Friday, December 29, 2023


This post was written in early December but scheduled for later due to Secret Reasons!


I recently finished reading "How to Make Your Money Last" by Jane Bryant Quinn. I don't closely follow Jane, but have a very dear spot in my heart for her. Shortly after I got my first "real" job and was trying to get a handle on my finances, I read her book "Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People". It was an excellent book: it formed the foundation of my approach towards personal finance, and I've found its lessons consistently valuable over the last 20 or so year. I followed that up with "Making the Most of Your Money Now", a more comprehensive book that gave me my clearest understanding to date on topics like how bonds work and how asset classes are correlated. I've read a lot more finance books over the years, but honestly I don't think any of them have materially improved on the advice Jane gave.

In the last couple of years, I've started chatting with my parents as they approach retirement. They've lived pretty frugal lives and in recent years have diligently saved a lot towards their own retirement. Like many people in their position, who have lots of experience balancing checkbooks but not with trading securities, they've had a lot of uncertainty about their situation: Do they have enough to retire? How much can they expect to live on? How exactly will they go about drawing down their retirement accounts once they're in retirement?

A lot of this area overlaps with topics I'm cheerfully fluent on: I'll happily chat for hours about asset allocations, time horizons and Monte Carlo simulations. But there's a whole lot that I just don't know anything about, since I'm personally decades from retirement and haven't bothered researching it for myself. What exactly is an annuity? When would you want one, and how does it work? I was a bit startled to realize how little I knew about Social Security; I was aware that you got a higher amount the longer you waited, but only in recent months (after researching on behalf of my folks) did I learn how Social Security works with a married couple. (To summarize: if both are entitled to SS payments, then while they're both alive they'll each receive a check based on their own lifetime earnings; when one spouse dies, the other spouse can either continue collecting their personal check, or switch to their spouse's if it would be higher.)

So anyways, I was delighted to find that Jane Bryant Quinn had written a book that focuses on this topic. I'm planning to get it for my parents, as I think it will be a good resource; most of it isn't applicable to me just yet, but I still read through it to make sure that it made sense, and to learn some stuff as well!

This book feels a lot like the earlier ones, which I love. Jane is fact-based and also opinionated. A lot of financial "advice" you see online just regurgitates a lot of information and doesn't provide guidance on how to apply it; Jane will clearly say when one strategy is a good approach for most people, or when a specific type of product is terrible and should be avoided. She gives just enough background to help explain what you need to know, without getting lost in the weeds or going off on tangents. The overall structure is great, too: I think the best way to read this book is probably cover-to-cover, skipping over sections that don't apply to your situation (like pension funds for most of us). That's a great way to cover your "unknown unknowns": things you didn't know and wouldn't have thought to ask.

One major challenge of retirement planning is that everyone's situations are so different, in ways that can drastically impact the optimal strategy. How much you have saved, what support you're entitled to, whether you have dependents, and so on. And some of the most important factors are unknowable: how long you'll live, how bad inflation will be, what the stock markets will do. She cuts through these things in a great and clear way, generally advocating for planning for the worst-case-scenario; if your approach would work for that, then you can face the future with excellent confidence, and most likely have a prosperous road ahead of you.

There's a ton of great information in here. Most of the stocks-and-bonds stuff is old hat to me by now, but I still appreciated it, especially the focus on retirement income: after all, that's what most of us are socking away money in our 401k and IRAs for. She's a bit more bullish on stocks than I've been; a few years ago I shifted my personal portfolio from 80/20 to 70/30, with an eye to continuing to shift further towards bonds (as classic advice from Bogle, Malkiel, Meyer and others generally have it). As Jane notes, though, it can actually be safer to be more tilted towards stocks, as they are your main hedge against inflation. The key there is how big of a cash cushion you can maintain: if you can keep, say, 2 years of living expenses in cash, then your invested portfolio can be more stock-heavy; if you have a smaller nest egg, though, then you should probably have more bond exposure so you aren't forced to sell stocks at a loss, and this in turn will probably push down your safe withdrawal rate. That's something I need to remind myself of: the actual size of a portfolio matters too, not just its asset allocation.

