In this playthrough, I will be doing a solo run of the Improved Anvil mod (referred to as IA).
About Improved Anvil:
The best way I find of explaining IA is to first talk about Kangaxx. Before TOB was released, Kangaxx was probably the strongest foe in the game, and served as a bonus boss. Lots of players when they first encountered him found themselves unable to beat him conventionally. BG2, being a game with a lot of options, offered a lot of ways to make this fight against such a terrifying foe easy, such as:
- Use a scroll of protection from undead so Kangaxx cannot target your character while your character chips away with a powerful magic weapon
- Use a scroll of protection from magic on your character so Kangaxx can cast his spells but your character will be unaffected
- Use a scroll of protection from magic on Kangaxx so Kangaxx will always fail when casting his spells
- Hit him with the improved mace of disruption until he happens to fail his saving throw and is destroyed
There are a lot of options available, and each player has their own threshold for what they consider a cheesy strategy. Mod makers like to disable strategies that they find cheesy, but this will be their personal interpretation of what is considered cheesy.
Sikret was a modder in the mid 2000s and the creator of Improved Anvil. Of the mod creators, he had probably the strictest interpretation of what was considered a cheesy strategy, and was not afraid to implement it in his mod. Others have disagreed with his determination of what is and is not a cheesy strategy, and the internet being the internet, these discussions were rarely civil. Notable things that Sikret considered cheesy include:
- Project image and similar spells
- Hit and run tactics
- Spells or abilities that will disable an enemy (even if they require a saving throw)
The vast list of strategies that Sikret considered cheesy and the degree to which we went to prevent these strategies caused a lot of controversy. For instance, every major enemy is immune to missile weapons (to prevent hit and run tactics) or immune to disabling spells (to prevent spamming reloads until it happens to hit). A large amount of strategies and tactics were removed from the game, and encounters which previously had several potential approaches were reduced to one or two that Sikret considered non-cheesy.
This is not to say that IA is a bad mod - quite the opposite. If you are happy to play within the constraints of what you are considered cheesy, you will find that it is a very well-made mod - it provides a great feeling of progression and it provides encounters that remain challenging all the way to the end of TOB. It does require some degree of power gaming, and certain classes (notably thief) are pretty much dead weights, and this ends up adding a puzzle element to the game - at any given point you will have a number of strong encounters potentially blocking your advancement, and the puzzle element will be which encounters will provide loot that lets you beat other encounters.
History of IA and solo runs:
Back in the 2000s, I used to visit the Bioware forums (that unfortunately are no longer up). These forums had regular no-reload threads. Most of the no-reload participants would run vanilla or SCS for their difficulty, but there was one person named saros_shadow_follower who would run solo no-reload IA on insane difficulty.
Saros had quite a few solo noreload runs of IA, and beat it several times with different classes. There was a lot of friction between Saros and Sikret - Sikret considered a lot of solo strategies to be cheesy (and in some way the concept of soloing a party game to be inherently a bit cheesy), and declared that Saros's strategies were either cheating or had been falsified.
I started following this events at the time that IA was on its fourth version. Version 5 was released when I was following events, and despite Sikret declaring the it was more challenging and unable to be soloed, Saros still posted a few solo no-reload playthroughs. This went on for some time, and finally in early 2010, Improved anvil version 6 was released.
At the time of release, IAv6 was by far the most controversial mod of BG2, and it may still hold that title (depending on how some of the more questionable romance mods are considered). The website hosting it (Black Wyrm's Lair) was having funding problems, and it was initially behind a $30 paywall. It was leaked and later made public, but the content of the update was not well received. A lot of the changes between version 5 and version 6 were explicitly anti-solo scripts - if the player was playing with four or fewer members of their party, then the game would change - enemies would use their most powerful abilities more often, important loot would not drop, and at one point in early TOB the player character would be straight up killed.
