Achilles and the Grognard: Flight from Candlekeep

By Bob Case Posted Saturday Aug 17, 2019

Filed under: Video Games 82 comments

I had titled these posts “Baldur’s Gate III: Subtitle,” but their primary subject is the original Baldur’s Gate right now, so I’ve changed the title.

Achilles: It’s time to set off on our grand adventure. One day, you’ll look back on this and say “I knew Top Hat Guy back when he was just level one, nothing but a quarterstaff to his name.”

The Grognard: Speaking of which, you should probably buy some new gear. The inn behind you is a good place to start.

Achilles: It seems a little strange for an innkeep to have such a wide selection of weapons. Is there something about this “Winthrop” I should know about? I guess it’s fine, this is an RPG’s tutorial area after all. But I don’t notice any wakizashis for sale.

The Grognard: Fortunately, you can buy a scimitar, which uses the same proficiency.

Achilles: It’s good to know all that wakizashi practice won’t go to waste. This Candlekeep joint is supposed to be a library, a center of learning, isn’t it? It seems to be where they teach NPCs how to break the fourth wall. All these robed guys are telling me how to use the UI.

It should be 'anything OF that sort,' shouldn't it? I've noticed this weird sentence every time I've started a new character.
It should be 'anything OF that sort,' shouldn't it? I've noticed this weird sentence every time I've started a new character.

The Grognard: Tutorials in games are rarely graceful things, but they’re necessary. You don’t want to just throw new players into the deep end. Plus, it’s good to get a sense of place from Candlekeep. This is where you grew up. It should feel peaceful, tranquil.

Achilles: Things that are called “peaceful” and “tranquil” are also sometimes called “boring.” In Mass Effect 2, my ship got blown up, then I died, then I came back to life, then I rolled off the operating table straight into a firefight, all within the first twenty minutes. The most exciting thing that’s happened in this game so far is someone losing a book in a haystack. If you tried to showcase this sequence at E3, you’d put everyone to sleep.

The Grognard: Is that a bad thing? Things that wow the trade show beat in scripted presentations and things that actually make for a good game are not necessarily the same. Baldur’s Gate puts tone and mood before explosions and cutscenes. I prefer it this way, to be honest.

Achilles: I don’t hate it or anything. But couldn’t it start – what’s that thing they say, “in the middle of the action”?

The Grognard: The term you’re looking for is in medias res. And that’s a storytelling trick imported from epic poetry, where the story is being told to you. Here, you have a hand in telling it yourself. Techniques that work in the one format don’t always work as well in the other.

Achilles: When I started this section, I considered making a “killing rats in a warehouse” joke, but didn’t, because I thought it would be too on the nose. But here I am, literally killing rats in a warehouse.

Someone had fun writing these quest descriptions.
Someone had fun writing these quest descriptions.

The Grognard: At least the game does it in a tongue-in-cheek way. But look – here you go. Someone’s attacked you.

Achilles: I noticed. I also noticed all the whiffing sounds. Am I correct in understanding that my character is wielding weapons in both hands, and yet still can’t hit an opponent directly in front of him?

The Grognard: You’re not making your to-hit rolls. You can set an option to show them in a dialogue box at the bottom of the screen.

Achilles: No thanks – I think that might just be depressing. There, I finally made contact. Look, I understand that my guy is just level one, but I feel a little powerless right now.

The Grognard: D&D has always asked for a bit of visual imagination from its players. What just happened was a fight to the death, between you and the mysterious hired killer sent after you – picture it in your head in whatever way is most exciting. And yes, you’re still level one. You have a very long journey ahead of you.

Achilles: The Marvel movies were a long journey, but they didn’t start with Tony Stark’s humble beginnings as an above-average wood shop student.

The Grognard: You’re shortchanging your own character here. Did you forget about your spells? You can blind people, hypnotize them, and put them to sleep, all using nothing but your mind. Remember that even a level one adventurer is supposed to be rare talent.

Achilles: When you put it like that, I can’t help but think of the larcenous potential. Remind me to steal everything that isn’t nailed down once I get out of here.

The Grognard: How very… chaotic neutral of you.

Achilles: Two different people have tried to kill me now, which makes me question Candlekeep’s security procedures. Looking at my character screen, and doing a bit of math, I calculate that I’ll reach level two after defeating about two hundred more assassins. At least this Imoen girl seems fun. She calls Gorion “puffguts,” I like that. I could use a partner in crime after talking to all those stuffy robe guys.

The Grognard: Take care of her – you’ll need her to pick locks and disarm traps.

