For as much as I love to complain about recipe websites that tell a story first, I sure do follow in their footsteps, and tell a story before giving you the gameplay notes. Jump to the Reconciliation section if you want to skip my idle musings and get to the part where I talk about how to actually have fun in the video game.
First of all, GOTY. Let’s just get that out of the way. I’ve been a huge Skyrim fan since the day of its release (see my fanfiction library), in no small part due to its (a) large open-world explorable map and (b) wealth of characters with whom to interact and about whom to care.
Baldur’s Gate, and with all my apologies to the Bethesda staff I’ve somehow been lucky enough to personally befriend, blows it out of the water. It’s got a character creator that doesn’t enforce women as twigs. It’s got a rich collection of NPCs out with whom to hang1. The ruleset is a clever adaptation of Dungeons and Dragons, 5th Edition™️. It’s a fun game and I expect to burn a lot of my spare time on it for years to come.
The setting of Faerûn incorporates a handful of hell myths (though interestingly not any heavens, in the paradisical sense), including demons and devils. It also has the classic DnD “morality/legality chart”, and BG3 tries to run with that. I don’t think they do a very intricate or faithful job, but I respect the effort. Their approach to the concept of morality is primarily that each recruitable NPC has a list of actions they like or dislike, and if they see you do those actions, their opinion of you changes accordingly.
Lae’zel likes it when you are rude and exploitative (Lawful Evil). Astarion prefers you to be selfish (Chaotic Neutral/Evil). Wyll and Karlach want you to be a knight in shining armor (Lawful and Chaotic Good, respectively). Gale just wants you to be nice but doesn’t mind rulebreaking (Neutral Good), and Shadowheart wants you to … be nice to people with whom she identifies and ignore people with whom she doesn’t, and sometimes to hurt yourself in ways she thinks are funny (Chaotic Neutral?).
All of these companions can be satisfied through some variation of a broadly morally-okay playthrough. Sometimes you’re a Boy Scout, sometimes you’re a real jackass, but as long as you’re not a monster you can generally keep them all somewhere between tolerant and besotted.
But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m here to talk about The First Big Moral Choice. Because there are a couple companion candidates I haven’t mentioned yet, specifically, one of the only Absolute-ly2 exclusive options in the whole game, as far as I know:
When you first meet Minthara, she’s in the Goblin Camp, drawing up plans to go find and burn the Emerald Grove. You’ve almost certainly come here from said grove, where you were beseeched by some refugee Tieflings to keep them safe by preventing the imminent goblin attack, “by any means necessary”.
It’s a combat game in a war story. You’re not here to preach pacifism. You’re going to do a minor genocide; that’s unavoidable.
But if you talk to her before you find the Colville Screw3, you get to contemplate a new question: which genocide are you going to do? You came here primed to cause a localized extinction event on the goblin camp, but Minthara invites you to turn cloak and go slaughter everyone in the grove.
The grove is populated by Tiefling refugees. Civilians. Families. Children. You’ve met them. You’ve probably saved several of their lives already. They’ve trusted you to ensure their safety and help them run to the city.
But there’s a worm in your head. You don’t have to be a hero. You probably even shouldn’t be. You should be working for the Absolute. Shouldn’t you?
The game has tried to give you several Morality Questions by now. A warlock has asked you to help him kill a horrible vicious devil, who turns out to be an injured teddy bear. Said devil asks you to kill some fantasy-cops, who turn out to be evil gangsters4. Maybe you debated trading an unborn child for supernatural power. All of these choices have some consequence to how the story unfolds, but not, like, a lot. Sparing Karlach doesn’t discard Wyll, he just gets a different path than he expected. Going either way with Ethel doesn’t do anything yet. Obviously, Karlach is gone for good if you send her back to
If you stay the course, Halsin demands that you kill Minthara. If you join her, she demands that you kill Halsin, the druids, and the Tieflings. And she makes you do it. You have to go to the grove, tell Zevlor that you’re betraying them all, and then Minthara stops the goblin invasion once she’s through the gate and makes. you. go. put. everyone. to. the. sword.
