Monday, January 29, 2018

Baldur's Gate for non-D&D Players: Some Tips

Slipping back into Baldur's Gate (Enhanced Edition) was a joy for me, because I discovered I missed the (up to) six person party and the story that the game told. There was also the freedom to wander wherever you wanted --which, truth be told, got me into a lot of trouble-- and level up by exploring and performing mini dungeon adventures.

That said, I've a feeling that it was easy for me to get back into Baldur's Gate because I'm an old D&D player.*

There are --to put it mildly-- quirks about D&D 2e and earlier that newer players may find confusing. Yes, there's the whole Armor Class thing, but also the "how does this translate into a computer game" that people might not be aware of, such as the concept of "rounds" in D&D being translated into a computer.

To help out those players who are a bit confused about the Baldur's Gate way of doing things, here's some tips to help make your excursion into the Sword Coast a memorable one.


Rolling Up Your Character: Be Patient and Roll Often

About the best advice I can give you is to keep rolling until you get result totals that are in the upper 80s to lower 90s. The stats you get out of that are frequently worth it in the long run, as a caster will get additional spells per spell level and a melee fighter will get bonuses in hitting and damage. And while you won't run up against it here, in BG2 you will run into the situation where a caster's ability to get to the highest spell levels is directly tied into your prime stat: a Mage without high enough intelligence won't get access to those truly powerful 8th and 9th level spells.


Understanding Armor Class, or "Why Do the Numbers Go Down?"

Dungeons and Dragons grew out of wargaming, the pastime where players would fight simulated battles on a grid**, such as Gettysburg or Battle of the Bulge.
The 1991 version of the Avalon Hill
classic, Battle of the Bulge.

Instead of having nameless divisions or platoons and other groups of soldiers on the board, Chainmail and Blackmoor (the immediate predecessors to D&D) focused in on individual in the fight as an avatar. From there, it was a small jump to get to a recognizable form of D&D that we have today.

Still, those wargaming roots show up in some oddball ways, such as the Armor Class.

The basic concept of an Armor Class is something every MMO player gets: get better armor, you get better numbers, and the baddies have a harder time of hitting you. But AC going downward, rather than upward? That's an artifact of the wargaming ancestors of D&D, so while it may seem counterintuitive to go down, from a wargaming perspective it does make sense (older wargames used charts a lot to determine battle outcomes, and AC going down came out of those charts).

So when you get armor that is enchanted to be "+2", your AC actually goes down 2.

As a general rule of thumb, you want the tank type --the fighter or ranger or paladin-- to have an AC less that zero as quickly as possible. They will take the brunt of the hits, and if you can also load them up with magic resistance so much the better. The last thing you need is your tank being feared --or worse, mind controlled-- and then your squishy companions will get steamrolled.

An AC of 0 to 2 for your non-tank melee people is also recommended, but due to class limitations you frequently have to use magic to get yourself down to that level.

Now, while a Mage can't wear leather (or better) armor, they do have access to magical bracers that lower your AC to at least the level of studded leather or better. Sure, it's not going to help much against a fighter gunning for a Mage, but it's better than nothing.


Party Composition Does Matter

Yes, you're familiar with the old trinity --Tank/Healer/DPS-- but in a D&D group you need to cover a few more items than that.

First, you need a Mage and a Thief. You can get away with a Thief equivalent, where a Mage has a ton of Knock and Invisibility spells to work, but it is frequently easier to just have a Thief.

But a Mage is absolutely essential. You will run up against magic wielders in the game, and you will need to mount an effective defense (or offense) against them. Mages are even more squishy in BG than they are in WoW, so you have to protect them from direct attack at all costs. The old joke about 1st Level D&D Mage dying when being attacked by a squirrel isn't too far off the mark.
From pinterest.

You also need a healer type, whether it's a Druid or a Cleric. Sure, you can buy healing potions, but there are a limited number of them in the game so you need to get healing from other methods, and  Cleric casting Cure Light Wounds is the easiest way of getting that. Plus, healer types do have access to a variety of great buff and debuff spells, and don't be afraid to use them, especially on boss types.

Next, you have to pay attention to the alignment of your party. It kind of goes without saying, but evil party members don't get along well with good ones. You can tell how your party is meshing by listening to their talk while your party is exploring. If the party doesn't get along, party members might leave.
From pinterest.

Finally, don't forget you can resurrect characters at a temple. So if you lost a character in a fight, go ahead and visit a temple to rez them. Sometimes that's better than trying to refight the same fight multiple times.


Save Often

In a game such as BG, frequent saving is absolutely essential. Renaming save files before going into a situation --such as a dungeon-- that you might want to go back to is also critical. I got about partway into one such dungeon before I realized I drastically underestimated the healing potions I was going to need, so I went back to that earlier save and spent some time leveling and acquiring more healing potions.

From my perspective, saving is so critical that I frequently will save every 2 minutes in a dungeon because of all the encounters and traps. Which leads me to....


