Combat Strategies - Baldur's Gate 1 Beginner's Guide
This section details different strategies that you can use to start winning battles more easily instead of constantly getting your butt whooped. I've designed these to kind of be general strategies for different group setups and for different types of battles which means this page should have information that's useful for everyone.
I start with some really basic strategies that I see a lot of beginners get wrong then move into more specific and advanced ones.
Pull all enemies back to your group:
When I first started playing the game the #1 thing I did wrong was I constantly ran my entire group room to room and down the tight hallways all at once. This will often lead you into situations where you will have your Mage or Priest at the front of the group taking the brunt of the damage at the start of a fight.
Usually in this game it's best to have one character scout ahead and pull enemies back to your group where you can take them on in a room you've already cleared. Doing it this way will allow you to stop the enemies from reaching your casters who are your squishiest characters and also give you the opportunity to buff yourself before each of the difficult encounters.
Invisibility is a great spell for scouting ahead on your Thief and disarming traps as well. When you use stealth it'll break if you try to Find Traps or disarm them but with Invisibility you'll be able to do both! There are going to be many locations throughout BG1 and BG2 that will have traps that are designed to penalize you if you dash right in. Caution and scouting are always recommended -- especially if you don't plan to save and reload constantly every time you don't get an outcome that you want.
Crowd Control is Your Friend:
This is kind of a no brainer if you've played multiplayer games before since you'll typically always want to use crowd control when doing dungeons in those games. We are technically playing an entire group in this game, much like an MMORPG, and you will kind of want to design your group around that concept. Having someone to crowd control enemies in some way will decrease the amount of targets you're fighting on very large or very hard groups of enemies.
Hold Person is one of the better CCs in this game but it only works against Human enemies. Hold, Horror, Sleep, Slow are all great to use too on targets during the first Baldur's Gate without much resistances (or weaker targets in BG2). There are also AoE crowd controls which are good to use if you have a ranged team such as Web, Stinking Cloud, Grease, Entangle and Glitterdust. Even if you do not have a ranged team you can still use some of these crowd controls if you make your own characters immune to it first.
Free Action is a spell which will make you immune to most of the crowd control effects that immobilize you. Ring of Free Action is a ring which will do the same thing as this spell except the effect is permanent so long as the ring is worn. Spider's Bane is another thing you can use on a character to achieve similar effects; it's a 2h sword which will make the wielder immune to spells such a Web allowing you to use Web on your Wizard to CC the enemies and swoop in with a melee to take them out.
Skeleton's & Stinking Cloud Strategy:
With the spells Animate Dead and Stinking Cloud you'll be able to create a deadly combination that most regular enemies can't do anything about. Skeletons can't be harmed with Stinking Cloud (since they don't breath) whereas most living creatures will be knocked unconscious and damaged over time. Combining these spells will allow you to immobilize most enemies on the field and send your Skeletons into melee combat to attack the enemies.
Any enemies that successfully perform a Saving Throw can be tanked by the Skeletons inside the Stinking Cloud until they get knocked unconscious again. Your entire party can stay back and fire ranged weapons or spells at the enemies trapped in the Stinking Cloud.
Web & 2h Web Protection Sword:
On lower difficulties this combination is extremely powerful since most enemies will not have the means of resisting your Web spell. Web will effectively immobilize all of the enemies and hold them in place for a long period of time. I'd strongly recommend you play without party AI on if you plan to use this strategy since Web will trap your party members as well as enemies... There is one exception to this, if you get the Spider's Bane weapon on one of your characters you'll be immune to the Web spell.
This makes a Mage with Web and a Fighter with Spider's Bane a very powerful combination, especially in the first Baldur's Gate game. You can use Web to immobilize the entire battle field then have one of your melee stay in the Web to tank any enemies that get a successful Saving Throw. I'd recommend only one melee if you do this since you'll only get one Spider's Bane. The rest of your characters should be using ranged weapons or casting spells.
Animate Dead & Monster Summoning (BG1 Especially):
In Baldur's Gate 1 the Wand of Monster Summoning items that you get are insanely overpowered and will make many fights throughout the game trivial. The reason these wands are more OP in BG1 than in BG2 is because in BG1 they almost always summon 2 - 4 monsters with each wand cast. In BG2 they almost always do 1 monster per cast, 2 tops. Also, during the early levels of BG1 most of the enemies you summon are equal to or better than your characters. By the time you reach BG2 your characters will typically be far stronger than any monster you can summon.
