Achilles and The Grognard: Pre-fight Buffing

By Bob Case Posted Sunday Feb 9, 2020

Filed under: Video Games 91 comments

Achilles: Well, your plan has worked.

The Grognard: My plan?

Achilles: Your elaborate plan to lure me into this game and then recruit me as one of your old-school RPG people.

The Grognard: It was only a matter of time. I told you, the game may be dated, but the good parts of it hold up. What do you like?

Achilles: There’s the art, for one. It keeps getting better. The Temple District is just one gorgeous hand-painted backdrop after another. Plus, everything seems real and alive. There are these NPCs all over the place, generic ones with names like “Noblewoman” or “Halfling.” In most games, they wouldn’t say anything worth listening to. But here you can collect useful gossip and news by talking to random NPCs, and often they just have funny stuff to say.

The Temple of Lathander. The game is full of these one-off backgrounds, showing how much care was put into the visuals.
The Temple of Lathander. The game is full of these one-off backgrounds, showing how much care was put into the visuals.

Achilles: Plus, the combat is much better now. Team Top Hat Guy has had some amazing fights: the Cambion, those guys in the sewers, the Umber Hulks. Each required a different strategy, each made us use all our tricks and fight smart. For the first time this real-time-with-pause combat has depth comparable to that of an actual RTS.

The Grognard: I see that your party are almost all casters now.

Achilles: Five out of six. I only keep Yoshimo around for the lockpicking, because I’m obsessive about looting everything. Everyone else is going all David Blaine out there, webs and fireballs and summoned monsters everywhere. I mean, casters are OP, so we might as well take advantage.

The Grognard: Spells flying everywhere, eh? This sounds like a job for celebrated fantasy author R.A. Salvatore.

R.A. Salvatore: Hi, I’m widely admired fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, appearing here as always in full compliance with copyright law.

Achilles: How does he just pop up out of nowhere like that? It’s really startling when it happens.

R.A. Salvatore: Aha! I see our heroes are fighting a group of ruffians in the sewers beneath the temple district. I know just how to spice this up.

Peering around the corner down the damp stone passageway, Haer’Dalis spun his enchanted blades in anticipation. “This sparrow is ready to fly,” he said in a low voice. “At your command, of course.”

“Patience,” Achilles Grognard reminded him. “What have we learned? Battles are won through careful planning, with the help of a bit of luck. First, we prepare. Check your weapons, both steel and otherwise.” With that, he cleared his thoughts, concentrating on drawing the arcane power within him, muttering the incantations for Stoneskin and Mirror Image. A rough, pebbly skin of slate-grey rock covered him as he split from one gnome into several identical illusions.

Following his lead, Haer’Dalis whispered his own spell, a snatch of Sigil folklore imbued with the power of Haste. He felt the familiar spinning, restless energy in his chest. The others would be feeling the same. They would now have inhuman speed, a whirlwind of arrows and blades. Aerie, ever eager to help, prayed to her graceful gods of the air, blessing the party with their favor. Now they would strike truer than ever before.

The Tiefling would have felt pity for their targets, if he was inclined towards pity. Unfortunately for them, he wasn’t, and a slow, subtle smile spread across his face as he basked in the familiar anticipation of coming violence.

The Grognard: That takes me back. Stoneskin, Mirror Image, Haste, and Bless. What’s your strategy for the fight itself?

Breach. This spell removes most of the protections from casters in the early-mid game. I recommend anyone playing BG2 to get it as soon as possible - certain fights are nearly unbeatable without it.
Breach. This spell removes most of the protections from casters in the early-mid game. I recommend anyone playing BG2 to get it as soon as possible - certain fights are nearly unbeatable without it.

Achilles: Hold on, I’m not done. There are more spells to cast.

The two fighters crouched on their toes, ready to burst out of the shadows and attack. “On your signal?” Haer’Dalis asked, but then Viconia’s hand clamped down on his shoulder.

“Hold!” she hissed. “There are two mages, the ones in robes. They’ll have a full complement of sorcery prepared. No point in charging in too early, is there, my sweets?” A vicious smile was painted across her face, and she closed her eyes, praying to the spider Goddess Lloth. Before her, the ground opened up into a profane mouth, black and glistening, and from it emerged a pair of lean, hungry wolves. At a signal from Viconia, they hurtled down the corridor, baying for human blood.

“Well played,” Jaheira said, not without a certain grudging admiration. “The minor beasts will act as distractions, and the wizards will waste their most potent spells.”

Viconia flashed the druid an irritated look. “Thank you so much,” she replied with a sneer, “for explaining my own strategy to me. But why only send one group in? I believe both you and the wingless elf have similar spells.”

And so, over the next several minutes, Viconia, Jaheira, and Aerie cast a total of six creature summoning spells between them, flooding the narrow corridor with the yipping of war dogs, the bellowing of Ogres, and the snarling of Gnolls. Arrayed against them was a cacophany of what sounded like lightning bolts, fear spells, and protective magical barriers. As they waited around the corner, the shouts of their enemies grew louder and more panicked.

The Grognard: Ah, the old “make them blow all their spells on 4HD summoned mobs” trick. A bit immersion-breaking, perhaps, but effective.

Achilles: The main goal is to get them to use their confusion and horror spells. Once I think they must be gone, I have Yoshimo sneak up and set a full buffet of traps.

You can't see it in this particular screenshot, but oh boy did traps ruin this guy's day.
You can't see it in this particular screenshot, but oh boy did traps ruin this guy's day.

R.A. Salvatore: Look, this is great, and I don’t mean to be impatient, but do you actually start fighting the enemy at any point?

Achilles: What are you, in a hurry or something? We’re not done buffing yet.

Yoshimo returned the group in a low crouch, his deadly traps set and ready to be sprung. “I can dance on the head of a pin, as well,” he said with a smirk, but the others ignored him as they prepared. Incantations, spell components, and prayers flashed and shimmered in the air as they cast Protection from Evil, Chaotic Commands, Free Action, Resist Fear, and Melf’s Minute Meteors. Then, they realized that Haste, Mirror Image, and Bless had all worn off, and casted them again.

R.A. Salvatore: My preferred writing style in these situations aims to bring out the excitement of a hard-fought battle. But I see you’re going for a different vibe.

Achilles: Hard-fought? I don’t want that. Battles should be won by attaining an enormous, overpowering advantage first, and then just rolling over everything in front of you. It makes no sense to do it any other way.

The hired swords caught their breath, recovering from the menagerie of monsters and wild animals that had just attacked them seemingly out of nowhere. Tarnor the Hatchetman was cleaning wolf entrails off his enchanted throwing axe when he heard a whistling from down the dark passageway, and saw the shaft of an arrow bury itself in the leg of one of the mages.

Another attack? They weren’t paying him enough for this, and a flood of anger rushed through him. “Me temper’s bad enough without ye botherin’ me!” he shouted, and charged towards where the arrow had come from. Immediately the jaws of a cleverly hidden trap closed around his leg, and he let out a cry of pain.

Hearing footsteps, he looked up, and saw a terrifying sight: what appeared to be five ambulatory stone statues of gnomes wearing top hats and spinning flails around in both hands. They sprinted down the corner at a frightening, unnatural speed, falling in among Tarnor’s company like a whirlwind. Stalking his pace was what looked like an elf, wielding twin shortswords, one of them on fire, spinning in place like a top as he fought. And all the while, arrows, sling bullets, tiny meteors, and magic missiles peppered them from a distance.

It was all over in less than a minute. Jaheira strode forward, surveying the aftermath. “Perhaps this group needs not quite so much help as I thought,” she said with satisfaction.

“Indeed!” Achilles Grognard was beaming. “All according to plan. That was our fight for the day. Now we rest, to regain our spells.”

The Grognard: I see you’ve embraced the fifteen minute workday.

Achilles: The what?

