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Icewind Dale Strategy

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Typical Strategy

When I was asked to write this article about low-level combat strategies, I must admit I was a bit shocked at first. I'm not considered a strategist by any stretch of the imagination, so I was at a loss for what to do. I struggled for some time but came to no conclusions on how to approach such a subject. I finally gave up in frustration and sat down to play one of several CRPGs that I own. After a few minutes of play I began to look at my characters more closely. What purpose did they serve? What role did they play within the party? How did each of them contribute to the overall survivability of the party? Could this be the foundation of a strategy? Perhaps, and perhaps this was how I could approach this article. In the paragraphs that follow, I will detail my thoughts on characters, the purpose they serve, and how I feel they are used best.

John Deiley
Designer, Icewind Dale
Black Isle Studios


If you are going to fight, you are going to take damage. This is an inescapable law of role-playing games, and you need to be prepared for it. When it comes to taking abuse nothing soaks up damage better than a fighter. Simply put, the job of a fighter is to take damage and to give it right back. I always start my campaign strategy with two of these stalwart adventurers.

When creating a fighter, I try to remember the golden rule: 'It is better to give than to receive.' With that in mind, I give a fighter the highest strength and dexterity possible. I want him to hit hard but have the fleetness of foot to avoid being hit. I also want him to have a hardy constitution. If he does take a blow or two, he needs to be tough enough to survive it.

In my opinion, fighters do not need to be smart, wise, or pretty. Letting someone bang away at you with a weapon is not the smartest or wisest thing to do (not to mention what it does to your looks), so I don't bother with intelligence, wisdom, or charisma. They serve no real purpose for a fighter.

When it comes to equipment, I buy nothing but the best armor and weapons for fighters. A fighter's armor protects him while his weapons dish out punishment to the enemy. Also, I make it a point to specialize in at least two weapon types. I choose slashing weapons, such as swords, and blunt weapons, such as maces. These two damage types will affect most enemies a fighter encounters.

The idea here is to come up with two fighters. They need the highest strength and dexterity possible to allow them to deal damage and avoid it. They also need a high constitution to ensure they can survive any blows that do hit them. When combat rears its head, the fighter steps to the front and protects the weaker members of the party, attacking the enemy from the side or the rear to keep the opponent off-balance. A fighter does not limit himself to one weapon type since some enemies are more resistant to some types of damage.


No campaign strategy is complete without a cleric. He is the party healer. When the warriors in a party step forward to face danger, the cleric is right behind them ready to heal any damage they might take. Simply put, the job of a cleric is to keep the warriors alive.

When creating a cleric, I try to give him the highest wisdom, dexterity, and constitution possible. He needs wisdom for his spell abilities, dexterity to dodge blows, and constitution to be able to survive any blows that land. A cleric should not have to fight, but when called upon, he should be ready to dish out damage as the situation calls for it.

In my opinion, a cleric does not need to be strong, smart, or pretty. At best, he is a weak fighter and only needs the strength to carry armor and weapons. What he lacks in intellect, he makes up for in wisdom. You do not need charisma to heal a wound, so don't worry about it.

When it comes to equipment, I buy the lightest armor with the best protection. A cleric should never be put in a situation where he is toe to toe with an enemy. A cleric's choice in weapons is limited to blunt weapons, so I buy the most damaging weapon in that class. If a cleric ever has to fight, he might as well do as much damage as he can.

The idea here is to come up with a good healer. He should not be designed to fight but should be able to in emergencies. When it comes to spells, he should only learn healing spells at first. His primary job is to stand behind the warriors and heal them should they get hurt.


The wizard is the weakest character class and the biggest liability in any party. His life is continually fraught with danger and is an ongoing struggle to stay alive. Once a wizard grows in power, however, he becomes quite an asset. Simply put, the job of a wizard is to stay alive and soak up experience.

When creating a wizard, I try to give him the highest dexterity, constitution, and intelligence possible. He needs the dexterity to be fleet of foot and dodge blows. Because of his natural weakness, he needs a high constitution to survive any stray blows or arrows that come his way. He needs a high intelligence to learn the spells of his trade.

In my opinion, a wizard need not be concerned with charisma, wisdom, or strength. He is so weak that none of these will benefit him in the slightest.

When it comes to equipment, there is not much that can be done for a wizard. Simply buy him a sling, some bullets, and be done with it. Never buy a wizard a dagger, a staff, or any other close range weapon. If he gets close enough to an enemy to use it, he'll end up dead.

The idea here is to make a strong future spell caster. At low level, a wizard is a huge liability. Keep him at the rear of the party at all times. Give him a ranged weapon, never a hand weapon. Do not allow a wizard to attack any target other than the one the fighter is fighting. You do not want your wizard to attract the attention of anything that will get him killed.