The most helpful chapter for me was the one on annuities. I know just enough about annuities to run the other way, as they have a terrible reputation in the online communities I travel in. Jane makes a strong argument for one very specific type of annuity: an immediate annuity. With this product, you make a one-time purchase, and in exchange receive income for life; for example, paying $500,000 might translate into monthly checks of $1,500 for the rest of your life, depending on the age at which you purchase the annuity and what options you pick. This is basically a hedge against living too long: you "lose" if you die earlier than planned (but, as Jane kindly-yet-snidely observes, what do you care? You're dead!), and you "win" if you outlive expectations. For a lot of people, this can make sense: you'll have guaranteed income from Social Security and your annuity to pay all of your expected recurring expenses (groceries, utilities, insurance, etc.) and can dip into your invested savings for specific needs (home repairs, vacations, cars, gifts, etc.).

Even these "good" annuities do have limitations, though: unlike Social Security, they are not indexed to inflation, so they won't do as well in a period of rising rates (although current rates will impact the paid amount). And super-rich people probably won't need them anyways, if they have enough socked away that they don't have to worry about running out of money. Anyways, I'm just glad to have a clearer idea of what the heck these things are, while I personally consider to shy well away from them.

I did just completely skip over some of the stuff that doesn't apply to me or my parents (like defined-benefit pensions), which seems to work great; the book is nicely compartmentalized, so no crucial information is hidden in unrelated chapters.

I do think this is an excellent book for anyone in, say, their mid-50s or later. I don't regret reading it, but I'm also aware that a great deal will likely change between now and when I retire. This is actually the second edition, and apparently a lot was rewritten after the 2018 Trump tax law changes. Who knows how many more changes will arrive in the coming decades? As with her earlier books, though, the overall ideas seem sound and timeless, even if the specific advice gets dated. (As just one example, she mentions Vanguard as one reputable provider of immediate annuities, but they exited the insurance market shortly after this book was published. Sigh...) For people who are younger, a more general finance book would probably be a better match, as those tend to still address retirement but more from the perspective of accumulators.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

*Compassionate Squeaking*

Woot! Woot, I say! I've finished Baldur's Gate 3 at long last. I loved it: I enjoyed the game from the start, and it continued to grow on me as it went along. While at first it felt more like Divinity: Original Sin 3, as the story continues it gradually bends towards a continuation of the Bhaalspawn Saga, and by the end I was wholly on board viewing this as a proper sequel. An accurate and complimentary way to summarize the game might be Divinity: Original Sin's combat married to Baldur's Gate's story and scope married to Dragon Age's companions and cinematics. Which, er, I guess is rather polyamorous, but still, what a compelling triad!


Kicking off with some technical and gameplay notes:


I played this game pretty seriously (but not non-stop) from the official launch up until December 14th. Steam thinks I've played for 228 hours, but that's pretty misleading: that includes the time of my Early Access run, and I would also sometimes leave the game running while I went off and did something else because it takes so long to load into saved games. My final save game says I spent nearly 170 hours; that may undercount it since I think that excludes reloads, but may overcount due to the aforementioned idling. Still, I'm pretty sure I played in excess of 150 hours altogether, on a mostly-completionist playthrough; I didn't intentionally skip any sidequests, but there are probably a few I missed picking up, and a couple were prematurely failed due to my actions.


I was glad that I took my time and didn't rush through, in no small part because I was able to get the benefit of the many patches Larian has already released for the game. I read some online complaints about slow performance in Act 3, but my personal run was unaffected. I also benefited from the new Epilogue that Larian recently added, which adds an entire lengthy interactive segment at the end of the game that provides more depth and color to the fate of your companions, and further explores your impact on the world. I'm pleased but not surprised: Larian has done a fantastic job in the past of providing free, major updates to their games, well past the point where AAA publishers would have pulled the plug.



As for progress: there is a hard level cap of 12 in the game, and any XP earned after that is just wasted. I personally reached level 12 fairly early on in Act 3, again on a completionist playthrough. If and when I replay, I'll probably be a little less gung-ho on squeezing out every possible bit of XP (like jumping into optional fights even after talking my way through); but at the same time I don't really regret being completionist in this game. Being ahead of the level curve does make things easier for most of the game, since being a single level ahead of your enemy has a huge impact. And while XP ultimately becomes pointless, fights and quests also give good rewards in the form of gear and occasional special abilities, and a lot of that stuff remains useful throughout the whole game, depending on your build and party load-out.


