There’s been a lot of attention given to Baldur’s Gate 3’s sex, sexiness, and sexuality since it launched in August. Larian Studios’ Dungeons & Dragons RPG has received both high praise and some criticism for its party of adventurers doing the horizontal tango. It’s received acclaim for its lack of restriction and focus on player expression, as well as accusations that you have to beat some of these characters away with a stick lest they start humping your leg.
But wherever you fall on that spectrum, sex is an important part of Baldur’s Gate 3. It’s an extension of your character’s identity, relationships, and personality. Choosing to engage in various sexual escapades is just as much a part of your story as only experiencing it with one partner through its 100+ hours. We talked with Larian Studios about why sex is a big part of Baldur’s Gate 3, and the lengths it went to ensure its intimate scenes were of the same quality as the rest of the stellar GOTY contender.
The difference between a “game with sex in it” and a “sex game”
Sex in games can be a marketing bullet point, a source of controversy, or feel like a “reward” for completing a quest, but when you have a game built on relationships and choice, sex isn’t just sex. It’s an expression of love, companionship, lust, or an extension of world-building as fantasy elements factor into how people are intimate with one another. For Larian, putting so much sex in their game required a balancing act to decide how best to portray sexual conquest in the context of its world and represent the specific characters taking part.
Jason Latino, the cinematic director behind the RPG, told Kotaku the studio used prestige television as a point of reference, especially shows that contain sex, but don’t centralize it so much that it becomes the sole conversation point.
“A lot of it was talking to Swen [Vincke, Director] and pointing at cable television and streaming references,” Latino said. “American Gods was an oft-repeated touchstone, and there were articles about how that production was trying to push boundaries for sexual content in American television. This defined the tonal boundaries. After this, deciding on what felt right from an interactivity standpoint was the next big milestone. We wanted Baldur’s Gate 3 to be a ‘game with sex in it’ without becoming a ‘sex game.’”
And Latino, who was brought onto the team in 2019, said it was a personal mission to ensure the sex scenes lived up to the rest of the game’s quality standards.
“From the production side of things, Larian has been making RPGs for a while and romance has already been a component of how to make our characters feel three-dimensional on past projects,” he said. “As I was hired to introduce cinematics into that approach, I never wanted to be ‘the guy that made Larian games smaller,’ and had to look at every piece of what the studio had achieved in the past and ensure that cinematics were additive and not subtractive.”
But intimacy in Baldur’s Gate 3 goes beyond the conventional ways people have sex. This is a magical world made up of magical people, so it makes sense that sex would be a bit unorthodox. The first sex scene I saw was between my Warlock main character and Gale, The Wizard. Gale believes his life forfeit and his time is limited, and wanted to give me a “perfect” night in his study in Waterdeep. He conjures the room, adorned with books, fancy art, and a magical self-playing piano, with the sun shining over the sea beneath the balcony. Then, he astral projects both of our spirits into a space-like realm, where our souls intertwine with one another. Gale copies himself until my character and the Wizard are essentially having a floating, spinning foursome in a void. It’s intense and expresses a raw, melancholy desperation of Gale’s mindset, but it’s also magical and ethereal.
The scene already looks like it took a chunk of Baldur’s Gate 3’s cinematic budget, but according to Latino, it was scaled back from the team’s original vision to adapt for the technical lift.
“I think it started as constellations shifting to take on the forms of Gale’s descriptions, which was a really cool concept, but in practice would have been extraordinarily difficult to pull off,” Latino said. “From that point we started thinking about it in terms of astral projections, a visual treatment we’d already achieved in the engine already—which then led to us asking how do these projections make love.”
In this scene, Gale and the player’s spirits are interwoven in a way that is, well, magical. Gale’s multiple forms envelop the avatar, moving on the surface of their skin and also through them, all while suspended in the air. It creates a distinct visual motif not found in other romances that captures the connection between the two characters while feeling distinctly not of this world.
