Zelvor rescued and Halsin in the party at camp.

How Zevlor & Halsin Exemplify Two Opposing Stories of Leadership

***Spoilers for Act 2 of Baldur’s Gate 3.***

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Upon learning about Zevlor’s role as the leader of the Tieflings, I had a lot of sympathy for Baldur’s Gate 3 paladin. He’s in a stressful situation as the peacemaker between his oppressed race and unwelcoming hosts offering them asylum. However, watching his story play out, especially in contrast to Halsin‘s, has reshaped my view of him. It also served as an important reminder of what qualities truly make a good leader.

Before getting into what happened in Act 2, it’s important to give context for how the Tieflings entered the story. As Larian Studios developed BG3, Wizards of the Coast simultaneously created the D&D campaign Descent into Avernus. This story is an immediate prequel to the events of BG3 and shows the beginning of the Tieflings’ journey. At the start of the campaign, this community of Tieflings live in the city of Elturel. Here, Zevlor serves in an elite cavalry unit called the Hellriders. Yes, as in the enchanted Hellrider’s Pride—the gauntlets you can loot or earn from Zevlor.

Max Dunbar's illustration of Elturel in Avernus from 'Dungeon & Dragons: Infernal Tides" #3 by Jim Zub.
(IDW Publishing/Wizards of the Coast)

In the campaign, Elturel is stripped from the Material Plane and plopped into Avernus, entrance to the Nine Hells. (BG3 shows a glimpse of Avernus in the prologue and that’s also where the illithid nab Karlach from.) The siege and devastating events that follow worsen the already existing bigotry towards Tieflings who’ve always faced prejudice for their infernal heritage and devil-like appearance. So the citizens of Elturel exile many if not all of the Tieflings. Zevlor’s high-ranking status made him a de facto leader of the Tieflings as they began the trek to Baldur’s Gate. This road leads them to Silvanus Grove where then-Archdruid Halsin welcomes them and allows them to stay temporarily.

Paladin’s folly

Magic The Gathering Card 'Zevlor, Elturel Exile' illustrated by David Rapoza.
(David Rapoza/Wizards of the Coast)

In Act 2, you learn that the Tieflings have continued to take Ls as they migrate across the Shadow-Cursed Lands on their way to Baldur’s Gate. Even outside of abandoned battlefields, remnants of other travelers and their belongings lie scattered across the lands. Unless you decided to ally with Minthara, at the Last Light Inn you find out just how rough this journey has been for the Tieflings you met from the grove. You’ll also meet the scout absent during your stay at the grove, Cerys. (A.k.a. one of the most beautiful NPCs in the game.) It appears that almost all the Tieflings except the Lockes (Arabella‘s family) and, strangely, their leader, Zevlor made it to the inn.

By catching up with the Tieflings, they’ll share what happened to Zevlor. Cerys recounts an attack by cultists of the Absolute and says Zevlor froze up before begging they surrender. The only reason she and half of the caravan of Tieflings survived is that they fled. They describe Zevlor’s actions as a betrayal. Following through with the Find Zevlor side quest will lead players to releasing him, and others, from an illithid pod. Zevlor begins by calling the accusations of betrayal “lies kinder than the truth.” Then he shares his side of the story. He explains that during the attack, a voice of the Absolute entered his mind offering the role of a paladin again, and all the god-ordained powers that come with it.

They fought, and ran, and died around me while I imagined myself their saviour.

– Zevlor

Paladins can be leaders (like Zevlor), but their true aims are to roam free and help people. Forced to leave the guard in Elturel, Zevlor stepped up to lead his fellow Tieflings, but never let go of this ideal. That festering vanity was his weakness that the mind-reading Absolute exploited. Continuing, Zevlor admits that the cult tortured and continue to attack his people while he stayed transfixed with the idea. He ultimately fully surrendered to the Absolute in hopes of becoming a True Soul. The Absolute ultimately deemed him unworthy.

Take it from a druid

Halsin excitedly talks to you.
(Larian Studios)

To cleanse a land of shadows is one thing, but to sway a heart from a dark path is another matter entirely.

– Halsin

It’s hard not to compare this with the actions and words of former Archdruid Halsin who, while not a paladin or a part of a discriminated race, is also in a leadership role he doesn’t want. After defending Silvanus Grove from the Absolute’s advances and the Shadow Druid’s plot, Halsin decided to leave the grove and name a new successor. Part of this was to help you investigate the Absolute, brain worms, and the curse surrounding Moonrise Tower. However, Halsin believes he can’t be an effective leader after Kagha’s work with the Shadow Druids left the grove divided.

He stepped down as Archdruid and chose an outside druid, Francesca, to lead so that the grove could start anew. While it’s unclear how Halsin entered the grove (and ended up in charge) nothing about his background implies he enjoys the power of a leader. When asking him if he’ll miss the position he even says a version of that expression interpreted from Plato’s The Republic. It goes something like, “Those who seek power are not worthy of that power.”

It’s not all altruism though because Halsin also doubted his ability to lead as the Archdruid. In Act 3, he continues to reflect on the eagerness to “surrender [his] responsibilities.” Zevlor comes to this introspection only after succumbing to his desire to be admired in a way that resulted in the death of others. Zevlor does start the amends process immediately by admitting he’s wrong and that even with the Absolute’s influence this mistake starts with him. He also shares Ketheric’s location and insists on helping ferry out other survivors. He’s too ashamed to face his people, but the journal update Gather Your Allies implies he will return.

Be wary of anyone who actually wants such a role. Likely they don’t understand it, or they have ill-intent.

– Halsin

(feature image: Larian Studios screencaps by Jack Salter and Alyssa Shotwell.)

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Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.