Baldur’s Gate 3’s character creator is incredibly expansive. Larian Studios has described it as a tool for players to build their ideal fantasy protagonist, but before it could be that, the Belgian studio needed it to serve a different purpose: filling the RPG’s world with unique, believable civilians.
In an interview with Kotaku, lead character artist Alena Dubrovina walked us through nearly every aspect of Baldur’s Gate 3’s suite of character customization options, and despite its impressive breadth, each variation of the RPG’s hero I saw still looked like a deliberately crafted individual on which every scar, piece of jewelry, or hairstyle looked tailor-made for their face, whether they were a human, a reptilian Dragonborn, or any of the game’s numerous other races. According to Dubrovina, a lot of that precision comes from Larian making these options for its team more so than for the players who will inhabit these characters when the game launches on August 3.
“We never make a character creator [...] specifically for the players, even though we sort of do,” Dubrovina said in a video call. “First of all, when the production starts, we make it for us. Because we knew that the game was gonna be huge. We knew that there’s gonna be too many characters and we knew we need to customize everyone and be prepared for Dragonborns or similar creatures like that. […] So we kind of know that if a design is requested and there’s gonna be—like in a year— 100 [characters] throughout the game, it’s our job to kind of be prepared to make sure that all of those imps or at least some of those imps look unique.”
Unlike other RPGs like Skyrim that use sliders to fine-tune aspects of a character’s face or body to your liking, Baldur’s Gate 3 uses preset faces that can be added upon with what Larian calls “attachments,” such as hair, jewelry, scars, tattoos, or facial hair. According to Dubrovina, this was to maintain that tailor-made look of other characters you meet in the game.
“My personal experience with most [slider-based character creators] is you kind of customize it, it takes you a lot of time and effort, and then a lot of times it kind of looks the same in the end,” she said. “So we wanted to avoid that. And if we would make sliders, we needed to make it into something that would be truly unique and wouldn’t look the same.”
According to Dubrovina, Larian isn’t married to taking this approach for all of its games, but they felt the approach worked well for Baldur’s Gate 3 and, she said, it kept custom characters from looking “mediocre.”
That crafted look for each race, hairstyle, and accessory means that there aren’t really “ugly” custom characters. This isn’t Street Fighter 6 where players are making a bunch of weirdos. And indeed, even as Dubrovina repeatedly clicked the randomize option in the character creator, each hero with different accessories, colors, and other options looked believable.
Larian has been working on Baldur’s Gate 3 for six years and the game features 11 races, with their own original appearances and traits. For now, the studio has “no plans whatsoever” to add any new races to the RPG. So if you were hoping to play as some of the other Dungeons & Dragons races like a Giff or a Bugbear, temper your expectations. But the races that are in the character creator all seem to have a lot of options, even among the presets.
“We tried to kind of stay true to the lore,” Dubrovina said. “If the [Dungeons & Dragons] book said, ‘Oh, Tieflings usually have like a red shade of skin,’ then we followed that for the most part.”
In that spirit of staying true to D&D lore, the options Baldur’s Gate 3 initially gives you to customize aspects of your character are meant to be in-line with what you’d find in the storied tabletop RPG’s sourcebooks. However, you can also opt to swap to a more expanded options list and use any color provided, so you can have a green-colored human or a blue Tiefling. There is some freedom in customization, but you’ll still find traits that are exclusive to certain races, such as horn customization for Tieflings or a Dragonborn’s ancestry affecting a pattern on your character’s scales. It also results in some restrictions, such as Elves canonically not having beards.
While the lore itself will stick to the script, Dubrovina said Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t too beholden to Dungeons & Dragons, as it doesn’t implement concepts like moral alignment. So you won’t be forced to adhere to a specific alignment that you pick early on, which opens up opportunities for role-playing and player expression. The source material acts as an inspiration for the team, rather than a set of hard rules.
Even with its fantasy foundation, Baldur’s Gate 3’s world overlaps with our own in some ways, and the character creator is part of that. Video games’ and studios’ frequent inability (or unwillingness) to render the specific textures of Black hair has been a hot topic in recent years. In some of the biggest games like Elden Ring, Black players are often left to choose between fairly standard options like cornrows or dreadlocks, if they even get those. In creating Black hairstyles for Baldur’s Gate 3, Larian Studios sought help from consultants and animators outside the studio to get them right, both in terms of how they look when dry, but also to account for how different hairstyles might react to the elements.
“The types of hair that humans have varies,” Dubrovina said. “[There are] different physical properties dependent on the quality of the hair itself. Like if it’s wet, if it’s dry, if it’s unkempt, [we’d say] ‘oh yeah, let’s try making this hairstyle less sleek and a little bit dirty, but we’ll need to remake it’ because, you know, the mesh needs to be placed in the whole different ways.”
Dubrovina says working on those hairstyles was a learning experience for the studio that has helped its art team “expand [its] lineup,” and will hopefully let people play as a character who looks like them. That philosophy of trying to let players create a character who looks and acts like them expands into gender identity. Baldur’s Gate 3’s approach to gender and how you identify with a body is incredibly fluid, and has even been changed up in a few ways since the RPG was in Early Access.
Most races now have four different body types no longer designated by the gender symbols, but simply numbered one through four. In these four choices are options for a shorter stature, or a taller, more broad one for both sexes. This is entirely independent of your character’s pronouns (you can choose between male, female, or non-binary ones out the gate), voice, or, as we wrote about earlier this month, their genitals.
