Sunday, 13 September 2015

Baldur's Gate: In-Depth Retrospective on the Original Incarnation - Part IV


Divine aka Priest Spells: Cleric & Druid

The divine spell selection may seem a lil' uninspiring in the face of the dazzling repertoire displayed by arcane practitioners; the spells being more tailored to protection, buffing, healing and summoning rather than encounter-dictating disablement and bombardment; however, parties who shun clerics and druids may find adventuring more painful and tedious than it would otherwise be, and for new players access to the healing line of spells is vital.

The campaign offers forty-six divine spells in total [1], with clerics clearly offering a wider range than druids (C: 10/12/10/8/-, D: 6/8/5/5/2). Clerics offer nineteen spells unique to them and druids a meager six; two of which are fifth circle spells by virtue of faster level progression under the TotSC cap. Unknown to many, Ranger/Cleric multi-classes erroneously benefit from both cleric and druid spells, thereby boasting the broadest range of divine spells possible (C+D: 10/14/12/8/-). Access to fifth circle druid spells isn't as advantageous as one might imagine, BioWare having nerfed the range to offer just Animal Summoning II & Cure Critical Wounds [2]; though they aren't exactly useless, with the former calling forth up to six raging bears and the latter healing a welcome 27 hit points per casting.

Sporting the full range of healing spells and Good Berry, druids are tailored to healbotting more than clerics, who instead offer great buffs such as Aid, Chant, Draw Upon Holy Might, Strength of One & Protection From Evil 10' radius, along with Freedom of Action and anti-mage spells such as Silence 15' radius, Miscast Magic and the eminently useful Dispel Magic, a must-have in order to bring negatively afflicted party members back into action - or back on-side! (Dispel Magic is also a third circle arcane spell.) [3] As alluded to earlier, both clerics and druids are sorely lacking in the AoE department, the former only having the trap-like Glyph of Warding and the latter's Call Lightning being uncastable indoors; however, the undazzling repertoire is in keeping with the spirit of AD&D 2nd Edition rules.

Useful divine "spells" are also gained as innate special (Bhaalspawn) abilities by PCs with a positive reputation at the point of each dream sequence (two each of Cure Light Wounds, Slow Poison & Draw Upon Holy Might). I've always found the first two helpful in the early stages, whereas DUHM scales with level to stay relevant over the course of the campaign (Strength, Dexterity & Constitution +1 per three levels).

Below left: Faldorn buffs the party with Bless; Branwen Chant.
Below right: A Fighter PC self-buffs with DUHM.


[1] Actual AD&D 2nd Edition offers 24 first, 28 second, 30 third, 25 forth and 20 fifth circle divine spells.
[2] Perhaps because the likes of Ironskin, Insect Plague & True Seeing (which they receive in the sequel) would be ever-so-slightly OP in the original campaign. ;)
[3] Good Berry (creates 5 handfuls of berry which heal 1 HP ea), Aid (to-hit & saving throws +1, +1-8 HPs), Chant (to-hit, dmg & saving throws +1 for allies in AoE; -1 for enemies), Draw Upon Holy Might (Physical stats +1 for every 3 caster levels), Strength of One (everyone receives 18/75 Str for 1 turn), Protection From Evil 10' radius (effectively +2 AC & +2 saving throw bonus for 1 turn/lvl), Freedom of Action (recipient cannot be held, stunned, slowed, webbed, entangled or greased for 5 rounds + 1 round/lvl), Silence 15' radius (save vs. spells at -5 or you can't cast spells for 2 rounds/lvl), Miscast Magic (save vs. spells at -2 or face 80% spell failure for 1 turn).

"Level Scaling" 
(well, sort of)

Generic encounters, on-rest spawns and waylays are scaled to both party level and party size, but only the number of enemies scales, not their stats or type; in other words, the nature of the enemy doesn't change: a bandit is still a bandit; though that first level bandit encounter may later present itself as a ten-pack when the party maxes out. To my mind, this is an "ok" example of encounter scaling (and also undetectable unless you look for it), as opposed to the blatant scaling seen in such nonsense as Bethesda's Oblivion, wherein mooks potentially grow into HP-bloated monstrosities, nigh-unkillable by the average player.

