Victory: The Saga of Urist Redbeard (part 3)

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 the first two parts here.

Urist Redbeard is trying to find the Orb of Zot, which unfortunately is hidden at the bottom of the deadly Dungeon. Hundreds and hundreds of other adventurers have tried to retrieve the Orb, and every one of them died in the attempt. But I, acting as their guide, have been learning with each of their deaths, which will hopefully give Urist a slightly better chance at success. Because if he dies, I’ve got to start all over with a new adventurer.

So far, though, Urist has been doing fairly well. He made it to the Ecumenical Temple, which is farther than a few hundred other adventurers managed to get. Dedicating himself to Okawaru the Warmaster, one of the 18 gods in the game, he found the Lair of Beasts and managed to clear it out all the way to the bottom. That feat puts him past another few hundred of his less fortunate brethren. Plus, he found a powerful demon whip of flaming in the bargain, a weapon which could very well serve him until the end of the game.

But it’s too early to start getting cocky. Urist still needs to find at least three of the fifteen Runes of Zot if he wants to retrieve the Orb from the bottom of the Dungeon, and getting any of those Runes is extremely dangerous. There are still hundreds of former adventurers who made it farther than this, and all of them died. They died facing the deeper floors of the Dungeon, after the Lair of Beasts, when things start to get really dangerous.

I just hope Urist can handle it.

Specifically, I’m worried about Urist’s resistances. He managed to find a source of poison resistance while exploring the Lair, which is the most important resistance for the early game, but he isn’t doing well in any of the others. He has an amulet of warding which grants one level (out of a possible three) of negative energy resistance, which will help a little against the horrible experience-draining attacks that some of the more powerful monsters will dish out. But fire and cold resistance also have three levels each, and Urist has none, for either of them. This means any spellcasting enemy capable of throwing bolts of fire or cold will deal quite a lot of damage to Urist, and he can’t block those spells with his shield. Even lesser enemies could deal out a lot of hurt if they happen to find the right wands to zap at Urist. Usually, adventurers have at least found some magical rings to grant one level of resistance somewhere, but all the rings Urist has found so far have been relatively useless.

On the other hand, he’s getting really good with his shield and he’s found a great weapon. Plus, Okawaru gave him some boots of running as a gift, which will be very useful for running away from dangerous situations. I’m hoping these advantages will outweigh his vulnerabilities.

Urist climbs back out of the Lair of Beasts to the tenth floor of the Dungeon, finds the stairs, and heads down to the eleventh. Initially, things are relatively easy. Urist gained a few levels while clearing out the Lair, so the enemies here aren’t much of a challenge anymore. But there are several unique enemies that make an appeareance. Psyche, a character based on the Greek myth, falls to Urist’s whip. Harold, a bounty hunter, is capable of casting Bolt of Fire, which is cause for concern. But Urist’s boots of running let him close the distance quickly and take him out in melee. Lastly there’s Gastronok, a spell-casting giant slug whose slow movements are no match for Urist’s fast whip strikes. Okawaru is pleased and gives Urist a large shield as a gift. Unfortunately it’s not enchanted in any way, but large shields offer better protection than normal shields and will train Urist’s shield skill faster. They can interfere with attacks when an adventurer isn’t good with them, but Urist already has a pretty high shield skill, so he swaps his old shield out for the new one.

The eleventh floor also contains the entrance to the Orcish Mines, guarded by a big pack of orcs. Urist’s boots of running are useful against these foes as well, as he needs get out of view of the orc priests or risk getting smote from afar as they invoke the wrath of Beogh, the orc god. By bringing the fight into winding corridors and taking out the priests as quickly as possible, Urist is able to dispatch the orcish guardians.

The Orcish Mines are usually found before the Lair of Beasts, actually. But they are much more dangerous. They’re smaller than the Lair, but the floors have open, cave-like layouts which mean that adventurers can easily get surrounded by packs of orcs. The deadly orc priests don’t even need a clear line of fire to smite you, they just need to be able to see you, so if a bunch of orcs block your retreat, the priests can blast you while they hide behind their buddies. There are also a lot of the tougher orc warriors around, and even some orc knights who are formidable fighters. Throw in some ogres and trolls, and it’s a thoroughly unpleasant place for an unprepared adventurer. To make matters worse, the three stairways on each floor of the Mines are usually in separate areas that are inaccessible from one another, only connected on the fourth and final floor. This means that adventurers get funneled down to the dangerous final floor before they have a chance to explore much of the rest of the Mines. Overall, it’s a much better idea to tackle the Lair first before trying the Orcish Mines.

