A Gathering of Heroes (a long and annoying gathering)In the Icewind Dale series you have the luxury of having your party with you right from the start. But Baldur's Gate has never taken this approach. You'll leave Candlekeep with Imoen in tow and might quickly take Montaron and Xzar with you but how the heck are you supposed to assemble a competent party of adventurers with an ill-equipped duo of level 1s? This was one of my biggest challenges in my newly modded game that features lots of new tactical challenges. I didn't just want to squeeze by with a party of two or three. I wanted to get my whole party together and get to gaming!
Party selection criteria?1. Play with characters that you've not spent time with before
- I have spent a ton of time playing BG2 and am pretty much sick of Jaheira, Minsc, Edwin, Viconia,
- I am playing as a good character so I'd like to have a moderately good to neutral party
- I would like to assemble free-standing characters and not break up any duos such as Khalid from Jaheira or Dynaheir from Minsc
- Characters like Ajantis, Coran, and Xan would try to romance my female protagonist
- Other characters such as Branwen have new kits that more closely match their true character.
So who did I pick?
- Imoen - "Hey, wait a second! You play with Imoen all of the time." It's true, Imoen is an integral part of the story-line from Baldur's Gate 2 and I usually pick her up once she is available. Because she is so integral to the story line and joins with you immediately, I decided to recruit her. My plan is to dual class her to a mage later since there is a poor selection of mages in the game.
- Ajantis - This paladin is available not long after you arrive at the Friendly Arms Inn. He's a good fighter and of good alignment and maybe he'll romance my protagonist and make for some nice RPG interactions. Will my druid fall for this goody goody? Only time will tell.
- Kivan - This ranger can be recruited relatively safely early on and has a mean bow-arm! The BG NPC project adds numerous lines of dialogue for him in which he ruminates on his experiences with Tazok and the death of Deherianna as well as his siblings.
- Branwen - I needed some more magical support and Branwen seemed like the safest bet. Her new Cleric of Tempus kit doesn't allow her to specialize in ranged weaponry which is somewhat a bitch but she seems like a strong addition with some nice bits of dialogue.
- Coran - This roguish elf will create some romantic conflict with Ajantis that should spice up the NPC interactions in my party. His skill with a bow and dagger should be a welcome addition.
Part of the problems that I dealt with in recruiting your party is that they are spread out everywhere. Sure it's nice to have a random encounter where you discover a new person that can join your entourage but when you're playing the game for the umpteenth run-through it can be tedious. It's hard to try out new party builds when the only ones are available are the ones you always play with.
Baldur's Gate also has some less than recommendable NPC choices also. There are no vanilla mages. Dynaheir is an Invoker and leashed to Minsc (although the mods let you get rid of either should you choose), Xan is a pathetically weak Enchanter with poor spell selection, Edwin is an annoyingly evil Conjurer, Xzar is a mentally insane necromancer and all of the other mage like characters are questionable multi-classes. The game's priests are Jaheira a fighter/druid, Branwen a petrified cleric, and Viconia an evil drow priestess. There are a slew of characters that I doubt anyone would ever recruit for any reason whatsoever such as:
Tiax - A bonkers cleric/thief with a measley 12 wisdom score
Quayle- An annoying cleric/wizard with a 10 wisdom score
Alora - The game is almost over by the time you find her.
New Challenges Await You on the Sword Coast
When I first played Baldur's Gate after it's release over ten years ago, I had to learn the lesson and learn it hard. This game wants to kill me. It wants to ambush me with unsuspecting bounty hunters. Stun my party members with carrion crawlers. Poison them with spider bites. Finish them off with hidden traps. And completely obliterate them beyond resurrection with a lucky critical hit that sends Minsc into flying giblets. And all of that, surprisingly, was wonderfully fun and still is thanks to these mods I've installed and described in my first post. A veteran of Baldur's Gate knows many of the tricks of the trade that will get them the adventure with little to no trouble but what if you're enemies have a few new tricks and unexpected reinforcements? Sword Coast Stratagems has really tested my mettle. Let me elaborate.
Case Study: The ambushing mage bounty hunter!
After a long trudge through the Nashkel mines I stumbled my way back to the village in hopes of some long deserved rest. I should've known better because there was a small ambush waiting for me. My party of 6 (levels 2-4) met a mage bounty hunter who immediately cast mirror image and minor orb of invulnerability and set upon attacking my unprepared party. My poor positioning was no one's fault but my own but I set about settling this encounter without loading a previous game.
The mage put Imoen to sleep, flinged meteor missiles at Branwen, dropped a fireball on top of his invulnerable self that seared Ajantis half to death (killing two Amnish guard in the process), and did all of this while evading my squad's flurry of projectiles. Eventually, we whittled his mirror images down and scored some hits but right as we were about to slay the bugger his spell sequencer activated and poof, the sucker went invisible. With no ways to sight him or dispel this ability we waited helplessly as he quaffed healing potions from an unknown location. I ran over my possible strategies in my head and I figured if he was going to use tricks from Shadows of Amn I would too. I had Coran drop a trap (which historically for me always fails to set because I never invest in traps). Low and behold the mage wandered over it and 20 damage points later, the sucker is dead.