Balzu: A Dark Fantasy is a total conversion being developed for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

Balzu began as a collection of notes and narrative fragments for a series of fantasy novels that I began working on over twenty years ago. It has since expanded into the realm of fantasy computer role-playing games (CRPG). Although Balzu is currently being implemented as a mod for Oblivion, I fully expect it to transition to more modern game engines as they become available. (For example, the new TESV:Skyrim engine.)

Balzu differs from other fantasy settings in its emphasis on horror, madness, and despair. It falls somewhere between the D&D Ravenloft setting, the late middle ages during the time of the Black Plague (especially the Eastern European and Germanic kingdoms), and Tamriel (the world of the Elder Scrolls series). (For a more detailed list of influences, see Inspirational Sources.)

Balzu is placed in the world of Durs, which is the name that the people of the Empire have given to the world that they live in. Although the player starts in the Empire, many of the locations that they will eventually explore are in other dimensions: Heaven, Hell, the dream world and the plane of Nightmare, portal planes, and numerous other alternate realities.

Balzu makes a number of important changes to standard gameplay:

  • persuasion overhaul: players influence NPC actors by selecting topics from the dialogue menu, completely eliminating the 'rotating disc' mechanic
  • 'Luminous' AI: NPCs remember the player's appearance, actions, and dialogue choices and form an opinion of the player which changes over time
  • custom character generation system: player's have tremendous control over their character's starting stats, perks, and starting location and equipment
  • quests: quests are less linear, and more 'web-like', changing in response to your character's actions

In addition to these changes, Balzu makes less extensive changes to other areas of gameplay. Spells, for example, are not so easy to acquire. In Balzu, you can't go down to the local spell merchant and pick up a new spell, you have to apprentice under a more experienced spell-caster or join a cult and pray for your spells. Companions, also, are much more dynamic and less 'uber' than most companions added through companion mods. Companions in Balzu have realistic abilities and attitudes and will respond to your character's words and deeds, either lauding or condemning them.

But above and beyond gameplay and location changes, Balzu strives to provide a new and original atmosphere and mood. Balzu is dark—very dark. Durs is a dangerous place, and the times are tumultuous. And the war on earth is reflected in the war in heaven. In these dark times, it is only prudent for people to look out for their own self-interest and a tempting environment for strong, self-serving people to take advantage of others. It is up to the player to decide whether to 'take up arms against a sea of troubles' or climb to the mount of power on the backs of their enemies. In the world of Balzu, the difference between a man and a monster is often a matter of perspective.

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