Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Behind the Scenes: Villains

Orc Pantheon: Bahgtru, Ilneval, Gruumsh, Shargaas, Yurtrus (left to right) and Luthic (front row). (c) 2002 Wizards of the Coast, "Faiths and Pantheons." Artist: Mike Dubisch
A good villain is the heart of a game. When the enemy is a two-dimensional cardboard cutout, you don't feel a sense of accomplishment in victory. The story becomes a melodrama with a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash at the end.

Really satisfying villains justify their actions, have complex motivations, and cause serious harm to the player. The great villains of the Baldur's Gate game series linger in the minds of players over a decade later because they are complex but can be understood, even sympathized with.

In today's Behind the Scenes blog, Amber Scott returns with the backstory of the villain in our office D&D game, Orc Hordes of the King's Forest.

The Story So Far
Every Friday we play the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons here in the office, so that we can learn the rules and understand better how games work (also because it's fun). The PCs have been tracking an orc named Urmgech across Cormyr, as the orc seems to be behind a plague that's spreading through the land. You can read a recap of the game on our forums.

After the first few sessions of play, with the heroes fighting orc bandits and struggling to reach the city of Arabel, I realized I needed to lock down the villain and his motivations. The orcs needed some compelling reason for their banditry. Why were they leaving the King's Forest to attack caravans, towns, even cities?

I started brainstorming reasons for the orcs' behaviour. Were they being driven by a strong figure—perhaps a dragon or demon? That seemed a little too much like the plot of Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Was a greedy new leader motivating them? Too boring. Perhaps a religious leader was behind the banditry. I started reading up on orc deities, and Yurtrus caught my eye. What if banditry was their secondary goal and the orcs were really spreading a sickness to their victims? An hour and much frantic scribbling later, I had the backstory for the campaign's villain, Urmgech.

Spoilers ahead for anyone playing in the game!

Urmgech the Maggot

Crouched in the reaches of the Stormhorns, the Sharpstaff orc tribe made their home. From their base in an abandoned dwarf mine, the orcs lived out their lives hunting, preying on lone travelers, fighting among themselves, eating, drinking, and revelling.

The leader of the tribe, the warrior Slarn, ruled with customary brutality alongside his mate Chonnal. The other orcs respected Slarn for his strength and combat might and willingly obeyed his commands. It was a good life for the orcs—save for the tribe's priest, Urmgech.

Urmgech served Yurtrus, Lord of Maggots, the orc god of disease and pestilence. Yurturs was not a widely-worshiped god among the orcs and no one paid Urmgech much mind. His job was to ensure the food and drink didn't spoil and make the tribe sick and to lead the tribe in the occasional religious ceremony. Urmgech was not a strong warrior and had a twisted foot as well, which only added to the contempt the other orcs held for him. Within the tribe he was known as “the Maggot.”

Urmgech would have led a short and unfulfilled life if Yurtrus himself had not intervened. In early spring, the tribe fell sick. The fever, vomiting, and weakness was traced to rancid meat on which the tribe had feasted. Slarn accused Urmgech of failing in his duties, but Urmgech protested that he had checked the meat repeatedly and it had been fine. It had spoiled all within a night.

Then some of the orcs started recovering. Not only did they recover, but they were stronger and more ferocious than before. They showed exceptional strength and grew long white nails—symbolic of the white-handed Yurtrus. Exhilaration seized Urmgech. Sure, some of the orcs had died, but the ones that hadn't were obviously Yurtrus's chosen. Urmgech took it as a sign that his god was helping him. That night, around the bonfire, he approached the tribe. After making a long speech about Yurtrus's blessings and how the tribe was destined for greatness, he attacked and slew Slarn. The other orcs watched, dumbfounded, as Yurtrus claimed leadership of the tribe. With much of the tribe still ill, and those who had healed reveling in their new strength, the tribe agreed. Chonnal volunteered to be Urmgech's new mate and the two took over the tribe.

