A new module for the MMORPG Neverwinter will be another collaboration with critically-acclaimed Dungeons & Dragons author R.A. Salvatore. It will take place within the timeline of Salvatore’s Way of the Drow series, set between the events of Glacier’s Edge and Lolth’s Warrior. Entitled Menzoberranzan, the module is slated to release later this month, and will bring with it a new Adventure Zone and beloved character Drizzt Do’Urden.
This isn’t the first time the Salvatores have collaborated with the MMO’s creative team – the author and his son Geno also had a hand in Neverwinter‘s previous module, Northdark Reaches, as well as the game’s eighth module Underdark. Menzoberranzan‘s plot centers around growing unrest in the Underdark, where players will team up with Jarlaxle Baenr in an attempt to stop a drow civil war. Screen Rant can exclusively announce that the new module will release March 28, as well as the fact that Neverwinter will be newly optimized for Xbox Series X/S consoles beginning today.
Neverwinter Executive Producer Brett Norton, author R.A. Salvatore and his son Geno sat down with Screen Rant to discuss the new module, the creative process behind its narrative, and bringing the area of Menzoberranzan to life.
Screen Rant: So just to start off, for people who might be unfamiliar, can you talk a little bit about where this sort of falls in the timeline and the unrest that’s happening in the Underdark during this time period for the module?
Brett Norton: The gist of it is that you know, with respect to the current Way of the Drow book series, the Menzoberranzan module falls between the second and third books. So it’s after the events in Glacier’s Edge but it’s before the events that will occur in Lolth’s Warrior. So we’re trying to dance lightly, make sure I don’t spoil anything that would have come in Lolth’s Warrior, but things are not going smoothly in Menzoberranzan and there’s a lot of unrest as the drow have come to grips with the fact that Lolth’s sort of, you know, the way she runs her sort of religious theocracy in Menzoberranzan isn’t the only way things could be run. They’ve discovered that there are ways to convert people back from being driders to regular drow, and that has exacerbated and sort of created a splinter faction that’s pushing against the law-based rule in the city of Menzoberranzan.
Coming off of our last module, which was Northdark Reaches, the players had ventured into the Underdark, sort of getting a little bit of hints that some trouble was basically brewing and getting a chance to meet some of the characters that are that are found throughout the books, the sort of the drow ancillary characters that introduce like, “Hey, this is what’s going on. This is what they’ve discovered about Lolth, what they discovered about driders, and this is how the politics of the Underdark are changing.”
As you explore the Northdark Reaches, you come to realize both that there’s a splinter faction of the drow and there’s sort of a loyalist faction of the drow, and the two are starting to butt heads and they’ve been preparing for war. And Jarlaxle who is starting to see that things are taking a turn for the worst brings the group of adventurers – which we call the player characters – and brings them to Menzoberranzan in an attempt to try to subvert some of the possible catastrophes that could happen if a full-scale civil war was to actually break out in the city of Menzoberranzan.
R.A. Salvatore: Which it will. [Laughs]
Geno Salvatore: Spoiler!
R.A. Salvatore: I’ve been saying that all along, that’s where we’re going.
And this isn’t the first collaboration that you all have done for the game. I’m curious after doing it multiple times over the years, what’s the sort of creative process like at this point now that there’s sort of that comfortability there?
R.A. Salvatore: It’s actually a little different, because the first time I did it was years ago – some of the same people – but years ago, with my son Brian, actually. And at that point, we had an idea for a story, and we sculpted it all out, beginning, middle and end. But this time around, when Gino came on to help me with my end of it, we found that we got so much feedback early on about what they already had in mind at the studio that we were serving as editors to begin with. Then we had to go and add all the things that are relevant to the books in, so it was a different process. This one I think was more collaborative at the beginning, the other one was more collaborative after we had submitted. This one right from the beginning was a group effort, and it was really cool, because I got some great stuff from Cryptic [Studios] that wound up in the third book.