Achilles: I think by now I’ve exhausted all the errands I can run around here – time to finally talk to Gorion and blow this popsicle stand. Hopefully he explains why so many people have been hired to kill a level one nobody.

Sarevok's helmet always reminds me of the front grill of a pickup truck.
Sarevok's helmet always reminds me of the front grill of a pickup truck.

Achilles: Or not. Didn’t see that coming – I figured Gorion would be the wise mentor figure for at least the first third of the game or so. Instead, Evil McBadguy from the opening cinematic just rolled him up like a carpet.

The Grognard: Well, the tutorial’s over, so now it IS time to throw you in the deep end.

Achilles: So I’m alone in the wilderness with a teenage girl, no adult supervision, and the guy I assume is the game’s main villain is after me. I admit, this is a living a little rougher than I’m used to. A little less direction too – the only thing in the quest log is to go to the Friendly Arm inn, and the only directions given are “north.”

The Grognard: You’ll find fewer rails in this game than the ones you usually play.

Achilles: At least I can double back and check out Gorion’s body. Maybe he dropped some good gear.

*one encounter with a wolf later*

Achilles: Good. Lord.

The Grognard: Well, at least you’re still alive.

Achilles: Barely! I have three hit points left out of eleven. A single wolf nearly killed me! Is this nightmare difficulty or something?

The Grognard: You selected “core rules” when you started the game, didn’t you? Welcome to low level D&D. Everything is dangerous. Fights are best avoided whenever possible.

Achilles: So I’m not only nearly dead, but I’m likely to be attacked if I rest in the wilderness too, aren’t I? What do I do?

The Grognard: All is not lost. You have healing potions. So does Imoen.

Achilles: Are you new to RPGs or something? Potions aren’t for drinking. They’re for saving for the next fight, all the way until the end of the game. I’ve played several Final Fantasy games and never once actually used a megalixir. Now I have to drink up after one fight with what should be a trash mob. I’ve never been more humiliated in my life. I need to find some meat shields, stat. Maybe these two will do.

Even if you don't want to recruit them, you can just ask them to join, take their gear, and boot them from the party right afterwards. They're surprisingly understanding about it.
Even if you don't want to recruit them, you can just ask them to join, take their gear, and boot them from the party right afterwards. They're surprisingly understanding about it.

The Grognard: You may want to learn a bit more about them before you rely on them too much.

Achilles: I see this Xzar guy has a grand total of four hit points, meaning he’s likely to get one-shotted if we come across any more wolves. And according to their character bios, one is a criminal, the other is insane, and they’re both evil-aligned.

The Grognard: Not many games introduce you to the evil party members first.

Achilles: Or at all. These guys aren’t Miranda-from-Cerberus evil, they’re evil-evil. Like, cartoonishly so. I don’t usually use the phrase “character development” in casual conversation, but the character development here seems a little thin.

The Grognard: This is early Bioware. You’re going to see some rough, unfinished versions of things they got better at with practice. And don’t worry, this game has loads of recruitable NPCs. You aren’t gonna be stuck with just these two.

Achilles: I’m keep them around for now, and hide behind them if we run into any more wolves. I mean to hotfoot it north to this Inn, and find this “Khalid and Jaheira” Gorion told me about.

A 'typical' playthrough will probably reach the Friendly Arm Inn at night. I suspect the timing was deliberate on the part of the devs.
A 'typical' playthrough will probably reach the Friendly Arm Inn at night. I suspect the timing was deliberate on the part of the devs.

The Grognard: Let’s take a moment to appreciate this.

Achilles: The Inn?

The Grognard: The ambiance. It’s nighttime. There are frightening, dangerous enemies out in the woods. You can hear the crickets and the owls. But here – the inn – is a place of refuge. You don’t think it’s well done?

Achilles: I think I see what you’re getting at. I admit this game does ambiance well. There were hawks screeching overhead in the woods during the daytime, I liked that part.

The Grognard: And it’s all a part of a whole! The wilderness wouldn’t feel the way it does if there wasn’t an element of real danger. Other RPGs are a power fantasy straight out of the gate. They rarely make you feel like a small part of a big world.

Achilles: We will get to the power fantasy at some point, though, right? If we run into those guys that killed Gorion in our current state, they’re gonna mince us up and sautee us with garlic.

The Grognard: There is a deliberately designed leveling curve in this game, yes. You have to be careful, though – just as you would if you were really in this situation.

Achilles: This must be that “immersion” thing I’ve heard so much about. Okay, I’m interested enough to keep playing. First I’m gonna fill out the rest of my party slots, then I’m gonna try and find out why so many people want me dead.

The Grognard: Sounds like a plan.