I do kind of miss Throne of Bhaal, where you could keep earning XP basically indefinitely, just with exponentially increasing thresholds for each new level. In that system, XP never felt useless, just much less useful as time went on, and not valuable enough to grind for. From what I've read, though D&D 5th edition scales a lot worse at higher levels than the 2nd and 2.5th version did, due to higher-level spells and abilities that are effectively un-counterable. It does make me wonder if Larian will ever release an expansion or DLC for BG3, and if so, what that would look like. Larian never expanded the D:OS games, just made Enhanced Editions, so an expansion may not be in their plan; but I did love Tales of the Sword Coast and Throne of Bhaal, and it sounds like BG3 is selling incredibly well, so they may have some incentive to do it. Anyways, I wonder if they would revisit the level cap if they did an expansion, like how TotSC and ToB raised the caps; or if they would just focus on gear and unique abilities as rewards for any additional content.


Let's talk about the economy! I'd complained earlier about how plentiful loot is and how little stuff is worth buying. Once you hit Act 3, though, there is a lot more worthwhile stuff to buy, which does make sense - you're in a city and not a wilderness, so little surprise there are more shopkeepers and merchants around. Very very early on in the chapter, I had to think about the purchases I was making, for the first time ever. But as the chapter goes on, you get a ton more money, both straight-up gold and more valuable loot drops.


In all, I think I had something like 50k unspent gold left over at the end of the game, and could have had even more if I'd more diligently liquidated gear I wasn't using. By the end I was buying good gear for all of my companions, even if they weren't regularly in my party; buying every healing potion I could find; buying some specific scrolls (mostly Misty Step and Dimension Door); and buying lots of special arrows. (The special arrows in BG3 aren't quite as powerful as the arrows in D:OS, but they are vastly more powerful than the special arrows in BG1/BG2.)


Oh! And I would also buy the Elixir of Bloodlust, and Warg Fangs for crafting more Elixir of Bloodlust. Hm, let's take a tangent and chat a little about elixirs, long rests and game pacing.

So, one persistent knock against BG1/BG2 is that the game mechanically incentivizes you to Rest after nearly every combat encounter. It will freely heal HP and restore all your spells, and doesn't have any negative impact on the game (other than possibly an ambush, in which case, (a) free XP!, and (b) you'll want to rest while near full health to defeat the ambushers instead of waiting until you're near death). Story-wise, though, it's ridiculous to imagine that, like, your party is in a cave for two months because they're sleeping for 8 hours after every 2-minute fight.


In a real pen-and-paper campaign, of course, the DM will set the pace and just have the party rest at appropriate intervals. In BG3, there are some more mechanics around resting. You can't rest at all in certain "red zone" areas, where there are lots of dangerous enemies around or it narratively doesn't make sense. Depending on the situation, you may be able to evacuate to a safe zone and then rest, or might need to struggle through.



When you do rest, you don't do it in situ like in BG1/BG2. Instead, you go to "camp", which is pretty much exactly like Dragon Age Origin's Camp: a good thing! Besides resting, this is where you can let your hair down, chat with companions, access party storage, and just take it easy. When you decide to sleep, you need to use 40 "Camp Supplies", which involves consuming some combination of comestibles you've acquired: egg tarts, horseradish, flagons of wine, chickens, whatever. This results in a "full rest" that fully restores HP (not just adding HP like in BG1/BG2) and all spell slots.

With these mechanics, I naturally opted to rest as little as I could, to save my precious limited camp supplies. And just as naturally, by the end of the game I had thousands of unused camp supplies. As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I deeply regret not taking more long-rests: this is also when some important story beats take place, romances trigger, companion secrets are revealed, and so on. I was playing as a Bard, so I could take 3 Short Rests instead of just 2 between each Long Rest, which probably even further limited my exposure to Long Rests.


So, overall, I mostly wish I had done more Long Rests, as it would have resulted in more story, and also made the game easier, particularly from being able to more freely cast high-level spells. But there is one other specific way in which it's nice to have fewer Long Rests: Elixirs. Elixirs are basically powerful and long-lasting potions. A potion might restore a few HP, or cure a Poison status effect, or temporarily make you immune to falling damage. An Elixir might make you completely immune to Poison, or give you resistance to all forms of damage, or greatly boost your Strength. Elixirs take effect as soon as you drink them, and typically will remain until you drink another Elixir or take a Long Rest.

