Baldur’s Gate 2: More Class/Party Discussion

I finished Shadows of Amn once again yesterday and began Throne of Bhaal but have made little progress thus far. The play through on my party consisted of a human kensai/mage, human undead hunter, half-elf ranger/cleric, Jaehira (half-elf fighter/druid), human wizard slayer/thief and elf fighter/mage. Mostly, I just powered my way through and did most of the Watchers Keep to gain a few levels (mostly for my kensai/mage and wizard slayer/thief to get their best abilities) then slaughtered the end. My only regrets in playing this round were that I started the stronghold quests too late in the game and not doing any of the NPC quests. Most of that was probably because I kept Jaehira in my party the entire time and did not have a rotational spot available. With that in mind, I decided to re-think my party strategy and look at other party combinations by re-examining certain classes a little more in depth then seeing what is needed at the end.

First, I want to state that I feel the game is still primarily a very combat driven game with a huge emphasis on melee. There are some instances where ranged and spell casting can be useful but the sheer micro management aspect of the game can complicate that aspect. Using that as a foundation for choosing a good party, I would say that making everyone a fighter or close to a fighter is mandatory. Mages are critical too so having two is probably optimal along with 1-2 clerics/healers and a thief.

Now, another dimension I want to start taking into consideration is maximizing your experience with the game. That means, being able to complete as many quests as possible, including all NPC quests and the romance quest. I think if you plan to do the romance quest, you more than likely will be forced to carry one of the NPCs permanently in the party. At one point, I was forced to remove Jaehira and that possibly hurt the quest line and made me realize that I would probably need a rotational NPC slot to get the most from all the various available quests in the game. So to make this work, it would mean having two NPC slots as mandatory requirements.

Before going into party combinations again, I wanted to discuss the various classes and their strengths and weaknesses. One thing I will say in the way I prefer playing is to create my characters in Throne of Bhaal, exporting them, importing them into Shadows of Amn, then dual classing them. Yes, for certain characters that implies they will be a OP at the start and that some won’t see a few levels, but it’s an interesting way of playing and maximizing what you can do with the game. Another aspect is that this section is written mostly with a generally good aligned party in mind.