Saros was indeed unable to do a solo no-reload of version 6 of the mod, and instead did a no-reload with a full party. In the decade since this has happened, Sikret has retired from modding and Saros has retired from IA runs. Another member of the BWL forums, Critto, has taken over development of IA since the retirement of Sikret. Critto's changes have included EE support, and crucially, removal of the anti-solo scripts. Although the anti-solo scripts have been removed, I am not aware of any solo playthroughs of IAv6.
About this playthrough:
Although Saros did no-reload runs, I will be reloading in this run. However, I will try to only use strategies that would be safe for a no-reload run, so this may be considered a route for anyone who does want to no-reload IA. I will likely retry each encounter a few times once a strategy is found to make sure it is no-reload safe, so there may be minor inconsistencies in the screenshots I provide.
I will be playing through BG2ee version 184.108.40.206, with the following mods:
- Weapon Animation Tweaks
- Icewind Dale Casting Graphics
- Disable Portrait Icons Added by Equipped Items
- Icon Improvements
- Force All Dialogue to Pause Game
- Make Magic Shields Glow
- Unique Icons
- Remove Blur Effect from Items
- Separate Resist Fire/Cold Icon into Separate Icons
- Multiple Strongholds (No Restrictions)
- Remove Experience Cap
- Multi-Class Grandmastery
- True Grandmastery
- Triple-Class HLA Tables
- Max HP at Level One
- Maximum HP on Level Up
- Maximum HP for All Creatures in Game
- Bottomless Bags of Holding
- Unlimited Ammo Stack Size
- Unlimited Gem and Jewelry Stacking
- Unlimited Potion Stacking
- Unlimited Scroll Stacking
- Give Every Class/Kit Four Weapon Slots
Improved Anvil 6.52:
- The Gypsy questline and the Limak encounter are available for non-mage protagonists
- The Shimmering Light and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly quest lines are available for non-ranger protagonists
- Non-essential class- and kit-based drops are available to all protagonists
- Mage- and ranger-specific rewards and crafted items are available for all protagonists
- Enable the hardest versions of XP-based encounters in Chapters 2&3
In addition to this, at the start of the game I will be giving myself the tomes that are obtainable in a BG1 playthrough, and two bags of holding for inventory management.
I will cover the unmodified parts of the game extremely briefly, and focus on the new improved encounters.
I will be using imgur to document my progress - each update will consist of one or more imgur albums that cover the encounter(s) in the update.
The challenges that will be faced:
A good example of an IA enemy is the coin golem:
As terrifying as its base stats are, it has equipment on top that that make it scarier. It is under a perma-haste effect that means it attacks three times per round for 5d10+14 damage that attacks as a +4 weapon. It has an effective THAC0 and -10 and AC of -4, and needs +3 or better weapons to hit. It is immune to any spell that would disable it. This is considered a mnior golem by IA standards - we will fight lots of them, and they will always be part of a group. Later fights in the game will spawn these as reinforcements.
In order to destroy the coin golem, we need arcane protection spells - Stoneskin will completely block the damage that it deals, and PFMW will provide four rounds of protection. In that time, our best damage output will be to attack it with piercing weapons, which it will only take 25% damage from.
In vanilla BG2, the arcane caster was the strongest class in every aspect - the best buffer, the best debuffer, the best crowd control, the best DPS and the best tank. IA enemies are a lot harder for a mage to deal with offensively - for a coin golem, it would take most of a mage's spellbook to take out one, and they never travel alone. The mage does remain the greatest defensive class in the game, though, and in order to survive the game we will need access to arcane buffs. The classes that we can use are:
- Mage: Fast leveling up and access to arcane spells, but very weak offensive options against enemies like golems
- Bard: Great levelling and the best class for winning dispel wars. Spell slots stop at level 6, but that is not a major restriction, as levels 4-6 are the most important spell levels. Unfortunately, its offensive capabilities are only slightly better than a pure mage - it does not gain the APR from grandmastery or the APR from being a warrior class. It has access to UAI, which is a plus.
