a friend of mine at college invited me to join his group a few times... I played a witch. I could fly on a broom! That was nice. The DM thought is was overpowering. He had me killed. That was not nice :-(. I stayed away from pen-and-paper from there on, but I did play a couple of computer games like Baldur's Gate and Diablo, which I enjoyed, so when NWN came out I decided to give it a try, too.

2. Congratulations on winning the 2006 Module of the Year award for A Dance with Rogues Parts 1 and 2. With nearly twice the votes of any other module in the running, it's clear that the community loved your module, how does it feel?


3. For the people that haven't played your work, could you give us an overview of what the module is about?

The story is about a young noble living in a city named Betancuria. The module starts with Betancuria coming under attack and finally falling, which turns the city into a broken-down post-war ruin. The heroine barely survives the attack thanks to a group of local thugs and thieves who take her in. The first part is about that new life the main character now faces. I wanted to have as much freedom as possible so the heroine could find her place in that new world, whatever that might be. I have played her as a shy, sneaky mouse, and I have also played her as an angry, vengeful assassin. I still very much enjoy going through the modules as my characters always end up differently, somehow.

Part two is more focused on the story line, assuming the heroine has found her place in the world by now. I cannot tell too much of the story of part two without revealing the plot of part one, but it still involves the attack on Betancuria and the group of thieves. There's quite a lot of ups and downs before the heroine finally gets her happy end :P

4. What would you say was the main inspiration for the story of A Dance with Rogues? Was it in your head long-before you actually started building ADwR or did it evolve when playing with the toolset?

Actually, I never had an idea what I was doing... It's sort of an incident that the modules exist at all. I was playing Hordes of the Underdark, and although I enjoyed it in general, I did not like the way the NPCs were treating my character. I was playing a sorcerer (without a groom to fly on, though) who had a high charisma and all. But those stupid NPCs did not care at all! The nice big warrior I tried to flirt with only seemed to care about his silly double-axe. The horned half-demon guy didn't even want to join me. And in the end even that dark elven wench left me and teamed up with the big red demon boss :-(.

So, as I had seen that there was a toolset coming with NWN, my plan was to alter Hordes a bit more to my liking, perhaps changing some of the dialogues so the NPCs would absolutely adore my character from now on! Sooo I loaded the toolset. Needless to say I didn't understand anything at all. Well, I figured before I could work on my improved Hordes of the Underdark, I should get to know the toolset, and I played around with it for a while, drawing an area which I imagined was a castle. I placed a nice, small bedroom in the corner and started decorating the bedroom with all sorts of placeables. Then I added a maid to it, then a couple of guards... Well, and that was how the modules came to be. The bedroom is still in there by the way, it's the very first room of part one.

I enjoyed creating my own little world and gave up on producing Hordes of the Underdark Spiced Up Edition. Instead I kept adding more and more content to my module, like a new quest here and there or just a new area to explore. But I never had a plan for it. At some point the module had gotten so big that working with it in the toolset was really slow, so I split it up into two parts. But originally my dance with rogues was just one (too big) module.

5. Do you feel that many people were initially drawn to ADwR not only because of the fact that it contains sexual situations, but because these situations were set within the context of a strong story?

I don't know how to answer this... I think placing half-naked figures on the cover of, say, a book :P, probably does help selling the product. So I would assume that having that association with sexual content did increase the amount of attention my modules received. However, I never wanted to use sexual content for promotion purposes or something like that. There are sexual situations in the modules because I wanted them to be in there, because I liked it that way.

You see, it was not my intention to publish the modules. I was making them because I had fun creating my own little world, and also because I enjoyed playing in it. There are quite a lot of very personal things in there, many of them written thinking that nobody else but me would actually get to read them.

A very good friend of mine "caught" me playing part one some time last year and asked me about it, so I eventually gave him a copy. Well, he later told me that he had had a good time playing princess, and that I should upload the module to the vault, which was a very scary idea. But I figured, maybe other people would enjoy playing the module as well, and wouldn't that be a great thing if I could help them having a good time this way? So I went ahead and put them up. You wouldn't believe how nervous I was. And then people actually started posting comments about my modules! That was really really nice and exciting...

6. ADwR, game-play is quite original with a clear reward system for being a rogue and not a hack-and-slash. Where did you get your ideas and inspiration to design a module that is geared toward the rogue class?

I've got quite a lot of fantasy books featuring rogues, and I think they are great fun. My character in Baldur's Gate was a rogue, too.

A lot of computer games seem to focus on combat and fighting, and I personally do not like that at all. Please do not get this wrong, I like a tough battle every now and then if it makes sense and the story requires it, like fighting a big, mean, red dragon for example, or defending a settlement from a band of orcs. But much like I wouldn't want to read a book that only consists of battle after battle after battle, I don't enjoy playing a game that's only about fighting. Not only does it get boring, it also ? in my view ? is a form of belittlement, which can be very dangerous as it can make you numb to violence. I firmly believe violence is something terrible and should never be taken lightly.