  • Human Kensai/Mage – For me, it’s very hard not to take this class along. There’s even a weapon that pretty much suggests that this combination is extremely viable. And it’s such a powerhouse class because the kensai normally cannot wear armor. However, as a mage you can use either the Robe of the Archmagi or Robe of Vecna, which provides an AC of 5. You still cannot use bracers but in starting out you can use other items to bring your AC down quite a bit. Of course, the real challenge is matching your original fighter level. If you do my tactic with Throne of Bhaal, you will have to hit level 19 before seeing your full potential. When you dual class, you’ll start from level 1 so you’ll feel vulnerable for quite a while.
  • Human Kensai/Thief – Here’s one that people proposed as a single target damage power house. You could possibly free up the kensai/mage and your thief slot for this combination. The problem is that you’ll be even more vulnerable for a while than the kensai/mage because you cannot use any armor (for whatever reason, you get all the penalties from your former class but none of the benefits. Just bad design). However, once you hit level 24 as a thief and gain the “Use Any Item” ability (which is OP), your kensai side should be able to employ armor. Then you can be more tanky and do psychotic damage as a backstabber with all the various modifiers from the kensai side. Until then you’ll be completely vulnerable for most of the expansion (unless you didn’t import your character from Throne of Bhaal and started from scratch to dual class as a thief).
  • Human Inquisitor – I wasn’t a fan early one because of how (pre-patch) paladins could not use the Amulet of Power. Post-patch though, you can making the Inquisitor quite viable as your paladin slot (and who wouldn’t want to use the Holy Avenger?). But another key aspect to bringing in an Inquisitor is that you can use Keldorn in your party. The value proposition here is that this character essentially will become your NPC rotational slot, allowing you to take other NPCs while employing a Holy Avenger wielding character in the party. Also, with the immunity to hold and charm spells, the Inquisitor/Keldorn will be very useful in certain fights where you require reliable melee. Add the dispel magic and True Seeing capabilities and you won’t have to worry about certain fights. Since you’ll probably be covering healing and defensive spells with clerics and druids, the paladin isn’t necessary for that aspect. Lastly, the thing with the Holy Avenger is that it might come later in the game since it requires that you kill a red dragon. So having an Inquisitor/paladin class from the start isn’t mandatory.
  • Human Berserker/Mage – One idea is to switch the kensai/mage for a berserker/mage and moving the kensai aspect into the thief. With the berserker/mage combination you will get less armor than say a berserker/cleric, but won’t suffer as much on the armor side compared to the kensai/mage since you can use bracers, certain cloaks and Bladesinger chain mail (which is the best armor any fighter/mage combo can use in the game). The berserker/mage class also opens up more weapon possibilities down the road compared with a berserker/cleric. If you go for a kensai/thief, berserker/mage combo as opposed to say a double kensai/mage or berserker/mage combo, you won’t compete at the gear level as well. Unfortunately, the real kicker for berserkers are their enrage ability, which naturally shines against Demi Liches. More than likely, you won’t be able to match your berserker level if you import your character from Throne of Bhaal, so you’ll miss out on one Demi Lich fight to use your enrage ability on.
  • Human Beastmaster/Cleric – This is an exotic type of class combination that more or less makes you a harder hitting druid. The beastmaster by itself is pretty useless because of the limits on weapons but dual classing one to a cleric adds a new dimension in providing the cleric all the druidic spells but with better weapon skills. Of course, the issue becomes your weapons and armor limitations because of how Beastmasters cannot use metallic versions of these. So these classes cannot be tanks. Dual classing to a cleric also implies that you lose your bow, which means you’ll only be able to use slings, clubs and staves. A very limited selection indeed. In the end, you’ll probably go with a staff or dual wield a club. However, the extremely limited selection of high end clubs make this class combo unappealing but it’s something to consider if you’re looking for something different.
  • Human Cleric/Swashbuckler – This is another exotic class almost fulfills three roles simultaneously once you hit the right level. But the key is to go from cleric to swashbuckler as you’ll want to hit level 24 for the “Use Any Item” ability. Doing so almost makes this class combo be able to do anything in the game and could imply the ultimate solo class. Your spells will suffer as a result of not being able to progress further as a cleric, but that probably won’t matter if you have an alternative cleric in your party. And unlike a fighter/mage/cleric multi-class, you won’t have the armor and weapon penalties in the end game nor the experience penalties. The only problem compared to say a berserker/cleric is your hit points will be lower. Also, I did read that you will face weapon penalties from your cleric class until you hit get “Use Any Item”, which means you’ll be severely gimped until you hit level 24. If Throne of Bhaal allowed you to start with level 24, then it would be better to start as a Swashbuckler since the “Use Any Item” ability carries through. But that still means a long progression as a cleric to hit level 25.
  • Elf Fighter/Mage/Thief – Next to the Cleric/Swashbuckler, this is the best all-in-one type of class combo in the game. However, multi-classes suffer heavily in the end game and it is entirely possible that you’ll never see the one ability that makes me love thieves (“Use Any Item”). What you’re doing in selecting this class combination is freeing up a thief slot for other combinations but allowing yourself to have magic and better weapons thrown in. Your armor will suffer but not nearly as badly as say a kensai/thief nor kensai/mage. Outside of missing the “Use Any Item” ability, this class will still be able to handle the most important aspects of a thief, which is finding and disarming traps. Of course, the real penalty in taking this class is the horribly slow leveling process. This character will probably be a burden and their magic will be based off of casting spells from scrolls since they won’t be able to hit the really high mage levels compared to a pure mage class.