From The Archives:

82 thoughts on “Achilles and the Grognard: Flight from Candlekeep

  1. Ancillary says:

    I 100% approve of this dialectic format.

    1. Liessa says:

      Me too. I like the fact that neither of them are complete stereotypes and they both make good points.

    2. Bloodsquirrel says:

      I enjoy it, but I would like to hear Bob’s voice as well, especially for points that neither A or G might make.

      1. Mako says:

        Both of them are Bob’s voice :) I could practically hear him saying the lines while reading.

    3. kdansky says:

      I would prefer it if at least parts were written in a more direct manner. It’s cute, but I think it will get annoying because it’s not very concise.

    4. tremor3258 says:

      Seconded; this part feels stronger with how the voices are used than the first, probably because there was some necessary setup.

  2. Cyprene says:

    Yeah, I’d been kind of uninterested in the site’s content lately but I’ll definitely keep reading this.
    I don’t even remember Baldur’s Gate 2 and don’t get half of these references, but it’s kind of fun.

  3. Narkis says:

    The first entry in the adventures of Achilles and Grognard didn’t really work for me, but I’ll admit this did it. I’m sold. I can see myself in the shoes of both these guys, one first playing when I was a kid, the other seeing it again now.

    Also, typo alert: “I was titled these posts “Baldur’s Gate III: Subtitle,”” should probably be “I had titled”

  4. BlueHorus says:

    These guys aren’t Miranda-from-Cerberus evil, they’re evil-evil. Like, cartoonishly so.

    This got me thinking – what’s the difference?

    Everything really bad is the fault of a rogue cell. I agree with any questionable practices and an end-justifies-the-means plans unless you don’t, player. Mostly I just won’t let you ask about the specifics of how evil I am.

    Cartoonishly Evil
    Montaron: I want to eat a baby.
    Xzar: Me too! Let’s get steal a couple and start a cooking fire!
    M: Wait. What if we only get one?
    X: Well, we’ll cut in half and share!
    M: Share? What kind of weakling are you?!

    Haven’t played BG, but I’m hoping I’m in the right ballpark. Basically, I want to have Skeletor in my party.

    1. krellen says:

      That is a very on-the-nose description of Montaron and Xzar.

      1. Hector says:

        Don’t be ridiculous!

        Xzar is *Vegetarian*. He’d just want to use a leftovers in a blasphemous ritual to appease his hell born masters and receive the darkest secrets of the cosmos.

      2. zekiel says:

        I love that pair and was always sad they only appeared briefly in the sequel (where characters got much more depth). Montaron is basically a standard thug, but the fact that he is a *halfling* thug makes him really memorable. And Xzar is just bonkers. “I am become death, destroyer of worlds!!”

        1. RFS-81 says:

          If Montaron dies, Xzar says “Montaron! I… I… I never loved you!” These two are ridiculous!

          1. Zaxares says:

            Would it make your day to learn that Xzar is voiced by none other than the supremely talented Frank Welker? (Of Scooby-Doo and Megatron fame and so, so, SO many other characters across the pop culture spectrum.)

            1. zekiel says:

              Oh my goodness – that definitely made my day!

    2. Narkis says:

      Are you sure you haven’t played the game? You could have fooled me.

    3. shoeboxjeddy says:

      Miranda is a corporate stooge and her main faults are believing in the company line too much. Which is pretty bad judgment from her, since her father is one of the most evil corporate men out there in the world, but understandable since she considers herself a #2 operative of the leader of the organization. It’s hard to think you’re being fooled when you’re that high up the food chain. She also owes the Illusive Man for helping her start over and feel valuable after escaping her father’s influence, so there’s a personal blind spot there. I do think we’re meant to believe her geniune, since she’s horrified if you take her on Jack’s loyalty mission (and Overlord) and will break loyalty with the Illusive Man in favor of Shepard if you decide to destroy the Collector base. She also spends game 3 as a whirling dervish, destroying everything her father and Cerberus have done in the intervening period.

  5. Alberek says:

    Oh yes, potions are meant to be used. But it’s kind of hard to know when it’s the best time to chug them… some have rather short durations which I hate
    That’s something I liked from DA2 you don’t have to remember twenty something different types of consumables…
    Pillars of Eternity on the other hand goes full ham on those kind of items… plus the materials to make your own potions/food

    1. BlueHorus says:

      And just like Skyrim and other games, I (and most people, I assume) only ever bothered with Healing or Mana potions, because the others were too situational and sporadic to be relied upon. I mean, it’s a great idea, but since your main source is random loot drops you have to act like a compulsive hoarder to have enough when you needed them.