Below left: One lone bandit for a first level player, all alone.
Below right: Eight (max 10) for a full party at max level.


Un-recruited companions also scale to party level; for example, a first level party can recruit a first level Edwin with almost nothing to his name (a lil' Exp, a few spells scribed to his spellbook); or a sixth level party can recruit a sixth level Edwin who has already earned over 40,000 Exp and scribed eight scrolls to his spellbook, including Haste. The intent of companion scaling is obviously to ensure they remain somewhat useful in the advent their services are required later in the campaign, but meta-gamers may choose to remain solo until sixth level and only then recruit a party, thereby dodging the "experience point leech" of having five other companions around for those first six levels (both quest & kill Exp is divided "evenly", more or less, amongst the party members). Apart from needing foreknowledge in order to solo the first six levels [1], the downside is the inability to control companion proficiencies and HPs, though it's a small price to pay for such a huge advantage.

[1] Not a problem for meta-gamers, and for Bards and Thieves that's only 20,000 Exp.
 
Boss Encounters

The difficulty of a given boss encounter varies greatly depending on party composition, level and equipment; i.e, Bee-line the plot-critical path? Expect to reload in the face of the challenges they pose. Conquer Durlag's Tower beforehand and flaunting artifacts of Realmslore? Expect a faceroll. Which is why I've hinted at exploring in and around each hub as the plot progresses; it keeps things on a more even keel.

Artifacts of Realmslore: the fabled Balduran Helm & Cloak
Ok, so our first boss is..!

Mulahey, Priest of Cyric
What?! How'd you get in here?

The first boss encounter of the campaign is the cowardly Half-orc cleric, Mulahey, caught red-handed by the party running the ore-tainting operation in the bowels of the Nashkel mines at Chapter Two's conclusion. He's basically a beefed-up Bassilus who, from the outset, calls upon his horde of kobold & skelly minions to flank the party; then proceeds to spam Hold Person (a deadly, small-radius AoE) followed up by the ranged blows of Spiritual Hammer (1d4 +1, +1 magical). Once worn down to near-death, the odious priest of Cyric belches mightily - wtf? It's voiced! That's gross... - then feigns to yield in an attempt to throw the heroes off-guard; after which, he generally fights to the death (if not morale-failed). Bee-liners will probably find Mulahey extremely difficult, but tacticians can succeed with a first level party.


Bandit Camp
*farts* Whoah, now that was a stinker! (*sigh* toilet humor..)

The bandit camp offers a few opportunities to lock horns with a variety of brutes from the Chill and Black Talon clans (headed up by Ardenor Crush & Taugosz Khosann, respectively) who, for the most part (lol Garclax the Gnoll), have put aside their differences to work under Tazok, an ogre enforcer for the Iron Throne (the organization responsible for the iron crisis plaguing the region).

Tazok can actually be encountered, insulted and dueled at this point if the bandit camp has been accessed by diplomatic means through chance encounters with contacts Teven (of Larswood) or Raiken (of Peldvale); in fact, Tazok can even be prematurely killed by taking severe burst damage before his post-duel dialogue can trigger (from memory of my solo thief run, he was chunked by backstab). BioWare probably didn't anticipate Tazok's Chapter Three demise, the enforcer shamelessly reappearing alongside Sarevok for the final showdown in the Temple of Bhaal (perhaps, like Firebead Elvenhair, he was also resurrected!)

Below left: The ninth level Tazok wields a two-handed sword in one hand (trying to copy Sarevok) and is equipped with a pair of (droppable) Gauntlets of Weapon Expertise (two total in the campaign) and suit of Plate Mail.
Below right: But what hope does he have against a party of mirrored mages firing Magic Missile in unison? (Well, except Xan, who prefers to distractingly wave his shimmering Moonblade under Tazok's nose) ^_^

I WILL HAVE YOUR HEAD!!! - Tazok
Staged in the main pavilion, the final bandit battle pits the player against an ugly group of thugs: Raemon & Venkt (both human, the latter a mage), Britik the gnoll and Hakt the hobgoblin. Firing Arrows of Biting from his Longbow of Marksmanship, Hakt is probably the most cause for concern. Otherwise, I find this battle unremarkable and much easier than squaring up with Taugosz Khosann, a hard-hitter standing guard just outside the tent in awfully shiny armor, warhammer at the ready!

