How combat works - Baldur's Gate 3

A beginner's guide to combat in Baldur's Gate 3 explaining initiative, movement, actions and bonus actions, as well as buffing, spells, and more.

Larian Studios

Never played Baldur’s Gate or Dungeons and Dragons? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our complete beginner’s guide to combat in Baldur’s Gate 3. This will explain every element of combat so you know what’s going on when you get into a fight, what limitations you have, and what you should do.

Use the following links to jump to the relevant section:

Note that this will give a general overview of mechanics and won’t be the place to take a deep dive on things like spells, Spell Levels, Spell Slots etc.

Each part of combat / What you can do each turn

Combat in Baldur’s Gate 3 has a few set mechanics that occur when combat first starts and throughout the fight. A couple of these will happen automatically while the others only occur if you select them or approve them.

  • Initiative
  • Movement
  • Action (green circle)
  • Bonus Action (orange triangle)
  • Reaction

Initiative is the order that each character will attack in combat. This is determined by an automatic dice roll before any attacks are made. A higher number is better, meaning you get to take your turn sooner.

A character selects where to move during a battle
Most characters can only move a total of 9 meters per turn.
Source: Shacknews

Movement is the ability to move around the battlefield. Characters will be limited to 9 meters of movement unless otherwise stated or if using an ability like Dash. Movement can be done before attacking or after attacking. You’re free to move whenever and wherever you can until all your movement is used. Movement is indicated by the blue circle in the bottom-right of your screen.

The term Action is used to describe any move that is not running around the battlefield. This includes attacking, equipping a new weapon, activating a light source, casting a spell, and more. An Action is denoted by a green circle. Each turn you will be able to perform one Action unless otherwise stated. You can click the green circle to see only Actions or highlight an ability to see if it as Action.

A Bonus Action is exactly like an Action but is reserved for moves or abilities that are not as powerful or important as actions. These include shoving a foe, jumping, dipping your weapon, some spells and attacks, healing, etc.

The Reactions screen showing the option to toggle automatic Reactions
Different abilities can be added to the Reaction system. Use the checkmarks in the boxes on the right to set manual confirmation for activating a Reaction.
Source: Shacknews

Reactions are triggered in response to an action or some other condition and can occur at any time, even when it’s not your turn. One example of this is an Attack of Opportunity, which is when your character automatically attacks someone who moves past you or tries to run away without disengaging. You can check your Reactions on PC and controller by doing the following:

How to check Reactions on PC:

  1. Open your Inventory with the i key
  2. Select Spellbook from the top of the screen
  3. Navigate to the Reactions Tab
  4. Checkmark any abilities you want included as a Reaction
  5. Select whether or not the game automatically casts Reactions

How to check Reactions on controller:

  1. Right trigger and select Character Sheet
  2. Go to the Reactions tab
  3. Toggle Reactions on/off using the on-screen button
  4. Toggle Automatic/Ask to automatically cast Reactions or require confirmation

It can be worth choosing the manual confirmation if you have spells that you can cast as a Reaction. Sometimes you might not want to use a spell slot as a Reaction if you were saving the spell slot.

How Initiative works / What the numbers above your head means

The party enters combat with Initiative rolls shown
The numbers above the characters' heads is their Initiative which dictates the order of turns. A higher number, the sooner that character gets to take a turn.
Source: Shacknews

An instant before combat begins each character will automatically roll for initiative. Above each character's head will appear a number from a d20, this indicates their attack order. A higher number means you get to go before others while a lower means you’ll go after.

Some skills, perks, class abilities and more can have an effect on Initiative, giving the score a bonus number that is added to the outcome. Having your turn sooner is more important when first starting combat, as it will allow you to get the jump on the enemy.

How turns work

You can perform any and all of the actions listed above (movement, Action, Bonus Action) every turn (unless there is a condition where your character is being limited somehow). When you are satisfied with your turn or you cannot do anything else, click the timer button in the bottom right to end that character’s turn.

