Icewind Dale – Hints and Tips
So, you’ve got Icewind Dale but you’re not quite sure how to balance out your individual characters and party? Or, maybe you do but you just want to compare notes. Either way, read on to see what we’ve found out about Black Isle’s latest hack and slash combat fest. First we’ll lay down the foundation for creating a character, and then move into constructing a party.
Focus on what you have in mind for each character; their every attribute is subject to your whim. Tweaking your party members to balance out their strengths and weaknesses can really help, but if you absolutely insist on a party of six gnome illusionists, you should still be able to complete the game… you’ll just have a more difficult task ahead of you. Anyway, on to the races:
Human: The basic race, average in everything. While you aren’t likely to be harmed by choosing human, taking a half-elf instead is a fine alternative. Humans are the only race capable of becoming paladins, and they dual-class instead of multi-class. For experienced players, dual classing can be an extraordinarily powerful ability, but it can also ruin a character if it is not planned out properly. Dual-class only if you know exactly what you want to do.
Elf (+1dex, -1con): While they possess natural immunities to charm and sleep, elves have a weakness in that they are not affected by Raise Dead. Thus, if you have an elf in your party and he dies, it’s reload time (or time for a Resurrection spell if you can find a high-level cleric). They make capable fighters, the loss of a constitution point will lower their hitpoints. Elf-mages are good, but the resurrection penalty makes it better to take a different race. For low-level parties, elves get a +1 bonus to hit with one-handed swords and bows.
Half-Elf: Essentially humans with multi-classing, infravision and resistance to sleep/charm. They have a few class restrictions.
Gnome (+1int, -1wis): Not versatile, but strong. Since gnomes can only be illusionist mages, they are the only characters that can multiclass as specialists. Surprisingly, gnomes can be the best fighters. Gnome stat adjustments don’t have any real affect on warriors. They get bonuses against magic and poison. Most importantly, a true neutral gnome fighter will have access to the best equipment in the game, allowing him to reach –17 AC. Only gnomes and halflings have access to the best helm. This is a slight edge, but important nonetheless.
Halfling (+1dex, -1str): Strength penalty = bad. Moderate thieves, you’re better off picking a race that has 18 strength if you want to fight.
Dwarf (+1con, -1dex, -2cha): High constitution equates to more hitpoints, but losing AC is painful. Consider this: +10hp, or saving 10-30 damage everytime that point of AC saves a hit (5% chance). These are good characters to have, but your primary fighter should not be a dwarf.
While experimenting with races is more along the lines of tweaking a character, the core of your decision is what class to be. What you choose here will mold the character decisively.
Fighter: This is the most powerful class. Fighters are unmatched in their ability to dish out and receive damage. With the massive hordes in Icewind Dale, the fighter is excellent because he can withstand more battles than any other class. Once a fighter reaches level nine with grand master proficiency, he can have three attacks with a weapon and still use a shield. At high levels, a single well-equipped fighter can kill most bosses and their minions without help from the rest of the party. No party should be without a shield-equipped fighter.
Ranger: A great hybrid class to help players get through the early stages of the game. If they use a one-handed sword without a shield, they gain an extra attack. This will give them two and a half attacks at level one, and three attacks at level seven (two long levels before the fighter). Ultimately, they will not have the strength of a pure fighter but they will help you get through the difficult mid-game section. One note—don’t take a ranger because you want spells, as they are handy but it takes a long time to get them. Rangers have a racial enemy ability, which grants them +4 to hit against those monsters. Yuan-ti is one of the best choices. Although they only appear in one area, it is a large and difficult dungeon. Don’t take a racial enemy for creatures that appear late (salamanders or giants), as by that time you will make contact with almost every swing. Undead racial enemies also work well.
Paladin: Although they are weaker offensively than the ranger, paladins get a bonus of +2 to all saving throws. Their Lay Hands ability takes time to gain strength, but it requires no casting time so it can be used an as emergency heal. Paladins also have the special abilities detect evil, protection from evil and cure disease. As with rangers, don’t take a paladin solely for the spells.
Cleric: Every party can benefit from a healer, so clerics are a good choice. They receive their first few levels rapidly, but after that they begin to slow down. If you want a class that can heal and cast spells to increase the abilities of your party, this is the only choice. Turn undead is also a handy ability when faced with undead hordes. Clerics are moderately effective in combat, though limited in their choice of weapons.