One tough mutha, bee-liners beware!
Dimension Door Davaeorn
So... the stoic adventurers have found their way down to my lair...

Davaeorn is the high level mage overseeing the Cloakwood mines from its bowels, four levels of dungeon down. The hall leading into his sanctum is laced with proximity traps, two of which despawn a Battle Horror when deftly disabled by your thief creeping down the hall, just outside Davaeorn's vision radius.

Davaeorn wears two undroppable rings, one of which grants him Free Action status so that he can't be held, stunned, slowed, webbed, entangled or greased; the other of which grants him instant Mirror Image when equipped! In addition, his undroppable bracers grant him Protection from normal missiles; he also seems to have innate resistance to fire and electricity. I would assume the undroppables are to simulate pre-buffing and his preparations for battle, as no doubt he'd be aware of the party's intrusion.

Protected by his row of mirrors, Davaeorn's cunning tactic is to teleport (Dimension Door) around his sanctum, unleashing bolts of lightning, spamming Dire Charm and then summoning a pack of dire wolves, ghasts, or ogrillons for good measure (i.e, Monster Summoning III). The backstab opener is out of the question thanks to his Mirror Image pre-buff (a protection many Infinity Engine mages foolishly neglect).

Perhaps the most elegant approach is to scout out his exact location and cast Silence 15' radius so that he can't cast spells (other than the scripted Dimension Door), followed up by Dispel Magic to disperse his mirrors; otherwise, you'll have to frantically chase him around in an attempt to mundanely disperse them, and that's annoying!

Below left: The four proximity traps warding off would-be intruders.
Below right: Davaeorn unleashes Lightning Bolt at the two tanks tangling with the constructs, then skilfully casts Dimension Door before it ricochets back towards him!

Right: Mirror Image; Inset: Dimension Door, Monster Summoning III
Sadly, the Dimension Door spell was subsequently omitted in the sequel due to it's sequence-breaking potential.

Iron Throne Inner Circle
Fear my wrath for it is great indeed! - Zhalimar Cloudwulfe.

This boss encounter is staged in the penthouse of the opulent Iron Throne tower itself, pitting the party against a tough crew protecting one of the organization's head honchos, Thaldorn (who is cowering in his office). The crew consists of Zhalimar Cloudwulfe & Gardush (both Fighters), Naaman & Alai (Mage/Thief & Fighter/Mage), Diyab & Aasim (Cleric/Thief) & Fighter/Cleric) and a wretched Doppelganger disguised as the fat lady-emissary, Tar.

Unaided, a Fighter/Thief dual-class can execute the lackeys one after the other with a series of well-executed backstabs, but many players may just prefer them to be webbed and then immolated with fireballs from wands and Detonation Arrows. You could also fire Wands of Lightning and see what happens; I love the below-right screenshot because it looks like Xan is shooting out lightning bolts from his eyes and Moonblade!

Immolation & electrocution - just what these bastards deserved!
I'm going to take a break from bosses to introduce Durlag's Tower, one of the greatest dungeon crawls in PC RPG history.

Next Up - Baldur's Gate Blathering Part V
Durlag's Tower: The Venerable Deathrap, Overview, Upper Storeys & Cellar

8 comments:

  1. One nice thing about 2E rules is that there was at least an attempt to keep Clerics focused on the healing/support role, unlike 3E Clerics who practically render other classes redundant.

    Baldur's Gate Druids did not offer much that Clerics could not do better, though oddly enough Icewind Dale Druids with an expanded spell list were perhaps one of the stronger classes in that game (which also made playing a Ranger/Cleric with access to both spell lists a much stronger class there as well). Bards were in a similar situation, being rather mediocre (at best) in Baldur's Gate, but downright overpowered in Icewind Dale, as a result of seemingly rather minor adjustments.

