Baldur’s Gate 3: Understanding Combat Basics

Baldur’s Gate 3 is an amazing game. It’s a tale of high adventure with lots of crazy romance options added for good measure. In such a way, the game takes you to all the places. It’s the only game I’ve played that made me immediately jump into a second playthrough.

That said, one of the biggest criticisms about Baldur’s Gate 3 (BG3) is the combat. Baldur’s Gate 3 combat has been getting some interesting reactions. It’s fun to read these hot takes because, at the end of the day, the combat is based on Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition (5E). And let me tell you, after playing 5E for about four years now, I can’t disagree. The combat is kludgy. Especially if you are new to it.

But the purpose of this article isn’t to criticize Baldur’s Gate 3 combat or D&D. Rather, this article is meant to be a deep dive into BG3’s combat so you can understand what is happening. That way, you can actually enjoy the combat just as much as the roleplay sections. And who knows? Maybe you’ll take it to the next level and dive into tactician. But I get ahead of myself!

Understanding combat resource management

At the end of the day, BG3 combat boils down to managing resources. Each party member has a collection of skills that may refresh once per round, once per short rest, once per long rest, and for the ultra-rare skills, once per game.

You expend these resources in a variety of ways to achieve certain goals. A wizard may expend a third-level spell slot to cast a fireball to take out a large collection of enemies. A barbarian may expend a rage token to gain additional damage. Any character can expend a health potion to recover hit points.

While BG3 isn’t chess, you still must make tough choices to win a fight. Even if it means sacrificing your favorite companions.

Sometimes your resources can be “shut down” by an enemy. For instance, if the enemy casts the spell Silence, your spellcasters are mostly useless since almost every spell has a vocal component. Another enemy may cast Web on your party, stopping them from moving.

This means that each battle is an exercise of resource management. The goal isn’t to save your resources. Rather, you want to deploy your resources for maximum effect. You never want to conserve resources for “when you really need it”. By doing this, you end up playing the game on hard mode.

Breaking down turns

Baldur’s Gate 3 combat is broken into a series of rounds. Each combatant is placed in the initiative order and they go one at a time. You can see this order at the top of the screen.

Once every character completes their turn, the round ends and a new round begins. This keeps happening until you have crushed your enemies or until they have crushed you.

On an aside, in the tabletop game, each round equates to six seconds. Another thing to consider is that combat rarely exceeds ten rounds.

During a round, when a character has their turn, they have four resources: Movement, Action, Bonus Action, and a Reaction. You can only use each resource once per turn although you can augment them with skills and magical items.

These four resources is the basis of all BG3 combat. At the beginning of each combat round, these resources are refreshed for every combatant.

Movement

Every character gets to move on their turn unless they are restricted in some ways. Every character can move a certain distance based on their stats.

You can “spread out” movement. Meaning, you can use the attack action, move, and use attack action again (if you have an extra attack). Movement can’t be stockpiled. You either spend all of it or lose it at the end of your turn.

One pain point of the game is that you can’t “take back” movement. This can be maddening when you accidentally miss-click and send your fighter to the opposite end of the battlefield.

That said, you can lose movement from other ways. When you are knocked prone, it costs half your movement to stand back up. When you use the Jump bonus action, you are also expending movement.

Movement can also directly lead to attacks. Every combatant has “borders”. In the tabletop version, it’s the nine squares surrounding a token. If an ally passes through an enemy’s border or vice versa, they are given an “attack of opportunity”. BG3 tries to illustrate potential attacks of opportunity by annotating the battlefield with red arrows. They are quite easy to miss.

Sometimes you will willingly take the attack, whereas other times, you can avoid them entirely by way of the disengage action.

Actions

Actions are the core part of BG3 combat. Every combatant has one action that you can spend a variety of ways.

The Attack action is probably the most important action in combat. Martial characters may swing their sword to attack. Spellcasters may cast a Firebolt. There are lots of other actions that you can use as well.

The Disengage action is used to safely traverse combat zone. When you disengage, you can pass enemies without taking attacks of opportunity. This is useful for safely moving characters into safe positions or setting them up for future attacks. Remember when you disengage, you also can’t attack.

The Dash action gives you double the movement. This is useful when you need to cross the distance either to the enemy or to safety. Remember, dashing enemies can’t attack on that round. A good tactic is to be far enough away, forcing the enemy to dash to you. This essentially gives you a free round of attacks.

