Victory: The Saga of Urist Redbeard (part 2)

The Saga of Urist Redbeard is the story of my first win after roughly six years of playing Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. My hope is that it will give a sense of the complexity and appeal of hardcore roguelikes like Dungeon Crawl, but be warned that it is full of spoilers. Read part one here.

Urist Redbeard, like all the other adventurers before him, was on a quest to retrieve the Orb of Zot from the bottom of the Dungeon. He had descended through the first few floors of the dungeon, and come within an inch of death on the business end of Pikel the slavedriver’s whip of electrocution. Urist fled, then returned after gaining a little more experience and managed to kill Pikel, taking the whip for himself. When we left him, he had just found the Ecumenical Temple on the seventh floor of the Dungeon and pledged himself to Okawaru the Warmaster, one of the 18 gods in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. He was level 9.

Urist had done well to make it to the Temple, and Okawaru could provide great aid in battle, but only if Urist proves himself by dedicating his kills and sacrificing fresh corpses. Many others had been this far and farther, some even rising to become Okawaru’s champion, but still all had fallen. Urist has a long way to go yet, and things are only going to get harder. And if Urist is killed, that’s it. There’s no checkpoint, no saved game to restore. Urist can’t cheat death. I would have to start all over with a new adventurer, and a freshly generated Dungeon.

I’m going to try to keep Urist alive.

Urist cracks his electrified whip, and rises from Okawaru’s altar. With Okawaru’s aid, he vows to succeed where so many others have failed. He climbs back into the Dungeon once more, and sets about slaying monsters and sacrificing their corpses with renewed fervor. Orcs, rats, snakes, and the occasional pack of wights all fall before his whip. Okawaru soon takes notice and grants Urist his first special ability, allowing him to temporarily increase his skill with all weapons. This is useful, but invoking it costs piety that must be regained through killing and sacrifices, so it’s best left for emergencies. Shortly after gaining this ability, Urist encounters Edmund. Edmund is a lightly-armored human fighter, brother of the dreaded Sigmund, and he always carries an expensive flail. Since Urist’s whip falls into the same weapon category as maces and flails, any chance to get a better flail is welcome. Edmund can be dangerous, but he’s no match for the electrical blasts from Urist’s whip. He falls, and Urist grabs his flail. Turns out it’s a flail of crushing. These types of weapons, known as vorpal weapons, are enchanted to do extra damage to all enemies. The extra damage is not as high as some other weapon brands, such as weapons of flaming or freezing, but the additional damage from vorpal weapons can’t be resisted like other brands can. I have Urist try the flail out to see if it has any standard enchantments to its accuracy or damage rating. After smashing a few rats, giant geckos, and orcs, Urist is able to fully identify the flail as a (+1,+3) flail of crushing. Those numbers refer to the accuracy and damage; the flail is enchanted with a +1 bonus on top of its base accuracy, and a +3 bonus on top of its base damage, and then additionally carries the vorpal brand with adds a percentage bonus damage to most attacks. It’s questionable whether this flail is better than Urist’s (+0,+2) whip of electrocution. The base damage is better and the vorpal damage will work on opponents who are resistant to electricity, such as flying creatures, but the whip can attack faster, and at this point in the game the flat bonus damage from its electrical discharges is nothing to sneeze at. I decide to stick with the whip for the time being.

Urist explores the rest of the floor, killing creatures in Okawaru’s name and sacrificing most of their corpses, unless he needs to butcher them for meat. But then he stumbles into a trap which opens a shaft beneath him, dropping him down to the tenth floor. Down here, things are a bit more dangerous. Ogres are fairly common, and can deal huge amounts of damage with their giant clubs. Orc warriors, tough melee fighters, can be found among the packs of orcs. There might even be the odd troll, who hit hard and heal very quickly. I explore only until the first stairway upwards can be found, and have Urist take it immediately. We need to find our way back up to the eighth floor as soon as possible. Fortunately, this isn’t hard; Urist is getting pretty good with his shield, letting him block many attacks that would have severely injured another adventurer. I soon find the way back up to floor 8, and Urist can resume exploring normally.

