Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Where Are The Normal People At?

This is something that's been bugging me ever since I started playing Baldur's Gate 3, so I figured I'd get it out in the open now rather than later. 

Who the hell came up with your companions' backstories??

I mean, I knew that the Forgotten Realms were a bit higher in magic content than I prefer my average D&D campaign to be, but I play WoW, so I can adjust my expectations as needed. But the backstories? They're a bit bonkers. 

Don't worry, I'm not going to divulge any spoilers here.

I have to wonder about who came up with
Gale's backstory. And given what we know,
why is he 1st Level when we meet him?
From PC Gamer and Larian Studios.

Now, I get that the companions' backstories feed into the overall plot behind Baldur's Gate 3, but the backstories are so far removed from those in the first Baldur's Gate that it feels like we're living in an entirely different Sword Coast. I suppose that we are, given the Spellplague and the Sundering* explaining why races such as the Dragonborn are around.

I guess I can explain the difference in the backstories between Baldur's Gate 1 and 3 in a World of Warcraft analogy: Baldur's Gate 1's companion backstories are to Baldur's Gate 3's version as to what a toon in Vanilla Classic WoW is to that in Retail WoW. In Vanilla Classic WoW, at the end of Naxxramas your toon is just one piece in the army that took down Kel'Thuzad; you don't report directly to faction leads, you're not constantly lauded in game and told how great and awesome you are, and there isn't a big ol' cheering squad when you turn in the lich's phylactery. Contrast that to the end of a Retail expansion, where you get your own personal Star Wars Throne Room scene.**

The companions in Baldur's Gate 1 were all, by and large, relatively normal people. Minsc was notable less for his prowess on the battlefield and more for his sayings, his companion (the miniature giant space hamster Boo), and his less-than-impressive intellect. Jaheira and Khalid were married, so there's that; Khalid stuttered, which was different; and Branwen's entrance to the game was a bit unusual, but in a post-Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets world it's not so unusual these days. 

But in BG3, things are different. All of your companions have incredibly important or weird backstories that remind me of a new player creating a PC and going for maximum angst and/or drama.

This old comic from Dorkly comes to mind.

Although I'm only in the Shadow-Cursed Lands right now, this change in direction between your companions' backstories has also changed how I approach BG3. My skepticism in how things are --relative to BG1-- is pretty much at an all-time high. If there's an NPC that you encounter who seems normal, maybe I ought to simply not believe them one damn bit and save myself the trouble.

In this respect it's a lot like when you're out in the middle of nowhere in WoW and you just happen to bump into a couple of Elves. Sure, they might be Elves, but... come on. You just know they're going to be dragons in disguise, because it certainly seems at times like it's a meme that Blizzard just feeds into.


I get where people want to be the hero of their own story, because for the most part our own lives aren't what I'd call heroic. There are days when just going to work, getting work done, and coming home can feel like an heroic accomplishment, but in general we're not part of saving the world --or even our local community-- from some Big Bad. 

That being said, when I end up in a situation like I find myself in with Baldur's Gate 3, I start to wonder just why the hell am I hanging out with all of these people anyway. Matt Colville loves the brain worm's usage in BG3 as a reason for all of the players to get together,

To say that Matt is not a fan of "you all meet
in a tavern" is kind of an understatement.

and from the perspective of bringing a party together where there's always one person who is kind of an ass about "why would my character want to join up with these people?" I completely approve. But from the standpoint of a story like BG3 where everybody else but you has these fantastic backstories that kind of border on Mary Sue/Marty Stu levels, you just go, "Uh... So why am I here again?"

I mean, my character's backstory via the character creation process is that he's a city guard. No more, no less. This is exemplified by one of the quotes my character makes in BG3: "No one back home would ever believe this." 

See? Travolta isn't the only one who's confused.
From Pulp Fiction.

When you've got extraplanar entities interested in your activities --and no, I don't just mean that inevitable "Warlock with an Infernal Pact" player or companion, either-- you start to question your place in the universe.***


Are my characters as normal as I think they are?

Maybe that's a nonsensical question because I've played numerous video game RPGs and MMOs, and it always seems to move in the direction of you becoming the Hero. Not just a lower case, garden variety "you saved those kittens from drowning" hero, but a world/galaxy/apocalypse saving Hero.

And I'm not sure I'm on board with that.****

I'm old enough to know that doesn't happen in real life, and I'm also old enough to no longer fantasize about that sort of thing. Truth be told, fantasizing about living longer than five years past my congestive heart failure incident is probably at the top of my list*****, with far more mundane desires following behind.

The side effects of notoriety surrounding such earth shattering acts of Heroism are things people don't talk about much, unless it's to put down the people who performed those feats. History is riddled with people who performed heroic acts yet either they or their family couldn't handle the fame that accompanied it or they became the target of all sorts of ne'er do wells, the latter ranging from people looking to cash in on their friendship/family status to hangers-on scumming for money to even threats/acts of violence against the hero and extended family. It's not only superheroes who become a target.

Insane antagonist not included.
From memeful.com.

If there's one comforting fact about being "normal", it's that your "normality" keeps you from being a target. Well, not explicitly so in a public fashion, anyway.


So, what do I make of Baldur's Gate 3?

I'm not sure.

I mean, I enjoy the game, and it does scratch that RPG itch that I have, but if this were a campaign I were designing I wouldn't have gone in this direction. Throwing everybody together in the manner Larian did works, but those backstories are a bit too overpowered for my taste. I think I can handle the romance angle as well, but it certainly feels rushed. Like everybody --and I do mean everybody-- is excessively horny. (And I began playing AFTER the adjustments to the game Larian made to correct what they believed as excessive horniness among the companions.) 

