• Baldur’s Gate Romance

    by  • August 17, 2012 • Reviews • 7 Comments

    SPOILER ALERT:  This article spoils some of the subplots (but not the main plot) of Baldur’s Gate II.  You have been warned!

    I have very fond memories of playing the Baldur’s Gate series.  Written for the AD&D Second Edition rules and set in the Forgotten Realms, the series had a rich, detailed world, a complex system for combat and magic, numerous side-quests and places to explore, and classic characters that have become a part of gaming lore (I’m looking at you Minsc :) )  So you can imagine I was very happy to hear that an Extended Edition of the series will soon be released!

    One of the things that Baldur’s Gate II was known for was its romance subplots.  These romances will be included and expanded upon in the Extended Edition, and I believe there will be romance options added into the first Baldur’s Gate game as well.  Adding romance options to a game, especially if they are completely optional, I think is a great thing for roleplaying.  It is pretty common in games now, but when Baldur’s Gate II came out, it was a relatively new concept for Western RPGs.  However, some of the romances in Baldur’s Gate II were almost a textbook example of “how not to do it.”  Let’s review them, shall we?  (SPOILERS!)

    First, there were some ground rules for romance in Baldur’s Gate.  You had to be a human, elf, or half elf.  That’s right, only the pretty and tall races got to have a romance.  If you wanted to play a dwarf, gnome, halfling, or half-orc, you are out of luck.  Second, if you were a male character, you had a choice of three romance possibilities, all of which were with women.  If you were a female character, you had a choice of one romance, with a dude.  Apparently, there was another possible romance for a female character (also with a dude), but it never made it to publication.  Third, at some point you had to rescue the person you were romancing from vampires (one of the female characters actually needs to be rescued twice).

    Bachelorette No. 1:  Aerie is a good-aligned winged elf, but she was enslaved and her wings were cut off.  She is portrayed as very young, damaged, and naive about the world.  Your job, as her romancer, is to encourage her to be more self-confident.  Eventually, she’ll offer to sleep with you.  If you say yes, you “lose” the romance.  If you say no, you continue the romance, and eventually marry and have kids, while continuing to adventure.  Aerie’s romance seems designed for the person who wants to be the “white knight.”

    Sample dialog from Aerie:

    “I’m such a silly woman.  Whining and crying…I must seem so ridiculous and petty.  No man will ever want me I think…I feel so embarrassed.”

    “I…I will show you my body (char name)…and I hope it pleases you.  Would you…would you stay with me this night (char name)?  Will you show me what true love consists of?”

    Bachelorette No. 2:  Jaheira is a neutral-aligned elven fighter/druid.  She is portrayed as tough and  arrogant, and speaks with a Russian accent.  She was married in the first Baldur’s Gate game, but her husband is killed in the prelude to the second game.  Your job, as her romancer, is to comfort her for her recent loss of her husband and, later on, to help her out with a tricky political situation involving the Harpers.  Eventually, Jaheira will offer to sleep with you.  Whether you say yes or no, you can continue the romance.  You end up having a long-term relationship with Jaheira, although you never actually marry her.  Jaheira’s seems, to me, the most well-written romance of the three.  Unfortunately, in the original game it was very buggy.  It was almost impossible to complete the Jaheira romance without help from user-created mods.

    Sample dialog from Jaheira:

     “Heh, you and your jokes make me smile far too often, even when I do not want to.  People will think I am getting soft.”

    “(char name), I care for you.  I have not always shown as such, and my words may seem harsh on occasion, but my feelings are true just the same.”

    Bachelorette No. 3:  Viconia is an evil drow elf cleric.  She is ruthless, mean, and always urges you to take the more evil option in quests.  Your job, as her romancer, is to prove that you are strong enough to be worthy of her.  Viconia is also, surprise, all about the sex.  Unlike the other two female characters, if you don’t sleep with her, you “lose” the romance.  Viconia breaks up with you at the end of your romance plotline, but the epilogue indicates that you get back together again and have a child.

    Sample dialog from Viconia:

     “I have been watching you for a time as we travel.  You have a pleasing look about you, I think.  The sort of musculature that would make a woman swoon with desire.”

    “Oh do not look at me in such a manner.  Does your manhood wilt from talk of using Drow knowledge of the erotic to survive in your world?  Is it so terrible?”

    Bachelor No. all of them:  Anomen is a human fighter/cleric who aspires to be a paladin.  Anomen, to put it bluntly, is a total ass.  He’s self-absorbed, whiney, and rude.  Your job, as his romancer, is basically not to piss him off (in other words, don’t call him on his rudeness), and to help him decide whether or not to seek revenge for the death of his sister.   You can sleep with Anomen without “losing” the romance.  You spend a lot of time adventuring together and then marry afterwards.

    Sample dialog from Anomen:

    “Hmph. I find it hard to believe that one woman alone could have performed such deeds. … Well, of course you had fellow companions who aided you then as now.”

    “My lady…I feel most terrible about my burst of temper the previous day.”

    In short, these romance options allow you to play out only the most stereotypical of fantasy stories.  Here’s some things I would like to see in the Extended Edition of the games.

