Monday, August 23, 2010

Baldur's Gate, part 2

I'm currently on my second character in Baldur's Gate, since my initial attempt turned out to have too many mistakes. I took the advice of reader Dragatus in an earlier post on this blog, and rolled a new character. Not a fighter though, as was first suggested, since I have a heavy preference for magic-users, and I enjoy the whole idea of "warriors are linear, wizards are quadratic". Since I'm using Baldur's Gate Tutu, I have several options that otherwise only appear in Baldur's Gate 2, and one of those is being able to play as the Sorcerer class. This class is more appealing to me than the other magic-user choices because it uses a different spell system. Instead of the Vancian system of having to choose specific spells from my repertoire to memorise in advance (and hoping I picked the right ones for what I'll be facing), the sorcerer is born with innate magic ability, and can cast any of his known spells, and is limited only in number cast per day (or between resting).

My previous character was a "neutral good" aligned, half-elven, multi-classed mage/thief, and that seems to have been a mistake from the beginning, because it started me at level 6 that way, and all the other NPCs I encountered were similarly leveled. I was days into Chapter 2, had long since cleared out the Nashkel Mine, and still no one had leveled up. Very confusing for a first time player.

I also didn't put much thought into my character stats, because I assumed I would get additional points to assign to them as I leveled up, like in later Bioware games. Now I know that the only way to increase the base stats is through gear or magic items found in the game.

My new character still has a couple of issues, because I still had to figure out what I was doing, and see how things worked, and I didn't quite understand why Dragatus said I wouldn't have the Identify spell, since it did appear as one of the spells I could learn. I didn't realise at the time that sorcerers can't learn new spells from scrolls like other magic-users, and didn't know it would take several levels before I even got the option to learn a new spell (the first level-up only increases the number of times you can cast your spells). So, in retrospect, perhaps I shouldn't have chosen Identify as one of the two spells I would be able to cast for the next couple of levels. On the other hand, the other spell was Magic Missile, which took care of most of the fighting. I rather wish I had chosen Armour instead of Identify, since it's a long-lasting spell that compensates for the sorcerer's inability to wear physical armour. But at least I never had any problem getting magic items identified.

I got to pick a new spell at level 3, and I considered both Armour and Chromatic Orb, but ended up going with the Armour, since Chromatic Orb didn't seem sufficiently different from Magic Missile, and I wanted better variety in my spells. Between my spells, Viconia's crowd control and buffs, and Edwin's assortment of offensive and CC spells (and later Ajantis' buffs), battles were going pretty smoothly at level 2 despite the initial limitations.

Party selection

My initial party was just whoever I could run into on my way to my destination, so it therefore was made of Imoen, Xzar, Montaron, Jaheira, and Khalid before I met anyone else. Unfortunately, I didn't like any of them except Imoen. I was pleasantly surprised that all five of them fit in the party, though. A six-member party (counting my player character) feels like a real luxury after being limited to 4 in Dragon Age, and 3 in Mass Effect.

I ran into a few other joinable NPCs while questing around the Friendly Arm zone, so I tried out several other party configurations before settling on my current group, though it was difficult to do since Jaheira/Khalid and Xzar/Montaron were inseparable pairs, but at least I could boot some out without losing them permanently. It might be due to the NPC Project Mod, but I have the option of telling them to wait in their current location for my return, or to leave and wait for me at the Friendly Arm Inn.

Writing now, having subsequently experienced another inseparable pair, my conclusion is that there are just too many otherwise decent characters chained to crappy ones.

My best party I've experienced so far is comprised of Imoen, Edwin, Viconia, Minsc, and Ajantis. So that's a fish-out-of-water drow cleric, a snarky red wizard of Thay, a jovial berserker, an uptight paladin of Helm, and of course the cheerful, perky thief. And I myself am a sorcerer, so it's a nice mix of two tanks, two DPS, one healer/CC, and one ranged DPS with stealth, trap detection, and lockpicking. Here's what I thought of each of them, and the others I left behind.

