Your party is deep into exploring a dungeon, having slain a slew of skeletons and their nefarious necromancer puppet masters. On the fresh corpse of the leader, your wizard finds a magical glowing tablet. The DM asks them to roll Arcana. The anticipation behind this moment is palpable as the whole party waits with bated breath to see the outcome of this game-changing roll. Will the secret of the cult’s power be revealed, or will the journey for the answer continue?
The ineffable emotion behind dice rolling, for a lot of people, is what D&D is about, and it’s what Baldur’s Gate III’s new UI change, brought in on their newly released patch 5, does a much better job of representing.
When playing on patch 4, rolling ability checks felt a little bit hollow and uneventful. I was still having a great time, it just felt like this pivotal process was missing some things, like it was a shell of its potential. I couldn’t identify what needed to be there, I just knew there was a void that needed to be filled.
BG3 is in early access, so this is exactly what you’d expect, but the changes the game has introduced with patch 5 have done an amazing job at transitioning ability checks away from routine button presses that don’t feel special to moments that connect you greatly to the world and its characters.
While on the surface the changes seem small, their impact is rather large. The first two changes, prominently displaying the difficulty check of each roll and the bonuses your characters get to a roll, both highlight the math behind the process and help the player understand what they are trying to do and how their character’s build is aiding (or hurting) this. Meanwhile, the third change, the allowance to add guidance to any roll with ease, acts mostly as a nice feature to make the game easier and more fluid to play.
Displaying the Ability Check’s Difficulty Class (DC)
The first big change Larion Studios has made is putting the raw DC, a.k.a.: Dice Check (or difficulty class, if you want to use its actual name), as the prominent number at the top. This is the number you need to reach in order to succeed on the check. Beforehand, the game would show you the number you needed to roll with your bonuses already taken into account.
For example, if you have +3 bonuses on a DC 15, it shows 15, whereas before it would have shown 12.
The great thing about the change is that it visually lets you know how hard any single given roll is, also making it easier to understand its difficulty compared to all other ability checks.
This sort of visualisation is what a lot of the changes are about and can also be seen when rolling with advantage, where now you will actually have two dice rolling. Rolling with advantage is a special event in D&D, and having advantage rolls just sort of down in the background was lame and a perfect encapsulation of how the old system dampened the anticipation and enthusiasm players have when rolling ability checks.
Now, on the rare occasion you do get advantage, watching both dice tumble around their imaginary box really demonstrates the importance of the moment, even more so when one of the rolls fail. And displaying not just advantage but also the difficulty class of these rolls gives the player a greater recognition of ability checks status and meaning within the game.
Having this recognition, in turn, allows you to fully feel the joy of succeeding on a roll, riding the high of having the random number generator fall in your favour, while equally letting you feel the frustration of failing a simple check because what are the odds you only rolled a three? That’s some bullshit right there.
With the old system, the DC might be 15, but you have +7 bonuses, so it would display an 8 as the required roll, or ‘target’, as it was referred to, while a DC of 10, where you have no bonuses, would display a target 10. Instinctively, you’d assume the 10 required was a harder roll. There’s nothing really wrong with this, but it meant that as a player, I was never really comprehending the significance of the task I was undertaking, it all sort of felt muddled and abstract.
Even more discouraging, I was very rarely proud or happy that I passed a check because the number it was displaying was often low. Why would I feel good about passing a check where I needed to roll a 6? That’s not that impressive.
Sure, you can do the math to figure it out, and I was doing this a lot to see what the actual check was, but that would take me away from the fun of the roll and out of the moment. Plus, this may have helped me understand individual checks, but it never really led to me building an internal schema for comparison where I could recognise, “Oh, this persuasion check is much harder than the religion check I made earlier,”. It all just washed over me due to the lack of core system to build from.
Having the difficulty class displayed now provides that core system, every check is easily related back to this number, overall letting you know how difficult the skill check you are trying to do is and how your character’s build affects the outcome.
