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Ranking the BBEGs of Baldur’s Gate 3

This article contains major spoilers for Baldur’s Gate 3’s campaign including the Dark Urge Origin.

Larian Studios’ Baldur’s Gate 3, set in the Forgotten Realms and based on the popular Dungeons and Dragons system, made waves last year for its incredible story, dynamic tactical combat, and compelling voice performances, sweeping the Game Awards and drawing rave reviews. Over the past few months, I’ve become enthralled with its world and characters, with the story of this motley crew as they face the looming threat of impending ceremorphosis, a conspiracy of dark gods, and demons from their pasts, some not entirely figurative. As with any great story in the universe of Dungeons and Dragons comes a slew of what we in TTRPG circles call “Big Bad Evil Guys” (and Gals) the primary antagonists of an adventure. From the zealous cults of the Dead Three to devils of the Nine Hells to the Illithid Empire that threatens to rise again, Baldur’s Gate 3 has no shortage of complex, memorable antagonists. As Larian closes the book on the Baldur’s Gate saga, we’ll take an in-depth look at the coterie of villains threatening the city of Baldur’s Gate throughout the game’s narrative.

Before we begin, I’d like to get one thing out of the way. Yes, the Dead Three, Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul are, strictly speaking, the main antagonists. Three mortal men who ascended to godhood upon making a pact with the Scribe of the Dead for his divided power and domains, Bane becoming God of Tyranny, Bhaal becoming God of Murder, and Myrkul becoming God of Death. They set the events of the story into motion by uniting their Chosen in a plot to regain prominence. The reason I’m not including them as part of this list is that they are forces of nature, not actual characters. They’re not something the player can interact with in any meaningful way, they simply are. All of their actions are performed through the Chosen. What few chances the players do get to interact with the Gods are few and far between, and besides the encounter with an Aspect of Myrkul, completely missable. They’re so far from the game’s other villains in terms of scope and implementation that it makes them difficult to rank in relation to them.

Honourable Mention: Auntie Ethel

I would be remiss to go through this list without even mentioning Auntie Ethel, the hag that our adventurers come across on their journey. A major strength of Baldur’s Gate 3 is how it handles its NPCs, allowing them to return multiple times and giving players the opportunity to build up a connection to them so that by Act 3, even the most minor tiefling NPC feels like an old friend. Besides the tiefling refugees, the game also does this to great effect with Auntie Ethel, first appearing as a trader of “lotions and potions galore”, and later turning out to be a twisted fey creature. Gradually discovering that the sweet old lady that gave me a potion of healing wasn’t what she seemed, chasing her into the bowels of her lair defended by enthralled victims, illusions and traps were some of the highlights of my first playthrough. But alas, she is only a side villain with minimal involvement in the main plot. If this were a ranking of the game’s villains in general, Ethel would rank among the highest.

#7: The Absolute

From the first act, the emerging Cult of the Absolute spreading across the Sword Coast is shown to be a far-reaching, overbearing threat. The party faces off against goblin tribes and Drow warriors who have forsaken their patron deities in service of a new goddess known as the Absolute. The mystery behind the cult is deeply engaging and complements the air of mystique surrounding the narrative. It is only at the end of the second act that this entity’s true nature is revealed, an Illithid Elder Brain enslaved by the Chosen of the Dead Three in a conspiracy to bring their patron deities back into prominence. It is revealed that the Elder Brain is empowered by a lost artefact, the Crown of Karsus that once briefly granted its mortal creator godhood. The Crown acts as another plot device that draws several competitors seeking to claim it.

Towards the end, after the veil is lifted and the Absolute’s true nature is revealed, it loses the sense of mystery built up throughout the game, ultimately feeling more like a narrative device than a character. Act 3 in general feels a little more mechanical than the first two. With all cards laid out on the table, the game loses its mystique, making Act 3 slightly weaker than the first two despite its strengths. The Absolute’s biggest asset as a plot element is in its role as a force for the Grand Design, the prophesied return of the Illithid Empire. Baldur’s Gate 3’s climax sees the Absolute finally break free from their command and place the Grand Design into action. Newborn Mind Flayers attack civilians on ground, Nautiloids fly through red ashen skies while Githyanki dragon riders fight back the invasion. It’s undeniably an impressive setpiece to close the game on. Another interesting aspect of its role is in giving players their final choice, to command the Brain to destroy itself and end the Grand Design or to take control of it and conquer the city.

#6: Orin the Red

Orin the Red is the self-proclaimed Chosen of Bhaal and one of the three leaders of the Cult of the Absolute. As leader of the Bhaalist Church in Baldur’s Gate, Orin commands her followers on a murder spree, killing key figures to sow chaos throughout the city as part of their plot. The most interesting aspect of her character, further explored if the player selects the Dark Urge Origin in character creation, is how unlike the other Chosen, she does not possess her god’s favour, a diluted Bhaalspawn who usurped his true Chosen, the Dark Urge, as leader of the Bhaalist Church. Fruitlessly, she seeks to become favoured through “artistry” over murder, while Bhaal simply wants death in droves without care for any kind of twisted beauty. 

