I’m annoying as hell when it comes to choice-based RPGs because I am so particular about role-playing and writing a character in my head that I couldn’t even stand the thought of playing Baldur’s Gate 3 cooperatively with even my close friends. I said in my review that I don’t think it’s the optimal way to play through Larian Studios’ expansive Dungeons & Dragons RPG your first time through, and after playing with friends and watching the chaos unfold, that was definitely true. But it did give me a foothold to think about Baldur’s Gate 3 differently, so while I’m not sure that I’ll play through an entire campaign with my chaotic real-life crew, I’m at least happy I gave it a chance.
When I played Baldur’s Gate 3 alone, I made a self-insert character. He was a Warlock who looked about as close to me as I could make him (it’s not terribly difficult to make a bald, bearded white guy) and my decisions weren’t governed by any D&D alignment or some deep, lore-based backstory. I essentially Isekai’d myself into the Forgotten Realms and just made decisions that spoke to me. But because I knew all my friends, including Destructoid’s Eric Van Allen, Prima Games’ Jesse Vitelli, and Digital Extremes’ Tatum, weren’t going to be using the characters they made in their solo playthroughs, I probably shouldn’t, right?
Instead, I looked at a different created character I made. The Guardian, who Baldur’s Gate 3 asks you to create after you’ve settled on your protagonist, plays a central role in the main plot, but you never inhabit them the way you do your hero. My Guardian was a buff daddy of a Tiefling who, perhaps influenced by the character’s original “Dream Lover” background in Early Access, was basically just a Dungeons & Dragons approximation of my type. Even if I didn’t play as him, I was still pretty attached to the Tiefling by the end of my Baldur’s Gate 3 playthrough, so I decided I would recreate him for multiplayer.
But then the game asked me to make a Guardian for him, and it just kind of seemed natural that if he was the Guardian for my player character, my self-insert hero would be the Guardian for him. Initially, I did this because it was easy and I’m stupid, but as I played through the cooperative campaign with my friends, this began to take on new meaning. But not before I endured the absolute nonsense that is trying to play a super serious RPG alongside the goofiest clowns I know and love.
Each of our characters entered the world and we introduced ourselves. My scruffy Tiefling Bard named Arendelle (yes, like the kingdom in Frozen, I couldn’t think of anything that sounded fantasy-like and saw the movie on my shelf) exited his Mind Flayer pod and met three other heroes who might as well have been pulled out of different worlds and given names that made Arendelle look like the weird one. This included Bootyquake the Dragonborn, a Dwarf Monk named The Green Hulk who looks exactly like the Marvel hero he’s named after, and Italian Stallion, another Dwarf Monk who also slayed in his underwear. Just, ya know, without the superhero backstory.
The chaos didn’t stop at our gaggle of weirdos’ introduction. Each of us was playing a different class than we played in the main game, and that meant fumbling our way through our abilities on top of figuring out how to coordinate our strategies and find some semblance of synergy in the characters we slapped together for a stream. I soon realized my Bard could do psychic damage by clowning on enemies, which we called “Diss Tracks,” but the best part was realizing he could randomly play music on his violin that would usurp the score at any given moment. I missed my Warlock’s Eldritch Blast, but I was committed to the bit, so I changed the music up during each fight.
After we got through the initial intro on the Mind Flayer ship, we headed down the surface and recruited all the party members, just to send them back to camp so we could keep playing together. When you’re suddenly skipping over pivotal story moments to get back to being the most nonsensical ball of chaos the Forgotten Realms has ever seen, it starts rewiring how your brain engages with a game like Baldur’s Gate 3. This is the kind of RPG I usually pour myself into as I roleplay and agonize over my decisions, but now, the world was our playground, and I figured I might as well vibe.
Once the weight of story investment was off our shoulders, we started fighting each other just because we could, whether it was mindlessly attacking our fellow party members or wasting valuable resources like spell slots to annihilate each other. Then we had to drop money and items to revive each other so we could keep playing. The best parts of Baldur’s Gate 3 are found when it’s reacting to your presence, and even when we only had low-level spells or hadn’t quite reached the more elaborate scenarios found later in the game, I realized that the possibilities only increased tenfold when multiple human players are occupying the world without restriction. Sure, we were just merking each other then, but what if we were actually trying to play the game properly?
Eventually, we started making progress again and managed to pull ourselves together long enough to recruit Withers for our camp. Then, we took a Long Rest and were greeted by our respective Guardians. Arendelle met my character in a dream world and what started out as me being lazy and stupid, suddenly set a lightbulb off in my head. If I’d had a character sheet to write on, I’d have started scribbling down notes. What if, instead of this co-op campaign being just a meaningless romp with my friends, it was an extension of my Baldur’s Gate 3 story?
I come from a pretty extensive fanfiction background from my middle and high school days, having written some truly terrible shit as a teenager and read much better work in the years that followed. It’s part of why role-playing games are so appealing to me. I love filling in the gaps between what a creator tells me, and it informs decisions I make in titles like Baldur’s Gate 3. Some folks like to play multiple characters and explore every possible outcome, but I like creating a set character with specific decisions. That’s my story in Baldur’s Gate 3, and as I saw my own character show up and seek council with Arendelle the Tiefling Bard, my mind started racing wondering how this could factor into that. What if they were star-crossed lovers communicating with each other across the multiverse? Could it be possible my Warlock had forgotten the Tiefling as part of a deal with his patron? I could just go full sicko mode and write that backstory in a Google Doc somewhere.
Part of the appeal of tabletop roleplaying games is creating backstories for your characters and envisioning how they would react to situations based on their history and lived experience. Even if you don’t put a lot of thought into it, the heroes and villains we create are meant to be a rich tapestry beyond just stats and abilities. Playing Baldur’s Gate 3 with friends expanded my vision of what the game could be, both in how it could be played and in why my character is who he is.
Every time I boot Baldur’s Gate 3 up, I find new wrinkles in what Larian Studios has created, and even after finishing my first “canonical” run, I’m becoming more open to new ways of experiencing it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read up on multiverse concepts in Dungeons & Dragons. I’ve got notes to take and character sheets to make.