“We wanted to explore meditative and geometric poses as a starting point and iterate from there. Many drawings and animations later we started experimenting with compositions inside our cinematic toolset. I think this is where we developed some of the afterimage-like movements and the multiple limbs. We wanted this to feel like Gale and their partner were really merging into one, new, perfectly harmonious being. It was an intuitive process of different artists escalating one another’s’ ideas.”
Bringing magic to where the magic happens
Gale’s not the only character whose sex scene references Dungeons & Dragons lore. Much to the internet’s delight and dismay, the Druid Halsin can shapeshift into a bear, and Karlach, the Tiefling Barbarian, has side quests tied to cooling the infernal engine in her chest before she can do the deed, lest she burn her partner alive. For Larian, crafting these scenes and using them sparingly, as opposed to every pursuit ending in some magical climax, was a team effort, and writers relied on each other to check them if things got out of hand. According to Associate Lead Writer Chrystal Ding, they wanted to create scenes they hadn’t seen in games before, but the team’s collaborative nature kept everyone grounded, even when writing Druid sex.
“Sometimes it’s clear what scene you’re going to need, and sometimes, it’s having the space to let your imagination do the driving,” Ding said. “We’d always rather let the writers go nuts and reign things in later than try to censor at the outset, and we’re fortunate that the iterative way we work gives us that space to try things out. You can usually tell pretty quickly when you show a draft of a scene to your colleagues whether it’s good-weird or too-much-weird by their reaction, and that’s a really important litmus test of whether an idea is worth pursuing or not.”
The uniqueness of all of the characters was both a challenge and an exciting prospect when it came to writing sex scenes for each potential relationship. Where some RPGs tend to operate on a template of when and how your character might do the nasty, such as the original Mass Effect’s sex scenes almost all taking place just before the final mission, Larian Studios wanted Baldur’s Gate 3’s sex scenes to be unique for each character, and not held to any specific timing or format in the relationship. You can have a romp with Astarion early on in the game’s first act, where some relationships like Shadowheart’s are more of a slow burn.
“If you’re going to conceive of any romantic encounter with these characters, you’re going to try to focus on what makes them unique,” Latino said. “Then it’s up to the [artists] to make sure it feels like a natural progression of the drama, rather than coming off as a gimmick.”
This asymmetry means that not everyone’s sex scenes are equally explicit. Scenes like Minthara’s or Halsin’s show much more than say, Shadowheart’s or Wyll’s, as some of the characters “just want to share a glass of wine or simply be held,” according to Latino . Gale, for example, has two possible sex scenes. One can be the aforementioned astral projection scene, or, if the player insists they don’t need the spectacle, they will simply kiss on a conjured bed, then the scene fades to black.
“We did our best to follow the drama,” he said. “Gale [has a magical means]of love making if the player [desires] spectacle, nuance, and space to ease into the magical imagery. Choosing the non-magical route, there’s not a lot of drama to that. Making just a normal romance scene on the bed with Gale for the sake of [parity] didn’t sit quite right with me, it felt gratuitous.”
To Latino, having different scenes, even if some were more or less safe for work, is part of what makes Baldur’s Gate 3 stand out against contemporaries that just model swap different love interests for similar scenes. Plus, it keeps the player from thinking they know exactly what’s coming as a relationship unfolds.
“I’m proud of the amount of romance we offer as well as the variety,” he said. “The asymmetry is part of that, too. Games tend to templatize in order to protect from scope creep and after the pattern recognition of the player kicks in, it all feels a bit prepackaged or less special sometimes. We never wanted people to feel like ‘oh, a cutscene started, I can put my controller down,’ which I think we achieved through asymmetry. The player never knows what’s going to happen when they click on an NPC or one of their companions. It feels more alive this way.”
As for what didn’t make it into the game, Latino said the team’s iterative process meant that most ideas for romance scenes are inBaldur’s Gate 3 in one form or another, as the team would have rather changed something than cut it out entirely if it could elevate a love story. He also said every romance scene was “executed as intended” in the final game. So scenes like the one with the druid sex workers in a Baldur’s Gate brothel, which is portrayed solely through narration over a black screen, is exactly how the team envisioned it.
