Neverwinter has expanded four times already. Developer Cryptic Studios is hard at work on Module 5, which will see the rise of one of Dungeons & Dragons’ original protagonists the multiheaded Tiamat. Ahead of this epic addition to the action-oriented MMORPG we dive into the tomes of lore with Randy Mosiondz, a senior content designer on Neverwinter, discuss game design and what keeps him up at night.
LoreHound: Before we get start who are you and what’s task in the world of Neverwinter?
Randy Mosiondz: My name is Randy Mosiondz, and I’m a senior content designer at Cryptic Studios. I’ve been with Cryptic for nearly ten years now. I got started working on City of Heroes, then moved on to be lead designer for Champions Online. A few years back I came on to work on Neverwinter where I became Lead Content Designer. After taking a break from work, I came back to focus on content implementation and am currently known as the “Loremaster” on Neverwinter. I’m the go-to person when someone needs to know the latest and most accurate information on how things work in Dungeons & Dragons and the Forgotten Realms. I also make sure the whole team gets regular updates on how the story is developing in the game.
LH: Cryptic Studios has kept tight ties between Neverwinter and the latest in Dungeons & Dragons, the boardgame the title is based on. How closely does Cryptic work with Wizards of the Coast? Does Wizards award any sort of leeway or input?
RM: We’ve got a great working relationship with Wizards of the Coast. We talk with them on a weekly basis, and we have a pretty quick turn-around back and forth when we need approvals on things. At Cryptic we try to stick pretty close with the established D&D/Forgotten Realms lore, so we mainly need updates from Wizards to ensure that any content we’re building still fits with the evolving canon of the Realms. We’ve been thrilled to help develop new canon for the Realms.
LH: The 5th edition of the board game was released over the summer. Naturally, we understand that Cryptic would need more time to bring the Lost Mine of Phandelver to life, should the company chose. Are there any aspects from the new edition that has the design team at Cryptic excited?
RM: The 5th edition is a great re-take on D&D as a whole. It really gets back to the roots about what D&D is about, and we’re having fun playing it in the office every week. We like the flexibility in designs and the focus on the Realms for story development. I think in terms of content development, it’s great that we have these large-scale events like the Tyranny of Dragons to work from, where we have epic storylines to create new zones and events. Having the tabletop Tyranny of Dragons campaign, D&D Adventurer’s League events, and Neverwinter online modules each presenting different takes and aspects of the same storyline makes for a great cross-media immersion for players.
LH: What’s the most challenging aspect of designing in a shared world like Faerûn?
RM: Probably the most challenging part comes down to digging down into the books of established Realms lore to find what is the most recent and accurate version of a given location, organization, or person. We’re talking about decade’s worth of game books, novels, video games, and the like contributing to the history of this world. Thankfully, the fans and Wizards of the Coast themselves have done a great job at compiling the history of the Realms, so someone usually has a good answer for a question we have!
LH: What has been your favorite bit of lore that you’ve worked on with Neverwinter so far? Why?
RM: One of the adventure zones I helped developed the backstory for was “Icespire Peak”, a snow-covered mountainous region in the Sword Mountains inhabited by goblins, trolls, and frost giants. One of the defining aspects of the zone was the corpse of a massive frost giant who was frozen onto the side of the mountain. There wasn’t a lot of Realms lore about an area like this, so we came up with our own backstory.
“The frost giant known as Lakkar was a mighty warrior of his clan and devout follower of Thrym, the god of cold. When the jarl of the clan grew old, Lakkar challenged him to a fight over leadership. But the old jarl was treacherous, and poisoned Lakkar before the battle. In his weakened state Lakkar was easily defeated, and the jarl cast him out from the clan steading.
Consumed with rage by this injustice, Lakkar invoked the name of Thrym, asking him for a means to enact his vengeance. Thrym took pity on Lakkar, granting him the Winterforge, a powerful artifact which channeled the power of the ice realms within the Elemental Chaos. Armed with the Winterforge, Lakkar started a bloody swath of conquest across the Sword Mountains in Thrym’s name. He eventually returned to his clan steading, destroying any who stood by his rival slaying the old jarl.
That was not enough for Lakkar. The immense power of the Winterforge filled him with a lust for power, and he would not rest until he became as powerful as a titan. Lakkar absorbed the Winterforge completely, directly channeling the power of the Elemental Chaos into himself. He grew in proportion as the primordial energies filled him, becoming a giant among giants. As he grew in power and stature, Lakkar challenged the gods themselves, demanding to be recognized as one of their own.
The god Thrym was angered by Lakkar’s hubris, and turned the power of the Winterforge against him. Even Lakkar’s powerful frame could not withstand the full fury of the Elemental Chaos unleashed, and Lakkar’s limbs began to freeze as the frigid energies consumed him. He screamed his rage to the winds as the Winterforge froze him solid atop Icespire Peak. Some say the Winterforge is still trapped in the heart of Lakkar’s icy corpse, waiting for someone to open the way to the Elemental Chaos once again.”
