Icewind Dale Is Ruining My Life

I’m an ostensible grown-up, which means that my life has been cast adrift in a sea of responsibilities, both major and minor. My wife and I need to eat, which makes cooking a must. The dishes need to get done afterward, of course. The dog needs to be walked twice a day, bathed every so often, and taken to the vet when necessary. The utility payments must be sent out in a timely fashion, requiring that I both write a small handful of actual, physical checks (I could pay online, but multiple utilities in my neck of the woods see fit to charge a convenience fee for doing so; also, there’s never a wrong time to tell Louis DeJoy to suck it) and walk about three blocks to the nearest mailbox.

This is to say nothing about the twin horrors of home and motor vehicle ownership. I’m convinced both are scams. Even the crappiest motor vehicle on the road is a miracle of engineering, an impossible combination of uhm…gears and belts and valves and shit, I think, and keeping it in tip-top shape is impossible. To the extent that it is possible, proper vehicle maintenance requires the skills and expertise of individuals highly trained in the twin arts of Upselling You on Repairs You Don’t Need and Failing to Notice Impending Ruin to Critical Components. Pick any local auto mechanic you wish, and your experience will be the same: it’ll be expensive, and you’ll never get by making just one visit. There’s nothing that you can do other than accept this fate. You have no leverage in this situation, and your mechanic understands this better than you do. If you could fix this shit yourself, you would have.

While renting a residence is itself a nightmare hellscape of dilapidated properties overseen by a cabal of lazy, selfish, rent-gouging ghouls known collectively as ‘landlords’, and I am eternally grateful to not be dealing with them at present, home “ownership” comes with its own set of horrors. I put ‘ownership’ in scare quotes here because, upon reflection, it’s clear the term is a misnomer. My wife and I do not own our home, rather, the bank has seen fit to appoint us as their loyal vassals, to oversee the property in exchange for monthly payments of tribute. Should we fail to make this monthly demonstration of loyalty, the bank will have no qualms about unceremoniously deposing us as lady and lord of the estate, and thus reassert where the actual power lies. It is scarcely different from a feudal lordship setup, although I suppose I’ll never be called upon to amass troops on the bank’s behalf (at least, I sure hope I won’t; mortgages are the original iTunes agreement), so that’s a plus.

Semantic bickering aside, owning a home is exhausting. Not only are you responsible for keeping the place clean enough that you aren’t actively disgusted by your own existence, you are also directly responsible for all of the other, vastly more complicated bullshit that used to be in your landlord’s purview. Some of these tasks are surprisingly easy, but most will be both urgent and far above the pay grade of all but the handiest individual, and will thus necessitate calling someone out to look at the thing that’s a problem. Again, whoever comes out to look at whatever is fully aware that if you knew how to fix the problem yourself, you would have, and will charge accordingly.

On top of constant maintenance duties, I am also responsible for feeding my family, hydrating myself, and cleaning myself just enough to prevent presenting as a feral pig man. On top of that, I am also going to be a parent soon, and that carries with it a whole host of other obligations to manage. Baby things need to be acquired, and I need to find and complete an infant CPR class. I also need to track down a TDAP shot, and I also also need to do a bare minimum of reading on how to keep a very young, very fragile child alive, and I also also also need to do a bare minimum of reading on how to support my wife adequately through the worst pain of her entire life.

All of this has fallen to the wayside as of late. The house is a mess; not only is it a mess in the conventional sense, it’s also a crowded wasteland of unassembled baby furniture. I haven’t cooked anything in a week. I’m covered in a thin layer of sweat at all times. My car is sitting in the driveway with a dented rim and a fucked up front alignment. My home needs a new furnace. The lawn is a weed-choked morass. I haven’t read a fraction of the parenting materials presented to me, and I’m starting to panic. The dog is fine, because he’s a cutie and I love him very much. But alas, all of my other responsibilities have fallen entirely to the wayside.

The reason for this is simple. Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition is ruining my entire life.

Long time readers of this humble blog may recall that a couple of years ago, I discovered Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, a game that also stripped me of all will to behave as a functional adult. Baldur’s Gate is a party-based RPG that bases its rules on 2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and makes that legendarily confusing system into a game that is not only comprehensible, but streamlined for the player’s convenience. You don’t need to learn how THAC0, AC and Saving Throws worked back then in any real detail. All you need to know is that lower is better; the game takes care of the rest for you. On top of that, Baldur’s Gate has a great story set in D&D’s celebrated Forgotten Realms setting, and features combat centered around micro-managing party members. This is a combination that all but guaranteed it would become one of my favorite games ever before I even played it for a single minute.

Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition runs on the exact same engine, is based on the exact same 2nd edition AD&D system, and is set in the very same Forgotten Realms. I was destined for ruin the second I hit the ‘Purchase’ button.

While Icewind Dale and Baldur’s Gate have too much in common to list in detail, they also differ in a handful of key respects. Baldur’s Gate serves as the Ur-Example of the classic BioWare RPG. You create a single main character who is central to an intricate story, and you surround that main character with a fully fleshed-out supporting cast of characters with their own unique backstories, motivations, and inferior stat lines. There’s no shortage of dungeon diving and combat in Baldur’s Gate, but the emphasis is on the story, as well as exploration and side quests that act as supplementary world-building.

Icewind Dale, by contrast, is all about the dungeon diving and combat. Rather than create a single main character and surround them with recruitable party members, you create an entire party of up to six people. Obviously, this means that there’s no single protagonist in this group, and no party member around whom the story’s events revolve. Rather, the game revolves around combat and tactics. From the very, very beginning of the game, Icewind Dale sends wave after wave after wave of enemies at you. You will be in combat all of the time, as just about every square inch of the game has a massive encounter group crammed in. Your ability to accurately assess the threats in these groups and micro-manage your party members to address those threats accordingly will determine your success.