If more than one of your characters has the same Initiative, you can switch between them at will, choosing to move one and then the other, switch back to the first and attack, back to another to move again etc. When characters all have the same Initiative (or their moves aren't separated by a foe), their portrait borders will be intertwined.

You will also need to wait and watch any computer-controlled characters make their turns. Once all characters have had a turn, it goes back to the first person to have another go. This cycle continues until combat is over. When every character has had their go and combat cycles back around to the first person, this is classified as one turn (this is important to note if you have multi-turn buffs).

A box on the right showing the players' characters and the option to Cancel End Turn
If you accidentally end your turn, you can cancel it by clicking the Cancel End Turn in the box.
Source: Shacknews

If you accidentally choose to end your turn, you can select Cancel End Turn on the pop-up that appears on-screen.

Moving around the battlefield

An enemy is highlighted, showing the path a character will take to reach it and attack
The white line indicates the path the character will take to reach the target. The sword icon shows which ability/move will be used to attack the target.
Source: Shacknews

Movement around the fight during Combat is done via highlighting where you want to move and clicking or pressing the appropriate button on controller. Unless otherwise stated, each character can only move a maximum of 9 meters before they can’t move anymore. This is 9 meters total, meaning you could run back and forth in the same spot and use it up.

There are some ways to increase how far you can move but this comes at a cost. The Dash skill doubles the distance but acts as an Action. This is great if you need to reposition quite far and don’t mind if you cannot perform an attack during the turn. Some armor and skills might also increase your movement distance.

Additionally, terrain will have an effect on movement. Tough terrain (like shale or thorny bushes) will negatively impact you when standing on it or moving through it. Sometimes it will cost more movement to pass over or through this sort of terrain.

Switching weapons and light sources

The weapon switching buttons are highlighted, offering the player the chance to switch weapons
You can switch between equipped weapons freely during combat. You cannot equip a brand new weapon from your inventory unless you use an Action.
Source: Shacknews

Your character can typically have one melee weapon and one ranged weapon equipped, like a great sword and crossbow. Some characters might be able to dual wield daggers or hold two crossbows. You can switch between melee and ranged weapons at no cost.

An Action will be used if you open your inventory and equip a brand new weapon. The same applies if you switch to a light source like a torch.

What are Actions and Bonus Actions?

Actions and Bonus Actions are two of the main things you will do during combat in Baldur’s Gate 3. An Action is represented by a green circle while an orange triangle is used to label Bonus Actions. Each turn you can do one of each unless otherwise stated.

Actions are typically for bigger moves like attacking, using special weapon skills, casting spells, etc. An Action is also consumed when equipping a new item from your inventory or switching to your torch. Click the green circle to see all of your possible Actions.

The characters stands in the Nautiloid, a tooltip explains Bonus Actions
Bonus Actions are secondary resources in combat. These supplement your main attacks and moves, which are Actions.
Source: Shacknews

Bonus Actions are more noteworthy than a simple Movement but aren’t as powerful as an Action. This might include shoving a foe, performing a Jump, using some potions, or even casting various spells or class abilities.

On controller, pressing the Right Bumper will open the Actions screen. You can tab between the Radials to see your Actions and Bonus Actions. The Actions are green and the Bonus Actions are orange.

Spells, cantrips, and Class Actions

Spells, cantrips, Spell Slots and more are some of the most complex things in Baldur’s Gate 3 and even Dungeons and Dragons. There’s a lot to learn when it comes to these but we’re just going to cover the basics.

The Ability radial screen when using a controller showing various spells
Green icons indicate an Action while orange is for Bonus Actions.
Source: Shacknews

Spells can be Actions or Bonus Actions. A spell will appear in the tabs marked with blue boxes (or by pressing Right Bumper on controller). It’s important to note that while they might look like spells, Class Actions are not spells as they do not consume Spell Slots.

Regardless of a spell’s level and rating, it will consume an Action or Bonus Action during combat along with a Spell Slot. A Spell Slot is effectively a charge that is consumed to cast a spell.