The monsters you summon with Wand of Monster Summoning as well as Animate Dead can be used both to deal damage to enemies as well as tank the enemies for you. If you're fighting an exceptionally hard enemy you can make the fight a whole lot easier by summoning an army of pets to tank for you and then attacking the enemy at ranged for as long as you can. Sometimes the pets will be able to buy you 15 - 30 seconds which is more than enough to deal some serious damage to the enemy.
As far as Animate Dead goes, this spell is in a different league than Monster Summoning if you ask me. With Monster Summoning the monsters you create will expire quickly which means you have to create them during battle and you can't really buff them up. The undead skeletons that you create with Animate Dead will last for a total of 8 hours ingame which is a total of 40 minutes real time.
What this means is you can create skeletons with Animate Dead before combat and buff them up with everything you typically use on your group. Bless, Chant, Haste, from what I have seen everything works on them which is great since it makes them even more over powered. It's up to you how you'd like to use these skeletons... What I typically like to do is send them into combat first so they take the bulk of the damage.
I typically send them to attack one of the enemy casters or whatever the most annoying enemy in the group is. If an enemy fears a lot or has a devastating attack (like Devour Brain) that can very quickly kill one of my party members that's who gets a pack of skeletons to the face.
For me personally I can say without a doubt that the #1 thing that made me a better player was using Animate Dead and buffing the skeletons up prior to fights. Once I started using this combination of skills every single fight in the game because significantly easier.
(BG1) Charm & Dire Charm:
This tip is kind of only for Baldur's Gate 1 since Charm becomes less effective as you level up since many of the harder enemies will be immune or heavily resistant to it and there are better and better spells to use. However, for most of Baldur's Gate 1 you can easily use Charm to turn the battle in your favor, quite literally. Use it on an enemy then have him attack other units in his team to maximize the effect of it in battle.
Most enemies won't be resistant to Charm in BG1 which is the main reason it shines in this game so feel free to pick this spell up and keep a few in your book at all times. In the 1st game there is also the added benefit of there being a lot of unique dialogue with different NPCs when you Charm them. Bioware really did a good job going all out and putting lots of hidden dialogue throughout the game, if you're a fan of the series it's worth going through the entire game with Charm and reading what all of the different NPCs have to say.
(BG1) Paws of the Cheetah & An Archer:
For the most part this strategy will only really be effective in BG1 because in BG2 having a single Archer face off against some of the tougher enemies will end up being an excessively long fight. However, as you could probably guess this strategy will work in both games. All you need is Paws of the Cheetah, a pair of boots that doubles your movement speed and a single character who specializes in ranged weapons.
Since Paws of the Cheetah doubles your movement speed you'll be able to kite around pretty much any enemy that can't use ranged attacks. For the most part BG1 is filled with maps that are pretty open and easy to kite in and in this game getting your hands on Paws of the Cheetah is much easier too since you'll pass it during the main quest.
If you're like me you probably almost never use this ability and for good reason - it's almost never useful! However, there are a few niche scenarios where you can make great use of this skill in both BG1 and BG2. If you're familiar enough with the game to know exactly where an enemy is going to spawn in at (or path to) then Set Traps can be extremely powerful.
Or, if you're doing an Evil playthrough you can use Set Traps around your target prior to engaging it and turning it hostile. Since the target is friendly it won't attack you (obviously) giving you plenty of opportunity to booby trap the surrounding area. A few of the dragons in BG2 can be made a lot easier with this skill such as Thaxll'ssillyia and Adalon.
Stealth & Backstab:
This is another tip that is going to be very obvious to some people and not at all obvious to others. In this game all Thief classes get Stealth (F6 by default) which will allow you to become invisible, kind of like Invisibility. Move Silently and Hide in Shadows are combined and then divided by 2 to determine your chance of stealth and getting caught in stealth. That's how it works for a Thief.
You can use Invisibility on your Thief if you'd rather do that instead of Stealth. Arguably, Invisibility and Improved Invisibility are better to use because you can perform actions during them (like Find Traps) that will not break them. While you are invisible position your character behind an enemy (sometimes off to the side works too) and then attack the enemy. This is how your backstab.
Sometimes you backstab, sometimes you don't. At first you'll think you're doing it wrong because it doesn't tell you a backstab was attempted but eventually you'll see your character mentioning backstab dealing XX amount more damage than a regular attack.