Baldur’s Gate 3, the fast-approaching role-playing game that has been available in early access since October 2020, marks the confluence of a beloved series and one of the most lauded RPG studios working today. With its extensive character creation system and thousands of different endings, Baldur’s Gate 3 continues the work BioWare began in 1998. However, it’s since changed hands — Larian Studios, the team behind the acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin series, has taken over stewardship. What’s more, Baldur’s Gate 3 takes place in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, a sprawling world with enough lore to keep even the most dedicated fans busy exploring for years.
Which is all to say: There’s a lot going on with Baldur’s Gate 3! But fear not, because we’ve done the footwork of corralling all of the most important plot points in the series to date, so you can prepare for the RPG before its Aug. 3 release date on PC.
How does the Baldur’s Gate series fit into the D&D universe?
The narrative of the Baldur’s Gate series begins with a cataclysmic event in the Forgotten Realms known as the Time of Troubles, which is told through a series of five novels called the Avatar series. This is when the then-creator deity Ao cast down the once expansive pantheon of gods to the mortal realm of Toril (also known as Abeir-Toril) as punishment for the theft of the Tablets of Fate, which kept the balance between Chaos and Law.
During this time, the gods were given mortal forms, which left them vulnerable for the first time. Cyric, a mortal man who traveled with the protagonists of the Avatar series, ended up killing Bhaal, the Lord of Murder, out of his own self-interest in becoming a god. However, Bhaal had already prepared for the inconvenience by having children that he could then pass his essence and spirit onto once he was gone. These children became known as the Bhaalspawn.
The Time of Troubles eventually came to an end, and with it the remaining gods, having their divinity restored, returned to their realm after the Tablets had been restored. But Bhaal had all but planned his eventual reincarnation before his death, and as his children grew, so did a dark essence with them. This all leads us to the events of the first Baldur’s Gate, in which the consequences of Bhaal’s actions during the Time of Troubles come to a head.
What happened in the first Baldur’s Gate?
Baldur’s Gate takes place some years after the Time of Troubles, with Bhaal’s progeny now spread across the world. You create and assume the role of your own character (although it’s important to know that Wizards of the Coast canonized the Bhaalspawn Abdel Adrian through the official novelizations and a tabletop RPG module that we’ll cover later) who has spent most of their life in Candlekeep — a scholarly city that requires an exchange of information to gain access. Unexpectedly approached by Gorion, a powerful wizard and your character’s foster father, you are secreted away in the night after several attempts on your life by would-be assassins. During your leave, Gorion is cut down by Sarevok, a mysterious man in armor who is later revealed to also be a Bhaalspawn.
From here, you are joined by your half-sister Imoen and, in true D&D fashion, a variety of other characters you can recruit along the way. This includes the human Ranger Minsc and the half-elven Druid Jaheira (who are returning party members in Baldur’s Gate 3). While each character has their own unique backstory and quest lines, the player character is free to pick whomever they want to accompany them, as it doesn’t derail the main plot. However, for the purposes of understanding the story of Baldur’s Gate 2, it’s important to know the actual canon party: Rogue Imoen, Jaheira, the half-elven Fighter Khalid, the sorceress Dynaheir, and Minsc.
Traveling along the Sword Coast, you finally learn that you are one of Bhaal’s progeny, shortly before you solve the Iron Crisis — a manufactured shortage of iron planned by Sarevok — plaguing the realm. At this point, you uncover Sarevok’s intent to kill other Bhaalspawn in order to make himself more powerful. He formed this plan based on the prophecy of Alaundo (which foretold the coming of the player character), and eventually means to take the place of Bhaal himself in the realm of gods.
In addition to his dastardly murder plot, Sarevok has also been sowing the seeds of war between the cities of Baldur’s Gate and Amn — the more blood that’s shed on his account, the better his chances of ascending to godhood. Upon solving the crisis and returning to Candlekeep with a valuable book in hand, you and your party are imprisoned under false charges of murder. However, with the help of one of the sages of Candlekeep (who you knew when you were a child in the early hours of the game), you are transported to the catacombs beneath Baldur’s Gate, where you learn that — surprise! — Sarevok is the one who framed you. You call him on his bullshit and then kill him, thereby preventing the war he attempted to instigate.
