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Video Game / Nethergate

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Gladiator meets Twin Peaks. Or Braveheart meets The X-Files, depending on which side you play.

That's the best way to describe this Western RPG from the creators of Avernum and Geneforge.

In Britain during the time of the Roman occupation, a band of Roman soldiers and a band of Celtic warriors are both sent to the mysterious valley of Shadowvale, which seems to be on the very edge of the realm of faerie.

After carrying off a few typical RPG quests, the main characters soon begin to get the wrong people angry.

The original game was released in 1998 by Spiderweb Software. It then had a remake, which was released in 2007.

Offers examples of:

  • The Ace: Sylak, a faery magician and inventor whom other faeries regard with awe. His creations are scattered throughout the game.
  • Ancient Rome: It's characterized pretty conventionally, although because the game takes place at the frontiers, Rome's splendor is seen only as the characters' point of comparison when encountering the sidhe's grander buildings. Roman military discipline is much more in evidence, although under the circumstances it faces considerable strain.
  • All Trolls Are Different: The Fomorians at first seem like the traditional giant-brute type of troll, but theirs is actually a fairly sophisticated civilization that was driven underground when the Celts arrived in Britain. They even have a (relatively) pacifist faction.
  • Artistic License – History: The Romans are portrayed as being less mystical and more rational than the Celts. Historically, the Romans were quite mystical, putting great stock in various forms of divination, to the point that various types of diviners were government positions, and they even claimed the site Rome was founded on was chosen through divination. As well, the practice of making curse tablets to try and hex people who had slighted you was extremely commonnote .
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Nearly all people in positions of power are among the toughest of their kind, from Goblin Chiefs to the tribune of the Roman fort to the queen of all spiders. The authorities who wield magic can be borderline godlike.
  • Bag of Sharing: Partially averted. Everyone has their own inventory, and you have to be adjacent to pass objects along in combat, but, unlike everything else, food and coins each go into a single pool.
  • Because Destiny Says So
    • Destiny is two rival factions of sidhe, one of which wants you to fail and the other side to win. Ultimately, Destiny turns out to be a possible future seen by Sylak, in which he saw himself succeed with a group of Celts and a group of Romans in attendance. He summoned that exact group of Celts himself and Briar Patched the crones to make them summon that exact group of Romans.
  • The Berserker: You can give a member of your party the tendency to go berserk in combat, and if you play as the Celts, you can also trigger a berserk rage using woad.
  • The Caligula
    • Nero, as usual, is characterized as a madman. He doesn't appear in person, but the unreliability and factionalism of his government is one of the reasons why the soldiers in Shadow Valley Fort are operating without the approval or support of their superiors outside the valley.
    • Caligula himself is mentioned in passing as a very bad emperor.
  • The Chosen One: You, at least if you're playing as the party of Celts, who have been called by the faeries to help with a series of quests. You don't find out until the end what it's all for, but many of the faeries celebrate you even though you don't know what you're doing. The Roman party has been chosen by a different faction but isn't nearly as popular.
  • Cool Gate: Several kinds, from relatively mundane teleporters to the gates of Annwn to the inter-universal Nether Gate.
  • Curse
    • Items can be cursed so they don't work as well as they should. If you equip cursed weapons or armor, you can't unequip them until you've removed the curse.
    • One of the crones curses the party of Celts to make everything harder for them, and their effort to remove the curse is a major side quest.
    • The faeries promise to curse the entire Roman Empire in exchange for the Celts' help.
  • Dragon Hoard: The only dragon in Shadowvale owns what may be the largest collection of loot in the game.
  • The Empire: Rome is a juggernaut that threatens both the Celts and the sidhe. The Celts have begun Boudicca's Rebellion in response, while the reactions of the sidhe form the overarching plot of the game. Nearly all Romans are unaware of the latter group, but when your Roman characters see evidence of the faeries' sophisticated society, their first thought is "find them, so the empire can absorb them."
  • Face–Heel Turn: The crones were benevolent centuries ago, but too much exposure to humans has corrupted their minds, making them irrational and cruel.
  • Fantastic Racism
    • Most of the sidhe are prejudiced against humans, usually more against Romans than against Celts. The Fomorians are an exception, as they have an age-old grudge against the Celts.
    • Seemingly everyone considers goblins little better than rats.
  • Food Chains: Eat food that originates in Annwn, and you become a permanent resident there. That is, your whole party dies.
  • The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson: Sylak's Talking Skull makes reference to Saturday Night Live sketches and to other Spiderweb games. He also craves deli sandwiches. The presence of deli sandwiches at the Spire of Ages suggests that the skull's anachronistic interests originate with his creator's experiments with future timelines.
  • Giant Spider: Several varieties, including the Giant Intelligent Friendly Talking Spiders that appear in other Spiderweb games.
  • Gladiator Games: How goblins and Fomorians entertain themselves.
  • Harmful Healing: Never use the "First Aid" action when you haven't trained in the skill. You have a high chance of doing damage to your unfortunate ally.
  • Kill the God
    • Most characters in the game, including a few godlike beings, can be killed if the player's party is strong enough.
