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Lingo I Picked Up Playing My First AAA Role-Playing Game

Ellesméra looking to the side like a bad ass wielding Blood of Lathander and crossing a river.

It’s a day that ends in “y” so I’m still playing and thinking about Baldur’s Gate 3. It may seem hard to believe considering how much I’ve written about this game, but I’m very new to role-playing games (RPGs), and especially computer RPGs (a.k.a. CRPGs). While I’d played Dungeons and Dragons twice before, my experience was mixed. Not only was it a lot of info thrown at me at once, but everyone, including the dungeon master (DM), was new to the game. Still, I never wrote it off and now playing the CRPG BG3 I’m even more excited to dive back in. That re-sparked desire is in part due to just having a clearer grasp on the language (and related mechanics) of RPGs.

Learning and gaining a better understanding of some of the terminology has already impacted how I interact with other games. For example, I played the narrative board game Betrayal at House on the Hill for the first time since BG3‘s release and understood it even better than before. (By the way, Avalon Hill released a Baldur’s Gate edition!)

Knowing these words and mechanics doesn’t just make the game better. It also helps when I get stuck and need to communicate a question to another player or Google. These are some of those words and phrases I’ve picked up playing BG3 that are common in other RPGs—especially D&D.

Cantrips & Rituals

Alyssa (the adorable Tiefling Bard) speaking to a dead body found in the forest in 'Baldur's Gate 3.'
(screencap from Larian Studios by Alyssa Shotwell)

I knew this meant spell. However, it’s learning the difference between this and any other spell that BG3 really drilled into my brain. While spells tend to cost a spell slot or, in another game, mana, cantrips tend to cost nothing. The character has spent a long enough period of time practicing and learning it so it expels little to no effort. In combat, they cost an action. This prevents adventurers from spamming else, for example, IGNIS (firebolt), and winning immediately. Think of ‘cantrip’ as a shorter and easier-to-pull version of ‘incantation.’

Speak With The Dead (shown above) is not a cantrip, but a very useful ritual spell. Still, it doesn’t exhaust a spell slot if your character is versed in it. (Including if they have a certain amulet from Withers.) The main difference between ritual spells and cantrips is that the former comes inherent to certain characters depending on race, background, and class. That doesn’t mean the spells are inaccessible to those who don’t fit that criteria. At the next level up that offers a Feat, select Ritual Caster to learn two ritual spells of your choice.


Madeline's half-drow sorceress serving looks.
(screencap from Larian Studios by Madeline Carpou)

Like ‘cantrip,’ I had the gist of this one. Similarly to the word outside of a gaming context, ‘Initiative’ is just the person who gets to act first. Like the base game, D&D, this refers to who goes first in battle. Each character’s Dexterity score determines battle turn order. The action order starts with the person with the highest (with modifiers) Dexterity and ends with the lowest. There are exceptions to this such as abilities like not being surprised and more, but that’s the gist. Dexterity measures balance, reflexes, and agility. In addition to decent acrobatics, high Dexterity makes characters better at picking locks, stealing, and other stealth-related activities.


My Tiefling Wizard at the bar preparing to speak with Thisobald at The Waning Moon.
(screencap from Larian Studios by Alyssa Shotwell)

This is something found across various games including narrative and action-adventure games. However, in these cases, it’s usually in the form of a bonus brought on by a specific piece of equipment. This can be a cool cape or an altered weapon. RPGs like BG3 also feature enhancements based on abilities. According to Roll20 (a great resource for D&D):

Each of a creature’s abilities has a score, a number that defines the magnitude of that ability. An ability score is not just a measure of innate capabilities, but also encompasses a creature’s training and competence in activities related to that ability.

This not only adds variety to gameplay but gives players a fighting chance when they have encounters that require abilities checks they aren’t good at.

Player sexual

Lae'zel doing some neck kissing if you decide to let her dominate you like Ellesméra did.
(screencap from Larian Studios by Alyssa Shotwell)

This is the pansexuality of NPCs. ‘Player sexual’ refers to in-game characters that can be attracted to you (the player). This is regardless of your race, gender, background—or height. All but about three companion characters of BG3 are player sexual! This doesn’t mean they are immediately down to get dirty (seriously, this mostly happens in a camping context). Some characters will want to court for a bit first and away from the group. Also, the Origin Characters of BG3 are complex and so are the relationships. Having a certain background, race, or allegiance will influence how they respond to you. If you’re a Selûnite looking to get to know a Shar a little better you need to be willing to be vulnerable and, like with all others, listen.


The owlbear cub all grown up and ready to kill!
(Larian Studios)

This sounds like something power lifters do and that’s not wholly wrong. Min-maxing is building characters around a particular strength or skill. To an extent, my guide and adoration of the Charisma ability in BG3 does imply that I might be doing this. However, as a very cautious person, I find it very hard to try and sharpen this skill. Purposefully creating a glass cannon (a.k.a. a character with high offense, but low defense) is kind of min-maxing. For clarification, min-maxing is not the same as playing to a character’s strength or the player’s story style.

Save scumming

Halsin striding up to me after I scored perfectly on a lover's quiz at The Circus.
(screencap from Larian Studios by Alyssa Shotwell)

And finally, the term that inspired this list weeks ago: “save scumming.” This refers to saving the game before making a decision so that you can reload. Before I’d even heard the phrase, I was engaging in this. It usually boiled down to my indecisiveness, but some game limitations also led to me save scum. For example, I saved a bunch for Zethino’s test of love in Act 3. I wanted to play with three companions and the druid only lets you do it once. Ya girl loves a friendship or lovers quiz! (Thank you adolescent magazines.)

Some feel like save scumming is bad game design or makes you a cheat, but I disagree. Regarding game design (at least with BG3), this stays with the theme of letting you make the choices. It’s a single tool you don’t have to use in a massive workshop. While the developers also gave wiggle room with the ‘inspiration’ feature, many have encouraged people to fail forward. The most interesting results sometimes only occur when you fail the roll. Regarding cheating, the devs put this in the game. Additionally, you’re not in competition with anyone as it’s a single-player game. Maybe cheesy, but not cheating.

While I mostly save scum for a variety of silly things like after clearing out my inventory or navigating a new romance, it’s also fine to do it before a fun or dangerous encounter. (Especially if your party features inconsiderate players.) This game offers over 174 hours worth of cinematics alone and save scumming can get you closer to seeing all of that. Even here however it’s not a full solution. To really get those moments you must boot up a new campaign and make different decisions.

(featured image: screencap from Larian Studios by Alyssa Shotwell)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)