No matter what choice you made, the very next thing that happens is a party, in celebration of how much killing you just did. You’re probably going to get laid; likely by Lae’zel, definitely by Minthara.
If you slaughter the grove, Wyll and Karlach both call you a monster and leave, unconditionally. Gale is set to follow them, but you can talk him out of it with a really high persuasion roll. Astarion is mostly disdainful of goblin culture, but doesn’t mind the violence; Shadowheart and Lae’zel think this was distasteful but are both more focused on their own journeys and personal morality than they are interested in judging you.
And if you sided with the grove, you’ve murdered Minthara in some temperature of blood. You can’t party until she’s dead.
And then it’s off to Act Two, the Shadow-Cursed Lands.
But Wait! I’m a Centrist!
You don’t actually have to do either genocide. You can simply leave and go to Act Two without killing either the grove or the camp.
When you do this, the goblin war-band kills all the Tieflings as they travel.
Also, fuck you. This is morally worse than actively siding with Minthara, and you deserve the in-game consequence of your cowardice.
But what if you’re like me, where you hold simultaneous conflicting positions such as “I am flatly unwilling to massacre some innocent refugees” and also “I could fix her”? What if you want to push back on the Dungeon Master and derail the planned story, flex your Paladin muscles, and convert Minthara to your view without indulging in this most grievous sin?
Well, it turns out that through a fun combination of the DnD ruleset and the structure of the underlying game engine, you can force the game into letting you eat your cake and have it too. I did not discover this; I am writing down my version of the journey originally described here.
I’ll attach screenshots if I make the run a second time (as well as double-check that these notes are correct! I’m writing from memory). The original author has a Let’s Play on YouTube showing the main sequence, but it didn’t have the level of detail that I’m including here to make up for the lack of visuals.
Quick note: I’ve got a table of all the jargon at the end of the article.
- Go into the goblin camp. Talk to Halsin and get the “kill the leaders” quest.
- You can take Halsin with you as a bear if you want. FYI, you can talk to all three leaders before you start your rampage. Gut has her attempt at curing you, Minthara has her attempt at recruiting you, and Dror Ragzlin is up to some shenanigans that are quite funny in their own right. But once you bring Halsin into the mix, playtime is over.
- Go fight Minthara.
- Don’t kill her! Knock her out. You can do this by fighting normally and then for the final blow, use Pommel Strike or whatever your melée weapon’s K/O behavior is called. If you don’t have one or can’t find it, you can also go in the Passives section of your actions and turn on Non-Fatal Damage. Now your killing blow just puts her on the floor at 1hp, stars circling cartoonishly around her head. Note that the spell Sleep does not count for this.
- The game thinks she’s dead. Halsin’s quest advances, you can freely take things from her body, etc.
- If you turned on Non-Fatal Damage, you may now turn it back off. The others aren’t going to be eligible for your mercy.
And that’s it! You are now primed for the salvation run later on.
You have two things to accomplish in Act Two before we can continue rescuing our favorite war criminal:
- Reach the Moonrise Towers waypoint.
- Become level 7.
There are five party conditions you’ll need for this trick to work:
- You have not been in any fights in Moonrise Towers, particularly in the prison.
- One party member who knows the spell Polymorph.
- A different party member who knows Dominate Beast.
- A third character who does the hauling:
- A high-strength character (I used Karlach at 18; the floor might be lower, but if you can’t reach it, the potion Elixir of Hill Giant Strength puts you at 21). You should also have a couple Potions of Speed.
- A caster who knows Dimension Door. This spell allows the caster and one ally to misty-step as a team. However, this is an L4 slot and is limited by the character’s sightline. Unless you have a bunch of scrolls, you should prefer the muscle route.
You can use scrolls for both spells, but the spells are contestable and temporary, so you’re better off with characters who know them intrinsically.
My party composition was regular Gale (Polymorph caster), re-specced Wyll as Archfey Warlock (Dominate Beast caster), and Karlach (the muscle). Halsin can learn both spells, but he can’t travel back to Act One in your party, so his talents are not relevant for this trick.
Consider having one of your non-spellcasters know Bane: both Polymorph and Dominate Beast allow Minthara to attempt a wisdom save against them, and you will definitely want to give her a malus to speed things up.