      Case in Point: there’s an area in Divinity: Original Sin that is literally a field of fire full of creatures weak to Cold. I’m struggling here. Okay, I say, what I’ll do is go shopping for gear to help out!
      And what’s for sale in the town?
      2 weak Fire Resistance Potions
      2 Frost Arrows
      1 piece of randomly generated armor with some enchantments I don’t want and 8% Fire Resistance. Which I can’t afford.


      As for food, it’s pretty worthless in for anything other than mod/roleplay reasons. Skyrim had one item (Elswer Fondue) that gave a massive bost to Max Magicka & Magicka Generation which worked well for a mage character of mine, but everything else was just vendor trash.

      1. John says:

        For that particular encounter in Original Sin, the Rain spell is your very best friend. There are at least two free Rain scrolls near Cyseal–you can get one before you even enter the city–and the recruitable NPC Jahan knows the spell too.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          The rain spell was my best friend in most early game fights. Cast rain, cast bitter cold to freeze one enemy, electrocute the rest, summon ice elemental. Repeat.

        2. BlueHorus says:

          Well, yes. Rain is one of the best spells in that game as I remember; just, so many many uses. And there’s also a wagon full of water barrels and arrows nearby, which nearby NPCs point you towards.

          (also: blank arrowhead + any water source = water arrowhead, though I think that might have come from a mod I was using. Still, the idea of dipping a metal arrowhead in a well and having it magically turn into a glass vial of water always amused me.)

          My point was that it was a perfect point for Fire Resistance Potions, Cold/Water Arrows and other consumables to shine – but as with most games you never have a reliable enough supply of this kind of thing when you need them unless you’ve been stockpiling them (i.e hoarding or metagaming)

          1. John says:

            Fair enough. Not having the right arrow at the right time was definitely a problem during the early game in Original Sin. I had plenty of status effect arrows by the end though.

            That dipping the arrowhead in a well thing is definitely from a mod.

      2. Mattias42 says:

        Don’t mind the potion variety in Skyrim myself… but having them ALL weigh 0.5 was utter madness from a design perspective.

        Who is going to waste that much carry weight on one stab, literally, of weak poison that can’t barely kill a rabbit? Or a stamina potion that saves you, what, two seconds extra sprinting back to the exit?

        I’m normally one of those people that play my games as close to vanilla as possible, but I highly recommend that one mod that sets potion weight to 0.1. There’s still enough weight then that you can’t just carry & chug your whole apothecary workshop like in Morrowind, but there’s still low enough weight to actually encourage some experimentation.

        1. Jabberwok says:

          Might be difficult to fix with a mod without breaking game balance, but I would’ve preferred much more impactful potions across the board. Almost all of the potion types beyond the essential stat refills feel useless. Even in my current playthrough, the only reason I’m finding magicka and stamina potions useful is because my mods have made the game way more punishing than vanilla. And I will still sell any poisons that aren’t paralysis, even if they weighed nothing.

          Just like the food items if you don’t use a needs mod, a lot of it is just pointless inventory clutter. Should I carry 40 heads of lettuce, or maybe just buy one extra health potion?

    2. SkySC says:

      The consumable situation in Pillars of Eternity was dreadful. There were just so many different kinds, each with its own effect and duration, and they wouldn’t stack with other buffs with the same effect. However, I can’t complain too much, since I never once actually had to use any of them.

      Deadfire was a slight improvement. You choose what food each character eats when you rest, and then the effect lasts until your next rest. I actually started buying ingredients and using the crafting system. Still never bothered with traps, scrolls, salves, or potions.

      I figure even the most annoying of features gets a pass if you never need to engage with it even on hard difficulty.

      1. Jeff says:

        Scrolls are way more worthwhile in Deadfire’s turn-based mode, since they’re Standard actions rather than Cast with casting time. Potions become utterly useless in turn-based since they can only be used in combat, but use up an action.

    3. Joe Informatico says:

      Could be worse: The potion rules as written in 1st and 2nd edition AD&D have a randomly-determined delay of a few combat rounds before potions take effect–and nothing specifically excluded healing potions from this. I don’t know a single DM or video game version of the D&D rules that actually enforced this–having to give up your combat action to chug a potion was seen as a sufficiently high cost. Can you imagine giving up your attack or spell to drink a healing potion, and then dying the next round because the potion wouldn’t take effect for another 3 rounds?

      Also frequently ignored: the potion mixing rules, i.e. the random table of some good but mostly bad results from drinking one potion while another is in effect. Games that have such a rule these days usually favour beneficial results.