The Grognard: The fifteen minute workday. It’s the practice of blowing your entire spellbook on one fight, so that you have to rest afterwards. Do it enough times, and the party only ends up working around fifteen minutes a day.

Achilles: And that’s a bad thing why? If I were running an actual adventuring party, that’s probably what I’d do. Why take chances if you don’t need to?

The Thumb. BG2 is full of cool little characters like this. For all his stories of being a pirate, you can talk to one of his employees, who reveals he was only ever a fisherman.
The Thumb. BG2 is full of cool little characters like this. For all his stories of being a pirate, you can talk to one of his employees, who reveals he was only ever a fisherman.

The Grognard: That is the reasoning, yes. But it can interfere with the balance of the game. The way physical and magical-based characters are balanced, wizards and the like are supposed to have to conserve spells. Without that, fighters and the like fall behind. I notice you’ve taken Minsc out the party, for instance.

Achilles: Yeah, that wasn’t easy. I admit it, I miss the big fella and his hamster. But he’s not a caster, and ends up being something like dead weight in the really tough fights.

The Grognard: I don’t mean to spoil later editions of D&D for you, but this problem exists even now. Casters go from Magic Missile at level one to Time Stop by level twenty. Fighters, on the other hand, go from hitting things with weapons to hitting things with weapons incrementally harder.

Achilles: So it’s down to the magic system. I think we can both agree that Vancian magic is terrible.

The Grognard: Oh.

Achilles: “Oh”? What do you mean, “oh”? Don’t tell me you’re one of those people, who actually likes it.

The Grognard: I’m afraid so. And I have my reasons. But no time for that now – we’ll get into it next time.



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91 thoughts on “Achilles and The Grognard: Pre-fight Buffing

  1. Sleeping Dragon says:

    It’s going to be a matter of personal opinion but when I replayed the games not that long ago (sometime within the last 2-3 years) I’ve discovered that I really disliked the combat. I’ve found the effective strategies like pre-buffing and (cheesy) pre-trapping somewhat on the tedious side, the encounters themselves rather messy and the occasional “I sure hope you memorized spells that counter [enemy/spell type]” gotchas did not endear the game to me either. Admittedly some of it is inherent to the D&D ruleset. particularly the imbalance in terms of sheer combat options between casters and fighters, but I think it’s also me not enjoying real time party based combat anymore as much as I used to because I had some of those issues with the system in Pillars of Eternity* as well.

    *I hear they’ve patched in turn based combat into PoE2, which I don’t own yet, post-release though I do wonder how well that worked with a game that was initially designed for real time encounters and if it didn’t make it into an awful slog. Actually, if someone who also has a preference for turn based combat could comment on how that worked out I’d appreciate it.

    1. Higher_Peanut says:

      From what I’ve heard of PoE2 (I have a friend who prefers turn based) it works well enough but switches around all the things that were “broken” because of the new system. Some good stuff becomes useless and apparently interrupts become amazing due to the newfound ability to always time them correctly and waste opponent turns.

    2. tmtvl says:

      I was quite content with PoE2’s turn-based combat system. While some of the bulkiest opponents are a bit of a slog to punch through, most battles went at a decent enough pace. I will asterisk that by saying that I went for a glass cannun build, if you play a barbarian YMMV.

      1. Gautsu says:

        Almost everything was way easier in turn-based. Things didn’t necessarily last too much longer since effective tactics trump chaos any day. Much easier to coordinate tanks for example. Only fight that was much harder IMO (due to initiative), was the legendary Golan dude. He would drop his bombs, and without the maneuverability of real time, blow up my whole party. Spellcasting and aiming we’re much easier though.
        Pathfinder: Kingmaker.was a similar experience, great game, much better with turn based

        1. Thomas says:

          Real time with pause just seems like a bad combat system generally. It doesn’t have the clean action of a fully real time game but proper strategy is also impossible to manage without a lot of fiddly micromanaging. I’m glad it disappeared

          1. Joshua says:

            I agree. I so much preferred D:OS2 combat to something like Icewind Dale’s, both of which I played recently. Real-Time with pause was the worst of both worlds to me, especially with the lack of -10 to Death these BG games had. Tedium, tedium, pause, wait for something to happen, attempt to cast a spell, move these guys over there, tedium, Oh crap, the orc got a Crit on my wizard in the back. Time to reload and start again.

            1. Lino says:

              What I hate about most of the RTWP games I’ve played is when I’ve got a nice fireball lined up for the orcs charging at my party, but then the fireball either miss, because they were a bit faster than I thought, or my favourite – my fighters charge in like a bunch of idiots and get hit by the fireball as well.

            2. The Wind King says:

              I absolutely despised D:OS2’s initiative ystem though, it’s always “Enemy, Player, enemy, Player, etc”

              And I get why this is the way it is, to keep any side from destroying the other with turn advantage (4 PCs, vs 20 oil demons on a burning oil rig would have gone a lot worse), but I specifically specced out my party so they’d have insane high initiatives, and I didn’t realise this was how the system worked until well into the final act ofthe game, when it all fell apart.

              And it fell apart ***hard***.

          2. Philadelphus says:

            Real-time-with-pause has its place—some of my favorite games use it and I quite enjoy it there—but this isn’t it.

        2. Sleeping Dragon says:

          Thanks everyone who answered. That definitely bumps the game up on my “to buy” list.

          Also, since it was brought up, P:K is in this month’s Humble Choice.

    3. TLN says:

      Agreed. I replayed BG1 & 2 back to back for the first time in like a decade when the enhanced editions came out, and at this point a lot of it is just tedious. I know that the optimal way to fight is to spend more time preparing beforehand than you do in the actual battle, but after a few hours of playing like this almost every fight becomes a pain in the ass to the point where you start dreading it any time you enter a dungeon where you know you’ll be fighting a lot. It’s just not something that translates very well from a TTRPG to a computer game.

      PoE2 at least partly solved this by just making most abilities for all classes per-encounter based and trying to balance the game around that. It’s far from perfect but I consider it a vast improvement to what we used to have.

    4. Metacritic must die says:

      I found that, I’m on my first playthrough of BGEE, and it’s very much like that.

      Sure, the intention is to save your spells and buffs etc. But when I have like 4 casting slots, that means most fights have no spells and I am choosing between buffs and other spells. If you want mages who actually do things, you need to pre buff and fire magic missiles and webs and stuff-otherwise they are fragile liabilities kiting in circles while any other magic users throw rocks at them with slings. You end up having to micro their kiting into a circle around your squad.

      Doing this at the start of the game when a bunch of knights tried to start a fight (So I let them, to steal their armour)-fun! I got late gear early through patience and consistency.

      Doing this for the hundredth time later in the game, because now enemies are tough enough that I pretty much have to, if one of them aggros on my mages, especially if he’s faster than my tanks. This is what doing the Red Wizard in the cave fight was like for Neera, it took about 50 tries, most of them ended pretty quick, but the melee guys would constantly chase my casters and my healer, and the cave was really small, so your kiting had to be perfect-even getting hit by others wasn’t a surefire way to draw aggro.

      At no point was I having fun, did I feel like I was using strategy. I felt like my time had been wasted, and that every retry, was just a gamble to see if the wizard would OHK someone or knock out a group of my guys with colour wave.

      I like the combat-as an idea. In practice, I end up resting after almost every fight, because things have such a high possibility of becoming tedious, that I want my magic missiles and webs and as many heal casts as possible. I’ve just hit the point where I can’t clear a tile without several rests, I metagamed so my tanks have the bug armour, got a bunch of enchanted gear, my casters have finally gotten enough slots to be useful-and the game has gotten less fun because it’s more demanding.

  2. Xander77 says:

    Repeating this process for every single fight would have me praying for quick death. I always tried to clear out dungeons in one go, or as close to it as possible – *my immersion* dictates that that the party is only managing to defeat overwhelming numbers of enemies thanks to speed and confusion. If they ever settled down for a comfy rest, the entire dungeon would discover the invasion and combine against them*.