The unique enemies start to get more common. Urist runs into Grum, a tough gnoll who leads a pack of war dogs, but is able to take him out by retreating into a narrow corridor and tackling the dogs one at a time. Shortly afterward, Maurice the thief shows up. He can be quite a pain, as he has a habit of turning invisible, teleporting around, and stealing items out of adventurers’ packs. Fortunately, the electrical discharges from Urist’s whip take Maurice by surprise, and he falls before he has a chance to steal anything (and before he can teleport to safety). Next, Joseph appears. He’s a mercenary who sometimes throws nets at you, which makes him dangerous in a crowd. But he’s alone this time, so Urist makes short work of him.

By now, Urist is back on the tenth floor, and it’s here that he meets the ghost of Fikod Deepdelver. Fikod Deepdelver was a mountain dwarf fighter like Urist, and had been an elder of Okawaru. He was killed on the tenth floor while fighting a pack of wargs, huge wolf-like creatures. While he was tangling with the wargs, an unseen horror snuck in, invisible, and killed him. Unseen horrors are no laughing matter. They’re completely invisible, and while they don’t hit that hard they’re very fast and they move erratically, making it very hard to fight them effectively. Unless, of course, you can see invisible things, which Urist cannot (yet). The tenth floor is a little early to be encountering unseen horrors, and I truly hope I won’t run into one.

Urist, of course, knows none of this, which is why he’s lucky to have me guiding him. Fikod’s ghost doesn’t seem too dangerous, so I have Urist take him on. As the ghost is not resistant to electricity, the discharges from Urist’s whip deal massive damage, and Urist blocks most of the ghost’s attacks with his shield. He’s able to destroy the ghost without being wounded too severely. Fikod will prey on adventurers no more.

Luckily, I’m able to map out the tenth floor without running into any unseen horrors. I also find the entrance to the Lair of Beasts, one of many special dungeon branches. The Lair of Beasts is full of animals: rats, snakes, giant frogs, bears and the like. It also leads to several other, more dangerous branches. It’s typically safer to venture into the Lair rather than continue to descend in the main Dungeon, although it’s sometimes wise to turn back before reaching the Lair’s lowest floors. Urist heads inside.

The layout of floors in the Lair is similar to that of the main dungeon; mostly corridors and rooms but with the occasional open floor. The biggest danger here is poison, as many of the snakes and other creatures in the Lair have venemous bites. Urist is not resistant to poison yet, but he’ll need to be soon, or he’s going to have a lot of trouble continuing his quest. There are a whole slew of resistances in Dungeon Crawl, but most characters don’t start with any. Instead, resistances are granted through items, usually jewelry or special artifacts. Resistance to fire, cold, and negative energy come in three tiers, each level providing better protection, but resistance to electricity and poison have only one level. You either have them or you don’t. Getting poison resistance will protect from all poison except the most powerful poison magic, and allows one to eat poisonous flesh without harm. It’s one of the most useful resistances to have, and pretty much any adventurer will need it before they can get too far on their quest for the Orb. So far, Urist has one level of negative energy resistance from his amulet of warding, but that’s it.

Fortunately, he’s robust enough to survive being poisoned by the creatures in the Lair, and he’s got a few spare potions of healing to cure poison in an emergency, so it’s not too dangerous to explore. The first floor is full of rats, including grey and green rats, and water mocassins and black mambas join the standard snakes on offer. There are also sheep (they have murder in their eyes) and the occasional pack of yaks. Yaks get more common deeper in the Lair, and can do a lot of damage if you’re not careful. I know to back into a narrow corridor and take them on one at a time, so this is what Urist does. Most creatures in the Lair will run away when heavily wounded, but Urist is able to shoot them down with his crossbow. His shield slows down his rate of fire, but since these creatures are already close to death, he doesn’t need too many bolts to take them out. Yaks can often still escape, but when Urist runs into them again he can corner them and kill them.