Traps are a Thing

Yes, dungeons and other areas are trapped. Lethally so.

Having a Thief in front, sneaking around and detecting traps, is critical for survival in a dungeon. And you'll often find traps next to traps, especially the closer you get to an end boss.

When leveling a Thief up, place an initial emphasis on improving Hiding, Finding/Removing Traps, and Picking Locks . Even then, you may have to wait some time before traps appear in your screen. So, look at your surroundings and ask yourself "does it make sense if someone would stick a trap here?" If it does, just wait a bit longer and then creep forward, because you're likely right.

One last tip, potions that boost a Thief's abilities are absolutely essential in some areas, particularly once you get late in Chapter 3. But be smart about using these potions; like healing potions, there are a limited number of them in the game.


Combat is Round Based, Not Speed Based

This is one of the harder things for MMO and MOBA players to adjust to when playing BG. If you play a game like WoW, you're used to the timing on cooldowns and the attack speed for your various moves. But in a game like BG which is based on D&D, the combat consists of various rounds where everybody gets a turn. Sure, there's the Oil of Speed in-game which speeds up the number of attacks per round (and your movement speed in general), but everybody still gets a chance to attack within a six-second combat round.***

Magic items don't improve the time it takes you to attack, but they do improve your chances to hit and what damage you inflict on enemies.

So unlike the arms race in a game such as WoW where people try to squeeze out the last bit of speed in attacks and CDs when doing progression raiding or PvP, the arms race in BG is a bit more quaint. (But still important.)


Enemies Will Use Magic (and Magic Items) Against You

It's not just a matter of getting loot to drop from enemies in BG, but those enemies will also use that loot against you. The baddie that is wielding a Wand of Magic Missiles is going to use the damn thing in a fight, so be prepared. Likewise, a Cleric is going to try to fear your party, and a Mage will try to control and turn party members against each other. They're not dummies, you know.
This guy notwithstanding.
From 1tonghost in photobucket.

Besides, they can unload everything against you while you have to manage your magical stocks for multiple fights in succession, so trying to match them in firepower isn't necessarily the greatest idea either.


Be Judicious in Using Magic

As I alluded to several times, there's a limited number of potions in the game, and it's way to easy to accidentally blow through all of them and then be left with nothing.

Likewise, casters have a limited number of spells per time spent between rest periods. When you run out, you have to rest to regain your spells.

An MMO player may have a lot of difficulty managing this, because they're used to Mana/Energy/Whatever that gets recharged as a function of time (but drinking helps to speed it along).

My advice is simple: see those Kobolds over there? Don't use magic on them unless you absolutely have to. Wait for the ogre that's just over the next rise, and even then don't burn everything on one fight unless you look overmatched. Treat magic as if it were the rarest thing in the world, and then you'll appreciate it more.


Some Things are on Timers

There's some party related quests that you acquire that are on timers, and if you don't complete them... Things happen. Bad things.

You'll know these quests when you see them, and even the ones that aren't explicit in the timer will have someone constantly prodding you to do what you said you'd do. Listen to those in-game reminders, because you don't want to find yourself missing party members --or worse!-- because you dallied in Beregost for a few more days.

The game does do this to push you into an uncomfortable situation by making judgement calls, but the rewards are frequently worth it in the end if you manage to see the quest through.


Line of Sight Works Even at Different Heights

If you're hunting for something that's down in a valley --or an open air prison (nudge nudge)-- and you don't see the item down there because the trees and slope blocked you, this is a reminder that the line of sight is more sophisticated than you might expect in a 20 year old game.


Cursed Items are a Thing

There are far more cursed items in BG than I typically see in a regular D&D campaign. So if you see a sword that has that blue glow of magic, don't simply equip it and believe everything is fine. Because there's a non-zero chance that it's not. Take advantage of the Identify spell and visiting places that can identify magic for you (for a fee).
From pinterest.


Even the Weakest Enemy Can Overwhelm You With Numbers

Just sayin'. You'll understand this once you get to around 3rd or 4th Level.


Not Everything is Going to be at or Below Your Level, Either

And yes, the inverse is true too. No shame in backing off from a fight when you're unable to get a single blow in.
From reddit.

*"Old" as in "was around playing D&D back when Gary Gygax ran TSR".

**Or sand table if you played with tin soldiers and whatnot.

***Weapon specialization ranks will also give you additional attacks per round, so a fighter should use those rather than generalizing.


  1. I still think of THAC0 as "that new stuff" even today.

    Funny, I was eyeing BG as a possible reinstall this past weekend. I have the enhanced edition on Steam and started it back when I got it, but never got that far back into it. But I remember playing the original back in the day.

    1. Ha! I'm not the only one around who things that, I suppose. I'm currently in a 1e campaign (the A1-A4 Slave Lords campaign), so a lot of this was very easy to remember.

      The biggest difference between Classic and the Enhanced edition --outside of the graphics changes for the cutscenes-- is that you don't have to wait on CDs to load every time you visited different areas. That speeds up the game more than I ever expected.