“Honestly, we adapt and transform ideas until they work more often than not,” he said. “It’s all about iteration and doing justice to the characters and the player’s journey with those characters. If something was cut, it would have been before it reached the cinematic team, which often means writing decided it wasn’t the right fit for the story.”
Baldur’s Gate 3 makes sex special for everyone
Writing and animating sex scenes for different romance routes is one thing, accounting for the myriad of created characters these scenes had to fit was a whole other beast of. The RPG’s character creator lets you make a hero from one of 11 different races, each with different body types and heights. The game ran into some trouble with this early on, with some animations not accounting for short races like a dwarf (the issue’s since been patched), but as far as the actual sex scenes go, Larian’s animation team was operating on the assumption that every romance would be pursued by characters as small as a Halfling and as large as a Dragonborn.
This was a major challenge for the performance capture team, which, on top of voice acting, worked in a mo-cap studio to help the team animate scenes. According to Performance Director Greg Lidstone, intimate scenes came later in motion capture sessions so everyone had a better understanding of the process before diving into the romance stuff. And each scene had to be mo-capped twice to account for whether or not the player would be playing a tall or short character.
“Obviously, we knew the height of the partner, so we always had to play it relative to Astarion, Karlach or whoever was required,” Lidstone said. “Sometimes complicated physical movement would be given to the companion as we knew their height, but we had to make sure the player was an equal participant, so it comes down to adjusting contact points and camera placement.”
While the choreography could be elaborate, it turns out that mo-capping and animating a sex scene in and of itself isn’t the hardest part of portraying intimacy in Baldur’s Gate 3. Even when they’re taller or shorter, most characters have the same broad form to work with and animate around—AKA, their parts are in the same spots. According to Lidstone, the hardest thing about animating romantic encounters is far more PG.
“Kissing was actually the most difficult, in my opinion, as we had to consider snouts, horns and beards as well as height,” he said. “I think for a lot of people, that first kiss is key. It’s the culmination of the relationship and would cheapen the player experience to cut away from it. The player has invested time and emotion to get here and they want that payoff to their commitment, and we certainly didn’t want to let them down.”
With all these factors involved, it might have been easier for Larian to restrict your romance options, but Baldur’s Gate 3 lets you pursue anyone as anyone. For Larian, this was an extension of the expressive freedom of its character creator, and said the additional work it took to accommodate for different player identities was “energy well spent,” according to Latino.
“The promise of our character creator is more than just picking a class and appearance, it’s also a way for the player to tell us what kind of adventure they want to have,” Lidstone said. “While we want that experience to be flavored by those decisions, we never want them to feel like they made a bad decision or that their choices shut them out of anything. It’s really as simple as that.”
How intimacy coordinators helped elevate sex in Baldur’s Gate 3
Because Baldur’s Gate 3’s sex scenes are as elaborate as they are, Larian brought in intimacy coordinators to help with the process. Intimacy coordinators act as a coach between the development team and the actors to ensure everyone is comfortable and communicating while shooting intimate scenes. This line of work is commonplace in movies and television, and is gaining traction in gaming—Half Mermaid Productions used an intimacy coordinator for the 2022 mystery game Immortality.
According to Lidstone, conversations about bringing on intimacy coordinators began as it became clear how off-the-wall some of the romance scenes would be. While it was a new experience both for the team and for the coordinators, Lidstone said the coordinators provided insight he and his team needed to create the most comfortable environment for everyone involved. This included talking to actors to build rapport and trust and to discuss boundaries, as well as suggestions for “complicated blocking” on the set.
“I certainly hope to keep my mocap volume a safe and joyful space to work, but when dealing with heightened emotions and sexuality it’s a definite benefit to have a person trained to ensure the actors and the rest of the team have support,” Lidstone said. “Everyone has their own relationship to sex and sexuality and for us, it just made sense to keep everyone emotionally and physically safe while recording.”
