A basic guide to the mechanics of the Baldur’s Gate games

A basic guide to the mechanics of the Baldur’s Gate games

A basic guide to the mechanics of the Baldur’s Gate games, for those of you who didn’t play second edition D&D.

Character Creation (see Basic Mechanics below for italicized terms):

Race

This doesn’t matter much, except that it will determine what classes you can play and some small adjustments to your attributes. Human, half-elf, or elf are recommended because they offer the most flexibility (and in BG2 they feature the most romance options). However, dwarves and half-orcs make very good warriors, and halflings make very good thieves. Gnomes are generally strong, and make good multiclassed mages.

A basic guide to the mechanics of the Baldur’s Gate games

Classes

General Note: Certain classes guarantee minimum ability scores in certain areas. Paladins, for example, will always have at least a 17 Charisma. These minimums are not the same as required ability scores, and often do not provide any particular bonuses for that class.

Italicized kits are Enhanced Edition only.

  • Barbarian
    Tank, high physical damage, immunity to many status effects.
    Required Ability Scores: Constitution, Dexterity, Strength.
  • Fighter
    Tank, highest physical damage.
    Required Ability Scores: Constitution, Dexterity, Strength.
    Kit Recommendations: Kensai (melee glass cannon), berserker (generally strong melee), dwarven defender (superb tank).
  • Ranger
    Tank, high physical damage, duel-wielding bonuses, stealth, slow level progression.
    Required Ability Scores: Constitution, Dexterity, Strength.
    Kit Recommendations: Archer (ranged glass cannon, but choose a weapon other than longbows), stalker (stealth fighter).
  • Paladin
    Tank, high physical damage, minor healing, improved saving throws, slow level progression.
    Required Ability Scores: Constitution, Dexterity, Strength.
    Kit Recommendations: Cavalier (strong when you need to be strong), inquisitor (best mage-killer in the game), undead hunter (immunity to the nastiest status effect in the game), blackguard (trade buffs for damage dealing and debuffs)
  • Monk
    Fast, high physical damage, many special abilities, weak early-game.
    Required Ability Scores: Constitution, Dexterity, Strength.
    Kit Recommendations: Sun Soul monk (trade status effects for greater damage), Dark Moon monk (trade status effects for defensive abilities)
  • Cleric
    Tank, healer.
    Required Ability Scores: Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, Strength.
    Kit Recommendations: Cleric of Talos (caster-oriented), cleric of Lathander (physical combat-oriented).
  • Druid
    Healer, offensive caster.
    Required Ability Scores: Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity.
    Kit Recommendations: Totemic druid (summoning-oriented), avenger (offensive caster-oriented).
  • Thief
    Scout, trap-disarmer, lock-opener, tactical warrior, fast level progression.
    Required Ability Scores: Dexterity, Constitution, Strength.
    Kit Recommendations: Bounty hunter (trap specialist, very strong with preparation), swashbuckler (strong straight-up fighter), shadowdancer (stealth-based warrior)
    Note: Thieves should generally prioritize Find/Remove Traps and Open Locks with their thief skill points. Other thief skills are useful, but less important to the party as a whole. Shadowdancers need Move Silently to make use of their abilities, and as such generally require a second thief in the party (to handle Find/Remove Traps and Open Locks) until high levels.
  • Bard
    Warrior/caster/buffer, fast level progression.
    Required Ability Scores: Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Strength.
    Kit Recommendations: Blade (terminally lethal physical combatant), skald (most powerful buff abilities in the game), jester (trade buffs for crowd control).
  • Mage
    Offensive and utility caster, slow level progression.
    Required Ability Scores: Intelligence, Constitution, Dexterity.
    Kit Recommendations: Any except invoker, abjurer, and transmuter (all mage specialists gain more spells per day in exchange for being banned from a certain category of spells; wild mages do not suffer this disadvantage, but instead their spells are less reliable).
  • Sorcerer
    Offensive caster, slow level progression.
    Required Ability Scores: Constitution, Dexterity.

A basic guide to the mechanics of the Baldur’s Gate games

Ability Scores

Remember that you can lower one ability score to raise another during character creation. Even more important, remember that you have unlimited rerolls. With a little patience, most builds should be able to manage a 17 or 18 in all their required ability scores.

  • Strength
    Determines carrying capacity, adds to “to hit” and damage with melee weapons.
    Combat bonuses start at 16.
    Barbarians, fighters, rangers, and paladins with an 18 Strength gain an “exceptional strength” score that provides even higher bonuses. This score is determined randomly between 1 and 100 (denoted by 18/XX, with the XX being the exceptional Strength score, and 00 meaning 100) with higher being better. However, a 19 Strength is still more powerful than even an 18/00.
  • Dexterity
    Improves armor class, adds to “to hit” with ranged weapons.
    Combat bonuses start at 15.
  • Constitution
    Adds to hit points. This is very important, regardless of character class.
    Hit point bonuses start at 15, cap at 16 for most classes (only fighters, paladins, rangers, and barbarians gain bonuses for constitution scores above 16).
  • Intelligence
    Essential for learning new spells for mages and bards. Does not affect sorcerers.
    Some enemies drain intelligence temporarily with each hit (5 points per hit). Run out of intelligence and you die.
  • Wisdom
    Grants clerics and druids additional spell slots starting at 13.
    Two late-game mage/sorcerer spells scale in power based on wisdom.
  • Charisma
    Reduces item prices at merchants based on the charisma of the character talking to the merchant. Many NPCs have high charisma, and they can talk to merchants for you, so charisma is more convenient than it is essential. Occasionally also improves quest rewards.