Also, quicksave after every successful step. This is a fraught and tricky sequence, and you don’t want to keep resetting from the start. If Minthara stops being a sheep before the goal, she instantly sprints for the shadows and permanently leaves the game. You can prevent the sprint by staying in Turn-Based Mode and reäpplying the spells. If you burned all your L4 slots and need to get them back, you can:
- Get into a fight with her before dropping TBM.
- Disengage and flee to camp.
- Long Rest to get your slots back.
- Leave camp, dropping you right back in front of her.
- Apply the spells.
Once she’s in fight mode, she stays put waiting for you to hit her.
Okay. Ready? Let’s rock and roll:
- Go to the Moonrise Towers waypoint.
- Fast travel to the Goblin Camp waypoint.
- Go visit Minthara. She woke up when you went to Act Two, and is now standing around doing nothing in an empty camp. Try not to think too much about her walking catatonia and the PTSD sure to have been inflicted by waking up in a massacre. You can’t talk with her anymore – the game thinks she’s dead.
- Quicksave. Cast Bane. Once it takes, quicksave and enter Turn-Based Mode.
- Cast Polymorph.
- Cast Dominate Beast in the same turn as Polymorph. This is important. Polymorph only lasts for five turns, and you are going to need all of them.
- Minthara is now a sheep associated with the Dominate Beast caster. Now it’s time to get her to Moonrise Towers. Do these as fast as you possibly can:
- Select Sheepthara so that she is the lead party member.
- Drop out of turn-based mode.
- Fast travel to Moonrise Towers.
- Re-enter turn-based mode. If you’re lucky, you did this in under six seconds, and didn’t lose a turn of Polymorph.
- Split the party into two groups. Everyone in the party is making the run, and they all have important roles to play. There are two mandatory conversation traps, and your spellcasters must not participate in them.
- Both spellcasters need to stay together.
- The hauler and the talker (can be the same character).
- Your hauler character begins the run. A Dimension Door caster just does that. A muscle hauler drinks a Haste Potion, then does the following:
- Select the Improvised Weapon action.
- Your weapon is Sheepthara.
- Aim as far down the causeway as you can possibly go, and throw Sheepthara on the ground.
- Your hauler has picked up Sheepthara and is running towards your destination point. CANCEL THE RUN BEFORE SHEEPTHARA GETS THROWN. On a mouse, this is right-clicking on the ground. I don’t know the command on a gamepad. Canceling the move sets Sheepthara down gently, and does not burn an action slot.
- Quicksave every time you set Sheepthara down. Run out your entire movement speed sprinting down the causeway. Haste gives you two actions, so you can not only use its doubled movement speed, but also Dash as one of your actions (maybe both? I don’t remember) and really get moving.
- Repeat. This is a long causeway. Even with hastened dashing, it still took me three or four turns to make it to the goal. There is no room for deviation.
- There’s a conversation with the entryway guards that fires on the first character to reach them. The first character to reach the bridge guards must be your talker. If your talker isn’t your hauler, then your talker also needs to be Hastened to keep up with them.
- Sheepthara needs to make it into the main audience hall before the spells run out. I was able to do this with Hastened Karlach in one shot, without Polymorph expiring. If you don’t have that kind of speed, or Minthara falls out of Polymorph for any reason, that’s recoverable! See above.
- The cutscene begins with Ketheric Thorm casting judgment on a very indignant sheep. It’s very funny. You can hang out and watch until you reach a dialogue choice moment. YOUR CASTERS ARE NOT IN THIS CONVERSATION, remember? You don’t need to have Hastened them, so they’re likely barely across the bridge by now. And importantly, they’re still in TBM, keeping the spells stable.
- Switch to your casters and drop TBM. Sheepthara is trapped in the cutscene, so your casters can re-join ordinary time. The spells expire, but cutscenes freeze their participants.
- Walk your casters into the prison. Do NOT approach the main hall. You can get to the prison through the outside doors on the east side (requires a long detour), or by taking a right immediately on entry into the castle, going through the pilgrims, and down the stairs without ever seeing Ketheric’s audience hall. This is important: if your casters look into the audience hall, they join the cutscene, and you have to reset.