In the Siege of Dragonspear expansion, which was released with Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition in 2016, you participate in the titular attack, which brings you to the place where Bhaal was murdered by Cyric during the aforementioned Time of Troubles. This campaign focuses on the side events that lead up to the opening of Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, but also brings you to the Nine Hells, where demons and devils reside. Based on the appearance of certain creatures in the opening hours of Baldur’s Gate 3, the expansion’s storyline could prove significant on Aug. 3. Immediately after the siege ends and this storyline is concluded, both the player character and the canonized party of Imoen, Jaheira, Khalid, Dynaheir, and Minsc are captured, which leads directly into the events of Baldur’s Gate 2.
What happened in Baldur’s Gate 2?
At the outset of Baldur’s Gate 2, you wake up in a mysterious dungeon as your half-sister Imoen breaks you free from a cage. You learn that you’ve been captured by a man named Jon Irenicus, and that he has also imprisoned your other party members (the canon characters we mentioned above) and subjected the lot of you to torture. Apparently, the worst methods have been reserved for you and Imoen, the better to awaken the latent powers that lie within you both. You escape with Imoen, Jaheira, Minsc, and the mysterious Yoshimo to Athkatla, a gorgeous, sprawling merchant city with several distinct districts. Irenicus, having followed the party after the breakout, confronts you shortly before getting into a spell-slinging battle with Imoen; both of them are imprisoned on an island outside of the city known as Spellhold. (BioWare really liked imprisoning its characters!) This doesn’t stop Irenicus for long, though, and he breaks free of his bonds He proceeds to take over Spellhold and perform further experiments on Imoen.
As this is all happening, you seek the help of one of two factions to help you rescue your sister: One of them is led by Aran Linvail, a the leader of the Shadow Thieves guild, which is working in direct opposition to Irenicus. The other is helmed by the vampire Bodhi, who is later revealed to be the sister of Jon Irenicus. Baldur’s Gate 2 has quite a lot of sibling drama!
After choosing your faction, you make your way to Spellhold, where things get exponentially worse. Regardless of who you pick, Bodhi becomes your enemy during a confrontation with Irenicus who, having already succeeded at ripping your sister’s soul from her body, does the same to you. With your soul in hand, he then grants that of your sister to his sister. Her true allegiance revealed, Bodhi attacks your party, but not before you turn into the Slayer — the avatar of Bhaal, and a monster that kills without consideration.
With this newfound power, you force Irenicus and Bodhi to retreat to the Underdark. This place is one of the most iconic locations in the Forgotten Realms, serving as the home for the Drow (or dark elves) and creatures called the Illithids, which appear in Baldur’s Gate 3. Fighting your way to the surface, you kill Bodhi, restore Imoen’s soul, and obtain a relic that grants you passage into the elven city of Suldanessellar, which has been taken over by Irenicus.
Finally, the player character defeats Irenicus, but, because he still has your actual soul, he drags you to the Nine Hells with him. In one final encounter, you and your party finally defeat Irenicus, retrieve your soul, and return to the realms as heroes.
The conclusion of the Baldur’s Gate storyline (so far) wraps up in the Baldur’s Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal expansion, in which you set out on a quest to kill the remaining Bhaalspawn, who have caused wars all across the realm with their infighting. Aided by a woman named Melissan, you and your party (which can include Imoen, a revived Sarevok, Jaheira, and Minsc) defeat your siblings only to discover that Melissan is actually the one behind the conflict. She reveals herself to be Amelyssan the Blackhearted, a priestess in the service of Bhaal. Turns out, she wants to kill you and become the next Lord of Murder.
Once you defeat her, you have the option to become the next Lord of Murder in your father’s stead. However, there are other options as well, which include forgoing godhood to live as a mortal, or even becoming a benevolent deity. Canonically, you choose to walk the realm as a mortal. The story of the Bhaalspawn wraps up in the Murder in Baldur’s Gate TTRPG module, which sees Abdel Adrian (the aforementioned canonized main character) or the only known remaining Bhaalspawn Veikang turn into the Slayer; the latter is subsequently defeated by the Flaming Fist, who effectively serve as the guards of the great city, and the party you play as in the module.
There you have it! Although the lore of Baldur’s Gate, and by extension, D&D can get a bit dense at times, it’s important to remember that Baldur’s Gate is a series largely about secret identities, warring siblings, and divine prophecies. Minsc and Jaheira are returning in Baldur’s Gate 3, alongside other new companion characters that you’ll be able to befriend, woo, and maybe even romance. The Bhaalspawn may not return in Larian’s RPG, but their saga has caused quite a few ripples in the series’ storyline, some of which we may witness once Baldur’s Gate 3 is released on PC on Aug. 3.