Spell Slots come in different power levels (Level 1, Level 2, etc) and can have multiple charges. For example, my Paladin has three Spell Slot Level 1 charges while my Cleric has four Spell Slot Level 1 charges.

A bear prepares to heal using an upcasted Level 1 Spell
Casting Lunar Mends lets the player choose what level of potency it should have. This is done by selecting which Spell Slot Level to use. This provides the spell with bonus healing.
Source: Shacknews

The levels let you cast more powerful spells. Some spells need a Level 2 charge to be cast. If you run out of Spell Slot Level 1 charges, sometimes you can upcast spells using a level above what they need. This is helpful if you’ve got a nifty basic healing spell and want to keep casting it even after you run out of basic charges. However, a big spell that needs Level 2 cannot be squished down into a Level 1 charge.

Cantrips are another type of spell, but they do not need Spell Slots. These are also always prepared, meaning you do not have to memorize them in the Spellbook.

Concentration and multi-turn buffs

Some abilities and spells can last multiple turns while others require concentration. A move that lasts multiple turns will be labelled with how many turns it lasts when you mouse over it or highlight it in the radial wheel. 

Characters are in combat, a tooltip shows information on the Pommel Strike Weapon Action
Pommel Strike can Daze someone for two turns, provided it succeeds. The character you attack will need to make a Constitution Save, which happens automatically. If they fail the save, they will be Dazed.
Source: Shacknews

When an ability lasts for 10 turns, that means every time it cycles back around to your go, one counter will be removed. Activating one of these abilities before combat can have advantages and disadvantages. You’ll have it ready for the fight but you run the risk of losing its effect too soon.

As for Concentration, some abilities require your character to focus on keeping the effect active. Once cast, the effect will end if your character gets hit. Whenever an enemy attacks your character, you will automatically perform a Saving Throw, which rolls a die and checks whether or not their attack broke your concentration. You will also lose concentration if you cast another spell that requires concentration.

What to do during combat

With all that explaining about combat out of the way, here’s what you should actually do during combat in Baldur’s Gate 3. It goes without saying that, thanks to the nature of the game, you can do almost anything you want during combat and how you approach each encounter will change depending on your class, playstyle, and more.

Three characters prepare for combat aboard the Nautiloid
Once combat begins, pay attention to who gets to go first, this might help you decide where to move or who to attack.
Source: Shacknews

Begin by assessing the position of the enemies and whether you want to move to attack any. Get any archers or ranged companions up high to take advantage of the high ground. Meanwhile, close-combat people should be ready to dive into the fight. Remember that positioning is key, as you might want to avoid grouping up so that any thrown devices (poison bombs, etc) don’t hit multiple characters.

When it comes to attacking, it can be worth sticking to basic attacks and not using spells until you’re certain you need to. Typically, spells only recharge after a Long Rest, which makes them extremely valuable in a fight. Remember to perform Actions and Bonus Actions each turn, provided it makes sense for what you want to do.

There’s nothing really you can do while the enemy is making its move, so sit tight and see where they move and who they attack. When it’s your turn again, consider whether you need to heal any characters, move them out of danger, or press the attack. Additionally, check the environment for traps and other things you can interact with, whether it's explosive barrels, braziers to shoot down, or thorny plants to trap your foes.

That’s everything you need to know about combat in Baldur’s Gate 3. The more you fight, the clearer all the combat systems and mechanics will become. We’ve got more help over on our Baldur’s Gate 3 strategy guide, including information on companions and more.

Guides Editor

Hailing from the land down under, Sam Chandler brings a bit of the southern hemisphere flair to his work. After bouncing round a few universities, securing a bachelor degree, and entering the video game industry, he's found his new family here at Shacknews as a Guides Editor. There's nothing he loves more than crafting a guide that will help someone. If you need help with a guide, or notice something not quite right, you can message him on X: @SamuelChandler 

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