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Save... or Else!: the Playthrough

I've never played PnP, but my love of dungeons and dragons dates back to discovering the Gold Box games back when I was 10. Lacking instruction manuals and with in-game tutorials being incredibly rare back then, I had to muddle through by trial and error to figure out how stuff worked. For my first few attempts, I didn't even know how to memorize mage spells, so I basically just created a party of perfect-stat human fighters, hired two of the high-level NPCs (who would fight for you for a percentage of your loot), and rolled through the game.

When I finally learned how the spell system worked, my mind was totally blown. I actually understood why the mage class was included! But then my perception of the mage was highly colored by the amazingness that is Fireball in Pool of Radiance; it hit the entire screen minus the corners and the squares adjacent, and when so many of your enemies are kobolds and their ilk, you can basically wipe out a dozen or more in a single casting. That was *the* spell, and mages were amazing beings who could chuck out lasers and explosions and blow everything to hell.

Years later, after approximately a gajillion playthroughs burning this fact into my brain, Baldur's Gate came out, and I treated my mages the exact same way; spellbooks full of direct damage and nothing but direct damage. On my first playthrough, I just accepted everybody I came across into my party until it was full, and wound up with Imoen, Jahiera, Khalid, Branwen, and Xan, who I liked as a character but who basically sucked because he couldn't blow anything up. But still, I could stuff his spellbook full of Identifies and Invisibilities, leaving my main character more space to memorize spells that blew things up.

The first playthrough was hard because I was terrible at the game and thought mages were supposed to be godly characters whose only purpose in life was to cast fireballs. I think I gave up sometime around Davaeorn and moved on to Icewind Dale. I got better at magecraft, even soloing a Conjurer through vanilla IWD. But that involved a lot of reloading, tons of resting, a heavy reliance on PewPewPewLazor spells, and eventually constant Tensor's Transformation to turn her into a fighter-light.

Eventually I wanted to return to BG1 and finally beat it in preparation for BG2. I learned about the amazingness that is Sleep and suddenly the crazy-hard game became a breeze. Later, I developed an appreciation for Slow. But the bulk of my spellbook was still devoted to PewPewPewLazors. The same held true in BG2, where I played through as a Sorceror who had multiple damage spells per level just for the variety.

As I grow older, I gain more and more of an appreciation for the subtle aspects of magecraft, and especially the "Save or Else" (SoE) spells. I'd never risk casting blindness before; what if it fails? I just wasted a round! But, you know, what if I attack with my fighter and his 1 APR and he misses? Sometimes progress isn't incremental but rather occurs in lulls and spikes. This is true for spellcraft as much as the martial arts.

Out of a desire to bring things full-circle, I want to do a playthrough that is as enamored with Save or Else spells as my 10-year-old self was with PewPewPewLazors. Specifically, as a Sorceror with a spellbook full of disablers. But I still need to kill stuff, which means relying on physical damage from party members. But a party of competent physical attackers with buffs on them will rip through the entire game on their own and make my Save or Else spells superfluous rather than a centerpiece, which means I either need to disallow buffs... or disallow competent physical attackers.

Since I still haven't experienced Rasaad's BG1 content or Throne of Bhaal content, I opted for the latter. After working out a couple of quick rules, here's the concept for "Save... or Else!: the Playthrough"

* Save or Else spells must be the true centerpiece of the run.
* Any cheese / tricks / exploits that trivialize content must be avoided.
* I'm not a masochist, so "quality of life" cheese / tricks / exploits are allowed.
* I want to minimize reloads, but also to experience new-to-me Rasaad content, so reloads will be allowed in the case of PC death or anything that interferes with that new content, (Rasaad getting petrified mid-romance, say).
* While I'm at it, I might as well add a bunch of other stuff I've been meaning to try that will be facilitated by (hopefully) facing a host of perpetually-disabled enemies.