- Take an immediate left, and go hang out with the two torturer gnomes.
- ENTER TURN-BASED MODE. You have to do this now, before you resume the judgment cutscene.
- Switch back to your hauler/talker group. Navigate the conversation so that Minthara gets imprisoned, and is not killed on the spot. Watch as an angry sheep gets hauled away.
- Switch back to your casters and pick a fight with the now-human Minthara. Polymorph expired ten seconds after you dropped TBM, and as soon as she leaves the cutscene, she wants to run away again.
- KEEP MINTHARA IN THAT ROOM. I found Wyll’s Repelling Blast modifier to be the most useful for this: he stands in the doorway, Minthara charges him, he throws her against the far wall. If Minthara leaves the torture room, she won’t get picked up by the next story phase, and will just run away.
- Leave the room, sprint to the far side of the hall, and flee to camp.
- Leave camp. Minthara has fallen out of combat and got picked up by the torture gnomes.
- Talk to the gnomes and choose your favorite means of getting them to not torture Minthara anymore while keeping her alive. Once the gnomes are gone, Minthara talks to you and asks you to take her out of Moonrise.
- Take her to your camp right now. This concludes the rescue quest, she joins your camp permanently, and is now available as a companion.
- Ring the Filigreed Feywild Bell. Your blessing against the Shadow Curse evaporated when you went back to Act One. You’re going to need that back.
You may be tempted to add her to your party right away and go back to Moonrise. Do not do that. The Absolute faction just sentenced her to death; they aren’t going to like seeing her still around. Furthermore, there are some other prisoners to rescue. Starting the rescue enters combat with both them and her on your team, so they’re all friends during the fight.
Once you escape, combat ends. Some of the prisoners recognize her, hate her, and attack you before disengaging. Combat does not resume, and at least in my game they just reset to their post-escape stations and caused no more trouble.
You can close the page now if you’re only here for the gameplay notes.
Enemies to Besties
The other companions range from suspicion to hope about her presence. Fascinatingly, even Karlach and Wyll have recorded dialogue about her presence! I assume it’s so that you can play one of them instead of Tav and still make evil choices.
She and Halsin are supposed to be even more firmly mutually exclusive than she and Wyll+Karlach. Those two are only supposed to walk away if you choose her. For Halsin, both characters expect you to have murdered the other.
The consequence of this is that Minthara and Halsin use the same tent, and stand in very nearly the same place.
You didn’t slaughter the grove, so you missed Minthara’s sex scene in Act One. As far as I know, that’s gone for good, and there are fewer opportunities to work her approval up. But you can keep her around, and she has a redemption story. I haven’t played it yet – I only concluded the rescue a few days ago – but I’m very much looking forward to seeing that unfold.
Minthara whips ass as a character, and while I get what Larian was aiming for by locking her behind a morally atrocious choice (or at least attempting to, per the whole point of this article), I’m really happy that this bypass exists.
She’s a Lolth-Sworn Drow. She’s vicious, cruel, powerful, and self-interested. She’s not a nice person. But she’s also determined, intelligent, and most importantly, selfish. When you bring her within the Astral Prism’s protection and break the Absolute’s grip on her mind, she realizes what is happening and agrees to work with you to oppose it.
She doesn’t change her morality as a result of your interference. She recognizes that the best path for her to satisfy her own interests is to work with you against a stronger power that she has now seen was able to thoroughly destroy her own mind.
And I love that, as a storytelling perspective. While it’s certainly nice that most of the other companions become your friends and true comrades over the course of the game (that I’ve played so far), Minthara does not. She’s an ally, nothing more.
Compare her with Lae’zel or Shadowheart, both of whose stories involve breaking their faith and membership of their original cultures and reforming them to your point of view. While I do like the story aspect of taking an alien and a cult member and bringing them around to a more liberated mindset, there’s an undeniable aspect of player tyranny to that which Minthara’s story doesn’t have.