Soon a profound change swept through the tribe. The strong orcs were made lieutenants and sent away to find gold for Urmgech. Banditry, theft, extortion—Urmgech didn't care how the gold was obtained. He claimed Yurtrus had sent him a vision and he required lots of treasure to carry out the plan. On their missions, the orcs were also to spread their disease as much as possible.

Some orcs recovered with exceptional strength but scrambled minds. They venerated Yurtrus by sewing their mouths shut (as Yurtrus is a silent god) and inserting feeding-tubs into their stomachs through their guts. These pitiful but dangerous servants were sent with the lieutenants out into the world.

Soon the money started pouring in. Many of the orcs were killed on their missions but Urmgech didn't seem to mind. A new age was coming and he would rule in it. Other races exposed to the disease died after a prolonged illness—only the orcs survived and strengthened. Wasn't that proof that Yurtrus had blessed the tribe? No more would Urmgech be the Maggot. Now he would be chieftain over Cormyr.

When Urmgech had a large fortune amassed, he loaded up all the gold into a wagon and set out south through the peaks of the Stormhorns, leaving Chonnal in charge of the few orcs that remained in the mine. His destination: a large cave carved into a mountainside. There laired Rillelbellax, a mighty red dragon.

Urmgech approached the dragon's lair with caution. He stood at the entrance to the cavern and called down praises on Rillelbellax's head. He heaped adoration on the dragon and stated his attention to pay tribute to the magnificent beast. Eventually a plume of smoke wafted out of the cave and Urmgech cautiously entered.

Rillelbellax deigned to poke his massive head into the cavern and demand to know what Urmgech wanted. Nothing, the orc swore, but to pay homage to the greatness of the dragon. The orc gestured to the cart he had brought: gold, silver, jewels, and art objects piled in a glittering heap. To the side of the treasure horde were several slain boars that Urmgech had hunted on the way.

The greedy red accepted the tribute and dragged the carts into his lair while Urmgech hastily retreated. Now, days have passed and Urmgech can hear Rillelbellax's groans of pain from within the mountain. The slain boars, carefully infected with Yurtrus's disease, bring an end to the great red. When the dragon dies, Urmgech will summon his lieutenants and drag the rotting, infested corpse down to the Dragonmere. There the red dragon's disease-riddled form will sink beneath the largest freshwater source in the country, spreading the plague to such a degree that it will never be stopped. Then, when the people of Cormyr lay dead and dying, Urmgech will take his place as the kingdom's new ruler, in Yurtrus's name.

Friday, April 24, 2015

New Wallpaper For You

Yes, YOU!

We're so thankful for all our fans, whose love of the game has seen Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition, Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition, and Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition become such successes. For the last post in our enhanced Beamblog kick-off week, we'd like to offer a token of our appreciation.

Here you'll find a brand new desktop wallpaper depicting the frost-covered reaches of Icewind Dale. It's available in both fullscreen (1024 x 768 and 2048 x 1536) and widescreeen (1280 x 720, 1920 x 1080, and 1920 x 1200) formats; just right-click and save the image you need. Then whenever you glance at your screen, even in the heat of summer, you can be transported to the snowy peaks of the Spine of the World. If you can, put the wallpaper on your work computer too. You can imagine yourself as a hero trekking across the Sword Coast whenever you minimize a mind-numbing spreadsheet.

We put a great deal of effort in to our art. Vibrant, detailed areas are critical to the game and essential for our players' enjoyment. Enjoy the wallpaper, and check back next week for a brand new Beamblog post. In the meantime, you can talk about the wallpaper in the comments, on our forums, or tweet us at Beamdoginc.

1024x768  -  1280x720  -  1920x1080  -  1920x1200  -  2048x1536  

1024x768  -  1280x720  -  1920x1080  -  1920x1200  -  2048x1536  

1024x768  -  1280x720  -  1920x1080  -  1920x1200  -  2048x1536  


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Behind the Scenes

One of our goals for the enhanced Beamblog is to offer more behind-the-scenes peeks at what goes on in the Beamdog offices. In March we had a post about our art process and how new areas are added to the game. We'd like to do similar posts on scene writing, story creation, and technical processes. Today, though, we're going to talk about something a bit more fun.

