The first series featured in Table Not Required was Final Fantasy, chosen for how it expertly weaves together a narrative that draws in players and keeps them guessing. For this week however, I am going to focus on another important aspect of most TTRPGS: companions. Few can deny that it is the bond (or lack thereof as it may be) between members of an adventuring party that truly sets the pace and atmosphere of a table. When I’m missing my friends in arms, one CRPG (Computer Role Playing Game) series I like to turn to is Baldur’s Gate.
In the spirit of clarity, when I speak of Baldur’s Gate as a series I am referring to the Bhaalspawn Saga and the recently released Baldur’s Gate III. There is an additional series called Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, and while I do enjoy those games as well they do not capture the same spirit of the party of which I am writing.
Unlike Final Fantasy, which is primarily a Square-Enix franchise, Baldur’s Gate has seen a handful of developers at the helm. Originally developed by BioWare, the series has been developed or remastered by Snowblind, Black Isle Studios, Beamdog, and Larian studios, among others. This means that depending on what era you played an entry in the Baldur’s Gate series, you may have experienced content created by a company that other players had not. It is also a testament to how beloved of a series Baldur’s Gate is to its players!
Baldur’s Gate is true to form CRPG. For those unfamiliar with the genre, CRPGs tend to focus on the management of a party of characters as opposed to a single playable character, and allow freedom of movement throughout a fantasy (often medieval) environment. As its name would suggest, the Baldur’s Gate games utilize a digital version of the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset, with the first and second games using a modified Second Edition AD&D engine, and Baldur’s Gate III utilizing Fifth Edition D&D. While there is a fixed narrative to Baldur’s Gate, there are usually several paths that can lead from one plot point to the next, and multiple solutions to a presented encounter. All of this makes for an enjoyable experience, but where the Baldur’s Gate series truly shines is in the creation and engagement of the party.
In the series, you have two options of how to create a party. The first is to create a single character from a list of races, classes and other customizations, and then discover and join forces with a cast of plucky adventurers throughout your journey. These characters each have their own personalities, goals, desires and other traits that set them apart from you (the player) and other potential party members. Some party members may not get along with others you may choose (or alternatively may be strongly bonded to them), and others may disagree with the choices you make throughout the game. The way these characters interplay amongst each other and with the player creates a level of comradery (or tension) that reminds me of times spent at the table with my own friends and loved ones.
If you are of the type who likes to have complete control over your party make-up, Baldur’s Gate offers a second choice as well. You can instead choose to form a full party of adventurers (six in Baldur’s Gate I and II, four in Baldur’s Gate III), making all of the choices of race, class, and other mechanical decisions. Admittedly, this does tend to cut down on or eliminate the party dynamic described above within the narrative, but it can be tempting to create your TTRPG party in Baldur’s Gate and simply play out the party dynamic in your own mind’s eye (or out loud, as I have frequently chosen to do). And these games do frequently offer multiplayer options as well, allowing you to form parties with real players around the world. With a little effort, you could bring your TTRPG family to the TV and play on the screen!
If part of the appeal of TTRPGs to you is their ability to form complex and rewarding party dynamics, I encourage you to give the Baldur’s Gate series a try. Characters from the Baldur’s Gate series such as Minsc (and his stalwart companion, Boo) have been charming the pants off CRPG players for decades. With three games in the series, complete with expansions and remastered content there are hundreds of hours of parting bonding at the ready!
Honorable Mention: Dragon Age
Dungeons and Dragons and The Sword Coast is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. I get that. For those who want the magic of a strong party narrative, but don’t wish to visit The Forgotten Realms for the umpteenth time, I recommend the Dragon Age series. This is yet another quality RPG series brought to us by the Artificers over in BioWare, and could be recommended for any number of reasons. Where BioWare RPGs tend to shine in my opinion is in their recruitable characters.
Much like Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age has you customize a starting character by selecting features such as race, class, appearance and other traits. You will also be led through an engaging fantasy narrative, with your choices affecting the outcome of the story. Dragon Age is a bit more linear in its delivery by comparison, but makes up for with an excellent cinematic approach to its storytelling.
There are times in the series where I honestly felt for my companions, and any game or series that can achieve that deserves mention in this article!
What are your favorite in game companions? Tell us in the comments!