There really isn’t a bad villain in Baldur’s Gate 3, they all serve their purpose and provide interesting choices to the player. Even the worst of the game’s villains still have something to offer from interesting combat mechanics to some lore tidbit that makes them more interesting, and Orin has many saving graces for me. This placement largely comes down to personal preference. I’m very much over the Jokeresque generic “crazy” serial killer, but Orin’s shapeshifting capabilities do make her a more interesting threat, inciting paranoia by abducting and supplanting several NPCs around the city and eventually one of the player’s many companions. In a Dark Urge playthrough, Orin becomes a foil to the Bhaalspawn protagonist and an obstacle to their goal of becoming Bhaal’s unholy assassin (if the player chooses such a route).

#5: Lord Gortash

Lord Enver Gortash is the Chosen of Bane, an arms dealer and slaver operating out of Baldur’s Gate who has been establishing himself as a bit player in the city’s political arena. The most cruel and wicked of his actions prior to the events of the campaign was selling fan-favourite companion Karlach to a decade of conscription in the hellish Blood War between devils and demons in exchange for infernal machinery, immediately earning her ire and that of her diehard fans. More recently, he’s used the threat he created, the incoming forces of Absolute as a ploy to gain control of the city as Archduke. Every corner the player turns in exploring the city, they see the oppressive force of his militia flanked by Steel Watchers marching through the streets making their presence known. Gortash also quickly establishes himself as the most cunning of the Dead Three’s Chosen, offering a deal with the player characters to kill his co-conspirator Orin and conquer the Absolute together. What’s most interesting about his offer is the fact that it’s seemingly sincere. He shows himself to be affable and lawful in his callous cruelty choosing to control through bargains and manipulations in lieu of brute force.

Gortash is a difficult character for me to rank. I would place him and Orin on fairly equal ground if I didn’t generally prefer his villainous “archetype”, the charismatic manipulator to more chaotic villany. If rumours of a cut Upper City section are to be believed, he, like Karlach and Wyll seems to have suffered greatly from last-minute changes as most of his content was either cut or apparently moved from the Upper City to less fitting locations in the Lower City, which muddles his presence as an aristocratic figure imposing tyrannical rule on the city. His coronation for example, takes place in a fortress of the local militia rather than the opulent High Hall in the Upper City where an Archduke of Baldur’s Gate would normally be crowned and his Banite cult is limited in prominence compared to the Bhaalists in the Lower City. This coupled with his fairly straightforward and underwhelming boss encounter leaves a lot to be desired compared to his co-conspirators, Ketheric and Orin. Attempts to elicit sympathy towards his character through backstory, having been born to peasant cobblers and sold to a warlock to pay off their debts ring hollow, end up completely overshadowed by his betrayal of Karlach.

#4: The Emperor

At the start of the game, immediately after choosing or creating their player character, they are asked to create their “Guardian”, a custom NPC whose purpose is not immediately clear. Throughout the game, the Guardian reveals himself to the player character in their dreams appearing as an ally and encouraging them to embrace and employ the powers granted to them by their Illithid parasites against the Absolute. The decision to allow players to customise their Guardian makes them more inclined to trust them. This pattern of allowing player choice to shape the Guardian’s characterization, or at least their perception of him continues even after he’s revealed as a Mind Flayer who broke free from the Elder Brain that would become the Absolute, now helping the party in the interest of preserving his newfound freedom.

Compared to other antagonists on this list, the Emperor is more morally grey in his actions and objectives, but just as dangerous if the player is uncooperative with his methods. He is an opportunist acting purely in the interest of self-preservation maintaining his alliance with the protagonists out of convenience rather than altruism. His outward appearance and characterization changes depending on how the player treats him. If the player trusts and cooperates with the Emperor, he will react in kind, appearing trustworthy and honourable, but if treated with disgust and antagonism, he reveals the lengths he’ll go to in service of his goals, manipulating and enthralling innocents, murdering his former friends, and even returning to the Absolute willingly depending on player choice. He’s a far more complex character than most of the villains in the game, and even parallels the avatar character, another would-be “Hero of Baldur’s Gate” at serious risk of suffering his fate and becoming a Mind Flayer, trying to push them to reject the weakness of their human form and “evolve”.

#3: Raphael

With how utterly memorable the devil Raphael was, it’s difficult to remember that his storyline up to the duel within his House of Hope is technically optional content, a testament to the sheer magnitude of detail and effort placed into every aspect of the world and story. Raphael makes sporadic appearances throughout the game’s story, a narcissistic devil with a penchant for the theatrical tempting and toying with our doomed protagonists with an easy solution to their troubles in exchange for their eternal souls. From the start, he makes an impression on the player, reciting threatening Cormyrean lullabies and transporting the players to his lavish feast hall in the Nine Hells with a snap of his fingers. 