* Charname will not deal a single point of damage during the entire saga, either directly or indirectly. This means: no direct damage spells, but also no utility spells with a damage component, (Fireshield, Finger of Death). For the sake of keeping my total kills at zero, I'm also avoiding Disintegrate, Flesh to Stone, or any spell that doesn't deal damage but does result in a kill going down in my character record, even if technically still a "Save or Else".
* It also means *no summons* except for Find Familiar or those that don't deal damage, (Wizard Eye, Project Image).
* Charname's familiar will not be bound by the "no damage" rules. He's free to attack as he sees fit. But...
* Charname's familiar cannot be put into her backpack. Ever. I've never actually used one "in the wild" before, so why not give it a try? (Rule subject to re-evaluation if and only if Charname's constitution drops to 10 or lower.)
* Mages, Bards, and Clerics share Charname's restrictions on spells that deal damage, (no direct damage, no summons). They are free-- and in fact encouraged!-- to attack with their weapons. Except...
* No ranged weapons. They trivialize BG1 too much and take the spotlight off of the Save or Else spells.
* Druids cannot cast direct damage spells, but in the interest of differentiating them, I will allow them to summon animals, insects, and elementals. (I'm counting Insect Plague and the like as insect summoning spells rather than direct damage spells.)
* All spell restrictions apply to usable items, as well, including wands (Wand of Sleep = good, Wand of Fire = bad), Necklace of Missiles, Potions of Firebreath, etc.
* No NPCs with even a single level of a fighter class can be taken. Ever. (For the purposes of this playthrough, I'm not counting "Monk" as a fighter class.) I'll also allow Wilson in BG2 because: (A) new-to-me content, and (B) his lack of defenses means he'll be dependent on the SoEs to keep himself alive, which synergizes nicely with the playthrough.
* No cheesing through the low levels in BG1. Shoal can be helped, but not killed. Korax can be killed, but not helped. No delaying partying up just to recruit higher-level versions of NPCs.
* Metagame knowledge will be used heavily, but I'll avoid hidden stashes. The exception is the Ring of Wizardry, which I will not sell, but am happy to wear. (I consider this a "quality of life" thing for a low-level sorcerer.)
* Buffs are just fine. My main attackers will either be immune to Haste (Rasaad), or capped at 1 APR (Viconia, Cernd, Xan, etc.), so it's not like Improved Haste is going to break the game or trivialize the run, anyway. (Wilson notwithstanding.)
* I'm playing on Core difficulty with the intention to eventually push it to Insane at higher levels, depending on how things go. (I don't find 1-hit-kills from a Tasloi to be particularly fun, so no Insane at level 1.)
* I will be lowering to Normal difficulty to get max HP on level up. I consider this a "quality of life" improvement since my melee front-line will include Xan, Rasaad, and my familiar. I will keep it at Core when scribing spells, though.
* Since I'm on iOS, I'll be playing in a Patch 1.3 environment, with all that that entails.


  • SomeSortSomeSort Member Posts: 859
    Character Creation:

    Obviously if I want to experience all of the Rasaad content, including the romance, I need to roll up a female. But first I wanted to sort out the most important part of character creation: the name. Given the nature of the run, I did a quick google for names that mean "lucky bastard". I found "Machiko", which is apparently Japanese for "fortunate child", which is close enough.

    As a sorceress, Elven is the obvious powergaming choice, but since I'm going to be burning through familiars, I want that 18 CON, and powergaming is overrated anyway. Since I still like the elven mage paperdoll better than the human mage, I made a Half-Elf.

    For stat generation, I limited myself to the best of 50 rolls, with Vanilla BG1 rules in effect: rolls could not be saved, if I clicked the reroll button it was gone forever. And again, to prevent powergaming, I decided that I could decrease Strength/Dex/Con, but not increase them.

    Roll #32 gave me the following stats:
    16 STR
    11 DEX
    18 CON
    14 INT
    12 WIS
    12 CHA

    Which, after adjustment, became:
    16 STR
    07 DEX
    18 CON
    09 INT
    15 WIS
    18 CHA

    For alignment, there are only two "Save or Else" familiars: the NE Dust Mephit and the CE Quasit. Quasit has better AC, is immune to electricity, and deals about twice as much physical damage. Mephit is immune to petrification and adds some nice piercing/slashing/missile resistances. On the whole, the Quasit is probably better in BG1, especially early when familiars will really make a difference. But I hate chasing down scared enemies, so Neutral Evil it is!