Brett Norton: Yeah, two of our internal people Winter [Mullenix] and Randy [Mosidonz] were especially involved with helping out this time around and sort of handling Cryptic’s internal side of what we do with the story. And as he mentioned, the previous time, we did what we called an Adventure, which was a kind of a short directive, almost like miniseries of story missions, largely written by the Salvatores. And it was sort of like a series of, again, narrative campaign missions, you can go back and play through it, and it was great, you could go on missions with Bruenor and whatnot. This time around, though, we wanted to do something different, we didn’t want to do another series of just straight-forward missions, we actually wanted to try to get in and explore the Underdark and create what we call Adventure Zones, which are these large open worlds maps that players can explore. There’s all kinds of missions and heroic encounters and other things on them.
And oddly enough, despite Neverwinter being around for almost 10 years, we didn’t actually have an Underdark Adventure Zone, we have many ones in Chult and on the Sword Coast, all kinds of places, we even go to Barovia, but we did not have an Underdark one. And that was an odd point for a game set in Forgotten Realms and in the Sword Coast and whatnot. So we’re like, cool, the thing we want to do this time is trying to work in that Adventure Zone, we actually want to now have multiple Adventure Zones here in the Underdark, so that required us to take a bit more of an open-ended approach. Because the Adventure Zones still have stories and we still have these campaigns that are wrapped around them, but the players can sort of digest them in a lot more of an open-ended manner. They get to run around, do different things, go to different places, it’s less directed by us the creators and more directed by the players themselves.
So that kind of explains why we had to kind of do the story a bit differently because we had to figure out like, “Hey, how can we build the zone?” You know, we have limitations with how much space we can build and how many different locations we can build at any given time, and we had to sort of figure out how we could tell a great story with the Salvatores and still fit it within some kind of reasonable work box that we could get these Adventure Zones built in.
Geno Salvatore: The early stuff is all about the constraints. It’s not just, “Here’s a cool story we’re going to tell,” it’s, “Here’s a cool story we’re going to tell, how does it work in a game?” Right? And with all of the constraints of the game built around it, both in terms of how much stuff you can put in, and that since it’s open world stuff and repeatable stuff, how do you tell a story that also allows for the player to direct it, the player to come back to it, the player to continue there outside of the scope of the narrow narrative? And it’s really kind of a fun set of constraints, I think, and Winter and Randy were very, very important in helping us see the edges of the constraints and also helping I think push within Cryptic to get the stuff we needed for the story to work.
R.A. Salvatore: Another big difference in this one is that I was actually working on the book at the time we were doing this. So that’s why I was able to, when they told me one thing that was happening down there, I said, “Hey, I’m gonna refer to that, so give me some details.” Because I really liked it a lot. The first time it was more just a side story that made sense in the context of the characters and the adventures that had been before. This one was actually while I was working on Lolth’s Warrior, the book, and so it allowed me to put in something that would very much make sense in the book that I didn’t have space for in the book in the story that you get in the game, which was kind of fun.
Can you walk me through that process of creating an entirely new area and sort of weaving narrative into an environment?
Brett Norton: So I can give you the game side of it a little bit here. So it starts, generally speaking, months before we actually begin actually building anything for these – what we call Adventure Zones and Campaigns – we actually sort of pick a general theme kind of setting. Since it takes us a while to produce these assets, what we try to do ahead of time is actually make concept art for some of the places we’d like to go. So we had thought about venturing back into the Underdark, many, many months before we actually began formal work on actually, you know, building all the assets and things we would need for the Adventure Zone. We said like, “Hey, what areas can we go to?” And that’s what kind of led us; I was like, “Hey, I wonder if, since we’re going back to the Underdark, I wonder if we can get the Salvatores involved again.” And they went through a sort of talk with us like, “Hey, will you guys be available? How are things looking? Can we get you back here to work on Neverwinter again?” And that all worked out.
And then that’s what led us to look at this region, we wanted to do something, but we didn’t want to jump in straight out of the gates and tackle Menzoberranzan. First, we wanted to do something else. So that’s why we came up with the idea of the Northdark Reaches, which is sort of part of the larger Underdark area around Menzoberranzan and led us into the story with the Salvatore’s that we would eventually put into it. And that led us to think about like, “Hey, what are the main sort of areas – that we called neighborhoods – of each Adventure Zone.”
