Everything you need to know about D&D before playing Baldurs Gate 3

Knowledge is power, and finding out what you can about D&D before playing Baldur’s Gate 3 will let you hit the ground running. You see, this isn’t just a game based on the pen-and-paper Dungeons & Dragons; it’s set in the same world and uses many of the same gameplay mechanics. With that in mind, getting a handle on the RPG’s inspiration could prove useful.

Because we’ve been rolling dice in some of the best tabletop RPGs for years, we’ve put together a cheat list on Dungeons & Dragons… including the lowdown on how that impacts this massive roleplaying adventure. That ranges from combat to classes, so settle in – here’s everything you need to know about D&D before playing Baldur’s Gate 3.

The world of D&D and Baldur’s Gate 3

A map of the Forgotten Realms from D&D

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

OK, first things first: Baldur’s Gate 3, most Dungeons and Dragons books, and even Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves take place in the same universe. This is called ‘The Forgotten Realms’ (or ‘Faerun,’ if we’re talking in-universe) and it may as well be the definition of medieval fantasy. Plenty of unique ideas can be found lurking under the surface, but generally, it’s classic stuff. That means you can tick elves, orcs, wizards, and the rest off your bingo list.

As for specifics, Baldur’s Gate is a city found on a stretch of land called ‘The Sword Coast.’ Unlike the metropolises of Neverwinter and Waterdeep (which you may recognize from other video games) that lie further to the north, it’s a cutthroat place. A bit like Gotham from Batman, actually. Imagine a fantasy version of that and you won’t be far off.

Is there a D&D story I need to know?

Dungeons & Dragons Rules Expansion Gift Set

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Is there an ongoing story you should be aware of when it comes to D&D? Fortunately, no. Although the game’s been around for decades, its adventures usually stand alone despite being set in the same world. All you need to know is that nefarious forces (be they evil mages, dragons, or something equally nasty) plot our downfall on a regular basis.

The same is true for Baldur’s Gate 3. Your experience will be richer if you’ve played the previous two games, of course, but they’re not necessary homework. This one takes place around a century later, and Minsc (a barbarian who’s always accompanied by his ‘miniature giant space hamster,’ Boo) is the only returning character that’s been confirmed so far. As we mentioned in our Baldur’s Gate 3 review, it’s a good place to start and is “primed to be held up with the best of the best.”

D&D gameplay, and how it influences Baldur’s Gate 3

An open Dungeon Master's Guide

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

D&D isn’t like the best board games; there are players, yes, but you also have a ‘Dungeon Master’ who’s running it all. In essence, they’re a blend of storyteller and referee. Along with setting the scene, leading you through a narrative, and controlling non-player characters, they react to what your party does by telling you whether your actions are successful or not (along with what happens next). These challenges are normally decided through rolling dice, adding a skill number to it, and seeing if you meet a target number.

Wondering how this applies to Baldur’s Gate 3? Well, even though it’s a video game, there is still a Dungeon Master. A narrator talks to you throughout the adventure as if you were playing pen-and-paper D&D, and you’ll still roll dice for skill checks – it’s just that your dice are all digital. 

Dungeons & Dragons has always been turn-based, and the same is true of Baldur’s Gate 3

Speaking of skills, these are carried over to Baldur’s Gate practically untouched. When creating your character, you’ll assign points to your core attributes – Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, and Charisma. These decide how good you are at particular tasks, and depending on how high the number is, you might receive a bonus when rolling certain skill checks (high Charisma offers a bonus on all persuasion rolls, for instance).

As per classic D&D, you won’t be acting in real-time during combat either. Dungeons & Dragons has always been turn-based, and the same is true of Baldur’s Gate 3. Once you enter a fight, you’ll roll for Initiative to determine when you’ll be able to act in relation to everyone else. Once it’s your turn, you can then move, use an action (which is normally an attack, but doesn’t have to be) and take a bonus action if any are available. These are often spells that you can cast as a freebie, so whether you get a bonus action or not will depend on your abilities.

Want more insight? Check out these Baldur’s Gate 3 tips – they’ll see you right.

D&D races used in Baldur’s Gate 3

Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit promo image with book, dice, and DM screen

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Although there are plenty of playable races in D&D, only the main ones from the core rulebook have been included here (well, along with a certain addition – we’ll get to that later). You can check out the playable Baldur’s Gate 3 races in our full guide, but here’s the gist of it:

  • Tieflings: Humans whose ancestors were cursed by demons long ago, giving them badass horns and tails. People don’t like them very much.
  • Dragonborn: Scaly lizardfolk who can breathe fire. They’re pretty cool.
  • Githyanki: These are a D&D original, and they’re an alien-like race dedicated to hunting down Mind Flayers (those tentacle-faced monsters you’ll see a lot of in Baldur’s Gate 3). They didn’t make it into the core rules, so are an interesting addition here.
  • Drow: An elven offshoot that typically dwells far underground, in a place called the Underdark. They’ve been depicted as ‘evil’ in the past, but that’s starting to change nowadays.
  • Elves (and half-elves): Your classic archetypal elf – but with the key difference that they’re not immortal in this world. They just live for a really long time.
  • Dwarves: If you’ve encountered dwarves in any fantasy setting, you know what to expect here – those from The Forgotten Realms aren’t much different.
  • Halflings: Hobbits by any other name.
  • Gnomes: Master craftsfolk who excel at making magical doodads and cool technology.
  • Half orcs: While classic orcs aren’t playable in Baldur’s Gate 3 or standard D&D, half-orcs often fill the stereotypical role of warriors or beserkers – but there’s no reason why you need to do the same.
  • Humans: As with most fantasy worlds, humans form the bulk of the population here. 

It’s possible that more of D&D’s playable races will appear in Baldur’s Gate 3 down the road, and many (like Bugbears) feature as non-playable characters during the story. However, these are the main ones you need to know about for now.

D&D classes in Baldur’s Gate 3

Dungeons & Dragons Bard

(Image credit: Wizards of the Coast)

Because Baldur’s Gate 3 uses the D&D system, it also translates all of the classes from the main rulebook into the game too. If you want a full rundown, check out our Baldur’s Gate 3 classes list, but here’s how they work in the broadest sense:

  • Bard: Magical musicians that often fill a support role. Basically rockstars.
  • Barbarian: Heavy-hitting beserkers who fly into a rage. They like to hit stuff.
  • Cleric: Healers and warriors powered by faith. Very useful to have around.
  • Druid: Shapeshifting mystics that usually live in the wilderness.
  • Fighter: Your bog-standard warrior. 
  • Monk: Spiritual, hand-to-hand experts who channel an inner power.
  • Paladin: The party’s tank. Like the Cleric, they draw power from faith.
  • Ranger: Kind of like Rogues, but often with pets. Great with a bow and arrow.
  • Rogue: Your classic sneak-thief. 
  • Sorcerer: Mages powered by an unknown – and often uncontrollable – ability. 
  • Warlock: Mages bound by a pact with supernatural beings. Usually angsty.
  • Wizard: Traditional spell-casters. May or may not have a pointy hat. 

If you’re curious, you can get a better read on these in our guide to the best D&D class for beginners

And there you are – you should be all set to tackle the Forgotten Realms. While we’re on the subject, how’s it all going for the newest RPG on the block? Check in with our Baldur’s Gate 3 release live blog. Want to try the pen and paper game, on the other hand? Here’s how to create your first D&D character.


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