Neil Newbon, the voice behind my favourite trash-fire vampire from Baldur’s Gate 3—a character I’ve gone to great lengths to defend in the past—sat down with me last week to talk about his experience playing Astarion.
We chatted about Astarion’s appearance on the front of PC Gamer, his long-standing love of tabletop, and vampires. And while he has a deep affection of those creatures of the night, he also holds a preference that took me off-guard.
That’s a minor footnote, though—what mainly stood out to me was his boundless appreciation for gaming, the tabletop hobby, and the people who helped him get here—here’s a few choice moments from our talk on all things vampire.
PC Gamer, Baldur’s Gate 3, and the industry
While Newbon’s known as the voice of everyone’s favourite flamboyant vampire spawn, he also played Karl Heisenberg in Resident Evil: Village, and he’s brought his vocal talents to games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic and Detroit: Become Human. It’s more than just work for Newbon though—he’s a huge fan of games himself, and even us too.
“I’ve been a massive PC Gamer fan and reader since literally ’98 … what you folks did with the front cover is absolutely extraordinary,” says Newbon at the top of the interview. “I’m framing it. It’s going up on the wall. That’s like a bucket list thing gone.”
So proud to be a part of this epic achievement – love to all @larianstudios and @PitStopTweets for my 4 year love in with #astarion on #baldursgate3 @Wizards_DnD thank you to everyone who supports and is interested in my work – photo and thanks also to @pcgamer pic.twitter.com/cVL17JMJeqAugust 2, 2023
We also chatted about Baldur’s Gate 3 itself, which has been something of a time vampire for me over the past couple of weeks—Fraser Brown’s working assessment of “Oh boy, it’s good” is apt. It’s a game with unprecedented scope, and there’s been plenty of debate over whether its size and quality is an anomaly, due to Larian’s unique position, budget, and attitude towards development.
“I think it should be normal, shouldn’t it?” says Newbon. “If you have a triple-A studio with that amount of people and money, shouldn’t it be normal? … I hope it’s repeatable. I hope other people also make their own projects and have the luck to have that amount of people and money to make an incredible experience.” It’s an opinion echoed by Larian’s founder Swen Vincke, who spoke to PC Gamer earlier this week on the subject.
Regardless, for Newbon, playing Astarion has been a personal highlight. “It’s definitely been one of the best moments of my career … this character, working with Larian, working with the 300-strong cast, being a mocap consultant on it—it’s been extraordinary.
“Obviously I have worked my ass off to get here. But at the same time, I wouldn’t have been here without the support of so many people throughout all of my career in the games industry … starting with Audiomotion and Brian Mitchell, who gave me my first gig, up until [Baldur’s Gate 3] with Josh Weeden and Jason Latino signing off on me to play Astarion. I wouldn’t be here without so many people … so yeah, it’s been a real trip.”
The magic of TTRPGs
Newbon has a long history with tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons—the game from which Baldur’s Gate 3 takes its rules and setting. He’s been playing and DMing games for years and is a seasoned nerd, well-versed in the art of collaborative storytelling and rolling dice. “Since I was eight—Dragon Warriors was my first venture into roleplay.”
I ask Newbon about what it was like to work with Astarion’s writer, Stephen Rooney—considering the length of the game, the many different outcomes for Astarion, and the time spent in both recording booths and mocap suits, I figured their working relationship was bound to be something special.
“We were doing this the whole time,” says Newborn, sweeping his hands back and forth to represent the flow of ideas between himself and the writer. “It was a beautiful experience to have a quasi-love affair between a writer and an actor through a character.
“We were both trying to create this beautiful character together and really take care of him in many ways, while being honest with his story,” I note this sounds like the relationship between a player and a DM in any great tabletop campaign. One has more authorship than the other, but they’re both trying to tell a good story with that same give-and-take relationship. Newbon agrees: “It’s literally that. I’ve been mainly DMing or GMing for—a number of years I won’t mention—but there is the joy of the game and the story.
“We’re all in it together. You’re at the mercy of the dice and it’s a beautiful experience. Roleplay, for me, in tabletop games was always very much about the shared story, the shared experience, [playing Astarion] feels as close to it as I’ve ever experienced.”
I’m also pleased to hear I’m not the only one that has a little house in my soul carved out for my past TTRPG characters, as Astarion’s flashy and flamboyant personality has wormed its way into Newbon’s psyche like a sassy mind flayer tadpole: “During the last four years I’ve developed [Astarion’s] high pitched giggle, which happens when I do something a little naughty, possibly a little mischievous. Definitely inappropriate … it’s like he’s on my shoulder going: ‘Go on, just say it.’“
Vampires and their masquerades
We soon get chatting about other systems, which leads to a conversation about Vampire: The Masquerade—a TTRPG that features a widespread vampiric underworld Astarion could quite comfortably fit into—and the topic of playing a vampire in general. This is when Newbon surprises me: “I used to dig playing a werewolf more than a vampire—but I used to play [vampires too], they’re really great.
“There’s something about the near-ennui, or the threat of ennui, with a vampire. They’re always this close to getting so bored they’ll just… put a stake in their own heart … Imagine Astarion after a thousand years going: ‘But I’ve done that, I’ve saved the world, and I’ve destroyed the world, I’m so bored.’“
Vampires are, traditionally, all about the contrast of the noble exterior and the violent beast within. For example, in Vampire: The Masquerade, this is represented by the Frenzy mechanic—a violent state of mind that sets vampires shredding through their foes. Frenzy can be triggered by the smell of blood, public humiliation, or a loved one being in danger.
“I like the idea of the aristocratic social graces, and then the bestial beast that will literally just tear someone limb-from-limb and lose themselves into the addiction, the fury and the wrath. I really dig that.”
Newbon also quips that the vampire’s gothic themes resonate with us Brits in particular, a dark mirror to the good-old fashioned Dunkirk spirit of keeping calm and carrying on: “Especially in Britain, right? ‘Everything’s fine’, no it’s not, it’s all going to hell and it’s a nightmare.”
Steering a ship
Baldur’s Gate 3 went through over two years of early access, during which the game had some serious changes—tweaks to the rules, the release of several new classes, story adjustments, and more. Before our chat ends, Newbon thanks the community for their support during the game’s pre-launch voyage.
“The feedback that the community directly fed into the game, Larian took and applied where possible to enhance the story and then give back to the community … the direct influence the community had in helping everybody steer this ship into this—incredible port of Baldur’s Gate. It’s been a really amazing experience to see that, and to see how much love there is for it.
“So, you know, thank you very much to the community, and thanks for embracing all of our characters.” The Astarion hiding within makes a sudden appearance, then, as Newbon dons his voice: “Gather your party and venture forth, darlings, you’re in for one hell of a trip.”