How 'Baldur's Gate 3' Handles 'Dungeons & Dragons' 5th Edition Ruleset

For Baldur's Gate 3, officially announced at a June Google Stadia event, Dungeons & Dragons publisher Wizards of the Coast will team with developer Larian Studios, who demonstrated their RPG chops with 2017's universally acclaimed Divinity: Original Sin II. But while previous games from Larian may be in the D&D spirit, this will be the studio's first time adapting the ruleset directly. As only the second game (after Sword Coast Legends) to employ the 5th Edition ruleset, Baldur's Gate 3 has the opportunity to open up a new era of Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying games.

"We started by taking the ruleset that's in the Player's Handbook," Larian Studios CEO Swen Vincke told Ars Technica. "We ported it as faithfully as we could."

The 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons ruleset is simplified from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition rules used for Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn, combining multiple stats into more simple mechanics to streamline D&D essentials like saving throws and skill checks. But while the 5th Edition's flexibility benefits human Dungeon Masters, some of the changes have proven hard to codify in a video game.

The city of Baldur's Gate is under attack. Larian Studios / Wizards of the Coast

"Whatever is not in the book [a player character] will say, 'Well, I'll do this,' and the Dungeon Master says 'Sure!' And then he'll think about what type of check he's going to make you do, and then that's going to be what you're going to roll with, and the entire party will work with that," Vincke said. "In a video game, you don't have that, so in a video game you have to make systems that allow you to do this. And so, coming up with those systems has been a lot of fun, and making them link to ruleset as it is has been the interesting bit about that."

In an interview with PC Gamer, Vincke went into a little more detail on uniting the expansive gameplay of Divinity: Original Sin II with Dungeons & Dragons mechanics, which makes Baldur's Gate 3 sound more like a hybrid system.

Watch how Swen and the team managed to convince Wizards of the Coast to allow us to unleash our own brand of madness on Baldur's Gate! Its a harrowing tale of knights, vampire swords, abductions and the horrifying effects of ceremorphosis...

— Baldur’s Gate 3 - Early Access OUT NOW (@baldursgate3) June 7, 2019

"We'll stay true to our roots, so we'll give players lots of systems and lots of agency to use these systems and try to accomplish what you need to on your personal adventure and your party's adventure," Vincke told PC Gamer. "That's not going to change; that's the core of what we're doing. But then there will be an interpretation of D&D, because if you port the core rules—we tried it—to a video game, it doesn't work."

This design ethos extends into Baldur's Gate 3 character creation, which will have both custom characters, with traits selections similar to a D&D character sheet, and is also likely to feature premade characters with their own origin stories, similar to Original Sin II. Character classes and their skill trees, such as spell progression, will adhere closely to what's found in the 5th Edition Player's Handbook.

The illithids are invading. Larian Studios / Wizards of the Coast

Like previous entries in the series, Baldur's Gate 3 is set in the Forgotten Realms, with a campaign centered around the mind flayers, or illithids—Lovecraftian beings who have manipulated people psychically, but have now built enough strength to invade Baldur's Gate in force, as seen in the first trailer for the game. While mind flayers have appeared as minor enemies in Baldur's Gate II, their central role in Baldur's Gate 3 suggests the realm from which they hail, the vast, subterranean "Underdark," may be an important location in the game.

"We're not making it for nostalgia reasons," Vincke told Ars Technica. "We're making a new, modern RPG for a new era."