Baldur’s Gate III: Achilles and The Grognard

By Bob Case Posted Sunday Aug 11, 2019

Filed under: Video Games 141 comments

It is now time for an unscheduled tour of my creative process, such as it is. Originally, I had planned this series out a certain way, and it was all very well organized and so forth. A big part of my writing process is just figuring out what order I want to say things in, and I thought I had an order that would work. Then when I started writing it the whole thing fell apart and I realized I needed to reorganize. I realized that I couldn’t do this alone. I needed help.

So I brought in two of my friends. Their names are Achilles and The Grognard. We all agreed that they would sit down and play through Baldur’s Gate while I sat nearby and recorded their conversations. It’s all very scientific and official.

I did this because I think this game is best viewed from more than one perspective. The Baldur’s Gate seriesConsiting of Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, and Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal. – also known as the Bhaalspawn saga – is generally considered to be one of the high-water marks of the genre, an achievement in visuals, atmosphere, mechanics, and reactivity. It has also become an object of nostalgia, and the widespread belief that they just don’t make’em like that anymore. How to best locate the real Baldur’s Gate through the fog of its reputation? By employing a pair of guides. Let’s meet them.

The Grognard was born on November 30th, 1978, and the original Baldur’s Gate came out on her twentieth birthday. A tabletop veteran, she spent her college years immersed in the many classics of the Infinity Engine era – games that, to her, set a standard that has yet to be met since. To the Grognard, PC RPGs are like Saturday Night Live in that in any given year, they were better five years ago. The direction the genre has taken in the last ten years has filled her with disappointment, which she self-medicates with deliberately cultivated hope. Maybe yesterday’s magic has not been lost, she tells herself. Maybe there are enough people out there, schooled in the old ways, to bring it back. Maybe the developers of Larian studios are the chosen people, here to lead us back to the promised land.

Achilles was born exactly twenty years later, on November 30th, 1998, the day the first Baldur’s Gate was released. He’s never played it – in fact, he’s never played an Infinity Engine game. The first roleplaying game he can remember playing is Fallout 3Which he just calls “Fallout.” on the Xbox 360 during his half-remembered days of adolescence. During his teenage years he caught the RPG bug, catching up with Mass Effect, Skyrim, Dragon Age, and others. He’s aware of the old classics, but he’s never played them.

The scene: two people on a couch. They look like however you want them to, but the art is reminiscent of a 90’s era webcomic. On the screen opposite them is:

The title screen for the 'enhanced edition' of the game, with the 'Siege of Dragonspear' add-on installed.
The title screen for the 'enhanced edition' of the game, with the 'Siege of Dragonspear' add-on installed.

The Grognard: This already feels wrong.

Achilles: Why?

The Grognard: We’re sitting on a couch, for one. This is not the way our ancestors played. And for another, this is the enhanced edition of the game, the Beamdog one. The remaster. It’s sacriligious in several ways. It doesn’t even have the original Dagger of Venom! It would be one thing if you modded together the two games, with Tutu for example, but this? This is like seeing Hamlet as an Instagram story.

Achilles: I only understood about a third of the words you just said. Why wouldn’t I play the enhanced edition? It’s the same as the original game, but doesn’t look like it was rendered using a potato battery. Do you want to go back to the way it was? Look upon 1998, and despair!

For years I thought Khalid had a beard. It wasn't until I saw his portrait in higher resolution that I realized that had been a shadow all along.
For years I thought Khalid had a beard. It wasn't until I saw his portrait in higher resolution that I realized that had been a shadow all along.

The Grognard: Yes, it’s true RPGs look better now than they did back then, but there’s more to a game than the graphics.

Achilles: This way we get the game AND the graphics. And why would it matter where we’re sitting? You have something against couches?

The Grognard: Where you sit is part of the experience! For PC games, you sit at your desk. For tabletop games, you sit at the table. It changes your mentality, your perspective. I’m here to make sure you don’t play the game wrong – that you play it with the right mentality.

Achilles: You see, this is where I think you can learn something from me. The game has an obligation to entertain me; if it doesn’t meet that obligation I stop playing it. I don’t have an obligation to the game – to play it a certain way, or with a certain “mentality.” If the game isn’t fun, that’s the game’s fault, not mine.

The Grognard: There’s a certain pro-consumer sentiment there I don’t want to stifle, so I’ll rephrase. There’s a skill to appreciating Baldur’s Gate. It was made for a certain time – a time when PC RPGs were trying to replicate the tabletop experience, and should be experienced as such. And if you follow my wise, guiding hand, you’ll discover what I mean.

Achilles: I, on the other hand, am here to cushion your disappointment. It’s obvious you’re attached to this game. You played it at a formative time in your life, I get it. It’s a rose-colored glasses thing. But now all of its jank and weirdness is finally going to be witnessed by an objective third party, and I’m going to have to start saying things like “well, it was their first game with these tools,” or “I see what they were going for there,” or “they just didn’t have the technology back then.” Things like that, to make you feel better.

The Grognard: I would be offended by that if I wasn’t an impenetrable fortress of self-confidence. Your sympathy won’t be necessary. This game holds up. People still play it, over twenty years later – still mod it even. There’s a reason it was remade into this version. Speaking of which, we should start our game. Have you thought about what type of character you want to roll?

Achilles: You bet. A kensai, who switches to mage at either level 9 or 13, I haven’t decided yet. Oh, and I’m gonna dual-wield longswords.

The Grognard: That’s not a character. That’s a build. You’ve never played these games before, so I’m going to assume you got it off the internet?

Achilles: I can hear you making a face when you say that. Yes, I got it off the internet. This ruleset is famous for being confusing and unintuitive. I don’t want to get forty hours in and realize I picked a trap build, so I just googled “Baldur’s Gate OP” and went with the first post I saw.

The Grognard: But what character do you want to play? Never mind the numbers – who are they, what is their personality? Or, how about this: which character portrait did you pick?

Achilles: Well, the coolest-looking one is Top Hat Guy.

Top Hat Guy. Since the character and PC portraits are reused, this is also the portrait of an NPC called Quayle.
Top Hat Guy. Since the character and PC portraits are reused, this is also the portrait of an NPC called Quayle.

The Grognard: All right – it’s a starting point. Now, because I’ve played this game, I happen to know that “Top Hat Guy” is a gnome, not a human, so you won’t be able to dual-class – you’ll have to multi-class instead.

Achilles: What’s the difference? Is that going to gimp me? Is it going to make my THAC0 too low, or too high, or whichever one is the bad one?

The Grognard: Too high is the bad one. And I promise not to gimp your character. A gnomish fighter/illusionist will do just fine. Alignment?

Achilles: Do I have to pick one? Don’t they just let you say “unaligned” now? The closest thing is chaotic neutral, so I’ll pick that.

The Grognard: At this point I feel I should remind you that we want to roleplay, not just make a standard-issue chaotic neutral murder hobo.

Achilles: I thought you wanted this to be like tabletop gaming. Aren’t murder hobos a tabletop tradition? If it’ll make you happy, fine, we’ll roleplay. Top Hat Guy has always been a free spirit. Pulling pranks, stealing things, that sort of thing. It fits with the illusionist thing.

The Grognard: A prankster – a schemer. Okay, we can work with that. Now, for the ability scores.

Achilles: So you can reroll your ability scores as many times as you want? I’ll just keep clicking until I have all 18s.

*thirty minutes later*

The Grognard: Achilles. I’m begging you. Just stop. Just go with your saved roll, it’s a 93. It’s plenty high.

Achilles: What, and let the game win? I once saw a screenshot of someone who got triple digits!

