The scale and ambition evident in Baldur’s Gate 3 made it a hit with video game fans, but for tabletop RPG players, some of the mechanics changed from 5e Dungeons & Dragons suggests a misunderstanding of the system’s balance at all. Almost any video game based on a tabletop RPG system will have to make some changes to adapt to a different format, usually involving omitting certain spells, skills, or abilities that would be complex to program. BG3‘s liberties with 5e DnD’s rules go beyond this, showing no fundamental grasp of central 5e concepts like bounded accuracy, which has had strangely made punching the best weapon.
Though Baldur’s Gate 3 includes difficulty modes ranging from Explorer to Tactician, character builds ultimately determine just as much about how challenging any DnD adapted game will be. In the core rules there is parity among the various fighting styles, although some are better supported by feats than others. In tabletop 5e DnD, strength based unarmed fighting builds serve little purpose, as strength could instead allow for using a Heavy Weapon along with Great Weapon Master. Monks, the iconic unarmed fighting class, can use Dexterity for unarmed strikes, which also benefits their armor class and more skills than Strength. Baldur’s Gate 3 changes this paradigm completely due to one feat.
Tavern Brawler Feat In Baldur’s Gate 3 Makes Punching Overpowered
In tabletop DnD the Tavern Brawler feat, which appears in the core Player’s Handbook, is not a particularly powerful choice. It is a “half ASI feat,” meaning it adds +1 to a statistic instead of +2 for a full ability score increase choice. Its benefits include a 1d4 unarmed strike, improvised weapon proficiency, and the ability to use the Grab action as a bonus action. For most builds, Tavern Brawler is of little use, though a character with a 19 in Strength or Constitution might select it to max out a statistic while gaining some flavorful, but largely useless, abilities. In Baldur’s Gate 3 Tavern Brawler is objectively overpowered.
While there is now power creep in 5e DnD, the system initially stayed true to its concept of “bounded accuracy,” where opposed abilities like attack rolls and armor class, or spell difficulty class and saving throws, could only be increased moderately and gradually. This eliminated the problem of 3e DnD design where it was not uncommon to fight enemies with an armor class that could only be hit on a natural 20, or could not be missed, except with a natural 1. The 5e proficiency bonus only scales from +2 to +6, and base statistics can only be increased to 20 through normal means, enforcing bounded accuracy balance.
The Baldur’s Gate 3 Tavern Brawler feat adds a character’s Strength modifier to hit and damage with unarmed strikes twice. This is an unprecedented design approach for 5e DnD, and that single feat change makes unarmed strikes superior to previously top tier 5e fighting styles, like DnD polearm barbarians or ranged fighters. A character can easily start with a 17 Strength and put the bonus from Tavern Brawler into Strength for an 18, which is a +4 modifier. Taking Tavern Brawler at character level four therefore immediately grants an unarmed strike with +10 to hit (including proficiency bonus) with +8 added to damage, without factoring in any magic items.
BG3’s Changes To D&D Rules Make Punching Better Than Any Magic Sword
Since Baldur’s Gate 3 also adds a variety of non-canon magic items, including those that add elemental damage to unarmed strikes, punching has gone from a monk specialty to every strength-based character’s best option. Other bizarre rule alterations also raise eyebrows, like the absence of Attunement for powerful magic items, or combining Thieves’ Tools with the Sleight of Hand skill. The rationale behind the other changes might receive the benefit of the doubt if BG3‘s Tavern Brawler mistake did not already betray either a lack of understanding of 5e DnD balance, or complete indifference towards bounded accuracy – a central, defining paradigm of the edition.
Outside of increases through statistics going up, there are no feats in 5e that offer static bonuses to hit. A feat that can instantly add +4 to hit and damage with any weapon type has no place in 5e DnD’s design, but in Baldur’s Gate 3, a closed fist is more threatening than a magic greatsword. Other rules that were implemented incorrectly synergize ideally with the overpowered Tavern Brawler, allowing for absurd unarmed fighting builds. DnD‘sThief subclass for rogue offers alternate uses for a bonus action at level three, but in BG3 it grants an additional bonus action, another concept that would never be allowed in tabletop 5e.
Players can mix and match classes easily, taking monk levels for an even larger unarmed strike dice, as well as the ability to make one unarmed strike per bonus action, or two for the cost of a Ki point to activate Flurry of Blows. The Open Hand style monk can take an additional bonus action as of level six, again due to improperly implemented rules. With six monk levels and three rogue levels, a player can do five unarmed strikes per round, or eight for the cost of three Ki points. If the last three levels are in the fighter class, they can also Action Surge for 10 total attacks.
Baldur’s Gate 3 Destroys D&D’s Bounded Accuracy Concept With Its Tavern Brawler Changes
The idea of making 10 attacks per round is not unheard of in 5e DnD, but it is eyebrow raising at level 12, the BG3 cap on character levels. Savvy players likely replace the fighter levels with barbarian, as Reckless Attack and the resistances offered through Bear Heart and Rage add accuracy and staying power, ensuring the unarmed flurry master is not a glass cannon. The game features numerous ways to increase ability scores, along with a magic item that provides a set Strength score of 23, the Gauntlets of Frost Giant Strength. Adding this to a Tavern Brawler build ensures a +12 to hit and damage from strength alone.
Part of the fun of a mechanics heavy video game is finding ideal ability combinations that yield devastating power. Baldur’s Gate 3 certainly offers this, but so did the 5e DnD rules it was inspired by. There are many ways BG3 could have made a lackluster feat like Tavern Brawler more interesting, and even adding strength to damage twice would have still made it competitive. Adding an ability modifier to hit twice breaks the bounded accuracy of Dungeons & Dragons, and ensures that Baldur’s Gate 3 is bizarrely a pugilist’s paradise.