Your Party as a Whole
Of all of the people in the Valley, three have been summoned by the Watcher for their exceptional ability and skill. Before creating the individual members of this trio, it's a good idea to think about their composition as a team. What type of party do you want to play as to investigate the troubling developments in the Valley? Is your party comprised of patriotic would-be heroes, or would you prefer to play as mercenaries and thieves who only serve the Watcher for personal or financial gain? Perhaps different party members have different reasons for accepting the Watchers invitation, in any case it will add to the game if you think this through before creating your party. If you want to be super thorough, having a basic knowledge of the races and history of the Valley will help you create richer, more detailed characters.
Whether you decide to create a party of all frail diplomatic scholars, or all big dumb brutes, Prelude to Darkness can be completed with any team. However, the most effective (and perhaps the most fun) way to complete the game is by having a balanced party. Not every party member needs to have unique skills or varied attributes. There are many quests in the game which require varying combinations and skills to complete. To that end, generally speaking, the more variety you have within your party, the more gameplay options you will open.
See the next page to view the default party and some other sample parties I created.
Creating Individual Party Members
The portraits you select for each party member will alter the their 3D model slightly. Other than that, selecting portraits changes nothing.
A party member's sex makes very little difference in Prelude. Sex does not affect a player's attributes, skills, or choice of backgrounds. Men can do some things in Prelude that women can't (such as a visit to the Lusty Strumpet), and vice versa, but there are only a few quests that are greatly affected by sex.
Selecting your party member's race is an important choice. It adjusts your party member's attributes, alters which backgrounds and magics are available to them, and affects how they can interact with others. People of the River are generally bigger and tougher, but less astute. Their hardiness makes them exceptionally well suited for melee combat. They naturally make excellent Bodyguards, Wanderers and Farmers. In order to be a Druid and/or receive any Gifts from the Goddess, a party member must have some river blood.
The Children of the Flame are less sturdy, but quicker and more coordinated. They make up for their lack of brawn with agility, likability and speed. They are particularly well suited as Guardians of the Flame, Scholars and Thaumaturgists. In order to be an Acolyte and/or channel the Power of the Flame, a party member must have some flame blood.
Bloodline not only affects a party members combat abilities, it also changes a how party members can interact with others. In Jerrock, for example, miners may not trust even the most charismatic Child of the Flame. On the flip side, a River person or mixed person may face discrimination by the great Houses of the Citadel. Mixed people may seem ideal because of their balanced attributes, but having a mixed person as your speaker will get some nasty reactions.
Hair color is strictly aesthetic. Children of the Flame usually have blond or red hair, whereas the People of the River usually have darker hair. Hair color itself will have no actual affect on gameplay.
The attributes designated to party members after they choose a race are the average attributes of a person of that race. However, the party is not average, they are gifted, and thus have ten additional attribute points to assigned to them. There are some imbued items that will increase attributes, and as a party member learns skills their attributes will slowly increase. These exceptions are few and far between, however, making how you designate a party's attribute points very important.
Having a high strength is particularly important for melee fighters. If you are willing to sacrifice other traits for strength, you will see a huge difference in the amount of damage a party member can give (especially with strengths above 20). If you are planning on creating a party of mercenaries I would highly recommend having someone with high strength designated as the speaker. Extremely strong characters can be very effective at intimidating people into giving them information. After all, how many people would withhold information at the possible expense of having to tangle with a hulking giant?
Keep in mind that there are minimum strengths for weapons and armor. Weaker party members will not be able to wield heavier weapons and armor.
Dexterity increases the chances of a party member to hit enemies in combat. It also affects the chances of a party member to absorb, parrying, or dodge enemy blows. Dexterity is a key attribute for Thaumaturgists, as it greatly affects the potency of their rituals.
Keep in mind that there are minimum eternities for weapons and armor. Clumsy party members will not be able to wield more intricate weapons.
The charisma of the party member speaking is a factor in almost every interaction in the game. Not having at least one party member with high charisma will shut off several few quests, and make many others much more difficult to complete. There are very few times in the game when you will need over a 19 charisma (even though those times do exist).
Bear in mind that even if any of your party members have particularly low charisma it will sometimes reflect poorly on the party, and can cut a few big quests short. If everyone in the party has charisma of at least 10, you should be safe.
Intelligence affects the game in two major ways. First, the speed with which a party member will improve skills with practice is based upon their intelligence. Secondly, their ability to function intellectually affects many quest situations and interactions. If a party member has high intelligence you will find that they gain skill points while fighting, bartering, speaking and healing very rapidly. During conversation, you will notice that intelligent party members have more menu options available to them. Lastly, the intelligence of the party's smartest member dictates their ability to create diversions during random hostile encounters.