Recently we started an in-office Dungeons & Dragons game using the new rules from Wizards of the Coast. Our weekly sessions have carried us from the Dalelands to Cormyr, cutting down orcs along the way. Campaign design is similar to game story design, so today we'll take a look at the care and feeding of a D&D campaign!

Orc Hordes of the King's Forest

Amber Scott here, known as the Beam Bard to some (for my incessant singing and fancy hat). I'm a writer at Beamdog and also the office Dungeon Master.

Late last year, I proposed to the higher-ups that we start an office D&D game so that we could learn the new edition rules and prepare ourselves for future projects that might (might!) take us in that direction. When we came back from holidays in January, I started preparing a homebrew game for the crew. Wizards of the Coast publishes their own adventures, of course, and Hoard of the Dragon Queen was getting good reviews. I decided to make my own campaign for a couple of reasons.

  • Size. Unlike most games that I've run, we had a lot of players. I mean a LOT. At one point we had nine people playing at once. Everyone in the office wants or needs a seat at the table, because this is to learn the rules as much as to have fun. We rotate players regularly so that everyone gets a turn. With such a large group, I'd have to adjust most of the encounters in a published module anyway.
  • Time. I made a business case for running the D&D game and it does bring value to the company. However, we still have a lot of other work to do. Therefore we only play for 2 hours on Fridays. At that rate (especially with a big group) it would take forever to get through a conventional module. 
  • Fun. I love writing. It's why I'm a writer, naturally. So I was excited to craft my own storyline in the Forgotten Realms using the new edition rules. 
I began to develop the outline by choosing a region. The Sword Coast held a natural draw, but I didn't want to tread too-familiar territory. Some of my favorite locations, like Mulhorand and Halruaa, were much much different than what my players (some of who had never played a tabletop RPG before) were used to. I settled on Cormyr, a nation similar to ones found in the Sword Coast. It would be familiar to my players but still hold some surprises (like when Phil thought the Purple Dragons were actually purple dragons).

The Campaign

Next I decided on an overarching story to tell. I normally don't know all the details of a campaign before I start. I like to use what the players do to shape the later parts of a story. But I like having a little structure to guide the early stages of the game, so I chose to make the campaign an “against the orcs” story. Orcs are a classic D&D foe and I thought the players could easily get into such a straightforward storyline (although I'd throw in some plot twists along the way). I told the players they were heading to Cormyr because orcs and bandits had been raiding out of the King's Forest and a bounty had been offered. The PCs would begin in the Dalelands and cross the Thunder Peaks to reach the town of Arabel.

The Characters

We took one session to make characters. It was pretty chaotic—I forgot to bring my dice bag so everyone shared four mismatched d6s we were able to scrounge from around the office (because we have the kind of office where one can find loose dice). Several people had never made a character before, or hadn't made one in many years, so I was scrambling around the table trying to help everyone at once. We had four Player's Handbooks to pass around. In the end, everyone was able to design the character they wanted (though in a few cases, a player chose to determine their race, class, background, and traits by random dice roll, which is how we wound up with a half-orc bard who played the rainstick). Our final roll call was:
  • Bang-Bang (half-orc bard)
  • Bort (green dragonborn wizard)
  • Carp (human rogue)
  • Carric (high elf rogue)
  • Edisum of the Lightning Pass (human sorcerer)
  • Egbert Rockpuncher (hill dwarf monk)
  • Five-Eyes (wood elf cleric)
  • Huzzah! (gnome bard)
  • Kilmer (silver dragonborn ranger)
  • Willers (human fighter)
We'll soon have some more characters, as a few people want to join in. We have a lot of remote employees and recently one (Five-Eyes) has joined the game by Skype. It worked out a lot better than we thought it would.

The next step was to write the first adventure. When I design adventures, I tend to come up with an image, a scene, or a battle that captures my imagination, and then I build the rest of the adventure around it. In this case as I imagined the PCs travelling over the Thunder Peaks, I imagined them being caught in a terrible storm and coming across an old hunting lodge for shelter. That led to the first session, where the PCs explored the lodge and boarded themselves up against the storm, and were later set upon by rival mercenaries also heading to the King's Forest (and looking to take out the competition).

