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Of Blades and Skalds - A Baldur's Gate 1&2 class guide

Some thoughts about the Blade and Skald classes for BGEE 1 and 2. Some spoilers for item locations and such.

Some abbreviations:

BG1: Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition 1
BG2: Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition 2
SoD: Siege of Dragonspear
ToB: Throne of Bhaal

AC: Armor Class
THAC0: To Hit Armor Class 0. This just means your accuracy with attacks.
Saves: Saving throws. Your defense against magical effects.
Note: AC, THAC0 and saves go down as they improve. The lower the better!
Note 2: For the sake of simplicity, I will describe a beneficial bonus as ‘+X’. For example, a +1 longsword has +1 damage and -1 THAC0, but I will just describe that as +1 damage and +1 THAC0 to make things easier to understand.

APR: Attacks Per Round
HLA: High lvl Ability - Special perks available in the very late game. Bards get their first at lvl 24.
TWF: Two-weapon fighting / two-weapon style / dual wielding
Lvl: level
Kits: Variants on a base class. The Blade and Skald are Bard kits.
CC: Crowd Control

1 round: 6 seconds.
1 turn: 10 rounds.
1 hour: 2 turns.

Martial: Refers to warrior classes. These are Fighter, Ranger, Paladin and their kits.
Priests: Cleric and Druid.
Rogues: Thief and Bard.
Casters: The wizard classes, Mage and Sorcerer.

Str: Strength
Dex: Dexterity
Con: Constitutiton
Int: Intelligence
Wis: Wisdom
Cha: Charisma


Why a Bard?
Apart from being a fun class with great flavor, the Bard is very fitting for the player character given their background. Your character grows up around books, being tutored by Gorion in the arcane arts and your childhood friend is a good hearted thief. This makes the Bard a natural fit for the player character.

There is also a rule of thumb for the BG games; nothing with arcane spells can be bad. Bards have arcane spells, so Bards aren’t bad.


Why not standard Bard?
Both the Blade and Skald are strictly speaking just better than the base kit for the Bard class at what it does. Only Jester is a reasonable alternative and it plays significantly differently due to its Jester Song.


Bard Song and Skald Song - A Crude Summation
The Bard Song provices Luck, which increases THAC0, saves and minimum physical damage done (increasing average), while reducing magical damage taken, and comes bundled with immunity to fear from lvl 1.

The Skald Song provides bonuses to weapon damage, THAC0 and AC. Later it gives immunity to fear (lvl 15) and finally stun and confusion as well (lvl 20).

The TL;DR is that the Bard Song is slightly better when fighting against magic users until lvl 15, while the Skald Song is better when fighting against martial characters. The Enhanced Bard Song (HLA) is better than both.


The Base Stats:
Bards have the following features:
May not wear armor heavier than chain mail (Spells cannot be cast while wearing armor)
May not equip shields larger than bucklers
May only become Proficient (one slot) in any weapon class
May only become Proficient (one slot) in any fighting style
Thieving abilities: Pick Pockets
Increased Lore score
May cast wizard spells starting at 2nd lvl
May use Bard Song ability. While active, the Bard Song has the following effects: Restore morale to its average value, remove fear, protection from fear.
Alignment restricted to any neutral
Hit Die: d6 (max +2 bonus from Con)



The Blade
In-game description:
The Blades are the expert fighters and adventurers whose bardic acting abilities make them appear more intimidating and fearsome. This Bard's fighting style is flashy and entertaining, but is also lethally dangerous.
Advantages:
May place 3 slots in Two-Weapon Style
May use the Offensive Spin and Defensive Spin abilities once per day. Gains one use each at lvl 1 and an additional use each every 4 lvls thereafter.
Disadvantages:
Only has one half the normal Lore value
Only has one half the normal Pick Pockets skill
Bard Song does not become better with lvls


Spin to Win:
Offensive Spin:
Increases APR by 1
Doubles movement speed
+2 THAC0 and damage
Maximized damage dice for attacks
Duration: 6 rounds / 36 seconds
Can be used in armor

Note: Does not stack with Haste or Improved Haste in the EE.

Defensive Spin:
Increases AC by 1 for each Blade lvl to a maximum of 10
Roots character (character stuck in place)
Duration: 4 rounds / 24 seconds
Can be used in armor

These abilities are powerful, but of the two, the Offensive Spin is going to be the most important for the Blade overall. Increasing AC at the cost of being able to move with Defensive Spin can often end the life of an overconfident Blade, leaving them vulnerable to AoE spells and abilities or unable to respond to teammates being in trouble. It is best used against enemy warriors when you can control their movement. Blocking doorways and similar is the best overall option.

