You can’t keep a good (or neutral or evil) Bhaalspawn down. Baldur’s Gate III is in development, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast and Divinity: Original Sin studio Larian revealed today during Google’s Stadia Connect livestream.

Baldur’s Gate III takes place in the modern 5th Edition D&D timeline and will follow the events of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, the upcoming storyline that releases in September for the tabletop game. It’s for PC and Stadia and will come out “when it’s ready,” a PR spokesperson said. It builds on the material and storylines from Baldur’s Gate (1997) and Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn (2000). Murder in Baldur’s Gate, a 5E D&D playtest module, is a launching point for Larian’s story, and in the events in that adventure result in Bhaal, the God of Murder, returning. You do not play as the main character from Baldur Gate’s II, and Larian and Wizards aren’t saying if you’re a Bhaalspawn or not. It’ll be a single-player and multiplayer game (as were the originals played on LANs).

In an interview Wednesday with GamesBeat, Larian Studios founder and CEO Swen Vincke and Mike Mearls, the creative director for D&D, talked about this new partnership between Wizards of the Coast and the Divinity: Original Sin house — and the philosophy that underpins the design for this project.

“The games that we make are games that are going to put the player in a role in which they get a motivation to go on a grand adventure. They’re going to be given a whole bunch of systems, with which they’re going to be able to overcome the challenges that the game throws at them. Which, if you think about it, is very similar to what any of Mike’s campaigns look like,” Vincke said. “You get a campaign setting. You get a reason to go on an adventure. You have challenges, and you use the many systems in the book, and your imagination, to figure out how you’re going to get through it. If you have a good dungeon master, you look at what happens with the dice and you roll with it. That’s very much what you can expect from the video game.

“You’re going to be given tough challenges. You’re going to be given a world that reacts to the decisions that you make. You’ll be asked to make very tough decisions. You’ll have companions to deal with that will have opinions about those decisions. You’ll be given many, many systems — more than in Original Sin II — to fool around with and experiment and exploit, and hopefully to exterminate the foe that’s trying to go after you. That’s pretty much the philosophy. We want it to be so that you can play in either single-player or in multiplayer, like we did in Original Sin II. If you play it in multiplayer, each of you should be a hero with their own story. It’s very much the party as a whole that’s going to be the focus of this game. That’s probably the biggest difference between Original Sin and Baldur’s Gate 3.

“The slogan for Baldur’s Gate III is ‘Gather Your Party.’ The party is very central to it.”

The setting

Above: Baldur’s Gate — a city of legends. A city of murder.

Image Credit: Larian Studios

Baldur’s Gate III takes place a century after the events of Shadows of Amn. It’s after The Sundering, another event in Faerun that involved the gods, their followers, and the ushering in of a new D&D edition (as the Time of Troubles did in 2E, setting up part of Baldur’s Gate story in the first place, and 4E’s Spellplague).

Larian writing director Jan Van Dosselaer (the lead writer for Divinity: Original Sin II) leads a story team of 13 people, five of which have been hired since that game came out. James Ohlen, who wrote Heroes of Baldur’s Gate, was a lead designer on the PC games, and is opening a new Austin studio for Wizards of the Coast, is not involved.

“It’s about 100 years after the game. We try to avoid giving specific years, because we have some amount of flexibility in our tabletop campaigns,” Mearls said. “Unless the precise year is really important, we don’t usually refer to it.”

It starts outside the city of Baldur’s Gate, Vincke said, and the city does feature in it. “The rest we’re not talking about,” he said.

Vincke said Larian’s team used Murder in Baldur’s Gate as a launching point. “And then we worked closely with Adam Lee, who’s working on Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus,” he said. “The original reference we used when we were looking at the city was Murder in Baldur’s Gate.”

He terms Descent into Avernus as a prequel “in a certain way. It’s complementary to the story of Baldur’s Gate III, but Baldur’s Gate III is very much its own story, the next chapter of what happens to the city.”

Baldur’s Gate, Lee says in the video below, is kinda like the Sword Coast’s Gotham City, if that helps you picture what it’s like.

Jon Irenicus, the villain in Baldur’s Gate II, isn’t coming back in the new game. Vincke confirms this, and he wouldn’t comment if you’re going into The Nine Hells (Avernus is the first plane of the Hells, where devils live and lawful evil holds sway).

In the trailer, a member of the Flaming Fist mercenary corps (they keep order in Baldur’s Gate) … transforms. He’s becoming a mind flayer, not The Slayer (a monstrous avatar of Bhaal). The illithids reproduce via ceremorphosis, in which they implant a tadpole into a humanoid, and once it matures, the poor being transforms into a mind flayer. A PR spokesperson later confirmed it’s a mind flayer. This is the first time we’ve seen such a graphic transformation of an individual into an illithid. You tangle with illithids in Baldur’s Gate II.

Above: Sure looks like a mind flayer to me!

