Heroes of Baldur’s Gate was a huge surprise to me when it came out. Maybe I was just out of the loop. This adventure came out in 2019 from one of the writers of Dragon Age: Origins. It draws heavily from the Baldur’s Gate video games. Heroes takes place at the same time roughly a century before Murder in Baldur’s Gate. It isn’t a retelling of the video game story but it does involve a number of the same characters. The “Evil” aligned characters from your party in the game appear as villains here.
This is a tough adventure to get started off explaining. The PDF starts with an in-depth backstory about 7 pages long. It is very proper noun heavy and tough to get through. It also has nothing to do with the Adventure. There are long lists of NPCs and suggestions that the players play as these NPCs from the Baldur’s Gate video game or take special backgrounds specifically linked to this background. But this is just way too many proper nouns too fast and it isn’t based on the players yet. So I’m going to try and ignore this as much as possible and get to the adventure.
Our start is, one of the Harpers has reached out to the PCs for aid in rescuing his wife. There’s a massive chunk of boxed text about a war between Amn and Baldur’s Gate the Harpers helped to prevent but that has nothing to do with the PCs or the quest at hand so who cares? Cut it. The PCs are at a cozy little tavern meeting this Harper and getting the hook. Guy’s wife is missing, he knows she’s alive because their magic rings say so. There are also some good local rumors about weird shit going on in a place called the Cloakwood, the Zhentarim is afoot, and Baldur’s Gate is getting more dangerous.
After a few hours riding to the campsite, your NPC questgiver notes that the forest seems closer than before. Which is impossible, obviously (nervous laughter). A few miles later you find these molehill type things where your foes wait. These are a new monster I haven’t heard of before called Gibberlings. Their holes are described as “the size of a goat” which is a weird unit of measurement.
Gibberlings are basically aberrant goblins. They cover themselves with dirt by day. They’re kind of like Gremlins, or ghouls from Shadow of Mordor, or ghasts from Dragon Age. They’re not intelligent like Goblins can be. They’re CR 1/4 monsters with 7 HP that swing for 1d4+2 damage. But they have features like Reckless Attack or a Swarm move that lets one guy grapples while the other adjacent gibberlings all attack as a reaction. They also have sunlight disadvantage. This is a lot of special moves for a 7 HP creature. I think the idea is that this encounter is supposed to take place in the sun and you’re supposed to use reckless attack to only roll 1d20 per gibberling attack. There’s a certain kind of tactically minded DM who will go nuts with this encounter. Just remember, this is first level 5th Edition. It’s hardly even D&D yet.
So, the encounter objective is to rescue the guy’s wife. Assuming you do so, the wife gives you another hook. She and her husband are both Harpers and they’re going to meet with a friend in Baldur’s Gate because their friend said there was a problem to deal with. Since they’re the Harpers you can be reasonably certain they’re fighting something evil. There is one more Gibberling fight during the next long rest and at this point you should level up the party if you haven’t already.
The next chapter sees the party in Baldur’s Gate. Your quest-giving NPCs will head off to the Elfsong Tavern which was a location featured in Murder in Baldur’s Gate as well. The NPC you meet there, Imoen, and the two NPCs with you already, Khalid and Jaheira, are all companion NPCs from the Baldur’s Gate video game. Imoen bears a strong similarity to a Dragon Age 2 character named Merrill. Once the party joins up with the three Harpers, Imoen gives them another hook. The Harpers are investigating the Zhentarim in the area. The Zhentarim has gone through many incarnations over the years of Forgotten Realms canon. In the current 5E version they are usually depicted as “Criminal But Not Evil.” This incarnation of the Zhentarim 120 years prior to where the game is set in 5E swings towards a Eviler depiction. As champions of good, the Harpers have history with the evil Zhentarim. The Harpers believe the Zhentarim are up to some shit in Baldur’s Gate.
There are two complications to this hook. First, a group of pirates in the bar believe Imoen was using magic to fuck with them earlier, this is true but the pirates were also hired by the Zhentarim to take out the Harpers. Second, this isn’t actually Imoen, it’s a Doppelganger, in the hire of a Red Wizard of Thay.
