Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cirion the Bard Sings a Song of Wonder

I laughed out loud when I saw the latest Penny Arcade comic, Delusions of Gondor, because I've done exactly the same thing. When I first started playing through the original Baldur's Gate game I chose the Bard as my character class. This was, to be kind, an odd choice. Almost everyone chooses to be a Fighter (fun hack and slash play style) or a Mage (the most power of all characters at the highest levels), and even I usually opt for a Thief class (some cool and unusual play choices). I'd never before played a computer RPG that let me play as a musician, though, and I was curious what it'd be like.

It was interesting. One advantage is that Bards have very high Charisma, so I was a natural leader for my party (very important when you have losers like Khalid to inspire). On the other hand, I had no real skills at all. Couldn't fight, couldn't wear strong armor, could only cast a few of the weakest spells, and while I got Thief skill points, I could only spend them on the most useless skill, Pick Pockets.

So, here is how I would play the game: in the town, I would go around and talk with EVERYONE, and [Persuade] them that they wanted to help me, give me quests, and give me money. Then we would head out into the wilderness or the dungeons, where my intrepid party would be attacked by gnolls, trolls, zombies, whatever was handy. My bruisers (Minsc, Khalid, Jaheira, Keldorn, etc.) would jump to the front; my magic users (Xan, Aerie) would hang back and prepare powerful magic; Imoen would turn invisible and try to backstab someone. And the fearless leader Cirion? I would run way to the back, even behind my defenseless mages, and, with all eyes turned upon me, start to sing.

Sure, some people would say that I might be more "useful" if I were swinging a sword, or causing lightning to rain down from the sky. But I like to think that the sound of my voice was the greater gift, in inspiring people to do their very best.

Almost by accident, I think I stumbled into a viable strategy for the game. Like most computer RPGs, death in Baldur's Gate isn't permanent. If someone gets killed, you can usually resurrect them with no ill effects at all, merely the inconvenience of lugging their stuff around. Over the course of all the Baldur's Gate games I played, Minsc probably died dozens of times, and he was cheerful to the very end. The one exception to this leniency, though, is your main character: if your hero's hit points ever drop to 0, the game instantly ends, with no chance at resurrection. One fireball, one trapped chest, one thief with a poisoned dagger, and it's all over. Therefore, while my play style was undoubtedly cowardly, it also involved a lot less saving and restoring than it would have if I was closer to the action.

I say that I "think" this is a viable strategy, because if it is, I seem to be the only person who knows it. After beating the game I looked through a lot of strategy guides and FAQs for the game, and not a single one thought highly of the Bard class. They're probably right... I just know that I had fun.

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