I didn't use Elixirs much at all for the first part of the game, but in Act 3 I started to really dig them. They kind of invert the logic around Potions in a nice way. In a typical RPG, you have all this useful stuff in your inventory, but are afraid to use it, because you might need it later. You might bust it out for a boss fight if you really need it. With an Elixir, you could still chug it during a boss fight to give you an edge; but there's absolutely no advantage over waiting until the boss fight to do so. You should have drunk it as soon as you got up that morning, so you could have enjoyed the benefits during the 6 combat encounters leading up to the boss fight as well.


The elixirs are all varied and useful, but by far my favorite one is the Elixir of Bloodlust. While the elixir is active, killing an enemies grants you an additional Action Point to use that round. This is huge on martial characters: you can use a first attack to kill off a weak or wounded enemy, and then make an additional 3-5 attacks against a boss that round, without dipping into your Action Surge.

So, as noted above, once I realized I didn't need to skimp on money I happily bought up every Elixir of Bloodlust and item for crafting it that I could find. I had it up on my fighters heading into the endgame, which led to a small bit of annoyance: I realized that, during certain cinematic sequences separating chunks of the endgame, the game silently gives you the effect of a Long Rest. That's probably intended as a helpful thing (especially for parties with arcane and divine casters!), but for me in particular, it was a pain, since I'd chugged the Elixirs in advance and didn't get to use their benefit before expiration. Fortunately I had enough left to get through the end of the game. Anyways, it's interesting that in this case the Elixirs were truly a limited resource, and I actively used them, unlike my normal RPG status quo where consumables are effectively unlimited, and I still never use them.

Moving along:

One big thing I was going to complain about in this post is dealing with party inventory. Early in the game you're traveling with most of your party so it isn't a big deal, but if you're recruiting everyone you can, you may have close to a dozen people on your team, only 4 people in your party at a time, and getting access to someone's inventory screen involved a song-and-dance that took way too long. Fortunately, a recent patch has added the ability to directly access everyone's inventory in camp, which is a huge quality-of-life improvement. Kudos to Larian!

There are other inventory-related annoyances that we're probably stuck with. I've complained about this going back to the D:OS days, but a lot of the interface design is just weird. For example, while you're browsing a container, you can right-click on an object and choose "Send to Camp" or send to a party member; but you can't do that when you right-click on a loose object in the world that isn't inside a container.

It wasn't until after talking with a co-worker that I realized that you can sort your camp storage chest! That was a huge help, it was taking me ages to find items in it or, worse, not be sure whether I had a given item in there or not. The UI for sorting containers is very subtle, I definitely would have beaten the game without discovering it if it hadn't been for that in-person tip.

As with a lot of these crunchy RPGs, there isn't a straightforward gear progression, so you have to weigh the relative advantages of different pieces. For example, my PC usually wears a piece of Clothing that has no AC bonus but gives Advantage on Dexterity Checks; this is extremely useful out of combat, as it basically guarantees I'll always succeed at Pick Lock or Disarm Trap. I also have a more combat-oriented suit of armor with a much higher AC and some nice damage reduction. I carry both of them, and should swap into the armor before fights, but almost never remember to do that. Even if, say, I reload to an earlier saved game to retry a failed check, I won't remember to put on the Hat I'm carrying around that gives Advantage on Persuasion roles, even though that's the only reason I'm still carrying that Hat in my backpack.


Alchemy is a pretty cool system, and I definitely did more crafting in BG3 than in either D:OS game, but I know I didn't take full advantage of it. If and when I play again (henceforth IAWIPA), I'll probably have low-level Elixirs up most of the time. I'd like to say I'll also use more potions, grenades and oils, but honestly I'm not sure about that: using a consumable generally takes a Bonus Action, and with lots of fights over in just a few rounds, you're usually much better off using your Bonus Action for something else.

I think I've talked generally about the combat before, but revisiting it now at the end of the game: Overall I really like it. Combat is definitely more tactical in BG3 than in BG1/BG2, but not as tactical as in the D:OS games. Proper execution is a lot more important than buffing. Use of the environment can be advantageous, but isn't essential like in D:OS. Act 3 definitely has some of the best fights of the game. Some fights are a bit "bleh" because your foes have Resistance or Immunity to certain types of damage. In Act 3, fewer foes are straight-up immune, they just have huge health pools and cool abilities and mechanics, and you can have a lot of fun approaching them as puzzles to solve, but can also just hunker down and brute-force your way through.