On the second floor of the Lair I decide to make my second stash (the first is back in the Ecumenical Temple). Since the enemies in the Lair are all animals, they can’t pick up items and run off with them. Monsters from the Dungeon can enter the first floor of the Lair but they won’t go deeper than that, so the second floor is a great place to drop stuff that I’ll need later. I’ve found a few more enchant armor and enchant weapon scrolls, which I leave here so they won’t get burned up by the next orc wizard I run into. Once I find some really nice armor and a particularly great weapon, I’ll come back here and enchant them as much as possible.

The second floor of the Lair is also where Urist gets his first mutations. I’ve been having him chug potions as soon as he finds them to find out what they do; usually the bad ones are easy to survive, and the good ones can save an adventurer’s life, like the potion of heal wounds that Urist guzzled after meeting the wrong end of the whip of electrocution he now wields. But there are a few bad potions that really are pretty bad, and one of them is the potion of mutation. It will give the drinker a few mutations, which can be beneficial or harmful, but getting rid of them is very difficult. Potions of cure mutation are extremely rare, and aside from a high-level power from one of the other gods, they’re the only way to remove mutations. When Urist unknowingly drinks the potion of mutation, he’s fairly lucky. He gains the ability to breathe flames, which is certainly useful, and he loses 10% of his maximum magic points. Since he’s not a magic caster this isn’t a big problem; Okawaru’s special skills require some MP to use but Urist still has plenty for that purpose, and they’re only for emergencies anyway. Urist could have fared much worse; there’s a mutation that deforms an adventurer’s body so armor fits poorly and provides less protection, for example. Or one that randomly degrades an adventurer’s statistics over time. Or one that occasionally makes an adventurer go berserk, during which switching weapons, drinking potions or reading scrolls is impossible. So while Urist may feel a little weird about having fire-breathing glands grow in his throat, I’m pretty happy with the result.

Urist also finds his first scroll of acquirement here. Scrolls of acquirement will grant an item to the reader from one of several categories, which is often quite useful. I don’t remember what I ask for, but it’s probably armor. This will generate a random piece of armor, often enchanted, for Urist to wear. It’s not necessarily going to be useful though. It’s likely a smaller piece like a helmet, a pair of gauntlets, or a pair of boots, and it might be slightly better than what Urist is currently using. Or it could be a piece of body armor that’s not as protective as Urist’s plate mail. Anyway, if Urist does end up using it, it’s nothing too special this time.

Urist is getting quite good with his shield, and has no trouble rampaging through the first few floors of the Lair. The various snakes, lizards and frogs, including the highly poisonous spiny frogs, aren’t really a match for his whip. By now, Urist has collected enough non-perishable food that he no longer needs to butcher corpses for meat, so all of the corpses get sacrificed to Okawaru. Soon he earns Okawaru’s second power, which allows Urist to deal lightning-fast attacks for a short time. This is actually very useful in a tough fight, but it costs piety and should only be used in especially dangerous situations. Urist’s whip already has a fast attack so he’s not likely to need this ability in the near future.

On the third floor of the Lair, Urist receives his first gift from Okawaru. When a follower of Okawaru generates enough piety through kills and sacrifices, Okawaru will start to give gifts of powerful weapons and armor. These gifts are extremely useful for fighters, who are heavily dependent on equipment. The gifts are randomized and not always useful (similar to scrolls of acquirement) but they are tailored towards a particular adventurer’s skills. Okawaru noticed that Urist has been building his skill with maces and flails, so he grants an enchanted flail. When Urist equips it, he finds it is a flail of draining. This is actually disappointing. Draining weapons are extremely powerful, doing extra damage and lowering the experience level of any living monster they strike (undead are immune), but this also means the monsters are worth less experience when killed. A draining weapon is therefore not a good choice as a main weapon, as they will leave an adventurer under-leveled compared to the threats they face, but such weapons can be useful in emergencies. Urist puts it in his pack and sticks to his whip of electrocution for the time being. He sets about slaying more monsters and making more sacrifices, eagerly anticipating Okawaru’s next gift.