    * Which isn’t actually the case in-game, but would be fun to see in some future iteration of the genre which emphasis the idea that the enemies have their own eco-system at work, and aren’t just there to dispense fights and treasure.

    1. Asdasd says:

      I never liked rest-cheesing for the same reason; it kills immersion. But to have a stipulation that you could only, say, rest at an inn, could feel excessively brutal – I wouldn’t want to have to redo an entire dungeon because I didn’t quite manage my spell usage perfectly.

      It’s a dynamic as old as games and you see the effects of designers trying to balance for it everywhere – from the medkits vs regenerating shields in the FPSs of 00s, to the bonfires and Estus of the Game That Shall Not Be Named, to modern games where full character replenishment is increasingly just granted between encounters.

      My solution was to try and ‘role play’ my rest usage. Resting after every fight was out. I would try to reserve it for when natural fatigue occurred, there was a sensible place to stop and sleep, or I had exhausted most or all of my memorised spells. As a bonus this meant I had to save haste, a spell that always struck me as kind of broken, for big fights only.

      1. Joshua says:

        I agree. Resting to constantly get back spells always felt lame, so I tried to stretch it out.

      2. Sleeping Dragon says:

        So last time I was playing the BG games it was in co-op and while we didn’t try to get entire dungeons we generally pushed for as long as we had spells. Neverwinter Nights however I rested very, very often, I think the lack of cutscene might have actually encouraged me to do that because it feels like “less of a thing”.

        1. raifield says:

          With Neverwinter Nights it’s less of a “rest” and more catching your breath. If I recall correctly your character just sits down for ten seconds and stands back up again.

          1. Sleeping Dragon says:

            IIRC it’s 10s on a screen but the implication is you camped for 8 hours because that’s what “a full rest” means in that world. Might be mistaken though, it’s been a long time and even if, the argument actually stands that for the player it feels more like “just catching your breath”.

            1. RCN says:

              Except in the final dungeon where you can’t rest anywhere.

              My first playthrough was rough because I had to get through it without spells basically, because I had used it all in the previous encounter to the final dungeon and didn’t rest there. And my character was a wizard. And I was gimped in levels because I didn’t know summoned creatures robbed your XP (I was 13th level when the game expected you to be at least 18th, and I had done EVERYTHING there was to do.).

              Luckily, I had tons of scrolls in my inventory, most from very high level spells that I planned to LEARN and never got to. But it was very, very rough.

              My second playthrough with a barbarian/weapon master focused on scythes went much more smoothly as I did the last dungeon at 20th level.

      3. CloverMan-88 says:

        Pillars of Eterninty managed this problem neatly – you needed a “camping supplies” item to rest, and you could only buy them in an Inn, or you could loot them. You could also carry only a few of them at any time. This 1) made resting a strategic decision based on a limited resource 2) designers could make sure that you were never too exhausted for a particular fight by simply giving you camping supplies beforehand

      4. Olivier FAURE says:

        Honestly, I think the “you get all your life back between fights” mechanic is the only one that makes sense for games where the fighting system isn’t central.

        Hunting for health packs isn’t that interesting, and any time-based healing system (healing spells with a cooldown, “rest for X hours” mechanics, regenerating health) incentivize you to play in the least fun way possible, and often break immersion for the reasons mentioned above.

        Unless you really want situations where I start the fight with low health to be a part of your game design (eg for a rogue-like or a strategy game), just give me all my health back without having me waste my time on trivial tasks (finding food or waiting for a cooldown or whatever) that give me no agency whatsoever.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          The problem with regenerating health is that it removes the incentive to avoid damage. If you’re going to heal to full after every fight, there’s no difference between ending the fight with 10% health or 50%, and if your fighting system is so noncentral to the gameplay that it’s okay to drop “the player should avoid damage” as part of the design, then maybe your game shouldn’t have a fighting system at all*.

          I’m fond of the way the Shadowrun and Arkham Batman games do it: you regen at the end of each fight, but not to full. Batman heals you for an amount proportionate to how many enemies you beat (so losing half your health to a two goon fight will still leave you bruised at the end), and Shadowrun heals only your most recent injury. Both systems cut the tedium of medkit-scavenging and allow enough healing to chain together many fights, but in a way that makes avoiding damage still matter.

          *I guess an exemption has to be made for J/MMO RPGs, where healing spells are plentiful and the player is expected to bounce from healthy to near-dead and back ten times a fight. Giving you a post-battle free heal in those games is just saving you the button press of healing yourself.

          1. Metacritic must die says:

            That’s really not true.

            The incentive not to lose health is for during the fight itself. There is a massive difference between being on 100% health or 50% health because you just ate a critical in a fight. You have to disengage, kite, try to draw aggro, and deal with the change to your order of battle, maybe bring someone else in if they were there to hold up the heavy hitter. You might need emergency heals, you might have to sacrifice a poison antidote or a health potion-Baldur’s Gate, despite being something we’re being critical of here, makes health potions and antidotes feel very valuable in exactly this way, this will save someone from dying, but it’s a limited resource.

            Sure, it means there is no difference between finishing a fight on 1% health or 100%-that’s a GOOD thing. Post fight healing SUCKS, it’s a waste of spells you will end up resting to recover-hence defeating the point ENTIRELY. It means every fight has to work on a reduced level of damage, if you are expecting people to walk away wounded but alive, you can’t have enemies who are more likely to kill you to force you to make the decision whether to continue or not.

            Comparing Akham to RPGs of this nature is just apples and oranges. Not even going to consider that. The idea that health matters in Arkham outside of boss fights is just laughable to me anyway, it doesn’t, the group fights are fun but easy. Healing the most recent injury from the fight is half of exactly what was suggested. The advantage of healing entirely after a fight is, every fight is on the same footing making it easier to make a game with a compelling challenge curve. The advantage of partial healing is a greater sense of the impact of a wound-to force the player into some medkit hunting (Yes, it still exists in your system), which does make things more deep, which does make the player feel like there are consequences, which can lead to cool moments in the game-narrative-but it comes at the cost of being a perpetual nuisance, so that players have to use healing spells, health pots, return to town, or whatever, far more often. There’s an advantage in a narrative sense, and it will create some fun stories, absolutely, but it comes at the price of a lot of hassle.

            Attrition can be tense, but it’s trying over time. Over the course of a whole game. I’d much rather feel the attrition because I have a certain amount of healing potions to save myself in tough fights, that give health back quick-that anyone can use. That over the course of a tough area, I use them all to save characters, and now I have to choose to fight on without a safety net, as a consequence of my choices, or leave and get more supplies. Instead of getting injuries when I am no longer in danger, which only pose a risk if I decide to push on regardless, which will be fixed when I quickload.

            1. Ninety-Three says:

              One of the only parts of Fallout 3 I still remember is getting into a shootout with one raider in some abandoned building. There was no doubt I would win the fight, but I was thinking to myself “I could finish this from the safety of my cover here, or I could run closer to him (and get shot in the process) so that my own weapon will be more accurate and I’ll conserve precious ammo/durability.” That was an interesting decision I had to make, and in a game with regenerating health, I would have simply charged up to melee because I didn’t care about taking a few extra hits as I ended the fight. Every game is going to have situations like that where you’re fighting one or two mooks, if only because it threw six mooks at you and you already killed four: that last phase of the fight still needs to be interesting and limited healing systems make sure that your performance in the cleanup stage still matters.

              The advantage of healing entirely after a fight is, every fight is on the same footing making it easier to make a game with a compelling challenge curve.

              No one actually does this. Regenerating health games are still filled with cannon-fodder encounters that are three times as easy as the final boss. There should be no (or few) such encounters if the developers were taking advantage of regenerating health to balance fights against known player resources. Instead we get these fights that are only a compelling challenge if you had limited medkits to manage, because level designers just kept making levels the way they always had and showering you in trash mobs like it’s still the 90s.

