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'I've been disappointed so many times': Karlach from Baldur's Gate 3 talks scrapping the lady stereotypes of RPG romances, says Larian just 'let me do what I wanted to do'

 An image of Karlach, a muscular tiefling from Baldur's Gate 3, grinning wickedly as she's covered in blood.
An image of Karlach, a muscular tiefling from Baldur's Gate 3, grinning wickedly as she's covered in blood.

Karlach from Baldur's Gate 3 is a few things—big, red, strong, and beloved (including by us), but she also bucks a lot of typical RPG trends for leading ladies. She's powerful, excitable, expressive, outspoken, and often angry without that anger being cast as a character flaw. She's also incredibly sweet, and has become a fan-favourite love interest for all kinds of players across the spectrum of sexuality.

Karlach is played by Samantha Béart, who is non-binary and uses she/they pronouns. As confirmed by an interview with Gayming Magazine, Béart approached the character's performance from a sapphic angle. They elaborated on their acting choices in an interview with Alexa Ray Corriea for the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences earlier this week.

"When I've talked about the romance, and I said I imagined talking to a woman—that was to make sure that our sapphic players felt included. It's not to do about the exclusion, absolutely not. If I said I went in and I imagined some hot dude, would anyone blink an eye? No they wouldn't."

It's a relatable frustration that I've personally felt to some extent myself—this idea that your mere existence as a queer person is innately political or a statement, rather than just a way of being. It's one of those uncomfy biases that's cropped up in the RPGs of yesteryear too— and sometimes in unexpected ways.

"I've been disappointed so many times," they add. "And I'll name [them]—Dragon Age, Mass Effect. You're playing a female, you romance a female, and then it's weird. It goes all 'male gaze'." Karlach, on the other hand, "is [a] soldier, and she's tall, and she's big. And of course she can be girly. But she's more sort of—puppy dog floppiness, rather than feminine and 'oh okay, now you've broken through the hard exterior'."

She does mention that "of course, the player is an amorphous blob", adding that it's "a testament to the writing, directors, and engineers for creating that, because everyone thinks they're being spoken to" in a variety of ways, even platonic ones. "She's my bestie, she's my sister, she's me!"

Regarding the role itself, Béart feels as if they got "lucky". They note that "no-one ever policed my gender—which they kind of don't in sci-fi and fantasy … you're already gender non-conforming by the fact you're doing an action role. I've always felt very at-home in these realms." Despite the stance they took with the steamier parts of their role, Béart insists that when it comes to player expression, "no-one's playing it wrong, just don't tell other people that they're playing it wrong."

Later on, Béart and Corriea broach the subject of gender in acting and the assumptions that directors can make, recounting their experiences of being described as a 'bit butch' by the people around her. Whereas with Larian, "it was like, early on—who am I talking to? And they were like: 'The player. You're talking to the player.'" Even when it comes to men, Béart notes that they "love the vindication that's come with Karlach, like—oh no, the dudes are up for being picked [up] and carried around and adored. As they should be."

Considering my own response to the character (and a substantial trough of memes you can find with a few spare seconds and a search engine), she's bang on the money here. A lot of assumptions about what a 'certain kind of gamer' will like don't really pan out in reality—and assuming your demographic only likes a certain kind of female-gazey romance, especially in an RPG, is clearly an attitude to be left in the dust.

For Béart, the freedom given by Larian to just express themselves with Karlach however they wanted has clearly been a breath of fresh air: "They just let me get on with it, and let me do what I wanted to do."