The Help action is used to help your party members. The most common use of the help action is to aid a downed companion. You can also use help to remove conditions such as burning, entangled, sleeping, and so on.

The Hide action attempts to conceal your character from the other combatants. To hide, you need to get out of the line of sight of other combatants. Rogues make heavy use of hiding to perform a sneak attack which can do some massive damage especially at high levels.

Your class, race, and magic items also provide additional actions as well. You can see all your actions by pressing the green circle on your hot bar.

Once you use an action to attack or dash, the rest of the actions will grey out until the next combat round.

Bonus Actions

The next type of resource is a bonus action. This is a utility action that can really save your bacon or even shift the direction of a battle. There are LOTS of bonus actions. This is great. It gives you a variety of choices to augment your main action.

Jump is a bonus action to gain vertical or horizontal distance. This is useful if there are lots of items cluttering the battlefield, making a direct path to an enemy impossible to traverse. Jumping does cost ten feet (3 meters) of movement though.

The Shove bonus action is also a good one. A smart shove can send an enemy towards a more powerful ally or in the situations where there is a ledge or a pit nearby, you can push an enemy to their death. Here’s a tip: shove first, then attack. If the enemy is knocked off a cliff, you can still use your attack on another enemy.

Drinking a potion is a bonus action. This is different from the table top game whereby drinking potions are actually actions. My D&D group uses this bonus action rule as comitting a full action to a potion is often a waste. At least in the table top game. Needless to say, you’ll be drinking lots of potions in BG3.

Dipping weapons in poison is also another powerful bonus action. This adds additional damage modifiers to your weapon.

You can also make an offhand attack. This is useful for characters who are dual-wielding. Note, that when you make such an attack, you won’t do as much damage. Your strength modifier will not be calculated. The next article will break down your stats so you can really understand them.

Some spells can be cast as bonus actions. Healing Word is an amazing bonus action spell. It allows you to heal an ally from a distance. This is useful in cases for downed companions.

Misty Step is also an excellent bonus action spell that provides extra mobility in a fight. Since teleporting doesn’t provoke opportunity attacks, you can run up to an enemy, attack, then use Misty Step to escape.

There are lots of bonus actions. Click the orange triangle on your hotbar to see all the available options.

Like the action circle, the triangle icon will grey out once you use your bonus action.

Reactions

Reactions are awesome. I love them because it feels like you are getting some additional action for free. In truth, you are using a reaction. Reactions are opportunity events that allow you to cast an additional spell, attack, or even protect yourself.

When you make an attack of opportunity, you are spending your reaction for that round. This means, you can only make one attack of opportunity per round. Once you take the attack of opportunity, enemies will be able to freely pass by you on that round.

Reactions are entirely situational. If you learn the Shield spell, you can spend your reaction to buff your armor class when being attacked, making you harder to hit.

A War Cleric skill uses a reaction to help your companions hit enemies

My favorite reaction is the Counterspell spell. You can use your reaction to cast Counterspell when an enemy casts a spell. Depending on the level of the enemy’s spell, Counterspell may negate it. There’s nothing more satisfying than watching an enemy mage try to cast Fireball, only to have it fizzle out.

Of course, casting Counterspell counts as using a reaction. Should another mage cast Fireball, I would be unable to stop them. Also, I would lose my ability to make attacks of opportunity or do any other type of reaction.

At low levels, using reactions is not much of a big deal since the enemies aren’t as difficult and your options are limited. At high levels, using reactions is feels almost like playing poker. Sometimes, you take a Fireball to the face so you can get the killing blow in an attack of opportunity.

Keep in mind, if you are even knocked prone from a topple action, you can’t perform reactions.

Where to go from here

That was a lot of information about Baldur’s Gate 3 combat! Hopefully, you’ll be able to put some of it right to use in your own game. You at least know why certain skills are greyed out and why sometimes you can attack and sometimes, you can’t.

The good news is that if you love BG3, you can literally apply these rules to the table top game. You can sit down and just start playing D&D. Granted, there are lots of other rules to learn, but you’ve just learned the core basics. Better still, you’ll be able to understand the jargon in shows like Critical Role.

But we are just beginning. In the next article, you’ll learn about the core attributes and how those attributes influence whether you live or die in combat. That said, If you are interested in reading my other articles, check out my Twine series or Unity series.

By Brian Moakley

Brian Douglas Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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