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Icewind Dale 2 Playthrough and Comments on the Experience System

OlvynChuruOlvynChuru Member Posts: 2,281
I've had Icewind Dale 2 for a long time, and I've played it a lot over the years. But recently it dawned on me that I've never actually beaten the game in a legit playthrough (in other playthroughs, I've either started the game at a higher level, started with powerful equipment, or simply didn't finish the game). Now that I have a much better understanding of 3e rules than I used to (I grew up with DnD video games but not with the pen and paper version), I decided to do a full playthrough of the game on normal mode, with no mods.

In Icewind Dale 2, there is a way to exploit the game's 3e experience system. Although being higher level causes you to get less experience, you can avoid this by staying at a low level and not leveling up. Being at lower level than you're supposed to will make the game much harder, of course, but you'll end up with more experience, and you'll reach a higher level once you decide to level up.

In my playthrough, I took this trick to the extreme. Right before reaching Guthma, the boss at the end of Chapter 1, I leveled up my party to level 6. I then proceeded to go through almost the entire game with a level 6 party (I chose to stop leveling at level 6 because at that level my warriors got an extra attack per round and my sorcerers got the ability to cast the amazing spell Fireball). I didn't level my party up until the middle of Chapter 6. By that point, they had enough experience to get to level 24, which is way over the level you're supposed to be by the end of the game.

I've always hated the 3e experience system, with how leveling up causes you to gain less experience, because I feel it takes away from the satisfaction of leveling up, which is one of the best parts of these games. It's especially bad in Icewind Dale 2, where you will often get no experience for beating an enemy at high level, even if the enemy is still dangerous.

However, in my recent playthrough, I discovered the real problem with the experience system in Icewind Dale 2. The problem is that many enemies late in the game just don't give enough experience.

Since I spent most of the playthrough at the same level, I got to see how much experience different enemies give at different points in the game. I could compare the experience given by enemies in Chapter 2 to the experience given by enemies in, say, Chapter 5. I was surprised by what I found. It turns out that enemies in later chapters often give less experience than enemies in earlier chapters for a party of the same level. For example, the wyverns in Chapter 3 give less experience than the wyverns in Chapter 2. Most embarassingly, the yuan-ti abominations in Chapter 5 only gave 450 experience each; in comparison, that's the same amount of experience I got for beating an Aurilite Frosttouch in Chapter 2. The Crystal Golems in Chapter 2 give 5400 experience each, which is a lot, and that's fine, but I didn't find any creature that gave more experience than that until the Iron Golems in Chapter 5. To give you an idea, in Chapter 3 you fight a White Dragon, and it only gave me 1350 experience. Which would be tougher to fight: a single Crystal Golem, or four White Dragons at once?

I think Icewind Dale 2 would be much more fun if enemies late in the game gave more experience, because then it would be much more satisfying to kill challenging enemies. I hate finishing a tough fight and getting no experience from it.

semiticgodJuliusBorisovThacoBellStummvonBordwehrGrammarsalad

Comments

  • semiticgodsemiticgod Member, Moderator Posts: 13,517
    Yup. That practice is called "level squatting," though I've never heard of anyone doing it in such an extreme fashion. In a no-reload IWD2 run, I used it to bump my druid up to level 21 early, which granted the Elemental Half-Dragon form thanks to one of my mods. That level 21 druid broke the rest of the game with shapeshifting.

    Level-squatting isn't much fun. Another, less grating way of doing it is to use a "mule," a level 1 character that you never level up. The character itself does nothing but carry equipment, but as long as you keep it alive, the effective level of your party remains low, so you get more XP from kills--enough to overcompensate for the XP wasted on your character. Later in the game, you might finally level up the mule and make it into a proper character.

    Fun bonus fact: level 1 characters with 1 HP (such as a mage with Constitution of 3 or less, or a bard or rogue with Constitution of 1) cannot be killed by damage. Level 1 characters can't be killed in one hit; they just get reduced to 1 HP. If they already have 1 HP, nothing happens; they resist all damage. Instant death effects and energy drain can kill them, but outside of those rare instances, your mule can double as an invincible tank.

    Another, softer cure is to just use a lot of characters with racial level adjustments. They start out 1, 2, or 3 levels behind, so the party's effective level is lower over the course of the game, meaning your level-ups will be stretched out slightly over the course of the game.

    There is a mod that gives you at least a little XP from every kill, regardless of the party's level. It won't be much, but it will give a little bit of satisfaction from winning a fight.

    The problem is even worse in Heart of Fury mode, partly because the fights all take so much longer. Your party's level skyrockets in the early game and then becomes stagnant for the rest of the game unless you resort to level squatting or mules.