    • Averted with Bel, the god of death in Annwn. If you try to strike him, your whole party dies instantly.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: You. But NPCs only care about some items. What's more, you never need worry about which ones, because the game tells you outright.
  • La Résistance: It's not very formal and has to be kept semi-secret, but the village of Nethergate effectively becomes the Resistance after the second storyline quest is complete. Its warriors skirmish with the Roman soldiers from Shadow Valley Fort and support the Celtic party in its increasingly anti-Roman quests.
  • Last Chance Hit Point: Accompanied by a coughing sound effect when a player character hits zero.
  • Lemony Narrator: A rather subdued one, except in the item descriptions.
  • Luck Stat: Putting points in this stat raises the chances of a character surviving what would otherwise be a death blow (taking damage while at 0 HP). This shows up in the log as "Bob lucks out!"
  • MacGuffin
    • The main storyline features three. The Celtic and Roman parties' efforts to obtain them take up the bulk of the storyline, though neither party knows what purpose they serve until the endgame.
    • One of the most richly rewarded side quests is to obtain a bunch of rocks from one of the deepest, darkest corners of Shadowvale. You're never given any clue as to what makes them valuable.
  • Mage Tower: The Spire of Ages.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Faeries and other sidhe are being driven to the fringes of the world by humans, and especially by the ruthless, unmystical Romans. The sidhe disagree profoundly on how to address this problem. Ultimately, they all leave the world, and humans lose their own magical abilities shortly after they've gone.
  • Money Spider: Averted. Your plunder from killing things, aside from occasional Organ Drops, comes from whatever your enemies had in their inventory. Non-humanoids carry little or nothing, and only one out of every few humanoids carries coins.
  • Mysterious Employer: One for the party of Celts and one for the party of Romans, though the Celts' employer remains mysterious a lot longer.
  • Mystery Meat: Weird Steak comes from monsters.
  • Oracular Head: Sylak's Talking Skull, who informs the player about some of the secrets hidden around the valley but otherwise just says silly, irrelevant stuff.
  • Organ Drops: If you go out of your way to fight livestock, a cow leaves behind Steak when it dies and a sheep leaves behind Mutton. Kill a giant rat or a giant lizard, which you'll do a lot more often, and you get Weird Steak.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The faeries aren't as dark or unearthly as many versions of the Fair Folk, but they're clearly inspired by the beings from Irish and Scottish folklore, and they do tend toward arrogance and Machiavellianism. Sprites are a separate and more frivolous species.
  • Our Goblins Are Different: Unlike the goblins in Spiderweb's other games, the goblins in Nethergate are fairly intelligent and one of them can even join your party for a time.
  • Pamphlet Shelf: Scrolls, not books, as fits the time period. The useful scrolls are nearly all scrolls for casting single-use magical spells, or instructions to teach you a spell that your characters can use on their own.
  • Planet of Steves: The Giant Intelligent Friendly Talking Spiders are all named Spider.
  • The Quisling: Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes tribe to which most Celts in the game belong, is Rome's loyal client ruler and refuses to join Boudicca's Rebellion. She doesn't appear in person, but her political stance makes things awkward for her subjects in the village of Nethergate, who are decidedly not loyal to Rome, and for the party of Celts who use Nethergate as their home base.
  • Riddle Me This: Riddles show up in a few places, always delivered by talking statues who bar your way until you answer correctly.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: In four progressively tougher varieties.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: When your Roman party ambushes a few goblins resting by a campfire, they are surprised that the greenskins act like war-weary veterans instead of behaving like the savage beasts they are supposed to be.
  • Shop Fodder: Lots of it. Some items are worthless, so you can sell them but won't receive any money. One example is the item that is actually named Trash.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Shadowvale is supposed to be ruled by two faery brothers. They used to get along fine, but they fell out for unknown reasons, and now each wants the other dead.
  • Talking Animal: A lot of animal species speak, but not all, and you can't speak to a creature, sentient or otherwise, whose attitude to you is hostile. When you try to speak to a non-hostile, non-sentient animal, you get a humorous message about being personally enriched by communing with it.
  • To Hell and Back: While Annwn is not really a Hell, you are still going into the afterlife/other world in search of a MacGuffin.
  • The Undead: Several slightly differing flavors of Ghosts and Wights, as well as "spectral wolves". They appear in various creepy spots scattered through the game, and then you get to Annwn, which is full of them.
  • Video Game Remake: Nethergate: Resurrection.
  • Warp Whistle: A spell called Word of Recall takes you back to the entrance of your home base, if you're outdoors.
  • The Weird Sisters: The three crones, Mystery, Desire, and Vengeance, refer to each other as "sister" and are among the most powerful beings in the game.
  • Wicked Witch: The crones live in a wasteland, keep monsters and garden-variety amphibians in the house, and have a habit of imprisoning people in their dungeons for decades. If you're playing on their side, most of the side quests you can do for them are assassinations.
  • Wizard Needs Food Badly: Food supplies are required, as your party eats periodically. If you don't have any food, your party will instead suffer damage periodically. Fortunately, food is easy to come by — most of the time.
  • The Wonka: Sylak is somewhat like this. When you meet him he's pretty serious, but the magical inventions that he's left lying around the valley are very quirky, and they range from useful to mildly annoying to literal trash.