Druid: The alternative to clerics, druids initially level slower but then surpass clerics in the middle period of the game. Druids reach level 13 at 750,000xp, while clerics require 1,125,000xp for the same level. Unfortunately, the druid must double his experience to reach 14, which is as high as he can advance, while the cleric caps out at level 16. Instead of defensive spells for the party, druids have a few offensive spells. Static Charge deals hefty damage, while spells such as Produce Fire can kill trolls. Druids can shape change into bears, beetles or wolves and have less armor than clerics. Shape changing can boost combat abilities, but spells can only be cast in human form.
Mage: Versatile spellcasters, mages are the paradox of Icewind Dale: they are essential for most parties, but oftentimes only because they are in the party. For instance, most of the situations in which you have to wipe out a large number of enemies with a spell occur only because you need to protect the mage. They are useful for their area attacks and identification abilities, so beginning parties should not be without them. Experienced players should consider solutions to a party that has no mage, as they are often the weak link. They do not have enough spells to be involved in combat regularly, and with the continual stream of monsters you’ll face it can be difficult to keep them all off of your magic user. This class is a necessary pain, but you can replace them with judicious use of potions and a bard. Fireball and haste are their primary strengths.
Thief: Unlike in the other Infinity games, thieves in this one must actually be behind the target or backstab attacks tend to fail. This makes backstabbing much harder to use in a real-time game. Thieves should be archers to compensate for their weak melee abilities. Due to the sheer number of traps, it is always helpful to have a thief. Initially, consider increasing pickpocket ability and rob every character you come across. This will get you some important items, such as rings of free action (paralyzation is a common threat). Later in the game, increase detect traps and either lockpicking or stealth, if you want to use backstab. Detect traps is crucial; you can have mages cast spells to open chests, or have warriors bash them, but no party should be without detect traps. If you don’t want a thief but you want detect traps, make a human thief and put all his creation points into detect traps. Then, level him two or three times then dual-class. Unlike the other thieving abilities, detect traps can be used while wearing armor, so it will not hinder your fighter. Keep in mind that every level as a thief will cost you hitpoints if you choose to become a fighter, and you lose the chance to get 18/00 strength. Items can make up for that, but not until the final stages of the game.
Bard: One of the better maintenance classes. They can identify your items, pick pockets and sing to boost your luck (+hit, +dam, +saving with negative effects on enemies). Also, bards can use bows, so they are not nearly as weak offensively as mages. Bards have one serious drawback, however—they are the most difficult class to roll. They are the only class that needs every stat, so even an incredibly high roll (16 across) will leave you low on points. Usually, this means losing some of your lore bonus, but a few levels will bring you up to speed.
Rolling The Right Way
After choosing a class, you must roll the dice. There are a few rules for rolling a character. First off, make sure that you can max out the primary stats for your character. Second, rerolling to get better stats is beneficial in the long run, but you don’t want to try and beat high rolls. Weigh the benefit of a couple extra points with the considerable amount of time it might require to beat that 95-point role you have for a bard (the maximum you can roll unmodified by racial limits is 6 x 18, or 108).
Strength: One of the three primary statistics for all characters. Increase strength as high as possible on every character, even mages (for the +hit and carry weight). Try to have every character with an 18 strength, but you may have to take away a point or two from some characters. Most importantly, all fighter-type characters should have 18/00 strength. This is a huge bonus, so it is worth taking penalties for int/wis/cha in order to get 18/00 with max dex and con. A fighter without 18/00 strength hardly compares to his stronger counterparts.
Dexterity: The foremost of the primary statistics. No character should be without maximum dexterity, as the AC bonus is critical. There is no excuse for any character to leave dexterity low.
Constitution: The last of the primary statistics, every character should increase constitution. For non-fighters, this means raising con to 16, but all fighter/paladin/ranger classes should have the maximum constitution allowed for their race.
Intelligence: Almost every character can afford to drop intelligence, as only mages require the stat. Bards can also use intelligence to increase their lore. Consider dropping the intelligence roll for most classes to eight or nine.
Wisdom: The same as intelligence, except insert priest/druid for mage.
Charisma: As long as you have one character with high charisma the rest make little difference. Consider which class has spare points when deciding who gets the high charisma. Bards may require 15, but with how difficult it is to roll up a bard, those points could be put to better use elsewhere.
Choosing the right weapon is the next step for your character. Try to avoid having two characters with the same type of melee weapon.