  6. Bloodsquirrel says:

    I actually prefer the Baldur’s Gate I/2 style of opening for reasons other than tone and mood: when I start a game, I want to start playing it, and I hate it when games think that they have to keep me on a leash for a half hour, either through cinematic, or overly restricted tutorials, or constant interruptions because they’re afraid that I’ll quit if they leave me alone for more than 30 seconds.

    With an RPG, that means getting to poke around a little bit. Walk around some on my own, get a little bit of a look at the core systems and interface, etc. Getting to actually explore right off the bat in BG is one of the reasons I love the game so much.

    1. Ancillary says:

      I don’t know that that immediate jump to action/freedom works for every game, though. I think it comes down to how much you value the narrative and world-building.

      I always appreciated how Bioware RPG’s introducing new IP’s were front-loaded with peaceful conversations. (I’m thinking here of Jade Empire, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age: Origins.) You’re dumping players into a completely new setting after all; it makes sense to familiarize them with the world, culture, characters, and points of view so that they can appreciate the stakes once the inciting incident kicks off the plot. The sequels, on the other hand, could afford to jump right into the action.

      The only new IP game that started in medias res was KOTOR, but that makes sense: It’s Star Wars after all. No dialogue is needed to establish to the player what a Republic/Jedi/Sith war means.

      1. Ancillary says:

        Bloodsquirrel, I might have misread you. I thought you were contrasting the openings to Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate II and expressing a preference for the latter, but it looks like you actually like both openings just fine. What game did you have in mind that transgresses your desire for freeform gameplay?

    2. Joe Informatico says:

      Most fantasy RPGs stick narratively to the broad guidelines of the Hero’s Journey, and mechanically to the notion that you start as a rookie, and then take you down the rest of the Hero’s Journey path while you level up and get more and more badass until you can face the significant story challenges at the narratively-appropriate level.

      So if an RPG is going to literally or metaphorically burn down your hometown (Stormtroopers kill Luke’s aunt and uncle, Ringwraiths chase Frodo and friends out of Hobbiton, the Harkonnen slaughter House Atreides forcing Paul and Jessica to flee into the desert, etc.) as the inciting incident near the start of the game, they really need to give you some time to interact with your hometown and set the baseline of “normal” before they rip it away from you. Most JRPGs do this too. Even with the darker origin stories in Dragon Age: Origins, it serves the purpose of showing the terrible conditions the PC has lived under and why they might leap at the chance to escape them.

      Newer RPGs like your Mass Effects, DA: Inquisition, etc., have your character start as an already experienced individual (even if mechanically you’re level 1) in the midst of institutional hierarchies (military, religious) that they mostly remain apart of and are fairly straightforward to explain. So there’s less need for upfront world-building and they can throw you into the action right away and set the tone of the game, i.e. shooting/stabbing things.

  7. CoyoteSans says:

    Achilles should be careful what he wishes for: at least in this game you can skip the entire tutorial area by just talking to Gorion right away. He’ll get his in media res tutorial in BG2 all right… wether he wants it or not, all thirty unskippable minutes of it.

    And Grognard has rather cynically allowed Achilles to fall into the trap of BG1: experience is divided evenly between the party, and BG1 doesn’t have the fixed for everyone quest exp rewards of BG2. Which means to cover your early weakness, you feel the need to fill your party ASAP… but doing so slows your leveling to (even more of) a crawl, thus keeping your charactrs weaker longer.

    I honestly don’t begrudge anyone playing on the “Story” difficulty Beamdog added and just playing Baldur’s Gate and Torment as visual novels, because good lord this is an unforgiving battle system.

    1. Ofermod says:

      He’ll get his in media res tutorial in BG2 all right… wether he wants it or not, all thirty unskippable minutes of it.

      And that’s why Dungeon-B-Gone is a thing.

    2. Asdasd says:

      Sure, but without the dungetorial, you wouldn’t get to hear Yoshimo’s classic line about all manner of stupid mouse traps awaiting your toes in the dark.

      And Fallout 2 is the bigger offender here anyway. At least in BG2 you have to spec for combat.

    3. zekiel says:

      I never understood the dislike for Irenicus’s dungeon. It’s not that long, it’s got some nice challenging combat, puzzles and traps and it’s one of the best examples of environmental storytelling I can recall in an RPG. You meet Irenicus for all of 30 seconds but his dungeon gives you a great insight into who he is.

      1. Bloodsquirrel says:

        Yeah, I thought it was a great opening as well.

        1. CoyoteSans says:

          I think people’s issue with it is the same as Skyrim’s tutorial: it’s enjoyable once, in a game that strongly encourages repeat playthroughs with different character setups. After the first time, it just becomes an unwelcome slog.

