It's worth embracing a few failed rolls in Baldur's Gate 3 (2024)

Baldur’s Gate 3is a massive role-playing game, rife with decisions and choices that can come to a die roll. Consequences of a failed roll inBaldur’s Gate 3can ripple out across the game, ranging from small changes to big shifts in the story. And even though you’ve got modifiers and tools, you’re still always beholden to the die.

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To that end, I get why we are now rehashing the age-old save-scum debate. In some ways, it’s a little silly; it’s your game, so you should play it how you want.

What I would like to do, though, is encourage a few of you file perfectionists out there to embrace the failed roll. I come to you as a documented save-scumme*r myself—myXCOM Enemy UnknownandFire Emblemfiles more than verify as much—saying that failure isn’t just entertaining inBaldur’s Gate 3. It’s actually led to some really interesting, clever moments of role-playing that make me appreciate all the more what Larian Studios has made.

Settle in for story time

So let’s lay out an example. Skip ahead to the next header section if you’d like to stay scot-free on spoilers; I’ll keep out of anything major, but I know some folks are avoiding any info aboutBG3in general.

While adventuring in the Shadow-Cursed Lands, I came across a distillery where a grotesque bartender had taken up shop for a ghoulish clientele. I could tell, just from his general stature and aura, that this dude could easily become a boss encounter if I did not play it right.

As my companions pointed out to my main character, our big guy seemed about ready to burst from all the dangerous-looking elixir he was downing. So if I could keep him talking and drinking, I could get some infoandskip the fight altogether. The problem was, he wasn’t easily impressed. To keep the good times rolling, I need to weave some good tales from my own adventures. How did I do? Well…

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Yeah, I rolled a natural 1. What I really love about the die system is that, by having these extremes, it encourages a little risk taking now and again. No matter what the stat check is, you have a 1-in-20 shot at passing it with a natural 20. You also have a 1-in-20 shot of blowing it, no matter what. Nothing is truly guaranteed, so you can have your hopes lifted or crushed at any time.

With a DC of 21 and only two Inspiration, which you can expend to re-roll, I could either save-scum it or take it on the chin. I did the latter, expecting a boss fight. Except, it didn’t happen. The bartender just made fun of my story. He mocked me bragging about touring through the Hells, when he was basically already living in a hellscape. So then I had to roll a Deception check to tell an even taller tale that would impress him, and keep him drinking.

The entire encounter was this: me trying to weave in stories and failing to impress, but stringing him along just enough with my charm (and sleight of hand in feigning my own drinks) to keep the conversation going. I got my information, and the boss burst, without a single Eldritch Blast fired. The whole time, I was dancing a careful edge, trying to keep a crocodile smile while narrowly skating through check after check.

Playing out losses

Making failure feel good is an incredibly tricky thing in role-playing game. I feel like I always go back toMass Effectwhen I think about this topic. It’s amazing that you can “fail” a dialogue inMass Effect 1and lose Wrex, a party member that can otherwise become a Krogan leader and central figure for major quests inME2andME3. It’s something I really like, but also something I’ve never really wanted to play out myself, if I’m being honest.

And for the sake of transparency, it’s not like I’m letting every die roll play out. I’ve absolutely save-scummed a few sequences. Here are Eric’s Golden Rules to when it’s okay, in my eyes, to roll back a save:

  • Combat. Come on, that one’s easy. Party member goes down? Fight goes awry? Roll it on back.
  • Romance. I’m not playing a Charisma-based character just to fail all my Rizz checks.
  • Animals. I will gladly save scum any roll to ensure that no animals were harmed in my journey. (Sadly, some animals were harmed. Can’t save ’em all.)

Even still, I’ll sometimes make a bold choice just to see what happens. Seeing the permutations is actually what put me onto this new appreciation for failure in the first place.

I was talking to Raphael, the devilish deal-maker, who was asking me to do him a favor and take care of a lingering thread he’d left behind, in a dungeon I was about to walk into. Naturally, I wanted to know more. So I took the roll option to see if I could eke just a little more info out of him about what I was walking into. I failed, and I really just need to show you the face he made when I deigned to ask him for something:

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Suffice to say, I did not get what I wanted in that scenario. But I didn’t roll it back. I liked that my protagonist, who I endearingly refer to as “Half-Elf Anderson Cooper”, tried and failed in that moment. I felt rewarded because it felt like Larian wanted that failure to be rewarding, in its own way.

The churn ofBaldur’s Gate 3

A dice roll in a game likeDungeons & Dragonsisn’t just about screwing the player over. It’s a system built to encourage a little bit of chaos. Because, as it turns out, failures are narratively exciting. If stories were written about people who always made the right choices, they’d be pretty boring.

In the same way,Baldur’s Gate 3 lets me fail, but makes those failings feel like compelling pieces of my story. Rolling a natural 20 feels incredible because I have rolled so many close failures before it. Systems like the Karmic Dice are supposed to off-set this a little, but still, it’s engaging to have things go wrong. Yes, you can specialize in Deception, and bump up those modifiers, and have Shadowheart keep Guidance on you 24/7. That doesn’t mean a 1 can’t roll. Heck,Baldur’s Gate 3even gives you some tools for forcing a pass, sometimes with consequences. The interaction of all these systems can lead to some dramatic moments, and you can feel every bit of that tension as you watch the virtual die tumble on-screen.

I wrote something similar aboutDisco Elysiuma couple years ago, and that’s a similar game that felt like it embraced the narrative power of failure. These little parts where your character is not as strong as they think they are, or as perceptive as they claim to be, or maybe just let their mind wander during an important conversation, all feel like part of the story. There’s nothing quite like seeing four Perception: Failed rolls as you’re walking along a seemingly normal road.

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Even the successes tell their own stories. In one area, I needed to pass an Athletics check to roll a gondola back up towards me. My Warlock certainly didn’t pass the first one. But then the incredibly strong duo of Shadowheart and Lae’zel couldn’t move it either. You know who got that hunk of wood up, fighting gravity itself to guarantee us safe travel? Gale. The bookworm Wizard Gale. I like to imagine he felt more like Octopath Traveler 2‘s bear of a mage Osvald in that moment.

So yes, save-scum the things you want to save-scum. If you’re really dying to see that Karlach romance scene, don’t accept anything less than success on those rolls. But maybe let some of those less critical die roll low. Watch and see what happens. I think Larian’s put an impressive amount of work into making failures carry story scenes, and even open up compelling branches within them, and it’s worth seeing. It won’t just make you appreciate the breadth and scope ofBaldur’s Gate 3. It’ll also make for a pretty good story someday, if you ever need to keep a ghoulish one occupied.

About The Author

It's worth embracing a few failed rolls in Baldur's Gate 3 (4)

Eric Van Allen

Senior Editor - While Eric's been writing about games since 2014, he's been playing them for a lot longer. Usually found grinding RPG battles, digging into an indie gem, or hanging out around the Limsa Aethryte.

More Stories by Eric Van Allen

It's worth embracing a few failed rolls in Baldur's Gate 3 (2024)

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