      5. David Y says:

        PoE tried to limit resting with the use of consumable “camping supplies” of which the party could only carry 2-4 or so (depending on game difficulty). I didn’t like it, despite that I found it generally working as they intended. I rested much more seldom than I would’e in a DnD CRPG, often beside a crate or chest in which I find another set of supplies whilst already having the maximum :-)

        Also it’s worth pointing out, PoE did away almost entirely with “pre buffing” as it isn’t possible to cast any such spells outside of (ie. before) combat. It’s also a frustrating feature that further frustratingly works. There’s no reason for it to exist except for mechanical/balance reasons, and since I was able to complete the game it can be said to work, altho perhaps it just changes the way combat plays out.
        It’s interesting that Obsidian explicitly targeted this exact problem, not just with implementing the need for supplies, but with per encounter abilities that recharge without the need to rest. I would love to be in a discussion about how to decide what should and shouldn’t be per encounter in such a game.

  3. Higher_Peanut says:

    Teasing people about the virtues of the Vancian casting system? Truly this is a shift towards an evil alignment. I look forward to your take on picking through the good and the bad of old magic systems.

    I’m mostly used to Vancian from tabletop games, where the GM and world can prevent the 15 minute work day.

    1. Omobono says:

      An advantage of Vancian magic against MP systems and similar is less flexibility for the spellcasters. With a limited selection of spells you can bring into each encounter, you’re supposed to think and make choices. If you have only a spell slot, do you bring time stop or banshee’s wail? Maybe mind blank?* Thus, you can make each singular spell more powerful and introduce good gameplay choices.

      *I don’t really remember if they were all 9th level spells but it doesn’t matter for my point.

      In my opinion, where D&D usually drops the ball is that:
      a) a single level 1 spell can still win a fight on its own (sleep for example). Or in other words spells are way overperforming for their supposed tier. This compounds with the next point;
      b) by like class level 5 a wizard has enough spell slots that he has Adam West Batman’s utility belt, and it only goes up from there.

      1. Decius says:

        Age of Wonders: Planetfall manages to make a points-based magic system avoid that specific problem by severely limiting the number of points per turn- at max, your side has 16 points, and there are individual spells that use 9 or so of them.

        What it fails at is making that system balanced, by having the costs in line with the benefits of each spell. It also fails at a number of other things.

        It also pretends that it isn’t magic, but fools nobody.

      2. Joshua says:

        1. That only works well if the PCs have or can obtain good information about the types of challenges they’ll be encountering. Otherwise, the “choice” becomes a crap-shoot about whether they had the “right” spell memorized for the situation, depending upon whether the DM always wants to keep them on their toes. Maybe they have some general inclinations if they kind of know what they’re getting into, such as a crypt or giant’s keep, but even then they’ll sometimes encounter enemies or other challenges they couldn’t have expected.

        2. There’s also another problem with this system when the NPCs are the spellcasters. Amazingly enough, they don’t have to worry about picking the right spells most of the time, they exist to deal with the PCs and they can feel free to use every single one of them without thoughts of conservation. This is exacerbated in the BG games here because the NPCs can even buff instantaneously.

  4. sheer_falacy says:

    Ah, linear fighter, quadratic wizard. It’s been a staple of D&D for a long time but it’s a lot less so than it used to be in newer editions.

    Also, it turns out that yes, stacking 20 buffs is in fact annoying – it’s actually worse when playing physically because you need to remember all of the situational effects yourself. D&D 5th addresses this via the concentration limit, and Pathfinder 2 limits some spells by requiring they be sustained.

    1. Asdasd says:

      I think quadratic wizards are bad for tabletop games, but weirdly brilliant for single-player extrapolations of those systems. The big benefit for me is that they make magic feel truly magical – it seems logical that in a high fantasy world the magic users would be massively OP at high levels. I also like how much more tactical they make combat – watching a group of models pummel each other Dungeon Siege-style isn’t my idea of a good time.

      It’s not that the warriors don’t have a role to fill; they can still stand in front to tank and do good DPS, and hey – the wizards also have a bunch of buffs which are massively more effective on real fighters than measly summons. Play around Minsc’s strengths and he’ll be an engine of absolute destruction, while Jaheira can reach ACs south of Australia with good gear and becomes basically untouchable when she unlocks Iron Skin.

      I think the problem is the 1d4 summoning spells obviate even the need for meatshields in your party. But it’s only one strategy. There are plenty of others, and almost all of the NPCs in the game are useful in their own way.

      1. Thomas says:

        Games feel a lot blander and less genuine when they handicap magic, but its also really irritating playing Dragon Age and knowing that 4 mages is the most optimal way to play.

      2. Hector says:

        Note that Quadratic Wizards didn’t start until 3rd, at least if your DM wasn’t a pushover. There is a reason for this: in 2ns as ad&d or earlier, magic was powerful but limited. By all means the players were meant to use it, but a powerful spell was often slow to arrive. Moreover, armor didn’t used to be a complete joke and on top of that, Fighters had hilariously good Saving Throws and could often shrug off anything thrown at them.

        In fact, there was generally a flexibility-to-raw power ratio. Fighters and Wizards were on opposite ends, and it ain’t the wizards who were the powerhouses.

        1. Hector says:

          To clarify, the reason the DM was i.portant is because he or she could and should block some cheese tactics, like the 15 minute workday. That playstyle assumes that the party won’t be disrupted and their enemies will never be proactive. Wandering monsters were the BG 2 way of limiting this but often to no use. You would need to really have a. Complex AI to make it work.

          Still, the game is much more fun if you challenge yourself by trying to go farther and rest less.

      3. Joshua says:

        I think you might have a point about Quadratic Wizards being better for Single Player. In that instance, it truly becomes a point of play style and deferred gratification.

        As opposed to traditional multiplayer, where D&D eventually realized that deferred gratification and other attempts to balance out player enjoyment by saying “You’ll suck now, but rock later”, or vice versa aren’t great balancing mechanics. See also racial class caps, ECL, etc. Instead, the idea is that everyone should be enjoying the game from beginning to end, even if their roles mean different things.

      4. Metacritic must die says:

        Agreed. I actually like my wizards turning into Adam West (RIP) Batmen. Having a spell for everything is nifty, and I don’t mind spell slot restrictions-you suffer as a glass cannon early on with very limited shots, and you become finally, a heavy hitter. You still often need tanks to hold enemies in place, to draw aggro etc, they have a use, they just aren’t getting the kills anymore, the wizards are finally actually USEFUL.

        Of course, they’re also OP, they can web everyone in place, knock out anyone under a level cap, blast them with fire, melt their armour with acid, but half those things risk your own team as well. It’s really cool to me how powerful your wizards can get-I want to play “Gandalf-the younger years”, not Harry Potter.

    2. BlueHorus says:

      Yep. I LOVE the limitations on buffing imposed by D&D 5th edition.
      The endless pre-fight buffing of previous editions rapidly turned into a dull chore…especially when you have enough spells that the ones you cast first might actually wear off before you enter the fight!

      Sure, I don’t have to do it, but if you’re not even a little bit into the number-crunching and min-maxing, are you sure D&D is for you?

      1. Joshua says:

        I also really love the Concentration rule. It limits pre-buffing from both a balancing and tracking headache standpoint, and makes it so spellcasters are more balanced against warriors.

        My one real complaint about it is that it can tend to cause issues for non-Evocation type spellcasters. My first 5th Edition character was a Bard. Most of his spells required Concentration. So, he gets one good one off, and then his tactical options for the rest of the fight became severely limited. As a DM, I started looking into some houserule stuff that would make the Concentration rule more flexible while not defeating its purpose.