For example, there’s one neighborhood where there’s a lot of myconids, which are these sort of sentient fungus people in the DnD universe. And they became sort of like your friends and allies a bit, and they’re undergoing some troubles, you’re helping them out, and in the process discovering what has happened to a key character in the storyline as well as discovering more about what the plot is and what the loyalists in the Northdark Reaches are doing and how that ties back into the your later adventures into Menzoberranzan. But all that sort of pre-production had to lead us to figuring out some of these loose plot points, what characters will we need? What sort of environment assets? How can we make the different neighborhoods feel different and feel like they were different places?
And working with both some of the drow assets we have – because we’ve obviously been to the Underdark before and so we have some drow things – but we also needed to build some new things to figure out like, “Hey, what’s appropriate from this sort of the drow repertoire that we have, and what are some of the various new things that we need to build to make the Northdark Reaches feels like its own unique place. And that’s kind of how we walk through it. And then obviously, as mentioned, we talked with the Salvatores and had to figure out where’s the story? What are the key characters? What new characters do we have to create? We do have some of the characters like the Companions of the Hall and Jarlaxle, who were actually characters we previously built for Neverwinter. But there were a couple of new characters as well that we hadn’t built. And you know, we can’t build an infinite number of new characters, so what are the most important key characters that we can build in the time frame we’ve got? Who are the major ones, and where do we need to put all of our love and attention?
R.A. Salvatore: Yeah, from my point of view, you know, it’s a drow civil war, and civil wars are messy. You have conflicted families, you have people just trying to see which side is going to win before they pick a side. And particularly talking about the drow, who’ve been under Lolth’s hold forever. And you’ve also got the drow who are brought back to life, when they would turn from driders back into drow, and the great heresy that precipitated this whole thing, so there are a lot of different storylines. You know, in the book I covered a bunch, but there are probably a million more, right? I mean, the stories are so unique, the way people approach the battling and all of that is unique.
And of course, you’ve got Jarlaxle, who – war is not good for business; or maybe it is, if he can shape it the way he wants it. So when we’re trying to find the storyline to fit the game, it’s not going to be in the book; it makes sense with some of the same characters that you’ll see in the book, but the things that kind of set up where they are in the book. And for me, you know, that collaborative process is an inspirational process as well, because you’re getting feedback on things in real time before I actually was sitting down to create. So it worked out really well, and because with the drow, it’s really easy to come up with subplots, because that’s what they’re all about, right? Their whole society is a web, and a web under it, and a web under that, and when you get all the webs out of the way you realize that none of them made any sense to begin with.
Geno Salvatore: From our side, for the actual process, especially with Module 24, there was a lot of back and forth. Like, here’s the sort of stuff we want to do, let’s make a story fit within it, and there was a lot of massaging of that. And I think we’ve kind of streamlined with Northdark Reaches the process between us and Cryptic. So with the Menzoberranzan module that was much smoother, it was larger documents going each direction that were much more complete, but it was the same general idea of: here’s the constraints of the game, here’s the things that we’re thinking, here’s the places where you can be flexible, here’s the places where we can’t.
Like, “No, we can’t create 36 different unique models, but we can do a couple, what would you like?” And then within those constraints, we kind of write the story out, we figure out how it’s going to connect to the books, they figure out how to play the game. And I’m really – Menzoberranzan in particular, I like a lot of the layers of intrigue; because it’s an action game, but the module isn’t just “go fight the next thing,” right? It isn’t just “go find somebody who’s the bad guy.” There’s a lot more going on, I think that worked out really well.
Without revealing too much, and you’ve touched on this a little bit, but how do you think this new module helps further the overall narrative of the drow and Drizzt?
R.A. Salvatore: Every time I see the additions that are coming into the lore that I’ve been working on for 35 years now – 36 almost – whether it’s the visual dictionary that just came out, or the Sleep Sound video that I did with Wizards [of the Coast] or the first Neverwinter episodes that we did, the consistency is there. And with the consistency there, you’re just building out a more interactive, different type of experience. Computer games are a different experience than an audio book, which is a different experience than reading a book, which is a different experience than watching Sleep Sound, right?
So all the different experiences, even if it comes down to the models or the collection pieces, to me it just enhances and brings people more into this world that I’ve been living in for 35 years. And especially now where they get to actually you know – I’m a DM, just started the campaign last night actually. I’m a DM and being able to play in the world is a very different experience than just reading about it. You’re reading about it, you’re seeing through the eyes of the characters, and you’re kind of living vicariously through Jarlaxle or Drizzt or whatever. When you’re playing, it’s your character, so you’re making a difference in the world, which is the whole point of a game world, right? So to me, it just enhances the experience and widens the image and gives people different ways to look at things when they’re involved in it with their own characters.
