Best Pre-combat Buffs - Baldur's Gate 1 Beginner's Guide
One of the most important lessons I can teach you in Baldur's Gate is to buff up before each and every battle. Buffing your characters up before battle is so over powered that future games inspired by Baldur's Gate (such as Pillars of Eternity) specifically designed their games to have no buffs you can cast before combat.
For those of you who know nothing about DnD, much like myself, what buffs stack with each other and which don't isn't entirely obvious. Additionally, which buffs are even worth using? These questions are what lead me to do a ton of research about DnD (and this game) and learn exactly which buffs are worth using for combat purposes.
Below you'll find the complete list of all spells worth using before combat. I've sorted these lists for both Priests and Mages since they have access to a different set of spells.
All Cleric Buffs Before Combat (BG1):
All Wizard Buffs Before Combat (BG1):
As you can see from the lists above, Wizards have significantly more spells you can cast before entering combat than Priests do. However, not every spell on this list is worth using before every fight. You'll have to gauge the difficulty of each fight and estimate how much preparation you want to do before it.
In my experience the only fights that you want to go all out on are against bosses and dragons. When fighting targets such as those no amount of preparation is too great. For the most part every other fight you can get away with only using a few of the more important buffs. Below I have included a quick rotation of what I typically do before combat on most fights:
0. Stoneskin, Spell Shield, Shield
1. Animate Dead on Wizard/Cleric
2. Bless and/or Aid (Priests)
3. Mirror Image or Blur (Wizard) and Armor of Faith (Priests)
4. Chaotic Commands (Cleric; cast this on the tanks)
5. Protection Against Evil 10' Radius (Cleric)
6. Remove Fear (Cleric; if needed)
7. Haste (Wizard)
8. Chant (Cleric)
You won't have to use all of the above spells for every single fight (of course) but the spells mentioned above are enough to get you through the majority of fights on the Core Rules difficulty. I left out a few buffs too such as Protection from Fire (along with all of the other protections) which have situational uses as well.
If you're curious about what each of these buffs do then I recommend you read my detailed section below. Every single buff that I mentioned above can be found below; I have included information like what the spell does, when and why you'll be using it and whatever other details I felt important.
(Druid, Shaman, Cleric) Armor of Faith: Definitely one of the best buffs in the game, especially if you're a hybrid like Fighter/Cleric, Ranger or Paladin. At level 1 you'll get 5% protection from melee and magical attacks; at level 20 that increases to 25% protection. You'll want to use Armor of Faith as often as possible on all of your front line party members.
(Druid, Shaman, Cleric) Bless: Pretty much the first buff you get in the game for your Druid, Shaman or Cleric class. It will increase your attack and damage rolls by +1 and also give you +1 morale; this spell stacks with pretty much every other buff spell in the game including Aid which does mostly the same thing.
(Cleric) Aid: This spell does the same thing as Bless along with providing an additional 1d8 Hit Point bonus for your characters. As I said previously this spell does stack with Bless so you can use both in your pre-buffs before a fight.
(Cleric) Remove Fear: As the name of the spell suggests this will allow you to remove & resist fears cast on you and your party. For the most part not many enemies will use fear in this game but when you're fighting mages or dragons along with some other select enemies you'll definitely want to cast this buff.
(Cleric) Chant: This buff provides +1 bonuses to Saving Throws, attack rolls and healing rolls. Additionally any enemies who are around when you cast this will suffer penalties to all of the rolls. Chant stacks with pretty much every other buff in the game and for that reason is worth using before combat.
(Cleric) Free Action: You'll need to use this buff when you're fighting enemies in a hostile environment. Cloakwood with all the Web traps and spiders comes to mind as a spot where this spell will help out a lot. Aside from these niche scenarios I would not recommend you use it since it will cancel out Haste.