    It's worse still if you're playing the game solo or with a smaller party. Higher-level parties get less XP, so concentrating XP in a single character is completely self-defeating.

    There are a couple of infinite XP exploits if you don't object to them:
    1. If you free the prisoners in the Ice Temple, enter Character Arbitration, click "Modify," and then return to the game, it will reload the area and give you the XP from freeing the prisoners a second time. Quick saving and quick loading also works. If you don't sleep in between entering the temple and freeing the prisoners, all five prisoners will survive, which amounts to almost 8,000 XP total. You can repeat the process indefinitely.
    2. You can buy a book that grants XP in the Black Raven Monastery. Like any other item, you can duplicate it indefinitely by exporting the character holding it, moving the book to another character, and then importing another copy of the book. This too can be done an infinite number of times. The normal mode version grants 10,000 XP; the Heart of Fury version grants 20,000 XP.

    JuliusBorisovThacoBellStummvonBordwehr
  • MathsorcererMathsorcerer Member Posts: 2,725
    There is another often-used exploit you can do with bards. Make certain to take the Lingering Song perk, pause in the middle of combat, then turn your song on and off about 50 times--Lingering Souls will then stack all the effects of the bard songs together, giving you +50 to hit and +50 damage, which is often enough to one-shot enemies even in HoF mode. Game engine limitations--since they exist we might as well use them to our advantage.

    Don't forget--there is a mod that alters armor so that it gives damage resistance in addition to armor class benefit. For example, if leather armor increases your armor class by 2 (remember, IE2 uses the "higher AC is better" system) it also gives 2 points of resistance to crushing, piercing, and slashing attacks.

    semiticgodThacoBellStummvonBordwehr
  • semiticgodsemiticgod Member, Moderator Posts: 13,517
    Song stacking is pretty absurd in IWD2, and it's very unfortunate that the Tactics4IWD2 mod prevents it. A good way to maximize the bard song is to use the Rapid Shot feat to get an extra attack per round when using bows (or darts or throwing axes; they also benefit from Rapid Shot). Arrows deal triple damage on critical hits, so if you've got a level 5 bard in the party with Rapid Shot, he or she can deal over 150 damage per round with a crummy shortbow and a couple arrows.

    Later in the game, you can give Big Death (or Big Black Flying Death in a Heart of Fury run) to a high-STR character and keep pace with enemy HP. Not only does Big Death benefit from Rapid Shot due to being a throwing axe, it's also a two-handed weapon and therefore gets extra bonuses from high Strength values. Dealing over 120 damage per hit is not hard with Big Death.

    Bear in mind that song stacking cannot grant +50 damage; that type of damage bonus is capped at +20.

    I once ran a party entirely of bards and limited the song stacking to 6, and even then, it was wildly overpowered. Put together, the party had +6 to hit, damage, and luck, and +24 to saving throws (or +12 to AC and damage reduction in place of the +6 to hit and damage after level 11). They always made their saves, landed practically every hit, and had a habit of killing enemies in a single shot.

    The armor damage resistance mod is a little finicky. Depending on your install order, and maybe some other factors I'm not familiar with, some items don't get the bonuses they're supposed to. But if you do get the right bonuses, you can get +4 from a set of bracers, +8 from the Boring Beetle full plate, and +3 from a good tower shield for 15- damage reduction. Heart of Fury items, the War Chant of the Sith, and modded druid shapeshifting can crank it up to 30- or more.

    ThacoBellMathsorcerer
  • semiticgodsemiticgod Member, Moderator Posts: 13,517
    Another fun trick: if you're in Heart of Fury mode, you can give HoF-style bonuses to your characters in the Black Raven Monastery. Start the first monk trial, save the game, load the game, and everyone except for the character you've chosen to undergo the trial will get +12 to all of their class levels, +10 to all of their stats, and a massive HP boost (this only works once; you can't stack the bonuses in any way). There may be some other bonuses I'm forgetting.

    If my memory is correct, any characters who are currently waiting for a level up before the bonuses are applied can then add over 200 levels to a new class. It won't give any spell slots or spell picks for spellcasters, but it does give passive bonuses. Rogues will get 1d6 sneak attack damage for every 3 levels, and monks will get +50 SR, +6 AC, Quivering Palm, and a virtually unlimited number of Stunning Blows.

    Plus, since Quivering Palm and Stunning Blow's save DCs depend on the monk's level, the save DC for each one will be well over 100, which means any enemy that's not immune to its effects has a 95% chance of failure, even in HoF mode.