    I like the general approach to level scaling used in Baldur's Gate (though like the resting system it could certainly use a little refinement) - do enough scaling that the exact level does not matter too much, thus allowing for the highly non-linear nature of the game, but not so much that the general level range one is in becomes meaningless.

    A bit amusing to compare the Helm & Cloak of Balduran with their measly +1 Bonuses to the kind of gear more recent RPGs tend to hand out - yet those were among the more powerful items in the game!

    Davaeorn may be one of the more memorable boss battles of the series - what a bewildering nightmare fighting him was the first time I had to do it!

    So Durlag's Tower is next? Should we await that with eagerness or trepidation?

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    1. I think BioWare made an error in the sequel when they failed to keep clerics integral to a party*, presenting the player with unattractive kits and including an option which became infamously popular: "Rest Until Healed"!

      Cleric HLA choices also left much to be desired, being far inferior to mage counterparts (e.g, Planetar vs. Deva? No contest). In most power-gaming discussions it seems companions like Viconia and Cernd (Shapeshifter druid) are dismissed as "useless", and I guess that's not far from the truth: "Forget Viccy, just take Anomen! He's got seven fighter levels and Specialization for a full extra attack, and who needs Viccy's few extra spells and Drow MR!" etc.

      Icewind Dale isn't all that fresh in my mind, so I'm not sure how Black Isle spruced up bards (bardsong?) I do remember druids receiving welcome boots to their repertoire, though! As for 3E clerics, and as you're probably aware, the Dreadmaster of Bane in Icewind Dale 2 was just insane (all the domains were strong, of course, and lots of fun to experiment with)..

      I never enter Durlag's Tower with eagerness and confidence, so yeah, in attempting to treat it there will be countless excruciatingly painful deaths as per usual!

      When was the last time you delved its dungeons, and have you considered paying tribute to or superceding it (!) in your upcoming Swordflight modules?

      * And thieves, but I guess I'll whine about that if I ever get around to treating BG2.

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  2. Yes, among the many problems caused by providing unlimited healing through rest/potions is that it tends to render dedicated healing classes rather redundant. Then, at least with 3E, one tries to keep Clerics relevant by making them good at most everything else, rendering other classes redundant, and round and round we go...

    Icewind Dale (or at least the Heart of Winter expansion) gave Bards increased spell-casting capabilities (they could cast up to 8th Level spells) and new songs as they leveled up that provided improved bonuses, culminating with the "War Chant of Sith" at 11th Level that was game-breakingly overpowered (as a result, when playing IWD I either do not bring a Bard, or if I do pretend that particular song does not exist).

    I cannot remember when my last BG playthrough was (c. 5 years ago, maybe?). I have actually replayed IWD a lot more recently. In a general sense, tons of things in Swordflight are already paying tribute to these games. I have not designed a dungeon with the explicit goal of being a successor to Durlag's Tower, but I make a lot of dungeons, so who knows?

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    1. Meant to be a reply to the comment above. Oops.

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    2. Several years have past since I last loaded up Icewind Dale, my last attempt soloing a Fighter/Mage dual-class (made possible by saving the significant quest experience rewards to overcome dual downtime pretty much instantly). Then, I became bored and went back to IWD2 to play it over and over again (loved the Heart of Fury difficulty setting in both, btw).

      Despite the linearity and hack n slash emphasis, I always enjoyed the campaign and expansions (HoW & TotLM). The music was beautiful, the voiced narration awesome. I loved the voiced dialogue of Hrothgar and Arundel, so professional compared to (still charming) BG. IWD had lots of atmosphere, as did its sequel.

      One thing I didn't like was the lack of arcane scroll drops that plagued both, so if you rolled with multiple mages they had nothing to scribe to their spellbooks. It just seemed a bit limiting to party composition, forcing me to roll with Sorcerers in the sequel...

      Thanks for the info on "War Chant of Sith" (apparently, it stacks with itself if you have multiple bards, too! Wow..)