But Urist has already cleared the Lair, and I’m feeling pretty good about his chances against the orcs. Plus there’s another advantage to tackling the Orcish Mines: they’re full of gold. Urist hasn’t seen any particularly great items in any of the shops he’s encountered so far, but it’s very likely he’ll need to buy a particular item at some point to address one of his vulnerabilities, and the gold from the Orcish Mines will be useful for that. Plus, since Urist is already on the eleventh floor of the Dungeon, it’s unlikely that the Orcish Mines will be any more dangerous than what he’s about to face on the next few floors of the main Dungeon. Urist heads down into the Mines.

As expected, the entrance leads to a small area with a single stairway down, and no connection to the other two stairs. There’s a big pack of orcs, but Urist is powerful enough to take them out quickly, prioritizing the priests and warriors. The slaughter pleases Okawaru, who grants Urist another gift: an ancient crossbow. When the orcs are dead Urist equips the crossbow, and finds that it is the crossbow of Zeysuulo. This is an example of one of the randomized artefact items in Dungeon Crawl, known as “randarts”. Randarts are usually extremely useful. Based on a standard item, they often carry very high enchantments, as well a slew of extra magical bonuses. This one, for example, is based on a standard crossbow of electrocution, meaning it will occasionally cause an explosive electrical discharge when its bolts strike an enemy, causing massive damage. In addition, it confers electrical resistance, fire resistance, and two levels of cold resistance to its wielder, as well as increasing his dexterity statistic by one. Another great advantage of artefact items is that they can never be altered, magically or otherwise. This means they cannot be enchanted, but more importantly they cannot be degraded by acid or magic. This is an especially useful property for melee weapons and armor when engaging in battle against acidic slimes or other corrosive creatures.

So far, the crossbow is looking excellent. The electrical resistance in particular will be useful. There is only one level of electrical resistance; you either have it or you don’t. But it’s one of the hardest resistances to find, as it cannot be conferred by magical rings like the other resistances can. Only a few creatures use electrical attacks, but they can be extremely dangerous for an adventurer who isn’t resistant, and they’re more common (and tougher) on the deeper floors of the Dungeon. Urist has to use the crossbow a bit to determine its accuracy and damage enchantments, so he heads down to the second floor of the Orcish Mines and starts shooting orcs. Soon, he’s determined that the crossbow has a (+4,+9) enchantment. That’s a +4 to the accuracy rating and +9 to the damage, which just so happens to be the maximum possible damage enchantment. This is, basically, the ultimate crossbow. Unfortunately, Urist is best at hitting things with blunt objects, and he’ll be whipping or clubbing enemies most of the time. But now he has a reliable means for shooting down retreating enemies, and he can also equip the crossbow for its resistances in an emergency. He drops his old, standard crossbow on the floor.

The second floor of the Mines is a little more open, and Urist finds one of the stairways back up to the first floor. It leads to another small cavern full of orcs and their pet wargs (wargs are basically giant wolves). There’s an orc knight there, but Urist is more than a match for him. After grabbing all the gold Urist continues his descent.

Before long Urist has reached the fourth and final floor of the Mines, although he will still want to investigate the other branched paths above. The fourth floor of the Orcish mines is usually a wide open expanse, full of some of the more dangerous orcs. It’s not uncommon to find orc high priests or orc sorcerers here. The high priests have a habit of summoning crowds of demons, while the sorcerers can throw some powerful magic around. There’s also usually a vault of some sort. Vaults are special, themed areas often found at the bottom of dungeon branches that provide extra flavor and challenge. For example, there might be a large temple to Beogh on the final floor of the mines, full of orc priests and high priests who can smite you in rapid succession. Or sometimes there’s a cave full of ogres, including two-headed ogres and ogre mages.

Before finding any of that, though, Urist runs into another unique enemy, Louise. Louise is a heavily-armored spellcaster, which is unusual. I check out her equipment and see that she’s wearing a dazzling large shield. The “dazzling” descriptor reveals that this shield is another randart, which is probably good news. Urist charges in to engage Louise. She has some dangerous spells in her arsenal, most notably Banish, which will send an adventurer to the Abyss. The Abyss is a horrible, horrible place and I don’t want Urist to take a trip there if he can avoid it. Fortunately, Louise doesn’t have time to cast Banish, instead trying some standard attack spells like Stone Arrow and Sting. Urist is able to block these spells with his shield, and starts to pummel Louise with his demon whip. She blocks most of the strikes, indicating that her randart shield is probably quite nice, but the onslaught of fast whip strikes gets her to engage in melee combat instead of further spellcasting. Eventually, Urist is able to get enough strikes in to take her down, and he grabs her shield.