He acts as a persistent presence, becoming involved in Astarion and Lae’zel’s personal quests, and ultimately becoming a key player after the Crown of Karsus, revealing the true depths of his ambitions and ego. All this is magnified by Andrew Wincott’s charismatic performance. Breaking into Raphael’s House of Hope in the Hells, battling eternal debtors bound to his service, unravelling the sense of law and order in his home, as he puts it, “bringing the chaos of your world into mine”, all culminating in a difficult battle with a Disneyesque musical number (“Raphael’s Final Act”) sung by the devil himself has earned its place for me as one of my favourite sequences in gaming. 

#2: Ketheric Thorm

General Ketheric Thorm was once an exceptionally faithful servant to Selune, Goddess of the Moon, who fell from grace after the deaths of his wife and daughter. In his grief, he was corrupted by Shar, Goddess of the Night, and Lady of Pain and Loss as well Selune’s sister and eternal rival. Thorm became a Dark Justiciar in Shar’s service, raising an army beneath the Thorm mausoleum in her name. His armies were ultimately beaten back by a coalition of Harpers and Druids, their leader killed with an arrow to the heart by the High Harper Jaheira. Ketheric’s final act in death was to unleash a curse of shadow over the land surrounding Moonrise Towers that would consume all within it in necrotic energy and raise them as shadow-cursed undead haunting the area.

A hundred years later, Ketheric Thorm is revived by the other two Chosen to serve Myrkul in exchange for his daughter’s life restored. He serves as the main antagonist of Act 2, leading the forces of the Absolute from Moonrise Towers as they prepare to lay siege to the city of Baldur’s Gate. Despite his early departure, Ketheric is the most complex and well-written of the Dead Three’s Chosen, his voice performance by JK Simmons lending an air of gravitas to the role. His introductory scene immediately establishes him as a fearsome, commanding presence. His daughter, Isobel, notes the kind, warm man he once was compared to the cold, tired husk he has become. It is also interesting to note the ways in which Thorm parallels Shadowheart, a Sharran cleric and member of the party with ambitions of becoming a Dark Justiciar in Shar’s service. The game uses this parallel to further highlight the lore surrounding the goddesses Shar and Selune and to inform Shadowheart’s choice to complete Shar’s final task and rise a Justiciar or forsake her and turn to Selune.

#1: The Dark Urge

The Dark Urge is one of seven premade Origin characters the player can choose at the start of the game in lieu of creating their own custom character. Unlike the other six Origins, the Dark Urge’s appearance, name and class can be completely customised, and he does not appear as a companion to the player character if not selected. In a Dark Urge playthrough, the character begins without any memory of his previous life, cursed by an insatiable desire to kill and maim which the player can choose to resist or embrace. Throughout a Dark Urge playthrough, the player will learn that their character is a Bhaalspawn, unique among his kin as having manifested from their father’s own blood rather than from a union between the Murder Lord and a mortal woman, which makes them Bhaal’s purest child and the favoured among them.

It is revealed that it was the Dark Urge, not Orin who was Bhaal’s Chosen, hatching the Absolute plot with Gortash, raising Ketheric from the grave as Myrkul’s servant and raiding Mephistopheles’ vault for the Crown of Karsus, retroactively making them the overarching antagonist who set the events in motion. The Dark Urge recontextualizes and enriches the entire story while improving the characterisations of Orin and Gortash. Orin’s backstory is expanded upon, her having envied the Dark Urge and usurped their title and role in the Absolute plot. This turns her from a one-dimensional psychopath to a more well-rounded, interesting character, raised to serve and love a cruel god who views her as a fool at best and a heretic at worst, all while believing herself to be his Chosen, accentuating the story’s themes of mortals as the playthings of gods. 

Meanwhile, Gortash gains another dimension to his character. Conversations between the two Chosen and journal entries discoverable around the game reveal Gortash and the Dark Urge’s genuine care for one another which could easily be read as love. But the most powerful aspect of the Dark Urge as a villain is the player’s ability to influence their journey, to choose a path to redemption, breaking free from Bhaal’s influence and destroying the monster they helped create, a road to damnation, completing their designs and conquering the city of Baldur’s Gate in Bhaal’s name, or something else entirely.


At the end of the day, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a game about choice and second chances, themes which affect not only the main companions such as Astarion, Shadowheart, and Gale, but also extend to its primary antagonists, the Dead Three’s Chosen. Ketheric, who had a chance to process his grief in a healthy way, but instead allowed it to consume and twist him, Orin, a woman bred, born, and raised for violence, never having had a chance to do anything more with her life, Gortash, who likewise was born into poverty and later sold to a devil, knowing only cruelty and hate from childhood, and finally the Dark Urge, who once allowed violence to define him, but has now been given a second chance to redeem himself or fall further into darkness. At heart, it’s a poignant story of power and redemption, of those who choose to grow beyond their past and those who let it define them.


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