Lidstone hopes more dev teams will use intimacy coordinators in the future.
“Over the last few years, attitudes toward sex have evolved and intimacy coordination as a specialty is a reflection of that shift,” Lidstone said. “Games have been exploring romance and sexuality for a while now and it’s wonderful to have new tools and support to navigate this space. Actors do their best work when they feel comfortable and it’s just right for us to meet those needs.”
Baldur’s Gate 3’s intimacy coordinators helped create accommodations for a particularly challenging sex scene: the one with Haarlep, the devil Raphael’s incubus, which can occur near the end of the game. The encounter between the player and the shapeshifter has the incubus take the form of Raphael himself, or, if the player wishes, a feminine version of him, and climbing on top and gyrating on them as they lie on their back in one of the most straightforward sex scenes in the whole game.
“It’s very physical and probably closest to a traditional live-action sex scene and required the most discussion beforehand,” Lidstone said. “We ensured the set was closed, that everyone understood what the goals were, and that we all felt comfortable with what we were doing.”
Meanwhile, some of the sillier moments, such as the Halsin bear scene, weren’t quite as intense for the actors, even as ridiculous as the moment is on paper.
“The bear scene is an interesting one as in its final form it is pretty surprising, but on set it’s not a very extreme set of moves for the actors,” Lidstone said. “There were certainly raised eyebrows, but everyone on set was extremely professional and leaned into the absurdity of the moment.”
While some scenes like the Incubus are grounded in a very literal perception of sex, some magical things are too other-wordly to do on a motion capture stage. In Gale’s astral projection scene, all of the points where he and his paramour were floating in the air were keyframed. As talented as Baldur’s Gate 3’s actors are, they can’t split themselves into copies of themselves and grow multiple limbs.
“We didn’t do any wire work or anything to approximate those zero-gravity moments, it was just good old-fashioned animation,” Latino said. “When you get actors on a set, you want to be sure you’re going to use all that data. But with the projection sequence we knew it would be a very iterative process, so we approached it as an exploration of poses, layering in motion where needed and throwing out bits that didn’t work.”
Sex is there if you want it, but can be hidden if you don’t
Between bear sex, astral projection sex, burning engine sex, and every other variation, Baldur’s Gate 3’s approach to intimacy is more explicit than most AAA games get. Because of this, the team at Larian wanted to to give players the chance to adjust the experience if they weren’t feeling up to seeing it. This extends to the character customization screens and if you take off your character’s underwear in the game world.
“Ratings boards are very clear about their guidelines, so there was never a fear of accidentally crossing any boundaries with them,” Latino said. “We also took steps to add content features where nudity could be hidden and sexual content could be skipped so this allowed us to trust that our players would make the right decisions for themselves about what they wanted from our M-rated game. For me there wasn’t much stress or hesitation about it.”
The only time ratings boards became an issue was during Baldur’s Gate 3’s early access period, which only included one full-blown sex scene in the form of Minthara. It’s one of the most explicit in the game, and that was done on purpose—it had to broadly represent the kinds of scenes players could expect in the final game.
“The stress I did experience was getting the first romance scene out for ratings because we were in the middle of our push to release Early Access,” Latino said. “I wanted more time to experiment artistically but we needed to make a scene for submission that would be representative of our portrayal of sexual content in the final version of the game.”
All the extra work has made sex in Baldur’s Gate 3 one of the biggest discussion points surrounding an expansive, often overwhelming RPG. Whether it involves Druids transforming into animals or a Wizard wrapping himself around your soul, Baldur’s Gate 3’s sex scenes manage to capture a grounded humanity in how people connect. Yes, sex can form a deep connection, but it can also be silly, awkward, and transient. You can argue the tadpole-infected camp is full of a bunch of overly-horny weirdos, but even when the approval mechanics undermine them, they’re all just trying to get by, and most of them would like to do that with someone by their side and in their bed. Or, you know, floating in an ethereal void.