    1.  Romance should be for everyone.  Really, it isn’t that hard to add a few lines of dialog so that every race and gender combination can have a romance with every “romancable” character.  This is a game that added an entirely new voice set so that we could laugh when Edwin accidentally changed himself into a woman with a magical scroll (and yes, that was played for all the predictable jokes you are imagining now).  Adding text dialog to explain why the half-orc in the party might be able to romance the drow shouldn’t be that hard.  Allowing same-sex relationships should not be hard.  These options don’t detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the game, and they make the game more enjoyable and accessible for the very diverse group of people who will be playing it.

    2.  Not all the female romancable characters need to be elves!  I want to emphasize this, because apparently the new romance in the Extended Edition is, you guessed it, an elf girl.  Moreover, it’s an elf girl who needs comforting and encouragement because she is a wild mage who doesn’t understand her powers.  We’ve seen this story before a hundred times.  Dare to break the mold!

    3.  Female characters should not get stuck with the jerk.  If Anomen is an ass, that’s fine.  If you want him to be romancable, however, it should not be required that we put up with it.  Especially if there are no other characters that can be romanced by a female PC.  Add some more male options for romancing, and please don’t make them all knights in shining armor.  That stereotype gets old very quickly.

    4.  Try to remember that women can want sex and still be lawful good.  There is a disturbing relationship between how evil a female character is and how interested in sex she is in this game.  No sex with the good aligned girl, but mandatory sex with the evil girl (who coincidentally is portrayed as a dominatrix) just repeats the tired madonna/whore tropes we see too often in fantasy games and literature.

    5.  The theme of the protagonist listening to the NPC’s tale of woe, providing appropriate comfort and advice, rescuing them when they get kidnapped, and then marrying them is fine for one or two romances, but need not be done for all four.  A romance between characters that are closer to equals would be nice, as would the opportunity for your lover to help you out, rather than just the other way around.

    6.  For the purposes of this story, a “failed” romance might be just as interesting as a “successful” one.  In terms of alternate endings, I would not assume that love, marriage, and children needs to be the end goal.  I could easily see a “Spiderman” sort of moment where your character decides to break things off rather than get your lover involved in the terrible stuff that you are dealing with.  It would also be nice to see a relationship end, but the characters remain good friends.

    I’ve pre-ordered the game, so I am being pretty optimistic that some of this stuff will be improved in the new edition.  But the description of the only new romance plotline announced, which basically boils down to “elf girl in need,” certainly gives me second thoughts.  I hope that the team can move past what has been done so many times before, and provide some new options to explore.

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    7 Responses to Baldur’s Gate Romance

    1. avatar
      Vivian Abraham
      August 17, 2012 at 16:18

      Since writing this article, I have heard a few positive things about new romances (for female characters! possible same-sex romance!) in Baldur’s Gate from the designer’s twitter account. Nothing on the official site, but keep your fingers crossed!

    2. avatar
      August 17, 2012 at 16:53

      Yes, and YES!

      I loved Baldur’s Gate, and it was my first introduction to RPGs (unless Oregon Trail counts). Even then, in my dim pre-teen worldview, I was bothered by some of these things. When playing the male characters, I really disliked the female romance options, and when playing the female characters, I was heartily disappointed with the male romance options. I wouldn’t date any of these people in real life, why would I do so in a fantasy world? It also sucked because I never finished the games as humans (I only really did a full play-through as a halfling, I think), so I never got past most of the basic introductions of the romance options.

      I am excited that you heard from the Designer! I have intentions of picking up the new edition eventually, so here’s to hoping.

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    3. avatar
      Besomyka
      August 17, 2012 at 18:00

      I recall playing these and being pretty happy with them back in the day, but they weren’t on a pedestal. I was more into console gaming, I guess.

      Since then, I’ve become a fan of Bioware. Started with Mass Effect, which got me to buy a copy of Dragon Age, and then KTOR. I could see how the mechanics have developed and how they’ve become better at story telling.

      As an aside(and speaking of it not always ending with marriage and kids..), in DA2 I adored Aveline. I knew she didn’t fancy women — I mean, she had been married and all — but I always held out hope, even though helping her find someone knew. It was hard to just be her friend. Bittersweet, unrequited, but devoted. It was wonderfully done.

      If they go back and give some freshness to BG2, given how they’ve evolved… well, I’m excited!

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    4. avatar
      Richter_DL
      August 17, 2012 at 22:10

      The problem you describe has, I think, it’s root partly in gaming culture and partly in the gaming world. And, of course, it’s 15 years old.

      1. The Game World
      The world as such is inherently moralistic, and defines good, evil and neutral mainly along the moral coordinates of American culture (thanks Gary). Moralism is not a matter of choice here, it is a fundamental universal constant. People are born with a certain (narrow) spectrum of innate morals, and unless they are Drizzt do’Urden, they can never break away from that. This is the reason why I never got into D&D and why I tend to stay away from fantasy settings in general – it is a very restrictive corset you are forced into here, and as an aside you get a moral worldview that may not be your own (it certainly isn’t mine) shoved down your throat.