The Grognard: At some point I want to actually play the story. I promise you, this character is not gimped. How do you want to arrange your points?

Achilles: This is the hardest part, probably. Do I dump WIS or CHA? You know what, how about both.

The Grognard: Well, you rolled stats for half an hour, so you can only “dump” them down to ten apiece. Would persuading you to consider your character here be a lost cause? A gnome with 18 STR?

Achilles: He’s like the Shaquille O’Neal of gnomes. He often gets mistaken for a stocky human, or a tall dwarf. It’s why he multiclassed into fighter. Built like Barry Sanders, give or take. But with a top hat and a cane.

The Grognard: Against all odds, I’m starting to be able to picture this guy in my head. Weapon proficiencies?

Achilles: Dual-wielding and longswords, of course. Don’t roll your eyes. I know how these things work. Dual wielding is always good, and there’s gonna be, like, twenty good longswords. The other weapons will have one or two good ones apiece that you don’t get until you’re 80% done with the second game or something.

The Grognard: First of all, this game is a classic. You should have more faith in the itemization. Second, this is a prank-pulling gnome. His weapons should reflect his personality and inventiveness. I say… he dual-wields a morningstar and a wakizashi.

Achilles: Am I reading this right? “Longsword” is one proficiency, “katana” is another, and “scimitar/wakizashi/ninjato” is a third? Don’t all those weapons fall under the category of “long sharp metal thing”? Why do they need three seperate proficiencies?

The Grognard: You think this is bad? First edition had, I believe, 24 different polearms. You had to know the difference between a ranseur and a voulge. But this fits the character. That cane in his portrait – say it’s made of tropical hardwood, and has a lead core in the handle. He can swing it around like a shillelagh. And the wakizashi is small enough to conceal inside his coat.

Achilles: I’m getting a tiny little Gandalf vibe here. Okay, I admit that is kind of cool. Now I have to pick spells?

The Grognard: Your starting spells. Don’t worry about it too much, you can learn any ones you skip from scrolls later.

Achilles: Well, sleep is a classic. Blind sounds useful, and I have to pick one illusion spell anyway. And charm person may have comedy potential. I’ll pick those. For voices, none of them are quite right, so I’ll pick the posh-sounding english guy who says his spleen hurts when he gets injured.

The Grognard: Well chosen. And, to top it all off, “Achilles Grognard” sounds like the type of name a gnome would have.

Achilles: According to the cinematic, I’ve lived my whole life with my foster father, Gorion, at Candlekeep, which is essentially a giant library. But now I have to leave suddenly. And so our adventure begins.

Standing outside the inn in candlekeep. In the enhanced edition, pausing the game greyscales the background, which is convenient.
Standing outside the inn in candlekeep. In the enhanced edition, pausing the game greyscales the background, which is convenient.

The Grognard: And so our adventure begins.



[1] Consiting of Baldur’s Gate, Baldur’s Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, and Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal.

[2] Which he just calls “Fallout.”

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141 thoughts on “Baldur’s Gate III: Achilles and The Grognard

  1. sheer_falacy says:

    This Grognard has a very different view of building a character for a computer rpg than I do. That’s a lot of focus on defining your character in non-number ways that the game will have very little support for.

    As for “there will be a billion longswords and no other weapons”, that is a very common trope in CRPGs. One of the amusing things about Planescape: Torment is the complete lack of usable swords in the game, presumably as a direct reaction to this. Really the equipment situation in that game was generally super weird – no armor equips except for the women, tattoo and earring slots on multiple characters, several wearable internal organs including a dedicated eye slot. That was fun.

    1. Agammamon says:

      The Grognard is coming from that golden era of TT games just past the era of their hack-n-slash beginnings and before the current era of hack-n-slash cRPGs.

      So she’s not trying to build the strongest character the mechanics allow.

      But these things do help define the character’s personality – where there is a decent amount of room to express that in-game.

      1. CoyoteSans says:

        The problem is that in BG1:

        A) The slavish devotion of the AD&D 2.5 ruleset meant that if you didn’t roll an optimal character, you weren’t narratively rewarded for that interesting choice, you just have an objectively worse fighter or thief or mage or whatever to play with in an already extremely clunky battle system.
        B) BG1 didn’t have any dialogue choices that reflected your stats or character build or even alignment. Reputation (the karma meter) and Charisma affected encounter checks in certain dialogues, but those were pretty much all for rather minor side-quests (aside from affecting whether or not a certain NPC would let you recruit them). Alignment itself is really only important for the Paladin, who must be Lawful Good and who’s Reputation cannot drop below a certain high number without Falling. Literally everyone else it only determines what your starting Reputation is, and it’s not a wide margin in a game that’s super easy to modify it anyway.

        If Grognard is making a case for roleplaying in old-school CRPGs, she picked quite possibly the worst example game possible. The only “character” building you really get to do in that respect is the glorified notepad in your character bio, and even then, most of your character’s backstory is set in stone at the outset. Everything else about your character’s personality is defined by how they respond to characters in the gameplay itself, and the options there are frequently more limited than you’d expect. Achilles is pretty much spot on in his desire to min/max at the outset, unfortunately.

        1. Grudgeal says:

          Not to mention, the early game in BG1 is very unforgiving. Even with an optimized character, making a turn at the wrong road or a bad dice roll can shaft you really quick, and especially if you don’t know where to get the companions you need to fill out your party. Playing a bad build will lead to a lot more reloads than playing an optimized character lets you avoid.

          It’s a bit ironic that it isn’t really until around BG2, a game that was a lot more about *letting* the player break the power balance, you got the luxury of being able to *afford* roleplaying with subpar stats and weapon picks.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            Indeed. We are talking about a game which blocks the first inn you can access with an opponent capable of ruining a party of two.

        2. Ancillary says:

          Well said, CoyoteSans.

          If Grognard is making a case for roleplaying in old-school CRPGs, she picked quite possibly the worst example game possible.

          Do you by chance have an old-school CRPG in mind that does support a player’s decision to roll a sub-optimal character for roleplay purposes, at least a little?

          1. CoyoteSans says:

            The Fallout games that gave you special dialogue for low-Int characters is the classic example, if perhaps also a notable exception.

            1. Decius says:

              They also give special dialog choices for unplayable characters with 1-2 int.

          2. Thomas Adamson says:

            Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura.

            Except that’s one of the cases where a pure charisma build is not just viable, but optimal.

            1. Alberek says:

              Yeah, I had a dwarf that was horrible looking, but dressed really well and was super smart
              But I didn’t liked how Charisma let’s you have more party members… that’s not balanced at all
              Arcanum had some great ideas, but it falled short on so many things

              Also I think there were some premade characters that had some unique interactions in the game (didn’t explore that much, but one of the premades was a necromancer from the family of necromancers in that dwarfs quests)

        3. Asdasd says:

          I think the Grognard’s point is that roleplaying is unoptimised. You’re not necessarily doing it for narrative reward or because the world will be more reactive to it. From a certain perspective that’s just another form of munchkinism: content-as-loot. You’re doing it because looking at a character sheet studded with three 18s and a 19 is inherently immersion-breaking.

          1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

            Maybe, but nothing breaks my immersion quite like having to reload every other fight twenty times in a row.
            And since BG has a well-deserved reputation for being absolutely ruthless and impenetrable, I would also want to optimize the heck out of my character.

            Fun roleplaying builds are for the tabletop sessions, where we can negotiate the difficulty with the DM and use our creativity to it’s fullest potential.

            1. Asdasd says:

              Hey man, I don’t disagree. One of the things I like about RPGs is they usually have a lot of flexibility in terms of how you play them.

