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Baldur’s Gate 3 is the replacement to tabletop D&D I need right now

Playing the early access release of Baldur’s Gate 3 feels like playing Dungeons & Dragons.

The Baldur’s Gate series has always been based on D&D, so that’s not surprising. What is surprising is exactly how much the experience of playing Baldur’s Gate 3 feels like sitting at a physical table with actual dice in hand.

The game takes on the role of the Player’s Handbook, a dice roller, a battlemap with miniatures, and Dungeon Master all at once. Lots of games take the mechanics of a tabletop RPG like Dungeons & Dragons and moves them under the hood. Dice rolls happen in the background, and your modifiers get added automatically. Baldur’s Gate 3 opens the hood for me to see those dice rolls as they happen.

Image: Larian Studios via Polygon

I see an icon over the head of a character when they fail a saving throw. I get a success notification when they succeed a Perception check to reveal a hidden button. There’s a note in the corner of the screen when my character remembers whether or not they read about a monster in a book. Instead of wondering about the secrets hiding in the black box of the game’s inner workings, I’m invited in. I’m part of the process. I get to see what went wrong, and what worked.

Baldur’s Gate 3 also manages to be (relatively) welcoming to those unfamiliar with D&D. There are words I can hover my mouse over that offer helpful explanations throughout every item description, action button, and spell. The action buttons across the bottom of the screen pop up cards with details about what each action does. If I forget what kind of weapons my character knows how to use, I get a warning when I try to equip them. There’s even a lengthy tutorial and reference section in my menu.

The concepts that require flipping back and forth between chapters in a physical book become so much more clear when presented in a video game.

Image: Larian Studios via Polygon

Being so faithful to 5th Edition rules means that Baldur’s Gate 3 is constantly illustrating concepts and rules for me. So much of what felt like paperwork, formulas, and spreadsheets in D&D becomes so much clearer on a computer screen. I can quickly piece together that my Tiefling character has a bonus to Charisma, that my Charisma Ability score adds to my Persuasion Skill, and that Persuading the person I’m talking to will need a roll of nine on a 20-sided die to succeed, all from hovering my cursor above character options and dialogue choices.

The hardest part of D&D is finding a time when everyone can meet to play. Having Baldur’s Gate 3 to turn it into a solo experience is a great way to scratch the role-playing itch when scheduling fails.

The only thing missing is the real-time feedback I get from a human DM. There’s no one there to ask me, “Are you sure you want to do that?” when I try something harebrained. There’s no way to argue in support of the Rule of Cool when what I’m trying isn’t technically allowed, but would be awesome if it worked.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is a video game and that means, as a DM, it’s inflexible. It’s still a lot of fun to see what I can get away with, though.

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