If games like Baldur's Gate sparked your love of role playing but you still haven't had a D&D campaign all your own, a new adventure book from the seminal RPG's lead designer is the open invitation you need. James Ohlen, who led work on Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate 2 at BioWare, returned to the setting for a D&D book that spins a new story between the games. Ohlen's foreword explains that it's meant to be "a good introduction to pen-and-paper D&D for those that had only ever played video game RPGs."
Your adventure begins
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I first learned about Heroes of Baldur's Gate when I was interviewing Ohlen and his fellow ex-BioWare-turned-tabletop designer Jesse Sky for their other new game book, Odyssey of the Dragonlords (the Kickstarter for which is still live at the time of this writing, if you're interested). Though both left BioWare in the last few years, the setting and characters for the Baldur's Gate games all remain with D&D parent company Wizards of the Coast. As Wizards of the Coast lets external creators make their own officially sanctioned adventures and supplements through the DM's Guild, all the pieces were in place - a rare feel-good story of intellectual property rights management.
"The part that was most exciting for me about returning to Baldur's Gate was the chance to create a new adventure in the Forgotten Realms," Ohlen told me. "I've run campaigns based in the Forgotten Realms for more than three decades, so I obviously have a great love for that world."
It shows in the book. Sky sent me an advance copy to check out, and it's rich with loving descriptions of the city from its exalted temples to its dirty, dangerous basements (not to mention illustrations and maps). As someone who has run just enough D&D to feel slightly confident (but mostly self-conscious) about his dungeon master skills, the scene-by-scene descriptions and built-in character plot hooks seem inviting. More experienced DMs will also appreciate a detailed look at Baldur's Gate and the surrounding countryside for further adventures.
Either way, you don't need to have played Baldur's Gate or its 2000 sequel to appreciate the story. Famed characters such as Minsc the eccentric ranger have more pressing matters than giving you a lore quiz, though you probably will get an extra thrill from meeting him if you're already acquainted with him and his beloved miniature giant space hamster.
"The story is set around the same time period and grows out of some of the same events, but it's really a separate narrative," Sky said. "But you know, as someone who played the video games for hundreds of hours, I can't help but identify with Gorion's Ward [the protagonist]. So as I was editing and writing a lot of the dialogue blurbs, I was thinking about what all my companions were up to in that gap between the two stories. What were Edwin's ambitions, and what sort of trouble was Imoen getting into? It's challenging because you can't contradict what happens later in the narrative, but it's also a lot of fun to think about what sort of lives your favorite characters lead when they aren't following someone else around."
You can pick up Heroes of Baldur's Gate on the DM's Guild for $19.95 for a PDF, $44.95 for a hardcover, or $54.95 for both. You'll want to assemble a fresh-faced party of level 1 characters to play with (expect them to reach level 6 by the end, if they live). Just make sure you wait to see the book's Epic Backgrounds options before you start rolling up a party - they'll give your characters stakes in the story straight away as well as longer-term goals, like becoming the new Lord of Murder. I mean, if that's what you're into.
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