Thursday, December 28, 2017

Six Siders & Space Hamsters

James Ohlen and Cameron Tofer talk about the pen-and-paper game that saw the birth of Minsc and Boo.

This article was originally published in Issue 2 of the Familiar.

The original Baldur's Gate companions have risen to iconic status among classic CRPG fans over the last nineteen years. The inspiration for many of these beloved companions, including Minsc, Edwin, and Xan, came from a pen-and-paper campaign that began around 1993. James Ohlen of BioWare was the DM, and the roster of players includes current giants in the RPG industry.

“I was looking to start a Forgotten Realms campaign and expand the number of players in my group,” Ohlen recalls, “so I advertised at the public library and local gaming stores. The response I got was much bigger than I expected.”

Cameron Tofer joined the group a few months after the game began. His character? A fierce ranger named Minsc.

“I was playing a lot of Civilization at the time and I played the Russians, and so Minsc was named after the city,” Cameron Tofer, Beamdog co-founder, explains. “He was based off some horrible rolls - his Intelligence, I just fumbled that. And because I joined late I was a couple of levels behind everyone.”

It was this level disparity that inspired one of the most adored animal companions of all time. “[Minsc] was knocked out in the first round of pretty much every fight,” Tofer says. “When I finally levelled up enough to get a companion, that's how I got Boo.”

According to Tofer, Boo was the only character he could play because Minsc was always knocked out.

Ross Gardner played Jon Icarus, the character who later inspired Baldur's Gate II villain Joneleth Irenicus. “I changed [the name] because of its connection with Greek mythology,” says Ohlen. Jeff Veitenheimer played a ranger named Sarevok, who not only became the villain of Baldur's Gate, but was also Minsc's big brother.

“[Sarevok] had a vorpal sword and was really badass. Everything was 'Sarevok this' and 'Sarevok that',” says Tofer.

Sean Carriere played Edwin, a wizard, and Dean Anderson played Bodi, Jon Icarus's sister. Ben Smedstad played Xan. “Ben was literally Xan,” Tofer recalls.

“A lot of lifelong friends came from the people I met in the Forgotten Realms campaign,” Ohlen says. “Some of those friends have gone on to found their own video game companies or take on senior roles at some of the biggest video game companies in the world.”

Though the characters would later go on to fill the ranks of Baldur's Gate companions, the game Ohlen ran didn't inspire the storyline for the game. Ohlen had ample experience crafting and DMing adventures. “I ran [a Forgotten Realms campaign] in my teenage years and at one point I was Dungeon Mastering three separate groups at the public library in Grande Prairie,” he says. “The campaign spanned many years, thousands of hours of Dungeon Mastering, and more than 30 different players.” The campaign that saw the rise of Minsc lasted for many years, until around 1999.

In that time, there were some constants in the adventures the party faced. “Every campaign we started, we'd be naked in a jail cell,” says Tofer. “[Ohlen would say], 'Ok, you wake up. Naked. In a jail cell.' 'OH NO, NOT AGAIN! EVERY TIME!'”

“Cam is over exaggerating a little,” adds Ohlen. “I did use the prisoner trope quite a bit, but not all the time. The reason I used it so often probably stems from the fact that the D&D published adventure Scourge of the Slave Lords is one of my favorites of all time.”

Shades of the Baldur's Gate II opening scene, with the player character locked in Irenicus's dungeon? “[The trope] did probably influence Baldur's Gate II,” Ohlen says.

“Oh yeah,” adds Tofer. “It's a classic.”

Minsc developed over the course of the game, though his history in the pen-and-paper campaign is not the same as the character's in the video game. “Eventually when we started leveling up, Minsc was pretty badass,” Tofer recalls. And on the character sheet, Minsc is listed as having a sister. “Yeah, but she came in late, she didn't really play a role,” says Tofer. “It was just Minsc lying unconscious and Boo running around doing everything.”

Minsc and Boo had “some kind of mental link” says Tofer, which made it easier to play the hamster. Perhaps Boo is the one influencing Minsc in Baldur's Gate.

Luckily for us, Tofer saved many of the character sheets from the original campaign.

Behold Minsc's original character sheet, over 20 years old and full of detail about the original butt-kicking ranger.

Stay tuned, we’re excited to share more materials from the Familiar in upcoming weeks! Share your impressions on Facebook, Twitter, and in our forums and tell us about your experience with pen-and-paper adventures.


  1. Thanks, Beamdog, for sharing such a great history of one of the most iconic (and hilarious!) AD&D characters of all time! I SO want to have Minsc in my party in BG1EE, but, alas! his starting stats are not all that great (just like in the pen-and-paper game from 20 years back!). I certainly hope that his stats improve when he joins up with the hero of BG2EE (the Enhanced Editions are my first real foray into the AD&D universe, and certainly the Forgotten Realms. I've only played BG1EE so far, but I am very excited to play the other EEs! Thank you again, Beamdog, for teaming-up with Overhaul Games to remaster these timeless, tried-and-true classics! P.S. I hope everyone had a Very Merry Christmas and will have a Very Happy New Year!).

    "Go for the eyes, Boo! GO FOR THE EYES! RRAAAGGH!" ~ Minsc, upon entering combat (Q: He is voiced by Jim Cummings, right? 'Cause if that's not Jim Cummings, he could certainly fill in for Mr. Cummings when he's away!).

  2. Minsc is the capital of Belorusia, the country west of Russia ;)
    You guys had a fun, definitely.

    1. In English, I believe we call it Belarus. Just saying; I could always be wrong. ;)

  3. shut up with Minsc already, Imoen is the most memorable character

    1. "Huh. Yer a queer fella."

      Seriously, though, she's definitely one of my favourite video-game characters (there are so many great ones that I can't think who'd be my most favourite)! I guess they decided to do Minsc because quite a number of fans already know Imoen's history.