Players take the roles of valiant warriors, devout clerics, enigmatic wizards, and cunning rogues, to take part in unlimited adventures based on the 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons role-playing rules. Neverwinter Nights was developed by BioWare, the company responsible for the Baldur's Gate series of D&D computer games. As in those games, the action in Neverwinter Nights flows in real-time, but single-player games can be paused while players adjust equipment or set up complex tactical maneuvers. Also like Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights makes every reasonable attempt to stay true to official Dungeons & Dragons rules and -- more importantly -- to the spirit of the Dungeons & Dragons game. In this regard, Neverwinter Nights also adds a new layer to gameplay, one which is rare in computer RPGs but fundamental to the tabletop games on which the genre is based.
While fantasy role-playing on the computer is nearly as old as video gaming itself, Neverwinter Nights may be the first electronic game to add the elements of creative, loosely scripted storytelling that define the pen-and-paper role-playing experience. As in the many previous computer RPGs based on Dungeons & Dragons rule sets, Neverwinter Nights allows players to create their own hero characters, choosing a from a variety of fantasy races and professions, then play the part of that character to interact with other heroes, villains, and monsters that exist under the same system of rules and statistics. Yet unlike its electronic predecessors, Neverwinter Nights also allows one player to become the Dungeon Master, who can bend and append the rules of the game on the fly, in order to tell the best possible version of the story and allow players to more fully assume the roles of their characters.
No matter how comprehensive and complex its scripting, no single-player computer role-playing game can account for every action a player's character might possibly want to take, or every question he might want to ask. In Neverwinter Nights (as in the pen-and-paper games), the Dungeon Master can adjust the parameters of the adventure's script in the middle of the game, to allow players to try their different, unanticipated solutions to a problem. The Dungeon Master can play the parts of the various non-player characters, to have them answer players' questions directly and in character, instead of with a branching dialogue tree of canned responses. While computers long ago surpassed the statistics management abilities of even the most proficient Dungeon Master, they will never be able to replace human creativity and interaction. By allowing these factors back into the D&D game, Neverwinter Nights offers the means for a multiplayer computer role-playing experience with all the stratagem and personality player characters enjoy in a pen-and-paper D&D session.
Of course, for those times when other gamers are not available to join in, Neverwinter Nights comes with a complete single-player module boasting over 40 hours of play. The game also ships with a working version of the Aurora Toolset, which is the same basic application that BioWare designers used to create the game's official adventure modules. Within weeks of Neverwinter Nights' release, user-created modules for both solo and group gaming became readily available on the Internet. BioWare has also made a number of its own new adventures available, free to owners of the game. While designing a good Neverwinter Nights adventure module still takes all the hard work and creativity as it does in the pen-and-paper version of D&D, obtaining new modules to play is almost as easy as downloading a small file.