I know there’s also a new trial that sort of loosely ties in with the DnD movie, but it’s set in the Underdark, can you touch on that briefly?
Brett Norton: I can’t give too much because the DnD movie is sort of a spoiler territory, where we’re trying to avoid getting into too much. But the trial has a bit of a nod to some components of the DnD film; that’s about as much as I can really go into it. It’s not a one-to-one mapping of anything straight out of the DnD film since we were in the midst of already working on our various Underdark block narratives here with the Salvatores, but we wanted to throw in some nods to the DnD film. So we took a few elements that we know that are in the DnD film and incorporated some of those into the trial.
It’s a fun little tie-in there that we did, but I can’t get too much into it because it would reveal some spoilers about the movie, which we can’t talk about just yet. But suffice to say, Neverwinter is coming up on its 10th anniversary, and we wanted to do some fun things that did have nods to that, that’s part of the reason why we also want to get back with the Salvatores new stuff. We’re having a bit of a good time here as we go into the 10th anniversary, getting a chance to collaborate again with the Salvatores and do some nods with the DnD movie. We’re hoping that the Menzoberranzan release will be really solid with some of the stuff we’re putting in.
R.A. Salvatore: Yeah, I can’t add anything to that because I have no idea what you’re talking about. [Laughs] They tell me nothing.
What are you guys most excited to see players react to in the new module?
Brett Norton: I guess I’ll cover from my end. For me, I think it’s the Adventure Zone of Menzoberranzan itself, it’s something different than what we’ve done before. We’ve done a couple of urban environments, but Menzoberranzan is a different kind of beast because it’s sort of this unsafe environment. There are patrols that go throughout the entire Zone that will attack you, but you can also just avoid them, you don’t have to fight them. They just kind of roam around looking for suspicious people and whatnot, but you can avoid them. There’s plenty of, you know, civilian characters also throughout Menzoberranzan that aren’t hostile to you. So it’s not just like you walk into a Zone where everyone’s trying to kill you all the time. You can sort of lay low and not cause a lot of incidents and avoid some of the fights if you want to.
There’s times when you’ll need to get engaged in combat. It is, you know, an MMORPG, and there’s a lot of reasons for that. But we also have a bit of a new mechanic unique to Menzoberranzan where if you’re causing too much chaos, the sort of Lolth loyalists that rule over this part of Menzoberranzan will initiate a lockdown. And they’ll call in these very, very powerful sort of police units to start storming through the entire region, and they’re very strong and very, very challenging; most players won’t be able to tackle them by themselves. And so when those lockdowns are in effect, you have to figure out like, “Hey, can I still do some quests? Do I need to avoid this? Can I team up with other players to take these things down?”
And so it’s something unique that’s nothing like we’ve ever done throughout the rest of Neverwinter. We’ve done some components kind of like it, but with Menzoberranzan we really wanted to capture that feel that you’re in a city, you know, you don’t have to fight everything. But at the same time, the city will react. the rulers of Menzoberranzan will take notice of you and react accordingly. There’s a couple of surprises I don’t want to spoil that kind of tie into that feeling. But that’s I think the most unique thing about Menzoberranzan is that the Zone is unlike anything that we’ve ever made and never done before.
Geno Salvatore: From my end, I’m a big fan of some of the characters that are going to appear. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were some callbacks to some of the very old books, some details that will bring up memories of some of the first Dark Elf books. And I’m really pleased that those are in there, because without that history, there is no Menzoberranzan story. And I like that it is meshed into this new narrative, some of the stuff from way back.
R.A. Salvatore: Yeah, I want to see the reactions of people playing in the game and reading the last book on that one section that I lifted, because I think it’s such a cool idea. Without going into too much detail, it really goes back to some of the earlier books as well, and it has some very personal meaning to a character who is very prominent in the last book. I always look for the reactions that show up in my PMs and my email from the readers and the players. But that, to me, is what I really want to see, because it just brought a lot of things full circle.