    As I understand it, Neutral Evil will lock me out of romancing Rasaad in BG1, but the Rasaad romance is pretty bare-bones in BG1. I believe romancing Rasaad will still be possible in BG2 with an evil Charname, though please correct me if I'm wrong because otherwise I'll have to re-roll. (Or perhaps create a new "clone" character of a different alignment and transfer all the gear over before importing.)

    A sorceress is only as good as her starting spells, so for one starting spell slot I took: Find Familiar. People advise you never to take this on a sorcerer because you'll only want to cast it once. I'm bucking conventional wisdom because (a) it'll be incredibly useful pre-Nimbul, and (b) I'm imagining that I'm going to have to cast this one a lot.

    Sleep would be the obvious choice for the second spell, but it violates my "don't trivialize content" policy, and I've played a Sleep-using sorceress to death already. If necessary, I can get myself some wands to cover this base. Instead, I take Blindness for series-long utility.

    Planned party:
    * Rasaad: duh.
    * Viconia: Yeslick is disallowed, Quayle/Tiax are late-game, so Viconia and Branwen are my only potential sources of sweet, sweet Silence 15' goodness. Viconia wins out despite the fact that I always take her and rarely take Branwen because I want to see her and Rasaad go at it some.
    * Safana: I need a thief, and Safana is one of four NPCs that I have never used before. Plus, she comes with Charm Person as an innate ability, which makes her perfect for my purposes.
    * Xan: Oh no I lose access to invocation, which means I can’t cast… wait, what the what, web is an INVOCATION spell? Oh well, at least he gets bonuses to his charm/hold spells and he has that sweet Moonblade, which he will absolutely, positively, 100% be meleeing with.
    * Faldorn: Another of the four NPCs that I've never used before, (the last two standing will be Eldoth and Skie). She'll give me some practice with a pureclass Druid in advance of getting Cernd, and as the only character allowed to use summons, (other than Tiax and his ghoul, I guess), she'll actually fill an important niche.

    Planned party for BG2 (talk about putting the cart before the horse!):
    * Rasaad: duh.
    * Viconia: duh.
    * Wilson: the only BG2 NPC I've never used. Also: a bear.
    * Cernd: Hoping to get some actual utility out of his shapeshifted form this run.
    * Jan: I've never actually used his flasher launcher before. I plan on fixing that.
  • SomeSortSomeSort Member Posts: 859
    1st play session
    Major goal: acquire the low-hanging fruit for the final party.

