“Because of the friends I have known, the honorable people I have met, I know I am no solitary hero of unique causes. I know now that when I die, I will live on. That which is important will live on. This is my Legacy; and by the grace of the gods, I am not alone.” -R.A. Salvatore, author, the Drizzt Do’Urden Saga (writing as Drizzt Do’Urden)
"Adventurer, I am Elminster, and I say to ye that these forgotten realms are yours to discover, reforge, and defend, yours to make anew in winning your own crown. Go forth and take up arms against the perils that beset us!" -Ed Greenwood, bestselling author and creator of the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms setting (writing as Elminster of Shadowdale)
GO FOR THE EYES, BOO! -Minsc, Baldur’s Gate II
“No person can overcome his instincts by himself. Only with the aid of a god, someone he will respect and listen to, even against his every impulse, does he stand a chance.” - Thaos ix Arkannon, Pillars of Eternity
Rise and Fall
Mayans. Indus. The Roman Empire.
Narfell. Ostoria. Miyeritar.
Civilizations rise, become great, and fall. Long ago, the peoples of those ancient civilizations believed gods created the heavens where the stars dwelled, and looked, naturally, to those stars as their gods.
They prayed to the stars for guidance, sustenance, succor. Their gods did not answer. They looked on. Bright, impassive, figuratively cold. Their job was not to interfere. They were and remain the historians of realms known and forgotten. Like chapters in a book, each star belongs to a constellation—larger stories and legends told over millennia.
Stars tell stories that entertain. In or around 700 B.C., the Greek poet Hesiod recounted the history of the universe by telling tales of deities and fantastic creatures, many etched in the skies for all to see. Those who listened shared them with later generations through the oral tradition, adding more heroes, more villains, more great deeds.
Stars tell stories that educate. Before the advent of calendar systems, civilizations looked to the appearance or fading of constellations to gauge when to plant and harvest their crops.
Stars serve as guides. To this day, anyone lost need only look skyward and find Polaris, the North Star, to set a path.
On starless nights, humanity loses its oldest source of entertainment, knowledge, and guidance.
In March 2015, thousands of players downloaded Obsidian Entertainment’s Pillars of Eternity. Before they could create their avatar and embark on adventures in the world of Eora, they watched an introduction telling of a caravan traveling beneath a starless night sky. Darkness closed in, held at bay only by lanterns that wobbled and shook as the wagons trundled along sinuous paths.
Many players felt right at home in Pillars of Eternity even without knowing anything of the races that populated the fictional world of Eora, or the history of its realms, or the major friends and foes they would meet along the road. Other names were known to them.
They knew that the team that had made Pillars of Eternity was a who’s-who of many of the programmers, game designers, artists, musicians, and producers responsible for the critically acclaimed Infinity Engine line of roleplaying games, and that Pillars of Eternity boasted DNA that made it a successor: exploration displayed from an overhead, isometric camera; tactical combat that unfolded in real-time with the ability to pause and issue orders to the sellswords, wizards, thieves, and priests under the player’s command; and storytelling that blended writing and audiovisuals to immerse players in rich worlds brimming with unique races, cultures, places to visit, friends to make, legends to discover, and decisions great and small that affect how characters perceive the player’s avatar—and how players perceive themselves.
And constellations. The skies over Eora play host to constellations like the Leviathan, Kingfisher, Panther, and Huntress.
But stars come before constellations. In 2003, three producers left Black Isle Studios, publishers and developers of the Infinity Engine quintet, to found Obsidian Entertainment. Their sky was dark and blank, save for those five stars: Baldur’s Gate and its sequel, Planescape: Torment, and two romps through Icewind Dale.
Year by year, Obsidian grew until its sky brimmed with constellations. Some twinkled. Others flickered and died, threatening to plunge the studio and its tightly knit team of developers into darkness.
When the sky seemed its darkest, Obsidian’s developers looked up. Five stars remained, showing them a way forward.
Infinity (Engine) and Beyond
Like Pillars of Eternity’s Leviathan, Kingfisher, Panther, and Huntress, Beneath a Starless Sky is a book of stars woven into constellations, patterns in the sky of your monitor, tablet, or smartphone.
Those stars are divided two ways. The main chapters recount the history of Black Isle and Obsidian Entertainment up through and including the development of 2018’s Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire. These narrative-style chapters feature quotes from interviews conducted between February and September of 2018. The other chapters, Pause Screens, collect an assortment of narratives, oral histories, and Q-and-A interviews about the Infinity Engine games, the developers who made them, and games related to them, if distantly in some cases.
You can save Pause Screens for later if you get caught up in the history of Obsidian and Pillars of Eternity, but reading them will lend greater understanding of what made the Infinity Engine-powered games so special, and how they informed the Pillars franchise.
Beneath a Starless Sky was written based on research and interviews. Obsidian Entertainment worked with me to arrange most of these interviews over Skype and, for two days in May, on-site at Obsidian Entertainment in Southern California. Interviews with individuals who work outside Obsidian took place over email and Skype. Recreating a story from so many sources is an exercise prone to inconsistency, especially considering that many events took place decades ago. Scenes were written by drawing from information gleaned from interviews, research, and the author's best judgment. A full accounting of sources and interviews can be found in the Notes and Citations section at the end of this book.
The views expressed in Beneath a Starless Sky are those of the individuals who provided them and do not reflect the opinions of the author, Shacknews, or its parent, affiliate, or subsidiary companies.