Offensive Spin is better than the normal Haste spell and can be used in armor that normally disables spellcasting. This is a significant factor, because it allows the Blade to put on armor and go do things on the frontlines early in the game, before they come into their own as casters. It is, however, much better put to use with ranged weapons early on. A longbow will deal 10 damage per hit with a +3 THAC0 modifier and 3 APR for 6 rounds.

The Spins go on their own resources and are great for the Blade to use when they need a little more power or defense, but either don’t have anything else to use in the party or don’t want to.

Misleading Drawbacks:
The kits’ description mentions that the Blade has reduced abilities when it comes to Lore, Pickpocket and their Bard Song. The first two are accurate, as the Blade operates with 50% of the progression of a normal Bard on these points, but the Blade’s song is just as good as the regular Bard’s at lvl 1-14.

Normally the Bard Song operates like so:
Immunity to Fear
Restores Morale (sort of dispels fear)
Luck +1
At lvl 15, Luck increases to +2
At lvl 20, Luck increases to +3


The Blade Song works like this:
Immunity to Fear
Restores Morale (sort of dispels fear)
Luck +1


This means that the regular Bard isn’t going to give his party a better buff than the Blade before we have gone all the way into the second game. So the Blade is just as useful as party support in the early game, before they accumulate the equipment and lvls needed to get into their own as spellswords, which they typically have in spades by the time they reach lvl 15.

When we reach lvl 24, the Blade can also pick the Enhanced Bard Song, making them just as good as passive buffers as every other Bard.

Lore and Pickpocket:
The Blade gets +5 Lore for each lvl as opposed to +10. This makes the Blade the character with the second higher lore score, after other Bards. In practical terms, it means you’re worse at identifying stuff in BG1, but won’t notice much in BG2. There is, as far as I’ve been able to find, no items requiring more than 100 Lore to identify and most need much, much less. The gold you accumulate in BG1 does not carry over to BG2 or even the Siege of Dragonspear, so spending a bit extra to identify stuff early isn’t a big deal.

The Blade maxes out at 57 Pickpocket (before modifiers) at lvl 16, while the baseline Bard and Jesters reach 115 and Skalds reach 28. This makes the Blade dependent on Potions of Master Thievery to effectively pickpocket, though it should be said that this skill has limited benefits without Potions of Master Thievery overall. With a stock of potions, it can break the game’s economy.

The best overall item to lift from someone’s pocket is the Ring of Regeneration in BG2, from the merchant behind the counter in the Adventurer’s Mart, which can be done right out of the initial dungeon. You probably have both a trap-finding thief/mage and a pure thief in your party in the first dungeon, letting you build your pure thief towards pickpocket to get this item. There is also a Potions of Master Thievery in the initial dungeon, letting a Blade pickpocket the item themselves.

The Skald
In-game description:
Skalds are Nordic bards who are also warriors of great strength, skill, and virtue; their songs are inspiring sagas of battle and valor, and the Skalds devote their lives to those pursuits.
Advantages:
+1 bonus to THAC0 and +1 to damage rolls with all weapons
The Skald's song is different from the typical Bard's and varies with lvl:
1st lvl: Grants allies a +2 bonus to THAC0, +2 bonus to damage rolls, and a +2 bonus to AC
15th lvl: Grants allies a +4 bonus to THAC0, +4 bonus to damage rolls, +4 bonus to AC and immunity to fear
20th lvl: Grants allies a +4 bonus to THAC0, +4 bonus to damage rolls, +4 bonus to AC, immunity to fear, stun, and confusion
Disadvantage:
Only has one quarter the normal Pick Pockets score, and one-fourth of the dex modifier to the score. At lv16 skalds will reach up to 28 in pickpocketing, and with 25 dex, they’ll have the combined score of 40.


Sing to Win:
The key to success as a Skald is often to utilize the unique benefits of the Skald Song, which plays very well with parties that are heavily reliant on weapon damage, or so the conventional wisdom goes. And this is certainly true, especially early on.

Keep in mind that the Skald Song does not give immunity to fear before lvl 15, meaning that you need to prepare a spell to deal with that.

The Worst Thief:
Skalds get the lowest Pickpocket score of all the Bards and their ability to be thieves is borderline useless. Never attempt to pick anything from anyone’s pockets without several Potions of Master Thievery.