Ajantis (lawful good paladin)

Ajantis can't seem to go more than two sentences without mentioning the name of his god, Helm. He's annoying, but he makes a good tank and has several nice paladin abilities like the healing "laying on of hands" (which I suppose is as close as one of these paladins can allow themselves to get to a woman), and Protection From Evil (almost all enemies in BG are evil, so...), and also Detect Evil, which I tried out once, but didn't see the point of, since it just made Edwin light up briefly. I'm imagining what that would be like in person, just out in the wilds leading an adventuring party, and turning to Ajantis and asking, "Hey paladin, do you detect any evil nearby?" and he'd just turn and point intently at Edwin, looking at me with an expectant look on his face, probably thinking "Now? Now? Can I smite him now, please?"

But like I said, he's a good tank, and he really likes my leadership, always saying "We follow the righteous path! The path of Helm!" Not that I'm trying to follow his god's path, or even particularly trying to be "good". I'm just doing quests and choosing the most interesting dialogue options, or the ones that suit me personally. I can tell this is becoming a problem, since Edwin and Viconia complain more and more often, and reputation points seem to be flowing like water lately.

Xzar (chaotic evil necromancer) & Montaron (neutral evil fighter/thief)

Out of necessity, since I was otherwise alone, I tried out Xzar and Montaron, the first two joinable NPCs you meet on the road (not counting Imoen, who joins you immediately). Aside from them being evil, I found both of them to be rather weak and death-prone. Xzar, being insane, should have been more amusing than he was, and instead struck me as simply annoying. Once I started finding more joinable NPCs, I really wanted to boot Montaron out (I didn't need his thieving skills, and he made a poor tank), but I needed Xzar's spellcasting to augment my own limited ability at level 1, and the two were a team that came and went together. Of course, I could have allowed one to die in battle to free up that space which in fact happened during my first play attempt, but I wanted to keep my options open this time. It wasn't until they got impatient with my delay in getting to Nashkel that I had to deal with their departure.

That departure was very inconvenient, because I wasn't expecting them to actually leave on their own, and I couldn't appease them in time. I was too far away from Nashkel to travel there before they'd leave, unless I went back several saves in the past, and I didn't like the characters enough to sacrifice several hours of game progress just to get them to Nashkel before they bailed out, so I just removed all their items in the save just prior and let them go.

Interestingly, it looks like I could have at least kept Xzar if I had a bit more luck, because in my several attempts to get them to Nashkel I was waylaid by wandering enemies just at the right time. Entering combat appears to slightly break the script that makes the two leave together. Montaron delivered his "You're taking too long! We're leaving!" line just after the enemies initiated combat, and the two started to leave, but then Xzar initiated the "are you sure?" prompt that usually occurs when you intentionally kick people out of your party. I told him to stay, and he stayed, while Montaron kept on going. Unfortunately, the enemies were too tough for my reduced party, and I wiped each time this happened.

Minsc (chaotic good ranger)

"Ranger"? I was surprised about that, since I think of rangers as stealthy bow-using hunter-types, not as loud, plate-wearing, sword-wielding berserkers. But I suppose it explains his affinity with his hamster Boo. It's just strange to me to see the abilities "Berserk" and "Charm Animal" right next to each other. Minsc is a very strong character, making him very useful for carrying the heaviest loot, and his dialogue is funny and lively. Outfitted with good armour he makes a hardy tank, but I very rarely use his Berserk ability because I have other mêlée characters that usually fight next to him, and I quickly found Minsc chasing one of his own allies due to his blind rage in berserk mode.

I picked up Minsc with Edwin in the party, despite Edwin wanting me to help him kill the witch Dynaheir, and Minsc wanting me to help rescue her. I thought, at the time, that I could just keep them both by never going to rescue Dynaheir at all, but Edwin started expressing impatience after some time, and I recalled what happened with Xzar and Montaron, so I knew this couldn't last.