One last note on the interface: overall I'm really impressed at how well the camera works. It glides up and down with your character, and there's a pretty cool "looking through walls" effect that prevents the obscuring that often occurs in isometric games. I'm especially impressed at how well the game handles multi-story buildings: in the old day they would have been separate maps with interactable stairs connecting them, but here it's all contiguous with the other stories blacking out once you set foot on a new one. There are occasionally glitches where the camera rapidly bounces around; I think I noticed that in two separate fights, and while that looked weird and was annoying, it's very rare and not game-breaking.


Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at how bug-free my experience was, particularly for playing such a large and complex RPG at launch. Over that ~150 hours of playtime, I think I had maybe 3 crashes to the desktop, and thanks to my compulsive quicksaving I never lost more than a couple of minutes of playtime. I never got stuck in an unrecoverable game state. I've read a lot of complaints about glitches in Act 3, but I think I only saw 1 or 2 characters with noticeably glitchy appearances. There are a few rough edges here and there - for example, I had a couple of Journal entries that referenced things happening differently than they actually did - but again, nothing gamebreaking and much less than I was expecting. Which is all the more impressive since Early Access players never saw anything past Act 1.


Gameplay note: In my game, I was playing as a Bard. I had briefly considered dipping into some other classes, but ended up single-classing like I did for nearly all of my characters, and it worked out well. I followed the College of Lore and took Expertise in Sleight of Hand and Persuasion. Overall I was the Face for the party and all-purpose skill monkey. In a nice throwback to my first playthrough of Baldur's Gate 1 and 2, I was by far the least useful party member in combat, but instead of hanging in the way-back and strumming a harp, I was mostly badly insulting enemies, casting Counterspell, and occasionally plinking someone with an arrow.


I've briefly skimmed several online guides, and it seems like there are a lot of power-builds out there that use multiclassing, but I think for an initial playthrough going the full 12 in a single class is a great idea. Most classes continue getting useful stuff all the way through; it's most pronounced for casters who unlock Level 6 spells and fighters who can get 3 APR, but nobody is really hurting themselves by sticking around (and getting a third Feat).

And now, on with the game!


As I mentioned above, this feels more like a Baldur's Gate game the further you get into it, which is pretty interesting. I kind of imagine that, if BioWare were to make Baldur's Gate 3, they would be inclined to start off in familiar territory to reassure and orient returning players, and then branch out into new stuff. The Larian BG3 is kind of the opposite: there are almost no ties to the earlier game for the first 3/5 or so of this one, then a few very subtle and easy-to-miss references are dropped, and then BAM we're talking about Bhaal again! It seems to be working really well: I know several people playing this game who didn't play the first two, and they're enjoying the "deep lore" that comes out in the later part of the game.


It kind of makes me rethink how to extend a franchise while welcoming new players. My instinct is to have a friendly explainer at the start, to catch up newbies. But maybe it's better to start everyone off in unfamiliar territory, old and new alike. The veterans may get some extra pleasure over returning to the main storyline later on, and the newbies will already be invested in this specific game instead of bouncing off of a confusing and boring recap.


I wrote about this at length in my previous post, but I'm really impressed by how Larian managed the companions in this game. I'd initially been nonplussed at how "evil" your party seemed, but the key is that it isn't a static thing: your actions and words do have an impact on the people around you, you can draw people towards the light, and ultimately "a formerly bad person decided to become good" is way more compelling than "this good guy continued being good." Of course, it isn't pre-ordained: you can absolutely double-down on the selfish tendencies of your party. But after seeing the whole collection of character arcs, I'm so pleased by what Larian has done here.




I think I gave out an audible squeal when I first saw Bhaal's teardrop-surrounded deaths-head symbol deep below Moonrise Tower. What the HECK was that doing here?! As the game continued, more themes and factions and characters from the earlier games rose again. One particular thing that caught my interest was the  dopelgangers that BG1 in particular and BG2 to a lesser degree were obsessed with. Orrin is the most obvious example, shapeshifting more than can possibly be healthy, but when I was talking with Captain Grisly in the Blushing Mermaid and she started to shapeshift, I thought "Oh snap, it's Orrin again!!" just to find out that, nope, it was the Hag. Multiple shapeshifters, just like old times!