SkatanGrond0ArviaAerakarHafirDanacm

Comments

  • TomRenethTomReneth Member Posts: 16
    edited June 30
    Blade versus Skalds:
    So what is the actual difference between the Blade and the Skald? That is going to depend on which lvl range you are playing in, in addition to which song you prefer.

    1-4:
    Neither class has the stats or spells to engage as frontliners for the first few lvls, meaning they both fall back on being singing party support, ideally with longbows. The Skald is a better archer most of the time, while the Blade is king as long as Offensive Spin is up.

    5-7:
    Here the two of them begin to come more into their own as spellswords and can begin to engage more fruitfully in melee. Blades now have 2 uses of Offensive Spin, meaning they can usually contribute as a frontliner once or twice a long rest because of it. Mirror Image is their primary survival tool on the frontlines. Now Defensive Spin begins to provide enough AC to be worth considering.

    Skalds are still primarily singing ranged support, but can go at it with Bracers of Armor, a buckler and Mirror Image for some tanking.

    8-10:
    This is where the Blade begins to transition from a supporter to a more dedicated swordsman. They can still sing when needed, but they now have the spellslots to buff up properly for a hard fight and likely have access to equipment to compensate for their awful stats. At lvl 9 they also have 3 uses of each of their Spins, but now Haste is likely the primary buff used by the party, letting the Blades keep Offensive Spin as a backup for when that runs out. At lvl 10, they unlock 4th lvl spell slots, allowing them to use the always amazing Stoneskin.

    Skalds now take their place on the frontlines alongside the Blades, albeit less reliably. Their innate +1 THAC0 bonus lets them use TWF almost as effectively as their competition, which is generally worth it because Bards do not get additional attacks per turn otherwise. Skalds likely max out their Lore around lvl 10, letting them identify anything at a glance.

    11-14:
    From here and out, the Blade will continue to progress much the same. Increasingly capable of engaging in melee, supported by magic and equipment to make up the difference between themselves and martial characters.

    Skalds remain behind the Blades as melee characters and their song isn’t that much more powerful than the regular Bard Song. As magic becomes more powerful and common, it is arguably less useful because Luck protects from magical damage and improves saves, which the Skald Song does not.

    15-23:
    Blades continue as before, becoming ever more skilled spellswords.

    At lvl 15 the Skald Song kicks into overdrive and becomes just better than the Bard Song. +4 to THAC0, AC and damage makes any martial character in the party a powerhouse, especially when combined with summons and Haste. At lvl 20 it becomes even better.

    24+:
    Now the Blade is no longer merely the superior swordsman, but with access to the Enhanced Bard Song HLA, they are also just as good as any other epic lvl Bard at song support. By now, their Lore score should have passed 100 even if they have a penalty and Potions of Master Thievery are affordable enough to compensate for their limited pickpocketing skill.

    From here on out, the Skald plays like a weaker Blade. They need to dual wield to be effective, but are stuck with a -1 THAC0 penalty compared to the Blade and do not have Offensive or Defensive Spins to help them adapt to the situation.

    Because of HLAs, both classes can now go beyond their normal equipment restrictions, which hypothetically lets the Skald strap on a shield for tanking, but they can’t use plate armor without disabling their spells, which would ruin their survivability. The unfortunate reality is that AC tanking just isn’t reliable without Defensive Spin at these lvls and the Bard doesn’t get enough HP to take repeated heavy hits. Stoneskin + Mirror Image + killing the enemy as fast as possible is the best bet, making the Blade overall more tanky, since the enemy won’t live as long.



    Building a Bard:
    Here are some pointers for how to build a Bard as your main character. The following sections will remain largely the same for Blades and Skalds.

    Race:
    Only humans and half-elves can be Bards and therefore Blades. Humans have no bonuses, while half-elves get some minute ones. Half-elves are the optimal choice, but it isn’t a significant difference if you prefer humans.

    If you’re using a save game editor (like EEKeeper), switching to an Elf or Tiefling is worth considering. They get +1 accuracy with longswords, shortsword, shortbows and longbows, which is a decent bonus on the Bard class.

    Ability Scores:
    The most important ones are dexterity, intelligence and constitution. After that is Strength and charisma, followed lastly by wisdom.

    Dexterity is the most important of all your stats and should be put to 18 if you want a somewhat optimized character. This will give you +4 AC and +2 THAC0 with ranged weapons, as well as a bonus to pickpocket.

    Constitution has an ideal value of 16 for every class that is not a martial class, which gives +2 HP per lvl. This can be achieved either by getting 16 at character creation or by putting it at 15 and getting the Manual of Bodily Health for a +1 bonus later.

