A crash course in dense mechanics paves the way for more possibilities around the table
I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for about three years now, but I just figured out how spell slots work. The reason? Sinking dozens of hours into Baldur’s Gate 3, playing as a Wizard (and also dragging my beloved Gale along everywhere).
In my defense, I’ve never played a D&D campaign as a heavy spellcaster before. While my friends prepared their spells and kept track of how many slots they had left between sessions, I simply cast Eldritch Blast for the 10th time as my Warlock or planned a good sneak attack with my Rogue. I stayed away from any class that required extra homework time of parsing through the D&D 5e rulebook’s pages and pages of spells. But when Baldur’s Gate 3 came out, I decided to embrace my childhood dream of becoming a Wizard, a D&D class I’ve always wanted to dabble in but intimidated myself out of playing.
But finally — I get it. I know what it means to have two level 4 slots, but more than two level 4 spells to choose from. I know what it means to prepare those spells. Hell, I know what those spells do. But it’s more than that. Baldur’s Gate 3 has given me a crash course in a lot of Dungeons & Dragons mechanics that I was unfamiliar with, simply because I didn’t play those specific classes or because those elements just never came up in any of my sessions.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one whose D&D skills have seen a sharp improvement since playing Baldur’s Gate 3. Many players and Dungeon Masters alike told me about how the video game has altered their campaign sessions for the better. Players have figured out how to use spell slots and cunning actions, how to strategize as a team, and how to interact with the world around them in their tabletop play sessions.
One of the most beloved parts of Baldur’s Gate 3 is the cast of dynamic characters that become your companions. Chances are, you’re taking along your favorite companions as part of the party so that you won’t miss out on their dialogue, which means you’re going to learn about their class, race, and background features. My playthrough, for example, opened up my eyes to some of the cool classes I’d never thought about playing, like Lae’zel’s Battle Master tactics and Shadowheart’s Clerical powers. Kyle Bradford, who’s been DMing for about eight years, tells me that one of his players finally learned how to properly use their Rogue’s sneak attack and cunning actions.
“Wouldn’t you know it, but them romancing Astarion and having him in the party has really helped them figure out how to play a Rogue better and get themselves into better positions just like they would in-game,” he says.
But it goes beyond just getting comfortable with different classes. Playing Baldur’s Gate 3 is inspiring people to interact with the world of their own D&D campaigns more. DM Josh Lawson, who’s been running games since 2021, says that understanding each other’s classes has prompted his players to strategize more. The video game encouraged them to explore the full battlefield beyond just their own abilities on their character sheets.
“It was really the goblin camp that really resonated with them,” he tells me over email. “Lots of environmental hazards they were able to leverage, dialogues that changed the experience for each of them, and plenty of enemies to test their abilities on to understand how they would react.”
Anna Hollinrake tells me that their group had been playing for about two and a half years, but the players still didn’t really understand some of the more nitty-gritty mechanics. But then, after the whole party got really into Baldur’s Gate 3, the world opened up to them and everyone was suddenly very invested in rolling History checks.
“We didn’t really roll for abilities unless asked. Obvious ones like Perception, yes, but Arcana or Insight? I didn’t know what they were applicable for, so I just rarely used them for anything,” she says via Twitter DM. “I didn’t know you could check objects that you received for magic or investigate their purpose. I’ve been carting around a box of unidentified magic sand for so long the DM has forgotten what it was.”
Even those seasoned in D&D rules are considering adopting some of the Larian-specific mechanics, particularly incorporating “Shove” as a bonus action. (So many people I talked to reported an increase in their party members’ desire to shove enemies for falling damage.) Justin, who’s been heavily involved in D&D for 15 years, also noticed that one of their players has been approaching the game differently.
“[They were] very much the type of player who raged, then rolled to hit enemies with [their] greataxe, no flashy descriptions, just simple combat description,” explains Justin. “They now describe their actions and intentions, they are thinking more tactically, they are using grapples and shove actions instead of just rolling to hit all the time.”
A sentiment shared by many people I spoke with, who were experienced with running a game or were new to the hobby, was that Dungeons & Dragons rules are dense. The way the handbooks are structured isn’t necessarily user-friendly. There’s just a lot of information to get through. Like many hobbies, a lot of it involves learning by doing — and yet there is only so much you can do as one player in one campaign playing one character.
Kevin Ray, a Dungeon Master and game developer, has more insight into specifically why Baldur’s Gate 3 is so effective at hammering in D&D rules, particularly the ones that seem intimidating or inaccessible. (Full disclosure: Kevin is also my DM, the one who’s had to put up with me complaining about limited Warlock spell slots for three years.)
“Getting people to remember rules often comes from using multiple different teaching methods,” explains Ray. “You can’t just learn how to play D&D from reading the rulebook alone. The designers of BG3 reinforce all the rules through their user interface with a visual design that teaches players from doing and explains why whenever you want to ask by pressing the ‘Examine’ button on an enemy, or the ‘Inspect’ button on your abilities.”
This isn’t to say that DMs everywhere need to incorporate a sophisticated user interface to their Roll20 layouts, or that Wizards of the Coast needs to add little icons to spells in order to really hammer in their effects. After all, at the end of the day, every D&D campaign is different. Some DMs might be gung-ho about making Shove a bonus action now, while others might want to stick closer to the rules. And some players might not even want to shove enemies at all (imagine!).
But across the board, people seem to be increasingly passionate about their own games. Baldur’s Gate 3 has given players an expedited way to learn mechanics that might take several actual sessions of playing spread out across weeks — and this is an optimistic view of everyone’s availability, even — to truly understand. With those training wheels off, the path ahead is exciting and glorious.
“Now they understand the tools in their toolbox, and we can spend more time crafting the story together, and enjoying the game,” says DM Lawson. “It’s made my party much more excited to play, as they know MORE of the possible options, and like to see me squirm as I have to scramble to adapt to their even crazier plans. But it’s all in good fun. I’m super excited that they have a renewed fervor for the game, and seem to be having more fun.”
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