Sometime around 10 years, when my college years were winding down, I had a hare-brained scheme: I was going to complete the Baldur's Gate saga without a single reload on core difficulty. Term papers? Midterms? Social interactions? Pfft, I was focused on "the challenge" and tried over and over and over to beat the saga without a reload - schoolwork be damned. But, it wasn't meant to be. I'd get impatient and lazy and die in most humiliating fashion; whether disintegrated by trap or by forgetting to return the rift device to Amunator, something always seemed to go wrong... I made it to ToB once, but my run ended with some no-name mage's death spell. Eventually, I got fed up and determined that the game was too hard to play through without a death.
With the arrival EE versions I decided to give "the challenge" another go or two (or a couple dozen as it turned out to be) as I'm older and oh so much wiser now, clearly. I rolled up an Inquisitor (18/73, 11, 18, 16, 18, 18) and had at it. Unfortunately almost all my knowledge of the game had disappeared, I had to relearn basically everything. The lessons came painfully. I died so many times and in so many ways. My most embarrassing defeat was to Conster's death spell (Conster is Firkaag’s mage buddy). Maybe that doesn't seem so terrible, but I'm referring to the SECOND time I died to Conster (in back to back runs no less)! As bad as those deaths were, they forced me to rethink my strategy and stop rushing through the game. After that I had probably about four runs that made it anywhere from the Underdark to the latter stages of Watcher's Keep and beginning of ToB. After about 20 attempts with the Inquisitor, I figured I'd mix it up with a Cavalier (18/00, 18, 18, 11, 13, 17). I got to the Black Dragon on my first try with the Cavalier. And, on my second try, I finally had a clean run. I beat the entire saga on core difficulty with Ankiseth the Cavalier without a reload and without (what I consider) exploits.
Needless to say, I'm fairly sick of Baldur's Gate 1.
After the first 5 or so runs I had developed an algorithm for working through BG1 in about 5 hours. Both Inquisitors and Cavaliers are immune to charm, which makes farming sirenes with Imoen a risk-free endeavor. After an extended sojourn on the coast (leveling to Paladin 7, Thief 6/Mage 7) we would clear the Naskel Mines. After the mines, I would pick up Branwen and Kivan and clear the bandit camp. I'd pick up Coran and Yeslick when working through Cloakwood. There is no real point in doing Durlag's tower. I'd go there to pick up the Practical Defense +3 & Tome of Understanding and leave.
So there are two hard fights in BG1: Sarevok's coronation and the final showdown with Sarevok. For the former I would summon skeletons with my clerics and buff everyone up (potions of cloud giant strength, haste, bless, and chant). I'd wedge the skellies in-between Belt and the doppelgängers and have at it. One of my runs ended at this fight as I didn't know you had to protect to two nobles (one of many painful mistakes). For the final battle with Sarevok, I'd make sure everyone was spread out to avoid AOE and fully buffed as before (plus I gave them potions of magic shielding). I'd give Coran or Kivan arrows of dispelling to help quickly dispatch Semaj when he teleports in. I'd let the skeletons tank Sarevok whilst Coran and Kivan pelt rain down arrows and Imoen unleashes a flurry of magic missiles. And Sarevok falls...
I picked up 7 of the tomes (I didn't bother with the Umberlee quest line for the 3rd tome of wisdom), Leaving my finally stats at: 19, 19, 19, 12, 15, 18.
So thats easy enough. Onto BG2…
Let me talk about my character’s proficiencies before continuing. For my main character, I play with a sword & board build. I feel shields are very underrated, as a look at the mathematics can demonstrate. For instance if you’re fighting a monster with 0 thac0 and you have a -8 AC shieldless, you are getting hit about 65% of the time. A +3 shield will cut that the enemies’ hit to 45%. That’s a 32% decrease in damage taken. Since such a large proportion of damage is tied to strength, I don’t feel there is a huge loss in damage output when comparing one-handers and two-handers. My first pips went into long swords, bastard swords, flails, and sword & shield style. My primary weapon through SoA was Flail of Ages +3 (absolutely phenomenal damage and the elemental damage cuts through many protections).
For BG2 my party building strategy is to pick up lots of warriors. I find that with six in the party (a constraint I put on myself for BG2), I want to keep micromanagement to a minimum. The first character I go after is Mazzy. If you go to the temple ruins at the beginning of Chapter 2, you can pick up Mazzy at level 8, which allows you to get her started on warhammer proficiencies at level 9. I pick up boss-man Keldorn during Chapter 2 as well. I kept Jaheria throughout SoA (although she was replaced in ToB). Druids have a rather silly level progression that allows for earlier access to level 6 spells (i.e. Summon Fire Elemental), which I took full advantage of. In my winning run-through I used Aerie, although if I had to run it over again, I would take Anomen instead. I never got to learn level 9 mage spells with Aerie because of her slow multi-class progression (nor did she get her level 25 cleric ring). Additionally, she has such low hp and so many spells she requires too much micromangement. I used Imoen as my primary mage. Imoen also has the added bonus of having exactly the right amount of thief to cover that role sufficiently.
