SIDE A: Palate? Cleanse dat shit
Before I head into bandit town, I'm going to clear out some of the southern area. I imagined this blog as something closer to Bonfireside Chat. An area by area exploration of Baldur's Gate. But the expanse I praised so much means that many areas just don't have enough going on to support that. I can't do an entire episode on "Area N of Carnival" and there's little tying together the areas I'm going to talk about today. Baldur's Gate: Shadows of Whatever!? Boing!
No Means Gnoll
I decided I want Minsc in my party. Minsc is the closest thing the Baldur's Gate games have to an iconic character and he's a powerhouse. For those who are living this game vicariously through me, Minsc is a huge, vaguely foreign sounding warrior who has a hamster named Boo that he claims is a miniature giant space hamster. Giant space hamsters are a dumb Spelljammer joke but this is a good twist on it. Also, they are constantly bringing up Minsc's head trauma. If you want a sweetly disabled man in your party, he's your guy. But this presents me with a problem: I'm a mage. And Minsc is part of a bonded pair of adoptable kittens. With Minsc, I can create my forever party, I just need to find a way to leave his "witch" behind. Right now, I'm rolling with:
- Avellona, the sassy mage
- Adjantis, the insurance/paladin
- Kivan, by far my biggest damage dealer. An archer
- Branwen, a trusty cleric who is getting the hots for Adjantis
- Ey Oh! It's Imoen!
That leaves one spot for another warrior. How do I get rid of Dynaheir? Well, I have to get her first and that means heading out west to a Gnoll Stronghold, which, honestly, I remembered being more of a dungeon. As is, it's simply a short path that's lousy with Gnolls. If you remember the last entry, I think D and D has a problem with too many monsters that fulfill the same purpose. There's no reason for these to be gnolls rather than hobgoblins or orcs, but here we are. After rescuing Dynaheir, I need a humane way to get rid of her. She's actually a great mage but me and Imoen are going to handle the spells (more on that in a few).
The internet rescued me here. If you put Dynaheir in a building with your party, dismiss her, then make Minsc leave, she will stay in the building forever and Minsc never gets upset. To her, Minsc simply went out to get a pack of cigarettes and never came back, all dad style. I feel a little shitty being so "gamey" but I'm here to examine all aspects of this title and I'm not treating it like an RP server.
I definitely want two mages in my party because they rule, so I dual class Imoen over to mage. This is actually cannon (she's done so in BG2 and she has a 17 intelligence for just this purpose). What this means is I'm a little soft in the thieving department but I have magic down on lock. Works for me!
Dual classing is a garbage idea that TSR and later Wizards of the Coast ditched. Essentially, for some reason, TSR originally wanted your class choice to be exceedingly difficult to change. I can sort of see the idea behind this. Making a decision irreversible is an easy way to give it weight and by restricting a system, you usually simplify it and reduce the chance of abuse. This was just ridiculous, however. If you're born a fighter, you'll die a fighter, damn it. Minoring in Forestry isn't going to give you the ability to do ranger shit, no matter what. It just didn't make sense.
The twin compromises were Dual classing and Multiclassing. For some reason, only demi humans were able to multiclass, which essentially means advancing as two classes at once, albeit much slower. Dual classing was the bone that humans got thrown and it was essentially starting over in abilities. When your new level reached your old one, you could do all your old fun stuff. This is absolutely crippling and boring. And you never advance in your old class so it remains frozen in amber for all eternity. I'll never get better at picking locks, no matter how much I do it! It's silly and they ditched it and I'm glad.
I feel like there is a movement in game design, in general, towards a less arbitrary approach. I guess that's just refinement but older systems of all types seem to have more headscratching nonsense that exists to restrict the player for no reason.