Assuming you drive off the pirates, the Harpers suggest The PCs start by talking to some shopkeepers in the area. The Zhentarim are running a protection racket which means threatened merchants and thugs running money. This entire section is very similar to Waterdeep Dragon Heist Chapter 2 where the PCs are just kind of turned loose. There isn’t a ticking clock element, the PCs are now just residents of this neighborhood. There are a couple good random encounter tables. One of them features partner violence so be careful including that with your table.
Two of the encounters allow the PCs to meet more NPCs from the video game including a witch named Dynaheir and Coran, the Elf Rogue who you meet a century later in Murder in Baldur’s Gate. In Heroes of Baldur’s Gate, Coran is bisexual and in a relationship with Xan, another elven NPC also from the video game that you can find later in this adventure.
I think that Heroes of Baldur’s Gate might work better than Dragon Heist because the PCs are given the explicit goal of investigating the Zhentarim activity in this one neighborhood of Baldur’s Gate. They have a reason to go from shop to shop asking questions and doing favors. The residents have quest hooks and rumors with direct bearing on their objective. In Dragon Heist, the PCs involvement with Trollskull Alley was always a side quest to finding the missing gold. That said I think you do have to give the PCs some roots or personal buy in of some kind. Giving them a tavern in Heroes of Baldur’s Gate seems like overkill. The Backgrounds custom made for this adventure speak to things to do here. There are also zero references to the City Watch or Flaming Fist stepping in to fight the Zhentarim. The PCs are meant to hang out and investigate things here and level up to 3 then you move to the next act.
When you level up to 3 or get bored the party is confronted by a Zhentarim Enforcer NPC backed by crossbow wielding thugs. It bears mentioning that this is at least the second time this adventure the Zhentarim have threatened the PCs and maybe didn’t send enough guys. When I see this trope of the bad guys drawing attention to themselves by trying to kill the heroes I always think of the Jack Reacher movie. In that flick, the mob guys are furious at the lower level punk who tries this saying that if they want someone dead they do the job right goddamn it.
That said, your PCs have probably been making a nuisance of themselves for the Zhentarim for a few sessions now. The NPC they send is very qualified to kill a party of third level adventurers, he’s a CR 7 Dwarf with an AC of 18 and a suggested 152 HP. Dude is built like a brick shithouse. The adventure says that at half hit points he surrenders because he doesn’t get paid enough for this shit. He tells the PCs that one of the shops in the area is run by Doppelgangers and they have a passage to the undercity where the Zhentarim boss is.
The next chapter and the chapters after that are awkward because of the format. Chapter 3 a description of all the basements and the undercity of Baldur’s Gate. But Chapter 3 does not exactly follow chapter 2. There are buildings that just have basements. Many of these basements are connected but not all have encounters. My point is that there is going to be some flipping between chapter 2 and chapter 3 depending on your PCs. The path of the adventure is this: Arrive in Baldur’s Gate. Investigate The Zhentarim until you find their base in the undercity or you annoy them enough for a guy to show up with a note saying, ‘DON’T TELL ANYONE OUR SECRET BASE IS HERE.’ Then you enter the secret base and confront their boss, a Halfling Assassin who, like the Dwarf, is a CR 7 monster that can probably take lower level PCs. And the Halfling has a note saying ‘THE NEXT PART OF THE ADVENTURE IS IN THIS FOREST DETAILED IN CHAPTER 4.’ So the PCs have the next step on their breadcrumb trail.
By the time the characters set out for The Cloakwood in Chapter 5 they ought to be level 4. Chapters 4, 5, 6, and 7 are expected to be taken at this level and the PCs should be level 5 at their conclusion. I say this to give you an idea of the pacing of your D&D game. I usually advocate getting to level 2 should be about 1-2 hours. Getting to level 3 should be at the end of your second session. After that I prefer milestone level ups and those ought to be spaced every 3-5 sessions.