Urist soon finds the entrance to the Snake Pit. This is good news. The Snake Pit is one of the special dungeon branches that contains a rune of Zot. There are many such runes in Dungeon Crawl, and Urist will need at least three of them if he wants to enter the Realm of Zot at the bottom of the Dungeon and retrieve the Orb. The Snake Pit is probably the easiest place to find a rune for a fighter, but it’s not generated every game, so I’m glad to see it. It should make Urist’s first rune relatively easy. He’s reached level 12 by this point, but that’s not high enough to tackle the Snake Pit just yet, plus it’s suicide to enter without poison resistance. Urist continues to explore the Lair for now, but he’ll be back.

The next floor down, Urist finds the entrance to the Shoals. This is bad news. The Shoals contain another rune, but are much harder for a heavily-armored fighter to tackle. The branch is modeled after Greek mythology, consisting of archipelagos surrounded by ocean waves with actual tides that can drown unsuspecting adventurers. It’s full of merfolk, harpies, and sirens to entice adventurers and lure them to a watery grave. Being weighed down by a suit of platemail in there is not ideal. I would have much preferred to find the Swamp, but only two of the three branches (Swamp, Shoals, Snake Pit) appear in any one game. So Urist will probably have to brave the Shoals eventually in order to grab its rune. For now, though, he passes it by.

It’s around this point that Urist runs into Maud. He’s faced a few unique enemies, and I’m not bothering to document them all, but Maud is important because she happens to be carrying a demon whip. Demon whips are considered by most players to be the best one-handed weapons in the game. They don’t have the highest damage rating, but they attack quickly, making them a better choice overall. Demon whips are also in the maces and flails category, which is Urist’s weapon category of choice. Looks like this might finally be a replacement for Urist’s whip of electrocution. He just has to kill Maud to get it.

This ends up being easier than expected. While Maud is tough, Urist’s shield skill has really grown and he can block most of her attacks. It’s a tough fight and Urist suffers some wounds, but he prevails, and grabs the demon whip. Urist equips it and finds that it carries the flaming brand, so it will deal extra fire damage to enemies. It does not have any enchantments to its base accuracy or damage, however. It’s clearly better than Urist’s electric whip, and has the potential to be his main weapon through the end of his quest; if so, he should consider enchanting it for better accuracy and damage. That’s a tough call actually… I would prefer the freezing brand or electrocution brand, and it’s possible that Okawaru will gift Urist some nicer weapons later on. But in the end I decide that I should invest in it. I was very lucky to find such a weapon this early, and the wait to find another demon whip with a different brand would be a long one. If I find one at all.

I send Urist back to his stashes. The first is on the second floor of the Lair, and contains a few enchant weapon scrolls. I use them on the whip. The second stash is back in the Temple, where there are a few more such scrolls. Those get used on the whip as well. Overall Urist hasn’t found too many enchant weapon scrolls, so he’s only got a small bonus to accuracy and damage at this time, but any scrolls he finds from now on will get used on the whip immediately. I send Urist back down into the Lair.

The creatures in the Lair are getting tougher, so it’s a good thing Urist is packing a sweet flaming demon whip now. Packs of yaks are more common, and occasionally a pack of the much tougher death yaks appears as well. Urist also meets his first hydra. Hydras, of course, come with a number of heads, and each gets an attack, which means they can deal a lot of damage. They’re very bad news if you’re fighting with bladed weapons, as you’ll soon find yourself inadvertently severing one of their heads, only to have it be replaced by two more. A flaming blade is a great advantage here, as it will cauterize the wound when a hydra’s head is severed, preventing any more from growing, but flaming weapons can be hard to find. Many adventurers need to stand back and deal with hydras with magic or by zapping wands. Urist does have a flaming weapon, and his whip won’t sever any of the hydra’s heads anyway (an advantage of specializing in maces and flails), so I have him take it on. He takes some damage but manages to kill the hydra without too much trouble.