        1. BlueHorus says:

          Yep. I have a Conjuration Wizard and almost every spell from his specialist school is Concentration.
          It sucks in a way, but REALLY helps him focus on using the right spell for this situation rather than just spamming everything that might help.
          And with one or two basic level 1 ‘attack’ spells (cast at higher levels) he still has a way to use the rest of his spell slots usefully…

        2. Naota says:

          It also sucks in a big way for defensive buffs. That Stone Skin you just cast on yourself has a decent chance to disappear completely every time it does its job, because the system tries to conflate two different concepts in one mechanic.

          I don’t mind limiting powerful spells to a single ongoing effect per caster, but for the love of god, those effects shouldn’t always be interrupted by the caster taking damage, especially when even a single point of nonlethal damage will suffice to break them.

          I’ve had rounds where I cast a strong buff like Haste on the party, entered combat, immediately got showered in stones thrown through the front-line by random 1HD minions, took a single point of damage, and lost the spell before half the party could even use it.

          1. Naota says:

            EDIT: I should mention, you still get to make a concentration check to stay casting. It’s just that his has a minimum DC of 10 and rises with damage inflicted, so there’s a significant chance to lose your spell even when only suffering chip damage. There are of course spells where this mechanic is totally fair… but I don’t think Stone Skin is one of them!

          2. GoStu says:

            That DC10 saving throw should be pretty trivial by the time you get into the good stuff. One of the absolute best things I think you can do as a caster is to take either Resilient (Constitution) or Warcaster, giving proficiency in the CON save or Advantage on it respectively.

            Because I don’t think any caster really survives without a positive CON modifier (+2?), once you can stack Proficiency on it you’re golden. That’s a minimum of +5 to the roll at 5th level or higher and you have a very good chance of passing at that point. It actually takes a lot of damage to make the DC go over 10!

            It does suck to lose Concentration, but there’s ways of mitigating it.

    3. modus0 says:

      Pathfinder 2E’s limitation on buff spells is more in that the different types of bonuses have been drastically reduced, and since same-type bonuses don’t stack, it really cuts down on the amount of buffing you can do.

      Paizo also removed a few of the more common buffing spells, like the [Animal] [Ability Score] spells.

  5. Grudgeal says:

    As a result of my tabletop days, I never rest in a partially cleared dungeon in any cRPG unless it’s that or certain death during the withdrawal. To a TT DM, eight hours of downtime for the monsters means they’re as prepared as you are and there are more of the monsters than there are of you. As a result, I apply the same logic to games I play even if that’s not the case. I used to take pride in my ability to marathon Chateau Irenicus in one inning.

    Many modern RPG games like Kingmaker and Darkest Dungeon restrict resting with a supplies system, and I think it is a good thing overall. I kinda hope BG3 does the same.

    1. Erik says:

      Yeah, that’s the thing missing in BG and all the cRPGs – the DM sees you starting to abuse the rest rules, and the handfuls of dice for wandering monsters treble in size. If you’re sufficiently creative at what kinds of Wandering Monsters you throw at the players, they end their planned rest period exhausted and out of spells again, but not actively worse off. :) It encourages only resting when you *really* need to, and finding safe and fortifiable places to rest, which leads to its own stories.

    2. Ofermod says:

      I used to take pride in my ability to marathon Chateau Irenicus in one inning.

      If I recall, Imoen even calls you out on it if you rest, and tells you just how uncomfortable she is with the idea.

  6. Zaxares says:

    The 15 Minute Workday is at least easy enough to solve in a tabletop game; every time the party tries to rest, they get interrupted. EVERY. TIME. (And lest you fear that the extra encounters mean too much XP for the party, no need. A single arrow fired from the darkness at whoever’s on watch is enough to disturb the party’s rest without giving out any XP.) Trust me, your spellcasters will soon learn to be more frugal with their spellcasting. ;)

    Also, on the Might vs Magic debate, I think this depends a lot on the edition of D&D you’re playing. In vanilla 1st and 2nd Ed D&D, I agree that spellcasters (particularly Mages) become MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE at high levels, while high-level Warrior types are basically level 10 Fighters with extra powerful magic weapons. But in 3/3.5 Ed, this changes completely. Depending on how you build them, Warrior-types can dish out absurd amounts of damage round after round, and since the game doesn’t provide for any “exhaustion” rules or the like, theoretically they can keep fighting like this for DAYS, massacring an entire army single-handedly, long after an equivalent level Mage would have run out of spells.

    I haven’t played 4th or 5th Ed to date, so I’d love to hear from someone who has what the situation’s like in those editions!

    1. Higher_Peanut says:

      Martials tended to be more useful (if still stuck in the loop of hit-enemy-with-sword) in 1st and 2nd than they were in 3.PF versions but still got outclassed. At low levels casters are dangerously low on hp (1d4, CON doesn’t start til 16 and maxes out at +2) and AC (you don’t even get to wear armour) even if sleep/colour spray solves problems. The blob of stats and iterative attacks of martials is comparably more useful at higher levels with the hp balance and wide array of saves. They leveled up way faster too so they were always intended to be a few levels above the casters. Shout-out to monks for having the most silly open-hand slap damage (4 x 4-32) when high level (If you could qualify for the class and get them there).

      Rules as written 3.0 and 3.5 (+pathfinder) are the caster supremacy editions, everything a martial could do a caster could do better if you dig around and min-maxed enough and they get to do their own stuff on top of that. A caster at high levels can see into the future, stop time (functionally) and access different dimensions multiple times per day, without even counting the transformations/buffs/damage/save-or-lose pool. Without strong GM fiat a munchkin caster never runs out of spells because with the options available they already know when, where and how everything is going to happen and can determine time and place of every conflict to basically be predetermined for them or guarantee a means of escape. If a 3.PF game is going to be very combat heavy it’s probably a good idea to talk with players beforehand to determine a power level to work around or class disparity will probably leave some players functionally useless.

      4th plays very differently from the other editions combat wise. It took a lot of inspiration from video games and MMO’s and can feel like a “tactics” game played on a grid (It’s not great to play without a grid pre-mapped). Each class has at-will powers and forced enemy movement and targeting is available in the form of abilities like taunts. It also introduced the concept of the “minion”, enemies with literally 1hp. It works well enough but was unpopular in general for not feeling very D&D and most of the ideas were dropped.

      5th went very rules light (at least in d&d terms) and also tones down caster power from what it was in 3.5. Attack and AC are fairly bounded, so while you don’t have to keep track or stack every little plus it can leave leveling underwhelming. Teamwork also takes a hit this way with many effects now granting dis/advantage, a status which does not stack. Casters while not supergods still tend to outmatch everyone else later on but not by nearly as much. Magic items are “attuned” and are intended to be far more rare than the magic item economies of 3.5. It helps to balance encounters and keep a party in check but makes a casters out of combat utility belt all the more powerful when all the effects have to come from them. Stop letting people spider climb and fly and so on at such low levels D&D, maneuverability like that is powerful.

    2. Joshua says:

      They’ve tried to correct it, but I don’t think they perfectly managed to do so.

      4th Edition made PCs much more durable by giving them At-Will and Per-Encounter spells/abilities, and healing surges to last through the day. The latter just ended up turning into a “weakest link” issue, as it didn’t matter if your Paladin had 7 Healing Surges left if your Wizard had 0, it meant it was time to rest.

      They also tried to introduce a Milestone system to encourage adventuring longer, by giving an Action Point every two (properly challenging) encounters. Hilariously, this system was absurdly incompetent because you could never use more than one Action Point in a single encounter, and you started with a single Action Point whenever you rested anyway. So, you could keep going in hopes of getting another Action Point, or you could simply rest.

      On a side note, 4th Edition is really hard to compare because it’s such a weird beast. 5th Edition is a lot closer in mechanics to 3.X.

      5th Edition
      Eliminates a lot burning through buff/crowd control spells due to the Concentration rules as sheer_falacy mentioned above. There are also “Short Rests”, that allow you to get back certain powers/abilities by resting for an hour (we house-ruled it to 15 minutes, because sitting around for an hour in a dangerous location just seemed to break immersion a bit). Depending upon the power level of the game the DM is running, you could possibly have fewer spells than 3.X simply because they can’t crank up their primary stat to get bonus spells.