Viconia (neutral evil cleric)

For my cleric/healer, I'm using Viconia, the fugitive drow who wasn't quite evil enough to want to stay in the Underdark. I'm playing as chaotic good this time, and she's neutral evil, but so far she seems to be fitting in better than the other evil characters I've included in my party. She only started complaining a little once my reputation reached "popular", but on the whole her banters are cute and pleasant, especially with all the drow-speak she uses and other amusing things like "There's no roof to this world!" I had to turn on subtitles to find out the spelling of what she was saying in drowish. "Lulu loooo! For sure!" is an interesting and amusing battle cry, and I think I'll always hear it that way, even after finding out it's actually "Lil alurl! For Shar!", which apparently means "The best! For Shar!" according to the drow dictionary I found. Alas, since I'm an elf, there can apparently be no romance with Viconia.

I have her keep 2 healing spells memorised, along with two Command spells and 1 Hold Person spell for crowd control, as well as a couple of buffs. She also has a Turn Undead ability that seems to toggle on and off like Imoen's Hide In Shadows or Detect Traps, but I can't seem to get her to use it without immediately breaking it by going on and attacking something.

Imoen (neutral good thief)

I haven't found any other pure thieves in the game so far, but even if I do, I don't think I'll want to replace Imoen. Not just because her abilities are shaping up nicely with the talent points from her leveling, but because I like her voice and personality (even if most of that personality is due to the NPC mod). Several times, the lines she says when I clicked on her to direct her somewhere have created some cute pseudo-conversations. Minsc interjects something while I'm about to direct her to unlock a chest, like:

Minsc: "Camaraderie, adventure, and steel on steel. The stuff of legends! Right, Boo?"

Imoen: "Yup!"

I have her Detect Traps ability up pretty high already, in anticipation of running through the Nashkel Mines, remembering my experience with my previous character, where I attacked the mines pretty early. I rolled my current character fairly soon after that event.

Jaheira (true neutral fighter/druid) & Khalid (neutral good fighter)

I might have kept Jaheira if her husband didn't have to tag along. He died a lot, couldn't carry much, and his dialogues with Jaheira were saccharine and annoying. "C-could we please settle down some time and have a b-baby together Jaheira, please, please, p-pretty please?"

At least Jaheira was fairly strong and provided an extra heal to the group, and her selection of nature-based druid spells were an interesting change of pace from the mage/sorcerer spells and the priest spells. She had some amusing phrases as well, like "Yeessss, O Omnipotent Authority Figure?" But on the whole, I don't miss them.

Edwin (lawful evil conjurer)

Like Imoen, his personality alone is enough to make me want to keep him, to the exclusion of other characters, and despite him being evil. He's egocentric and snarky, which I find much funnier and enjoyable than Xzar's shrill whining, Jaheira's condescension, Xan's moaning, or Dynaheir's stuffiness and misuse of Middle English (I'll have more to say about Dynaheir in another post).

Currently I have him memorising Colour Spray (for crowd control), Larloch's Minor Drain (for draining an enemy's health to replenish his own if he's hit), Magic Missile, and Chromatic Orb. When he runs out of spells, I have him stand back and throw daggers at the enemies, finding a use for the piles of daggers scrounged from all these walking skeletons. I guess it's nice that I never seem to need to buy arrows or throwing weapons, though I do need to buy sling bullets.

So far, the only Level 2 spell he knows is Horror, which seems of very limited use. I haven't yet found any useful Level 2 spell scrolls to teach him.

Kivan (chaotic good ranger)

I only used this character briefly before sending him away, but I've taken him back in out of necessity for reasons I'll explain in the next post. I don't like this guy, and plan to get rid of him as soon as I can find another useful tank.

