Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rotted Report 04: So, what is The Rotted Rose?

It's a blog, a mod, and a pub. The blog is fledgling, the mod is embryonic, and the pub is still in the process of being conceived.

That's the flip answer. For the non-flip version, read on.

The Rotted Rose is a tavern in the heart of the city of Denerim and the setting for the Dragon Age mod that bears its name. At the start of the game, you awaken in one of the tavern's dingy rooms with no memory of how you got there. The thing that makes this particular case of amnesia marginally less banal than normal is that it's apparently self-inflicted.

 As you explore The Rotted Rose, you learn that the tavern's main draw is its exclusive trade in a drink called Black Nepenthe. The sickly sweet brew gradually destroys memories, making it the drink of choice for those of guilty conscience. As an apostate, however, you have a different reason for partaking.

For more information on Black Nepenthe, you can consult Alchemy of the Ancients, a book that the owner of The Rotted Rose has helpfully made available to his customers:
A few sips of Black Nepenthe produce an immediate sense of distraction, one that is likely to be blissful to the troubled soul. A full glass may result in complete forgetfulness of recent memories, depending on the strength of the concoction and the constitution of its imbiber. With greater quantities or frequent use, a selective amnesia may be achieved - leaving a man with his skills and knowledge intact, but destroying memories of identity and past. Few have ventured beyond that point, but additional use is assumed to obliterate even basic memories, turning men into primitive animals or helpless infants.

One might think that such a peculiar brew as Black Nepenthe to be the unintentional result of some alchemical mishap. According to history, this is not so. The first person to use Black Nepenthe is said to be the Alipar of Hustafia. The legendary alchemist was tormented by the mistakes of his early experiments. In one of these, he had seemingly invented a remarkable healing potion. However, as the years passed, Alipar gradually came to realize that those who had used his invention paid a dear price - they produced offspring with hideous deformities.

As agonizing as this knowledge was, Alipar could not bring himself to take his own life. His work was too important to leave unfinished. Instead, Alipar devoted himself to settling his own conscience so that he could continue his experiments in peace. After many years and long travel, he succeeded in inventing Black Nepenthe, but his intentions were nevertheless thwarted. After taking the remedy, Alipar decided to embark on a completely different course and never returned to alchemy. Some accounts claim that he became a wandering minstrel, or a jester in a royal court.

The exact recipe for Black Nepenthe is forever in danger of being lost, as many who seek it out - like its inventor - do so with the intention of using the potion themselves. Most of the ingredients are rare and found in disparate locations. It was not until the rise of the Tevinter Imperium and the widespread commerce it enabled that Black Nepenthe could be reliably produced. Which is not to say that it is anything but rare. Verily, in most parts of Thedas, the substance is banned, and any tome that would instruct in its production is at risk of being burned by order of the Chantry.

There is, however, at least one ingredient in Black Nepenthe that is easily obtained. It is well known that a rose, removed from sunlight and left to wilt in a glass jar, is a component of the admixture. Whether the decayed flower is a necessary component for the alchemical reaction, or is merely added by custom, is yet another mystery surrounding this strange tonic.

--Lurucius Lariditus, Alchemy of the Ancients
Nepenthe actually has real-world origins. In the Odyssey, it was given to Helen by the Egyptian queen Polidamma. As in my mod, it was a potion that cured sorrow through forgetfulness. Scholars believe it may have been an opium drink similar to laudanum. In any case, like the Black Nepenthe in my mod, it was said to cure sorrow through forgetfulness.

My initial plan for the mod was that it would center around the tavern and its troubled patrons - those who have quaffed Black Nepenthe, or are contemplating it. While attempting to learn about his or her own past, the PC would help other patrons recover their memories or help them solve the problems that led them to their sorry state. However, as my ambitions for the PC's storyline grew, it became clear that I couldn't afford such a large, nonlinear backdrop. It would just be too time-consuming.

Still, I plan to populate the tavern with mysterious and fascinating NPCs who are willing to tell their stories, and perhaps even offer a minor sidequest or two. After I've completed the critical path (soon, I hope) and all the sidequests, I'll begin looking for ways to fill out the game world, making it more believable and interesting to explore. This is one of the most enjoyable phases of creating a standalone mod, as you can make substantive improvements in small, easily completed steps. This is the point where The Rotted Rose will truly come into being.

The Rotted Report is a periodic update on my upcoming standalone adventure for Dragon Age. Feel free to stop by The Rotted Rose project page on the Bioware Social Network.