    * Found myself standing around doing nothing in Candlekeep. Summoned a Dust Mephit. Wondered how long I've been able to do that, and also why I'd never done it before. Named him "Sprinkles".
    * Talked to Firebead Elvenhair exactly 30 times, because: quality of life (metaknowledge abuse #1!). Got his scroll from Tethtoril. Refused to give it back to Firebead because: he's annoying.
    * Bought a quarterstaff and a pack of crossbow bolts. Looted the upstairs of the inn as much as my puny strength would allow. Circled Candlekeep counterclockwise using my metaknowledge to complete the quests as quickly and easily as possible. Also grabbed myself a free potion of healing. Score!
    * Carbos: blinded and mauled by Sprinkles.
    * Shank: blinded and mauled by Sprinkles.
    * Reevor's rats: mauled by Sprinkles. No blind because I wanted them to see what was coming. I hate rats.
    * Exited Candlekeep. Watched Gorion get killed. Was sad.
    * Told Imoen to go home. She refused. I told her that was fine, but that I wouldn't hesitate to feed her to a wolf to buy me time to escape if we got ambushed. She laughed. (I wasn't joking.)
    * (I let Imoen keep her starting bow and 40 arrows as a quality-of-life decision.)
    * Stumbled across two people in the forest. Asked them to give me a potion of healing. They asked for my help in return. Told them to go to hell.
    * Travelled to Friendly Arm Inn and grabbed the Ring of Wizardry (metaknowledge abuse #2!). My quality of life improved immediately. (Well, upon my next successful rest cycle, at any rate.)
    * Ran into an assassin on the steps to the Friendly Arm Inn. Used my last cast to blind him before he had a chance to talk to me, (metaknowledge abuse #3!), then had Sprinkles maul him to death. Imoen tried to shoot him with arrows, but failed miserably. Useless brat.
    * Went inside to rest and replenish my spells. Saw a pair of adventurers in the corner trying to get my attention. Told them to go to hell.
    * Headed east to Peldvale, then due north. "Happened" to come upon a damsel in distress, (metaknowledge abuse #4!), and decided to help. Blinded her pursuer, and had my mephit "sprinkle" him with Glass Dust, (pun!). Viconia commanded him to die twice. He didnt, but it did make it easier for Sprinkles to gnaw his face off. Imoen tried to contribute and largely failed again. Useless brat.
    * Traveled to Beregost and checked out the Burning Wizard. Tried to unlock a dresser upstairs (attempted metaknowledge abuse #5!). Imoen failed, (useless brat), so I kicked her out of the party. She asked if it was really coming to this. I told her to be grateful I was abandoning her in civilization and that I hadn't fed her to a wolf as a distraction. She said she thought I'd been joking about that. I told her that was her problem.
    * Ran into Firebead Elvenhair again. For some inexplicable reason, decided to talk to him exactly 30 times again, (actual metaknowledge abuse #5!). Bought him a book. Thanked him for his scroll case. Decided to let him live.
    * Bought Viconia some Splint Mail. She complained that it was heavy. Asked her if she wanted some of what Imoen just got. She wisely decided to cast Silence, 0' radius on herself. She failed her save.
    * Traveled south. Came across some Ogrillons. Blinded them both and dusted them with glass, then Viconia and Sprinkles savaged them. Viconia wasn't complaining about her Splint Mail anymore. Am unsure if her Silence 0' Radius simply hasn't worn off yet.
    * Found a note. Delivered it to some lady in Beregost. Got a ring as a reward. Gave it to Viconia. Told her not to read too much into it.
    * Continued my journey south. Came across a zombie, which I blinded, and a pair of kobolds, which I didn't bother to waste any spells on. Sprinkles ate them all. Mephit is starting to get fat.
    * Was ambushed by Wargs. Blinded them both and dusted them with glass. Viconia and Sprinkles went to town.
    * Was ambushed by an Ogre. Blinded him, then had Viconia command him to die twice while Sprinkles went to town in a manner that was really kind of disturbing. Afterwards, the Ogre panicked and tried to run away, but Sprinkles chased him down. That mephit is the stuff of nightmares.
    * Finally reached Nashkel. Talked to a guy named Neeber a whole bunch of times until Viconia inexplicably gained a level, (metaknowledge abuse #6!), unlocking a brand new slate of SoE potential. Afterward, fed him to Sprinkles. Nobody seemed to mind.
    * Saw some monk named Rasaad dancing in the square. Decided to recruit him. Bought him a Ninja-To from the local store, because Ninjas are cool.