Ranged: Every member of the party should have a ranged weapon. Warriors should put two points into bow/crossbow at creation, and other classes should take whatever is available, even slings. Having dedicated ranged attackers is always helpful. Keep in mind that it can be inconvenient to switch to range attacks. Bows require two hands, so a shielded warrior must enter his inventory to move things around. Two-handed weapons go well with bows, as that allows you to use the quick weapon slots. Bows are facilitators, as a party equipped with bows will be able to readily handle many would-be deadly situations.
One-handed: Great weapons for the primary combatants of your team, as they allow access to a shield (up to an additional 4 AC). Make sure to have two melee warriors with one-handed weapons.
Two-handed: Initially alluring, they have serious drawbacks. Not being able to use the shield weakens the character significantly. If they are in the back line of the party, however, this will usually not make a difference. A character with two-handed weapons can fight with most monsters; he just can’t battle the hordes alone. Two-handed weapons are best for archers, so that they can use bows primarily and switch to melee when the enemy gets too close. They have a slightly extended reach over their one-handed counterparts.
Anyone interesting in creating a test party should go for pure classes. A balance of characters will see you through the entire game with a minimum amount of difficulty. Also, if you plan on starting over soon after experimenting, your characters will be relatively fast levelers. So, on to the novice party:
Character 1. Fighter: Make this guy a true neutral gnome with proficiency in either bows or crossbows and a one-handed weapon. Large swords are always a safe bet. He’ll be your front line character, capable of standing toe to toe with anything once he is properly equipped. Earlier you may want to balance out the AC among your party members, but make sure to get this character as high as possible towards the end.
Character 2. Fighter: A few options here. Either make him another melee fighter with a shield, or give him a two handed sword and use a bow/crossbow regularly. If you choose bow, that will give you three archers, so you may want to take another one-handed weapon.
Character 3. Paladin or Ranger: Your third fighter is a matter of personal preference. Taking a ranger will benefit your team offensively, but a paladin will help with charisma and minor curative abilities. If you took large swords on your first fighter, a ranger should use short swords.
Character 4. Thief: Plain and simple. Start with skill in bows and daggers (or short swords). He’ll handle a big chunk of the parties’ grunt work, plus his ranged abilities will always benefit the team.
Character 5. Cleric: No party is complete without some form of healing. Although a druid could feasibly replace this character, it is best to have at least one character able to use the defensive priest spells.
Character 6. Mage: For identification and the occasional fireball/haste. Keep your mage out of harms way, or you’ll find yourself reloading on a regular basis.
For those of you who are more experienced or familiar with the system, consider making a party that specializes at certain tasks or tries to compensate for characters’ inherent weaknesses. This intermediate party is intended to lessen the weak link of the non-combat characters:
Character 1. Fighter (large sword/crossbow): Once again, a true neutral gnome fighter.
Character 2. Fighter (crossbow/two-handed): Since the fighter/cleric cannot take bows, this fighter primarily uses a crossbow to allow the fighter/cleric to fight up front. Don’t put the specialization points into crossbow—pump them into your melee weapon.
Character 3. Ranger (short sword/bow): Solely for the purpose of making the early-middle stages of the game easier. Use the one-handed sword without a shield to gain an extra attack, and make it easier to use a bow.
Character 4. Fighter/cleric (hammer): Although your healing spells will take a while to build up, with a strong warrior party this should not be a problem. Since a fighter/cleric can use fighter armor but not weapons, this character becomes a frontline warrior, with crushing weapons for taking on skeletons.
Characters 5 & 6. Option A: Fighter (axe/ranged) & mage/thief (bow): The third shielded fighter will boost your team’s defensive capabilities while the mage/thief will allow you to have three full time archers. Spells will come slowly, as will skills, but the mage/thief will be able to handle all your grunt work if you spend the points wisely.
Option B: Fighter/thief (crossbow/dagger) & bard (bow): This combination leaves your ranger in the frontline with the fighter and fighter/cleric, and these two characters are primarily ranged attackers. This option will be easier to pull off, as the mage/thief is hard to protect.
In either case, these will allow you to have five characters with bows/crossbows, and one with a sling. That will give you enough firepower to shred minor hordes before they get in range. With this configuration, be sure to spend lots of money on ammo. Buy every lightning bolt and acid arrow for sale, but don’t clog up your inventory by purchasing them all at once. Also, with Option B, make sure you snatch up any fireball-like potions you see.