Larian Studios has done something remarkable with Baldur’s Gate 3. This is the studio’s third game (in a row, I might add!) that has perfectly married the rules and systems of a tabletop RPG into the language of video games. Many developers have done this to varying degrees of success, but Larian fundamentally understands what makes a pen and paper RPG enjoyable and how to properly show that off in the digital world.
I have been playing Dungeons and Dragons for over 15 years now and video games for even longer than that, and I’m always on the hunt for games that come close to that spark — that fire you can find at a table surrounded by your friends and stale chips. Freedom is an integral mechanic of pen and paper RPGs and, for the most part, Larian gives players so many choices and options.
However, there is still one aspect of pen and paper RPGs that Larian Studios hasn’t nailed down. Baldur’s Gate 3 does not have an option for players to jump into an ongoing campaign with their own custom character. This forces newcomers to play as characters that they have no connection to and disincentives them from joining their friends in an existing campaign.
Late to the party
You can have a rotating cast of players in Baldur’s Gate 3, however custom characters can only be introduced at the start of the game. Anyone joining afterwards must either play as one of the premade NPC characters that Larian Studios have provided or play as someone else’s character.
That doesn’t sit right with me as a tabletop player. When playing RPGs both on and off the computer, it’s vital that a player can immerse themself into a character. That allows players to invest in the personal story of your character, as well as the progression of spells, skills, and gear. That character growth is what makes RPGs incredibly enjoyable.
This is all still technically possible in Baldur’s Gate 3 for four players who all start the campaign at the same time, but that’s not always the case. In my 15 years of playing D&D, I have been a dungeon master for 12 of them. Knowing feats and enemy stats isn’t as difficult as managing the schedules of disparate players.
That’s always a challenge in both tabletop games and virtual ones. Be it because of life getting in the way or the fact that they no longer stand cheeseballs staining up their Player’s Handbook, gathering a party up is incredibly daunting and it’s only inevitable that one or two players will drop out. It doesn’t matter why; what does matter is that there is now a hole in the group that must be filled.
For tabletop or pen-and-paper RPGs, there’s a simple solution: Just invite more people. Have a quick session with them to create their character, give them some items, a brief summary of the plot, and they are set to go with a character that they want to play as.
That’s not possible in Baldur’s Gate 3 currently. New players can’t jump into an ongoing campaign with a character that they created and that they want to play as. All that is left are hand-me-downs whose identities cannot be divorced from their creators.
This puts someone like me in an awkward position. How can I talk about a game that I thoroughly love, but cannot properly invite my friends to play with? I have plenty of friends who will not jump into games like Baldur’s Gate 3 alone, but absolutely would if we did it together. Do I start a new campaign if they want to create their own character? Are they forced to play as a character they have no investment in? I just don’t understand why there isn’t a system in place to encourage more people to play together.
The game could benefit from an inn, stables, or even something like Bill’s PC from Pokémon that gives players an option to create custom characters during the campaign. Perhaps it could be relegated to a menu so Larian Studios doesn’t have to worry about having the campsite filled with pink-haired druids and balding warlocks. Their level can be whatever the level the host’s character is. For the question of gear: There are shops, there are dungeons, and there are rogues who are itching to steal. This seems like a problem that fixes itself.
I am a huge fan of games like Baldur’s Gate 3. I want more people to play games like it with me. But it’s too hard to encourage people to play if they cannot create their own character midway through a game. RPGs are an excellent medium to express yourself in, so why should we punish players and restrict them from that expression just because they are late to the party?