    Session statistics:
    10: enemies blinded, (0 saves made).
    5: enemies glass dusted, (0 saves made).
    4: times Viconia commanded an enemy to die. None listened, but it apparently induces narcolepsy.
    3: pounds gained by Sprinkles from all that face-eating. Which is a lot for a mephit.
    0: hits landed on my party. Which I'm totally sure will last and I'm not jinxing myself at all, here.
    -1: Net change in the number of Neebers in the world.
  • SomeSortSomeSort Member Posts: 859
    2nd Play Session
    Major goal: Safana
    * Picking up where I left off-- in other words, with all my spells exhausted and standing outside of an inn with an assassin waiting inside, (heya, it's me, metaknowledge). So I did what any reasonable Charname would do: I traveled to the Carnival and slept in the streets like a vagrant.
    * In the name of pointless risks, I decided to return and take on the totally avoidable assassin in the inn, anyway. Neira, (not to be confused with Neera), was easily blinded, but she managed to get a Rigid Thinking on Rasaad anyway, which might have been trouble had she not immediately followed it up with a longer-duration Hold Person and then stepped away to fight Viconia, leaving Rasaad safe and sound. The Hold Person also caught Sprinkles, leaving Viconia and Neira to go toe-to-toe in a melee slugfest between two characters with terrible THACO, awesome AC, and 1 attack per round. Viconia had managed to whittle her all the way down to "Injured" by the time her Hold Person wore off, and then after another 2 or 3 rounds of whiffs I had Sprinkles drop a courtesy Glass Dust to speed the process along.
    * Since I was already being pretty reckless, I decided I might as well rush Safana early, too. Started traveling westward towards the Lighthouse area. Realized I forgot to reset my spellbook, so I switched all of Viconia's level 1 slots to Sanctuary and rested in the wild. I was interrupted by a single Gnoll, who was easily blinded and dispatched, but Viconia's mace broke in the fight and I'd forgotten to bring spares since I'm so used to having her on Sling duty.
    * Rested successfully, then resumed traveling. Was waylaid by a pair of wargs. The first got blinded just fine, but the second gave me my first successful saving throw of the run. The unblinded Warg chased Squishy Rasaad, while the blinded one started wandering randomly. Viconia tried to chase him down to get him to focus on her while Rasaad ran away until Machiko could land a second blind, (which she did on her next attempt). Before Viconia could draw the first warg's attention, he ran right next to Machiko, immediately turned and made an attack, hitting for 8 damage, another first for the run. Bad dog!
    * After getting past those hiccups I got the Wargs sorted without further issues and continued traveling. Was waylaid by a pair of Ghasts, but decided even I'm not that reckless; I blinded the closest one and then ran away.
    * (As an aside: this new "blinded enemies wander" behavior in EE is a major nerf on that spell. Probably a warranted nerf, but a nerf nonetheless. It's actually causing me to reconsider my "no ranged weapons" rule. For quality-of-life reasons, I've decided I'll allow darts and slings, but only against enemies that are blind and wandering.)
    * Made it to the Lighthouse. Ran across a trio of Tasloi, and with my supply of Blinds dwindling, I decided just to Glass Dust them. One of the three saved, but was quickly ganged up on and killed. Despite being all sorts of itchy from all that glass dust, the other two Tasloi rolled back-to-back criticals, dropping 7 damage on Vicky and 12 (!) on Rasaad, who has just 13 HP to begin with. This is why I don't play Insane at level 1. Sprinkles ate both of their faces.
    * I came across Arkushule, a lady in the woods, and wanted to murder her dead. Given my newfound acceptance of ranged weapons, I decided to recruit Safana to use her darts to do the deed. Discovered that Safana didn't come with any darts when recruited, despite the proficiency point. Decided against pressing my luck even more; she's a fortune-teller, so she'd probably see it coming, anyway.
    * I listened to Safana tell me about a dangerous cave filled with treasure, and remembering how my grandma always used to say that the best Thief is a Cleric, I had Viconia use her Sanctuaries to sneak past all those pesky Sirines and Flesh Golems. Her Magic Resistance stopped both traps in the cave without issue, and she was able to get there and back again with one Sanctuary to spare.
    * Unfortunately, Viconia is hella weak and couldn't haul out all the loot from the cave, so she decided to drop her Splint Mail and leave it behind. Something about being surrounded by all that exposed flesh (golem) apparently brought out an exhibitionist streak. She now has no weapon and no armor, but by stripping down she was able to satisfy Safana. Wait, that didn't come out right: she satisfied Safana's lust. For treasure. Her lust for treasure. Whatever, she got the loot.
    * Included in the treasure trove were ten darts of wounding, so it was time to pay that fortune teller a visit. I had two blinds left in the bank, so I cast them both. The first failed, (mages have strong saves vs. spells), but the nice thing about blind is if it fails against a blue-circle NPC, they don't go hostile. My final attempt landed, and Safana hit with her first dart of wounding. I threw a second one just to be safe and then waited for the poison to finish the job. Turns out she didn't see it coming after all.
