Most people who play this game will likely have played Baldur’s Gate beforehand and will therefore have a protagonist that they can import wholesale, thereby bypassing character creation. However, if you don’t own BG, have lost/deleted your save file, were unhappy with the class or race you chose and don’t feel like replaying, or are tempted by one of the new options on offer, you may want to create a character from scratch. This won’t affect the storyline, but things will be more difficult at the outset. This time around, there are seven races to choose from. Beyond obvious cosmetic and cultural differences, they also have different attributes and abilities, as well as different classes available to them. Five out of the seven races have infravision (all except humans and halflings), which supposedly helps them to see in the dark, but I’ve yet to see how it’s actually useful. What’s more, it’s bugged for half-orcs. Elves and half-elves are also supposed to be resistant to Charm and Sleep, but that’s bugged as well.
Humans: The middle-of-the-road, safe choice. Humans have no attribute bonuses, no special abilities and very few class restrictions, which makes them the most versatile race overall, as they can pick almost any class without penalty. In addition, they’re the only race able to dual-class. This means that they’re barred from the two triple classes (Fighter/Mage/Cleric and Fighter/Mage/Thief), although that’s not really a handicap. In cultural terms, humans are one of the most numerous and widespread races in the game, ambitious, adaptable and ethnically diverse, although this also frequently leads to conflict. Most of the companions in the game are human, and the storyline is biased towards a human (male) protagonist. Still, in spite of all that, this is the one race I’d never pick for my protagonist: I know all about being human, so why not try something more exotic? They are, however, the only race that can be Paladins, so if that strikes your fancy, then you don’t really have a choice. Most companions are human: 10 out of 18. Five are Good (Imoen, Minsc, Nalia, Keldorn and Valygar), three are Neutral (Yoshimo, Anomen and Cernd) and two are Evil (Edwin and Sarevok, although the latter only shows up in Throne of Bhaal).
Elves: As is typical of Western fantasy, elves are beautiful, slender and graceful, somewhat shorter than humans, with pointy ears, no body hair and slanted eyes, as well as an average lifespan of about 300 years. They’re patient, relaxed, love freedom and nature, and have a contemplative (some would say lackadaisical) outlook on life. They can also enter a meditative trance (reverie) instead of sleeping. There are many subgroups of elves, but the most distinctive are the drow, who live in the Underdark and are generally Evil. They’re shorter than other elves, have dark skin and white hair, and are resistant to magic. Elves have quick reflexes, and therefore get a one-point bonus to their maximum Dexterity. Conversely, they get a one-point penalty to Constitution, as they’re rather frail. They also get a one-point THAC0 bonus with bows and swords, which, coupled with their Dexterity bonus, makes them excellent ranged attackers. As far as thieving skills go, they get a 5-point bonus to Pick Pockets and Move Silently, and a 10-point bonus to Hide in Shadows, but a 5-point penalty to Open Locks. Elves are also one of the races that can be a Fighter/Mage, my favourite class. However, the only Mage specialisations they can pick are Enchanter, Diviner or Wild Mage, which are all problematic. They also can’t be Bards, Druids, Fighter/Druids or Paladins. They can be Clerics, but none of the Cleric multiclasses. There are two elven companions: Aerie (Good, and somehow manages to be a Cleric multiclass) and Viconia (Evil).
Half-elves: The product of a union between an elf and a human, they combine traits from both of their parent races, although the in-game character models (or paperdolls) are the same as elves. They’re slightly taller and stronger than elves, retaining the pointy ears, but male half-elves can also grow beards. They’re also more active than elves and longer-lived than humans. Half-elves usually feel out of place in both of their inherited cultures, but, conversely, view this dual heritage as a source of pride, and tend to be strong-willed, sociable and adventurous. Like humans, half-elves have no attribute advantages or penalties. They’re also the second most versatile race, as they can be anything except a Thief/Cleric, Paladin or Monk. This means that they can also be Fighter/Mages. As single-classed Mages, they can’t specialise as Abjurers, Illusionists, Invokers or Necromancers. In the thieving department, half-elves have the opposite focus to elves, with a 10-point bonus to Pick Pockets and a 5-point bonus to Hide in Shadows, but no penalty to Open Locks. Jaheira (Neutral) is the only half-elven companion.