- F/M: A very strong option, both dual and multi class. Unfortunately, in the late game we will encounter enemies that use "purge magic", an unresistable, unbeatable dispel. For these encounters, we will need to rely on item-based buffs, which are undispellable, and the best of these are not available to a F/M
- F/M/T: Like the F/M, but with access to UAI. The thief slows down the level progression with mostly useless levels, but it has unparallel late game, and there are certain late game fights that will require every ounce of power we can bring to bear. We will therefore be going for a F/M/T.
Our early game will revolve around doing as much unmodded content as possible. We will use potions, scrolls, and other consumables to allow us to beat some of the modded encounters. At 2.55m experience we will gain access to level 6 arcane spells and at 3m experience we will gain access to HLAs, and these two power spikes will herald us entering the mid game - we will have a somewhat standard set of buffs, and out strategy for most fights will be seeing if we can keep this set of buffs going long enough to beat the fight. The late game comes when we assemble our endgame equipment and become resistant to dispelling, with each equipment-sourced buff being a power spike.
Things to watch out for in IA include:
- It is common for an enemy to be weak to one of piercing, slashing or crushing damage. Our weapons of choice will therefore be shortswords, longswords and flails.
- Equipment that used to set an attribute to a fixed value now typically provides a boost to that attribute instead.
- Access to certain arcane spells like improved haste is extremely limited in IA, and this will dictate a lot of the fights we can do.
- It is common for mid to late game boss enemies to summon minions that provide additional experience and loot when killed. Since we will want to squeeze every drop of XP possible out of this game, we will want to ensure that each round of minions is summoned before killing the main boss enemy. This typically tops out at six minions summoned.
- When a boss enemy is triggered, area transitions are often disabled and door closing is often disabled until the boss is beaten
- Weapons that do small amounts of elemental damage on each hit have been changed so they instead have a 5% or 10% chance of doing a lot of elemental damage. In theory the DPS is the same, but due to how rounding works in the game, it is a nerf to DPS. The major result of this is that disrupting mages under stoneskin is a lot harder.
- The thief's detect illusion does not work against SI:Div.
- There are a few "ambush" fights where the party is auto-dispelled. The areas we access in the early game will be based a lot around avoiding these fights.
- A lot of IA enemies have regeneration, and some of them will have fast enough regeneration that keeping up our DPS will be a big issue.
- Some enemies can only be hit by equipment of a high enough enchantment level - getting our first +3 piercing and +3 crushing weapons will be big power spikes.
- Gold will be a concern in this game, as all our equipment upgrades will get expensive. The only infinite gold sources left in the game that I am aware of are the fighter and bard strongholds, and those we will not gain access to for a while.
- Our first priority for thief skills will be pickpocket, then open locks and find traps - Pickpocketing we will use mostly for generic loot and money in the early game, as we will pickpocket everyone we can safely pickpocket. The locks and traps we encounter will be okay sources of experience, and we can easily buff them in the short term with things like DUHM. Move Silently and Hide in Shadows will be mostly useless to us, detect illusion and set traps completely useless.
- Our first HLA will be UAI, and our second HLA will either be an extra level 6 spell or assassination (as a super critical strike against certain enemies). We will spend most of our HLAs on critical strike, and will probably max out at 20 of them eventually.
- If the player's reputation ever drops below 5, it will trigger a variable that permanently treats the player as non-good, even if their reputation increases above 5.
- Chain Contingency cannot be cast more often than once every 24 in-game hours.
- The more powerful wish options are only available to single-class mages. Wish resting will not be an option if wish has been cast in the last 24 hours, but since it is locked to single class mages that won't affect us. We won't be casting wish naturally, but one of the endgame weapons casts is with 2% change on hit so we will get a few wishes in the late game.
- Silence is a very powerful effect - dragons and some liches have access to an unresistable form of silence. We will fortunately avoid this by obtaining the amulet of power extremely early on