  • Half-Elf Fighter/Mage/Cleric – Since I tossed out the possibility of a fighter/mage/thief, I wanted to write some thoughts on this class. On paper, this class sounds fairly potent but in practice there are so many issues. Like the fighter/mage/thief, you will heavily suffer on the leveling progress aspect. But unlike a thief, you will suffer even more from weapons and armor. The only worthwhile armor in obtaining is the Bladesinger Chain Mail; but since that won’t come for a while, you will be forced to employ bracers and robes. Probably, the only real benefit of taking a class like this is the hit points and weapon proficiencies along with utility. You won’t get powerful spells in the end game because of the split experience penalty and experience cap so you will most likely be casting through scrolls. For whatever reason should you decide to go this route, you might as well kill the fighter aspect and just pick up Aerie. This is just a waste of time.
  • Half-Elf Fighter/Druid – I wrote extensively on this subject beforehand. The short form is just choose Jaehira. Also, you will be able to complete the druid quest unless you don’t care about having a druid permanently in your party and use Jaehira or Cernd in the rotational spot.
  • Swashbuckler/Mage – I do not consider this class/combination as big of a powerhouse compared to the cleric/swashbuckler combination. The penalty in going this route is that you’ll lose out on some hit points and will take a great deal of time before reaching your previous swashbuckler class. If you intend to make this character your pure thief, then you’ll be hitting way too many traps before you even see your thief counterpart again. It’s an interesting idea but no practical application.
  • Elf Fighter/Mage – I wrote a bit about this before and wanted to talk a little about my experience in choosing this character as my last slot in my customized party. Since I knew beforehand, I was taking a kensai/mage, I wanted to find an additional mage as a backup. Pure mages are just too weak and sorcerers are not my cup of tea. A Swashbuckler/mage would be too frustrating to level and I disliked the idea of carrying around another gimped out dual class. So using a fighter/mage multi class was a better application of my original idea. You level far faster than a triple multi class but don’t incur as many penalties. You’ll still have some armor penalties but it’s not the end of the world. Some additional things you can do to boost this character is to specialize in short bows and long swords to gain a little advantage in ranged and melee combat when the time comes. Your magic won’t be as powerful in the long term compared to a pure mage but there isn’t too horrible of a gap. Lastly, you will be able to see the really high end spells while having a fair amount of health. Ultimately, this is a very good class to bring around.
  • Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric – The beastmaster/cleric really is nothing more than a pure druid with a slight combat advantage. However, if you take a fighter/druid, you gain far more benefits than penalties. Dual classing the beastmaster with the cleric just means prolonged agony since you’re waiting for to exceed your former class. That’s where the ranger/cleric multi-class just rocks the boat. If you could take a dual class archer/cleric, I would go that route just to have a permanent ranged class on the team. But that option apparently was eliminated post patch. The ranger/cleric though is probably better in the long term. As a ranger/cleric, you will gain all cleric and druidic spells. So if you really didn’t like Jaehira for her druidic capabilities, you can push her out of the group and choose someone else. You won’t have access to bows nor sharp weapons as a ranger/cleric, but you’ll be dual wielding most of the time. I would specialize in flails and maces and pick up the Flail of the Ages and Mace of Disruption, later adding points into hammers to get the Runehammer to replace the Mace of Disruption. You will have the option to tank as well but it’s hard to give up the three slots in dual wielding as a ranager. One last note is that you only want to multi-class this option so you can see all the benefits at once without any penalties.
  • Human Berserker/Cleric – This class feels a little redundant when you have a ranger/cleric in your party. You can take this up if you decide to use a ranger/cleric in favor of Jaehira. Pretty much this class combo is one of your primary tanks so you should expect to provide a shield for this character. The bummer is the same with any dual class: you won’t be able to see the benefits of your berserker side for some time. Because berserkers do not gain the passive hit bonuses that a kensai does as they level, you can theoretically dual class one at a lower level (say in Shadows of Amn rather than Throne of Bhaal) and try to hit exceed your berserker level as a cleric rather than drudging through 19 levels of pain. In that situation, you would only lose hit points, some weapon specialization, THACO and a few enrages. The other issue would be conflicting interest if you go with a ranger/cleric in terms of weapons; you will have to figure out who gets what ahead of time. This class really isn’t a must have for me though because it can only shine in a select few instances.
  • Human Wizard Slayer/Thief – This class only shines towards the end, once he obtains level 24 and the “Use Any Item” ability. Until then, you are pretty gimped when it comes to armor and certain protections like amulets, belts, bracers and cloaks. Your armor is severely gimped and you will be horribly vulnerable for the most part. The two appealing factors in playing a Wizard Slayer is their magic resistance and stacking interrupt debuff against spell casters. Truthfully, your magic resistance bonus is just too low to be taken seriously while the stacking interrupt in the end isn’t that great. It only works if you’re able to take down an enemy spellcaster’s defenses (which generally are everything in the book), so that aspect’s real meal ticket lies under backstabbing. In retrospect, it feels that this class combo might be better for solo’ers looking for a viable offset to mages. But for full parties, it’s just a really tough class to handle with all the other penalties incurring until level 24.
  • Half-Orc Fighter/Thief – If you hate the idea of waiting for “Use Any Item” at level 24 as a dual class, then you might consider a half-orc multi-class. The idea behind this class would be to make it a more frontal melee class using the half-orcs strength and constitution bonuses. The thief aspect would be employed only for finding/disarming traps and opening locks. Beyond having a half-orc in your party, there honestly is no fantastic reason for choosing this route.
  • Elf Fighter/Thief – Similar to above, except you gain bonuses to hit with bows and swords and some bonuses for thieving. I think though that this class combo in this incarnation is somewhat boring.
  • Gnome Illusionist/Thief – Naturally, I’m talking about including Jan Jansen. However, you’ll suffer in not having a thief early on if this becomes your rotational spot and you do not elect to have a secondary thief in the party. There really is no solid reason for having multiple thieves in a party and Jan is better off as a rotational spot rather than a solid fixture. You should always have at least one thief in your party at all times for handling traps and locks but Jan isn’t the one I would choose for that role.