Speaking of the Hag: She is probably the scariest and creepiest villain in the game, more so than the Dead Three or the Elder Brain. That may be because of how personal she is in inflicting misery on specific individuals, rather than the main villains who want to bring the whole world to ruin. Raphael also doesn't seem very scary, except for when you read the journals in the House of Hope about him enslaving Hope. Both Raphael and the Hag seem to be all about offering deals to people, but it seems like Raphael is pursuing his rational self-interest, while the Hag is specifically trying to trick people and make them suffer.


I stumbled into the secret area under Wyrm's Crossing by shapeshifting Jaheira into a cat, but I couldn't get through the trials with just her, so I consulted the wiki for a guide on how to get my whole party in. In retrospect, I wish I hadn't done this: later in the game, there's a proper narrative quest that brings you here, and I think I got a worse outcome from this section than I would have if I'd waited a bit longer. (On the other hand, I did hit Level 12 while doing this area, so that's pretty fun!)


Romance in this game is pretty great, both my personal experience and what I've heard from other players. I didn't intend to lock in with Lae'zel, but don't have any regrets. She has a really awesome personal arc that leads her to question and ultimately reject her deeply-held beliefs; I'm pretty sure that arc would be the same as friends, but the romantic arc in particular is surprisingly sweet given how it starts: entirely physical from the outset, just an expedient way to resolve some pent-up physical drives, so the fact it gets to a place of tenderness feels really meaningful.


I enthusiastically recruited Jaheira as soon as I could, and Minsc as soon as I could too. They're super-fun: I know that these aren't the original writers or voice actors, but they're very compatible with my perception of the characters. Jaheira is really cool, a recognizable evolution from her hot-headedness in the first two games: she's slightly more tolerant now, retaining her steel while recognizing that some people will go their own way. And there's some great little comedy around her age: as an elf, Jaheira is very long-lived, and she has a kind of wry, slightly exasperated response when people talk about her long years.


In contrast, Minsc is, well, pretty much exactly the same guy as always, and that's fun too!


For the end of the game, my main party was myself (College of Lore Bard), Lae'zel, Jaheira and Minsc, but I would periodically swap out one or two when doing companion quests. Jaheira and Minsc were actually the only two companions who I multi-classed, mostly because their default builds seemed so weirdly different from their canonical versions. I mean, Minsc with only 12 STR?! For both of them, I did a full respec at Withers, which is important: if you take Fighter at Level 1, you get the Heavy Armor and Martial Weapon proficiencies, but you don't get those proficiencies if you multiclass into Fighter later on.


After scanning a couple of Reddit threads, I ultimately did Jaheira as a Fighter 6 / Druid 6. That's enough for her to get access to martial weapons, 2 APR, a good collection of spells and shape-shifting. I made her a dual-wielder, initially with her scimitars but ultimately with some high-powered dual-wield weapons. She very rarely used her Wild Shape, but turning into a Cat was very helpful infiltrating a few areas, and the larger animals can be a really handy get-out-of-trouble button if her HP drops dangerously low. Crowd control can be very effective in this game, so I focused her spells around either buffs or CC.


I gave Minsc 1 level in Fighter, 5 levels in Ranger (Hunter subclass), and 6 levels in Barbarian (Berserker subclass). And of course reallocated his stats to be heavy STR and CON and very low INT! This isn't an optimal build but was pretty great. I'd gotten a big kick out of Karlach's Barbarian powers, but her Elk Wildheart played very differently from Minsc's Frenzy. He can't rage while wearing heavy armor, but I had a ton of great Medium armor that was sitting around unused, and he wore it well. Hunter doesn't add a whole lot to the table, but it's a great flavor match, and gives a little extra utility and some martial skills.


Let's see, maybe I'll just give a quick rundown of some of the major choices I made in the game:

  • Very pro-Tiefling Refugees throughout the game, tricked and slaughtered the Goblins.
  • Anti-Auntie-Ethel, refused all options of collaboration.
  • Rescued the gnomes from the duergar.
  • Supported the myconids against the duergar (and Spaw over Glut).
  • Stole a Githyanki egg from the creche, lugged it around in my inventory for the entirety of the game. (It does lead to a line of dialogue in the epilogue!)
  • Stole the Blood of Lathander from the monastery.
  • Heard out Vlaakith but ultimately pushed Lae'zel towards Orpheus.
  • Helped Jaheira defend the Last Light Inn (including a timely casting of Load Saved Game).
  • Convinced Shadowheart to spare Dame Aylin and ultimately rescued her.
  • Reunited Taniel and lifted the Shadow Curse. 
  • Solved The Mystery Of The Explosive Teddy Bear, sentenced the implementing agent to prison.
  • Refused offers of alliance with Gortash and Orrin.
  • Murdered the Murder Tribunal.


