Baldur’s Gate 3 Is Trying To Compete With My Actual D&D Hobby—And It’s Losing

Baldur’s Gate 3 Is Trying To Compete With My Actual D&D Hobby—And It’s Losing

That Baldur’s Gate 3 so closely adapts a tabletop role-playing gaming (TTRPG) rule system I know reasonably well is both a relief in that I don’t need to learn something new and quite fun, given that I enjoy D&D role-playing mechanics. But as a game master (GM) of a regular Pathfinder second edition campaign, it’s presenting a problem for me. With limited hours to actually play games in my free time, I’m stuck with a constant question: Do I play Baldur’s Gate 3, or do I spend time worldbuilding for my ongoing campaign?

I am what is often referred to as a “forever GM,” someone who is eternally bound to be the person who runs the games and builds the worlds, and I take great joy in that responsibility. It’s my role. I live to run games. While I love the experience of being a TTRPG player at the table (and I truly don’t get enough of it), the thrill as a GM is that the game never ends for me.

I can go home and theorycraft, worldbuild, plot potential outcomes, detail backstories for dozens of interconnected NPCs, learn the rules better, craft possible arcs for my players, or build encounters. That, for me, is as much a part of the game as sitting at the table, role-playing, and rolling dice.

And so, every time I’ve booted up Baldur’s Gate 3 to take in the digital D&D delights, a question arises in my head: Why am I not working on my campaign right now? Or, if something I find particularly clever about an encounter or story beat in BG3 pops up and I get inspired, I struggle with wanting to keep playing or instead hit Alt+F4 to take that inspiration into my campaign notes or a virtual tabletop like Foundry, and start building out a Pathfinder encounter or story in for my players.

It also doesn’t help that Baldur’s Gate 3 lacks certain things that I regularly enjoy in an actual tabletop game. I can’t use skill checks as individual actions to investigate the world at my pace. Also in Baldur’s Gate 3, there are things that have happened to my character that I would’ve liked to have had a conversation with the non-existent Dungeon Master about. When I run into these moments where the game comes up short, I simply want to work on the real thing instead. And that real thing is so much more than just a game.

Real TTRPGs are just more socially and emotionally rewarding

The time I put into my campaign is meaningful because of the fun I get from the game, yes, but it’s also an essential social experience in my life. It becomes a space where I also play with emotional twists and turns of my life, capturing specific things I’ve experienced and letting them loose into the lives of NPCs as an outlet, or a means of understanding where I’ve been and where I’m going.

Real TTRPGs demand performance, execution, listening skills, and empathy in ways that Baldur’s Gate 3 can’t touch—hell, I don’t think any video game can come close.

I also play Pathfinder with people who are meaningful and vital in my life; it’s a critical part of my social life, my community. In the particular campaign I’m playing right now, it’s with those I hold dear, my local queer and trans community, my sisters—and I know from firsthand experience that campaigns have the potential to last, if not a lifetime, then certainly far beyond what the finite experience packed into Baldur’s Gate 3’s 120 gigabytes offers.

So while, yeah, Baldur’s Gate 3 is a ton of fun, it simply can’t hold the same place for me as the tabletop experience it’s based on. The game’s begun to feel like a shallow facsimile of a fuller role-playing experience that I enjoy so much more, and one which I feel bad for ignoring in favor of a limited replication.

Baldur’s Gate 3 being based on D&D 5e also makes it kind of boring

Obviously Baldur’s Gate 3 would be based on the fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons. It’s set in the game’s fictional universe. And, relax, I’m not gonna go on a diatribe about how I think Pathfinder 2e is so much better (though it is, sorry). But given that BG3 replicates the most standard of TTRPG rules, setting time aside for it feels a little unremarkable.

I would love to get a Baldur’s Gate 3 treatment of the World of Darkness rules system, for example. Or something like the Cypher System via a solid Numenera adaptation that’s more faithful to that game system’s mechanics than Torment: Tides of Numenera was. I’d gladly take another Shadowrun game of BG3’s caliber or a more by-the-books treatment of Cyberpunk.

D&D is basic, predictable. Vanilla.

It works, don’t get me wrong: 5e is a fine system in many ways, but it’s a known quantity. For a TTRPG-head like me, that just makes Baldur’s Gate 3 feel a little too predictable despite being a lot of fun. Were there a video game that adapted a TTRPG system I’m rarely able to find the time to gather a group of friends for, I’d feel a bit more tempted to set aside time from my regular Pathfinder planning because it might inform or inspire certain mechanics. I frequently look for opportunities to splice TTRPG systems together where it makes sense—I’ve recently fused GM and Player Intrusions from the Cypher System into Pathfinder 2e using Hero Points, for example. I’ve also taken to using the ”DCs by level” chart in Pathfinder’s core rulebook for spontaneous checks, a practice I adapted and learned from working with the Cypher System. BG3 doesn’t expose me to any new ways of playing with and adjudicating rules in a TTRPG.

As a TTRPG vet of…a long fucking time…Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t hit me in the same way I think it might for those who don’t get enough time at a table with a set of dice.

Video games that aren’t as directly connected to D&D, or games of wildly different genres, haven’t had this friction with my TTRPG life as they’re often distinct enough to feel like a different experience. But Baldur’s Gate 3 doesn’t do that. It aspires to deliver 5e as closely as it can, which starts to cut into the area of my life that I’ve already reserved for this kind of game.

While I enjoy Baldur’s Gate 3 and try to make time for it, it still feels like a distraction from my actual investment in the hobby and all of the fun and nourishing social experiences that come from the real thing. It doesn’t offer a unique-enough role-playing experience to feel like it’s worth spending time I’d otherwise use writing tens of thousands of words for my campaign.

I’ll continue to chip away at my Baldur’s Gate 3 run, and I want to more enthusiastically appreciate its quality and density, but it’s growing harder and harder to justify the time for it, let alone consider future playthroughs.

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