      5th Edition also pulled back on the Quadratic Wizards angle by having your spells (other than Cantrips) largely remain static. In 3.X, a Magic Missile is near useless at 1st level but pretty potent at 9th. In 5th, a Magic Missile does 3d4+3 at 1st level, and 3d4+3 at 20th level. So, instead of getting more spell slots, more powerful spells, and existing spells that get more powerful like in 3.X, you only get the first two, and fighter-types will get the ability to do more things as well.

      In a short comparison, when playing Storm King’s Thunder at the end at 10th level, my Sorcerer was pretty good at crowd control and damaging lots of little enemies, but couldn’t keep up damage wise against the Barbarian dishing out massive damage against a single target. Since we each had our different utility niches, there was no need to require sustained multiple encounters to make the fighter-types feel useful compared to spellcasters.

      1. Zaxares says:

        Thanks for the insights, you two! :D It really does sounds like 5th Ed is a good evolution of the rulesets, at least where I’m concerned. The fact that magic items are less of a crucial factor in determining how powerful a particular character is is something that appeals a LOT to me. The idea of short rests is also intriguing, and while I’m kinda on the fence about low level spells never advancing in power (it sounds like a bad idea to me because it means that for some spells, there will come a time when high level mages will just never touch their low level spells again), but perhaps this is taken into account via the increased spell slots and spell variation. I’m definitely looking forward to BG3 so I can get my first look at how 5th Ed plays.

        1. Joshua says:

          In 5th, what ends up happening is that you will pick some Non-combat spells for your low-level slots. Key difference in 5th also is that spell slots are for the level you can *cast*, the number of spells that you *memorize* is a different number (I believe your level plus your casting modifier, so that a level 20 Wizard with a 20 Intelligence could memorize 25 total spells of any level).

          You also can cast a low-level spell using a higher-level slot for greater effect (some are pretty decent, some are kind of lame). So, a Cleric doesn’t need to memorize Cure Light Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds, Cure Critical Wounds, etc., just Cure Wounds as one memorized spells and the effect will be 1d8 per level of spell slot + casting modifier. It’s pretty similar to how Sorcerers worked in 3.X, except for all classes now, and it’s even more flexible since you can use higher-level slots for lower-level spells. Meaning, if you really wanted to, you could use every spell slot from 1st to 9th to cast Magic Missile.

          I almost forgot, but another reason you wouldn’t tend to use lower level slots for offensive spells is because your Cantrips do scale, so a Firebolt at level 20 is doing something like 5d10. Of course, if you’re only using Cantrips, you’re not being terribly effective.

          1. RCN says:

            Just to clear up, a magic missile cast with a 9th slot will do 19d4+19 damage.

            A fireball can also be cast at 9th slot, doing 14d6 damage.

            But usually casting the higher level spells is better.

            Also the higher level slots are much more limited, though you can recover your highest slot with a short rest. So a 20th level wizard slots will be, from 1 to 9, 4-3-3-3-3-2-2-1-1, that is, a single level 9 and level 8 slot.

        2. GoStu says:

          In practice, I’ve found that you maybe stop preparing 1st-level combat spells, but for levels 2 and higher it’s still worth preparing at least one. Fireball and Lightning Bolt are 3rd-level and are deliberately strong for their levels – there’s nothing that really surpasses them in damage until 5th-level spells and those slots are too precious to make you discount lower-level spells.

          Your Cantrips are unlimited and scale up in damage so you have some reliable offense.

          First-level spells often become fuel for Shield spells – always useful and independent of level.

      2. Kylroy says:

        “Short Rests” are an interesting idea – and they’re the only thing that make Warlocks competitive – but I find the problem is that a group *needs* to be either a “Short Rest” or “Long Rest” party. If the Warlock gets his spells back while everyone else gets a die of healing, it’s kinda weak. But if the Warlock gets spells, and the Monk gets Ki, and the Battlemaster reloads on maneuver dice, it’s really potent.

      3. Ninety-Three says:

        On a side note, 4th Edition is really hard to compare because it’s such a weird beast.

        At the time it came out, people liked to complain that 4E felt “videogamey”, like they’d turned D&D into an MMO, but I think the better comparison is wargaming. 4E isn’t just focused on combat (fun comparison: run down the spell lists in 3.5 vs 4 and count how many spells have any utility outside of combat), it’s focused on specifically tactical combat. There are so many abilities in 4E that care about positioning: pushing monsters two squares this way, lots of enemy-penetrating lines and other small area effects where you have to fiddle with the battle map to figure out exactly how many goblins you can hit. You cannot play 4E without a grid that lays out the geometry of each room and markers for the position of each player and monster, but playing without a map is the default experience for many 3.5 players, because “you enter a room with three goblins”, “I charge and hit the nearest one” is often enough without tracking exact x,y coordinates in 3.5.

        It seems weird to take a system like D&D and try to make a wargaming version of it, but despite hating the result and kind of hating hack’n’slash in general, I support the idea. We already have D&D 3.5, and a whole cottage industry of Pathfinder et al making incremental tweaks to refine that version into whatever the platonic ideal of 3.5’s virtues was. The new version of D&D should try to be something different.

        1. Ofermod says:

          It seems weird to take a system like D&D and try to make a wargaming version of it

          If I recall, D&D originally grew from a wargaming system called “Chainmail”, so going back isn’t the weirdest thing. It’s about as weird as it would be for Mass Effect Andromeda to have been a return to an early-Bioware style game. Which is to say, yeah, I guess that would be a pretty sudden shift.

    3. GoStu says:

      My experience with 3rd/3.5e is that despite the Fighter’s endless endurance in combat, he’s just outclassed. There’s a great article originally on Brilliant Gamesologist’s site (now archived) that discusses character class tiers and despite his fighting endurance, the Fighter is pretty much bottom tier. He lacks tools for anything BUT fighting and the assorted magic-flingers have tricks to surpass him there.

      As to Fourth Edition, that sucker is balanced like a quarter on its edge. Hard to find players for now though, it was never very popular despite having some neat ideas baked in. All classes are designed around doing one of four jobs: Defender (tank), Striker (single-target DPS), Leader (buffing/healing), or Controller (AoE damage, debuffs). There’s some core mechanics tied to each role too. Every Defender has a way to “Mark” targets and encourage the target to attack them by penalizing their attacks against others; every Striker has a bonus to damage against a target of their choosing, encouraging pummeling one thing flat; Leaders all have a 2/encounter healing ability, but differ in what other bonuses they hand out; Controllers have the least thematic connection but have the most abilities that strike areas.

      I quite like 4E but think 5E’s probably the better game overall. 4E struggles a bit as the levels get higher – tons of conditional modifiers and bonuses and the like can grind the game down into a slog as you try and remember who’s giving +1 to who and what bonuses or penalties affect any creature. I’d still suggest picking up the books (they’re cheap!) but mostly just to mine them for ideas for another game.

      5E is the best the game’s ever been. While it does lack a little bit in depth when compared to 3.5E, it makes up for that in simplicity, approachability, and ease to learn and play. Classes are pretty well balanced; nobody’s useless and nobody’s truly broken. Magic-users have their potency and martial characters never stop being good. There’s a lot of room in the rules for DMs to get creative and I love the Advantage/Disadvantage rules. Instead of adding up stacking bonuses, if the DM rules you have Advantage you roll 2d20 and take the better roll. For Disadvantage it’s 2d20 and take the lower roll. Either way it’s fast and easy to resolve and keeps play moving.

      My few criticisms of 5E are pretty easy to patch over. I suggest banning the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide from your table as it’s a very iffy book with a handful of really powerful things and a wealth of broken shitty options. If you want more complexity, crack your 3.5 or 4E books open and borrow some things. Be aware that the as-released Ranger class is fairly weak and needs some DM fiat in order to feel strong, and the as-released Sorcerer is just kind of “shitty wizard”.