  • Recruited the Stone Lord, returned all the gold.


  • Saved the Guild under Nine Fingers.


  • Wyll broke his pact early, but I was still able to save Ravengard.


  • Convinced Astarion to remain un-Ascended.


  • Released thousands of bloodthirsty vampires into the Underdark!


  • Killed Shadowheart's parents (it's the good thing to do, I swear!)


  • Talked Gale into returning to Mystra's good graces.


  • Killed Lorroakan.


  • I'm not sure if there's actually a choice here or not, but I killed Ansur.


  • Rescued all prisoners from the Iron Throne, rescued many but definitely not all workers from the Foundry, exploded all the robots.


  • Turned over the marine killer to the Sea Queen's justice. This felt very underbaked.


  • Freed the artist dude from his curse. I have grave misgivings about his relationship, but wish them the best.


  • Made the deal with Raphael to give the Crown, but broke into his vault to tear up the contract.


  • Freed Hope.


  • Broke my deal with the diabolist.
  • Freed Orpheus.


  • Became Squidward.


  • Destroyed the Brain.


There's way too much stuff in this game to properly recap, even in a super-long blog post, so I'll just note a few things that happen to be on my mind at the moment.

As I mentioned before, I really loved seeing older characters reappear, although I know many other fans are less happy with the changes. Jaheira was an interesting choice because she was a potential romance character in BG2, and depending on your Bhaalspawn's fate, she could end up in some very different situations. There's no Dragon Age Keep-style system here to align your personal playthrough. It seems to lean more towards the BG1/BG2 transition of just declaring a canon outcome; but with the benefit of passing time, Jaheira can afford to be vague about exactly what happened, and I think that silence leaves enough narrative space for returning players to fill in their own headcanon about how she spend the centuries between the BG2 ending crawl and Act 2 of this game.


On the other hand, Viconia hit me really hard, since she actually was my love interest in one of my BG runs. I worked really hard to try and turn her from the path of evil, and it felt really hard-won and meaningful in Throne of Bhaal when she finally did so. She has the most tragic epilogue of any love interest, wherein she's assassinated and leaves the Bhaalspawn bereft as a single father. I was shocked to see her re-appear in BG3, but it's one of those things that in retrospect makes perfect sense, since so much of her identity in the earlier games revolved around her own devotion to Shar. It was a bummer for her to be a straight-up baddie here. I suppose you can do the same hand-waving with her as you can for Jaheira - this is a world where resurrection is possible, and in the many long years since those earlier events maybe she did fall back into the darkness. Anyways, overall it was a really odd encounter, equal parts "Oh, cool!" and "Wait, what?!"


Also, this was probably the hardest fight in the entire game for me. Typically when I lose a fight, I'll reload, take a Long Rest, and easily beat it on my next try. Here I got whupped a few times and ended up going online to look up some strategy tips before attempting it again. I did have Non-Lethal Damage turned on for the fight, so I guess I can write my own head-canon about how Viconia continued her long struggle towards salvation.


And then: Sarevok! I'd gotten spoiled that he was in the game, so it wasn't quite as shocking as it would have been otherwise, but still, pretty cool and surprising. Like Viconia, his appearance is tricky here because he can end BG2 in some pretty different places, with the possibility of shifting his alignment from Chaotic Evil all the way over to Chaotic Good. But, he's gone through a more powerful transformation than her: killed and then sent back to Faerun by Bhaal himself. In my game, I had Jaheira and Minsc in my party, and all three of us had so much pleasure in defeating him yet again, just like old times.


The Ilithid Powers are a neat element of the game, with a strong mechanical and story element to them, and a little role-playing as well. You don't have any choice about whether you have a tadpole in your brain or not: that happens before the game starts and is the reason any of this is happening. That fact lets the game do a lot of useful narrative leveling: it doesn't matter if you're "good" or "bad", people will feel a certain way about you due to having that tadpole.