    * Arkushule dropped a Mage Robe of Cold Resistance, which is the worst mage robe mechanically, but the best one aesthetically for my paperdoll and color scheme, so that's what I'll be wearing until I get myself a Mage Robe of the Evil Archmagi. Score!
    * I now found myself completely out of spells, with Rasaad down to his last hit point and Viconia without weapon or armor, so the return trip was pretty harrowing; a single waylay could ruin my day. The best AC in my entire party was 4. I did have Safana's Charm Person if it really came to that, but thankfully it didn't, and I made it to Beregost without incident.
    * Spent a day in the Burning Wizard rejiggering my spellbook and healing off all the damage. While enjoying our downtime, Safana opened the dresser upstairs that vexed Imoen so badly. Imoen was still standing there, so Safana made a point of rubbing it in. Viconia finally had arms again. I mean, not arms, but weapons; she always had arms. Bare arms, as it were, after that escapade with the splint mail.
    * I went back and forth on whether to off Algernon or to level up a bit and pick his pocket. I decided that from my rep of 9, the 3-point loss for killing him was tolerable, the rep was easy enough to make back up, and getting Machiko to 20 charisma would result in greater savings in the long run. So... sorry Algernon. Meet Sprinkles, Eater of Faces.
    * Thunderhammer provided Vicky with a new set of clothes, and I added an admonishment to keep them on this time. She told me once again to find her something lighter. I took her suggestion under advisement.
    * Too cheap to identify items at full price, I traveled to Nashkel Carnival. Now I can use the Charm functionality on Algie's Cloak, (score!). Also, I wasn't really thinking about this when I set out to get Safana, but I also wound up with Relair's Mistake in the process. I've never used this before, because shapeshifting is the suck, amirite? Only Relair's Mistake is kind of badass. Activating it turns you into a wolf, but you don’t need to keep the cloak equipped beyond that to remain in wolf form. And since it has unlimited uses per day, you can pass it around and turn your entire party into a pack of wolves. Wolf form, as far as I can tell, sets your Strength to 18, your Dex to 17, and gives you two APR with your claws, which are 1d8 weapons, (+2 from your strength bonus). It doesn’t change your AC at all, except insofar as your dex bonus might increase or decrease. It doesn’t disable spellcasting, but it does cause all spells to fail, so… don’t. Thieving abilities, on the other hand, work just fine. (I’ll have to test whether you can backstab with wolf paws one of these days, but you can pickpocket with them just fine.) So basically in the early game it’s a Gauntlets of Dex that set you to 17 instead of 18, and also give you an extra attack per round, and also increase your carrying capacity to 200, and also can be worn by the entire party at once. So that’s pretty good.
    * Since I’m a sucker for pointless risks and drunk on my newfound Wolfpack Cheese, I also dropped in on good old Zordral and Bentha. Who knew insulting Zordral would provoke him into killing Bentha so we could get her gear, too? (I did. I knew that.) This was a pretty stupid risk since as a mage he has decent saves vs. spells, but it paid off as my first Silence 15’ Radius landed on him. (And on my entire party except for Viconia, to boot.) With Safana and Rasaad both in wolf form I was able to take him out before my silence wore out, and Viconia contributed another Command and a Hold Person, just to be safe. He saved against both, but not against Power Wolf: Kill. (The fact that he saved against Command shows that this was a really stupid risk; it means he’s at least a level 6 mage and even with Silence’s massive penalty, there’s a nearly 1-in-3 chance that he’ll shrug it off.)
    * (Really, that's it for the stupid, high-risk, low-reward gambles for this run. No more picking unnecessary fights with high-level spellcasters. I typically start runs pretty reckless because I don't have much invested yet and then mellow out a bit as the run progresses.)
    * Met a potion merchant. Bought a red and a violet potion. Sold the violet one for double what I paid for the pair. This guy sucks at capitalism.
    * What the hell, as long as I’m doing pointless things… I charm Zeke and walk him over to the Great Gazib. I have Gazib summon Oompah until Oompah goes hostile, then I charm Gazib while he’s running away. (Aside: given his awesome spell selection, Gazib is a pretty high-level mage himself.) Then I have both Zeke and Gazib attack Oompah in melee until they’re chunked while I blind Oompah and take him down with my new darts. Sweet, some easy loot!
    * Headed into the gambling tent. Chucked a preemptive blind on Vitiare. He’s a pretty safe target since once he goes hostile he only tries to run away. Sprinkles notches yet another kill, securing me an elusive Potion of Master Thievery in the process. Too bad Vitiare didn’t have any Potions of Preemptively Knowing Who Not to Mess With on him.
    * Took Zeke’s scroll and freed Branwen. Then told her to go to hell.

    Session Statistics:
    8: Blinds cast. (2 saves.)
    6: Glasses dusted. (1 saved.)
    2: Dudes charmed and chunked by an ogre. (0 saves.)
    2: commands issued. (1 ignored.)
    1: mage silenced. (0 saves.)
    1: hold cast. (1 save.)
    1: Ogre exploded. (3 times.)
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