10 DM Lessons from Baldur’s Gate 3
Baldur’s Gate 3 (BG3) is more than just an amazingly fun game to play. It’s actually a treasure trove of lessons for game masters, despite the fact that there is no game master in the game. So, today we are discussing 10 unexpected dungeon master lessons you can learn from Baldur’s Gate 3.
Now, there will be some mild spoilers, but I don’t think I’m giving away anything too crazy.
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1. Branching Story Paths
Like any good RPG video game, Baldur's Gate 3 allows players multiple ways to solve problems and progress the story. This adds to the overall sense of freedom and player agency.
For instance, in one quest, the player encounters a Goblin camp led by a Goblin priestess. The player has the option to either kill the priestess and the goblins or negotiate with them. Each choice leads to different consequences and story paths. Killing them makes the player a hero to the local druids and tieflings, while negotiating can lead to a potential uneasy alliance.
Next, all main characters in Baldur's Gate 3 are infected with a Mind Flayer parasite. One of the main objectives is to remove it, and there are several ways to approach this problem. One could seek the help of a powerful wizard, try to make a deal with a devil, or even embrace the parasite's power. Each of these choices leads to a different story path with unique consequences.
GM Takeaway: A great GM will incorporate this concept into their game, presenting multiple options to players and allowing player decisions to shape the story. This allows players to feel that their decisions genuinely matter, creating a more immersive and engaging gameplay experience. This level of player agency is something I feel all games should strive to achieve.
2. Dynamic World Building
In a nutshell, BG3 world changes according to a player’s actions. The game is designed to reflect the outcomes of your actions. For example, if you decide to free a certain character from captivity, that character might later assist you in a combat scenario or provide you with useful information. In contrast, making a different choice like leaving the character in captivity could lead to a completely different scenario.
Player actions can also lead to noticeable changes in the game environment. If you decide to disrupt a ritual at a shrine, for instance, it could lead to the shrine being destroyed, with visible changes in that location in the game world.
Depending on the decisions you make, entire quest lines can become available or be closed off. This makes the world feel more real, as your actions have direct consequences on the opportunities available to you.
GM Takeaway: Ensure your world is not static. Make sure the players' actions have noticeable and meaningful effects on the world around them, whether it's in politics, economics, or even in smaller, more localized situations. This makes the game feel alive and responsive, creating an immersive experience that you should strive to replicate in your games.
3. Balancing the Three Pillars: Combat, Exploration, and Social Interactions
Baldur's Gate 3 strikes a good balance between the three pillars of game play, each of which is critical to the game experience – and integrates them into the storyline and game mechanics.
As a very specific example of this, Baldur's Gate 3 often provides multiple ways to handle encounters. For example, when encountering a group of hostile creatures, players may choose to engage them in combat directly, or they may use dialogue options to try to diffuse the situation, persuade the creatures to leave, or even turn them into allies. This encourages players to consider alternatives to combat and gives them a chance to use other skills to influence outcomes.
GM Takeaway: GMs can learn from this balance, making sure that their sessions aren't too heavily weighted towards one pillar or the other (unless, of course, that's the specific preference of the group).
4. Follow the Rules
BG3 uses 5e rules so that players who are familiar with it know what they are dealing with. And yet it also streamlines the rules and the interface helps players with the rules.
The result is easy of entrance for both those who are familiar with the rule and those who aren’t.
GM Takeway: First, when you mostly follow the core rules for a system, it makes it easier for players, especially new ones, to jump in and understand what’s up. Too many homebrew rules makes it harder for players to get into the game. Just as BG3 helps players with the rules, the game master should know the rules and help players who aren’t familiar with them. Bottom line: mostly follow the rules, but don’t let them get in the way of fun.
5. Complex Character Backstories
The characters in Baldur's Gate 3 that adventure with your main character have complex backstories that make them feel real and motivate their actions.
For instance, Shadowheart is a Half-Elf Cleric who serves the goddess Shar, a deity associated with secrets and darkness. She was a member of a dark cult and was entrusted with a mysterious artifact before being captured, and the artifact was embedded into her by the Mind Flayers. The artifact and her connection to Shar are significant plot points. Her dark past and her service to a morally ambiguous deity add depth and complexity to her character.