At the midpoint of the game, I opted to remain as human (er, as drow) as possible, much to the Emperor's consternation. There's no real advantage in doing so, I just wanted to stay pretty.


So, I was really bummed (but in a nice way) when confronted with the choice to fully embrace my Ilithid potential at the end of the game. I was kind of hoping that I could volunteer Minsc to take the plunge, as a great heroic gesture towards the city he loves; but it looks like the only choice (after spurning the Emperor) are yourself or Orpheus. I hemmed and hawwed, Orpheus said "Ugh, I hate the idea but I'll do it to save the universe," then I went "No, no, you have a more important role to follow, I'll do it," then he was all "Ah, I see that you were testing me, and in doing so, you have passed me own test," so I felt good about myself for two seconds before getting all tentacly.


It is a really cool choice; I think I was expecting something like the Ultimate Sacrifice of DA:O, a "who lives or dies?" type of thing. This felt new and more interesting: will you destroy the things you love about your character to accomplish a greater good? Not being mean to other people in an "ends justifying the means" sense, and not a final sacrifice that will be over in moments, but needing to live with yourself for decades or centuries after losing who you are.

My particular story felt extra tragic and heartbreaking (again, in a good way) due to romancing Lae'zel. She's flying high at the end of the game: killed a Netherbrain, rescued the Prince of the Comet, got a red dragon, is about to fly off to the Astral Plane and overflow Vlaakith. I timidly said something like "Or... you could stay here with me, my love." And she's all "Ugh, I could never be with a ghaik!" and flies off into the sunset. Heartbreaking!


It does make me really glad that I beat the game after the patch that added the epilogue! And it seems like that's probably true for lots of romances - Astarion bursting into flames, Karlach going to Hell, and so on. The epilogue makes me think in some ways of the Enhanced Ending that BioWare released for Mass Effect 3: giving a lot more of a sense of closure to the game and demonstrating the impact that your actions had on the world.


Playing the epilogue makes me a bit more skeptical that we'll get an actual expansion to the game... but that's okay, I think it narratively ends in the perfect place. I just want more content, but, well, I guess that's what replays are for!

  • Favorite companion: Impossible to pick just one, but Karlach is way up there.


  • Favorite companion arc: Shadowheart. 


  • Favorite companion quest: Also Shadowheart.


  • Favorite weapon: Giantslayer.


  • Favorite armor: The Graceful Cloth.


  • Favorite act: 3.


  • Favorite NPC: Maybe Isobel?


  • Favorite merchant: Dammon.


  • Favorite cameo: Maybe Elminster? He does seem even more Gandalf-y than usual. No, wait! Naaber!


  • Favorite summon: Boo! (Runner-up: Us.)


  • Favorite faction: Harpers. Runner-up: The Anti-Hag Support Group.


  • Favorite map: Gosh... either the Astral Prism or the Temple of Lathander.


  • Favorite villain: Ketheric Thorm.
  • Favorite antagonist: The Emperor. Runner-up: Mizora.


  • Favorite camp character: Owlbear cub. Runner-up: Scratch.


  • Favorite spell: Hunger of Hadar.


  • Favorite class: Honestly, fighter!
  • Favorite action: Shove.
  • Favorite ability: Cutting Words.
  • Favorite music: Impossible to pick.
  • Favorite lore: Githyanki stuff, after only hearing about Githzerai for the previous Black Isle games. 


  • Favorite deity: Selune.
  • Favorite crafting: Adamantine Forge was cool. Anti-Hag potion was very satisfying.


  • Least favorite enemy: Anything that explodes on death.
  • Least favorite map: Probably Reithwin Town; it wasn't awful, but was a bit confusing to navigate. (Loved the boss encounters here, though!)
  • Least favorite companion: Probably Wyll, though he did grow on me by Act 3.


  • Least favorite quest: The conclusion of the Explodey Teddy Bear quest. (First part was cool though.)


I'm not usually one for ranking things, but yeah, Baldur's Gate 3 is definitely my personal Game of the Year. It's cool when a new game comes from out of nowhere and wows you; it's rarer and more impressive when you start playing a game with high expectations and have them exceeded. BG3 manages to be surprising in a way sequels rarely are. The combat is fun and compelling like in the D:OS games. I love, love, love the characters. All in all, it's a pretty darn perfect package, and a worthy follow-up to my all-time favorite RPG.