One thing that can be said in favour of this game is that the 3rd Edition D&D rules make life easier in terms of combat, so kudos for that, at least. Instead of the six-man party of Baldur’s Gate, now, it’s down to your protagonist and one henchman, plus any familiars, animal companions and/or summoned creatures they can conjure up. Thus, the maximum you can end up with is four characters. Still, not all protagonists will be able to achieve this, so you can no longer set combat formations, because it would make very little sense for those who only have two characters on the field. Henchman A.I. can still be controlled, however, but no longer through the menu. Your protagonist now needs to speak to the henchman and tell them that s/he would like to change their combat tactics, but you can’t control the henchman directly.
Combat takes place in real time, with all enemies visible on the map. This means that a Ranger or Rogue (this includes familiars and animal companions) can scout ahead to get the lay of the land before venturing anywhere, so as to avoid running into huge enemy groups unawares. Battles are subdivided into six-second rounds individual to each character. Each class has a different “Attacks per Round” (APR) progression, which depends on their Base Attack Bonus (BAB), with the maximum number being determined by their BAB at level 20 (character level, not class level). Thus, melee classes (Fighter, Paladin, Barbarian, Ranger) end up with a maximum of four APR, ‘middle-ground’ classes (Rogue, Cleric, Bard) get three, and non-melee classes (Wizard and Sorcerer) get two. The exception is Monk, which ends up with a whopping maximum of six APR.
In addition to determining the number of attacks a character can make, BAB also determines what bonuses each of these attacks get. The first attack always gets a bonus corresponding to the character’s base attack stat. For each subsequent attack, the bonus is reduced by five, except for Monks, for whom it’s reduced by three. Dual-wielding (or using a double-sided weapon, like Daelan’s axe) also imposes a penalty on all attacks made with the off-hand weapon, although this can be reduced with the proper Feats.
Characters can learn both Feats and Skills. Feats act like innate abilities: once your character acquires one, it doesn’t need to be improved anymore, while Skills require a continuous input of points upon level-up in order to improve. There are Basic Feats, which can be chosen every three character levels, regardless of class; although certain Feats are unavailable to certain classes. On top of that, every class gets a varying amount of Bonus Feats, with the Fighter getting the most. Past character level 20 (i.e. if Hordes of the Underdark is installed), the Feat list changes to include Epic Feats, which are usually more powerful versions of the basic ones.
Skills are also determined by class. Some are simply not available to certain classes, while others are available as Cross-Class Skills, meaning that classes for which they are not ‘typical’ can still put points in them. For example, Concentration is a Class Skill for Wizards and Sorcerers: it lessens the chance of their spells getting interrupted if they get hit by an attack. In order to improve it by one level, they only need to spend one skill point. However, if they don’t have a Rogue henchman or familiar, they can still take levels in Disable Traps if they so desire, as it is available as a Cross-Class Skill. The only difference is that they will need two skill points to improve it by one level. Unlike a Rogue, for whom Disable Traps is a Class Skill.
Hit Points (HP) and combat stats are calculated on the basis of virtual ‘dice’ (as a relic of the game’s pen-and-paper ancestry). Four, six, eight and 10-sided ‘dice’ are used for HP, but combat stats are usually calculated with 20-sided ‘dice’. This is also reflected in such terminology as Saving Throws. Again, things are simpler than they used to be in BG. Saving Throws represent how well a given class resists certain negative effects. Instead of being classified by effects as in BG, however, Saving Throws in this game are classified by how a given class protects itself from these effects: Fortitude, Will or Reflex. While each class can make each of these Saving Throws, most classes are better at one type out of the three. This is their primary Saving Throw. For example, Rogues are supposed to have high Dexterity, so their primary Saving Throw is Reflex. Some classes, like Cleric or Druid, have two primary Saving Throws, reflecting their dual focus on melee and magic. Monk, once again, is the exception, as all three of its Saving Throws are considered as primary, making it the least prone to negative status effects in general. A class begins with a two-point bonus in their primary Saving Throw, then gains one more point every two levels. Secondary Saving Throws start with no bonus, then gain one point every three levels starting from level 3. After level 20, the distinction disappears, and all Saving Throws gain one point per level.
Saving Throws are also affected by a character’s main stats, just like combat abilities and spells are. The idea is that every two points above 10 grant a one-point bonus to whatever that particular stat affects. So, for example, a character with 14 Strength has a two-point bonus applied to their attack and damage rolls. Thus, Reflex Saving Throws are affected by Dexterity scores, Fortitude by Strength and Will by Wisdom.
As already mentioned, multiclassing has been made a lot easier in this game. Any class can now be combined with any other, for a maximum of three, which is great if you want more versatility. Of course, combinations still need to be made within reason; for example, it’s usually a bad idea to multiclass a caster class, as your character will learn spells at a slower rate or miss out on some altogether. The same goes for classes that learn a lot of class-specific abilities, such as Monk or Ranger. Fighter is a popular choice for multiclassing, but Rogues and Bards are also common picks.