I know there’s a couple little quality of life updates as well, especially relating to companions. Can you give me an idea of what players can expect from that portion of the module?
Brett Norton: Sure, this is a very gamey question. But Neverwinter features companions, which are sort of little sis characters that, you know, can help your character out as you travel around. They help you in combat and they have other various beneficial effects. And you can have one companion active at a time, and you have a couple others that can provide bonuses to your character. And what we’ve been taking a hard look at is sort of the companions and what they do when they’re active with you. Like they have various powers that can heal you, that can damage your enemies, and do other things like that, too.
And we’ve just found that over the years as Neverwinter has carried on, many of the companions, especially some of the ones that were built early in Neverwinter’s adventure, haven’t held up the test of time. So we have, I don’t know, it’s like something like 100-plus companions in the game now to choose from, but players have settled on sort of a smaller subgroup of maybe 10 or less that they really like to use because they fill certain niches and they’re very valuable or just very strong in those niches. And we don’t like that, because we have this great history, and there’s a lot of characters from across Neverwinter’s history that we want players to feel more empowered to use. So we want to sort of level the playing field, we’re improving a lot of the older companions and fixing a number of bugs. And we’re trying to make it so that there’s a lot more meaningful choice in what companions you use, which ones you have active, using different ones for different situations, you know, maybe different classes and different roles. A tank might want to use this companion, a DPS player might want to use this companion, etcetera, and expanding it out.
And also even within that, allowing for a little bit of choice based on personal preference, or just style, or convenience, having a bit of personality quirks to them and whatnot. And if they have a couple of different choices, they’re all valid and viable. You know, it’s great, they can pick the one they like most, we actually have some of the companions like Drizzt and Bruenor in there, and we want to make sure that those feel like great choices that you can choose if you really want to experience the game with one of those companions. But there’s tons of characters, ranging from way back into Neverwinter’s history, and this will hopefully enable players to to have a much broader, meaningful set of companions to choose from.
Is there anything else you guys want players to know about this new module, its narrative and world, anything like that?
R.A. Salvatore: Well, for me, it’s that I don’t know that I’ll be back in Menzoberranzan again, honestly. This is really the full circle for that place in Drizzt’s life. And so I just hope with the book and the game and all the rest of it that it comes out the way I wanted it. It’s kind of important.
Brett Norton: I think we kind of covered all the things from the game side. Like I said, we hope the Zone is a big hit. It’s obviously something near and dear to all the hearts of the people who have worked on Neverwinter. And I know a lot of DnD fans, it’s something that we’ve wanted to do in Neverwinter for a very long time, and the 10th anniversary of Neverwinter felt like, “Well, if we’re not gonna do it now, when are we gonna do it?” So we needed to jump in and tackle Menzoberranzan, and now we’ve got a fun trial that hopefully players will enjoy.
It’s also got a bit of a callback, there’s some components that are added in; some of streamers and other beta testers have already caught on to it, it’s a bit of a nod to 10 years of Neverwinter as well in that trial. We hope that players have a lot of fun with it, there’s some great callbacks to the history of Neverwinter within the trial, too, so it’s gonna be great. Following the release of this module, we’re also gonna have a couple of the big events like our anniversary and other things coming up afterwards. And there’s lots of cool surprises planned for that too when we do our 10th anniversary that I’m not going to talk about, but I’ll let fans know that we’ve been thinking a lot about that. We’re not treating it like – Neverwinter has an anniversary event every year, but for the 10th one, we’re doing a little bit more than what we’ve done in the past. And that’ll also be a great event too. So we’re kicking it off with Menzoberranzan, and then over the course of the next couple months we’ll have a lot of great stuff for players that begin with the 10th anniversary of the game.
R.A. Salvatore: And going off that just a little bit, 10 years ago – it was a little more than 10 years ago – when we sat in a room at Wizards and I first came on board with this, the thing that lured me there the most is the studio gave me something I’ve been wanting to be able to do in the realms for years and years. The first thing they said to me is, “Can you destroy Neverwinter?” Oh yeah, I’m in. This is it. So I got to destroy Neverwinter.
Next: Neverwinter: Jewel of the North Introduces Bard Class Based on D&D
Neverwinter‘s 25th module Menzoberranzan will release March 28 for PlayStation consoles, Xbox consoles, and PC.