Now, a lot of classes in NWN are all about fighting power. What I wanted was a game world that gave me other options but fighting and fighting and fighting. This more or less led to the rogue class again as there are so many other things rogues can do, like bluffing, pick pocketing, sneaking, gambling, charming their way out of tricky situations, and so on. I wanted to reward these kinds of things. Not killing poor, innocent NPCs!

Well, okay, some of my NPCs are not so poor and innocent at all :P But I still think that there's usually a better way of dealing with things other than walking up to somebody and bashing their head in.

7. What was your inspiration for mixing eroticism with fantasy? Did you find it difficult to pull it off?

The inspiration was Hordes of the Underdark, because it totally lacked that kind of content when I played it. I wanted to have a game world where many of the NPCs were absolutely mad about my character (well, more or less!) and where all those bawdy things that I had in my head could actually happen (and not just be hinted at).

I enjoy sexuality and sex, and I fail to see what's supposed to be evil about them.

That being said, I think a game, or movie, or book, that is only about sex gets boring, too, so I tried to keep the juicy parts within the context of my story. Though I'd much rather watch a movie that only features sex than a movie that only features killing :P But I think a good movie, or book, or game plays with the various elements in such a way that things do not get boring.

The difficult thing about writing spicy parts for me was not to include any personal feelings. You know, it often happened that I was writing a certain dialogue, and while I was writing it I felt in a certain way towards it (mmmh, NPC caresses my skin with gentle fingers, that feels very nice). But when I later played the module, I did not feel like that at all, maybe due to a certain event that had happened earlier (another NPC had caressed me during the last quest but he turned out to be a big meanie, so no more caressing for now, thank you). So, assuming the main character feels in a certain way was not a good idea. It is why I tried to keep most of the sexual dialogues free of assumptions about emotions. I want to leave it up to the main character to determine how she feels about certain events.

8. How do you feel about the fact that sexual content is still rather 'taboo' in games today?

Well, I think game designers stay away from sexual content because if they don't want their games to be adult-rated because that would mean the big stores would not put their game up for sale, which again means a lot less money.

I wish the industry would understand that there are not only children playing their games (though I think it is way more dangerous if a child plays a violent ego-shooter featuring lots of blood and gore than, say, a strip-poker game showing a couple of boobs) and come out with games that deal with adult themes. By which I mean not yet another strip-poker game but an adventure with a well thought-out story that does not back off when things get spicy.

9. The module is adult orientated with sexual references and sexual prejudice and violence against women as a theme. Why did you make this such a prominent focus of the module?

It was not my intention to make a misogynous module. As I wanted to create a module for myself, the story is tailored around a female character, thus all forms of violence that happen to the main character are a form of violence against a woman.

It feels odd playing male characters in a game, especially if I am supposed to role-play them. I don't think I could easily get into character, though I admit I haven't really tried.

10. What would you say was the greatest challenge in building ADwR?

I never read technical documentations (boooooooooring!) and I only guessed what certain functions or elements in the toolset were doing (and most of the time I guessed wrong). A decent game designer would probably get a heart attack when loading my modules into the toolset and looking at them.

11. There are several henchmen available, how hard was it to come up with all those different personalities?

I usually had a certain person in my mind when I created a new NPC. Chris and Norah for example are a loving homage to a couple I met in real life, who more or less treated me the way they treat the main character in part one. Of course there's also a lot of exaggeration.

Writing dialogues is probably what I enjoyed most about making the modules. It's great fun to me!

12. Your use of riddles are inspiring in their simplicity, yet others require lateral thinking. You have the player interact with many objects in the game in order to progress. Smearing ash on them self to lower charisma, avoiding a situation by getting drunk, use of a "special love" skill. How did you come up with these, and was it fun doing so?

Well, I usually thought about a certain situation the main character was in, and what ways might exist to get out of them. Then I tried to make those "solutions" possible that I liked best. It didn't always work due to my limited knowledge of the toolset, however. But in general I tried having lots of different "solutions" for a given situation, not just one path you have to follow.

13. You allow for romance with both male & female NPCs, how in depth are these romances, and how different are they from one another?

Hmm... There are four romances that have quite a lot of text. I really liking writing dialogues :P

YellowExclamation30.png    WARNING
Spoilers follow.

I tried to reflect the NPC's nature when I was writing the relationships. Pia is all sweet and caring and playful, also a bit fragile, and in general a good-hearted person. Accordingly, in case the main character starts a romance with her, the nature of the romance will be rather playful and sweet, with lots of cuddling and kissing.

Bran is a big, strong warrior, who also has a big heart. However he also is concerned about honour and integrity. The romance with him is a little less playful and perhaps a bit more serious in its tone, but it is also still very good-natured.

Rizzen is a dark elf, thus getting in touch with him emotionally is difficult and different, and you'll not get huggles and kisses from him.

Vico is a dark, nasty, evil warrior who likes your looks, and who you are (and that he gets to bonk you :P). The romance with him is focused on physical aspects, though he does care for the main character (for his own reasons).