The journey to Arabel was easy to plan; I designed some bandit encounters as well as fights with other creatures to avoid monotony, and added some roleplaying encounters with merchants and with an unfortunate soul who'd tumbled off a cliff and was lying unconscious on a ledge. Once the party reached Arabel, I had to develop the central storyline. Orcs and bandits were attacking—but why? I started to brainstorm ideas and that's when I came up with something involving the orc god of plagues and disease, Yurtrus.

The Story So Far

Recaps of the session can be found on our forums. Next week I'll talk about the central villain of this campaign arc and how I designed the challenges the PCs now face. Spoilers will abound, so players—stay away!

The rest of you, though, come back next Tuesday to learn more about the cult of Yurtrus and their mysterious leader, Urmgech...and what his dastardly plan entails. Or tune in to our Twitch stream on Friday, 2 pm MDT, to watch the game LIVE! Mostly it's me looking frazzled while the players jam severed orc heads on to dwarf skeletons, but maybe that's your thing.

Oh, and come back tomorrow for the final post celebrating the enhanced Beamblog!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Beamblog: Enhanced Edition

You might have noticed our absence from the Beamblog over the last month. The reason for the lull in posts is the one you now see stretched before you in all its template-ed beauty. We've updated the Beamblog to a new format, one that should prove much easier for us to manage.

Little known fact: the old Beamblog required blogger Amber to dust off her late-nineties HTML skills and learn to use angle brackets again. No more shall she be required to Google “how do u caption images html” desperately on Monday afternoons!

All the Bells and Whistles

This new format comes with other benefits. Besides making it easier for our bloggers to post content, we can make longer posts, use tags to filter posts, and upload fancy pictures with ease. In the coming weeks you'll see a wider variety of posts here on the Beamblog. Look for short stories, game session recaps, new contests, and much much more!

If you'd like to suggest particular content we should post on the blog, comment here or tweet us at @Beamdoginc . We'll just say right up that we won't be posting anything about Adventure Y before the announcement we're making later this spring (except for that thing about neothelids). Hang on a little longer—the end is in sight!

Coming Soon

To celebrate the release of the enhanced Beamblog, we're going to offer three posts this week, each one containing special content.

Happy Faerûn Day!

Alright, it's actually Earth Day. But our minds often wander the Forgotten Realms and so it's natural for us to think of Faerûn as sort of a second home. For over 20 years players have enjoyed rolling up characters to roam from the Spine of the World down to Calimshan, to sail across the Sea of Fallen Stars to Aglarond and Thay, to delve into the Underdark or venture into the jungles of Chult.

As the years have passed, Faerûn's geography has changed but the essence of the world remains. It's still the enchanting high-fantasy setting so many of us have grown to love. Everyone has a favorite dungeon, or kingdom, or city. Our games set in Faerûn have their own diversity of areas, and our players have their favorites too.

For our Earth Day contest, we'd like you to tell us your favorite area in any of our enhanced edition games. Is it Durlag's Tower, that dungeon of riddles and traps, in Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition? Perhaps it's Ust'Natha, city of the drow, in Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition. It might be the sprawling Dragon's Eye or the broken Severed Hand in Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Your favorite could be a city, a town, an area map, or even your favorite tree.

Like that tree outside of Candlekeep with the diamond in it. Man, what a great tree.

Email us at with the subject line “Area Contest.” Include your favorite area in the text of your email. The contest begins today, April 22, and ends at midnight on April 29, 2015. We'll post the most popular answers and congratulate the winner in a blog post once the contest ends.

Oh, and PRIZES! There are prizes, of course. Our randomly drawn winner will receive a hardcover copy of Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster's Forgotten Realms: A Dungeons & Dragons Supplement. This unique book details day-to-day living in the world of the Forgotten Realms, with all the mystery and intrigue that entails. Two runners-up will receive a Baldur's Gate II: Enhanced Edition t-shirt.

Check back tomorrow for our second post to celebrate our new Beamblog!