Dumb party members often make poor speakers as they will frequently miss obvious clues given during conversations, and will never pick up on subtle gestures. Dumb party members will learn skills, eventually, but will primarily be limited to skill points gained during quests.
Willpower primary function is to act as the amount of magic a party member can cast during combat. It is a particularly important attribute for those with the Gifts of the Goddess. GOG spells are used very frequently during combat. Personally, I like my combatants to have some willpower because I don't like the idea of having wimpy warriors. In actuality, however, willpower does not have much affect on non-casters during combat.
Endurance is a crucial attribute for melee fighters. Without high endurance fighters will take a great deal of damage, especially if not well armored. It is also important for those who call upon the Flame. All Power of Flame attacks damage the caster, some much more so than others.
A character's speed determines both when a party member can act, and how many actions they can take within a round of combat. Weighty armor has speed penalties. Lastly, the speed of the party's slowest player dictates the party's ability to flee from random hostile encounters
Backgrounds in Prelude to Darkness can essentially be considered classes for the game, since they set up the archetypal starting role for player characters. They determine what the characters were skilled in prior to being summoned by the Watcher, what worldly assets they have, and so on. For example, the game does not change because you were doctor. Choosing a character to be a doctor only affects your starting attributes, skill set and equipment. Because backgrounds do not in and of themselves affect the game, there is no real advice for me to give here. Refer to the information we set up at RPGcodex for more information on backgrounds.
It is a good idea to use party members with different weapon skills. There are hundreds of weapons and pieces of armor in the game, but imbued weapons, armor, and rings are rare and highly prized in the Valley. Therefore, it's not the best idea from a combat standpoint to create a party of all archers for two reasons, 1) you'll find that there aren't enough unique bows to go around and 2) they are not as effective up close. It's also worth mentioning that each weapon type also has it's advantages and disadvantages, so having a party balanced with both ranged and melee combatants is helpful.
I almost always have at least one of my party members with sword as their primary combat skill. There are many swords that the party can purchase and find, but there are very few imbued swords in the game. Guardian Blade, the best sword in Prelude (and arguably the best weapon in the game), is very difficult to get (*SPOILERS*).
Spin: Very effective special attack, particularly useful when surrounded later on in the game.
Daggers don't take much damage in the beginning, but they can be used very effectively because of their speed. The more often a party member attacks 1) the higher chances of a critical and 2) the more quickly their skill will improve with the weapon. Intelligent dagger wielders will find their skill improving very quickly. Yet another advantage to using daggers is that they can be dual-wielded at 15 skill level, while most other weapons can only be dual-wielded at level 40. I find that while dagger users are not always integral to winning battles, they can be real saviours in some of the tougher fights. Another thing worth mentioning about daggers is that there are more imbued daggers than any other kind of imbued weapon.
Rapid: I have never found this attack as effective as some of the other special attacks. Because daggers are so fast, quick party members with high speed daggers can often attack as many times, and do more damage, without rapid.
Axes are good, reliable melee weapons for party members at any stage of the game. Some axes have 2 tile range, which can come in handy.
Rend: An excellent special attack, I often find myself using this skill whenever it is available. When it lands initially it takes a good chunk of damage, and each round thereafter more damage. Very helpful, especially against larger, tougher opponents.
One of my personal favorites, strong party members who enjoy using brute force can do massive amounts of damage with clubs and warhammers.
Brain: Very useful when your party faces many opponents. You can stun one and attack the others while the stunned opponent is still dazed.
The best party about polearms is that almost all of them have a range of 2 tiles. Often times party members can attack while out of harms way. The drawback is that they generally take damage opponents less and take away your shield hand.
Sweep: Can be helpful, but not one of my favorites.
It's a good idea to have at least one party member skilled with missile weapon. Their long range often allows party members can pick off enemies before they have a chance to strike.
Cripple: Very useful when your party faces many opponents. Crippling an enemy at a distance will make them almost a non-factor in combat as they will take a lot longer to get reach the party.
It is tough, but possible to play as a unarmed combatant. Expect to damage heavily armored opponents minimally. On occasion the party will be challenged to a fair fight, at which times it helps greatly to have a member who is skilled with their fists.
Disarm: A great way to make your party's opponents more vulnerable and to better armor (or sell it for more drachs).