    If you wanted to abuse the hell out of the game, a 1-HP level 1 mule character, a bard, two sorcerers, and two clerics would obliterate much of the game up until the Black Raven Monastery. Then you could switch the difficulty to Heart of Fury mode and play the rest of the game with a near-invincible party with ludicrous stats.

    MathsorcererStummvonBordwehr
  • MathsorcererMathsorcerer Member Posts: 2,725
    It has been...many years since I last played IWD2--my memory of stacking songs is somewhat faded. I do recall that my last playthrough was with very non-standard characters--a half orc paladin, svirfneblin monk, etc.

    I want to say that one of the pre-defined parties which comes with the game cannot actually finish the game but I would have to double-check on that. There is one spot down in Dragon's Eye (I think) where a certain race is required to do a task but no one in the party meets that requirement. I could be wrong, though.

  • DreadKhanDreadKhan Member Posts: 3,849
    You know, I never had to cheese IWD2, but I found many HoF fights obscenely difficult if I wasn't rested. I kinda freaked out when I realized the dire wolves that were so annoyingly tough gave me 0 xp. :( One of those lvl 1 squire characters might have helped.

    Imho, clerics were my best characters, and not just my Bainite cleric (though a 2nd run in HoF w/a Cleric of Bane is just absurdly good). Animate Dead can get you through most of HoF easily I found, and 2 or 3 clerics can spam it even. They'd have to be pretty near pure cleric though, or stop on a really good summon. The high DC of Mass Dominate really made a cakewalk of fights I used it in.

    I did some powergaming I admit, but hardly anything to write home about. I got the legendary Lucky Knucky, via pick pocketing iirc. Very good item! Truth be told, I even used ranged quite heavily, and found it effective, despite all the archer hate I read about. Is it really needed to stack your Bard songs?

  • semiticgodsemiticgod Member, Moderator Posts: 13,517
    edited March 2018
    @DreadKhan: Stacking songs isn't necessary; a single song is powerful enough to make a bard the best class in the game. And ranged weapons are quite fine, even in the late game; it's just that rangers' advantages over fighters don't outweigh the disadvantages, and fighters themselves are weaker than clerics in almost every way. 3rd edition classes are very unbalanced; spellcasters of all stripes have huge advantages even early in the game... as I'm sure you noticed when you started casting Mass Dominate. Level 18 fighters can't hold a candle to that spell in IWD2.

    As for the Lucky Knucky, I believe the normal mode version only grants +1 to saves; it's the Heart of Fury version that grants that critical +2 luck. But I've heard that testing has found that even maxed-out pick pocket skills can't net you the knucky; the only way to take it is to kill him, and the only way to do that without turning all those plot-critical characters around Targos hostile is to use Finger of Death, which for some reason won't disturb anyone nearby if it works (which isn't guaranteed, because even townspeople have high saves in HoF mode).

    @Mathsorcerer: I'm fairly certain that Nheero Futma can concoct a Histachii Brew that works for non-humans as well as humans, and it might be possible for a character with high Alchemy to brew a universal potion to that effect. But the potions you find after the fight with Thorasskus are human-only; I think you're remembering those ones. They're not useful for anything, anyway.

    Svirfneblin monks are actually the classic monk for Heart of Fury mode, as they get +4 generic AC and bonuses to both DEX and WIS, which synergize perfectly with the monk class. An optimized deep gnome monk generally looks something like this:

    Dreadmaster of Bane(12)Illusionist(7)/Thief(1)/Monk(1)
    Total level 21, 9 levels free, suffers 20% XP penalty depending on how you level it up

    STR 8
    DEX 20
    CON 10
    INT 15
    WIS 20
    CHA 1

    Base AC: 10
    DEX: 7 (20 base, +5 from Cat's Grace or Chimandrae's Slippers, -1 from Potion of Action Transference or whatever it's called, from the Ice Temple Battle Square, for 24 total)
    WIS: 14 (20 base, +5 from Every God Ring, +2 from Potion of Action Transference, +2 from Bane quest in normal mode, +2 from Bane quest in HoF, +7 from level ups, for 38 total)
    Shield spell: 7 (armor, note that Illusionists aren't supposed to be able to cast abjuration spells like Shield, but having another spellcaster level removes the restriction)
    Ghost Armor: 5 (deflection)
    Dodge: 1
    Deep gnome racial bonus: 4
    Brazen Bands: 5 (only available with the Collector's Edition merchant you get by purchasing the Avarine Decanter from Nym in the Wandering Village, then freeing it)
    Haste: 4
    Barkskin: 5
    War Chant of the Sith: 2
    Expertise: 5
    Sunfire Talisman: 3
    Swing from the Masts: 3 (thief-only item available in the Underdark)

    Total AC: 75

    Adding Recitation and Prayer to penalize enemy attack bonuses by -2 and -1 will bring this up to 78. This is 6 better than the mythical 72 AC, which is the minimum amount to force endgame Slayer Knights of Xvim, with their +52 AB, to roll a natural 20 to land a hit.

