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Baldur’s Gate 3 beginner’s guide

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Getting started with this solo D&D experience

Baldur’s Gate 3 green NPC Image: Larian Studios via Polygon

Baldur’s Gate 3 is out in early access, and it’s time to head to Faerun. Whether this is your first experience with a Baldur’s Gate game or you’re a returning player, our beginner’s guide will help you get started.

In this Baldur’s Gate 3 guide, we’ll warn you about the perils of early access, give you a crash course in the rules of Dungeons & Dragons, talk a little about the quirks of combat, and give some guidance about how to approach conversations, how often to save (a lot), and when to reload your game if you screw up.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is in early access, so expect bugs

From our 12 hours or so (so far) with the game, much of Baldur’s Gate 3 feels like a finished product. It’s mechanically solid, and glitches are relatively rare. That said, it’s also explicitly not finished yet, so bear that in mind while you play.

Sometimes a texture or asset won’t load. Sometimes the camera will face the wrong way during a cutscene. Sometimes the beard physics will go bananas. That’s just part of what early access is. Accept it, laugh at it, and move on. These bugs rarely impacted our gameplay or broke the game, and (ideally) they’re only temporary.

The underlying rules are Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition

Baldur’s Gate has always been based on D&D, and Baldur’s Gate 3 adheres to the most recent edition of the wildly popular tabletop role-playing game. That means a couple things. If you’re familiar with 5th edition, you already understand almost everything that’s going on. If you’re not, though, it makes the game even more intimidating. However …

You don’t need to know D&D to play Baldur’s Gate

When it comes to mechanics, Baldur’s Gate 3 does all the work for you — it’s a video game, after all. The game and its engine serve as character sheet, dice roller, and Dungeon Master. All you have to do is click on things.

It’s (obviously) not quite as simple as that, but don't be intimidated. There are things you’ll need to know, but most of them are ubiquitous video game rules at this point. Let’s talk about the basics first.

A brief D&D crash course

In D&D — and by extension, Baldur’s Gate 3 — your character interacts with the world based on their stats — Abilities and Skills — and dice rolls.

Abilities and Skills

Your abilities are Strength (physical strength), Dexterity (agility and deftness), Constitution (willpower and heartiness), Intelligence (book smarts), Wisdom (intuition and street smarts), and Charisma (strength of personality). Abilities are on a 20 point scale, with 1 being the lowest, 10 being average, and 20 being superhuman.

Abilities inform your Skills. For example, if you have high strength, you’re automatically good at Athletics (like Jumping). If you have good Charisma, you’re good at Performance.

Proficiency

Proficiency is a flat bonus that you add to things that your character is good at. If your character is a Gold Dwarf, for example, they’re Proficient with Warhammers, and you get a bonus when you use them.

Skill Checks (and Attacks and Saving Throws, etc.)

When you try to do something in the game (both D&D and Baldur’s Gate 3), you roll a 20-sided die, add the appropriate Ability and Skill modifiers, add your Proficiency Bonus if you can, and then determine if you succeed.

This is happening all the time in Baldur’s Gate 3, both behind the scenes and overtly. You just don’t need to do any of the math.

For a more in-depth look at how your stats are figured out, read our Baldur’s Gate 3 character creation guide.

Gameplay is a mix of real-time and turn-based

You’ll mostly interact with the world by clicking your mouse and having your character walk around. When you find something interesting — a chest or an enemy — you’ll click to interact with it.

For the walking around parts of the game, you’ll be in real(ish) time. Your party (once you’ve assembled it) will follow you around, and everything happens as you click.

When you enter combat (in D&D terms, when you roll for initiative), you’ll switch to a turn-based mode, and the turn order will populate in the upper left corner of the screen.

Baldur’s Gate 3 Commence Battle screen
Commencing a battle rolls for initiative and switches into turn-based mode.
Image: Larian Studios via Polygon
Move, Action, and Bonus Action

Turns are a roughly six-second period of time. You have three options during your turn: Move, Action, and Bonus Action.

  • Movement is, like you’d expect, moving around the environment. You can move up to your movement speed — by default, this is 30 feet, but can change based on your character’s race.
  • Action is doing a thing like attacking with a weapon.
  • Bonus Actions are smaller actions like drinking a potion.

While you’re controlling your characters in turn-based mode, you can pick things to do for each of these options. Things like Spells require either an Action or a Bonus Action, so check the requirements before you commit.

There’s technically one other thing you can do during your turn — take a Reaction. Reactions are almost always Attacks of Opportunity, and those deserve their own section.

Attacks of Opportunity are hard to predict

The area around a creature — a player’s character or an enemy — that they are able to attack is considered Threatened. Basically, this means they can reach that far — usually determined by a weapon’s Reach stat. For most creatures and weapons, this number is five feet.

A creature — either a player’s character(s) or an enemy — can use their Reaction once per turn to attack a creature that leaves their Threatened area. That means if you walk away from a monster you just hit with your sword, they get a free shot at you outside of their turn.

This also means you’re fine to move around an enemy so long as you’re always within their Reach and Threatened area. The problem is moving in Baldur’s Gate 3 is a little imprecise, mostly because there’s no grid.

Clicking directly behind an enemy should move you around to their back (which gives you an advantage) without ever leaving their threatened area. Depending on the way the game’s engine plots your character’s path, though, even if you step out to 5.1 feet away, you’ll trigger that Attack of Opportunity.