That covers all of the class possibilities that would be under consideration. Now, let’s start composing a party. For this party, I will go for a 4 customized character + 2 NPC slot build. One slot will be dedicated to a romance slot and the other will focus on a rotational slot. My rotational slot will attempt to use melee most of the time, except for NPC specific quests. I will discuss the party combinations as I come up with various parties.

Party #1

Human Kensai/Mage, Human Cleric/Swashbuckler, Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric, Human Berserker/Mage, Jaehira (Half-Elf Fighter/Druid), Minsc (Human Ranger) later replaced by Keldorn (Human Inquisitor). This composition will be range weak but healing heavy later in the game with some magic tossed in. No one outside of Minsc or Keldorn will be able to employ bows but in those instances, they will be short changed. Since Minsc is the rotational slot, you could make that position range oriented but it won’t be reliable. Keldorn will become a more permanent fixture once all the NPC quests are complete. You could trade out Keldorn for Sarevok in Throne of Bhaal but that would be more for RPG than practicality. However, I just prefer to have an Inquisitor 99% of the time in my party.

Party #2

Same as above except you replace the Berserker/Mage with an elf fighter/mage. You lose enrage and a lot of weapon specialization but you get more abilities upfront and more survivability early on rather than waiting for your mage to catch up to your berserker level. You could dual class the berserker early on and sacrifice on hit points, weapon specialization and THACO in exchange for weapon usage early on without relying on swords and bows. However, the elf fighter/mage gives you a ranged fighter that scales better in the long run.