      1. Ninety-Three says:

        I hate the advantage/disadvantage system because it takes a system with many degrees of freedom and simplifies it down to “normal, good, bad”. In 3.5, being prone would give you -4 to attacks, being drunk would be -2 to attacks, and trying to fight while on fire would be some ad-hoc penalty the DM made up. In 5E, being prone gives you disadvantage, being drunk gives you disadvantage, and being on fire would be the DM deciding it gives you disadvantage. Then because there’s no such thing as double disadvantage, being prone drunk and on fire still just gives you disadvantage: once you’re drunk, adding prone and on fire doesn’t hurt! In fact, since prone makes you harder to hit with ranged attacks, it’s better for drunks to go prone!

        5E feels like it was trying to bring 3.5 down to the level of a boardgame, not just in terms of complexity but a certain acceptable degree of “gamey-ness”, like how everyone can recover from being mauled half-to-death with just an eight-hour rest. Even though almost everything I liked about 3.5 got jettisoned for 5E, I have to admit that “D&D The Boardgame” is a good product for the market, and 5E seems like a well-designed boardgame.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          The very nitty gritty “+1, -4, but my second attack gets to roll two dice and keep the higher result and and…” system would be well suited to a game where an app accurately tracked all your bonuses for you. For a dice game, it slowed everything to an absolute dismal CRAWL when I played. And I was never super impressed with any of the apps we tried for this purpose.

        2. RCN says:

          Not strictly true. Advantage negates disadvantage and the opposite is also true. But if you have 2 stacks of disadvantage then you need 2 stacks of advantage to get neutral again. And 2 stacks of advantage on a single stack of disadvantage nets you advantage again.

          To take your example, a drunk has disadvantage. But if he gets invisible, he is neutral again. But if he gets prone he has disadvantage again unless he gets another condition that gives him advantage.

          And the direct bonuses still exist, it is just that you’ll usually only have them on spells and it is by design extremely hard to stack them.

          1. Kava says:

            That would be a nice idea to have as a house rule, but the rules explicitly say it doesn’t work that way. From p173 of the player’s handbook:

            If circumstances cause a roll to have both advantage and disadvantage, you are considered to have neither of them, and you roll one d20. This is true even if multiple circumstances impose disadvantage and only one grants advantage or vice versa.

            1. RCN says:

              Huh, was sure I had read in the manual it was cumulative.

              Seems I’m wrong. But hey, if 5E did something right, it was opening up the rules and encouraging both house rules and optional rules. You make the game as complex or as simple as you want.

      2. Ofermod says:

        My big issue with 5E is the bounded system – i.e. outside of Expertise, you’ll never be that much better at a skill or save than someone else, because proficiency is at most +6. In 3E (which I’m most familiar with, so it’s my general basis for comparison), at only 3rd level you’re already +6 if you’ve been putting full ranks in a skill compared to someone who hasn’t, and that’s not even taking into account the various ways to stack bonuses. I can understand the appeal of “nobody is ever useless at a skill”, but I really like being able to specialize/shine in that regard.

        1. Ninety-Three says:

          It’s a hard problem they were trying to solve: 3.5’s skill progression means that a level 1 rogue has +5 more Tumble bonus than a level 1 Fighter, which lets them both meaningfully take on the same skill check, but at level 10 that differential has grown to +15 and any check the rogue has a chance of failing is impossible for the fighter. This makes skill checks become harder to design and less interesting as the party levels up.

          As a partial solution, I’m fond of systems where each rank in a skill costs more points than the previous one: it makes these kinds of gaps grow slower, and it encourages the creation of diversified characters that are decent at X and great at Y instead of the “max ranks or none” D&D dynamic.

    4. Kylroy says:

      The longest campaign I was in turned into “15 minute workday” once we got our “create a dimensional hidey-hole” spell. For us it was mostly a matter of buff spells rather than one-shot effects, so we’d buff up, attempt to motor through 2-4 encounters, scout the aftermath, and disappear into our Magnificent Mansion. The final dungeon *did* attempt to discourage this – it was warded by a 20th-level wizard against dimensional travel…so our 17th level wizard had 4 Mansion spells memorized to make sure one of them worked.

      1. galacticplumber says:

        4 encounters is a standard adventuring day. It’s specifically stated that the party having 4 murder parties is standard procedure. Some more for dungeons, some less when the DM has realized everyone is sick of random encounters against unimportant fights while traveling. There are even relatively low level spells to reliably rest without getting interrupted, and magic items that shorten rest times if you don’t have access to those spells.

      2. Daerian says:

        Magnificent Mansion is one thing, but Rope Trick is… level 2 spell. If you Extend it it will allow for uninterrupted full rest at level 5.

    5. Daerian says:

      Rope Trick and all that “stop Wizard from resting” you decribed is just a DM dream.

      There is reason why Tier 1 in 3,5 are Wizard, Cleric, Druid and Artificier, while Martial classes (with supernatural bend, like ones from Book of Nine Swords) start showing in Tier 3.

  7. default_ex says:

    It’s games from that era that got me into the habit of checking all around me before I rest and making sure any doorways are closed or blocked off. Random encounters when you go to rest and have burned through all your contingencies really isn’t any fun. Honestly haven’t had much of a use for that habit until diving into ARK, where being aware of what’s around you is crucial.

    I do like the spell system though. It definitely needed to be beefed up a bit to fit the faster pace compared to tabletop. Lends really well to strategy. Mana points always annoy me because it usually means carrying a bunch of potions to replenish it on demand or taking a lot of rests. Maybe it’s just that EQ left a sour taste when it got to the point where it would take up to an hour to recover all your mana.

  8. Sannom says:

    Why didn’t you make a joke out of the fact that the wizard in that mercenary party will always cast True Sight if one of your party members ventures near them while invisible or sneaking ? I keep forgetting they do it and it keeps messing up my plans.

    Also, you don’t need to keep Yoshimo on for lockpicking. Jan Jansen does that perfectly well, and he’s also a caster.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      Ah yes, AI enemies. They always knows what buffs you’ve got on you at a glance and where the rogue is. They come in two types: suspiciously competent, or bafflingly stupid (like guards in a stealth game).

      It even happens in modern games. In Divinity: OS 2, if you have an undead in the party, you have to keep them covered up so that no-one knows, otherwise guards (and merchants, and passers-by) will attack you.
      BUT, regardless of how well you disguise your bony companion, the enemy will without fail know their secret and cast healing magic on them. Every single time.

      1. Veylon says:

        I remember playing Final Fantasy Tactics and thinking I was so clever by bringing in skeletons who revive themselves when downed only to have them all one-shotted by the AI team’s support guy who tossed around Phoenix Downs with wild abandon.

    2. Asdasd says:

      I’m sure Jan will be making an appearance. But the meta explanation for now is probably that Bob wants to discuss story events in which Yoshimo is a key plot character (kind of? The game doesn’t want you to take a different thief to Spellhold, but it’ll let you. It’s weird.) Not that Achilles would be aware of this, but eh.

  9. kdansky says:

    This was a great example of how awful combat in BG actually is. Divinity: Original Sin is the example of how to do it right.

    * Get rid of the clumsy real-time-with-pause and replace it with a turn-based system.
    * Remove pre-combat buffing altogether. It is a chore, it breaks immersion, and it breaks balance.
    * Get rid of “daily” abilities with arbitrary day lengths. If you want resources to carry over between battles, scrolls, potions and effects like “wounded for three battles” are great ways of doing it.
    * If you give wizards access to insanely powerful spells, also give non-wizards the same abilities.

    Funnily enough, the best version of DnD (4th edition) did most of this right. It’s a shame that the DnD player base didn’t understand that.

