“Mad lad puts Neverwinter Nights into Baldur’s Gate 2 for some reason” was my coworker Joshua Wolens’ summation of Andrey Balabokhin’s truly confounding mod project, NWNForBG, which seeks to demake BioWare’s 2002 D&D RPG in its more critically acclaimed 2000 D&D RPG. The result is not how I’d recommend enjoying either game, but it’s one of the weirdest and most fascinating mod projects I’ve seen in a minute.
There aren’t really screenshots or discussion of the mod I could find out there, so my curiosity could only be sated by a direct hands-on experience. Getting there, though, proved a vexing odyssey into Baldur’s Gate 2’s funky modding ecosystem and NWNForBG’s own quirkiness.
Installing NWNForBG itself was relatively simple, but it also requires the BP-BGT Worldmap mod to function. This mod swaps Baldur’s Gate 2’s default world map with a zoomed out map of the entire Forgotten Realms, allowing modders to add new fast travel points on the map, such as the city of Neverwinter.
I met my own, personal Waterloo trying to find the goddamn .exe installer for this thing that the project’s GitHub page tells you to use—it’s just not there in the mod files! I felt like the guy in that Twilight Zone episode with the room full of books and a broken pair of reading glasses (spoilers).
Thankfully, I found out that, through a quirk of the foundational Infinity Engine modding tool WeiDU, you can actually rename any WeiDU-based mod installer to be the one you need for a particular set of Infinity Engine mod files. I made a copy of the install .exe for a WeiDU mod I already had, and renamed it to impersonate “setup-bgt-worldmap.exe,” putting me in business.
Only not quite yet. You can’t access Neverwinter Nights as a separate campaign from a menu. There is a guy added to Baldur’s Gate 2 who’ll take you to this entirely new campaign contained within the original one, and he’ll only show up once you have 1,350,000 XP (around level 13 or so). The experience thankfully wasn’t too much of an issue thanks to cheat codes, but I did have to crank through the absolute slog of BG2’s opening Jon Irenicus dungeon.
Setting the difficulty down to Story didn’t do anything about Baldur’s Gate 2’s deadly traps, so I was short a Minsc and Jaheira by the time I reached the surface. Even then, it took me a minute wandering around Athkatla to run into John Neverwinter (really just a “Messenger”) who could whisk me away to a completely different game.
Jewel of the North
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Here was the moment of truth: Had this modder really managed to put a whole game into another game? Was I really about to start playing 2002’s Neverwinter Nights, this beloved relic of my childhood, in an entirely new way, recontextualized on the genre-defining Infinity Engine? In the best of all worlds, I could see a developer wringing new life out of this story with Baldur’s Gate’s full party control and potential for gorgeous, pre-rendered backgrounds.
I was greeted with a fuzzy rip of Neverwinter Nights’ opening cutscene—complete with the original audio—before arriving in an environment I recognized but couldn’t quite place yet. NwN mascot Aribeth was here with dialogue and audio again seemingly ripped straight from the original game. Curiously, act 1 secret bad guy Desther (whoops, spoilers again) didn’t have his original conversation portrait, but a repurposed pic of Gaunter O’Dimm from The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone.
And that’s far from the only borrowing from a 2010s RPG here. The driving force behind my curiosity was how a modder could recreate maps from the fully 3D, modular, tile-based Neverwinter Nights in the Infinity Engine, which uses a 2.5D presentation relying on forced perspective and bespoke, pre-rendered environments. Now I know: Balabokhin mostly chopped and screwed maps from the Pillars of Eternity games, porting them back into the Infinity Engine that originally inspired Obsidian’s RPG revival.
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I stepped out into the Copperlane district of Pillars 1’s Defiance Bay, flipped with an image editor mirror tool to stand in for Neverwinter’s city core. The city’s other districts are similarly tweaked, flipped, or otherwise modified zones from Defiance Bay or Pillars 2’s Neketaka.
Popping into the Trade of Blades mercenary hub (the catacombs entrance in Pillars), I was able to sample NWNForBG’s lone, arguable upgrade over the original game: full six-person party control, as opposed to the base campaign’s lone character with a single AI-controlled companion. It’s not really worth jumping ship for.
This doesn’t really work for me as a way to experience the OG NwN’s largely decent campaign—even getting past its bizarre construction, it doesn’t seem right to commence this 30-hour, zero-to-hero adventure as a level 13 character. Getting yoinked out of Baldur’s Gate 2 by John Neverwinter also doesn’t fully get rid of that game: I kept getting plot-critical dream sequence cutscenes for the original story every time I took a nap.
But this CRPG turducken is such a compelling internet artifact: a mishmash of three games I’ve spent hundreds of hours in, remixed in a way I don’t think I would ever have thought to do. NWNForBG evokes this surreal feeling for me, like how your dreams will feature people from your life inhabiting entirely different characters. It reminds me of standout ROM hacks like Toby Fox’s pre-Undertale Earthbound games.
I simply can’t recommend NWNForBG as an RPG experience, but that’s part of why I love it. It was doomed from the start—Neverwinter Nights’ original campaign is largely underwhelming with occasional flashes of brilliance, but it’s a tech demo for the amazing Aurora Engine toolset, which modders have used to make incredible, hundred-hour RPG epics like Swordflight or the Aielund Saga.
There’s a mythic absurdity in attempting to recreate an okay campaign released alongside some of the best, easiest-to-use RPG maker tools ever in a game that’s much harder to create new levels for. Indeed, there was actually a long-running mod project to try and remake Baldur’s Gate 2 with Neverwinter Nights 2’s mod tools.
And this surely took Balabokhin a ton of work to create—he’s reimplemented things like Neverwinter Nights’ companion and side quests, and while I can’t personally attest to how much of the Neverwinter Nights campaign is playable, Balabokhin’s patch notes make reference to later acts, implying he’s worked the whole 30+ hour RPG into this format. So while I won’t be playing NWNForBG for fun, its fever dream mashup of some defining games from my youth and early adulthood is gonna stick with me for a long time.