The systems

Baldur’s Gate uses a the “real-time with pause” combat system — all the dice rolls are happening, and you can pause the action to do your next moves (or even adjust your settings to where it’s almost a turn-based RPG). Larian’s last two RPGs — the Divinity: Original Sin games — use turn-based combat.

I asked if Baldur’s Gate III would have turn-based or real-time-with-pause combat.

“This is one of those interviews where we’ll be saying ‘We’re not talking about that yet’ a lot,” Vincke said. “When it comes to the combat system, we prefer to show it to people rather than talk about it. That will hammer it home. But it will still be some time before we actually show it.”

The last game from the studio with real-time action was Divinty: Dragon Commander from 2013 … and that’s a real-time strategy affair. The earlier Divinity action-RPGs have real-time combat as well. Vincke laughed when I asked when was the last real-time game from Larian, recalling Dragon Commander.

I also asked if Baldur’s Gate III would be a faithful adaptation of the 5th edition rules, as the series’ other games are for 2nd Edition (and Neverwinter Nights is for 3rd Edition). 2015’s Sword Coast Legends (the most recent single-player D&D PC game) replaced spell slots, feats, and other abilities with skill trees, and it suffered for it.

“We started with a very rigorous port of the ruleset. Then we started looking at what worked and what didn’t work. Because obviously, it’s a video game, so not everything translates very well. We modified where it made sense to start modifying,” Vincke said.

One of the modifications: Misses from dice rolls. “The very obvious one would be that you tend to miss a lot when you roll the dice, which is fine when you’re playing on the tabletop, but it’s not so cool when you’re playing a video game,” Vincke said. “We had to have solutions for that.”

He wouldn’t comment if it would come with a game master mode, as Divinity: Original Sin II does.

One of the best features of the Original Sin games is how different elements and terrain interact in combat. If water’s on the ground, you can cast an electricity spell to create an area-of-effect damaging effect on the puddle. Vincke said Larian is trying to do this.

“I have an example I use for this. When you play a tabletop game, often at some point the Dungeon Master is going to [ask] you, ‘What do you do?’ Video games in general are limited in what you can do. Our ambition is to make it as broad as possible, what you can do. This is literally one of the very big focuses of making the game,” Vincke said. “When it comes to combat, when you’re playing tabletop, you’ll look around you, see what’s in the environment, and try to use it. We’re putting a heavy focus on that.”

Baldur’s Gate III will not use the same game engine as the Original Sin series. “We’ve been in development on this game for several years already. It’s not the same engine as those two, but it is our own engine. It’s built on the technology that we already have,” Vincke said.

The status of Bhaal and the spawn

Bhaal is central to the Baldur’s Gates games. He’s one of the Dead Three, a trio of evil gods who died in the Time of Troubles (the event that brings the gods to the Forgotten Realms to walk Faerûn as mortal avatars), but he planted the seeds of his return in the Bhaalspawns, mortals who carry portions of his divinity. With The Sundering, he (and other dead gods) have returned.

“Definitely in Murder in Baldur’s Gate, Bhaal makes his influence known in the activities of the Bhaalspawn. The next chapter for the Dead Three and those gods, within Descent to Avernus, the next tabletop campaign that’s coming out — releases in September — we’ll show you some more of how that cult has evolved and how — maybe you’ll see a bit of where it might be going. But that’ll depend on what we have to reveal and when. The next step to look at is the tabletop campaign.”

Priest of Bhaal do get spells in D&D now. “Bhaal is listed in the Player’s Handbook. We know there are deities that are still exerting influence. You could argue that you don’t necessarily need a deity to cast divine spells. There are all sorts of shenanigans you can get into,” Mearls said. “There are gods who have faded, who are making a comeback.”

The city

The city of Baldur's Gate in Murder in Baldur's Gate on the eve of The Sundering.

Above: The city of Baldur’s Gate in Murder in Baldur’s Gate on the eve of The Sundering.

Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast

In the “Lore You Should Know” segment of the May 9 edition of Dragon Talk (the official D&D podcast), D&D principal story designer (and longtime writer) Chris Perkins suggested that any good game run in Baldur’s Gate has a dark secret for the players. I asked Vincke and Mearls if this ethos would hold true for Baldur’s Gate III.

“Oh, yes. Very dark,” Vincke said. I asked what the dark secret was, and I just got a big round of laughs from him and Mearls.

Perkins also said another important feature of Baldur’s Gate (the city) is the disparity between rich and poor, the Upper City, Lower City, and Outer City (it’s long outgrown its walls and sprawls outside them), places that thieves and cutthroats run. “It’s a hard-line divide. You can’t get into the Upper City unless you live there or have a token that lets you stay there, and when night falls, then you’re thrown out,” Perkins said on Dragon Talk. Vincke said you’ll see this in the game and while it’s not the focus of the entire storyline, this divide between rich and poor is clearly in it.

I asked if locations such as The Friendly Arms Inn on the Coast Way (an important waystop between Baldur’s Gate and Beregost), Candlekeep (the Realms’ largest library and repository of knowledge, and where the first game starts), or the Elfsong Tavern or Sorcerous Sundries inside the city, would be in the new game.