      If we're going back to Candlekeep in Swordflight Chapter Three, I hope this involves delving the catacombs beneath the library! (I understand you might not like to confirm or deny for spoiler reasons, but it would be wonderful if we could).

      I ask about a tribute to Durlag's Tower because we need more multi-level dungeons in RPGs, where parties cannot just leave easily to find temples and vendors (Stone of Recall, Relic of the Reaper, teleportation in the Temple of Elemental Evil, fast movement speed in BG2 etc.) and have to stick it out, even getting bogged down in there. That's what I miss, as crazy as it might sound. Maybe I'll explain what I mean better in my next post.

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    3. "The music was beautiful..."

      As you may know, the music for IWD was composed by Jeremy Soule, who also composed most of NWN's music, as well as the soundtracks for many other games. I do think IWD's music was the most memorable of his scores.

      "One thing I didn't like was the lack of arcane scroll drops..."

      I would not have minded seeing this be a little less harsh, though it could also make party composition more interesting in some respects, insofar as it somewhat forced specialist mages to actually specialize. E.g., if you had multiple mages in a party you might have one casting Necromantic spells and another casting Evocation spells, since there were not enough scrolls for both to learn both. It also somewhat fits the lore, by which mages are not suppposed to be extremely common. What was really annoying was how often attempts to learn new spells failed. It was apparently buggy since failure could happen even if one raised Intelligence to the point where success was supposed to be 100% certain - combined with the lack of replacement scrolls this basically all but forced players to save scum when attempting to learn a new spell.

      "...apparently [War Chant of Sith] stacks with itself if you have multiple bards, too! Wow.."

      Just one is already overpowered. So, yeah, wow, or something. Basically, War Chant of Sith=Easy Mode.

      "If we're going back to Candlekeep in Swordflight Chapter Three..."

      We will not actually get to Candlekeep until after Chapter 3, as there turn out to be a lot of obstacles in the way. I will indeed neither confirm nor deny whether we get into the catacombs at such time as it is reached.

      "...we need more multi-level dungeons in RPGs, where parties cannot just leave easily to find temples and vendors...and have to stick it out, even getting bogged down in there..."

      I agree, and I have certainly made (and am making) dungeons of this general type.

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    4. Indeed! The fact that, several years later, I can playback in my mind many of the compositions of the OST speaks for itself. And yeah, the NWN & HotU scores are at times breathtaking (i.e, Lith My'athar).

      Spell scribing failure was also a big issue in Baldur's Gate, though as you suggest, at least the drops were less uncommon and vendors sold more than one copy of the scrolls. Still, you could easily run into problems if you didn't save-scum or know about genius potions (and you couldn't just decrease the difficulty for 100% scribing success, as in BG2). I have a sneaking suspicion spell scribing might be based on level of character and the scroll ID itself (I "feel" specific ones are flagged as hard to scribe, no matter what), but I never confirmed it in all these years...

      My memory of IWD specifics are fuzzy, but I do recall Orrick selling a Web scroll (does he have copies?) and the first actual lootable Web finally coming in the Temple of the Forgotten God. As you know, Web is even more OP in IWD than BG because of the sheer number of enemies that need to be immobilized (plus you can pickpocket two Free Action rings in Kuldahar, so that your meleers can wade into the AoE). Orrick's scroll stock also upgrades both after you reach Dragon's Eye and after you reach Dorn's Deep, but I can't recall if he restocks the lower circle spell scrolls for mages with empty spellbooks (probably not).

      I appreciate your points about the lore and Specialists; I just would have preferred a few more scrolls to support mage-heavy parties (before Kuldahar, you have only three or four lootable scrolls, and one is Protection from Petrification, another Blur).

      "We will not actually get to Candlekeep until after Chapter 3, as there turn out to be a lot of obstacles in the way."

      This just sounds better and better (hopefully these obstacles cause us to revisit other BG series locales) :P

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    5. I do not remember offhand exactly how often/with what spells Orrick restocks myself, but I do know you can get at least two, perhaps more, complete sets of every spell he sells - trouble is some key spells have to be found elsewhere, not being sold by him.

      Delete

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