Level progression is now fixed, with no differences between classes; rather, whenever your multiclassed character gains a level, you can decide which class gets that level. This is tied to the main remaining restriction: multiclass penalties. The idea is that all of a character’s classes need to be the same level or within one level of the highest class, otherwise s/he will gain 20% less EXP per class that doesn’t conform to the rule. So a half-orcish level 4 Fighter/level 3 Rogue will be fine, but if they raise their Fighter level to 5 before raising Rogue to 4, they will suffer a 20% EXP penalty until they can rectify the situation. If a character has three classes and all three are uneven (e.g. level 5 Fighter/level 3 Rogue/level 1 Bard), then the EXP penalty will be a whopping 40%.
Favoured classes are an exception to this rule, as they are automatically ignored in multiclassing calculations. They are determined by race, and humans and half-elves have an advantage here, as whatever they pick for their first class is automatically counted as favoured. Every other race has one favoured class. So, say that your character is a half-orc. If you make her/him a Barbarian–a half-orc’s favoured class–, s/he can safely multiclass once as whatever you like without worrying about penalties. It’s only if s/he multiclasses twice that the calculations will apply.
Magic is subdivided into two types: Arcane and Divine. The former is more offensive, while the latter is more defensive, notably including healing spells, although both categories include status-enhancing spells. Arcane spells are used by Wizards, Sorcerers and Bards, and are hampered by armour, which either means wearing robes or dealing with the possibility of spell failure. Sorcerers and Bards choose which spells they want to learn upon levelling up, while Wizards can learn any Arcane spell by scribing it from a scroll. A further distinction is that a Sorcerer’s and Bard’s spellpower is based on Charisma, while a Wizard’s spellpower is based on Intelligence.
Divine magic is further subdivided into two subtypes: Clerical and Druidic magic. The spell selections overlap a lot, but there are some spells that are specific to a given subtype. Clerical spells–granted by a deity–are used by Clerics and Paladins, while Druidic spells–derived from nature–are used by Druids and Rangers. All of these classes learn the entire selection of Divine spells available at their level simply by levelling up. Moreover, Divine magic is unhampered by armour, so they’re free to turtle up as much as they wish, within their class restrictions. All Divine magic is based on Wisdom.
D&D rules further restrict casting by limiting the amount of spells a caster can use before needing to rest. There are 11 tiers of spells, both Arcane and Divine, starting from tier 0 (cantrips) and up to tier 10 (epic spells), which can only be learned once a Wizard, Cleric or Druid reaches level 20. Rangers and Paladins can only cast spells up to tier 4, while Bards can only cast spells up to tier 6. All Divine casters and Wizards have a spellbook containing all the spells they have learned. They also have a limited amount of spell slots (subdivided by spell tier) they can use. They can fill these with whatever spell they know, but the downside is that, once the slots are used up or they need to pick a spell that isn’t in their current selection, they need to rest. It’s a hassle, but it’s the price to pay for increased versatility. Conversely, Bards and Sorcerers have their chosen spells assigned to the corresponding spell slots upon levelling up. They still need to rest when they’ve consumed all of their slots, but they can’t change their spell selection and therefore don’t need to rest for that. This implies planning in advance which spells are likely to be useful and can leave the character in a bind if they need a spell that they haven’t learned.
In a game with such a restriction on henchmen, any additional bodies on the battlefield can be welcome, which is why Wizards, Sorcerers, Druids and Rangers have a slight advantage over other classes. Wizards and Sorcerers can summon a familiar once per day, while Druids and Rangers get an animal companion. A Wizard or Sorcerer can also have access to these animal companions (in addition to their familiar) via the Summon Creature line of spells. While similar, familiars and animal companions do have some differences. Both act as de facto henchmen, but while animal companions are just that–animals–, familiars are actually sapient magical creatures. Both will remain summoned if their master rests (a Wizard’s or Sorcerer’s summoned animal will not) and can be fed by talking to them to restore lost HP. Both will be unsummoned when the protagonist gains a level, but while Druids and Rangers can summon a different animal companion each level, a familiar cannot be changed once chosen. The familiar is also magically bonded to its master, meaning s/he will lose 1d16 HP if the familiar dies. However, this magical bond also means that the protagonist can possess the familiar, thereby directly controlling their actions. This can be particularly effective with Rogue-type familiars to be able to scout ahead, spot traps or even–with a pixie–disarm them. On a more humorous note, it’s actually possible to have a conversation with familiars and even play riddles with them.
Weapons are subdivided into three categories: simple, martial and exotic. The former category covers things like clubs, daggers, slings, staves, spears, crossbows and maces. The latter includes stuff like katana, kama, whips or scythes. Martial weapons include things like swords, bows, halberds, axes, flails and hammers. In order to be able to use these weapons, a character must have the matching Feat. Most classes start with an innate ability to use simple weapons, except for Rogues, Wizards, Druids and Monks. Fighters, Barbarians, Rangers and Paladins also start out with the martial weapons Feat. Exotic weapons aren’t innate to any class, and a character must have at least one point of BAB to be able to acquire the appropriate Feat.