            2. Sleeping Dragon says:

              My housemate is freaking amazing at this. She roleplays in video games like there’s no tomorrow. She will outright refuse or fail quests if that’s in line with the character she’s playing. She will not use items that she thinks her character wouldn’t use (for example if she roleplay a monk who swore poverty she will not pick up precious stuff or sell items for cash), makes exceptions only for stuf that is absolutely utterly necessary to progress the game and even then sometimes she just quits a playthrough with like “welp, this character just wouldn’t do that”, Honestly her commitment to it is amazing and she gets a lot of mileage out of replaying games this way.

              1. Galad says:

                She sounds quite fun to watch, and hang out with!

      2. BlueHorus says:

        The Grognard is coming from that golden era of TT games just past the era of their hack-n-slash beginnings and before the current era of hack-n-slash cRPGs.

        So I’m very much an Achilles, but does this era actually exist? I’m always suspicious of this tyoe ‘Golden Age’.
        A tabletop game can be a good roleplay experience, or it can be a dull, combat-heavy slog – it depends on the DM, and the players.
        But a computer game simply cannot be as flexible as having a DM reacting to the party, setting challenges that are party-appropriate etc. You have to be able to overcome the combat before you can get to the story.

        I mean, I heard that Planescape Torment was a great game for roleplay, in which a load of the fights were avoidable. Great, I thought, let’s make a Nameless One with lots of Charisma and Wisdom!
        …so naturally me and my talking skull friend got murdered by the first group of trashmob bandits we came across.

        I also had a similar experience with Fallout 2:
        ‘I’ll make a character who specialises in charisma and firearms!’
        *Cue 15 minutes of flailing ineffectually at giant ants with a spear*

        1. Shamus says:

          It’s true that those old games had lots of jank. The “golden age” isn’t when RPGs were perfect, it’s when people bothered to make them at all.

          Instead of refining the formula, the industry just “streamlined” all those complex mechanics down to damage numbers and the roleplaying choices down to red / blue options. (I’m being slightly hyperbolic here, the point is that we lost a lot of depth and complexity.)

          Now, there’s a good reason this happened. Those old-school RPGs aren’t as popular modern-day RPGs with clear builds and action combat. But if you’re into those fussy games with lots of numbers and text-based (not voice acted) roleplay, then there aren’t a lot of options. Heck, before Obsidian gave us PoE and Tyranny, you didn’t get ANY options.

          1. Wide And Nerdy says:

            If only Obsidian could have given us a second good Pillars of Eternity game instead of the overly linear mess with sidequests that didn’t matter to the main linear plot and weren’t of any consequence whatsoever.

            1. FluffySquirrel says:

              Have you tried Tyranny? While it had some iffy mechanics, the roleplaying was really pretty good I thought

              1. Bloodsquirrel says:

                Tyranny was way worse.

                Once you picked which path you were following, the rest of the game is nothing but one big railroad, to the point where it’s just sort of assumed that your goal must be to take over the world.

                I really enjoyed Pillars 2. It’s true that you can’t really have much of an impact on the main plot, but it does make sense to a degree, considering what you’re up against. I really hope we get a third game where we get to see how it all falls out.

                1. BlueHorus says:

                  Oh, Tyranny.

                  Such a great idea, but bungled and unfinished*. In some alternate dimension, there’s a fully-realised version of that story and it rocks.

                  The rumor that Obsidian took staff away from Tyranny to work on PoE 2 in particular makes me sad. They stunted the development of the Original Concept game in favor of a sequel?
                  And then the sequel didn’t do that well?


                  *AKA ‘An Obsidian game’?

                  1. baud says:

                    > Obsidian took staff away from Tyranny to work on PoE 2

                    Even better, they used Paradox’s money, paid for Tyranny, to work on PoE 2.

                    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

                      Maybe that has something to do with the fallings out several Obsidian employees had with the company.

        2. Chad Miller says:

          I think I know the exact fight you´re talking about, and that one is kind of an aberration.

          PS:T has a handful of bizarrre slogs/difficulty spikes and one of them is an alleyway just west of the starting area. I think this one may be intentional since it’s the wrong turn Annah sends you toward (and dying isn’t a game over in that game). Others like, say, Curst dungeon, feel like straight up mistakes.

        3. Thomas Adamson says:

          The comics “Golden Age” isn’t the most creative or critically acclaimed. It’s just where most of the original and still top characters originated.

          1. shoeboxjeddy says:

            I don’t know that the “most” popular comic characters came from the Golden Age. I actually think the Silver Age might have that distinction.

        4. sheer_falacy says:

          You actually did use the optimal build for PS:T. It’s ideal to start with max wisdom and a good amount of charisma and intelligence.

          The thing about getting murdered by bandits is you don’t have to fight bandits. There are almost no required fights in the game.

        5. Blacky says:

          …so naturally me and my talking skull friend got murdered by the first group of trashmob bandits we came across.

          And yet you were able to continue playing, with no penalties, and integrate that death into your story. That’s one of the strength of Planescape: Torment, dying because of their bad systems (including ruleset, action design, and combat system) isn’t an issue.

      3. Jeff says:

        I was in high school when BG1 came out. The one and only in-person gaming group I was a part of was during that period, we all scattered after graduation.

        I basically remember BG1 as an AD&D 2e combat simulator with a very rough story to provide excuses for said combat. I also don’t really recall interjections or party dialog, everybody was mostly just a stat sheet. I recall liking Kahlid because he was a straight forward fighter and served as my tank, and I’d deliberately send Jahera off to die so I didn’t have a suboptimal druid getting in the way. Never thought he had a beard either, don’t know if that’s a monitor (Color levels? Contrast?) thing.

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      I never played BG so I don’t know if the magical item drops are all scripted, randomly generated from the AD&D 2nd ed. treasure tables, or randomly generated from the game’s own custom method. But I did play a shitload of AD&D 2nd ed. as a teenager, and I remember that under the random treasure tables, 70% of all magic swords discovered would be longswords. And something like 75% of all magic weapons found were swords, so do that math and yep–a whole lot of magic longswords and then a handful of shortswords and then one or two of any other weapon type.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        The BG drops were randomly generated for minor things (ie, gold or gems on a kobold) but all of the good weapons/armor were scripted drops or specifically purchasable in stores.

      2. zekiel says:

        And the best weapons were basically long swords, short swords and daggers. Pretty much everything else in the base game was limited to a boring +1 weapon.

  2. Alecw says:

    This seems amazing – I cannot WAIT for the next entry in this series.

  3. Mistwraithe says:

    Looking forward to more of this!

  4. Grudgeal says:

    Good thing The Grognard interjected; the kensai/mage is, I find, somewhat overrated and also quite *terrible* for a first-time playthrough from level 1. The kensai is a classic Glass Cannon and really needs the kind of foresight you get from clearing the game 2-3 times first, and even then keeping a minimum AC 4 character (-4 dex, -2 class, no armour, shield or bracers) restricted to melee weapons only alive is a real bear. I personally prefer the berserker/mage or the F/M multiclass as you can buff up, and then put on armour for the combats and tank properly (or use a bow).

    Anyway, looking forward to this. Both Achilles and The Grognard made good points here and they seem to complement each other well as opposing philosophy-voicers.

    1. Zaxares says:

      Mmhmm, that was my thought too. While a Kensai/Mage is indeed EXTREMELY powerful for metagaming builds later on, it is NOT easy to grasp if you’re a newbie to this ruleset and you will likely die many, many, MANY times without knowing WHY you keep dying. For a fresh player without a veteran like Grognard to explain things as you go along, that sort of setup is bound to lead to a lot of people going “This game sucks! I’m uninstalling and asking for a refund!”

