I've played this game for ten hours. Out of those ten hours, seven have been spent with Trent, the illusionist. He, and all but one of his party members, are still level 1. I don't think I've ever played a level-based game with such glacial pacing. I must be doing something wrong.
I can't imagine what that might be, though. I've been more or less following exactly where my journal has told me to go - to the mines of Nishakel, to investigate the iron shortage. And once in the mines, I didn't feel particularly underleveled. It's filled almost exclusively with kobolds, the weakest enemies in the monster manual (they are 1/2 hit die creatures), so if I were higher level, it would be gratuitous overkill.
Yet seven freaking hours at level one. It's starting to wear on me. I chose to play a magic user because I wanted to have fun with higher level spells. Even if I don't technically need them yet, it's still getting a little dull not having any new geegaws to play with. Though, actually, now that I think about, these kobolds have still managed to kill me often enough that maybe I do need more power (or at least more than 4 hp). I'd go somewhere else to grind, but there's no way I'm finding anything more survivable than kobolds.
Maybe I should have pursued more sidequests. They're a bit harder to find than in other rpgs, because most of the npcs look a lot alike, and many are generic "commoners," "guards," or "nobles."There is no easy way to tell at a glance who is an important, named character (also, for some reason Baldur's Gate does not especially honor the standard rpg conventions - at least half the people I meet will complain about me barging into their houses uninvited - it's silly, but their opprobrium had made me reluctant to do too much exploring).
It also doesn't help that the biggest, most obvious sidequests seem to come with the baggage of extra party members - finding Dynaheir attracts Minsc and his miniature giant space hamster, tracking down certain bandits involves getting entangled with Dorn, the blackguard. And while I don't really object to these guys, the maximum party size is 6, and thus getting anyone new would involve losing someone who's already earned half a level's worth of xp.
So, while I'm sure I've passed up a few easy xp gets, I'm also sure that there's not really a better place for me to be than the mines. There, at least, I know I can beat the majority of the enemies (though I don't know why I bother, the kobolds give me something like 2 xp apiece). I once decided to explore off the beaten path a little, in an area called High Hedge. I was able to beat the small band of gnolls I encountered, but then, without warning, I ran into a flesh golem! Why put such a high level creature so close to the beginning of the game? It's just a tpk time-bomb resting in area adjacent to the game's first town.
It's probably an old-school, hardcore thing I don't understand. Like seeding the various inns with assassins who can potentially wipe a whole level one party (my fight with Neira, the level 4 warrior, was a complete farce). Or giving the boss of the first dungeon a paralysis spell that can take out all of my front-line fighters, rendering my mages (who, if you recall, only have four fucking hit points), vulnerable to being ripped apart by skeletons (the disadvantage of being an illusionist crops up here).
That being said, I'm not ready to give up quite yet. I'm hoping that I'm just in the middle of a particularly weak portion of the game, and if I can make it out of this slump, I'll find an area with slightly tougher monsters who will raise my rate of xp gain to something acceptable, and that the hit points from new levels will make the game less luck-driven, and that a wider selection of spells will give me more options to deal with the occasional difficult encounter.
It's not a perfect plan, but it's the best I have for now. If things don't get better soon, I may have to start a new character and follow some advice I read on the forums - avoid recruiting a party until after I complete a bunch of easy fetch-quests, then, when others join my party, they'll automatically scale to my higher level (I can't do this now because quest xp splits evenly amongst your party).
Low level AD&D is definitely an acquired taste, which kind of makes me curious why the makers of Baldur's Gate decided to drag it out for so long.