All Hail Drizzt
With my party complete, I had a run in with Drizzt who was beset by, you guessed it, gnolls. A whole lot of gnolls. Why Drizzt needed help from six 2nd and 3rd level scrubs, I'll never know. My whole teamed up to kill one gnoll while he roamed the battlefield exploding them with this multiple attacks per round. Literally exploding them with critical hits. The whole scene was a ridiculous meat-eor shower. I love how fantasy, as a genre, just inherently smells bad when you think about it.
Drizzt talks shop with us as equals, which had to have been cool for people who are big fans of his. He actually gives some hints about the macro plot, naming the bandits in the area and suggesting I try to go undercover. The fact that he's so genial is notable in contrast to other adventurers you meet who are all machismo to the point of picking a fight. It's a nice bit of characterization.
It should be noted that you can kill Drizzt and take his stuff and if you're equipped to use it, it might be worth doing. It involves taking advantage of one of two game engine quirks.
1) Take advantage of the game's shitty pathfinding. You just go to the other side of the lake and shoot him with arrows. He's too stupid to go around. This doesn't always work and you might have to edit the .ini file to make it work.
2) Surround him with 4 characters, dismiss them so they're not part of your party, and create a sort of "flesh cage" around the drow. You can then fill him with arrows.
I didn't do this, though I've done it before. I like that it can be done, quite a bit actually. I've always liked those sort of semi cheaty but in engine hacks in old games.
This session was actually filled with celebrity cameos. I ran into Volo in a bar and I was met again with Elminster. Elminster gives me an attaboy and tells me where to look for the bandits and Volo does a whole lot of nothing. For those unfamiliar, Volo is the POV character that Greenwood wrote his lore books from. Neat?
I'm not going to talk about every other little quest I did to gain strength to take on the bandits but rest assured they're just as varied and filled with personality as ever. I retrieved a dead cat from a waterfall and rather than being crestfallen, the owner was nonchalant because her necromancer father will just raise the cat again. I helped a kid hunt down his dog and the kid turned out to be an honorable demon. I fought some loud mouthed adventurers and took their stuff. With the help of a hungry, helpful ghoul, I fought an insane mage who was creating a garden of statues by ensorcelling basilisks. Afterwards, I imagine little Korax the ghoul started the #NotAllGhouls hashtag.
One neat quest had me tracking down a guard captain who, due to the iron shortage, had to turn to a cursed sword that drove him insane. Due to a misclick, I was unable to solve Brage's riddle and had to take him down by force. These are the sort of detailed, personal little stories that build a mythology in your head. By the time I bring this character to the end of the Throne of Bhaal, I'll have so much little detail that it will feel like my quest, my doing, rather than just a story that's being told to me, just as if I was playing a long running campaign. That alone makes this series the best video game adaptation of D and D.
All super neat stuff! I'll probably point out specifically complicated, great or terrible quests in the future but in the meantime, know that I'm doing my Roomba duty and righting the realms.
SIDE B: Why the Dungeons and Dragons Movie Sucked
Because I love you guys, I watched the Dungeons and Dragons movie and, of course, it's a terrible clusterfuck. But before I talk about how it's a terrible cluster of fucks, I want to talk about why it is and the problem with movies adapted from games.
The act of making a movie of a game is a calcifying one. Games are interactive by definition and movies are not. The spread of just how interactive a game is mammoth. There are games with tons of choice but also when you choose to jump over a Goomba versus on a Goomba, that's part of your personal narrative of Super Mario Brothers. If one were to make a faithful adaptation of the game, they'd have to choose for you.
Obviously, people making movies based on games don't make faithful adaptations. They're aiming for a totally different market, playing by different rules and they know it. They have to change things and most importantly, make those decisions for you, the player. And the more blanks they have to fill in, the less the movie will seem like the source material. So, when you have a game like Mario Brothers, the film makers had to do a lot of heavy lifting to get that property to even resemble a movie while still being required to make it seem at least a little Mario Brothersy. It's this tension that creates shitty garbage trash films. People who know marketing but are resentful of having to shoehorn in a property they don't care about.