      1. Elethiomel says:

        In many way, a Kensai/Thief is better, as you get access to Use Any Item when you hit the XP level for epic levels in BG2, which allows you to stack AC to -10 with little issue. But you will have to get there first, which is nontrivial. Kensai-powered backstabs will help, but again they are not available until a fair way through BG2 (due to the dual class system). A Kensai in BG1 is very good at the very start (because of the iron shortage you don’t need to equip consumable armours) but middling toward the end. Also, you need to select your proficiencies early, and the weapon selection is vastly different in BG1 and BG2.

      2. Lanthanide says:

        I’m not even sure you could play as a Kensai in BG1 originally? Wasn’t it added in BG2?

        So the itemisation in BG1 won’t be there to suit the play style.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          It looks like the playthrough was based on the Enhanced Edition, which added many features from BGII, like kits and fighting styles. I don’t know how many weapon options have fancy magical versions, though.

        2. Chad Miller says:

          I think you’re right, given that I only have the non-enhanced versions of BG I and II (from GoG) and I don’t even know what a Kensai is.

  5. Ivan says:

    So i tried that link for dagger of venom, and saw that it is available in the original and enhanced editions. Then I checked back here and noticed she says ‘original’ dagger of venom. Assuming that means the EE patched it to be less broken, that wiki link sucks (because it doesn’t include that info). Or am I misinterpreting?

    1. Syal says:

      Also, that’s some phenomenal communication skill that can create website links orally.

      1. Droid says:

        She just spelled out all the HTML code, like this:

        “left pointy brace a equals https colon forward slash forward slash baldursgate dot fandom dot com forward slash wiki forward slash uppercase-D agger underscore of underscore uppercase-V enom right pointy brace Dagger of Venom left pointy brace forward slash a right pointy brace”.

        She’s nerdy like that.

        1. baud says:

          He would have then just googled “Dagger of Venom BG” and clicked on the first result, which ends up on the same page.

  6. Ancillary says:

    Heh. Calling this retrospective series “Baldur’s Gate III” is going to confuse the hell out of future Internet people. Especially if the Larian game ends up cancelled for some reason.

  7. Thomas Adamson says:

    Ahh the Baldur’s Gate game loop. Cast Sleep, murder, loot, rest, repeat.

    1. jurgenaut says:

      More like, walk carefully ahead, saving every third step, until you find the enemy group – reload a few steps back. Pelt all the fireballs you can cast at the edge of your vision to obliterate the enemies standing just outside view distance. Walk in, loot, rest, repeat.
      Enemies would only attack you when they enter your field of vision.

      1. Bookwyrm says:

        That only works to an extent.

        Maybe EE changed this aspect, but there are areas that spawn a few dudes each time you reload (that’s what happens as near as I can tell, anyway).

        I went to an island for this guy, I killed a pair of bears near an edge of the map while exploring, then I finished exploring the map. Quick saving often is a habit, and reloads to see other conversation options also occurs frequently.

        When I went back to that map edge, a veritable herd of bears had moved into the area.

        1. zekiel says:

          It’s not just EE. I can’t remember if this behaviour was added in a patch, or an expansion or something, but you could definitely multiply enemy spawns with reloads. It was maddening at times!

          1. galacticplumber says:

            So what you’re all SAYING IS that you have readily accessible, clapper activated XP farms? How is save and search NOT mechanically optimal in that setup?

  8. Jabberwok says:

    “Yes, it’s true RPGs look better now than they did back then, but there’s more to a game than the graphics.”

    I can’t possibly post any sort of response without sounding like an ultra-Grognard, but this is sort of subjective. Looking better can be as much a result of the art style as the resolution, and a higher resolution can make a bad art style look worse. A lot of remasters and enhanced versions have this problem, especially when we’re talking about sprite-based games. Everything looks high definition, but the new assets can still be worse than the old ones. Not talking about BG here, though, I think the enhanced edition of it looks pretty good.

    1. Lino says:

      Well, new editions mainly make it so that the old assets don’t look like crap on higher resolutions. However, sometimes I prefer the old-school look of things. A good example of this for me is the HD edition of Starcraft: Brood War. I haven’t played it, but no matter how much I look at it, I still prefer the original look – the entire art style had this gritty, worn-out look, and no matter how many years have passed, to me it’s always looked very distinctive and even realistic. The HD version, on the other hand, looks very cartoony, and if anything, it makes the game look older and more dated than before…

      1. Chris says:

        I thought the remaster was way better than I imagined. I figured the new blizzard would screw it up, but they managed to make it pretty well. Only problem I have is kerrigan in the campaign using the clean modern look (apple white plastic armor and glowy bits instead of the old dreadlock look). The terran buildings still have scratches and smudges making them look rough and used up. The only thing I dislike is how the zergling corpses look like puddles of vomit.

      2. Asdasd says:

        Sprite-smudging is definitely a thing. Kind of makes me wish I had an old PC (maybe with LGR style wood-panelling!) and a CRT when I felt the itch for the authentic experience.

      3. Jabberwok says:

        Some edge can certainly be lost in the switch to HD. I’m thinking specifically of things like the Bard’s Tale remasters. The new art is …blah. If it’s well done, lower rez gives your brain a chance to fill in the details with something better. Same goes for some of the retexture projects of the original Deus Ex. Everything looks sharper, but somehow worse at the same time.

        It does depend on the time period, but I think 2D games hit a point in the mid to late 90s when they were detailed enough in resolution and color to be expressive. Things like Starcraft and Fallout 1 still look pretty great to me. With the exception of the 3D cutscenes….

    2. Zaxares says:

      It improved on some aspects, and fell short in others. One big eyesore of the EE’s is that if you zoom in, the character sprites have this ugly, UGLY pixelated black border around them. This wasn’t there in the original games, but that’s because the original BG pretty much had a fixed resolution and the artists were able to draw the sprites under the understanding that they would always look that size. It’s particularly noticeable when you compare sprites that use the original BG graphics and compare them to monsters that came from later IE games such as Verbeeg (from Icewind Dale) or Glabrezu (from Planescape: Torment) and they do not have that ugly border at all, because they came from games that allowed more dynamic scaling.

      It’s not a gamebreaker by any means, and you get used to it after a while, but it is worth mentioning.

    3. PPX14 says:

      I agree, a cartoony style can look less juvenile somehow in a lower resolution, whereas in high def it can end up as a Clash of Clans trailer. I think that’s the issue with some animated films and programmes too and also the transition to 3D from 2D cartoony styles.

  9. cheekibreeki says:

    Is it just me or is anyone else hoping for Bob to analyze something that might completely bewilder or confuse him? Maybe something like The Room or Kingdom Heart’s convoluted plot?

    1. Kieran says:

      The Room the puzzle game, or The Room the movie?

  10. Nimrandir says:

    Every time I start a new game in Baldur’s Gate, I say to myself, “Self, we’re gonna run this one organically, without adjusting or re-rolling the ability scores. Old school in the extreme.”

    Then the computer gives me four scores in the single digits, and I get stabbed to death by one of the first two enemies you can encounter. Six times.

    1. DerJungerLudendorff says:

      Almost as if that system was meant to be adjusted as required by a human, y’know?
      I’m generally not a fan of rolling your stats, but I can see the attraction in a social tabletop game.

      In a singleplayer video game with an unforgiving combat system? That just seems like a terrible idea all around.

