How Baldur’s Gate 3 might have brought back Candlekeep, the library fortress where Baldur’s Gate began

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Videogames and especially role-playing games are chock-full of sheltered upbringings that go tits up. Innocent times and places like the prologue for Baldur’s Gate, which unfolds in the vast, fortified monastery of Candlekeep (beware spoilers from this point on).

BioWare’s first ever RPG opens with your unsuspecting Chosen One learning the ropes from the old sage Gorion. There are fetchquests that take you around the enormous citadel, bits of combat training to do, cosy formative chinwags to have with characters like your childhood friend Imoen. But it’s not to last, of course: Gorion is murdered, and you must rove the Sword Coast in pursuit of his killer. When you return to Candlekeep later in the game, this once-proud bastion of learning has been filled with doppelgangers of Gorion and other acquaintances, a parade of chatbots waiting to stab you in the back.

For a while, Larian thought about rebuilding Candlekeep in Baldur’s Gate 3, which begins many years later. And who better to take us through those plans, as we reckon with the acquisition of Gamer Network and the departure of our incredible deputy editor Alice Bell, than an old friend of RPS – one of the site’s own former sages, Baldur’s Gate 3’s lead writer and our deputy editor till 2019, Adam Smith.

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I spoke to Adam about Candlekeep following a characteristically illuminating and uncorporate presentation about Baldur’s Gate 3’s writing at this year’s Digital Dragon’s conference in Krakow. Some highlights from that presentation: “the sausage of sadness”, a Larian term for when dialogue writing leads the player into a dead-end, and an audience participation element in which Adam asked people to decide whether various Baldur’s Gate 3 romance scenes qualify as sex from the perspective of Youtube content guidelines, which amongst other things is the first time I have seen the other kind of sausage screened at a videogames conference, to say nothing of cunnilingus and whatever the hell Gale is doing in this scene.

Adam had many additional insights of the sexalicious persuasion when I spoke to him later. Brace yourselves for them once I have worked out what to do with them. In the meantime: the question of Candlekeep in Baldur’s Gate 3. “I had a bunch of ideas for it,” Adam explained. “I think that it’s a good setting, partly because it’s going back to where it all began. So that was always compelling. But also because you get an academic dungeon, and there’s something interesting about that kind of library dungeon. It’s vast, you know, within the lore. And the idea of having this place where you need to go to do research or something, or you need to go down into it. And then you also say, well, this is where the Bhaalspawn was raised – you know, it’s very, very attractive.”

Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

I’m a fan of enormous, sinister archives myself. I’m pretty sure I own enough books to fill a dungeon of at least three levels, though one would be stocked exclusively with crumbling GSCE poetry anthologies. So why isn’t Candlekeep in Baldur’s Gate 3?

“The biggest problem was that geographically, it’s on the way to Baldur’s Gate,” Adam continued. “So it’s like, are we going to stop on the way there? Are we going to go in and then come back out again, how are we going to position it like that? The game went through a lot of different variations – one of them had you go into Baldur’s Gate, and then come back out again. And then pacing-wise, it was a problem, because you have the escalation of Act 2 and the climax there. And then we’re like, OK, do we, what do we want to do now? And actually, what we wanted to do was get to the city.”

Some additional context for our interview: at the time, I was in the process of learning about Gamer Network’s acquisition. As a consequence, I was a bit shellshocked and wobbling all over the shop with my lines of inquiry. Fortunately, Adam had come to our chat with his very own Baldur’s Gate party consisting of Larian CEO Swen Vincke, who chimed in companion-dialogue style with a follow-up question. (To be clear for the benefit of any higher-ups reading, I kept my mouth shut about the acquisition during our conversation, which is a missed opportunity – given his past comments about games industry layoffs, I’d have been interested to get Vincke’s take on the current state of gaming media).

“Do you remember all the stuff, all the crazy shit that you put in there?” Vincke asked Adam. “Yeah, yeah, there was a lot of crazy shit,” said Adam. “There was the seer of the Far Realms. Yeah, I remember it all. Yeah.”

“Because you were being very vague,” Vincke pressed, journalistically. To which Adam responded: “Well, remember what I said about recycling your darlings.”

(“Recycling your darlings” is the redemptive Smith version of the popular creative mantra “Kill your darlings”, aka ideas you love but which are fundamentally impractical and absorbing too much time and attention. During his Digital Dragons presentation, Adam illustrated this with an image of a massive pile of corpses. I can’t remember if this was before or after he screened the illithid romance scene, which it turns out isn’t even real sex in the eyes of Youtube. Sorry, illithidshippers.)

Thanks to Vincke’s intervention, our musings on Candlekeep were able to continue. “The thing is, if you read the lore on Candlekeep, and actually, Wizards released a book called Candlekeep Mysteries, while we were in development – we got an early copy of that,” Adam went on. “And it’s like, any world that’s full of knowledge is full of forbidden knowledge, and that’s very interesting to me instantly. So there’s a place in the Forgotten Realms, or the D&D universe, I should say, called the Far Realms. And some of the lore says that’s where the mindflayers began – it’s the cosmic horror place, you know.

“So I had this whole idea that you’d have this seer, who’s sitting at the bottom of Candlekeep, who is basically staring into the Far Realms, you know, and has gone completely insane, and you have to go down there and find out what he’s seen. I still think it would have been very cool. It’s just the pacing for me.”

“It’s a game in its own right,” suggested Vincke, journalistically.

“Probably, yeah,” Adam continued. “But once you’ve got to the that key point in Act 2, we could have had a much more dense game after that, but I think that we would have exhausted people. And you know, there’s a point where it becomes like, well, is this content for the sake of content? I hate the word ‘content’, but you know – is it actually adding to the story and the journey I’m on, where I am in my adventure? You can have too many climaxes. They’re exhausting as well. I’m not talking about sex again.”

Larian have now washed their hands of D&D. They’re not making Baldur’s Gate 4, nor are they plotting any further major additions to Baldur’s Gate 3. This seems a tragedy – it’s hard to imagine anybody devising a better D&D adaptation in the near-future, but it’s equally hard to complain when you think about how much BG3 gives you, without (for my money, anyway) overstuffing the pudding. As Alice B wrote in our review, “in BG3, there’s no baggy excess, but there’s also nothing wasted, whether that be space for a joke in a description of some boots, or the chance to give one entirely optional boss his own song about kicking your ass on the soundtrack – which many players won’t even hear!”

Still, if Larian do return to D&D at some stage, I can well imagine them cracking the lid on Candlekeep and perhaps, unearthing that maddened seer from the bottom of the labyrinth. “It’s where the Baldur’s Gate story began,” Adam concluded. “So it’s always going to be in your head, you know?”

Disclosure: Former RPS deputy editor Adam Smith (RPS in peace) now works at Larian and is the lead writer for Baldur’s Gate 3. Former contributor Emily Gera also works on it.

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