Putting it on, Urist finds it is the +1 large shield “Gris”, which grants one level of cold resistance to its wearer, allows its wearer to enter a state of berserk rage at will, and increases its wearer’s strength by 4. The +1 enchantment is a little disappointing, as randart shields can come with much higher enchantments, but everything else is good. Berserking can be useful as it temporarily grants more health points, higher strength, and high speed during combat. But afterwards one becomes slow and lethargic, and it often doesn’t last long enough to get through a tough fight (unless you are worshiping Trog, the god of rage). I doubt Urist will use that ability much, but the cold resistance is always useful and the strength boost will increase his melee damage let him carry heavier stuff and wear heavier armor. Urist puts “Gris” on, and leaves his standard large shield on the dirty floor.

Urist resumes exploring, to see if there’s a vault to be found. Sure enough, he finds an orcish village, with small buildings packed with orc warriors. Fortunately, the streets are narrow and Urist is able to take on most of the fighters one at a time to whittle them down. His boots of running let him strategically retreat to heal when necessary, and before long he’s cleared out the village. There are also several shops there, including a wand shop, armor shop and scroll shop. There’s nothing in them that Urist particularly needs right now, so he decides to hold on to his gold in case something better shows up later on.

Continuing to explore, Urist does indeed find the odd sorcerer and high priest, but he’s able to tackle them through careful tactics. His amulet of warding helps protect against the high priest’s summoned demons, so he can focus battling their summoner. As for the sorcerer, Urist simply closes the distance before the sorcerer’s magic can cause too much damage, and retreats to heal once he’s taken the sorcerer out. Urist also runs into a pack of ogres and two-headed ogres, and soon finds that they are led by Erolcha, a unique Ogre Mage. Erolcha is often encountered in the main Dungeon, sometimes even before the Lair of Beasts is found. She is dangerous for a low-level adventurer, but Urist is strong enough now that she poses little threat. She can cast a few powerful spells, but Urist focuses on taking her out quickly before turning to her ogre guardians, and he dispatches them while only taking moderate wounds.

That’s pretty much it for the Orcish Mines. The only other thing of note is the entrance to the Elven Halls, a very dangerous area that I’m not even considering sending Urist into until much later. Urist finds the rest of the stairways up and clears out the remaining caverns on the floors above, making sure to grab all the gold, and then returns to the main Dungeon, emerging on the eleventh floor. Since he’s already explored this floor, he heads downstairs.

I get a message in the message log as soon as Urist arrives on the twelfth floor: “You hear a distant snort.” This message means that there’s an entrance to a minotaur’s labyrinth on this floor, with a promise of treasure. But Urist will have to find the entrance before it closes forever. This requires exploring more aggressively than usual; there’s no time to find where the other two stairways leading to the twelfth floor are, and Urist can’t spend as much time resting after each skirmish if he wants to find that labyrinth entrance. He’s in luck though, as he locates it almost immediately, around a few corners from where he started. He heads inside.

Labyrinths have no enemies, except for the minotaur in the center. Instead, the danger lies in getting lost and dying from starvation. Adventurers cannot map out a labyrinth except in very small distances, unless they are a minotaur themselves. Even these short-range maps soon fade from memory, making navigation a chore. Urist has a lot of non-perishable food stocked up, so I’m not too worried about him running out. Plus, like any regular maze, a labyrinth can eventually be solved by simply following the right-hand wall at all times. So this is what I have Urist do.

The material that the walls of the labyrinth are made out of denote how close one is to the minotaur and his treasure hoard. Early on, the walls are made of rock with ancient bones embedded within. As one gets closer, the walls start to be fashioned from smooth stone instead, and when very close to the minotaur, the walls are made from metal. But this can be deceiving, as simply heading toward the stone or metal walls may not be the correct path. Instead, it pays to patiently follow the right-hand wall, which always leads to the minotaur eventually. It’s usually not too hard to find the minotaur without consuming more than a few bread rations.