      1. Chris says:

        Or the devs could work on it and adjust the game. Like the game reads out your total roll and then makes enemies weaker to make sure you still can beat everything.

      2. Gethsemani says:

        The problem is that it is not a terribly good system in a social PnP game either. Assuming D&D, being the person around the table that rolls a combined stat total of 90+ is awesome, while being the one who ends up with 70 with no high roll sucks. Not only does it risk breeding animosity among the players (envy towards those with great characters, feelings of mediocre rolled characters being loads etc.), it runs the risk of ruining the game for those that are saddled with characters that simply won’t be able to shine in game due to poor stats.

        At that point your DM will either bump up your stats to a decent level or tell you to start re-rolling until your stats are workable (a very small minority will tell you to suck it up and live with a terrible character). Which merits the question: Why design a gameplay system where random chance can ruin the game experience before it even starts properly and that actively requires the DM to circumvent the rules to routinely get playable characters?

        1. MechaNinja says:

          All of my this. This is something I’ve found confusing from day one.

          If I were to design a game system, I’d have everyone roll characters using something like

          Everyone starts with 75 points,
          Roll 2D20 and take the higher roll for your total.
          If both roll 20, get 25 points.
          Allocate as desired.

          I mean, these are supposed to be the heroes. It’s hard enough keeping them alive (unless the DM is protecting you), without gimping characters with low stats.

          1. Hal says:

            That’s pretty generous. For the sake of comparison, the current rules for D&D 5th edition suggest you start with an array of 15/14/13/12/10/8; which would come out to 72 by your point total.

            Table top isn’t video game, of course, and I’d probably choose all 18s if given the chance, too.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Does the current system still use the ability modifier mechanic from Third Edition? If so, it doesn’t quite mesh with the AD&D system, since ability scores that weren’t either really high or really low didn’t mean much unless it was the key ability for your class.

              1. Joshua says:

                No, it is still +1 for every two points above 10 (round down). You also don’t *need* ultra scores to do well in the game either. High scores are going to be relative in that it will suck to have a character with a 14 for their main stat compared to the player who has a 20, but a party who all used the standard array to start out with their highest score being 15 will do perfectly fine.

          2. Ninety-Three says:

            I mean, these are supposed to be the heroes. It’s hard enough keeping them alive (unless the DM is protecting you), without gimping characters with low stats.

            Why not just go full pointbuy then? Once you’re making sure everyone has a well-customized playable character, why is it better if Alice has 94 points while Bob has 84, instead of everyone getting 89.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Back in the day, I used to bemoan point-buy systems. I always felt like they equalized whole characters, instead of equalizing potential.

              Then I ran a Pathfinder game with players who really wanted to roll their scores. I ended up with one character equivalent to a 17-point buy, and another sitting at 35 points’ worth of ability scores.

      3. PPX14 says:

        Yeah I’m struggling to think of any benefit of a random roll rather than being allowed to allocate from a pool. Mechanically or for role-playing purposes.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I can see the system as potentially offering role-playing hooks, provided the abilities themselves don’t confer mechanical bonuses or penalties. I mean, most AD&D scores didn’t significantly impact gameplay unless they were over 14 or below 8.

  11. Steve C says:

    I always found bows and other ranged weapons to be OP in that game. Open with an Entangle, Hold Person, Sleep, or Color Spray and shoot shoot shoot.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Kiting with a shortbow is what makes a solo runthrough of the Enhanced Edition with a swashbuckler possible.

  12. tmtvl says:

    Surprised that Grognard didn’t mention that higher Charisma gives better quest rewards. Might’ve gotten Achilles interested in a more balanced stat spread.
    Ah well, can’t think of everything all the time.

    1. Decius says:

      The balance of the stat spread is set entirely by the dice rolls.

  13. Narkis says:

    I must say that is not at all what I expected from this series.

    1. Fon says:

      Me neither, but I like it!

      1. Asdasd says:

        I think it’s a brilliant way to do a retrospective of games of a certain vintage. Both perspectives have valid points to make, and this format allows both to be aired and to directly interact without constantly having to ‘on the other hand’ or come down firmly on one side.

        For an example of the pitfalls Bob can sidestep with this approach, look no further than John Walker’s series ‘Is Deus Ex still the best game ever?’, which provoked a great wailing and gnashing of the teeth in its devotion to an Achillean take, even among people readily prepared to acknowledge its faults.

        1. Thomas says:

          I love that Bob sat down to think of a way to improve his videogame essay, and came up with ‘add more Plato’.

  14. Mephane says:

    I can’t fault Achilles for trying to roll optimal stats on character creation. If a video game pulled that kind of nonsense on me, I’d try the same, just give up a bit earlier and google for a savegame editor to alleviate the randomness.

    I also agree with his point about swords. If the game has plenty of good swords, but only very few good instances of the other weapon types which also only can be acquired when you are approaching the end of the game, that’s a serious flaw in the game and a hefty gotcha for anyone who goes in not knowing or expecting such a status quo.

    1. Droid says:

      You know, I wonder how differently people would see this sort of behaviour if you made the slight change that every set of stats with a sum of <75 or whatever (only played the game once, I forget) would show a little text "hard starting difficulty", above that "medium" and above, say, 90 "easy starting difficulty".

      Judging people is at least the cheapest way to maybe make them stop doing something they find boring for 30 minutes slightly earlier.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        In computer RP games, where it’s just me versus the world? If I get even a whiff that the game is even semi-combat focused, I’ll go find a save editor ASAP and set my stats to the equivalent of 18’s. Being weak isn’t fun or even interesting in those type of games, just frustrating. You don’t get to valiantly struggle to lift the boulder of your friend, or make an ass of yourself haggling with all the skills of a walrus. You just get a ‘fail, no bonus/effect’ at best, a game over at worst.

        Hell, I’ve seen one—ONE—game series do being an idiot interesting, and that’s Fallout. New Vegas especially, where you get unique dialogue for babbling nonsense about skills you don’t now jack about.

        I don’t think this is so hard, honestly, but game designers keep mucking it up.

        Am I a once in twenty generations special snowflake? Go the Mass Effect route, and have my stats be twice over the settings elite soldiers in actual game-play to back it up. Want me to play a farmer’s boy desperately out of his depth? Go the Alpha Protocol route, and give me an ‘utter noob’ option where all my stats start at zero, and I have to beg, borrow and steal every shred of power I’ll ever have.

        But why, oh why, do games keep calling you The Special, only to give you bog-standard Average Joe fresh-of-the-street stats? And then when you fail with said ‘meh’ stats, it’s always game over, do over, do it right this time!

        It’s just… boggling to me. Do one, or the other, not the worst design elements of BOTH.

        Just me that get annoyed by this? “Hail champion of champion! Truest chosen one! One day savior of the world! Now, go punch giant rats with your noodle arms!”

        Never hear it talked about, but I see it in a *lot* of RPG out there, and it’s slowly souring me on the entire genera.

        1. galacticplumber says:

          I agree with you completely. On the other side of the spectrum where you want to be the hyper-competent guy that always knows exactly what to say or do to best leverage a situation? Make specific preparations ahead of time and everything?

          New Vegas will LET YOU. In fact it will make it easier with numerous features/items to do exactly that. Then it’ll reward you to make you feel good about the work you did almost audibly cheering in the background.

          New Vegas doesn’t judge. New Vegas just wants you to be happy. Yet another reason it’s the best Fallout.