Party #3

Human Kensai/Thief, Human Kensai/Mage, Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric, Human Beserker/Cleric, Jaehira (Half-Elf Fighter/Druid), Minsc (Human Ranger) later replaced by Keldorn (Human Inquisitor). This is another group which will be weak with regards to ranged, heavy on healing and defensives but weak on magic. Your kensai/thief will feel practically naked and you’ll need to cover both kensais up for a while. Unlike a wizard slayer/thief, the kensai/thief won’t be able to use armor nor ranged so this party will feel vulnerable. Also, if your kensai/mage gets CC’d and you’re in a mage intensive fight, it’s pretty much GG.

Party #4

Same as above except replace the Berserker/Cleric with an elf fighter/mage. This combination will feel less tanky but won’t run the risk of having your kensai/mage get single targeted for CC. Also, there really isn’t any good point to having three healing classes in a single party. You could theoretically pull it off but if you’re healing that much in a fight, you’re doing something extremely wrong. Also, in this group you get back a ranged fighter with bows.

Party #5

Similar to party #3 except you go with a berserker/mage. You lose the ranged capabilities in this composition and some tankiness. If you go with this route, you should probably dual class your berserker early on as a mage rather than waiting to hit level 19. In that manner, you get back your enrage and some armor. But other than that, this composition doesn’t have much feet.

Party #6

Human Kensai/Mage, Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric, Elf Fighter/Mage/Thief, Human Berserker/Cleric, Jaehira (Half-Elf Fighter/Druid), Minsc -> Keldorn. Another healing intensive group with better tankiness and some ranged. Your fighter/mage/thief is mostly a utility class who will handle ranged combat and act as a backup mage if your kensai/mage gets CCd. Your berserker/cleric will along with Jaehira will have the heaviest armor and make the front line tanks. Optionally, your ranger/cleric can do ranged duties too and bear a shield. If you go that route, you can dedicate your ranger/cleric to handle ranged while your berserker/cleric slowly catches up in levels.

Party #7

Human Cleric/Swashbuckler, Half-Elf Ranger/Cleric, Human Kensai/Mage, Human Kensai/Mage, Jaehira, Minsc -> Keldorn. Another variation from #1. You will be very range weak and more than likely will miss out on bows doing things in this manner. Double Kensai/Mage only is OP in the end game but you suffer from competing for equipment, mostly on the armor side. I do like this a lot better than kensai/thief though since you have slightly better armor options at lower levels. However, not having any ranged whatsoever just misses out on a lot of really cool bows.

Party #8

Same as party #7 except you take an elf fighter/mage rather than one of the kensai/mages. Here, you won’t compete for armor and weapons and you get back a ranged slot along with spellcasting. You will initially lose out on some tankiness but this might be one of the best well rounded parties. Your swashbuckler/cleric can become a tank too if you don’t mind swapping equipment around frequently when you search for traps and pick locks.

Part #9

Elf Fighter/Mage, Human Berserker/Mage, Human Cleric/Swashbuckler, Human Beastmaster/Cleric, Jaehira, Minsc -> Keldorn. This combination throws out the kensai and half-elf ranger/cleric entirely and focuses more on an exotic party with more healing in the long run. You will have little tankiness in this setup with only Jaehira acting as one of the pure tanks. You do get some ranged back as your fighter/mage and beastmaster/cleric most likely will be lobbing arrows and bullets from the distance. The Beastmaster/Cleric exist for summoning. One idea behind this party is to skip importing anyone from Throne of Bhaal and dual class immediately, thus avoiding a lengthy progression. If the Beastmaster could still use bows, then I would definitely focus on him to be a pure ranged class. This combination is more or less just me thinking outside the box. The Berserker/Mage will get more weapons and armor compared to a kensai/mage but won’t have the really high melee damage output that a long term, planned kensai/mage would. And your swashbuckler will be gimped weapon-wise for a very long time no matter what. The cleric side is just there to make things interesting but this party already is healing intensive. Alternatively, you could just replace Jaehira with say Aerie if you want the romance story and become more magic intensive. No matter what though, you’ll be lacking absorption tanks.