    Sam wrote about this much better than I ever could:

    1. Joshua says:

      Weirdly enough, D:OS2 feels like a really good translation (in spirit) of 4th Edition D&D to me, while also getting rid of one of the main drawbacks (the low, low chance of death, which makes long combats feel more like a slog than a nail-biting entertainment). At-Will/Encounter/Daily Spells/Abilities are simply converted to abilities with different cooldown times.

      1. Sleeping Dragon says:

        Honestly, while I don’t particularly care for a third BG I’m looking forward to another Larian RPG. I’m particularly hoping they’ll retain the ability to use abilities in combinations and to creatively bypass obstacles as that’s always been a staple of D&D parties in my experience and while there are obvious limitations without an actual living GM I think D:OS games come as close to that as I’ve seen in a large scale computer RPG.

  10. A_Concerned_Citizen says:

    Simple solution to 15 minute workdays? Take a page out of Dark Souls and have enemy encounters respawn every time the group rests.

  11. tmtvl says:

    The best D&D combat I’ve ever played was Temple of Elemental Evil. Troika really did the rules justice.

    Between the NWN2 modules “The Wizard’s Apprentice” and solo Sorcerer runs of BG1&2 (through Tutu and EE) I really learned to appreciate arcane magic in D&D games. It’s noteworthy that the only classes that can solo the Baldur’s Gate Trilogy are arcane casters (who can cast Knock) or thieves (who can Use Any Item).

    Fighters have their place. A Simulacrum-ed Korghan can go Berserk and completely no-sell nasty status effects that can cause chaos (pun intended) in the average party.

    1. RCN says:

      Loved temple of elemental evil. Tactics matter. Reach matters. And you have access to all the different maneuvers if you want to use them.

      My last party had a warrior with combat reflexes, high dex and a polearm specialization. She’d create a huge zone of denial I dared enemies to try and trespass. And casting enlarge person helped even more. Then at her turn I could attempt tripping casters from the other side of the room.

  12. Shep says:

    I’m going to have to be that insufferably pedantic nerd guy and point out that Viconia doesn’t worship Lolth, she worships Shar.

    To add a bit of meaningful substance to this comment, this is exactly why I preferred the combat in BG1 to BG2 in some ways (IWD1 and 2 as well). Spellcasters were way less overpowered and combat characters were useful. Cheesing my way through BG2 made me look at the 3rd Ed DnD rules from IWD2 and sigh that Beamdog didn’t use those rules when they re-did the series.

  13. N/A says:

    I’m with Achilles, D&D magic is terrible. I’d actually go even further and say it’s a more fundamental issue than just the Vancian model of magic.

    Most D&D classes are sort of… Verb-based. The fighter fights, the thief/rogue handles locks and traps, and even clerics at least theoretically fit this model by being focused on healing and blessings, although the actual execution has been… variable. I see you there, CoDzilla. The classes are each focused on doing certain things.

    But casters, especially arcane casters like wizards, don’t fit this model. Casters ‘do magic’, and if you ask what ‘magic’ does, the system has never really gotten beyond an awkward shrug and an, ‘everything! … But not all at once, I guess.”

    Wizards don’t have a limited role, because their role is ‘magic’, and D&D seems to be pathologically unwilling to nail down what ‘magic’ can do. Magic can deal damage. Magic can reduce damage. Magic can reveal secrets. Magic can help you sneak. Magic can buff. Magic can debuff. Magic can alter terrain. Magic can control enemies. Magic can create allies. Magic can do anything, because magic is magic.

    You can see this with spells like Knock. By existing, Knock allows the wizard to do the the Rogue’s job, and in fact do it better than the Rogue, considering that regular lockpicking can’t get you past spells like Wizard Lock, and Knock exists in case you want to play a D&D game without a Rogue… but if you want to play without a wizard? Well, then you’re just shit out of luck, aren’t you?

    1. Matt says:

      I think the issue is the source material that inspired D&D. Magic in Lord of the Rings and Conan are balanced by plot and setting elements that are not translated into the D&D rules. Even the word “balance” isn’t great, because those stories weren’t intended to be the basis for cooperative party-based roleplaying games. What they have are explanations for why magicians don’t rule the world or solve all the problems with a wave of their hand. Divorced from the limits of a setting, magic becomes a catch all that can do anything.

      1. Metacritic must die says:

        Yeah, for instance, in the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf has great power which is a) never explained in full detail b) extremely powerful c) has great costs which are also opaque.

        That’s what I love about fantasy wizards, they have ridiculous power, they know things you don’t, that’s what makes them cool. But there’s a good reason Gandalf has to fall, and there’s a good reason he doesn’t do everything through magic where he has a practical option.

        Videogames that turn magic into a tool can’t do that so easily, and they have to balance the spectacle of magic, vs game balance.

        But it is a lot of fun to level up a character into a classic fantasy mage.

  14. “Hard-fought? I don’t want that. Battles should be won by attaining an enormous, overpowering advantage first, and then just rolling over everything in front of you. It makes no sense to do it any other way.”

    Lol. Yeah, this is pretty much how I do it.

    Btw, if you Feeblemind the dragons in the game they’re pretty easy to fight. That’s how I beat most of them aside from the one in the elven city that Aerie disintegrated via a spectacularly lucky roll.

  15. jurgenaut says:

    I always tried to keep a balanced group – depending a little bit on what class I played myself. You need at least one guy who has -12 AC to block doors. When you hit high level skills in throne of bhaal, the fighters get whirlwind attacks which are super strong with 2-handers. Sarevok also has this random proc for 200 damage (deathbringer assault or somesuch).

    Dual wield skald with tensers transformation is cool.
    Paladin with Carsomyr is cool.
    Mage – timestop and horrid wilting is cool.
    Ranger is not so cool. Fuck that mopey ranger guy who inherited the mage sphere.

  16. Christopher says:

    And here I thought The Witcher’s potion chugging and meditation and smokebreak before a fight was unusual.

    1. RCN says:

      Well, that was basically a writer trying to translate an RPG buffing session into something sensible.

      Considering you consider it less weird than what the real deal is, it seems he somewhat suceeded.

  17. Alberek says:

    The 15 min workday… yeah and the great thing about it, it’s that it shouldn’t work there are things like random monster battle that make taking off your pants in the middle of a dungeon exploration a very… BAD idea.
    4th edition try to solve the problem by having powers that you can use on every encounter
    5th edition has the same idea, more or less, but powerful thing are still restored by a full rest

    The best way to solve this kind of things, is making it obvious how wasteful this behavior is, missions all ways are time sensitive… the village is not going to wait patiently for 3 month if they have a monster problem.

  18. Mr. Wolf says:

    I never did that much buffing in BG, partly because I didn’t want to do that much micromanagement with spells, scrolls and potions, and partly because I’d forget to protect the party from confusion or paralysis and need to cast dispel magic anyway.

    1. RCN says:

      The classic “buffs the barbarian into godhood, enemy confuses/charms/dominates/monologues the barbarian into joining him, now you have to get past your own rubris before the god of death goes through your entire party”

  19. Duoae says:

    Believe it or not, this is actually my first (that I can remember) introduction to the term “Vancian”. Never read any of his books though his name sounds familiar.

    Anyway, I agree that these sorts of systems are broken but can be interesting. In terms of favouring The Grognard’s viewpoint, I also like these systems if you’re roleplaying the game. i.e. You try and have a useful 8-10 hours, conserving your spells instead of blowing them on each and every fight.

    It certainly makes the game more interesting!

    In terms of evolving magic systems, I see that Decius (above) mentions the AoW: Planetfall. This points-based system seems similar to a system I designed that was taken from (inspired by, if you prefer) Trudi Canavan’s preferred magic template of natural resources. I.e. you have nodes from which “energy” for casting magic is created and this energy then filters out towards the rest of the world through space or waylines, etc. Using more magic than the magic potential of a local area results in the area becoming drained until it refreshes.

    I really like the concept and system and it means that physical classes are still valuable and there’s even an implied interplay between friendly and enemy mages who are vying for the same energy potential.

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