    2. Zaxares says:

      Heh, the amusing thing is that the BG series is somewhat the opposite; the “best” weapons are not swords at all. There’s an extremely powerful flail, an extremely powerful greatsword (two, in fact, but one’s only usable by paladins and the other is not QUITE as powerful), a halberd that’s a contender for best weapon in the game period, and an axe that’s also a contender for best weapon in the game period. There’s also a quarterstaff that’s crazily powerful, but it’s used more for its utility than as an actual weapon in combat.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        Is’t that the problem with the BG series right there, though? There’s A great weapon in MOST classes.

        You miss that one shop-keep, that one quest… hell, that one up-gradable flail is literally inside a barrel, inside a hidden room, during a long and optional quest to clear out an entire castle, if I recall correctly. That’s a LOT of progression your flail using warrior can just miss by not hovering your mouse over the right set of pixels, or missing an NPC.

        Sure, if you find that absurd +14 Whatever of Great Something your set way into the end game… but if you miss it due to playing blind, you’re going to be really dang frustrated with using that generic +3 you bought twenty hours ago.

        1. Zaxares says:

          I suppose you could look at it that way, but RPGs have traditionally been designed to reward the kind of obsessive completionist/wall-scraper/do every single side-quest kind of player. If you’re going in blind and just rushing your way through the story, it’s sort of given that you’re going to miss a lot of the best loot and equipment. But that’s pretty standard for a first playthrough.

          That flail you mentioned isn’t quite as hard to find as you remember either, given that there are several NPCs who tell you about it and make some fuss about how the Lord of the castle was desperately trying to reforge it because its power could break the siege, but he was captured before he could succeed.

          1. Chad Miller says:

            I think part of the complaint is how much discrepancy there is between the rare one-offs and the next best tier of weapons.

            For a similar example from a different series, the original conditions required to get Final Fantasy XII’s Zodiac Spear were a game design abomination, and a lot of the other best weapons came from the crafting system which was also pretty obtuse (and made even more obtuse by a bug), but in all cases random drops, chest contents, quest rewards, and shops all kept you from being woefully under-geared if you wanted it badly enough.

          2. SkySC says:

            The way RPGs reward completionism in gameplay without really giving characters a good in-world reason to do all this stuff is kind of an issue for role-playing too. If you want to experience most of the game your first time through, you have to come up with a character who explores every building in every town, chatting up random strangers and volunteering for tasks regardless of who’s asking or what they’re offering. You have to be willing to dive into dangerous areas just on the off chance there might be treasure there. Personally, I find it best to come up with someone curious, arrogant, and not very bright. This can excuse whatever aimless wandering or foolhardy missions are necessary to see all the content you want to.

  15. Asdasd says:

    For someone born within a rounding error of November 30th, 1988, it was fun to be split down the middle like this. For example, I played Baldur’s Gate 2 on release, but when Baldur’s Gate 1 was released, I wasn’t even into PC gaming. I’ve been the Grognard in some situations (Pokemon Red/Blue) and the Achilles in others (I’m sorry Pool of Radiance. I could see why they loved you, but life’s too short for manual heal/rest sessions and command line inventory management. I do have you to thank, though, for an abiding fascination with glaives, guisarmes, guisarme-glaives, ranseurs, military forks, becs de corbin…)

    Goddamn Kensai Mages though. Cheesing it up since circa 2000!

    1. Liessa says:

      I was born in the 80s but didn’t try the Baldur’s Gate games until a couple of years ago, as I’m not a D&D fan and was more into Myst-style adventure games in my teens. I have to say that my reactions were much closer to Achilles than the Grognard, outside of the stuff about actually wanting to rolepay my character. I didn’t get far into BG1 before getting fed up with it; BG2 was a lot more enjoyable, but I got sidetracked with some other game and never got back to it. Someday…

    2. Nimrandir says:

      Ah, Pool of Radiance. How I remember the save-or-die poison within two blocks of the game’s start. And the endgame battle right next door. And the horrifying frequency with which level-ups get you one hit point and nothing else, after saving up a pile of cash for the privilege.

      1. Joshua says:

        I mostly remember the poison from Curse of the Azure Bonds (which I played before PoR). There was one fight there against a decent group of Wyverns, and I remember *many* reloads after having characters die left and right to poison.

        1. Nimrandir says:

          I think I played Gateway to the Savage Frontier first, though still well after gaming had moved beyond the Gold Box series. As I recall, that one was a bit gentler on the new player.

          1. Joshua says:

            I never did play those two games. As you said, the engine was getting pretty old by then. Maybe sometime I’ll try them on GOG.

  16. Tobias says:

    Let me tell you the legend of the Autoroller:
    One of the most influential traditional computer RPG is Angband, one of the original rougelikes.
    Until a major revamp a few years ago it used the same infinite re-rolls as Baldur’s gate. Now it uses pointbuy.

    At some point someone improved the character creation by adding the Autoroller. You tell it the minimum stats you want, and it re-rolls your character a few 10000 times to get those stats.
    As the stats are technically random it is perfectly fair, right? So it was included in the base game.

    I refuse to believe that a game that makes you manually re-roll is really being played outside of speedrun level competitions.
    If Baldur’s Gate’s recommended quality of life modpack doesn’t include an Autoroller it is proof that nobody actually plays it.

    1. Chad Miller says:

      I find randomly varying the power level of your starting character against the player’s will to be an atrocious game mechanic. I say this as someone who randomizes his characters in the Fallout games despite there being no in-game mechanism to do so.

    2. RFS-81 says:

      Baldur’s Gate does something behind the scenes to ensure that you always meet the minimum requirements of your chosen class. I don’t know if it actually keeps rerolling.

      Another thing that’s really silly is that it rolls your stats but then lets you move points around freely. I wonder if there’s a mod to use friendlier character creation options, like roll 4d6, drop the lowest. That would make it more practical to just go with what the game gives you.

  17. Christopher says:

    Achilles is speaking my language.

    Also, now I know what a shillelagh is.

      1. beleester says:

        Also a 1st-level druid spell in 3.5, which is where I first heard the term.

        (Although I didn’t learn that it was pronounced “Shill-lay-lee” until much later.)

  18. DerJungerLudendorff says:

    Wait, I’m getting confused here:

    Are Grognard and Achilles actual human people who sat down with Bob to play the game, or are they a narrative framing device for Bob to analyze the game from different viewpoints?
    Because from the way they were introduced, to how they talk, to the way the conversation is structured, this seems much more like the latter than the former.

    1. Zaxares says:

      I think they are real people, based on how he gave them individual birthdays and listed what were their favourite games.

      1. Mistwraithe says:

        I think you can assume the latter from the birth dates… either that or Bob has been REALLY dedicated about going out and tracking down two gamers with birth dates perfectly aligned with the release date of Baldur’s Gate to sit on his panel!

        Incidentally, the same sort of dedication necessary to roll 18 (00) strength and three other 18s… :-)

        1. Lino says:

          I also think they aren’t real people, but representations of the old-school point of view and the point of view of a younger gamer who didn’t grow up with these titles.

    2. Olivier FAURE says:

      Yeah, it’s just a Socratic dialogue.

      Where the characters have needlessly elaborate backstories that probably won’t ever come up again, because we’re talking about old-school computer RPGs and it fits the theme, I guess.

    3. BlueHorus says:

      Oh, they’re real people. Grognard Hewitt in particular is a quasi-famous videogame critic with her own youtube channel.

      1. Lino says:

        Wow, she’s very good. I just added her to my subscriptions!

      2. Olivier FAURE says:

        … I am mad and impressed at the same time.

      3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        I hate you so much right now.

        *laughs into hand*

      4. DerJungerLudendorff says:

        Thanks for the link!
        I really like her dedication to her old-school game collection, and the way she managed to verbalize that relationship using easily understandable and memorable phrases.