Displaying Stat and Proficiency Bonuses Under the Roll
This leads into the other big change, the fact that the bonuses to your rolls are now displayed below the dice and will add to your d20 roll after it has been rolled, instead of how it was previously, where the bonuses were pre-added to the roll, with the game telling you what d20 number you needed to succeed, as discussed above. An amazing change that captures the spirit of D&D as people roll and then add their bonuses rather than the other way round.
More importantly though, it forefronts the importance of your class build into ability checks. Specialising your class and carefully selecting particular stats and proficiencies is an enormous part of the character creation process and continues to be massively impactful throughout the entire campaign.
Patch 5 pulls your purposefully deliberated bonuses out from behind the dice and proudly displays the advantages your build is providing you, equipped with cool symbols and all. To cap this off, it even has a nice visceral animation of the bonuses adding to your roll, which adds to the level of satisfaction, whereas before you’d have to hover your mouse over the dice to see what bonuses you were receiving, and the fanfare for such additions was simply some nice green text, which was still good but nowhere near as visually affirming. When playing on patch 4, I sort of forgot what my stats and proficiencies were because I was never really seeing them. This was also due to the fact that the menu they were in was one I don’t really use.
Choosing your stats at the beginning of the game is a big deal, but outside of your main skill, which is used to determine damage bonuses, and constitution, which affects your total health and maybe strength for jumping and stuff. The other stats may not be seemingly relevant at all throughout the flow of the game, and their effect when playing BG3 can be total hidden.
So why did I spend so long debating whether or not I wanted to spend the two points it costs to move a skill from 13 to 14 in order to get 14 wisdom and a +2 on wisdom checks, instead of spending those two points on intelligence and moving it from 8 to 10? I’m basically never noticing the difference or when it’s relevant. Patch 4, at times, made the choices I made feel inconsequential and, to a degree, meaningless.
Patch 5 change doesn’t change any of the actual mechanics, but it does a lot to change your perception. Whenever you make a roll, seeing your stat modifier under the dice, the +2 wisdom, or whatever, constantly reinforces the choices you made and reminds you what your stats are and why they matter.
This is even more apparent with proficiencies. Picking your proficiencies can take quite some time, and this is where you can often differentiate yourself from others of the same class. Furthermore, outside of race and class, they’re usually the largest factor indicator to determine what sort of character you are roleplaying.
Even if it’s only superficial and internal, which most D&D characterisation is, these variances can affect the way you think about yourself. Choosing between a proficiency in animal handling over medicine might mean more than the bonuses they bring. This might be the difference between you playing a character who cares for animals and has a history of owning pets versus someone who knows how to clean some wounds after a fight and is known for their ad hoc medicinal remedies.
The visual of seeing proficiency bonuses sitting under the dice fully lets you know when the choices you made at the beginning of the game are having an impact and how much they are affecting your experience with the game, reinforcing who you are as a character. While this was kind of there before, it’s much more apparent now and aids in immersing the player into the world.
Playing with this new UI, I felt the game was really starting to be imbued with the feeling that ability checks come with in D&D, where you make a roll, then look at your character sheet, add your ability modifier, add your proficiency bonus and turn a subpar 8 into a respectable 14.
This is all the more rewarding when you see the bonuses fly onto a d20 roll that would have resulted in a failure and watch them change it to one that succeeds. It really makes you feel like your character, your build, is the reason that you were able to pass a check, and your past choices are the reason you can now get an extra item, get new information, or altogether avoid a fight.
Making Guidance Easier to Activate
It’s very clear that Larian Studios want you to have access to the guidance spell, which gives you an extra 1d4 to any ability check you make, a pretty sizable buff and arguably one of the best cantrips in the game. The first companion you meet, Shadowheart, has it equipped, and just in case you decide you don’t want her in your party, well, don’t worry, there’s a necklace you can get pretty early on that gives the wearer the spell. Now, everyone 100% has the spell, there’s no fear that the players will be a bunch of sad sacks rolling with just their base modifiers.
I’m not the biggest fan of this as guidance is a strong spell, and having the spell somewhat dampens the effect high stats and proficiencies provide by giving an almost equivalent bonus on every roll.
