After Greg and Shelly welcome you to the show, D&D Game Designer Dan Dillon joins us for another edition of Meet Your Monsters. This week, we discuss Helmed Horrors. Our special interview this week is with award...
With the release of Legends of Baldur’s Gate, writer Jim Zub discusses the origins of Minsc, Boo, and Baldur’s Gate characters with Beamdog’s Cameron Tofer.
ZUB: So where are you based?
CT: Well, personally, I’m working out of Grand Prairie and our main office is in Edmonton.
ZUB: Nice! So you’re a fellow Canadian.
ZUB: How long have you been working on video games?
CT: Too long, I guess. *chuckles* You know, right out of the gate I started at BioWare when I was 19, I think.
ZUB: Oh, really? Did you go to school for gaming stuff?
CT: Yeah, I took a 2 year Programming kind of thing after high school and then just went straight from playing D&D to making games, I guess.
ZUB: So you grew up as a gamer?
CT: Yeah! We were kind of working on our own games... I guess the story goes, James Olin (the Baldur’s Gate Lead Designer), we shared an apartment in college. So there was the crew of us and when we hooked up with BioWare we were making our little games and stuff and we all got hired at once. It was James, Dean, Ben, then later Ross and all those guys – the original D&D campaign. So all those Baldur’s Gate characters like Minsc or whatever, they were all from our high school campaign.
ZUB: They’re all from your high school game, just carried over?
CT: Yeah, exactly. When we got hired at BioWare and James started working on Baldur’s Gate he brought forth all our old characters.
ZUB: I thought it was just Minsc! So literally all those characters are from…
CT: All of them. *chuckles*
ZUB: That’s pretty amazing.
CT: Last night I was talking to one of the guys and I said “Do you remember how Minsc got Boo?” It was like twenty years ago! He said “I don’t think I was there that night.” We were just trying to go back and remember all that stuff. It’s kind of weird seeing how Minsc and Boo have taken off.
ZUB: So those were your characters back in the day?
CT: Yup. *laugh*
ZUB: This is so surreal. So now twenty years later I’m writing this comic story and these characters are cult favorites.
CT: Yeah, I could dig up the character sheet for them.
ZUB: I would love to grab a scan of that. I think it would be really cool as funny kind of extra material. I would love to see the stat sheet for him and see how he’s all put together.
CT: I was a terrible roller. I rolled the worst all the time and I’m just remembering rolling him up that night and that’s how he came out.
CT: That was it!
ZUB: That’s kind of amazing. So sweet. This is great. I’m so happy to hear that you’re a big D&D nerd. How old are you, by the way?
CT: Oh God... 38?
ZUB: I think we’re the same age. We both probably played D&D around the same time. I started really young though. I started when I was 8 years old playing with my older brother and cousins.
CT: I was a late bloomer.
ZUB: Now I don’t mind being as indulgent. One of the characters in the new comic is a thief I used to play.
CT: Well, there you go. Those characters are the ones with the most depth.
ZUB: They’ve got personality, right? You remember them. Dungeons & Dragons is about creating your own characters and creating your own stories and now, having that weird ability to actually inject that stuff into the real game... I was talking to Erin Evans, she’s one of the writers on the Forgotten Realms novels, and she said she ended up using one of her characters in the novels. At first she resisted, because I think you’re like: “That’s just unprofessional,” but then, it’s not! It’s totally in the spirit of D&D, right?
CT: Yup. The BG characters had years of role-playing behind them. There’s huge depth of character, at least to us.
ZUB: Do you remember what level they got up to?
CT: I think we were the early, not quite teens. Up there. It was hard getting levels out of James. *laughs*
ZUB: I was totally the same way when I was a DM. You bust your ass for a five hour session and I’d be like “Meh”.
CT: He wouldn’t hand out experience every night.
ZUB: How often were you guys playing?
CT: Pretty often. Every other night.
ZUB: Yeah, in college it felt like every other night. You’re in such close proximity and everyone’s having a good time.
CT: I started a bit later. Those guys were going pretty hard for a couple years and then I joined in, so Minsc... that was part of his problem. He was kind of a few levels behind.
ZUB: In the original D&D there was no mercy.
CT: It was awful. In the original campaign, Sarevok was just another player character in our group. He was a ranger as well in the campaign. So it was Minsc and Sarevok, and Sarevok had this, Sarevok had that...
ZUB: So you were the Poor Man’s Ranger of the group? You’re the ‘Other’ Ranger?
CT: Pretty much.
ZUB: So good! Instead of having a nice balanced group you’d just throw together whatever kit-bashed crap you can. I love this.
CT: That’s where Boo came along because one evening we’re doing level ups and he can get a thing now. “Can I have a bear?” “No.” “Can I have a wolf?” “No.” “What can I have?” So we started looking through and then we found this *laughing* Spelljammer book... “miniature giant space hamster.”
ZUB: So that was from Spelljammer?
CT: James had no idea! He’s like: “What the hell is this?!” We thought it was so funny he just said: “Fine. You can have a miniature giant space hamster.” First round of combat, Minsc is unconscious. “Okay, Boo’s gonna go do something.”
ZUB: It just became this infamous sort of thing. So how many years later are we talking, you’re at BioWare. You’re not still playing that same character when you’re at BioWare though.
CT: No. We stopped playing when we started working pretty much. And we were six, so our team joined their team. I think we tried to start up another campaign early on, but there was just too much work to do.
ZUB: So whose idea was it to start bringing the characters into the actual video game?
CT: That’d be all James. James was the DM. James was the mastermind behind everything. That was his story. They were our characters, we played them, but he kept the character sheets. He kept everything in the binder. Basically he curated everything.
ZUB: So what did TSR think of all this when you guys were just throwing all this crazy stuff at them?
CT: Those guys were in pretty tight with them. Working all the details out. It just kind of started small, with big name characters at the time, and our little guys were just our little guys. When our characters were being introduced it was just: “Here’s some characters.” The relationship with TSR was: “Let’s maintain the lore and the world” and that’s what we did.
ZUB: So the rest was pretty open?
CT: Yeah, because at that time our characters didn’t cause any havoc, right? Now there’s statues and stuff!
ZUB: It’s so crazy! I think that what’s so fun though, is that everyone gets to contribute to this bigger thing. So, what makes Minsc and Boo so memorable or what do you think has made them so memorable to the fans? Do you have any idea how they’ve become so incredibly popular?
CT: The awesome writing from Luke and the rest of the gang. Just making them funny. He was great to play. He had character.
ZUB: Are a lot of his iconic lines from you or from the sessions?
CT: No. From the writers, but the spirit... that’s what he was. I rolled terrible on him.
ZUB: So you’ve had the chance to read the first couple issues of the comic?
ZUB: What did you think? I know it’s a bit of pressure here, but...
CT: I think it’s great. It’s really drawing me in. For me personally it’s like bringing the old crew back.
ZUB: Twenty years later. It’s so surreal. What did you want to tell fans of Baldur’s Gate or fans of Minsc and Boo or anything sort of in that regard.
CT: Minsc and Boo are loveable characters and people love them but it was born right out of pen-and-paper. That’s great because this is D&D. He was a product of pen-and-paper D&D brought to extra-life in the game Baldur’s Gate and now in a comic book.
ZUB: It comes from the source. It doesn’t feel manufactured. Thank you so much for this call. I really appreciate it.
CT: No problem. My pleasure.