Items that Raise Ability Scores:

Certain items raise ability scores to set numbers, regardless of the base score. Thus, a certain item might raise a character’s Charisma to 18, whether it starts at 6 or 15 or any other number. These items exist for Charisma, Dexterity, and Strength, so plan accordingly. Strength-increasing items in particular are very common in late-game Baldur’s Gate 2.

Basic Mechanics:

A note on bonuses and penalties: As you’ll see below, some attributes improve as they increase, while others improve as they decrease. This can get confusing when items, spells, or class abilities provide bonuses or penalties to these attributes. However, there are some consistent rules about what different notation means. If a modifier is listed as “+x” with no other qualifiers, it is always a bonus (and conversely “-x” is always a penalty). This holds true even for attributes that improve as they decrease, such as armor class.

For example, plate mail provides a base armor class of 3, while plate mail +1 provides a base armor class of 2 (improved by 1 point). However, if the modifier is explicitly described as a bonus or a penalty, the text is correct regardless of the “+/-“ sign. For example, the kensai kit provides a “-2 bonus” to the character’s armor class. “-2” would usually indicate a penalty, but since the modifier is explicitly described as a bonus, we can determine that the kensai kit actually improves the character’s armor class by 2 points.

Dice:

The game runs on a random number system, using virtual dice to generate results. These dice are referred to in-game either as a simple number range (1-4, 3-18, etc) or by a standard die-size notation. In this notation, dice are referred to as d6, d4, d10, etc.

The number in the die’s name denotes the maximum number the die could roll, while the minimum is always 1. Thus, a d6 has a possible range of 1-6, while a d12 could be 1-12. When multiple dice of the same type are added, another number is added to the beginning of the notation. Thus, 4d6 is four d6 dice added together, forming a 4-24 range. Modifiers noted at the end, such as +1 or -1, apply a simple number modifier to the final result. Thus, d6+1 would have a range of 2-7, while 2d6-1 would have a range of 1-11.

“To hit” vs. damage:

The “to hit” roll determines whether an attack deals any damage at all. This roll is based on your THAC0 (To Hit Armor Class 0, i.e. the minimum number you need on a virtual d20 to hit an enemy with an armor class of 0), and a lower THAC0 is better. “To hit” rolls, and therefore THAC0, do not affect most spells.

Damage is simply the damage dealt if the attack connects. It’s completely useless if your attack doesn’t hit, but hitting by 1 point is the same as hitting by 20. Higher damage is better. Damage bonuses do not affect most spells, as spell damage is determined by the spell alone.

Armor class vs. hit points:

Armor class makes an attacker’s “to hit” roll less likely to succeed. It does not directly mitigate damage, it only reduces the number of successful hits you’ll take. A lower armor class is better. “To hit” rolls, and therefore armor class, do not affect most spells.

Hit points are the amount of damage your character can take before dying. Hit points are restored by resting or by healing spells. Higher hit points are better.

Saving throws:

Saving throws are used to resist spells, poisons, and many other effects (but not simple physical attacks). Lower saving throws are better.

Spell slots and learning new spells:

Spell slots are where your usable spells are stored (find them in the Mage Book or Priest Scroll menus). Each slot is equal to a single use of that spell, so if you want to cast a spell multiple times, put the same spell in multiple slots. Spells are restored when you rest. If you want to change your spell setup, you can remove a spell from a slot at any time and replace it with another one. However, this new spell will not be available until you rest.

Learning new spells (wizards and bards only) is achieved by reading magic scrolls (scrolls with spells on them, called “scroll of magic missile” or similar). Right-click on the scroll in the inventory screen and click “scribe scroll” on the scroll description screen. This will destroy the scroll, but it will also teach the spell to the character whose inventory the scroll was in. This process has a chance of failure inversely proportional to the character’s Intelligence score, so wizards and bards need a high intelligence. Note that if the process fails, the scroll is still lost.

Telling time, seconds vs. rounds vs. turns vs. hours: Seconds, rounds, turns, and hours are the basic units of time that the game uses to determine how long certain effects last. In order to understand how the game handles time, it’s important to know what these units mean in-game. First, a second is a real-world second. When the game says “8 seconds” it means 8 seconds in exactly the same sense the clock on your wall means it. A round consists of 6 seconds, and is the most common form of measurement the game uses. A turn, for some inexplicable reason, is 10 rounds, or 60 seconds. Basically, a turn is equivalent to a real-world minute. Hours are where things get tricky. When the game says “1 hour” it doesn’t mean a real-world hour anymore. The game actually 5 real-world minutes. Larger units of time, such as days, are based off of the in-game definition of hours. As such, one day in game time is 24 game hours.

The full conversion factor is as follows:

  • 1 day = 24 hours = 120 turns (real-time minutes) = 1200 rounds = 7200 seconds
  • 1 hour = 5 turns (real-time minutes) = 50 rounds = 300 seconds
  • 1 turn (real-time minute) = 10 rounds = 60 seconds
  • 1 round = 6 seconds

Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment

Most of this guide assumes that you will be playing Baldur’s Gate, but the same general concepts are applicable to Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment, with a couple modifications.

Icewind Dale: Character alignments never conflict, and there are no kits (other than specialist wizards). In addition, the barbarian, monk, and sorcerer classes do not exist. Finally, there is no dual-wielding in Icewind Dale, although rangers gain an extra attack per round if they wield a single one-handed weapon and do not use a shield.

Planescape: Torment: There are no kits, and the only available classes are fighter, mage, and thief (although there is an npc cleric) with no multiclassing options (except for certain npcs). In addition, the player character always starts as a fighter, although he may switch classes a short way into the game. Most importantly, Wisdom increases the main character’s rate of experience gain, and Intelligence and Charisma provide additional conversation options (which are extremely important in Planescape: Torment).

Baldur’s Gate Beginner Video Guide

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