          1. Jabberwok says:

            Just started playing that with the Alternate Start – Live Another Life mod. Just by letting you pick a start location and simple backstory, it’s already a hundred times better than the vanilla intro.

          2. Thomas says:

            It’s interesting how people lose interest in the first level. It can happen even when the first level is quite open – Taris in KOTOR for example.

            It’s a real strength of Bethesda games that you can change your starting location in a mod and it kind of works

      2. Khizan says:

        It’s awesome the first few times, yes, but there are a lot of us out there who have probably gone through that place 500+ times, when you consider all the playthroughs, and all the recreated characters, and so forth.

        It loses its charm, eventually.

        1. zekiel says:

          Yeah I can imagine that. I think I only went through it 4 or 5 times which stayed fun.

    4. Khizan says:

      What you do in BG1 is fill your party with mediocre guys so you can survive until you can get some Protection from Petrification scrolls. Then you kick everybody out of your party, go to a certain wilderness map off to the east that’s got a ton of basilisks, use the protection scrolls, and then murder basilisks for several thousand exp per. Since you’re alone, you’ll gain a ton of levels.

      Then you go recruit new people to your party, because people who are new to your party will scale up to your current level.

      1. CoyoteSans says:

        You can also do the same with a Potion of Clarity on the Siren map.

      2. zekiel says:

        That is ingenious. But I sort of feel that at that stage you might as well just use console commands to cheat yourself more XP…

      3. Bookwyrm says:

        Then you go recruit new people to your party, because people who are new to your party will scale up to your current level.

        And let the system level up my party members? Are you mad? They won’t have nearly as much HP and they’ll make other bad decisions too!

        (I think I read somewhere that EE just gives everyone enough XP instead of also advancing their levels, which would make a huge difference)

    5. Jabberwok says:

      “Achilles should be careful what he wishes for: at least in this game you can skip the entire tutorial area by just talking to Gorion right away.”

      I did this exactly without knowing it when I played the game.

  8. Paul Spooner says:

    Boy howdy! I can’t wait to see how Achilles feels about getting ganked by bogey men in Dwarf Fortress. That’s happened to everyone, right?

    1. Gethsemani says:

      I sure have vivid recollections of going to the Tower thinking it would be more of the same that my level 6 powerhouse (heh…) party could deal with semi-easily. Only to get killed by what looked like murder hobo dwarf ghosts, yes. It is in the same vein as “This bridge ruin can’t be too hard for a level 4 party”, cue fire arrows.

  9. John says:

    I’ve never played Baldur’s Gate, but in some ways Achilles and Grognard sound as though they could just as easily be talking about the tutorial from Neverwinter Nights. That tutorial also had several NPCs who broke the fourth wall and explained the interface to you. The primary virtue of the Neverwinter Nights tutorial was that most of it was skippable, even on your first playthrough. Another nice thing about the tutorial was that if your character was, say, a Bard, you could do either one of the combat tutorials or the arcane magic tutorial but you weren’t forced to do both. Finally, on your second playthrough you could skip the tutorial entirely if you wanted to. The campaign was broken into a series of sub-modules, of which the tutorial was the first, and you could start a new campaign in any sub-module you’d reached with a previous character. If you went straight to Act I you’d be a little under-leveled, but the option was there.

    1. zekiel says:

      This one is all skippable too. I think you miss out on some trivial experience by doing so, but nothing else.

      1. Mattias42 says:

        It’s been AGES since I even tried playing BG1, but I think you can find some hidden goodies too in the tutorial, plus the bit of XP. Like, a few early scrolls, and even an +1 dagger.

        Fake edit: Yup, recalled that dagger right! You need 18 CHA for it, though, or 16-17 CHA and basically every single quest done for some rep.

        1. zekiel says:

          Wow I’d forgotten that. I kind of love Candlekeep for how tranquil it all is. And the chanters are fantastic :-)

  10. Raifield says:

    Oh boy, looking forward to the next post opening up with a full party wipe. Damn you Tarnesh!

    Actually he’s a bit of a pushover against four characters, just the Ward and Imoen is a much more difficult fight, especially if you forget the wand of Magic Missile and/or Tarnesh pulls off his Mirror Image spell.

    1. tmtvl says:

      Even if you’re running with solo CHARNAME it’s not too bad. If you get terror-ed the guards often do him in.

  11. Mako says:

    Tutorial characters breaking the fourth wall was a bit of a BioWare tradition, carried over all the way to Knights of the Old Republic, where Trask would flat out tell you to open the menu. And I think a similar thing happened in Jade Empire as well.