Indeed, Urist doesn’t have much trouble with the rest of the Lair. He meets a few herds of elephants, which can take a lot of punishment and trample unwary adventurers, pushing them backwards and out of position. But even these don’t pose much of a problem. He finds the entrance to the Slime Pits, an extremely dangerous area that he will likely never even enter. On the seventh floor of the Lair, he receives his second gift from Okawaru: an enchanted pair of boots. Putting them on, Urist finds that they are a +2 pair of elven boots of running. This is excellent news. Boots of running increase an adventurer’s movement speed, which is immensely helpful when fleeing dangerous situations or when strategically positioning oneself to battle a group of enemies. Most adventurers don’t get their hands on a pair until much later. They’re fully enchanted too; the +2 is a direct bonus to the armor class granted when wearing them, and is the highest level of enchantment allowed on a pair of boots. Nice.

I decide that Urist is doing well enough to try and tackle the eighth and final floor of the Lair. The final floor of a dungeon branch is often significantly more dangerous, and usually contains a bunch of treasure, a rune of Zot, or both. It’s often a good idea to clear the upper floors of a branch but leave the final floor for later. The bottom of the Lair usually isn’t that bad though, and Urist hasn’t had much trouble so far, so I decide to risk it. His new boots of running should let him flee from any trouble he encounters.

There are several special layouts for the bottom floor of the Lair. Sometimes it contains an overgrown temple full of elephants and dire elephants, with a hidden treasure chamber. Other times there is a gate to Hell there, surrounded by minor demons. This time, the floor holds several burrows, each filled with a different type of beast. The most dangerous of these is the bear cave, and it’s the one Urist runs into first. The cave is full of black bears, grizzlies, and polar bears, and since the general layout of the floor is very open, Urist would quickly become surrounded if he tried to charge in. Instead, he retreats to the nearest stairway (the boots of running help here) and lets the bears come to him, then climbs back up. Only creatures directly adjacent to Urist can follow him up the stairs, so this way Urist can isolate a few bears and take them on individually. The bears are tough and have a habit of going berserk when they are heavily wounded, but Urist is able to handle the smaller groups, and rests to heal up before descending again. After repeating this strategy a few times, he’s taken care of the bears, and is able to steal their honeycombs to eat later.

Much of the rest of the floor is a standard layout, full of hydras, death yaks and elephants for Urist to introduce to his demon whip. But in another corner there’s a wolf cave. This is full of hounds, war dogs, wolves, wargs, and even a few hellhounds. The entrance is a winding corridor and Urist can strategically place himself so he’s only facing a few of these beasts at a time. Overall it’s quicker work than the bear cave was, and the wolves have hoarded some enchanted jewelry too.

The rest of the floor is easy to clear. The question now is where to head next. I’m pretty sure that by this point Urist has found a source of poison resistance. Most likely it’s a ring of poison resistance, but there’s a small chance he found a suit of plate mail that grants poison resistance instead. This means he could try his hand in the Snake Pit. He’s probably not high enough level to get the rune, but he could try clearing the upper floors. After pondering for a while, I decide that descending a little further in the main Dungeon is the more prudent choice.

So, Urist Redbeard laboriously climbs back up through the Lair of Beasts, dispatching the odd straggler that somehow survived his original descent. Finally, he enters the Dungeon proper once more. He’s several levels higher than before, and he’s carrying a powerful demon whip, its coiled length wreathed in flames. He is in high standing with Okawaru the Warmaster, who will surely grant him more powerful gifts as he continues his quest. But there is a lot more of the Dungeon left to explore, and things will start to get truly dangerous very soon. Urist’s face is set with grim determination as he locates the stairs leading deeper into the Dungeon.

He heads down.

Stay tuned for part 3 of Urist’s epic saga.

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