    This build is pretty restrictive, but it offers a little wiggle room in terms of levels and AC. This character can cast Blur, Improved Invisibility, Stoneskin, Blunk, Mirror Image, and Heal, all important tanking spells, but otherwise it's good for basically nothing else. Its summons are weak, its damage spells are weak, its fighting skills are weak, and it has no utility skills, but if you add more cleric levels, it will have very strong Symbol of Hopelessness spells.

    Post edited by semiticgod on
    Mathsorcerer
  • MathsorcererMathsorcerer Member Posts: 2,725


    @Mathsorcerer: I'm fairly certain that Nheero Futma can concoct a Histachii Brew that works for non-humans as well as humans, and it might be possible for a character with high Alchemy to brew a universal potion to that effect. But the potions you find after the fight with Thorasskus are human-only; I think you're remembering those ones. They're not useful for anything, anyway.

    That's the place, yes. It was more than a handful of years ago on a playthrough my wife was running; I must be remembering incorrectly or something. Anyway, I had fixed it at the time but it something to do with that.

    It has been a really long time since I last touched IWD2, probably 7 years or so.

  • DreadKhanDreadKhan Member Posts: 3,849
    I agree Rangers were awful in 3.0, that Bards were very handy in IWD2, and that casters get as ungodly powerful compared to warriors. Quadratic caster applies to all casters in 3rd, where 2nd had weaker divine casters. Still, most clerics can't cast Mass Dominate for example, or Miracle in IWD2. Those high level Undead though hardly need support!

  • semiticgodsemiticgod Member, Moderator Posts: 13,517
    This is odd... testing has found that the 1 HP tank's immunity to damage sometimes fails randomly. I don't see a particular cause; the tank would get hit multiple times during testing and suffer no damage from goblin axes, only to suddenly die when hit by a goblin's arrow. It wasn't missile damage that was responsible, either; friendly arrows dealt no damage. Stranger still, one Chromatic Orb did no damage while a second Chromatic Orb was fatal. I've seen a 1 HP character take multiple 100-damage multi-elemental blows without dying, so it's not that the damage eventually overwhelms the character.

    I'm guessing the reason is because of timing--for some reason, an important check in the code triggers at the wrong time, and so the 1 HP tank suffers damage before their immunity kicks in, resulting in death. I suppose you could still use a 1 HP tank if it had moderate AC in the early game, and you used Raise Dead later in the game, but it looks like the deep gnome monk is indeed the superior tank.

    The 1 HP tank probably still has some value for speedrunning purposes, but is not reliable enough for a no-reload run.

  • OlvynChuruOlvynChuru Member Posts: 2,281
    Coming back to this, I have realized another part of the reason why the experience systems in 3rd edition DnD video games are so terrible. The experience you get for killing enemies is not adjusted based on the number of enemies in the encounter. In terms of difficulty, facing twenty duergar all at once is significantly tougher than facing those twenty duergar one at a time, but the experience system does not reflect this. Killing twenty duergar in one fight simply ends up granting twenty times as much experience as killing one, when it should grant a good deal more than twenty times as much.

    This raises even bigger problems when combined with the fact that enemies can potentially give no experience at all if the level difference is large enough. So if killing one duergar grants no experience, then killing a hundred of them in an epic battle will also grant no experience. Whereas killing a single slightly more powerful lone duergar would give a small amount of experience. This is totally screwed up.

    It's even worse when you consider that most of the 3rd/3.5th edition video games (Icewind Dale 2, Neverwinter Nights 1 and 2, The Temple of Elemental Evil) tend to include lots of battles pitting the player against many weak enemies, rather than fewer strong enemies. These games consistently mess up their experience systems.

    A similar issue is the fact that in some of these games (Icewind Dale 2 and The Temple of Elemental Evil, though I'm less sure about the Neverwinter Nights games), the "challenge rating" of your party is based on the average level of your party members, rather than also being based on the number of characters in your party. As a result, a solo character will get less experience per kill than a party of six lower-level characters who combined are comparable to the solo character. Even the fact that experience in Icewind Dale 2 and The Temple of Elemental Evil is divided among party members doesn't help that much - getting six times as much experience by playing a solo character doesn't matter if you get zero experience.

    semiticgodThacoBell
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