Gnomes: These diminutive fey humanoids share some characteristics with elves (pointy ears and longevity), but also with dwarves, as they prefer to live in burrows, and male gnomes tend to grow beards. Curious, witty and crafty by nature, gnomes are also reclusive and unambitious, but have a knack for engineering and illusion magic. Like elves and dwarves, gnomes have an Underdark-dwelling subgroup, the svirfneblin, who are, however, much less prone to Evil than drow or duergar. They’re also darker-skinned and shorter-lived than their surface brethren, and all male svirfneblin are bald. Gnomes are a cerebral folk, so they get a one-point bonus to their maximum Intelligence, with a corresponding penalty to Wisdom. This makes them an ideal race for Mages, with the proviso that they’ll automatically be Illusionists, even if they multiclass (something which no other race can do); fortunately, it’s a good specialisation and grants them an extra spell per level. Gnomes can’t be Paladins, Druids, Rangers or any related multiclasses. As a short race, they gain a bonus to their Saving Throws (Spell and Wand) based on their Constitution score, which is a nifty plus. They also make the second-best Thieves, as they have as many bonuses as halflings: 5 points to Open Locks, Move Silently, Set Traps and Hide in Shadows, and 10 points to Find Traps and Detect Illusion. The only difference is that they don’t get an extra point in Dexterity. Jan (Neutral) is the only gnomish companion.
Half-orcs: The product of a union between a human and an orc, half-orcs tend to be taller and more muscular than humans, but more agile and craftier than orcs. They usually retain such orcish features as greyish or greenish skin, coarse black hair, pointy ears and protruding canines. They also tend to be shorter-lived than humans. Half-orcs are usually shunned by most other races, being perceived as thuggish due to their disregard for etiquette, short temper and love for the coarser pleasures of life. By contrast, full-blooded orcs usually see them as weaklings, even though they grudgingly accept their greater intelligence. Consequently, half-orcs can be suspicious and slow to trust, but also adaptable, bold and tenacious. Due to their physical prowess, half-orcs have a one-point bonus to both Strength and Constitution, thus making them ideally suited for melee combat. Conversely, they’re not the brightest of races, suffering a two-point penalty to Intelligence. They’re rather limited in their class choices, as they can only be Barbarians, Clerics, Fighters, Thieves, Fighter/Thieves, Fighter/Clerics or Cleric/Rangers. Like humans, they get no bonuses or penalties to their thieving skills. There are no half-orcish companions.
Dwarves: Again, as is typical of Western fantasy, dwarves are a short and sturdy race, characterised by thick beards (sometimes even on female dwarves), often as a sign of social status. Longer-lived than humans, but less than gnomes or elves, they’re a brave, honourable, steadfast folk, who value tradition and loyalty, but tend to be suspicious, stubborn and averse to change. Dwarven society is organised in clans, and most have a preference for living underground, frequently near mines, due to their love of gems. As elves and gnomes, they have an Underdark-dwelling subgroup, the duergar, who are thinner, usually bald and prone to Evil, due to bearing a demonic taint. The dwarves’ natural hardiness translates into a one-point Constitution bonus. Conversely, they get a one-point Dexterity penalty. Moreover, their ‘tough and crusty’ image also means a two-point penalty to Charisma. Being a short race, they gain a Constitution-based bonus to their Saving Throws (Wand, Spell and Poison/Paralysis/Death). Dwarves are also limited in their class choices. They can be Barbarians, Fighters, Clerics, Thieves, Fighter/Thieves or Fighter/Clerics. In the thieving department, they gain a 5-point bonus to Detect Illusion, a 10-point bonus to Open Locks and Set Traps, and a whopping 15-point bonus to Find Traps. Korgan (Evil) is the only dwarven companion.
Halflings: The proper name for the race in their own language is “hin”, but humans call them halflings, because they’re roughly half their height (think Tolkien’s hobbits, including the hairy feet). They mostly look like a plumper version of their taller brethren, although they have pointy ears, lack facial hair and have slightly longer lifespans. They’re a friendly, conciliating, hospitable folk with a practical mindset and a fondness for the simpler pleasures of life. They also show great courage in defending their homes and families, have a knack for collecting things and are considered to have good luck. Due to their quick reflexes, halflings have a one-point bonus to their maximum Dexterity. They also have a one-point THAC0 bonus with slings. However, they’re not particularly strong or insightful, which translates to a one-point penalty to Strength and Wisdom. They do, however, gain Constitution-based Saving Throw bonuses (Wand, Spell and Poison/Paralysis/Death), as all short races do. Their greatest problem is that they have the most limited class selection: they can only be Barbarians, Fighters, Clerics, Thieves or Fighter/Thieves. They do, however, make the best Thieves: they have as many bonuses as gnomes–5 points to Open Locks, Pick Pockets and Find Traps, 10 points to Move Silently, and a whopping 15 points to Hide in Shadows–, but their extra Dexterity gives them an edge. Mazzy (Good) is the only halfling companion.