The way around this is to make multiple, small movements when close to an enemy. That way, you’re always in control of your characters’ paths.

Conversations are a different kind of turn-based interaction

A lot of the weightier (or weightier-feeling) decisions you make in Baldur’s Gate 3 happen in conversations. When talking to someone, you’ll get options for how to respond. Most responses are there just to move the conversation along.

Responses with a Skill in brackets at the beginning — something like “[INTIMIDATION]” — require a roll and a Skill Check. When you choose them, you’ll get an overlay of a 20-sided die and a target number. When you click the die, it’ll roll (well, “roll”) and that decides if you succeed or fail.

When choosing a conversation response, hover over the capitalized word in brackets. That’ll show you what your bonus is for that skill. Pick ones you’re good at so you’re more likely to succeed.

Think of the things you do as choices, not lasting decisions

A video game wouldn’t be very good if it let you talk your way into a fail state or lock you out of the rest of the game because you rolled too low on a lock-picking skill check.

While the responses you choose in conversations might have dire consequences, approach them as just another choice you’re making. If you fail a skill check, keep pressing forward. Each of those choices, failures, and successes will make every playthrough of the game a little bit different. There’s no one right way to play.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is also good about giving you multiple ways to achieve any objective. Maybe there’s another character to talk to instead, or maybe there’s a different path to find that’ll lead you around that locked door. Don’t think of failures as stopping points. Instead, think of them as a new obstacle to overcome.

That said …

It’s a video game, so treat it like one

As much like D&D as Baldur’s Gate 3 is, there’s still no Dungeon Master sitting in front of you. Specifically, there’s no DM there to warn you when you’re about to do something stupid and get yourself killed. Other times, you’ll just screw up and click the wrong thing.

When that happens, embrace the video gameiness of it, and load a previous save. But …

Don’t trust the autosave

There is an autosave in Baldur’s Gate 3. As of this point in early access, though, it feels … unpredictable. Sometimes, it’ll trigger right before a conversation or battle, giving you a convenient save file to return to if things go sideways. More often, though, it won’t, and you’ll lose hours of game if (and when) things go wrong.

Make it a habit to save often and for little to no reason. Head to a new area? Save. Rearrange your inventory among your party? Save. Visit a vendor to unload all the junk you picked up? Save. Equip a new weapon? Save.

Saving often will keep you from having to repeat boring tasks on your way back to the important parts.

Experiment in the first area

Once you finally get control of your character, explore the first area before moving through the highlighted door and out the room. There’s several gameplay elements worth experimenting with before you even leave this first area.

Learning the camera controls is a good first step. Your W, A, S, D keys on your keyboard will pan the camera around. Your scroll wheel zooms in and out. Holding the middle mouse button while moving your mouse left and right will rotate your view.

Next you should move your mouse around the room to find objects you can interact with which will become highlighted in white. Your mouse pointer will also display a gear icon if you mouse over an object you can interact with. In this room you’ll find objects your character will comment on, dead bodies which you can loot for items, an alien device in the center of the room, and a hidden area around the perimeter.

To find the hidden area in the very first room, zoom out and you’ll find two ledges at the back and top left side of the room. If you click on the chest around the back, your character will automatically run over to it. On the other side of the room is a hidden body you can loot that requires you to jump over a gap to reach.

Jumping in Baldur’s Gate 3
You’ll learn how to jump after this room, but you can use this skill right at the beginning
Image: Larian Studios via Polygon

Since learning how to use bonus actions isn’t explained yet, if you mouse over the first icon in your bonus actions sections on the left of your actions bar, you’ll see the icon that lets you jump. Click on it and you character will ready their jump, showing you how far they can leap. Jump over the gap and the fire to reach the hidden body and loot its goods.

Another bonus action that you can take that’s not explained is the dip. Around the room are several pits of fire. If you walk up to one and choose the dip bonus action, you can cover your weapon in flames to allow it to deal bonus damage. This can be useful in the first battle you fight early in the game as there is a pit of fire right as you enter the room.

Background checks

While some actions in the game require you to actively dice roll to see if you can complete an action, some checks happen in the background without your input. The most common one you’ll come across are perception checks.

You’ll know one of these checks is occurring when a blue icon appears above your head. When this happens, the game is doing a roll for you to determine whether or not you’ll perceive something in your surroundings. If you succeed the background roll, you may notice a trap or a hidden lever that allows you to move forward. You can’t actively influence this roll and, when it comes to perception checks, you’ll notice your entire party will have rolls done for them. All it takes is one member to succeed. If they do, they’ll call out what they notice.

Other times, the game will roll an investigation check for you. This may happen when looking through objects like chests, large dressers, or other items that you can interact with. This roll is only done by the active party member, so if you fail the roll, you can switch to another character and have them try the roll. If they succeed, they’ll call out what they’ve found.

Moving objects

You can actively move objects by clicking and dragging on them. This isn’t obvious at first, but if you find a door that you cannot enter, try moving some boxes in its vicinity to see if there are any hidden levers around.

Moving objects is also helpful if you notice traps through a perception check. For instance, if you find a gas trap, you can place an object like a vase or box on top to stop the gas from harming you if you trigger it.