    4. Kelhim says:

      “The scene: two people on a couch. They look like however you want them to, but the art is reminiscent of a 90’s era webcomic. On the screen opposite them is:”

      Sounds very much like the latter.

  19. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I’m sort of a halfway between A&G here. I played Baldur’s Gate as my first real CRPG, without any real tabletop experience beforehand, coming off of text-based MUDs and the first Diablo.

    I wasn’t going in with either any “old-school” expectations or modern ones, but I was playing the game in its time. I’ve also gone back and re-played it a few times, the last one maybe a year ago, and always found that the series holds up for me, and I’ve never quite found one that surpasses it.

    I do also think it’s funny that Grognard thinks that the best years of the genre were five years ago, because, really, the last few years have seen a resurgence in the genre, which was all but dead for at least a decade. None of the new waves of CRPGs has been quite as good as Baldur’s Gate, but they’ve been pretty good, and certainly better than, say, Icewind Dale or Neverwinter Nights.

    1. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

      I find myself in the same place. Was born in the 80s, played some DnD computer games on Apple IIgs, When we switched to PC I had friends who played Balder’s Gate and Planescape, but I couldn’t run them, then I couldn’t afford them -($5 CD jewel case of TIE Fighter was my level -I loved that game). So the first game I played in its time was actually KOTOR, which I loved, and still don’t think has been surpassed. Then I went back and played Neverwinter Nights, and there is so much stuff in there that -really, KOTOR did it better. I have BG on my computer and just can’t bring myself to boot it up because I don’t have the time for something that fiddly. At the same time -modern RPGs really have been streamlined to the point where they hardly qualify as RPGs, and the best RPG that’s come out lately was Fallout:New Vegas.

  20. raifield says:

    I’m fairly certain that not only is it incredibly easy to die during either of the two optional “tutorial” fights (the assassins, not the party battle tutorial) if you roll a mage, but it might be possible to build a character that won’t survive the mandatory cut-scene damage following your escape from Candlekeep.

    Been awhile though, I may have to start a new game myself and test this out…

    1. Asdasd says:

      Not unlike Icewind Dale, where an entire six-person party was perfectly capable of wiping to the first significant combat encounter of the game (the goblins south of the village). Fighting anything at level one was a coin flip. Both games get better as you go on, but as an introductory experience.. rough.

      1. Joshua says:

        D&D has always* had this weird problem of starting characters with Max HP equal to average weapon damage. So, you get into an encounter with goblins wielding 1d6 short swords, and your Wizards/Sorcerers/Monks/Rogues/Bards all have a decent shot of going down in one hit. The much older Gold Box games at least used the “optional” -10 HP for Death rules, but IIRC the BG series kills the character at 0?

        More than any other RPG system, this has made D&D so utterly ruthless at level 1, and finally at level 2 or 3 you finally feel like you’re at least capable of doing something, even if you’re low-level, which is why it’s always been popular to start at that level through multiple editions. I’m sure they’re out there, but I’ve not just seen that many other video game RPGs have such a weirdly inverted difficulty curve. One reason why some of the D&D games cheat by altering the system to be more like other modern video game RPGs (DDO/Neverwinter), or cheat by severely reducing damage of starting monsters to 1 point or so. And then you have BG, which plays D&D tabletop painfully straight, except with no -10 to death rule, and you end up with constant reloading.

        * 4th Edition is the exception because it started PCs at around 20-30 HP while keeping starting damage of monsters similar, so you can actually take 3-5 hits. I *think* D&D Next originally had PCs starting with more HP (maybe around 15 or so, I could be wrong), but the official 5th Ed. once again starts PCs with 1 HD. Sure enough, when I ran the introductory LMoP for our group who made level 1 PCs, two of the characters went down in the first combat before they could even get a chance to go, and they were the Fighter and Paladin. After that, I created a house rule of one bonus HD at Level 1. Didn’t make much of a difference at higher levels, but it made lower levels less of an unpredictable slog.

        1. Hal says:

          Yeah, keeping level 1 characters alive is a GMing artform. What’s possibly more frustrating is that gaming is entirely lessons in “how to play this game,” training your players as to how they should approach the world and what sort of game they should expect to play.

          What I mean is, when the players are so fragile at level 1, they’re not going to be rewarded for a swashbuckling, kick-in-the-door, swords-and-spells-a-blazing approach. They’ll get killed pretty quickly that way. So they’re likely to take a very, very cautious approach this way: Carefully inspect every square inch of the dungeon for traps or encounters, only attacking monsters if they can maximize every possible advantage, scrounging for every last copper piece so they can purchase the best upgrades to their equipment.

          Maybe that’s the kind of game you want to play, and that’s fine. But if you want to play a game with proactive players who take risks and tackle enemies like Big Damn Heroes, you’ll have a hard time getting there from level 1 because you’ve trained them to do exactly the opposite.

          This was one of the things I really appreciated about 4th edition; whatever its flaws, PCs were nearly so fragile as in other editions.

          1. Joshua says:

            I agree. Not just fragile though, 1st level have very little durability. One reasonably challenging encounter of just 4 orcs or skeletons, for example, and your PCs can very easily be wanting to stop and rest due to few spells and resources. As you said, it’s an art for a GM to run level 1s not just for lethality, but to keep them properly entertained and challenged because they really can’t do much for long.

            One really weird tick of 5th is an over-correction to the lethality of 1st to 3rd Editions where NPC/Monster damage would naturally increase as your character went up in levels but the gap between Unconsciousness and Death stayed the same, making it so that fights had the potential to become more lethal as you went up in level because having 1 HP at 1st level still meant you had very little chance of dying to your next blow but having 1 HP at 10th level meant that the next shot would almost definitely kill you. So, 4th Edition raised the threshold per level to making Death Half of your Maximum HP, and then 5th Edition bizarrely doubled down and raised it to 100% of your Maximum HP, and it also had to be a single attack.

            Now, you have the 3 Strikes rule which is arguably fine for keeping the game potentially lethal (I’ve seen characters die with it) but the negative max HP almost never comes up past 1st level or so, because monsters just don’t typically do that amount of obscene damage. Why bother having that rule if it’s nearly never going to come up as the characters get higher than 1st level? I guess it’s the new System Shock rule.

            1. Hal says:

              I haven’t played enough 5E at higher levels to say what might or might not be common amounts of damage. But it’s worth pointing out:

              1) The negative max HP can become relevant if you have monsters that put out AoE damage (such as a dragon’s breath attack).

              2) Most GMs will have their monsters focus on PCs that are still standing, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Attacks against incapacitated creatures (whether that’s paralyzed, sleeping, or less than 0 HP) are automatically crits, so it’s entirely possible for a monster to do obscene damage against a PC if they focus on outright killing a character.

              1. Joshua says:

                The HP damage has to be in one fell swoop though. If someone normally has 80 Maximum HP (putting them somewhere around levels 8-12 or so), then Dragon’s Breath (or whatever) needs to be at least 80 points of damage. Getting hit twice for 40 points won’t cut it. A Giant might hit you a couple of times for 30+ points each time, but that won’t get anywhere close.

                The Critical Hits are mostly lethal because they count as two failed saves on the spot. So, the NPC is more likely to kill them due to the three strikes rule than actual damage. Even the giant in the above example would only be critting for about 50 points with one hit, which is on par with some of the bigger damage swings I’ve seen by my PCs under level 10.

                1. Hal says:

                  Ah, see, I had to look up the rules on damage after you drop to 0 hit points; I had forgotten how it worked, apparently.