Non-enchanted thrown weapons damage opponents less than bows or crossbows. However, I highly recommend using thrown weapons a combat skill for thaumaturgists. The lightning stone ritual greatly increases the amount of damage that thrown weapons deal. At higher skill levels, depending on the party member's dexterity, lightning stone can more than double the damage done by the thrown weapon itself. By enchanting Arens's Death Shards and your thaumaturgist can become one of your most offensively powerful combatants.
Having great armor and shield will help the party little if they don't know how to use them. To that end, armor is a must for any melee combatant. When the party is ambushed they will not always be in ideal formation, therefor it is close to impossible to avoid having party member getting attacked at one point or another. So for party members who will keep a distance from the action it is perhaps not necessary, but still helpful.
With the exception of medical, speech and magics, it is not useful to have more than one person with any non-combat skill. Generally, you will simply end up using the most skilled person to perform a given action. Random events will either check the best or the worst person in the party for a certain skill.
Stealth plays a role in a few quests. It is mainly useful because it allows the party to successfully hide when random hostile encounters pop up. Lupins and bandits, for example, take around 15 stealth skill to hide from. Later in the game however, with higher level creatures, it can take up to 40 stealth to successfully hide.
Tinker skill is integral to many quests. When someone needs something repaired, or dismantled for that matter, this is the required skill. Another key aspect of tinker is that it is the skill which allows the party to pick locks. Most of the locks in the game require below 40 tinker skill, but there are several doors (particularly in the Barrier and the Archives) which cannot be opened without 60 or even 70 tinker skill. Usually the doors that require the high skill levels are worth opening.
At very lower skill levels you'll find party members struggling to pickpocket much from anyone. Once a party member gets into the 40s and 50s, however, your thief can have a field day robbing merchants and nobles, especially in the bigger cities. If you have a party member that's a thief, it is worth trying to pickpocket just about everyone. Rarely even the poorest looking person will have items of great value... even imbued items.
Literacy and lore
This skill allows you to use the journal, so unless you plan on personally logging all of what happens in the game, it's a good idea to have at least one player with this skill. Some of the earlier quests are not difficult to solve without journal, but if your party does not have Literacy and lore skill, I would recommend integrating an NPC early on in the game. Quests in the Barrier and the the Citadel are complicated and it would be very difficult to remember everything. In addition to its primary function of journal enabling, many of the quests in the Citadel require fairly high levels of Literacy and lore. The quest which provides the most powerful thaumaturgical ritual requires high lit/lore skill as well.
Often used in tandem with Charisma, there are few people that the party will talk to who won't be affected by their skill with words. Having more than one person with this skill can help if you are giving it to people of different races. This because some people in the Valley will only respond to a person of a particular race irregardless of their speech skill or charisma.
In the beginning the affect may seem minimal, but as you have party members reaching higher levels of barter skill you'll see a drastic change in prices.
Music skill is helpful in several quests, but rarely necessary to complete a quest. It is a good skill for earning money, as talented musicians can play at any inn in the Valley for a handsome drach.
Only necessary for one quest in the game, medical skill is exceptionally helpful during times when the party must engage in one battle after another without resting first. Because the party cannot rest in caves, sewers or any other dungeons, there are many times indeed when the party will not have the luxury of resting.
Nature skill is important for a fair number of quests. It also allows party members to tell when they are about to have a random hostile encounter. Without nature skill the party can and will be ambushed often and without any chance of escape. Depending on the nature skill of the most skilled party member, the party will be able to tell that enemies are approaching, and at higher skill levels, identify which type of creature it is.
Power of Flame
Much like pickpocket and barter, low Power of the Flame skill levels bely the strength of the magic. Primarily offensive spells, flame mages begin with low level flame finger, which does not cause a whole lot of damage. By the end of the game, however, you may find yourself wondering how you would have gotten through the game without. Spells such as Haste, Sentinel, Aura of Flame, and Blind are very valuable, especially when used together. Especially since flame spells do more damage to certain creatures later in the game.
Gifts of the Goddess
Primarily passive and healing spells, the Gifts of the Goddess are formidable. Gifted party members start with the simple healing spell Mother's Breath. The gifts can be used more frequently than Flame spells or thaumaturgical rituals, and are very effective in enhancing party members, weakening enemies, and healing. If you have a gifted party member, there are very few combats in which you would not use their gifts.
Thaumaturgical incantations do not permanently enhance any item, but the effects of the rituals can greatly aid the party in combat. Prior to a big battle, it is a good idea to use your thaumaturgist to enchant weapons, armor, and other items.