Baldur’s Gate 3’s Combat Shows Dungeons & Dragons Can Evolve

Baldur’s Gate 3’s Combat Shows Dungeons & Dragons Can Evolve

D&D has slower combat than Baldur’s Gate 3, and if BG3 can iterate while staying true to the roots, future games can grow in other ways too

Dungeons & Dragons describes itself as ‘The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game’. This claim is plastered on the front of every D&D book, every set of figurines, even every pack of official dice. This slogan is everywhere on D&D merch, in bold all-caps and trademarked to ensure that no other roleplaying game can ever question its might. It’s certainly the most famous tabletop game, and the one we collectively think of when we think of roleplaying, but while Baldur’s Gate 3 will bring even more fans aboard, it’s also showing areas where the tabletop game is sometimes lacking, and should set up an exciting future.

How much combat you do in D&D varies from table to table. Some players just want different forms of combat inside a vaguely thematic dungeon, with no real narrative or indeed roleplaying involved. Others just want the story and prefer to use any spells or feats for more worldbuilding purposes – official adventure The Wild Beyond The Witchlight can be completed with no combat at all, while anthologies like Candlekeep Mysteries tend to have four to six hours of storytelling wrapped up by a large combat encounter at the end.

In my own adventures, I try to embed combat into the storytelling, so characters will only get into scrapes if they drive the narrative in that direction. Some encounters are inevitable, some are optional depending on what choices they make and tasks they pursue, and in some cases they can talk their way out of things and find a peaceful solution. They never do, but they can. Even with all these variables, I usually account for one to three medium encounters per four hour session, or one major one. This means about 90 minutes of combat for every 2 hours of roleplaying (and 30 minutes of waiting for people to come back from the toilet or refilling a drink).

Baldur's Gate 3 Karlach Speaking With PC

The reason for this ratio is because combat in D&D is slow and unwieldy, especially if your party gets above four people. There are various rolls and stats and DC to not only work through manually but also remember, then the enemies each attack (often multiple times), work out the maths involved, and then reset until the encounter is over. In Baldur’s Gate 3, large skirmishes can be done in 30 minutes, only spilling into longer if there are swarms of enemies, while one minor foe can be brushed aside in minutes. In tabletop D&D, you need to set aside an hour for most fights with any degree of substance, and they can often trundle on for longer.

Many other tabletop games have shorter combat, and people have experimented with speeding D&D’s combat up by making the AC a shield rather than a hit/miss standard, dropping health, increasing damage, and all sorts of funky methods. But at a certain point, you’re not really playing D&D anymore. Combat is just going to take a while, and that’s part of the game. That BG3 has managed to speed it up, without particularly streamlining elements or trimming options (in fact, with more environmental hazards, it’s even more complex), is a credit to the game’s greatness. Wizards of the Coast could be pushed to hurry things along with this influx of Baldur’s Gate players, but for the most part that’s going to be a key difference between the console experience and the tabletop experience.

In D&D Dungeons and Dragons DND A Warlock Uses A Genie's Vessel To Battle A Cyclops By Zuzanna Wuzyk from Tasha's Cauldron of Everything
A Warlock Uses A Genie’s Vessel To Battle A Cyclops By Zuzanna Wuzyk

While the tabletop form could be tempted to speed up a little after the console version’s success, the digital realm could be learning from old school D&D too. I’ve written before about how rewarding Dungeons & Dragons’ character creator is, often giving you keys to locks you won’t discover for 20 or 50 or 100 hours, and there’s nothing in video games like it. What Baldur’s Gate 3 has shown is that, if presented in an approachable way with an engaging story, people will gravitate towards Dungeons & Dragons without necessarily knowing much about the game itself. Many of BG3’s biggest fans are D&D newcomers, eager to start playing with their newfound knowledge and enthusiasm. Other games should take note.

Dungeons & Dragons is a franchise, one that trademarks itself as The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game, no less. You can’t just make a D&D video game if you feel like it – legally it’s no different from trying to make a Spider-Man or Lord of the Rings game. If you don’t have the rights, you don’t get the game. But Wizards of the Coast has not been shy when it comes to licensing out the rights, and with such wide world-building in the game already, it’s not the sort of thing where you can only have one video game at a time. There are entire regions full of different species, subclasses, and encounters that BG3 doesn’t even touch, and D&D gets new books with additional elements all the time.

Navigating a Trapped Stairway
Looter by Wayne Reynolds

D&D video games have been around for over four decades, but hopefully this could lead to a boom in the wake of BG3. Where Baldur’s Gate 3 has moved the needle on combat, other games could look at different aspects of the tabletop adventure and ramp it up in their own way. Dungeons & Dragons might be The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game, but as Baldur’s Gate 3 proves, it could get even better.

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