Other characters such as Astarion and Gale have pasts that add depth to the characters, giving them motivations and characteristics that inform their actions and decisions in the game. They also provide the basis for unique character arcs and developments throughout the game.
GM Takeaway: As a GM, encourage your players to create detailed backgrounds for their characters and weave those backgrounds into the story. Use these backgrounds to introduce plot hooks, enemies, allies, and moral dilemmas.
6. Increase Immersion with Music
BG3 has amazing cinematic score and sound tracks. Not playing music during a TTRPG game is a huge missed opportunity I see lots of GMs do. You can either just have stuff playing, or you can customize according to scenes and moods you are trying to create in the game.
7. Use of Abilities During Social Interactions
During dialogues, BG3 often allows players to use their characters' abilities to influence the conversation. For example, a player may use a persuasion skill to convince a character to divulge important information, a deception skill to lie convincingly, or an insight skill to discern if a character is lying. This intertwines the mechanics usually used in combat (ability checks) with social interaction scenarios, balancing the use of these skills in both contexts.
In TTPRGs, a mistake I often see is either 1) GM bases the outcome on what the player says and doesn’t use their character skills or at the other end of the spectrum 2) the GM bases the outcome purely on the dice rolls. In my games, what the player’s character says can give them a bonus on die rolls…or a penalty. But they still use their character mechanics. Balance is the key.
8. Non-Player Character (NPC) Depth
We talked about the characters the player may adventure with having depth and backstories, but the NPCs in Baldur's Gate 3 also have their own motivations, goals, and reactions to the player's choices. They aren't just background; they're an active part of the world.
For instance, Halsin is a druid who plays a significant role in the first act of the game. His transformation into a bear during combat, his calm demeanor in conversation, and his role as a leader among the druids all reveal his depth as a character. The player's relationship with him changes depending on their actions, especially in the quest involving the goblin attack on the druid grove.
And then you have Ethel, a hag the players encounter in a creepy bog. Her deceptive nature is revealed through various conversations, where she tries to trick the players into making dangerous deals with her. The layered dialogue, the potential consequences of interacting with her, and the revelation of her true form provide depth to her character.
GM Takeaway: GMs should aim to create similarly deep and complex NPCs. You NPCs should not just be there to give out quests or provide services. They should have their own goals and motivations, reacting to the player's actions in ways that feel consistent with their characters. This will give your world a sense of realism and depth.
9. Environmental Interactions
In Baldur's Gate 3, players can interact with their environment in meaningful ways, using it to their advantage in combat or exploration and giving them creative and strategic options.
For instance, players can gain significant advantages by being on higher ground in combat. They can also interact with objects which can be used for various purposes. For example, players can shoot explosive barrels to deal damage to nearby enemies, or move crates to block paths or create cover. Furthermore, a player might use a spell to create a surface of water, then another spell to electrify that water, damaging anyone standing in it.
GM Takeaway: This is a great tool for GMs as well: encourage your players to think creatively about their environment and consider how it could be used in their favor. . Incorporating similar mechanics into a tabletop RPG can help make the game more immersive and provide players with additional strategic options.
10. Incorporate Intrigue and Mystery
Baldur's Gate 3 does an excellent job of keeping players engaged and guessing, with numerous plot twists and reveals.
For example, early in the game, your character is implanted with a Mind Flayer parasite. The mystery surrounding this event drives much of the early plot. The constant looming threat of transformation into a Mind Flayer, combined with the various potential cures the player can pursue, creates a sustained sense of intrigue and mystery.
Early in the game, the player learns about a cult dedicated to the Dead Three - Bane, Bhaal, and Myrkul, gods of tyranny, murder, and death, respectively. The player must uncover who is behind this cult and their exact plans, which provides a lot of intrigue and suspense.
GM Takeaway: Include intrigue, mystery, and plot twists in your game as they keep players engaged, eager to discover the truth, and the payoff when a mystery is solved can be very satisfying. Try to weave an overarching mystery or several smaller ones into your campaign to keep your players hooked.
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