He's as morose as Xan, except while Xan just predicts doom and acts pessimistically, Kivan incessantly speaks in unnecessarily heavy detail about the torture and murder of his wife, and his guilt and suicidal depression over it, and he keeps asking nosy questions. He's bad for morale. I've been giving him relatively sympathetic responses, but my finger hovers temptingly over the ones that tell him to shut up.

Branwen (true neutral cleric)

I like her voice, but I already have a good cleric. Well, an evil cleric, but you know what I mean.

Garrick (chaotic neutral bard)

A bard. I tried him out for a little while, but I couldn't find any good use for him. Am I missing something?

Kagain (lawful evil fighter)

I had him in the party just long enough to take care of his little quest, then sent him back to his store. He seems okay, and I do need another fighter, but do I really want another evil character in my party? I'm considering it.

Xan (lawful neutral enchanter)

As mentioned above, I couldn't stand his moaning, and he can't use some of the most useful spells. He has a little side quest to find his magic sword that no one but he can use, but why would I want a sword-wielding squishy? No wonder you foresee doom all the time, Xan -- you're doing it wrong!

So those are the characters I've had in my party so far, for varying amounts of time. I understand there are still plenty more to find, so I expect there will be more shuffling around coming up.

Crash fix and technical stuff

I ran into a crashing bug soon after losing Xzar and Monty, and in looking up solutions I found this was a well-known crash centered around the town of Beregost. Happily, there was a repair utility made specifically to address that problem, and it fixed it for me with no trouble.

On the technical side, I have the game running at 60 FPS, which is an option available in the config program. As it explains there, the game is supposed to run at 30 FPS, and the effect of running it at a higher speed is that it speeds everything up. I did this so that it doesn't take so long to get my party from one end of the map to another. Since I play with auto-pause options enabled, it doesn't affect my gameplay, since I'm playing it the same way I play Dragon Age -- pausing the game to give specific commands or control specific characters for each turn, making it a pseudo-turn-based game.

While this is an improvement for pacing, in my opinion, cutting short the most tedious parts of the game (walking from one place to another), it's not without its drawbacks. Primarily it's just that during scripted dialogue scenes which include voices, or during spell incantations, the animations finish before the voice finishes playing, so my characters never finish the "Vita, Mortis, Careo" incantation before being cut off with the sound effect of finishing, or in the case of dialogue the characters tend to speak over each other.

To be continued

There's a lot more to say about this game. I can tell I'm going to be playing it, and its sequel, for some time. Depending on how I feel about it when it's over, I might also want to look into the Icewind Dale games, and Planescape: Torment. I already have Arcanum, which was an impulse buy thanks to a sale on GOG, and played it briefly, but it was my first isometric RPG experience, and probably not the best introduction. Perhaps I can return to it after my BG experience with better insights.

These games have a sense of fun and a tone that doesn't take itself too seriously, which is sort of lost in the realism of later games. Even when I see little jokes and references in games like Oblivion, Fallout 3, or Dragon Age, they seem to be overwhelmed by the general serious tone, and in some cases the grey, dirty, "realistic" art design. They all have their moments, of course, and I think Dragon Age has the most of these kinds of jokes, like the "poem" by Paragon Seuss, or Leliana naming her new pet aardvark "Schmooples", and there are some examples for Oblivion and Fallout 3 as well, but in general I find myself having more levity in this game than in those others.

Anyway, this post is long. Ending for now.


  1. I'm glad you found my advice useful. So here's a bit more. ;)

    1. Your stats look pretty good, except for the low Wisdom. A high Wisdom is very useful in Baldur's Gate 2 at high levels when casting the very powerful Wish spell. The higher your Wisdom, the better things you can wish for and the less chance that your wish turns out badly.

    It's fairly easy to adjust stats with a hex editor though and I could do it for you if I can get hold of your savegame (the least cheating thing to do would be swaping Wisdom and Strength). If you're like me and don't like giving away your e-mail just like that you can use megaupload or some similair site.