  12. Joshua says:

    “Potions aren’t for drinking. They’re for saving for the next fight, all the way until the end of the game. I’ve played several Final Fantasy games and never once actually used a megalixir. ”

    I would say that I rarely used potions/scrolls/consumables* in many D&D computer games because they’re so limited in supply and you tend to have healers that can simply rest. Conversely, many Final Fantasy games will have sections where you have no healing character and have to rely upon scores of potions (usually earlier in the game), although I’ll admit I rarely use the very rare Elixirs and not sure if I’ve ever used a Megalixir (“surely, there will be a better time to use it than this, oh, game over”).

    *I remember getting two Scrolls of Fireball early on in Pool of Radiance, and it being a constant temptation to use them even though I’m saving at least one of them for my Wizard to gain 5th level so he can learn it (I think the level cap was 6). And in that game, being tempted to use them was not just because it could make a large fight easier, but because it could make a large fight quicker, because OMG some of those fights with 20-30 creatures each taking their turns could go on for an hour.

    1. BlueHorus says:

      It’s all about which fight you’re in & why. In the endgame of a few of the Final Fantasy games, I was very glad to have a few elixiers/megalixiers in my inventory for when the Big Bad Guy pulled out his Ultimate Bullshit Attack.
      Well if you’re going to start taking the piss, game, so will I.

      (Related: an experience I had in FF8, against an optional boss:

      Me: Man, I heard this guy is tough. Hopefully he’ll give me a reason to use those 100 Megalixiers I have.
      *Fight starts. Boss uses basic attack – 9998 physical damage to my entire party. This happens at least once a round.*

      25 Megalixiers later, I still lost that fight.)

      1. tmtvl says:

        Yeah, Omega Weapon basically requires you to use Holy Wars to stay invincible until he’s dead.

        1. Scampi says:

          I don’t think I ever used a HW in any of my FF VIII playthroughs, including the fight against OWe. I don’t even remember their name in the German translation. When I read your post, I thought you might have misspelt holy water or something like that.
          In short: Omega is challenging, but can clearly be handled without overuse of powerful potions.

      2. Gautsu says:

        On the other hand I remember getting to the bottom of the 10 level dungeon in 8 to fight Bahamut for his GF, and being out of potions and not wanting to use my junctioned heal spells. Squall was already in the red. I got his limit off 1st round and 1 shot Bahamut. Ahh, good times

        1. Syal says:

          Probably Ultima. Bahamut was at the top of the dungeon and Ultima was at the bottom.

          1. Scampi says:

            Honestly, I don’t think so.
            I remember Ultima weapon to be way more durable than Bahamut, even against limit breaks. Also, it’s kind of hard to randomly be heavily injured when encountering Uwe, considering you have to activate the fight consciously.

            1. BlueHorus says:

              Encountering Uwe? As in Uwe Boll?
              Watch one of his films and your brain will be heavily injured…

              (Yes, Ultima Weapon, I know. It was just too good an opportunity to miss)

              1. Scampi says:

                Yes, but this injury will definitely not be random. Either your brain rots from watching his movies or be concussed after criticizing him and being challenged to boxing.

                I might also begin referring to Omega Weapon as “Owen” one day, who knows…

    2. shoeboxjeddy says:

      I used an X attack item for the first time… ever(?) in Pokemon Ultra Sun. The enemy was a boss and he used X Defend AND had type advantage on me. X attack pushed the fight back into facestomping territory for me though, so that was nice. It’s a little obnoxious in this game that the new “thing” is Super Attacks for a specific type… but there’s 13 types so who knows when your starter’s type will show up on the agenda. And it takes away your hold item, which for my first out is ALWAYS Amulet Coin so I can make bank ASAP.

  13. Mokap says:

    This is an interesting read for someone like me who is somewhat inbetween Achilles and Grognard (my first RPG (or at the very least, the first I remember) was Morrowind, and that’s basically what I look for in an RPG. I did try going back and playing Baldur’s Gate, but it was just a little bit too clunky for me and I lost interest after a bit.

  14. Karma The Alligator says:

    My biggest problem so far is that The Grognard seems to be spoiling / hand holding a bit too much. I understand the other dood is new to this, but isn’t it the point to have him experience the game?

    1. Asdasd says:

      Well, within the conceit it is. But the actual point is to conduct a retrospective of the series for we-the-audience, so I think Bob is meta-gaming a bit through the characters at times.

  15. Joshua says:

    Well, you inspired me to reload Icewind Dale and start replaying it. BG1/2 and P:T just seemed way too conversation intensive for me to put up with. My wife started making fun of me with my Icewind Dale start because I kept cutting the conversations short to skip to the next prompt, which makes the audio a little bit odd, LOL. She was sitting at her computer playing Don’t Starve, so I get to hear all kinds of weird dialogue from her computer.