These chapters are structure a bit like Curse of Strahd. Chapter 4 is your overview of the Cloakwood. It’s this magical forest but there’s some shady evil about which you learn about at the end of chapter 3. Chapters 2 and 3 are intended to give your PCs hooks and reasons to go out and explore the Cloakwood. So be sure to include hooks and reasons. Chapters 5, 6, and 7 go into detail about 3 specific locations with dungeon maps. These include a mine plagued by a necromancer, a giant tree where a hag coven and an evil druid are opening a portal to the feywild, and a Drow base built out of a giant spiderweb.
Chapter 8 sees your PCs return triumphant to Baldur’s Gate. Or do they? The adventure kind of buries the lead on this. When the PCs return to Baldur’s Gate they are confronted with new problems depending on what they did in the adventure. As written, one of these events must happen. The Evil Red Wizard, Edwin, must make it to Chapter 8 alive and be the final boss. If the PCs fail to stop the Evil Druid or if the Necromancer is still alive then those two NPCs attack Baldur’s Gate in addition to fighting the Evil Red Wizard. The Red Wizard Edwin has a bunch of Doppelgangers poised to strike and seize control of Baldur’s Gate. His only remaining obstacle is the party. I’m not sure the PCs would necessarily go to the Cloakwood if they find out there are Doppelgangers about messing things up in the city behind them in Chapter 2-3 but whatever.
When Edwin, the Necromancer, and the Evil Druid are defeated the PCs have completed the adventure. The city throws a parade in their honor and they get a bunch of magical treasure. And that’s it! That’s everything. The remaining 100 pages of this book is all maps, lore, random encounters, and a shop by shop review of Baldur’s Gate as it appeared a century before Murder in Baldur’s Gate during the time of the video game. There is also a substantial bestiary which includes stat blocks for all the NPCs in this adventure which are also NPCs from the video game.
Now we must have a verdict. What are my final thoughts on Heroes of Baldur’s Gate? I think if you are a fan of the Baldur’s Gate video games this is a must buy. People loved these characters and this is a nice little adventure about them. I like the sense of size in proportion to the adventure. One thing I did not like about Murder in Baldur’s Gate was that it is supposed to be about level 1 PCs and yet they are rubbing elbows with the rulers of the city immediately. In Murder, your PCs are catapulted into this city-wide struggle for the soul of Baldur’s Gate. In Heroes, which covers more levels in the same range of low-level D&D, your PCs are fighting street crime. They’re in one neighborhood, making it a better place to live, they fight villains, and they save the day.
I would recommend Heroes of Baldur’s Gate. This is an archetypical vanilla D&D plot done well. Explore, fight, talk, be adventuring heroes. Contrasted with the more experimental product that is the playtest adventure, Murder in Baldur’s Gate, I think Heroes is a more accessible product if you are deciding which one to purchase. I am happy owning both. I think I made the right decision opting for the PDF instead of the print book since I have no nostalgia for the video games. The production values on Heroes of Baldur’s Gate are amazing. This is a 162 page PDF and it looks like a professional WotC published product with beautiful art and maps. It suffers a bit because half the product is an in-depth look at Baldur’s Gate which I already have with Murder in Baldur’s Gate and we’re getting a third one with Descent into Avernus. Does that diminish my enjoyment of the adventure? Not a bit.
If I was going to run these products, I have an idea how to do so. This isn’t an original idea. I think you run these adventures together like the Stephen King novel, “It.” Start with Heroes of Baldur’s Gate. Maybe get a bit more influence from the video game. I really like the idea that what’s driving conflict in Baldur’s Gate is this malign influence of Bhaal, the God of Murder. You start with heroes and your goal is drive off the Bhaalspawn and end the wave of violence in Baldur’s Gate. The same heroes then come back a century later when Abdel Adrian, the last child of Bhaal is dead. Your players then finish Murder and you have a gift-wrapped level 10+ campaign conclusion to put a stop to the God once and for all.