    2. Evil characters will leave your party if your reputation ever rises above 18. On the other hand a high reputation gives you better prices in shops so it's worth keeping it high. If you want to keep Edwin and Viconia I'd suggest keeping it at 17 so that if you get an increase here or there you have time to lower it. The easiest way to lower reputation is murdering random people, but I have a feeling that's probably not your style. Another option is to simply give up on the two once your reputation grows to high and to grab Dynaheir and Branwen as replacements.

    Purely statwise Branwen is actually a better cleric than Viconia (she has higher Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom) and Dynaheir is almost as good a mage as Edwin (she has 17 Intelligence, is specialized in Evocation, and starts with Fireball).

    It's also possible to have Minsc, Dynaheir, and Edwin all together in your party, but that requires you to save Dynaheir before recruiting Edwin (basically he comes along to keep an eye on her).

    And as a bit of trivia: the "official" party for BG1 is Imoen, Khalid, Jaheira, Minsc, and Dynaheir. They're the ones you start with (sort off) in BG2.

    3. Imoen has the best stats out of all the thives in BG1. She is also human which means that once she has all the thieving abilities you want her to have you can dual class into a mage, which is pretty nifty, though it requires you to get a replacement thief for as long as it takes her mage level to catch up with her thief level. Yes, the dual classing rules are weird. :D

    4. Speaking of rules, there's an excellent guide to 2nd edition AD&D rules here:

    It's spoiler free, just the rules in general, and applies to other games (such as Icewind Dale) as well.

    5. I haven't played Icewind Dale, but I have heard that compared to BG it's a lot more focused on combat.

    Planescape Torment is the other way around. You also usually advance the plotline not through fierce combat but rather by having very long conversations with NPCs. The story is also not about saving the world, but about regaining your character's memories and finding out how you ended up where you are. It's a lot less colourful and more grim and gritty than BG1. You are given a preset male character who starts out as a fighter, but you can convert him into a mage and the game also has excellent and plentiful writing.

  2. Firstly, thanks for numbering your response. That makes it convenient to respond to things without excessive quoting. :) Also, thank you for the additional advice.

    1. The Wisdom vs Intelligence issue was another confusing one. I based this on the recommendations from a solo sorcerer guide, and the one who wrote that seemed to think that Wisdom wasn't necessary -- but he never said anything about Wish. I also didn't re-roll over and over to get the maximum number of points to spend. I just took the best out of 5.

    I can probably use Shadowkeeper to edit my stats and leech some points away from my strength instead of a general hex editor. I've used that a couple of times already, and it should be fine. But you're saying it won't actually be important until the second game, right?

    2. I'll be addressing that in my next post, since I've already had to take some actions to deal with my rapidly rising reputation. Happily, one of the mods I installed has a useful option to handle it without having to kill anyone. I also have a good bit to say about Dynaheir that I want to save for that post.

    I will reconsider Branwen, though. I can take her along with me on some adventuring around Dryad Falls or the Ulcaster Ruins and see if I like her as much as Viconia.

    4. Ah, that guide for AD&D as it's used in CRPGs looks like just what I need. I see it proposes to answer the question "What is THAC0?" :D

    5. Hmm...I like the balance of story to combat in BG, so if those other games go off too far in either direction, I think I might not like them. Well, at least not like them as much. We'll see.

  3. Yes, you will only need Wisdom in the second game and even then only at high levels (Wish is a level 9 spell and only becomes available at level 18 or so). And if you decide not to use Wish, you won't really need it at all.

  4. What about Limited Wish? Is wisdom important for that, too?

  5. I guess so.

    I don't acctually have personal experience with with these spells, because I never really made it that far in BG2 (got stuck due to a bug, hadn't saved in hours, didn't feel like replaying it all at that very moment, and then I started playing some other game and never went back). But I did read a guide for building a powerful sorcerer and there it mentioned Wisdom as one of the most important stats due to the Wish spell.

    From what I can tell your low Wisdom won't really gimp your character, you just won't be quite as powerful as you could have been.