Party #10

Human Kensai/Thief, Human Berserker/Cleric, Elf Fighter/Mage, Elf Fighter Mage, Jaehira, Minsc -> Keldorn. This is another whacky combo that focuses just on being well rounded but not really standing out on anything until high levels. The kensai/thief will be horribly vulnerable until gaining the “Use Any Item” ability. For the most part, you will have no armor and I think won’t even be able to use ranged weapons. You will have tanks in the form of your berserker/cleric and Jaehira though and perhaps Keldorn. The two fighter/mages will be ranged and probably compete for some gear. You’ll miss out on the insane dual wielding ranger/cleric with the Flail of the Ages and Crom Faer (or Mace of Disruption) though.

Party #11

Same as party #10 except you replace your human kensai/thief with either a half-orc or elf. If you go with the half-orc, you can make that character a tank until the need arises for handling traps and locks. If you go with an elf, you can add a third ranged class who can tank. But it’s really up to you at that point. The only difference is that your damage won’t be at the level of a kensai/thief at the really high levels but you won’t face the same vulnerability at lower levels.

I think those are all very viable and interesting options. One thing I’m starting to realize is that there are certain types of classes and characters that I want present at all times. More or less, I dislike removing the kensai/mage (probably my favorite), the half-elf ranger/cleric, some form of a paladin (I’ll try the Inquisitor again next time) and Jaehira. With Jaehira and your half-elf ranger/cleric, you pretty much cover healing, tanking and high damage dual wielding with blunt weapons. A kensai/mage is the ultimate long term investment for a mega damaging class. And if you take along Keldorn, you’ve not only secured a specialized form of a paladin wielding the Holy Avenger, you also have a rotational slot available at all times. That leaves two extra slots to think about, one of which should be a thief type and another a mage.

In examining the cleric/swashbuckler combination as a potential all-in-one character that handles thieving early on, that means the last slot needs to be a mage of sorts. While you can fill it with a ranged fighter/mage, you can also possibly put in another NPC. There are five viable NPCs for this job: Imoen, Nalia, Jan, Aerie and Edwin. In theory, Sarevok can be put here as well but you’ll have to wait until Throne of Bhaal for that. As for the other five, I feel that Aerie and Edwin really don’t fit well. Edwin is just too weak and takes a lot of effort before you can see him while Aerie just is plain weak. Nalia and Imoen are better mostly for RP purposes and that you’ll probably end up making them ranged naturally. Jan is someone I just don’t care for but is an option as a ranged/mage type.

For myself, Nalia and Imoen really do nothing for me. I don’t think putting an extra NPC in for the sake of having an NPC is a great idea. It does allow for Keldorn to become a more stable member of your party but the experience from the NPC quest is pretty marginal. Both Nalia and Imoen won’t be strong as a multi-classed fighter/mage neither since their bonuses aren’t huge and they won’t be receiving the elf +1 to hit with swords and bows as well as miss out on weapon specialization. Also, they will lack some armor in missing a shield. Only grab Imoen or Nalia if you’re intent on having a more RP rich experience.

So what does the author favor as a possible strategy if I were to do all of this again? I think party #8 looks incredibly viable. I’ve not tried a cleric/swashbuckler yet and the combination sounds incredibly intriguing. There’s no real reason for taking a cleric/swashbuckler outside of being able to handle a large number of roles at the highest levels; so it’s more of a “let me give it a try” type of deal. Having Keldorn become a near permanent place in my party as well as having the option for a rotational NPC slot will expand what I can do in the game without hurting the end parts too badly.

At any rate, it was interesting examining all the various combinations of parties to determine what some of the more viable options are. I’m not sure if I’ll start from scratch again once I finish up Throne of Bhaal but I like looking at how the game potentially could be played from a different perspective.

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