“Some of those [will],” Vincke said. I asked Mearls to confirm if all existed in the modern Realms.

“As far as I know, since Murder in Baldur’s Gate, we haven’t blown anything up that I know of,” he said. “Sometimes Perkins or [senior game designer Jeremy] Crawford, when I’m not looking, sneaks into the Realms and changes things on me. But as far as I know, if it’s listed in Murder in Baldur’s Gate, it’s still within the city.”

The party

Above: Baldur’s Gate III better have some “Butt-kicking, for goodness!”

Image Credit: GamesBeat

“Gather Your Party” is the slogan for Baldur’s Gate III. Your companions have always mattered in the series. Minsc, the often-rash ranger from Rasheman, has become a beloved figure in the D&D community for this role in the franchise. He’s dedicated to fighting evil (“Butt-kicking, for goodness!”), and he’s a bit addled, often asking his pet hamster, Boo (whom Minsc insists is a miniature giant space hamster) for advice and what course they should take. Both have a starring turn in Legends of Baldur’s Gate comics, in which a statue of Minsc has returned after 100 years to bring his heart of gold (and brain of tin) to the rescue.

And Heroes of Baldur’s Gate has a section that shows which other companions from the video games may still be alive and well in the modern Realms (as most of them are elves). This is just an accounting of where these companions are in the Heroes of Baldur’s Gate module if you put the adventure into the modern Realms, not a reveal from Larian of what companions are in Baldur’s Gate III:

  • Coran
  • Dynaheir
  • Edwin the Red Wizard of Thay (life-extending magic!)
  • Faldorn
  • Imoen (a clone!)
  • Jaheira
  • Kagain (he’s a dwarf, another long-lived race)
  • Kivan
  • Xzar and his halfling friend (Xxar used necromancy!)
  • Viconia
  • Xan

But Vincke and Mearls wouldn’t confirm if Minsc or any of these companions are in Baldur’s Gate III. And what about hamsters? “Ahh—can’t confirm hamsters,” Vincke said with a laugh.

Why Larian?

Above: Divinity: Original Sin can look gorgeous.

Image Credit: Bandai Namco

Larian did an adaptation of Lost Mines of Phandelver (the adventure in the D&D Starter Set) in 2017 to show off Original Sin II’s Game Master tools. After the success of Divinity: Original SIn in 2014, Vincke said that he reached out to Wizards about working together.

“Back then they said, maybe you’re a little bit too green still,” Vincke said. Divinity: Original Sin was Larian’s first game after it went independent, and it was its biggest success at the time.

Even so, “we hadn’t earned our spurs, because we only went independent in 2010. That really began the upward curve for us, where our history is well-enough known. Before that we always had games that weren’t finished, that weren’t ready, that were heavily compromised as they released. It was only when we took our fate in our own hands that we started making games where we could say, this is what it should be. Original Sin was one of the best examples of that. I met [D&D brand director Nathan] Stewart then. He quizzed me about what you just asked — what is the philosophy of the games that you’re doing? That stuck around, apparently, because he reached out to me in 2016, I think, something like that. We started working on this in 2017, even as Original Sin II was being developed.”

I asked Mearls why he trusted Larian to work in the Realms.

“There’s something, I think, about the creative collaboration. Right from the beginning, when you [talking to Vincke] first came out, I really felt like we were just building the next D&D campaign. It felt a lot like any of the internal meetings we have, where we plan out our annual stories. I think that — you were talking about your philosophy. I think it’s very similar. We have very similar design approaches, though obviously tabletop versus a video game is a different environment you’re working in. But it feels like — well, it doesn’t feel — I know that this is someone I can trust, a studio we can trust. We have very similar priorities not only in storytelling, but in how we approach games, how we think of the audience. It’s funny how — there was one instance where there was a character class, a couple of weeks ago.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Vincke interjected.

“Hey, there’s this class, we’re thinking about making a change that might be a playtest thing that shows up on our website soon. We thought we’d let you know. The response I got back was, ‘Oh, we’re already looking at doing something, implementing something very similar to this.’ Just the trains of thought were very similar,” Mearls said. “It felt — sometimes you work with a partner, and you have to have that feeling-out period where you get to know how someone else works. You think, OK, here’s their language. I felt like we just started working together. We almost leapt straight into the story, once everything was signed and ready to go. It’s a very easy, very collaborative relationship.”

From the Baldur’s Mouth

One of my favorite aspects of Murder in Baldur’s Gate is the Baldur’s Mouth, a newservice in the city. It has town criers and printed broadsheets. As an ex-newspaper reporter and editor, I had to ask if the Mouth would be in Baldur’s Gate III.

“I’ll give you this exclusive,” Vincke said with a laugh, after fending off a number of questions. “Yes. There’s an awesome quest involving Baldur’s Mouth.”

And that’s the scoop on Baldur’s Gate III.

Update, 9:39 a.m. with additional images and context on mind flayers.