When it comes to spells, do not give your wizard combat spells such as magic missile. These spells have negligible effects at low level, and once they are cast, the wizard is useless until he rests. Have your wizard learn area effect spells instead, such as sleep. A sleep spell will affect several orcs, goblins, or similar creatures and render them temporarily harmless. Your party may not be able to handle a battle with eight orcs, but if your wizard puts four of them to sleep, then the odds are turned in your party's favor. Once combat has ended, you can gauge your ability to finish off your sleeping opponents or retreat. These situations are where a low-level mage can shine.


A thief is the heart of my campaign strategy. He is the party scout and master of stealth. He seeks out dangers to the party and decides which enemies the party will face. He is subject to the most danger of any member in the party. Simply put, the job of a thief is to gather information.

When creating a thief, I try to follow the guidelines of a warrior. He needs to have the highest strength, dexterity, and constitution possible. A thief will have to fight often, so he needs to be able to dish out damage. He needs dexterity to dodge blows, to move stealthily, and to ply his trade as a thief. When starting out, put all of his skill points into stealth. He will need them.

A thief does not need to be smart, wise, or pretty any more than a warrior does. His trade lies in the shadows, so keep him there.

When it comes to equipment, I buy nothing but the best weapons and armor for thieves. As the party scout, a thief is often in danger. One step out of the shadows can lead to certain death. When it comes to weapons, I choose the short sword and the short bow. A thief is a weak fighter at best and should always attack at range. However, in case of emergencies he needs a good melee weapon.

The idea here is to come up with a good scout. A thief should be a master in stealth before he raises any other skill. When the party approaches an unknown area the thief should hide in shadows and enter the area first. He should skirt well-lit areas and stick to the shadows. He should take note of all enemies and their positions in an area. He should take note of the enemy's weapons. He should take note of all cover that is available to the enemy and the party. Finally, he should take note of how close together enemies are and whether they could be taken one at a time by luring them to the party. Finally, the thief should return to the party so that a proper attack can be planned.

The Last Slot:

With two fighters, a cleric, a wizard, and a thief, five of the six character slots are filled. What to do with the sixth slot should be considered carefully. Personally, I fill the sixth position with a druid or a bard. When creating either character I follow the guidelines of a cleric for the druid and a thief for the bard.

The druid is a good backup healer and can free your cleric to cast spells such as bless, chant, or prayer. However, I usually have the druid learn nothing but healing spells as well as the cleric. You can never have too much healing at low levels.

The bard is excellent for identifying items or using his battle song to help a party in a fight. However, he is a weak fighter, so care must be taken to keep him out of danger.

I have no recommendations for which character you should choose. Give each a try and see how they work for you. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.

Typical Strategy:

Using the above party, my combat strategy is pretty straightforward. I set my two fighters ahead of the party side by side with a body width between them. I place the cleric (and druid) three paces behind the warriors. I place the wizard (and bard) three paces behind the cleric. I am now ready to use my thief.

I have the thief hide in shadows and move into the area ahead. I make note of all enemy information as outlined in the thief section above. I have the thief choose which enemy or group of enemies would be easiest for my party to deal with. If at all possible, I position the thief in such a way that only one enemy can see him (when he leaves the shadows) and then I will use a bow attack on that enemy. I then run the thief back to the party, passing between the two fighters, and continue using the bow while waiting for the enemy to arrive.

Once the enemy reaches the fighters, I have the fighters attack each enemy at least once to get their attention and keep them from attacking any party members in the rear. The battle is pretty straightforward from this point. Concentrate both fighters on one enemy, preferably the strongest. Keep your cleric ready to heal at a moment's notice. Pay careful attention to the amount of damage being dealt to the fighters. If an enemy is doing large amounts of damage, you'll have to heal your fighters sooner than you thought, or you'll have a surprise death on your hands. Have your wizard use his ranged attack. Have your bard use his battle song.

If too many enemies follow the thief home, there are several options available. The first option to consider is running. Never be afraid to run. Next would be an area affect spell such as sleep. If you have a druid in your party you might want to use entangle. Or you may just want to tough it out and see how the battle goes. In any case, make wise use of your healer. If you have a bard, use his battle song. You can have your thief hide in shadows and try to get behind one of the enemy and backstabÂ… but this could be dangerous for your thief.

The last thing I want to cover is dealing with spell casters. You will find that most of them can be a real pain. The way I usually handle them is to have my thief hide in shadows and wait behind the caster. I then set my party up for a charge just outside of vision range of the caster. Once I have everyone in place I have the thief backstab the caster. When the caster turns to deal with the thief I have the fighters rush him from behind. I try to have the cleric ready to aid the thief in case he is hit by any powerful damaging spells.

Well, that outlines the basic strategy I use and the party that carries it out. These are, of course, only guidelines. You are free to make any character choices you wish. If I've done nothing more than give you ideas to pursue on your own, then this article has served its purpose. Good luck to you in your adventures.
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