In my winning-run, I did all the quests in Athkatla before heading to Brynnlaw. Chapter 2 is pretty easy provided you know the choreography. I do the Temple Ruins and d’Arnise Hold first to pick up Mazzy and the Flail of Ages, respectively. After that I do the shadow thief quest line and then the slaver, skinner, circus, and Trademeet quest lines to build up reputation (I don’t buy anything till 20 reputation). I do the The Unseeing Eye quest once I get 20 reputation and buy the Shield of Balduran. The Firkaag line, Planar Sphere and Planar Prison are done last. It’s essential from this point to the end of ToB that you have a death ward and chaotic commands on CHARNAME at ALL times! You start to fight mid-level mages that are capable of death spell and disintegrate and can ruin your run with one cast! The two dragons are the absolutely last thing I do before Byrnnlaw. The Shadow Dragon is easy. I have no problem trapping the area before engaging (I wouldn’t consider it cheesy since you have the wardstone). For Firkaag, I don’t trap because it’s cheese IMO. Consequently he is a lot more dangerous than his shadowy counterpart. Across all my losing-runs, I’ve probably had about 6 or 7 NPCs die perms-deaths to Firkaag. It’s usually someone with low HPs (such as Aerie or Haer’Dalis). In my winning run, Yoshimo was permanently killed by Firkaag’s breath weapon (I even gave the poor fool a potion of fire resistance!). He was the only permanent death on my winning-run. I should probably mention Kangaax too. I just use a Scroll of Magic Protection and equip my guy with the Daystar and he becomes the easiest boss fight in the game (make sure everyone else is hiding in the corner).
Spellhold isn’t too tricky. Just make sure you don’t walk in on Irenicus before recruiting the deviant mages and make sure you avoid that one trap (yeah I think you know which one). I do the sahaugin quest line as it’s really easy and nets you some extra experience and items. The Underdark is quite dangerous, particularly the mind flayer and beholder lairs. The beholder lair has an elder orb right at the entrance which can ruin your day with perma-death spells. I once had a run partially ruined because the elder orb disintegrated Jaheria (which is fine) who was wearing the Gauntlets of Ogre Power (no!!!). The rest of SoA is pretty straightforward, I did have one run end at the Irenicus’s black dragon, however. By then you should have Mordenkainen’s sword to make the fight managable.
All in all, ToB is surprisingly easy. The key is to have death ward on all characters at all times. I have chaotic commands on all my frontliners as well. I also have my mages have protection from petrification memorized in case I run into beholders. I opted to drop Jaheria for Sarevok and his lovely deathbringer assault. Illsera, Grom’nir, and Yaga-shura are a joke so I won’t speak further about them. Abazigal’s lair is a little nerve-wracking because there is that one room with the three elder orbs. However, Abazigal and Draconis are rather straightforward. With a high-level mage, these dragon fights become very easy. Again, you can use Mordenkainen’s sword, but you’ll also have access to Improved Alacrity and Timestop by this point. Sendai’s lair isn’t challenging except for the last fight. In my winning run, I did, however, find myself sweating a bit during the Sendai battle. I didn’t manage her underlings that show up very well and they started to accumulate. Things didn’t get wildly out of hand, but I did need to use a rod of resurrection on Sarevok midfight.
I should probably mention Watcher’s Keep as well. On my winning-run I cleared all the levels of Watcher’s Keep as soon as allowable in ToB (I waited till ToB so Sarevok could get the experience points). A nice thing about the Cavalier is the immunity to fear, which makes the 3rd level (with the Baatezu, Tanar’ri, and master wraith) a lot less stressful. Be wary of the top-tier Tanar’ri, the balor, because he has a vorpal weapon! I did have a run where Mazzy was permanently lost due to decapitation. Level 4 isn’t too bad. I don’t bother with the red dragon. You can use a Protection from Undead scroll on any fighter and have him go into the demilich’s room alone. For the fifth level, you need to know the correct algorithm for winning the “spirit guide” room. The final guardians (the beholder/marilith/etc party) are a bit challenging. I keep my guys back and let summons take care of them; I let Vok and Mazzy attack from a distance with whirlwind attack (using Firetooth and the Short Bow of Gesen). There is no point in fighting Demogorgon, so I don’t. I happily sealed Watcher’s Keep with the false Helmites and the Prince of Demons still in there.
Melissan is a bit of endurance fight but, again, pretty simple. I believe she has vorpal capabilities so I keep my main character out of melee range of her. The enemies on the platforms are disappointingly weak, especially the fallen solars. Nothing too interesting to report with this fight, I just made sure to heal everyone up in-between the skirmishes and everything went well. It was very satisfying when she fell though. My main characters final (unbuffed) stats were: 20/18/20/11/16/20.