(Cleric) Protection Against Evil 10' Radius: What this spell does changes slightly from BG1 to BG2 but it's still an amazing spell either way. It provides you with a buff that will give you a bonus to THAC0 against enemies. The name suggests that it will only work on evil enemies but this is a misnomer; it'll work on all enemies even ones that are obviously good alignment.
(Cleric) Defensive Harmony: Defensive Harmony will give your entire party +2 to AC for the duration. One of the lesser buffs that you can cast before combat. It has a quick cast time and a short duration but it does stack with every other buff available.
(Druid or Cleric) Chaotic Commands: This buff will make whomever you cast it on immune to magical commands. These include, Stun, Hold, Sleep, Paralysis, Charm, Confusion, Maze and Feeblemind. If these status affects are already on the target when you cast Chaotic Commands it will not cure them. Chaotic Commands only prevents them from being cast on you.
(Cleric) Animate Dead: Animate Dead is the best summoning spell in the entire Baldur's Gate series. During BG1 Monster Summoning is on par with Animate Dead since it'll summon numerous monsters at a time but once you get to BG2 Monster Summoning is nerfed to uselessness and Animate Dead reigns supreme. The reason Animate Dead is so powerful is because the undead you summon with it come with all the same protections as normal undead + magical weapons which allow them to hit most enemies.
(Wizard) Shield: This spell will modify the Wizard's AC and set it to 4 against melee attacks and 2 against missile attacks. In BG1 this spell will also make you immune to Magic Missiles which is arguably the best part about it. For the most part you will use this spell a lot early on during BG1 but once you get better equipment and armor you'll want to avoid using it as it'll end up lowering your AC.
(Wizard) Blur: Blur is a self buff only but it is one of the best self buffs you'll get for Wizards and you'll be using it through all of BG1 and BG2. What Blur does is it makes all attacks against you suffer a -3 penalty as well as giving you a +1 bonus to all Saving Throws.
(Wizard) Mirror Image: Again, much like Blur this is a self only Wizard buff which is insanely powerful. Upon using Mirror Image the Wizard will create up to 8 duplicates of himself. Each time s/he is attacked one of your conjured images will be lost. Essentially this spell will protect you from up to 8 attacks while it is active.
(Wizard) Haste: Haste will increase the movement speed and attacks per round of all nearby party members. What makes Haste even more exceptional is it will work on summoned creatures as well. This means you can create an army with Animate Dead then haste them up before combat! When Haste expires you'll suffer Fatigue.
(Wizard) Spirit Armor: This spell kind of does the same thing as Shield except it's better. While under the effects of Spirit Armor your AC will be set to 1 and you'll get a +3 bonus to Saving Throws. As with Shield this is a self only buff.
(Wizard) Improved Invisibility: Improved Invis does everything normal invis does as well as giving you a +4 bonus to Saving Throws and enemies a -4 penalty to attack rolls when they target you. Essentially this is an invisibility that you can use during combat as a protective buff.
(Wizard) Stoneskin: Arguably one of the most powerful spells in the entire game; Stoneskin will apply numerous 'skins' to your Wizard which will absorb any melee attacks made against you. Each time an attack is made against you it'll consume one of your 'stone skins' until all charges are depleted at which point attacks will land against you again.
(Wizard) Spell Immunity: This spell will protect you from 1 spell in a school of magic that's your choice. An example of this spell being amazing is using it to protect yourself against Abjuration which will make you immune to Dispel Magic and Remove Magic for 1 cast.
(Wizard) Spell Shield: For those of you playing on difficulties higher than Core Rules this is an extremely useful spell. It will protect your Wizard against many of the different magical attacks that strip away spell protections.
(Wizard) Animate Dead: Animate Dead is the best summoning spell in the entire Baldur's Gate series. During BG1 Monster Summoning is on par with Animate Dead since it'll summon numerous monsters at a time but once you get to BG2 Monster Summoning is nerfed to uselessness and Animate Dead reigns supreme. The reason Animate Dead is so powerful is because the undead you summon with it come with all the same protections as normal undead + magical weapons which allow them to hit most enemies.