    1. Scampi says:

      I remember when it was published I didn’t like the idea of Icewind Dale for being too focused on the action and combat parts compared to Baldur’s Gate. When I actually played it (years later), I really enjoyed it and had my specific kind of fun arranging my party to my liking. I might actually have enjoyed both parts of Icewind Dale more than the first Baldur’s Gate despite still believing the latter to be the best of the four games (BG I+II, ID I+II) for its plot and general composition.
      ID is just very enjoyable at times when I prefer the gameplay to the storytelling aspect.

      1. Zaxares says:

        The Icewind Dale series is definitely geared more towards the “awesome battles and strategic combat” part of the D&D equation, while the Baldur’s Gate series is more about the classic “hero’s journey in a magical world” experience, where part of the fun is getting immersed in the plot and bonding with your party and companions. They’re both excellent games, just optimized for different experiences. :)

        1. Asdasd says:

          Yeah, if you look at the infinity engine games, Planescape is the one with the lever pulled all the way over to story, for Icewind Dale it was pushed flat-out to combat, and with Baldur’s Gate it’s somewhere between the two. They had something for everyone.

          IWD also has the Kuldahar theme which is possibly my favourite single piece of music in all of gaming.

    2. PPX14 says:

      Haha my gf did the same – when I didn’t skip the cutscenes in Titanfall 2 singleplayer.

  16. Zaxares says:

    Ahh yes, good ol’ Xzar and Montaron. I was playing a Mage myself, and I don’t like other arcane rivals in my party, so while I kept Montaron with me as a meat shield, poor Xzar unfortunately suffered a sudden fit of madness where he immediately dropped all of his gear on the ground for me to collect, and then ran off naked into the woods screaming at the top of his head, whereupon he was immediately devoured by wolves. Montaron assures me that this is in no way unusual or unexpected behaviour for Xzar, so we all shrugged collectively and made for the Friendly Arm Inn. :P

    1. zekiel says:

      Xzar’s main drawback is that he is pretty much objectively worse than Edwin… fortunately Edwin is awesome though.

  17. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    Tarnesh-induced rage quit in 3… 2… 1…

  18. PPX14 says:

    This is really interesting to read! I vote that you triple the post length.

  19. Joe Informatico says:

    The Grognard: You selected “core rules” when you started the game, didn’t you? Welcome to low level D&D. Everything is dangerous. Fights are best avoided whenever possible.

    I was reading and comparing some reviews and impressions of both D&D 5e and Pathfinder 2e and someone brought up how most iterations of D&D still have this problem: low-level characters extremely fragile even for the threats they face, while higher-level characters are often too resilient. When intuitively it should be the opposite: make lower-level play easier so you don’t frustrate beginning players with frequent character death, while maybe ramping up the challenges for higher-level players. But it’s just this baked-in “received wisdom” of D&D that low-level play is dangerous and even though 4e tried to address this most of its solutions were discarded along with the whole “all of 4e is bad” charge.

    1. galacticplumber says:

      I mean…. In 3.5 you can play a wizard with abrupt jaunt to laugh at people trying to melee you, and proceed to end encounters by rendering your enemies insensate gibbering piles on the ground for your minio-…. I mean party members to casually kill. Then everyone calls you a cheater for breezing through what should logically be the easy part of the difficulty curve where more levels bring more complex spells and combos to get best advantage.

    2. Steve C says:

      Uh no. It shouldn’t be that way with a competent DM. None of your points should be true:

      1) low levels should not be extremely fragile
      2) higher levels should not be too resilient
      3) low level play should not be easier
      4) frequent character death should not be a thing

      All of those balance issues ultimately rest on the shoulders of the DM. In particular I’ve found higher level characters being not resilient enough the real problem. Or rather it becomes harder and harder to balance as you get to higher levels. It becomes a knife’s edge between a cakewalk and a TPK. In fact I remember a 3.0 D&D encounter at a convention tournament where I retconned a PC’s action and made a PC cast a wall of force in order to protect against a group of monster’s AoE attacks. Which turned an actual TPK into a cakewalk. (Something I wouldn’t normally have done but there were huge meta problems going on at the convention.)

      The biggest issue in low level difficulty that made Baldur’s Gate so brutal was the lack of ‘Death’s Door’ rules. Where a character died at -10hp. An “optional” rule which literally everyone used.

      I quit playing D&D 5th ed when two level 3 characters defeated an adult blue dragon. That should not have been possible. It felt like the system was ridiculously stacked in favor of the players.

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