      The core of D&D’s morals is Gilded Age American morals as Gyrax learned them. Hence, sex is inherently stigmatised and for evil alignment or neutral-alignment only. In that context, the correlation between sex and evil alignment makes perfect sense. And D&D has a notoriously bad record with same-sex romance in general – even the dedicated “book of erotic fantasy” (yes, I read it) doesn’t make a mention of same-sex matters save for “some people are gay, that’s … brrr”.

      2. Gaming Culture
      Gaming culture, as has been written a number of times, is deeply rooted in white, male, frustrated and nerd culture, and as such isn’t the most open about romance in general, females in general and same-sex and fair female romance in particular. That scene, which is the most vocal and plainly, problematic part of today’s gaming culture, is a huge speed bump in any innovation away from a Gilded Age model of gender, relationship, sexuality and culture, as well as generally decent behavior. and that is what many companies consider their main market. Probably rightly, because those are the big spenders on games. so a company like BioWare, which seems to want to broaden the scope more, has to balance social progressiveness with what their audience wants, will pay for and will not crash their servers about.

      Baldur’s Gate isn’t perfect, and the overhaul is a good idea. Nonetheless, even the original game paved the way for other games, and in subsequent games – Dragon Age, Mass Effect – they became a bit bolder. If they don’t shy away from the vocal and disgusting part iof the games scene, I’m pretty confident they will not fall behind what they established with other games.

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      • avatar
        August 17, 2012 at 23:13

        I just would like to comment that the Pathfinder source material (while it still has some issues that really bug me) has made some big movements towards sex positive content, and some of their pre-packaged adventures and background include LGBT supportive material. They’ve also diversified some of their art. They are by no means perfect, but it’s a step – and they do try to listen to their consumers (I know this from personally e-mailing them and getting detailed, continued communication from them on some touchy subjects – they responded within a few hours, even). I take it as a sign that the fantasy-type games do have a chance to move forward.

        I don’t disagree with your points – but since Pathfinder evolved from D&D, I just wanted to offer a slightly positive note. :)

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    5. avatar
      Mazed
      August 31, 2012 at 01:19

      As a heterosexual male, as a teenager at the time I played this game, I was STILL disappointed that I couldn’t roll a female character and get romantic with Minsc. >:I

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    6. avatar
      Sally
      October 30, 2012 at 12:51

      Thank you, Richter_DL

      As a PetalHead (a fan of MAR Barker’s “Empire of the Petal Throne), let me alert the Forum to the vastly different approach to sex, sexuality and romance offered by the aforementioned game-world.

      Compared to our world (or at least the parts in which most of us gamers regularly dwell, i.e., the Anglosphere and Europe), Tékumel is a remarkably ‘liberal’ place to live – at least when it comes to sex. On Tékumel sex is a natural part of being human. People can have or not have sex as they wish, and society is not going to condemn them. Sex, sexuality, and sexual behaviour are not sources of shame in *most* of the societies, and is even part of the religious rituals of many Temples.

      There’s lots of sex on Tékumel and if you go into the underworlds there’s also lots of sex inside Tékumel, not to mention the other planes that are near Tékumel. The Ahoggyá have eight sexes, the temples of LLord Sárku don’t just condone necrophilia but advocate it, the temple of Lady Dlamélish has a ritualized set of “unspeakable acts” and sometimes people get married and have kids and remain monogamous and pure and simple – but not too often :D.

      I find Tekumel’s less restrictive attitudes toward sex refreshing. And a society that both protects women (via the clan system) *and* allows them the same legal rights as men (through the status of aridáni) based on the *woman’s* choice to be reasonable, especially for an essentially conservative medieval empire. Also, in my experience, enjoyment of sex is not a male-only attitude.

      As one of Barker’s own players put it, “Now, mind you, I’m no expert on the published cultures of role-playing systems. Still, tell me, how many other role-playing games even tackle sexuality, much less embrace it the way Tékumel does? Does any game present the concept of aridáni status? Does any published game-culture incorporate homosexuality and bisexuality, polyamory or matriarchy — or do they completely ignore such ideas? When was the last time you met a gay hobbit and his partner while having lunch at the home of a lesbian elf? When was the last time such a concept wasn’t a *joke*, but was simply part of the society?” (1)

      Whether Tékumel is portrayed as a continuous orgy or as a culture where sex is present and a positive force in society, and you take it or leave it as you will, depends on the GM and the players. You might say it’s all in the eye of the beholder and the maturity of the player.

      Rather than take up the forum’s time trying to explain sex on Tékumel, I should refer you to “Women on Tékumel” in http://tinyurl.com/8tfgrex – the other documents constitute a general attempt to explain Tékumel to newbies, and a paper questioning a common trope in some circles, that there is little difference between Tékumel and Gor (with much repetition from the first-mentioned essay) .

      _________________
      (1) This comment, now at least fifteen years old, was penned in answer to the “twelve-year-old-male-gamer” attitude to gender and sexuality prevalent in RPGs up to that time. The writer could not have foreseen the developments of this century – including this blog – but, since, the old attitudes still surface, it is still valid.

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