There are also a couple of other NPCs in there like a not-so-innocent paladin, a horny officer, a shy ranger, and a naughty warrioress but the relationships with them are usually temporary only.

14. This series is written for a female PC, and a princess no less! Throughout the PC will have to use their guile as well as many other skills, including the use of her body as a means to an end. How do you see her, as a victim or someone who has been given freedom to express herself?

I do not have a prefabricated opinion about the main character. As I said, my motives and general behaviour are usually different each time I play the modules. Though I tend to stick to a good alignment.

15. This was your first module and you have continued to update and improve the module over the months. (in fact part 1 has just been updated and part 2 is expecting an update within the month.) What did you learn as a builder during this process and what advice would you give to other builders attempting to 'do something different' in NWN?

The update for part two is out by now, and I think I'm a bit more satisfied with the new version now as it allows more freedom, compared to the old one.

I'm not sure if my way of doing the modules is a good example. Probably it's not. But what advice I probably could give is that you should enjoy what you are doing, both the process of creating and the product that you create. I must have played my modules over a hundred times by now (though not from start to finish), and whenever I encountered something that was not fun for me, I changed it.

Sometimes I wonder how well I'd like playing the modules now in their current version if I had never seen them before. I think if you can answer that question with a "yes, I think I'd enjoy playing my module", then you've probably created a good one.

16. In A Dance with Rogues you have included many special and ambitiously scripted cut scenes that some would say rival or excel those produced by professional software houses. How difficult was this for you as a new builder. Has the community of builders been of use to you during this process?

*blush again*

Well, I don't know. Some people seem to like the cut scenes, some don't... Personally, I always enjoyed having long cut scenes in games as that usually meant a lot of story going on.

It was difficult to get the cut scenes to work, and some are still a bit shaky. I know (now) that there's a pre-defined script set on the vault for making cut scenes, but as I said, reading technical documentation is boring to me. It probably would have saved me a lot of time, though :P

17. There are far more opportunities to gain chaotic points than to gain lawful ones. Why did you institute this system? Do you feel being a rogue is inherently a chaotic path? I feel it is difficult to come up with a lot of lawful actions a rogue would perform, given the background of my modules which play in a post-war, ransacked city where the current authorities are your enemies.

There also seems to be a lot of controversy about defining "lawful" and "chaotic". In my modules, being chaotic means going against what I'd call the general law you'll find in most western countries, so stealing is a chaotic action, lying is chaotic too. In that sense, lawful means following the law, but then you're already lawful if you do not do anything that's not forbidden.

The whole thing gave me a lot of headaches so I just put in those alignment shifts that I could really justify.

18. Are you discouraged by the comments of negative people? How do you deal with none-constructive criticism your work? Of course it is not nice to read a comment by somebody who doesn't like what you've done, but I have received so many positive comments that I fortunately forget most negative ones quickly enough.

I do appreciate honest criticism, however. I like it a lot when people come up with ideas how to do something in a better way and tell me.

19. The ending of ADwR is rather downbeat and fits well with the very harsh setting you've created. But it also seems quite 'open ended' do you plan to continue the story with the original cast, or perhaps their descendants in NWN1 or NWN2?

I'm not sure yet. I won't have the time for a while to do something serious, but, who knows...

20. Do you play other player made modules? What are some of your favourites?

I did not play a lot of other modules... I did play Adam Miller's Shadowlords and Dreamcatcher, and I think they were nicely done.

21. Have you tried out the toolset for NWN2? If so, how do you think it compares to the toolset for NWN1?

I haven't had the time yet to give it a serious try, no.

22. What games besides NWN do you play and have you written any modules for them?

I haven't created any other modules but dance with rogues yet, no. I think Baldur's Gate 2 was really good, though Anomen sucked and Keldorn was married and not to keen on pillow-play with a rogue :-(

I'm currently playing Tombraider Anniversary when I have some time (beat those silly Centaurs yesterday evening, HA!!!). I've got acrophobia, and the game is really scary at times :P

23. You are obviously a very talented writer and module designer. The game industry has use for people of your skills. Would you ever consider working in the game industry if the opportunity arose?

I haven't really thought about these things. I don't have the time at the moment, anyway.

24. Anything else you'd like to say?

Just that I 'm very happy and thankful for all the nice and encouraging comments I've received... It means a LOT to me! :-)

I'd would like to congratulate Valine on her MotY 2006 award, and also for taking the time to answer all of our questions. I'd also like to give a huge shout out to Thirdpres for his huge contribution to this interview, and for being the main driving force behind it. Thirdpres is also well known in the community for helping authors by testing behind the scenes and sending bug reports in on any module he plays. A true and wonderful member of our community. I'd also like to thank Shia Luck, for her enthusiastic response to my call out for fan questions, she was right on the ball and pumped quite a few my way, yet another valuable member of our NWN community.

This article is a duplication of the Hall of Fame & Module of the Year 2006 Interview from the Neverwinter Nights 2 Vault.
It has been archived here for posterity and should only be edited for presentation or formatting.