Hopefully this rant I’ve provided is a somewhat interesting read and will help those interested in completing a no-reload run some encouragement (or maybe discouragement). This game takes a lot of meta-knowledge and you really need to know the game well in order for a successful no-reload run. For instance, there is no way a first-time player should assume that talking to Shoal the Nereid is a bad thing… The other key is buffing. It took a while for this to get through my thick skull, but fully buffing after every rest is essential (death ward, chaotic commands, protection from evil, belt of fortitude, etc.). I completely ignored EE-only content during these runs because I feel the content is very low quality and uninspired (but that's a discussion for another thread). I'd love to here from others who have tried and/or completed this challenge (particularly about there most devastating defeats).
Now I need to do the no-reload run with SCS and Ascension! (Well maybe after a few months off from the game...)
Here are some summaries:
End of BG1 weapons & levels
Ankiseth (Cavalier 8), Vascona +2 / Large Shield +1
Branwen (Cleric 7), Thresher +2 / Large Shield +1
Yeslick (Fighter 6/Cleric 6), Ashideena + 2 / Large Shield +1
Kivan (Ranger 7), Composite Long Bow +1
Coran (Fighter 6/Thief 7), The Dead Shot +2
Imoen (Thief 6/Mage 9), Short Bow +1
End of BG2 SoA weapons & levels
Ankiseth (Cavalier 18), Flail of Ages +3 / Fortress Shield +3
Keldorn (Inquisitor 17), Carsomyr +5
Mazzy (Fighter 20), Crom Faeyr +5 / Shield of Harmony +2
Jaheria (Fighter 13/Druid 13), Staff of the Woodlands +4
Aerie (Cleric 14/Mage 13), Sling of Everad +5
Imoen (Thief 7/Mage 14), Staff of the Magi +5
End of BG2 ToB weapons & levels
Ankiseth (Cavalier 26), Foebane +5 / Shield of the Order +4
Sarevok (Fighter 28), Ravager +6
Keldorn (Inquisitor 25), Carsomyr +6
Mazzy (Fighter 29), Crom Faeyr +5 / Shield of Harmony +2
Aerie (Cleric 19/Mage 16), Sling of Everad +5
Imoen (Thief 7/Mage 22), Staff of the Magi +5
End of BG2 total experience value:
Ankiseth: 29% (104 days with party)
Sarevok: 16% (28 days with party)
Keldorn: 20% (70 days with party)
Mazzy: 29% (99 days with party)
Aerie: 2% (77 days with party)
Imoen: 1% (45 days with party)
Strongest enemy killed:
So, onto the award ceremony! The Oscars? Bah! let me award the Baldies instead!
Most shocking death in BG1
Set off a lightning trap in the labyrinth on the way to Sarevok. My main guy was in a corner and the lightning ricocheted off the wall about 4 times and hit my main guy every time.
Most shocking death in BG2
Died in the “spirit guide” room on the fifth floor of Watcher’s Keep (I didn’t have the “choreography” memorized). This resulted in about 5 minutes of silence in front of the monitor.
Most likely to get chunked
Aerie died permanently during three of my runs. Firkaag incinerated her on two of those. More embarrassingly, she died to the kobold kamikazes in Firkaag's lair on one of my earlier runs.
Scariest monster BG1
Greater basilisks. Luckily their area is optional.
Scariest monster BG2
Elder orbs. So these guys have how many ways to insta-kill you?
- Winning run awards -
MV NPC BG1
Coran/Kivan - Archery is ridiculously overpowered in BG1 and these guys are good archers.
Runner-up: Branwen - Animate Dead!
MV NPC BG2
Keldorn - He trivializes just about every mage fight in the game (which are, incidentally, some of the hardest fights in the game).
Runner-up: Imoen - Solid mage and all the thief that is needed. Two roles fulfilled with one character slot.
MV Weapon BG1
The Dead Shot/Composite Bow+1
MV Weapon BG2 SoA
Flail of Ages +3 - I got a huge amount of mileage out of this weapon. Incredibly useful all throughout SoA.
Runner-up: Daystar +2/+4 & Carsomyr +5
MV Weapon BG2 ToB
Ravager +6 - I can't help but smile when watching Sarevok rip enemies apart with this weapon.
Runner-up: Carsomyr +6
MV Divine Spell BG1
MV Divine Spell BG2
Death Ward - This spell makes no reload runs much more feasible.
Runner-up: Chaotic Commands - Another solid protection spell. Be sure to cast on any Fighter with a vorpal weapon…
MV Arcane Spell BG1
Haste - Ridiculously game breaking spell.
MV Arcane Spell BG2:
Haste, again! - Yeah, this spell is nuts.
Runner-up: Breach & Pierce Shield
Closest Call BG2 SoA
Mind flayers in WK brought my main character to 1 intelligence after back-to-back crits. I had to kite them around the room (because the rest of my part was stuck because Sarevok got stunned in the doorway and blocked them). I waited till I quaffed 2 potions of genius before finishing them off.
Closest Call BG2 ToB
I wasn’t expecting the room with 3 Elder Orbs in Abazigal’s lair… Keldorn got petrified and I wasn’t fully buffed upon entering. It could’ve just as easily have been my main character who got petrified.