Pictured: A totally normal Icewind Dale battle. Not pictured: All of the fire giants in said battle. (Image courtesy of Rob’s computer)

Icewind Dale also provides a largely linear RPG experience. You complete a main story quest, report back to whoever gave you said quest, and then head out for the next main story quest after you’ve sold all your loot and done all your shopping. Whereas the Baldur’s Gate games provides a bevy of side quests and several entire optional areas for the player to poke around in, Icewind Dale has no entirely optional areas whatsoever (at least, not that I’ve come across) and but a scant few side quests. There’s some poking around to do in mandatory quest areas, but almost none of it is truly optional. If you haven’t explored something just yet, odds are you will need to in order to find the thing you need to complete the quest.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I enjoy RPGs in no small part because I enjoy poking around and completing side quests, but Icewind Dale uses its laser focused gameplay and story to its advantage. The battles may come in ludicrous heaping portions, but it remains tremendously fun and rewarding for any fan of tactical micro-management, and also rewards thoughtful party building, which is in turn made more rewarding by the fact that you build your entire party from scratch. Even better, the large encounter groups mean that each character is never too far away from leveling up, especially in the early game. Anyone familiar with the brutality of AD&D at low levels will be eternally grateful when Icewind Dale rushes everyone up to Level 5 by the end of Chapter 1. And, of course, while the hardest battles can be monstrous indeed, they reward the entire party with giant piles of experience, treasure, and magic items.

Progressing through the main story is entirely straightforward, but the story itself does an excellent job of subverting the tropes of the standard fantasy dungeon-crawler. Nothing is exactly as it seems at first blush, and your current quest is not going to resolve exactly the way you think it’s going to. And, even with little exploration and few side quests, the game finds plenty of ways to sneak in bits of world building. There’s all sorts of neat information tucked away in NPC dialogues, hidden journals, and notes, and the game does a good job of working fun little wrinkles into its mostly linear structure.

This game has me completely hooked, and yet, I’m not sure how readily I can recommend it to the average gamer. For all the enjoyment and personal ruin I’m getting out of it, I have no illusions about how niche a game Icewind Dale is. Since it is best summarized as “Baldur’s Gate, but hardcore,” it follows that you should play Baldur’s Gate before you even consider playing Icewind Dale, and you won’t enjoy Icewind Dale if you didn’t enjoy Baldur’s Gate. I think the two games do an admirable job of making 2nd edition AD&D easy to understand and fun to play, but you may not agree. It’s a weird and frequently counterintuitive system, even for seasoned CRPG veterans.

Since I was already on board with the Infinity Engine experience going in, it was a near-guarantee that I would be on board with Icewind Dale. If you’re new to these games, start with the infinitely (pun intended!) more accessible Baldur’s Gate. You’ll want to know whether you think this style is fun in the first place, and you’ll also want to know exactly what you’re doing when the battles require much more tactical management. Also, be prepared to spend up to two entire hours in character creation. You’ll have an easier time of things when your party has excellent stats, and getting excellent stats requires spending a lot of time hitting that ‘Reroll’ button. Your patience will be rewarded, I assure you. (And, if you have played Baldur’s Gate, make sure to re-read the descriptions of spells and abilities in full; there are lots of easy-to-miss differences between the two games!)

Gee, all of this writing has been far too productive for my tastes. This is time I could have spent playing Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition! I’m gonna go do some of that now to make up for lost time. Later!

5 thoughts on “Icewind Dale Is Ruining My Life

  1. I still have the original booklet that came with Icewind Dale. It has all abilities, skills and spells printed in it. It is truly a tome.

    I must defend THAC0 though… You take your THAC0 subtract the AC of your target, and bam you’ve got your target number. Or you roll your die, add your modifiers and you tell the DM what AC you hit. I don’t understand what’s hard about it. The second way of declaring the AC you hit requires no subtraction, just addition and looking at a line.


    1. I admire THAC0 myself; learning to think in terms of target dice rolls really improved my GM abilities, especially in bigger battles. But, I know most people hate it and I do get where they’re coming from, so I wanted to point it out. You do have to think about it more than in later editions, and I think it’s a huge barrier for newer players, who are already trying to get a handle on everything else. This is especially true once modifiers are added into the mix, since they’re typically expressed as positives. Yes, I understand that they modify the roll and not THAC0, but again, I can’t begrudge players who feel it’s more work than it needs to be, because it is.

      I do like that second method. It’s cleaner, but doesn’t the player still have to subtract? Or is this assuming there’s a table on each player’s character sheet that lists the AC hit for each roll total?


      1. Every character sheet I ever used had a spot for writing out your current line of your attack matrix. This goes for b/x, od&d and ad&d. I usually figured in my non-situational modifiers into my line. That way there was no math, just rolling.

        On a different note, Icewind Dale was a multiplayer game. We used to get 3-4 people together and have a lan party where we controlled 1 or 2 characters. It was clunky and we didn’t play long until we switched back to gauntlet legends or Diablo 2


      2. Ah sure, my experience with old-timey character sheets is minimal.

        That multiplayer business makes a ton of sense, and I’m reasonably certain the Enhanced Edition has multiplayer functions that I couldn’t be arsed with. Sucks that it didn’t quite work back in the day, although it’s hard to beat Diablo 2 for multiplayer monster mashing.


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