    Intelligence is both important and not a big deal at the same time. If you play in a way that bypasses the chance to fail when scribing spells (normal difficulty or save/reload), it is significantly less important. It is primarily going to determine how many spells you can have in your spellbook. All Bards have a minimum int of 13, giving them 9 spells per lvl compared to 18 at lvl 18 and infinite at 19. Potions can be used to boost int if you don’t have the points to give this a high value.

    Strength is of limited usefulness or of paramount importance. Because Blades do not get the improved Str values martial classes do, even 18 Str only gives +1/+2 to THAC0/damage with melee weapons. Spells and items to boost Str is also very common and will overtake even a 19 Str character in BG2, making it a short term investment at best. That being said, too low Str will give you a low carrying capacity, which is inconvenient. Having base 18 Str and getting a Tome of Strength will make the late-game of BG1, SoD and early BG2 much, much easier though.

    Charisma has a minimum value of 15 for Bards and only influences how people react to you, as well as prices in shops. If you can spare 3 points to make it 18, that will only benefit you, but it isn’t a priority.

    Wisdom doesn’t really do anything for a Bard, apart from its effect on the Lore value. Bards only have up to 6th lvl spells, meaning they don’t use Wish or Limited Wish. It can be dumped if necessary.


    Three values:
    Ideal:
    Str - 18
    Dex - 18
    Con - 16
    Int - 18
    Wis - 10
    Cha - 18
    Total roll: 98

    More realistic:
    Str - 10
    Dex - 18
    Con - 16
    Int - 18
    Wis - 10
    Cha - 15
    Total roll: 87

    More realistic alternate:
    Str - 18
    Dex - 18
    Con - 15
    Int - 13
    Wis - 10
    Cha - 15
    Total roll: 89

    Budget:
    Str - 10
    Dex - 18
    Con - 15
    Int - 13
    Wis - 9
    Cha - 15
    Total roll: 80

    I’ve run the budget setup and it works out just fine. At the end of the day, as long as you get your dex and con to the right values, everything else tends to fall in place, so don’t fret spending a lot of time rolling for stats. It normally shouldn’t take more than 1-5 tries to get 80+ on a Bard, given their high minimum values.

    The “more realistic” options might seem like they have very high rolls and for a lot of classes that would be the case, but Bards have some of the highest minimum stat requirements, meaning that they will roll higher a lot more often than a lot of other classes.

    And as a bonus I present Imoen the Bard. Her stats are actually pretty solid for a Bard, so no wonder she makes such a good thief/mage.
    Str - 9
    Dex - 18
    Con - 16
    Int - 17
    Wis - 11
    Cha - 16
    Total roll: 87


    Weapon Proficiencies:
    The Blade will get 2 points at lvl 1 and another point every 4 lvls (4, 8, 12, etc.). In BG1, you will be limited to only 4 points total, making it important to plan out how to spend them.

    Blades can invest fully in TWF, but I don’t recommend picking this up at lvl 1, because it will take several lvls before the Blade can effectively engage in melee due to their low HP, AC and lack of helmets.

    lvl 1:
    I recommend putting 1 point into a ranged weapon, preferably the longbow because it comes with an inherent +1 to THAC0 and 2 APR.

    The other point should go towards the one-handed melee weapon you wish to use in the first game, because the Blade will become an effective melee skirmisher later on. I recommend shortswords, because there is little competition for these weapons and there are several powerful ones to be found, perfect for dual wielding. You can dual wield +3 shortswords by the end of the Siege of Dragonspear.

    Shortsword proficiency also gives access to Kundane in BG2, a Shortsword of Speed +2 and one of the 2 best off-hand weapons until HLAs are unlocked. Kundane, Belm and the Ninjato of the Scarlet Brotherhood increases APR by 1 for the mainhand weapon when equipped, which is incredibly useful. Wielding Kundane in the off-hand can, for example, give you an additional attack with a more powerful weapon, like the Shortsword of Mask (+4).

    Shortswords are also great, because in the Enhanced Editions of BG2, you can just buy the Shortsword of Mask (+4) early on, outside Watcher’s Keep. This frees up Daystar for another companion.

    lvl 4 & 8:
    This is where I would invest in TWF, getting it to rank 2 by the end of the game.

    lvl 12 & 16:
    In the relative early game of BG2, I highly recommend picking up longsword proficiency, because it will give access to Daystar. Daystar is a +2 longsword that acts as a +4 weapon against evil creatures, meaning it is one of the most reliable ways to deal with enemies like demi liches, who are immune to +3 weapons and below.