It's not that I don't remember my 20s or something, you bet your ass I do, it's just that I don't remember the sheer volume of horniness coming out like this. Maybe it was me attending a Catholic university had an impact here, but I knew enough horny Catholics that I doubt it. 

Those items aside, the power and narrative creep in the campaign is part Larian, part D&D 5e, and part Forgotten Realms. Likely equal parts, to be fair, but still all three parts share a hand in creating the story --and the characters-- the way it has.

I'm going to see Baldur's Gate 3 all the way to the end, and pump the brakes as much as necessary to keep myself from going off the rails and ignoring my real life. At this rate, it'll probably be November or later by the time I finish the game, which isn't a bad thing. At least I will have gotten a lot of gameplay out of it.

*I only barely paid attention to both events, because my D&D group played in our own homebrewed campaign that wasn't based in the Forgotten Realms, but those events were basically excuses to explain the transition from D&D 3.x to 4e (The Spellplague) and from 4e to 5e (The Sundering). I do know that when The Sundering was revealed at Gen Con, my brother-in-law said the crowd was not impressed; a similar reaction to when Cataclysm Classic was revealed at BlizzCon.

**While you could point to The Burning Crusade as when some of this "You are THE Hero" began appearing in WoW, it was in Wrath of the Lich King where Blizzard went all in on with your toon as The Champion. (Just ask Arthas in The Culling of Stratholme instance.) If you started playing WoW in Wrath, as I did, you never realized that this aspect to the game simply didn't exist in Vanilla WoW. To me, you were always the hero of your own Lord of the Rings-esque story, and the reworking of Azeroth in Cataclysm removed all aspects of a previous, non-heroic environment. It was only when WoW Classic appeared were my eyes opened as to how much the game didn't revolve around you back then.

Yeah, I get that there's the few turn-ins for a buff in Vanilla, such as the Onyxia/Nefarian head and the Rend head, but that isn't the same as a full on cutscene. This isn't limited to WoW either, as SWTOR also was notable for a full-on cutscene at the end of their vanilla campaign.

***You could also argue the same thing about when NPCs/party members start flirting with you. Maybe it's scars from my youth, but in my experience that sort of stuff just doesn't happen out of the blue. And if it did, I'd question as to whether there's an ulterior motive involved. (Yes, there's a lot of baggage to unpack here. Maybe another time, since nobody really wants to read about puberty-driven angst in a gaming blog.)

****For the record, our AD&D 1e campaign doesn't have any of those "You Are THE Hero" moments in them, but if you wanted to put them in there you could. My game group, however, really isn't interested in roleplaying how awesome they are. We joke around and don't take ourselves seriously enough for that. I realize that in Pathfinder adventure paths or D&D 5e published campaigns this movement up through to becoming THE HERO is very much a thing --just see Baldur's Gate 3 for a video game interpretation of that, I suppose-- but it wasn't all like that in the past. And in other RPGs, notably Call of Cthulhu, you know you're going to eventually go insane, it's just a matter of when. Or if you play Fiasco, which I've described as being in your very own Cohen Brothers movie, there are no real Heroes there either. 

*****From Medical News Today, "Research estimates that more than half of all people with congestive heart failure will survive for 5 years after diagnosis. About 35% will survive for 10 years. However, in some cases, a person can extend their life expectancy through lifestyle changes, medications, and surgery." If you're keeping track (as I am for obvious reasons), I'm 2.5 years past my little incident and halfway to the 5 year mark. 

EtA: Corrected a double entry of a link.


  1. I've kind of become inured to the You Are The Hero trope in games now but it took me a long time to stop being annoyed by it and I still much prefer a less histrionic approach to storytelling. I'm not at all surprised to hear BG3 goes hard in that direction, though. The only Larian game I played, Divinity:Original Sin 2, was full of nonsense like that. In fact, as I've mentioned before, Larian being behind BG3 is one of the factors behind my not having bought it yet (The other being the price.)

    I will get round to it eventually but I can wait until it hits the cut-price classic stage. I'm interested in the tactical gameplay but everything I've seen and heard about the writing is offputting, to say the least. Frankly, it sounds like it's been scripted by teenage boys, which is not often a good thing when it comes to fantasy.

    1. From the gameplay mechanics standpoint, it's fantastic. The D&D 5e ruleset was beautifully translated to a video game. It's just that the same complaints I have with the story in MMOs also shows up here, just in a different manner. I'm not convinced that it's horny teenagers doing the script writing, just people who don't quite understand the consequences of actions. Or maybe a better way of putting it is that BG3 throws obstacles at you and you're not supposed to ask why too much. Kind of like the Shadow-Cursed Lands themselves: if people know the why behind the Shadow-Cursed Lands, why haven't people tried to fix it before you? After all, this is on the road to Baldur's Gate itself, so this is kind of an important connector that hasn't been usable for quite a while. This sort of problem is a magnet for people who want to prove themselves, so where's the evidence of that? I'm fine with people having tried and failed, but there ought to be evidence, and the only evidence is of the initial creation of the curse. Maybe I'll find more of that the farther in I go, but I haven't seen it yet.

  2. That gave me a good laugh today but now I've been low-key thinking about BG1 for hours. It's been SO LONG.

    1. I've gone back and played BG1 a few times since BG3 came out, and both times I've gotten all the way to Baldur's Gate itself. That's when some of the quests start to have timers, and given the way I play I'd lose track of them pretty damn quickly. So... I've just held off from continuing.

      But boy, was that like meeting up with an old friend again. Speaking of which, there's Planescape: Torment, mocking me, taunting me to play once more.