Baldur’s Gate 3 allows you to pick your character’s genitals, and unlike Cyberpunk 2077, they actually show up in the game itself, rather than just in the menu. You can choose between a penis or a vagina, as well as pubic hair options, though given the Dragonborn’s reptilian nature, theirs will look slightly different.
According to Dubrovina, the decision to add this option didn’t stem from the inclusion of sex scenes in romance subplots (such as the one with the druid bear), but rather because the team decided to make underwear a piece of equipment you would obtain throughout the game, customize, and wear. She explained that underwear is an extension of the character customization as a form of in-universe expression, as some of the underwear you’ll find is meant to represent the race that wears it (or did before you looted or stole it), such as the leather-based “spicy” Githyanki pair. Then after putting so much work into underwear, the studio naturally thought about what would be under these meshes.
“The question arose, ‘what happens when you take it off?’” she said. “At first we were like, ‘you know, maybe nothing’s gonna happen. Maybe we’re gonna have another underwear mesh under it. Who cares? But then I started thinking about it, talking about it, and we realized that for some players, it’s just another way to represent their identity.”
Having options like this, especially ones that aren’t tied to each other like how Cyberpunk 2077 tied protagonist V’s pronouns to their voice, is key to letting people, regardless of their identity, represent themselves in a game all about player expression. That expression extends far beyond which race you play and which class you pick. Having the option to mix these different pieces of your character is how you allow a player to be their truest selves in a game. Baldur’s Gate 3 is lacking in some aspects of body diversity, what with all its body options appearing to be very fit and there not being any means to create a fat character (as fans have noticed), but there is something to be said for its commitment to different signifiers of queer identity.
Conversations around queer player expression in video games have spanned decades, and have only become more fraught thanks to the internet. One common response to requests for more representation is that development time and resources must be spent elsewhere. BioWare made a similar argument regarding the Mass Effect: Legendary Edition remasters and not implementing gay male romance in the first two games, claiming doing so was beyond the scope of the project. Meanwhile, developers like The Game Bakers spent an entire year making the romance in its adventure RPG Haven queer-inclusive through new models, voice lines, and other assets. The recent remake of Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life modernized the 20-year-old game to allow same-sex romance and diverse gender and fashion options. It feels like whether or not these requests get implemented largely comes down to the will of the studios in question, rather than them being a huge burden, as detractors might predictably argue.
Dubrovina says she’s sympathetic to how difficult it might be to implement these things retroactively, but she feels that Larian’s character creator was designed to be more flexible, which made adding things like genital options somewhat easier.
“It really actually depends on how your characters are made and I can very much imagine the scenario where you made your character model in a certain way that it’s really hard now to change it,” Dubrovina said. “That is very much possible. in our case, we tried to be prepared for anything. Like, you want to slap a tail on an elf? Sure, we, we might get prepared for it. it’s relatively easy to do with what we established as our character systems.
“I could imagine with some other developers or with some games, it could just happen that nobody had thought about [the need to add new types of options] when working on the character model or mesh and then it just happened. Yeah, [in that case] it’s gonna like be like a few months of work and the production time just couldn’t accommodate that. So that’s possible.”
Because Larian was already prioritizing player expression, it was able to plan accordingly when it came to voice line recording, which was notably an issue in retroactively adding gay romance to the original Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 in the remaster. By planning from the jump to accommodate they/them pronouns, which did take extra work and time, the studio was able to make the implementation a smoother process. Also, because these options don’t affect gameplay, they can more easily be added without having to worry about how doing so will impact other systems. They will, however, change the nature of which romance scene you get because the mechanics will obviously be different depending on what your character is packing.
Development lift aside, Dubrovina explained that adding all these customization options that tie into your character’s identity felt in-line with Baldur’s Gate 3’s philosophy of prioritizing player expression, and so it was worth the extra effort.
“BG is very focused on your identity and the ultimate fantasy where you can be whoever, whatever you wanna be,” she said. “And we wanted to have this represented. We believe that visual [character creation options create] a positive player experience. I noticed it with myself when I playgames or when I pick which game to buy, right? I’m looking at the characters and I wanna look pretty. I wanna look fun.”
If you’re someone who doesn’t really want to engage with the genital options (among other nudity), Baldur’s Gate 3 does have the option to hide nudity and other non-stream-friendly content.
The options are vast and the custom characters are cool, but if you’re anything like me, who makes a character that looks like him and then replays a game over and over making the same choices with the same character, you might be wondering if Baldur’s Gate 3 will have an option to import an old character into a new playthrough. Unfortunately, you’ll have to remake them for your future playthroughs, as Baldur’s Gate 3 won’t have any kind of import option at launch. This includes bringing an old character from the Early Access period into the full game.
All of this comes after years of iteration working on Baldur’s Gate 3 during Early Access, and Dubrovina says feedback from the past three years of players making their way through the game’s first act has helped Larian craft the character creator it has.
“We weren’t living under a rock,” she said. “We were following what the community wanted and we were looking at what other games do. We were looking at what’s being discussed online. There are a lot of things that evolved, and I feel like, yeah, generally games are trying to move towards increasing the amount of diversity they have. We definitely wanted to represent that. So we wanted to like, kind of give everyone the opportunity to pick from a wide selection.”