I made a big mistake while playing Baldur’s Gate 3. Nearing the end of Act 2, I was faced with a decision—a big decision. Frozen by choice paralysis, I couldn’t pick, didn’t want to pick, and panicked. I did a terrible thing. I Googled it. I’m here today to confess my folly, and share it with you so you might not do the same, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about playing a role-playing game, it’s to remember to role-play.
Let’s get a spoiler warning in place before anything else. I’m going to be discussing a major moment at the end of Act 2, so a very long way into Baldur’s Gate 3. It will obviously be a spoiler, and I will be discussing the specific choice in detail. However, it’s also a somewhat predictable moment, given away by the game’s UI more than anything else, and I shall not be spoiling everything else that leads up to it, nor anything that happens after it. So, it’s your call.
“Should I evolve my tadpole?” A Google term that looks so enormously obscure, and yet is so commonly typed in that the site completed the sentence for me. No, this is not some deranged query over whether to allow the residents of your local pond to reach adulthood, but rather a key question that arises in the second half of Larian’s epic RPG, Baldur’s Gate 3.
In the game’s opening storyline, the illithid parasite—the creature that mind flayers plant in other species’ heads in order to turn them, known colloquially as a tadpole—isn’t affecting you or the people you meet in the normal way. It’s not causing people to immediately turn into Cthulhu-cosplaying beasts. The core question of the whole game is, “Why?” And this moment late in the game is an essential part of this.
It’s a search query entered so often that dozens of sites have written cynical articles designed to fight for the first page of results, sat alongside their entries for “GTA 6 release date” and “how to get free robux.” Sites as bizarre as Sports Illustrated have pages written up for it.
Each provides near-identical information, giving you the immediate results of either choice, and then putting your mind at ease about any long-term effects you may be worrying about. People have a question, and they’re answering it, and that’s internet capitalism. But what none of them is saying is that the reader has just asked the wrong question.
I wish they would have, though. I wish the result I clicked on (and I genuinely forget which site it was) had begun by saying, “You want to know if you should allow your brain-worm to evolve into a more powerful form, and you’re asking because you’re worried you might be about to spoil your game if you make the wrong choice. But stop. That’s not the question you want to be asking yourself.”
Baldur’s Gate 3 is an astonishing RPG for many reasons, including its epic size, the intricate detail in every moment, and the amazing cast of complex characters. But it’s also astonishing because of how it makes second-guessing incredibly difficult. As I previously wrote, BG3 makes decisions far more interesting, and to some degree far harder, than so many other RPGs do because of how it doesn’t foreshadow the consequences. Throughout the game, you have to side with groups and individuals, or make life-or-death decisions, not based on which you think will be the most advantageous for you as a player, but instead decided by the world you’re in, the characters you’re with, and the consequences on the people around you. You’d think after something like 60 hours of this, I’d have learned.
Faced with illithid evolution, I completely reset back to my old ways of thinking. Here’s the moment: You have just finished a major beat of the game’s arcing narrative, and learned a revelation about a major character. In the heat of this, and before you enter the game’s final act, you’re given a choice. Do you let the psychic tadpole in your brain evolve, or do you force it to remain in its more primal form?
Do you persist with the game’s opening motivation of trying to free yourself of this mind flayer parasite and refuse to allow it any more power or control? Or do you willingly accept it as a part of you, allow it to interweave with your being more deeply, making you potentially more powerful, but possibly losing something of yourself in the process?
That’s a fascinating question, and one I wish I’d grappled with both more intelligently, and more emotionally. But instead, I just panicked. What if evolving the tadpole means I can’t get some supposed “Good” ending? What if not evolving the tadpole means I limp through the game’s final act missing out on all the coolest aspects? What if the game wants me to pick one of them and I’m too stupid to know which?
So I Googled it, and I got told the facts. X happens if you say yes, Y happens if you say no. And then I knew that stuff, and made my decision based on which one sounded like “a better game.”
What a colossally stupid thing to have done. Because here’s the question I should have asked, and the question I wish those search results had suggested to me:
What decision would your character make?
I’ve played live D&D. I know what it is to get into character, and make decisions that I’d personally never choose. Hell, ever since that last article, I’ve been making decisions much more on what I think my character, Ranger Tiefling Amaranth, would do. And yet, in this situation that felt so much more momentous, I abandoned all that and just tried to game it. Gah.
Amaranth (named for the shrub, and not a misspelling of a famous internet lady) would not find it an easy decision. The first thing she’d think about would be the consequences it might have on her deeply loving relationship with Karlach. The second would be whether it might help her steal stuff. By third place, she’d be considering the greater consequences on her chances of best resolving the larger issues facing Faerûn. But at no point would her decision be influenced by game mechanics.
Now, as I reflect on all this, I’m utterly incapable of knowing what choice I’d have made for her if I’d not taken the coward’s way. All I can do is try to justify why I’d have picked the same result anyway, with no idea if I’m being honest with myself. I think, honestly, I’d have picked differently, and I really hate that.
As a result, I’ve decided I’m going to blame someone other than myself. I’m going to blame All Other Games, which have spent the last three decades training me to make choices this way. It’s always about being more powerful, right? Or more capable. Getting more abilities. Making numbers go up. That’s what motivated me here.
Of course, given how many times it had already proven itself to me, I should have just trusted Baldur’s Gate 3. In a way that parallels the almighty 2000 Deus Ex, it’s a game that masterfully guides players through the exact same places and circumstances, but lets each person’s experience be uniquely their own, based on how they encounter it all. There was no reason to think it was suddenly giving me a choice that would undermine all this. And yet, into the fetid alleys of Sports Illustrated clickbait I stumbled all the same.
So, let’s feed the Google machine ourselves, and hopefully save at least someone else from the same mistake:
You’re not asking the right question. It’s not about what you should or shouldn’t do. It’s about your character, everything they’ve been through, all their previous experiences and encounters, and all the information and allegiances they’ve accrued along the way. What would they do? That’s the right choice.