I love D&D. I love D&D world building, adventure writing, running the game, recruiting the players. The whole thing! For the longest time I could not find the game to join or the players to run my own game. Then again, having spent 19 years in a career field, what is having discovered the game at 13, having first false starts and spurts at 14, and 15, and having found the first game 8 years later and being done with it the first time around 4 years hence in 1992? CRPG's were my first real introduction to fantasy role playing. Remember the Pool of Radiance era and Wasteland Gold Box text-based RPG games? I skipped over the Bard's Tale, Ultima, and Diablo.
How time flies. I got my very busy real job and then in 1998 I went to Comp USA (remember those?) asked around, and walked out with the copy of the Baldur's Gate I spend about $90.00 on. Five years later, having played through Fallout 1, Fallout 2, Icewind Dale and its expansion, Arcanum, I strated reading Gary Gygax's Players Handbook again, this time very carefully and from cover to cover, sitting on a park bench and watching Manhattan in the rays of the setting Sun from some overgrown dunes. Three years later I started playing D&D again.
Now the tide has ebbed and I am getting ready to start a new game. It just so happened that I went out and bought the complete compilation of those early games - BG 1 + 2 and its expansions, Icewind Dale 1 + 2, Planescape: Torment, and Temple of Elemental Evil, the real reason I got that boxed set. I have grown addicted to BG1, and now am in better control of my passions.
Seeing BG1 with the jaundiced eye of experience, I am amazed at the quality of the game! When I played for the first time, I had no internet, no spoilers, and I muddled my way through and later completed the Tales of the Sword Coast, after I defeated Sarevok, and screwed up part of that story two by not saving a critical junction in the game, not retrieving a critical piece of equipment, and hence leaving one of the four quests permanently locked. Same reason I did not finish the Planescape: Torment - I found a weakness to exploit, and then the game punished me by not letting me finish the quest.
Playing the game again, I was able to make a better sense of its cultural influences. There are two major commercial settings for D&D - Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk, and the post- Gygaxian TSR's Forgotten Realms. These are two very different settings. Both are a hodge-podge of the real world's cultures in the D&D's funhouse mirror. Gygax's Greyhawk reflected the cold was and the 1970's, and featured a post-apocalyptic fantasy world. Apparently inspired by the medieval continental Europe and the Low Countries, it featured Elfin and Aryan Sueli, who unleashed a plague on their arch-enemies - the generic Asian and Middle-Eastern Bakluni, who retaliated with the rain of colourles fire, very much like a massive thermonuclear strike, that left behind a Sea of Dust. That world also featured the red-skinned Flanae indigenous people, who seemed most like Native Americans. The Forgotten Realms setting, by comparison, seem to have been inspired by the post-cold war Balkans, with the miniature enclaves of the various peoples and real world cultures. Baldur's Gate is set in Forgotten Realms, and to me it had the exotic feel of the Baltics, from that opening movie with the tower, and the knight in a Teutonic helmet, and the main story of the protagonist trying to kill off all of his half-siblings so that he may be the only heir to the throne. The game has definite East European overtones, with the Berserker Minsc of the Roshemon and with half-Elven Jaheira speaking with a Slavic accent and being an émigré daughter of a land-owner driven off his land by revolting peasants.
Having done some additional research, I discovered that there really is a Baldur's Gate, in the Baltics! In a place called Kaliningrad, formerly Konigsberg (King's Castle). It is a decaying Russian enclave surrounded by the thriving Baltic States. During WW2 it was an SS fortress based on a medieval castle. While occupying the Russian royal family's summer retreat in Pushkin, the Nazis ripped off all of its artwork, that was not evacuated by the Soviets, including the entire contents of the "Amber Chamber". It was a room all finished in genuine amber. Nazis ripped all the valuable stone panels off, literally, 180 square feet and 6 tons of amber and precious stones worth 142 Million in today's dollars, boxed it, and shipped it all under guard to Konigsberg, from where it disappeared. Rumors had it that the SS hid the crates in the catacombs under Konigsberg castle, and before they fled, they flooded the catacombs with the Baltic seawater, sealing them forever and killing off the forced laborers and prisoners that they kept in the dungeons under the castle. An investigation by a British journalist conducted in 2004, claims that the amber room either burned after a bombing raid or burned after the looting Russians set the museum on fire, which is highly unlikely, since Stalin and the Soviet intelligence knew about the location and wanted the amber room.
So, a bit of a historical mystery and a bit of a historical conspiracy and the awesome, wonderful CRPG Baldur's Gate, that is based on the same location, and I love it how all of the identified magical items in the game include their provenance, like the expensive art and antiques in our own real world.