D&D concepts you need to know before playing Baldur's Gate 3

Never tried Dungeons & Dragons? Learn the basics before you get stuck in with Baldur's Gate 3.

Baldur’s Gate 3 is built directly upon the systems of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. That’s an exciting prospect for many, but it can also be intimidating for those who’ve yet to jump on the tabletop roleplaying bandwagon and enjoy life as a bard or barbarian. 

D&D newbies needn’t worry though. You don’t need to know the entire Player’s Handbook to enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3. Below, we’ll cover several D&D concepts you should understand before rolling your first dice in Larian’s grand fantasy adventure.

Looking for advice that’s a little more story centric? You can find a recap of the previous games in the Baldur’s Gate series here. 

D&D concepts you need to know before playing Baldur's Gate 3

D&D concepts you need to know before you start Baldur's Gate 3
Baldur's Gate 3 is built on the D&D 5E playbook. 
© Larian Studios

Baldur’s Gate 3 does an admirable job with its tutorials, but there’s an awful lot for D&D newbies to take in during the game’s opening hours. So whether you’re planning to wander the wilds as a wizard or commune with nature as a druid, here’s the lowdown on what you need to know before gathering your party and venturing forth. 

Critical successes and failures

D&D systems to learn before you start baldurs gate 3
Critical Successes and Failures are a core part of the experience.
© Larian Studios

Most important actions in Baldur’s Gate 3 are decided by the role of a 20-sided dice. The difficulty is represented by a number you need to roll equal to or higher than. Various modifiers including stats, spells, and abilities can boost your rolls, but they’ll never guarantee success. 

That’s because rolling a one is considered a critical failure. It will cause you to lose a skill check – that’s the name for the rolls you do to check if your actions will succeed – no matter the modifiers available. That’s right, you have a one-in-twenty chance of screwing the pooch on almost every dice-based action you take. 

Conversely, rolling a 20 is a critical success (also called a natural 20, owing to you needing no additional modifiers to reach the top score) which guarantees you pass even the hardest skill check. It’s not all bad!

The good news is that Baldur’s Gate 3 is built with losses and successes in mind. Rather than reloading on any failure, you’re encouraged to keep playing and discover the many interesting permutations of a story in which you don’t always win.

Actions and Bonus Actions

Baldurs Gate 3 dungeons and dragons rules to know
Baldur's Gate 3 helpfully makes it clear which actions are available to you each turn.
© Larian Studios

Combat is where D&D gets most complicated, but the basics of a turn are as follows: each character can perform one main action and one bonus action, as well as move up to a certain distance. These three things can be performed in any order, and if two or more party members’ turns line up, they can take their actions simultaneously.

Main actions tend to be major things like casting a spell or hitting an enemy with a sword. Bonus actions are typically granted by classes or abilities. They can take a variety of forms including minor spells or attempts to evade or debuff enemies. Baldur’s Gate 3 handily separates all main and bonus actions in the UI, so you’ll never get the two mixed up.

Spells vs Cantrips

Baldur's Gate 3 D&D systems spells vs cantrips
Spellcasters must prepare their choice of magic in advance. 
© Larian Studios

Forget about mana and cooldowns; most spells in Baldur’s Gate 3 can’t just be cast whenever you’d like. Instead, spellcasters will prepare spells outside of fights, equipping them to a limited number of spell slots which can then be used for that day.

Cantrips are the most basic kind of spell. Provided you meet their requirements, they can be cast as often as you like – so don’t hold back during combat! 

Spells of level one and above, however, will only be refreshed after taking a short or long rest (depending on the spell or class requirements). As such, they’re extremely powerful and valuable tools in and outside of combat. Make sure you apply them effectively, and regularly take advantage of opportunities to rest and restore your characters’ capabilities.

Short and Long Rests

Baldurs gate 3 D&D concepts long rest short rest
 Resting is essential to both gameplay and narrative progression.
© Larian Studios

Short and Long Rests represent time spent recuperating by your characters. In practical terms, they’re the method by which you’ll recover health and the use of many spells and feats in Baldur’s Gate 3.

A Short Rest can be conducted pretty much any time outside of combat, but you can only perform two per day (between long rests). In addition to refreshing some spells and abilities, a Short Rest will also heal every party member by the roll of dice equal to their level. Use them to quickly heal up and recharge after a tough fight.

Baldur's Gate 3 D&D concepts explained resting
Just like real life, resting first improves the party.
© Larian Studios

A Long Rest sees your party set up camp for the night, though you’ll need to have gathered enough supplies to do so. Long Rests recharge almost all spent abilities and enable you to Short Rest again the next day. In Baldur’s Gate 3, Long Resting also offers a chance to interact your party and progress some storylines. Don’t be afraid to Long Rest often when given the chance, even mid-dungeon delve as long as it’s safe, as this will ensure your party is fully prepared for anything they might encounter.

Death Saving Throws

Baldur's Gate 3 D&D concepts death saving throws
Death Saving Throws can be both cruel and kind. 
© Larian Studios

A party member knocked to zero health during combat will fall into the dying state. Obviously not ideal, but also not necessarily time to hang up your dice. Each turn, they’ll then need to roll a Death Saving Throw. Three successful rolls will stabilize them, but three failed rolls will cause them to die. Characters in this state can be saved either by being healed or by an ally using the Help action while nearby. 

As such, hitting zero health points doesn’t mean instant death in the world of Baldur’s Gate 3. You’ll often have a bit of time to rescue a mortally wounded character, though how much time depends, as ever, on your dice rolls.

New to the Baldur’s Gate series as a whole? Catch up on what you need to know for Baldur’s Gate 3 here.

Associate Editor

Henry Stenhouse serves an eternal punishment as the Associate Editor of AllGamers. He spent his younger life studying the laws of physics, even going so far as to complete a PhD in the subject before video games stole his soul. Confess your love of Super Smash Bros. via email at henry@moonrock.biz, or catch him on Twitter.

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