This time, though, I’m having some problems. I must have made a wrong turn somewhere, because I realize I’m going in circles. While Urist can’t remember the passageways, I recognize the areas I’m running through, and it seems that following the wall is just taking me back through places I’ve been, again and again. Urist has already eaten a few of the honeycombs he found at the bottom of the Lair of Beasts, and he’ll need to break into his bread rations soon if I don’t find the correct path. At the next crossroads I pick a different passageway and keep exploring. This takes me down a very long path, into several dead ends, eventually into the metal-walled area, but then back out again and far afield. Urist chows down on a few more honeycombs before I realized that this path, too, has led me in a circle. Annoyed, I follow it again, until I’m in the metal-walled area once more. Here, I start picking different pathways, hoping I’ll find the minotaur’s chamber. I’ve all but abandoned my “follow the wall” tactic, so I hope it works.

Fortunately, it does. I soon spy a door, a sure sign I’ve found the minotaur’s chamber. Urist opens it, and finds the minotaur on the other side, sitting on his treasure hoard, and blocking the path to the escape hath which leads back to the Dungeon. The minotaur, as usual, is a bit of a letdown after trudging through his labyrinth. He’s a strong melee fighter but he’s no match for Urist’s artefact shield and flaming demon whip. Once he’s down, Urist heads over to check out his treasure pile, which is sitting on the same tile as the escape hatch.

Due to Dungeon Crawl’s autopickup feature, Urist automatically grabs a bunch of things, so it takes me a second to sort through all the loot. Urist grabbed some wands and spellbooks, but the spellbooks aren’t much use so I have him drop them again. Then I look through the pile of stuff on the floor. One icon catches my eye… I quickly mouse over it to see it’s description. A shiny golden dragon armor.

Oh, my.

Golden dragon armor is pretty much the best armor in the game. Crystal plate mail has a better base armor rating, but golden dragon armor provides resistance to poison, fire and cold, and is second only to crystal plate in sheer protective power. Normally, adventurers can’t find a suit of golden dragon armor until much, much later in the game. Often, the only way to get one is to actually slay a golden dragon, butcher it for its hide, and then enchant said hide to transform it into a suit of armor. Needless to say, golden dragons are extremely tough and aren’t found until the deepest dungeon floors and dungeon branch endings. Finding a suit of golden dragon armor is a huge stroke of luck. Plus, this one is described as shiny, indicating that it is likely enchanted as well.

With the minotaur dead, there are no monsters in the labyrinth, so Urist is able to change into the golden dragon armor (a process that takes many game turns) without fear of being attacked. Once he’s got it on, he’s able to identify it — it’s the +5 armor of the Dragon King. This is not a randart. It’s one of very few pre-designed artefacts in the game, one that is not generated with randomized stats but is always identical in every game that it is found. These types of items are known as unrandarts… perhaps not the most imaginative name, but there it is. Most unrandarts have distinct advantages and disadvantages, such as the Singing Sword, a powerful sword that sings to the wielder, alerting nearby enemies. In my time guiding the hundreds of adventurers who preceded Urist, I’ve found a few of these unrandarts, but I’ve never found the armor of the Dragon King. It’s actually not all that different from a standard golden dragon armor; the main difference is that in addition to the poison, fire and cold resistance it also offers magic resistance. Magic resistance doesn’t have discrete levels like the elemental resistances do, but it helps against certain types of magic, like spells of slowing, teleportation, and other effects that don’t cause direct damage. It can also be stacked from multiple sources to make it more effective.

So the armor’s not that different from a standard suit, but it also carries no disadvantages, except perhaps that as an artefact it can’t be enchanted further, so it will never have better than the +5 enchantment to its protection value. With enough scrolls of enchant armor, a standard suit of golden dragon armor can be enchanted all the way to +11 (due to its base protection value of 11), and that extra protection will likely be more useful than the magic resistance in the long run. For now, though, Urist has found an artefact version of the best armor in the game, it goes a long way to addressing Urist’s lack of elemental resistances, and it’s already enchanted to +5. It’s miles better than the modestly enchanted plate mail he was using. I’ll have him hang on to that plate mail until he leaves the labyrinth though, because anything he drops here will be lost forever once he leaves.

I look through the rest of the loot, but there’s nothing else worth taking. No matter; that armor is far better than anything I’ve seen in a labyrinth before. Urist climbs the ladder back into the Dungeon.

It’s time to go get some Runes.

Stay tuned for part 4 of Urist Redbeard’s epic saga.

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