                  Yes, this is a weird departure from the way it was previously done. 5E was a lot of compromises between earlier editions and 4E; there were many things better about 4E, survivability in particular, but it was far less popular than 3.5E (leading to Pathfinder.) So there’s a lot of things that seem like they were the result of trying to split the difference.

                  1. Joshua says:

                    This was an odd rule change. Not only did 4th Edition only give you half Max HP for your negative, I believe you tracked the damage too (so AoE attacks mentioned above could whittle you down to death), AND your three strikes didn’t reset until you took a Short Rest. For whatever reason, 5th Edition decided to make the game even easier to survive, although with the added risk of taking two strikes from a Critical hit or if you rolled a 1 on your Death Save.

                    1. Hal says:

                      I’m fine with changes that favor PC survival. In my experience, overly fragile PCs lead to shallow characters; why bother with any sort of character details when this guy is likely to get stomped in a session or two anyhow?

                      More to the point, my first foray into D&D was at the hands of a brutal DM who delighted in batting us around like a cat with a (mostly) dead mouse. Save-or-Die spells, level loss, ability score damage, monsters with character classes . . . it was very easy to brutalize a PC if you were so inclined. I don’t miss it.

                2. trevel says:

                  It’s automatically a crit when attacking a downed character in melee so you’re pretty darn squishy once fallen, regardless of level. A commoner can finish you off in two rounds, even at level 20

                  The “die if you hit -max hp” is less for combat and more for If You Do Something Really Stupid You Can Insta-Die. (The mountain collapses on you. You take 1000 damage. You do not get to make a death save.)

                  … although I have had a level 2 player liquified by a goblin shaman, right past -max HP. Inflict Wounds is OP. :D

              2. shoeboxjeddy says:

                Having the GM attack a fallen player is a dangerous move socially, unless you happen to KNOW you’re in a group that enjoys rerolling characters and think that an adventure isn’t exciting or challenging without character death. For a LOT of players, having the GM just stride over to your fallen, helpless character and permanently kill them would feel like they hate you and want you to stop playing altogether.

                1. Joshua says:

                  I was mostly ok with doing it only in situations that made perfect sense, where the players were like “Yep, I can see them doing that.” I simply look at it the same way that PCs do, and my PCs were almost never wasting their actions attacking downed opponents, because it’s just not economical. NPCs would act the same way, in that if the battle is still underway, it’s much better to disable ALL opposition, then you can proceed with the coup de grace. Otherwise, it’s like taking time to aim and do a double-tap to the head while someone is actively firing at you.

                  Now, if the PC in question seriously messed that NPC/Monster up, got beat down, and then one of the PCs healed them back up before they got knocked down again, then I think it’s justified that the NPC both has a grudge against that particular PC and views them as the greatest threat. Even then, you can apologetically tell the player, “Sorry, but after all of that, he’s not going to give you a second chance to get back up.”

                  Of course, I was watching one of the Dungeon Dudes videos on YouTube, and got angry because one of them expressed the opinion that monsters should almost always focus on killing downed PCs. I’m thinking, if my PCs aren’t going to do that, it’s just bad role-playing for all of these monsters to do it.

        2. Nimrandir says:

          If I remember correctly, the only gesture toward the ‘negative ten’ rule is that characters brought below that threshold explode into chunks and can’t be raised.

          1. Joshua says:

            But with 1st and 2nd Edition’s “You lose one point of Constitution *permanently*”, a character death was a good call for a reload anyway. Using Raise Dead/Resurrection was a rarity for me unless I’m near the end, and maybe even then.

            1. Nimrandir says:

              Oh, totally. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever actually cast raise dead or had it cast in all my time with the series. If I wasn’t okay with losing the character for good, I’m probably reloading.

    2. Liessa says:

      I know from experience that it’s entirely possible to have your starting weapon break after 2 hits in the first fight, due to the curse that makes all non-enchanted iron weapons ridiculously weak. How anyone on the writing team thought this was a good idea is beyond me.

  21. Hal says:

    I never played any of these games, which is very weird; it’s the sort of game that’s exactly in my wheelhouse. It just never popped up on my radar. I did play one of the Geneforge games for a while.

    I’ll have to correct that one of these days.

  22. Darren says:

    I didn’t try to play Baldur’s Gate (EE) until after years after playing Nevereinter Nights 1&2, Dragon Age, and Pillars of Eternity. Obsidian’s output in the genre was what really got me into this style of game, and I figured it was past time I gave the classic a shot.

    I kinda bounced off of it, frankly. It has a somewhat sillier vibe than I was expecting, and the generic art style is ugly as sin. I’m also not wild about the systems and the fairly steep difficulty. I understand that BG2 is considered a big step up, but damn. I was kinda let down, honestly.

  23. Alberek says:

    Ohhh I was young the first time I layed my hands on Baldur’s Gate 2… I remember reading the manual and thinking, boy! bard are awesome, they can cast magic AND fight with swords…
    I played a lot of the game, but then: “Wait are you telling me, my character isn’t really that strong?”
    I was mostly playing the bard as a poor’s man sorc.
    One day I might play the full series… maybe…

  24. Wait, level 9 kensai and then multiclass into wizard for 12 levels?!
    What game are you hoping to play? Ah, you mean for the end of BG2?
    I finished BG1 (EE) at level 8 kensai. Granted, I’m sure there’s plenty of stuff I missed as I tend to get focused in the main quest line. I have the save on hold in BG2 as I got embroiled in other games, like Pathfinder: Kingmaker, which has greatly improved, discovering how amazing is Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines.

  25. Douglas Sundseth says:

    I like the way this series is starting. Well handled (if a bit stereotyped) dialog with interesting point.

    I do find it a bit funny that the “grognard” was born the year I graduated from High School, but there you go.

    For reference, my first CRPG was Temple of Apshai on the Commodore Pet, which was pretty weak even for the time. The first decent CRPG for me was Ultima III, with the original Might & Magic and Ultima IV each being a huge advance in its own way.

    The modern CRPG that best gets the classic RPG vibe, I think, is Pathfinder Kingmaker, which had bad bug problems on release, but is pretty solid now and has absolutely excellent variability with player actions.

  26. zekiel says:

    I’m kind of the Grognard here. BG was my very first RPG and I fell in love with it. And I created a Paladin with a 14 Intelligence because it fit my concept for the character (and also because I had no idea intelligence was an utterly pointless stat unless you’re a Wizard or Bard).

    1. zekiel says:

      Oh and also… isn’t a multi-class fighter-mage a trap build? As I recall you get to have a sub-par thac0, sub-par spellcasting and no armour, which basically forces you to either play a ranged character or use most of your spells to duplicate the effects of armour. I tried it twice and it never worked well for me.

      1. Christopher Wolf says:

        At low levels a ranged fighter wizard works because mages ran out of spells quick, and arrows were easy to get.

        1. Zekiel says:

          Ah yes. I seem to recall that worked pretty well in BG1 – but it was disappointing that my character was 90% archer and only 10% wizard because she had so few spells.

  27. “The Grognard was born on November 30th, 1978, and the original Baldur’s Gate came out on her twentieth birthday.”

    This is me, except I was almost exactly 1 year younger, so it came out around my 19th birthday. You forgot to mention that the Grognard also played ALL the original gold box D&D games on her family’s first PC, and was a big fan of the Eye of the Beholder and Dark Sun games, which she had to learn to edit the autoexec.bat and config.sys in order to run because they needed staggering amounts of memory.

  28. Eides says:

    Framing a game analysis in parallel with “Godel Escher Bach” is exactly the crazy sort of nerdity that brings me here.

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