It would be nicer if only those who went out of their way to get the bonus by taking a class that has the spell received it because, as I said, it’s very strong, and it makes the stat and proficiency choices less meaningful. But Larian is a benevolent game designer and grants this gift to all players.
This is even more true in the new patch, since, as now, adding guidance to your character is easier than ever. When asked to make a roll, if any character in your party can provide guidance, then you can click a button and you can have the spell added. This is both good and bad.
The reason it’s good is because, yeah, of course I want to have guidance on every single roll I’m doing. If I have the spell, I absolutely want the bonus. So, making it really easier to add is just a nice quality of life change as before I was often buffing myself with guidance before most conversations just in case there was a check I needed to make, which was tedious.
On top of this, there were sometimes checks I would be asked to make unexpectedly, and I wouldn’t be able to add guidance, even though Shadowheart was just standing behind me. It felt dumb and immersion-breaking because I honestly don’t know why I couldn’t just say, “Hey, Shadowheart, I’m about to make a religion check on this book, can you hit me up with some of that sweet guidance”. Just like you can in regular D&D.
However, not always having guidance available sometimes makes sense. If you’re in a conversation and you’re trying to convince someone, it doesn’t really make sense that your character would turn to your cleric and be like, “Yo, I’m about to lie to this guy in an attempt to extort him, do you mind dropping me a bit of that tasty guidance”. You don’t have time. Plus, if you’re an NPC and you notice someone casually casting a spell on the person you are talking to, it might set off a few warning bells that tomfoolery is afoot.
This is why most DMs don’t allow guidance to be applied to charisma-based checks after the check has been asked for because it doesn’t make sense that you’d be guiding someone either after the thing has already been said or during the flow of conversation.
This concept applies to checks that aren’t during conversations too; any check that is in regards to something happening ‘in the moment’ is an occasion where this easy to apply bonus shouldn’t occur.
One example of when this was a little silly is when I first talked to Astarion and he puts a knife to my neck. So, I go and make the dexterity check labelled “quickly roll away”. But then I added guidance. So what? While we were on the ground, and I supposedly was about to make my nimble escape, Shadowheart walked over, touched me and cast guidance as that skill is touch-activated. Then, only after that do I bother to roll away, and while this is happening, Astarion just chills out and waits. Like, what is going on here?
Hopefully in the future, Larian will go through and identify each individual check and determine in which it would make sense to have guidance applied and in which it wouldn’t. As currently the system is, simply you can get a buff on any check, regardless if it makes sense or not, and it’s fairly world-breaking. Although honestly, I’m not massively concerned.
Nowl I’ve been focusing on guidance, and that’s because most people will have the spell, and it’s a cantrip, so you can use it whenever. But everything I’ve just discussed applies to the spell enhance ability, which gives the player advantage on rolls of a certain type by the casting, i.e., advantages on wisdom rolls, dexterity rolls, etc.
When playing through on Patch 4, I never knew when to use this spell as I never knew when it would be relevant, and I didn’t want to preemptively cast it since it uses a spell slot. However, this change lets you also add or enhance an ability. An excellent change because, when you really need the boost to your chances, you can add this buff with ease, basically actually allowing you to use the spell.
This also applies to scrolls, which I legitimately never used and had no intention of using. So, when I saw that I could use a scroll of animal friendship when talking to Scratch the Dog to get advantage, I figured, “Hey, why not?”. A decision I never would have made unless the game prompted me.
Ultimately, I think the change is good, and I like it because it streamlines the game and makes it more fun, which is great, because it’s a game, but a few tweaks to when it can be applied are required for it to not just be a permabuff you always get, regardless if it is logical or not.
Trying to recreate the magic which is D&D, an esoteric and mainly imagination-based game, is a borderline impossible task. However, even just in early access, I’ve found that Baldur’s Gate III is doing a pretty excellent job of this.
This change to the dice-rolling UI goes a long way to embody the feelings, the emotions, the energy of rolling dice in D&D, and I’m honestly so impressed they’ve managed to implement this abstract concept into the game.
What Larian had already shown with BG3 has demonstrated they are truly capable of emulating the essence of D&D, and this change has bolstered my faith that this game can be everything we want it to be.