Dungeons and Dragons isn't a story, it's a frame work that contains stories. The film makers had infinite narratives to choose from, had so many choices, that the only possible result was garbage. They didn't have a guide. In watching the movie, you can almost hear the people responsible asking one another what will test well. How can we fit in an iconic monster? What makes this different than a generic fantasy?
The answer turns out to be nothing. The Dungeons and Dragons movie features a couple of thieves, a boring sexist brobot and a Wayans brother, who get tangled up in a conflict between Jeremy Irons and Thora Birch. Jeremy Irons chews the scenery so hard that his gums must be portals to the elemental plane of blood. Thora Birch plays a character with the alignment of Lawful Bored to the Extreme. I'm hard pressed to remember a more wooden performance in a feature film.
Let's talk about Marlon Wayans for a second, playing a thief named Snails. In a move that was surely focus tested to death, he channels Jim Carey in just about every scene. His face is like a slot machine, cycling through expressions. Every single line delivery is as big and loud as he could make it, so much so it borders on offensive. It's almost like a minstrel show. Then this dopey comic relief character dies and becomes a source of pathos for Blandor the Sleepythief.
There's another character, Marina, who looks like a lady Harry Potter and is a wizard. She starts out as capable but quickly becomes damseled after falling in plot love with Blandor. It's so fucking regressive. The black guy dies, the woman needs to be rescued. I realize that classic swords and sorcery stories often have women in peril but D and D often has pretty decent representation of women, at least adventurer wise. Maybe I've just spent too much time bathing in toxic gamer culture but to have both the female and black characters exist entirely to give the white dude hero something to do, it seems like a mistake.
The film fails at portraying elements of D and D. There are dragons, yes, that look like Chuckie Cheese puppets, and there is one hilarious CG beholder that has been repurposed to be a mere sentry. There's also a weird parasite that the 2nd in command gets that I think is supposed to be a mindflayer but it just causes tentacles to come out of his ears. He's actually probably giving the best performance of the movie, to be honest. There's one successful scene in the whole film where he tearfully explains to Lady Harry Potter that he'll die if he doesn't take her in because of his brain problem. That's almost nuance but of course he just turns out to be moronic evil in the end. Also, during the whole movie, he wears pale blue lipstick.
That's it! No more elements of D and D. The narrative they used for the movie wouldn't work in the game at all. The amount of choice in a game is inversely proportional to the quality of the movie based on it and choice is so important to D and D. It's a storytelling game. If you're doing it right, you're literally constantly making choices.
And it's not just that they had to calcify it into a narrative. Of course they did. The problem is that the narrative is so soulless and inept. They could have side stepped this very easily by making a movie based on any of hundreds of other pieces of fiction in the D and D world. Make a Drizzt movie! Fuck it! Do Dragonlance, do a trilogy based on the twins! It'll be easy for the film makers and thus be a little better.
I also want to note that the problem goes both ways. Not in adapting a movie to a video game (that can be done rather well) but in adopting cinematic style to a game. My middle name might as well be "Games are not movies" for all I've gone on about this on the podcasts but I think the D and D movie is useful in making this point. The D and D movie is an abject failure, just like the Mortal Kombat movie or Super Mario Brothers or Double Dragon. But the people who made it failed because they were striving to make a movie. They were trying to use the language of their medium to adapt something. Most of the time, when a game, and I'm looking at you David Cage, when a game attempts to be a movie, the results rarely reflect the game makers attempting to harness the strength of their medium. You often get something like the Last of Us, where mechanics and story are both extremely sound but very rarely interact and the effect is a good game and a good movie next to one another. At worst, you get Indigo Prophecy, which is someone feeding you new age concepts while you play an unrelated game of Simon.
Of course, some games do pull off the cinematic game really well. Specifically Telltale. But for the most part, when a game brags about how cinematic it is, I roll my eyes and ask why bother? You're just going to fuck it up. Embrace your medium and let games be games.