    For the longrun, longswords are also great because of The Answerer. This is a longsword found in early ToB that applies a stacking debuff to enemy AC and magic resistance, giving it the highest effective accuracy in the game, which is a significant boost to a low THAC0 class like the Bard.

    After that, it comes down to what weapons you want to focus on. Daggers make for a great ranged weapon when you get a returning one, adding Str to damage and has a base 2 APR.

    Other Options:
    Some weapons worth considering as the game goes on are:
    Scimitars, because of Spectral Brand, Belm and the Ninjato of the Scarlet Brotherhood (available with HLAs). Combining 2 speed weapons gives the Bard an APR of 4, making it really good for enemies that doesn’t require higher enchantment values.
    Warhammers, because of Crom Faeyr. Arguably the single strongest weapon in the entire game and the perfect pick for a Bard. It typically gives 2-3 better THAC0 than most other equipment choices.
    Bastard swords, because of Purifier (available with HLAs).
    Two-handed swords, because Carosmyr is an amazing anti-mage weapon (available with HLAs).

    Rank 3 TWF:
    I would not put a point towards the 3rd rank of TWF. Your offhand will primarily be used for speed weapons, which improves your mainhand attack. It is more useful to pick up proficiency with a weapon type that can be used in your mainhand or as a ranged option.

    SkatanGrond0ArviaAerakar
  • TomRenethTomReneth Member Posts: 16
    edited June 30
    High Level Abilities (HLAs)
    Once your Bard reaches lvl 24, they can pick up HLAs. Here is an overview of these abilities.

    Enhanced Bard Song:
    Massively improves the Bard Song. Should be picked up as one of the 2 first HLAs on every Bard, with the possible exception of Jester. It is really that good. Defensive Spin + Enhanced Bard Song gives the Blade a +20 bonus to AC, making it one of few classes capable of AC tanking on higher levels.

    Use Any Item:
    Removes normal class restrictions on equipment. This pushes the Bards into overdrive, as much of their power comes from equipment. Helmets and class-locked items (like the Robes of Vecna and Ninjato of the Scarlet Brotherhood) are the primary draw of this HLA, but don’t forget the usefulness of having your Bard or Thief capable of using any spell scroll or potion in the game.

    Magic Flute:
    A 1/rest summonable ‘flute’ (it’s a Bard only wand) that contains 5 spells. Resist Fear x1, Globe of Invulnerability x1 and Delayed Fireball x3. That’s 1 HLA in return for 5 spellslots, so I’d say it is worth it.

    Evasion, Greater Evasion:
    A good boost to AC, saves and movement speed, but has a laughably short duration of 5 rounds. Generally speaking, you don’t want these abilities.

    Alchemy, Scribe Scrolls (Rogue)
    Makes a random potion or scroll 1/rest. The scrolls are cast at “scroll lvl” and the selection is made up of spells that scale in important ways with the casting lvl. Setting up 3 rounds of Haste, which is one of the better spells you can get, is a waste of a round at this point in the game.

    The potions have a better, overall more useful selection. If you want one of these HLAs, go for Alchemy. The potions have better durations and effects, by and large.

    Scribe Scrolls can give any of the following:
    Magic Missile
    Haste
    Fireball
    Dispel Magic
    Dire Charm
    Invisibility
    Cone of Cold
    Monster Summoning 2
    Monster Summoning 3

    Alchemy can result in any of the following:
    Potion of...
    Master Thievery
    Perception
    Extra Healing
    Superior Healing
    Regeneration
    Antidote
    Oil of Speed
    Frost Giant Strength (Rogue version)

    Avoid Death
    Short duration buff that increases Death saves, HP and makes them immune to certain spells. Can be useful, but is overshadowed by the spell ‘Spell Immunity’.

    Set Exploding Trap
    AoE fire damage trap. It is generally just a weaker Spike Trap as a trap and a weaker Magic Flute as a AoE fire damage ability, so pick those instead.

    Set Spike Trap
    A strong AoE damage effect that seems to be irresistible. This is arguably the most important HLA after Enhanced Bard Song and Use Any Item for Bards. The more you have, the more you can use between rests. It deals 20d6 irresistible damage, meaning proper use of these traps can end even difficult fights in seconds.

    Set Time Trap
    The broken Time Stop spell, but as a trap. Powerful, but hard to make use of.

    SkatanArviaAerakarHafir
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