I really, really, like the story of forcibly changing somebody’s effective actions without forcibly changing their interior personality. Minthara has the option to grow as a person on her own, but that’s not something that (at least so far as I’ve seen! I haven’t touched act three!) we do. We just give her the opportunity to be present in a better environment, and see what happens.
I also really love that the game engine permits, through a very silly and difficult sequence of events, us to have the option of making a hard but morally desirable choice. The nature of computer games is that they tend to be either entirely reactive and impersonal, or highly personable but limited in how you as a player can engage with them. This feels like the game is a person more than a program, and that I as the player am actually able to make a real choice and have an effect on it that isn’t just picking from a pre-determined set of scripts that somebody else wrote. I know that’s not actually true; this works only because the game has pre-determined scripts that we can trick it into activating.
But it feels like an imposition of my will onto the game, and the experience of a story richer than drawing from flashcards. As an inveterate Scout, the opportunity to break the mold to improve my world and help other people be better greatly appeals to me. I play a Paladin, because I like being a melée fighter, and I like the story aspect of improving the world despite opposition. And this is just about the most Paladin behavior I can imagine in the game so far.
Okay, this is five thousand words. I’m tapping out now.
- Archfey Warlock
A subclass which can learn the Dominate Beast spell.
An Action which adds your current movement range to your existing range. This combines with Hastened, adding double your baseline range when used for each action in a turn, allowing up to six times your usual range in a turn.
You cannot use it twice in a turn for hauling Sheepthara, as Improvised Weapon requires that you have an action available.
Your movement speed is doubled and you gain an additional Action per turn. When the effect is removed, you become Lethargic for one turn, and cannot move or act.
- Improvised Weapon
An Action which causes the character to pick something up off the ground and swing it (at a target) or throw it (at the ground). Can be cancelled by right-clicking. Upon cancellation, the picked-up object is set gently upon the ground.
While you need an unused action to begin using this, the action is not consumed until you swing or throw the object. Cancelling does not consume the action. You can freely cancel and retry for as long as you have movement speed.
- Non-Fatal Damage
A game setting which, when you drop an enemy to 0hp in combat, instead sets them at 1hp and marks them as Knocked Out.
An action on swords which attempts to apply the Knocked Out status.
An alternate clock where time moves in six-second increments, and only advances when every character in a TBM cluster (party subgroup or combat roster) has ended their turn. Outside of combat, the environment gets a turn to represent the rest of the game; inside combat, the environment is implicit.
TBM is a local rule, and does not apply to the entire game! Characters outside a TBM group can be brought into it by observing combat, or can move freely in real time.
- Pommel Strike
- Turn-Based Mode
- Goblin Camp
A waypoint deep inside the eponymous location, but outside the Shattered Sanctum dungeon. Act One.
- Moonrise Towers
A waypoint just outside a long bridge leading to the eponymous location. The first time you move onto the bridge from the waypoint, an autosave fires. Act Two.
A level 1 Enchantment spell which applies a 1d4 malus to saving throws.
- Dimension Door
A level 4 Conjuration spell which teleports the caster and one chosen ally to a location within sight.
- Dominate Beast
A level 4 Enchantment spell which, on success, adds the target animal to your party as the caster’s familiar. The target must not be an ally, and makes a Wisdom saving throw against your spellcasting ability when the spell is cast, and every time the animal receives damage. Requires concentration, and lasts ten turns. Expires if the target is no longer an animal.
A level 4 Transmutation spell which, on success, transforms the target into a sheep with three hitpoints. A non-allied target makes a Wisdom saving throw against your spellcasting ability. Requires concentration, and lasts five turns.
- Repelling Blast
A modifier to the Eldritch Blast spell which adds knockback upon hit.
- Elixir of Hill Giant Strength
Raises the drinker’s Strength to 21 until a long rest. Potion of Speed Applies the Hastened condition for three turns.
Look, I was taught English by a German. I know it looks stupid to reärrange clauses so that the preposition in a phrasal verb gets shunted to the head of the clause, leaving the verb alone at the end of it. I know that phrasal verbs are technically fused units. Nevertheless, I remain Like This.
If you don’t get it, close the tab and come back later. Christ.
A choice whose consequence is that every single NPC in the zone is out for your blood.