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Golbraith in a blue outfit in Baldur’s Gate 3 Image: Larian Studios via @Orvandor/Twitter

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How a Baldur’s Gate 3 writer created its moving tribute to a father with Alzheimer’s disease

‘It quickly became clear that we were all inspired to do some kind of tribute to this player’s father in the game’

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Baldur’s Gate 3 was released in early access in October 2020, delighting fans eager to get their hands on the highly anticipated game. For Larian Studios forum user Solfalia, it was exceptionally meaningful: Solfalia wrote that his father got him into gaming, and, in particular, they shared an affinity for Baldur’s Gate 2, Divinity: Original Sin, and Divinity: Original Sin 2.

“My father has always been a geek — he was one of the first journalists to get a computer on Fleet Street — he even sent his computer to the Newseum in Washington,” Solfalia, who asked Polygon to use his username, told Polygon. “This meant I had no chance, he introduced me to computers at an early age. I still remember going to my father’s study and playing Battle Chess with him when I was around 4 years old.”

Eventually, Solfalia’s father got him his own computer, and the two played games like Baldur’s Gate 2 together over a local area network (LAN) connection. His father even built a third computer for Solfalia’s friends to use so they could all play together at their house.

“We played a lot of it, and I do mean a lot,” Solfalia said. “I think we did three or four full playthroughs on different characters, and when the Throne of Bhaal expansion came out we did that all over again another few times.” When Solfalia moved to another country for work, he kept in touch with his dad through games: “Every Friday night, for years, with nearly no exception, we would get together online. Him in France, me in the UK, and we would play a video game together for the entire evening, sometimes even until the late hours of the morning.”

But when his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Solfalia wasn’t sure if his father would be able to play Baldur’s Gate 3 before the disease progressed too far. Luckily, Baldur’s Gate 3’s early access period was announced, and Solfalia realized he could enjoy the game with his father. “This Early Access means that this Xmas I’ll be able to go on an adventure with him one last time, and I know he’ll enjoy it,” he wrote. “The fact that the big baddies are Mind Flayers is just the icing on the cake.”

When Larian Studios saw the post, one writer on Baldur’s Gate 3 reached out with the intention of adding a tribute to Solfalia’s father to the game. The writer shared messages from the Larian team who were touched by his post. “I won’t hide the fact that I teared up at those messages — they were incredibly heartfelt,” he said.

He continued: “In addition to sharing those messages from the staff, there was an offer to put a tribute for him in the game. I immediately accepted. Having a tribute to my Dad in what would be one of his favourite games if he could play it? Something that I could come across in game and remember some of the good times I’ve had with my dad? There was no question.”

“Part of our desire to create something in response to this player’s post was about connection — he had reached out with such a beautiful letter about his father, and we wanted to meet that,” the Larian writer who created the tribute character Golbraith Stredivas told Polygon. (The writer who created Golbraith requested their name remain unpublished. Another person, Rachel Quirke, wrote for the character, she said on X.) “His story also resonated with a lot of us. Several people on the team have had their own experiences losing parents to similar diseases, and the sentiments shared were felt deeply by the team. As our team has gotten older and bigger, things like illness and loss have become more present parts of our daily lives. This felt like a chance to pay tribute to life and connect to others.”

Larian Studios got in touch with the writer — after two tries — to learn more about Solfalia and his father’s story. “We still weren’t sure what level of inclusion and specificity we’d be able to do — it can be very tough to do tributes in a game like ours, cause we iterate a lot, not to mention the rampant mayhem characters can get involved in,” the Larian writer said. “For example, what starts as a normal, nice NPC could become a secret cultist or blackmailer through the development process. When you’re dealing with a tribute character, you have to be very careful and have a lot of constant communication to make sure that person doesn’t end up too far from where they started.”

Through conversation and iteration, Larian found a spot that was perfect for Solfalia’s father — as a spellcasting mind flayer hunter. Mind flayers are big enemy in Baldur’s Gate 3, something Solfalia mentioned in his initial post, hinting at how it reflected Alzheimer’s disease. Mind flayers are tentacled, telepathic antagonists that are obsessed with knowledge and can control others’ minds; that Golbraith is a mind flayer hunter is a symbolic gesture and a nod to the impact of the disease.

“We got a lot of lovely info about the man himself and were able to work from there to create a character,” the Larian writer who created Golbraith said. “The main things [we] wanted to retain were that he should be a mind flayer hunter, of course — and a charismatic raconteur to boot.”

The writer continued: “Those details were shared with the narrative team, who found the perfect spot in need of a certain spellcasting mind flayer hunter and letters from his son. From there, the situation went through our development pipelines to become Golbraith Stredivas, the fellow you can meet today.”

Solfalia later posted again on the Larian Studios forum after he met the character inspired by his father. How did he find him? With this moving hint from the Larian writer:

The Glitter Gala, Bloomridge Park, and the Blushing Mermaid form a triangle in the Lower City of Baldur’s Gate, and at its centre is Golbraith’s Cellar — where the mighty Golbraith Stredivas can be found. A mindflayer hunter of great renown, he has since retired and now spends his days writing - in the hopes of passing his knowledge on to future generations.

Solfalia wrote about finding the house and his father’s character in a touching description that I simply cannot read without tearing up. Let’s let him tell it:

I looked through every corner of that house. Every box and chest, I even looked in Golbraith’s inventory (we’ll ignore the moral issues that come with pickpocketing my Dad in a game, luckily I didn’t do it. I simply asked my coop partner to do it for me. No moral quandry there).

Not only did Golbraith look like my father, but he had multiple lines of dialogue. Some really touching ones too (for me, at least). The different papers in the house were amazing, the stack of letters between Golbraith and his son put a lump in my throat. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t misty eyed. The secret mindflayer-hunter cellar was awesome.

As soon as I finished looking through the whole house, I told my Dad. He’s in a care home now, so can’t play the game, but he listened to my description with a child-like glee I haven’t seen in a while. He loved every moment of it. He loved the idea that his character has a monocle, and was proud his character has a secret cellar with weapons. He still talks about it from time to time during our weekly chats.

Even the character’s name is a nod to Solfalia’s father: He told Polygon that his dad always used “Gol” in his character names, whether that was Fathergol, Golgamesh, or Golliva.

“I reminded him of it this past Xmas 2023, and was also able to show him a video of the character in question on YouTube, which gave him a much better idea of what the character looks like,” Solfalia told Polygon. “He loved it, even tried to imitate the voice a few times (though if I’m being honest, Ben Crowe was definitely a better choice of voice actor for the character than my father would have been).

“Every time I remind Dad of Golbraith he perks up and smiles,” he added. “He has a face he makes when he’s particularly chuffed or proud of something, and I’m very fond of seeing him like that. I’ll admit to using the mention of Golbraith as a cheap tactic to see his chuffed face from time to time during our calls and meetings.”

To say that the story, which later went viral on social media, touched Baldur’s Gate 3 players would be an understatement. The X post was retweeted thousands of times, with lots of comments from people who could relate to Solfalia and his father’s story.

“I am really really happy the real life Golbraith’s son was able to meet him in game and felt good about what we included,” the Larian writer said. “So many connections can be forged through gaming — playing together, making stories during and afterward, not to mention the resonance between developers and players. It’s always very affirming to see.”