We worked with Wizards of the Coast to verify that this fit into the canon, and they agreed it was a worthy addition to the Realms! We then based the adventure zone around this backstory.
LH: How much do the quest lines change during the process from initial outline to final completion?
RM: There are two main aspects we need to focus on when developing quest lines: 1) Ensuring the text is readable and understandable for our players; and 2) Fitting the context of the storyline and the D&D/Forgotten Realm world. After the designers come up with the initial text, our Quality Assurance team plays through each of the quests to make sure everything makes sense in terms of gameplay and story. Then we compile the text for Wizards of the Coast to make sure everything fits D&D/Forgotten Realms established canon. After any revisions, the text goes to audio for any VO recording where final revisions take place to ensure it sounds good when spoken aloud.
LH: Are there any “mantras” that have developed during game design? Something that helps keeps a cohesive or consistent feel to the world as it develops?
RM: One of our biggest focuses for content development is to provide story context, but don’t overwhelm. We wanted Neverwinter to be accessible to new players unfamiliar with D&D or the Forgotten Realms. At the same time we wanted to provide enough depth to make the lore people happy. Our solution was to come up with a relatively passive lore system that gave you small snippets of lore simply by exploring the world. These lore snippets end up going into your player journal with a more extensive write-up for players who want to know more about a locale, person, group, or other aspect of the Realms.
LH: Out of the general and into the specifics of today’s lore. Module 4 ushered in the Dragonborn with the Tyranny of Dragons. Sergeant Knox tasked adventurers with dealing with the Cult of the Dragon early in our careers. Why was the decision made to indoctrinate us then?
RM: The Cult of the Dragon is an old familiar enemy in the Realms, but has largely been a “background evil” that existed to be thwarted in specific, targeted plots. In the Tyranny of Dragons, the Cult of the Dragon has become a major force, mainly due to the support they’re receiving from so many dragons. We wanted to reflect this by showing their activities throughout the Sword Coast, which ends up with players seeing them across the game even from an early start in their careers. By the time players get to end-game, players will be well-versed in the activities of the Cult of Dragon – and realize what they’ve been building towards this whole time.
LH: Tyranny of Dragons was simply the beginning of the Season of Dragons. Now we’ve Module 5 and the Rise of Tiamat coming. For the uninitiated, what’s the story behind the five-headed dragon as interpreted by Cryptic Studios?
RM: By now you should know that the Cult of the Dragon is using all of their resources to gather treasure for Tiamat’s Hoard. Without giving too much away, we’ll say that there’s a particular place the Cult of the Dragon is gathering all the treasure, and for a very specific purpose. This is going to present one of the most challenging confrontations in Neverwinter to date, so make sure your heroes are prepared to take it on!
LH: Oh, and how the heck do you pronounce Tiamat? Asking for a friend.
RM: It’s pronounced tee-a-maht!
LH: Production for Module 4, 5 (and beyond?) have likely been scheduled well in advance. Did Cryptic have to make any changes to the planned release due to player feedback or some other extenuating circumstance?
RM: We always keep an eye on the player forums and what our community managers are saying. We have an active presence on the forums, and modify our development as the need arises. We can’t change every aspect of an upcoming module once we’ve started development, but we’ve proven ourselves to be pretty adaptable to feedback.
LH: Tiamat has been in the lore of Dungeons and Dragons since the beginning. Were you itching to get the Creator of Evil Dragonkind into your game for some time?
RM: You bet! Tiamat is such an iconic evil in D&D in general and the Forgotten Realms, it’d be a shame not to include her in one (or more) of our content updates. She’s an embodiment of draconic evil, with a different head for each of the five main chromatic dragon types. How cool is that? It wasn’t really question of “if” as much as “when” we wanted to include her in Neverwinter!
LH: Featuring such a storied history in the shared universe, Tiamat has been seen in numerous campaigns outside Forgotten Realms, which Neverwinter is set in. Has the team had rabid, uh, discussions over including other aspects of the character?
RM: Certainly, although the Forgotten Realms continuity is our focus, and especially her recent revisions made by Wizards of the Coast in the “Tyranny of Dragons” storyline. That pretty much set the stage for what the most recent and canon version of Tiamat is for us to work with when including her in Neverwinter.
LH: How grammatically correct is the title for Module 5? Is this just the beginning of The Chromatic Dragon’s interference in our plane of existence?
RM: Sorry – too much backstory to reveal ahead of time! I’d suggest playing the module to find out!
LH: Anything you’d like to add on Module 5 and the Rise of Tiamat.
RM: This is the culmination of a lot of hard work from a lot of developers who love D&D and the Forgotten Realms. We hope you enjoy the results!