Victory: The Saga of Urist Redbeard (part 5)

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 earlier parts here.

Urist Redbeard is trying to retrieve the Orb of Zot from the deadly Dungeon, and to do that he will need to find at least three of the fifteen Runes of Zot. Fortunately, he has just found two of them, the first in the Snake Pit and the second in the Shoals. Of the hundreds of adventurers who died trying to retrieve the Orb, there are probably fewer than fifty who managed to get two Runes, so Urist is in good company. Of course, every one of those other adventurers died, so Urist still has his work cut out for him. He now has to do two things. First, he needs to retrieve a third Rune, which will be a lot harder than the first two were. Second, he needs to prepare himself for the Realm of Zot at the bottom of the Dungeon, which means raiding a lot of treasure hoards for better equipment, fighting a huge number of very tough monsters, and gaining a lot of levels.

Urist is off to a good start equipment-wise, having found a flaming demon whip in the Lair of Beasts and the +5 Armor of the Dragon King in a minotaur’s labyrinth. The demon whip is arguably the best one-handed weapon in the game, and the Armor of the Dragon King is a special artefact version of golden dragon armor, arguably the best armor in the game. So Urist mainly needs to work on increasing his skills and resistances. I’m feeling fairly confident as he starts his descent.

The Snake Pit and the Shoals are located in the Lair of Beasts, so after Urist emerges with his Runes he heads back to the main Dungeon. He’s already explored down to the thirteenth floor, so he now heads to the fourteenth. The first thing he sees is Nikola, one of the unique enemies in Dungeon Crawl. Based on Nikola Tesla, Nikola is a mad scientist who suffered a horrible laboratory accident while trying to perfect his electric golem, and now phases in and out of reality. Or so his description tells me; I’ve never encountered him before. Inferring that Nikola will likely use electrical attacks, I consider my options carefully. Unlike most other resistances, there are no tiers to electrical resistance; an adventurer either has it or doesn’t have it. Currently Urist doesn’t, which means Nikola will likely prove extremely dangerous. But Urist does have one source of electrical resistance in his inventory: the crossbow Zeysuulo, which is a randomized artefact (or “randart”) that Okawaru, the god of battle, gave him as a gift in the Orcish Mines. Urist will only get electrical resistance from it if he’s wielding it, though, which means he won’t be able to use his whip, which is what he’s really good at. But the crossbow Zeysuulo has a ridiculously high damage enchantment which might make up for Urist’s modest skill. I decide to try it.

This proves to be a good decision, because Nikola spends a lot of time teleporting around and throwing lightning bolts. It would have been very difficult to get within melee range. The lightning bolts bounce off of walls and can hit an adventurer twice if he’s not careful, but fortunately Urist is in an open area now so he doesn’t get hit by any reflections. With the electrical resistance the crossbow grants him, Urist doesn’t have much trouble shooting Nikola full of bolts until he dies.

Urist explores the rest of the floor, but there’s not much notable here beyond the standard monsters. Some of the tougher enemies are starting to appear, including hill giants, cyclops, and yaktaurs. Like centaurs but half yak instead of half horse, yaktaurs love to shoot crossbows at you and generally appear in small packs. Urist’s artefact shield and high shield skill help block their projectiles, so they don’t pose too much trouble. There are also some groups of ugly things. Ugly things are strange mutated creatures that constantly change color and elemental resistance. While they might pose a challenge to a spellcaster specializing in elemental magic, Urist has little trouble taking them out with his flaming demon whip. Okawaru, Urist’s deity of choice, is pleased with the slaughter and gives him a distressingly furry cloak. This turns out to be the +1 cloak of the Empire, another randart which provides some nice stat boosts. Deeming it better than Urist’s current cloak, I have him put it on.

The fourteenth floor also reveals the entrance to the Vaults. The Vaults are a larger Dungeon branch similar to the Lair of Beasts, containing several smaller branches. Unlike the Lair, however, the Vaults do contain a Rune on the eighth and final floor; it is this Rune that Urist will try to retrieve to complete his set. But he’s not ready for the Vaults yet. They contain similar monsters to those found deeper in the Dungeon, including dragons and stone giants, and every floor has a wide open layout with several rooms interspersed, meaning there are no narrow corridors to hide in or funnel enemies through. I’d like Urist to have a few more levels and ideally some beefier elemental resistances before he tries the Vaults, so for now I have him continue to descend in the main Dungeon.

The next few floors are relatively uneventful. On the sixteenth floor, Urist finds Roxanne, one of the more interesting unique enemies. She’s a statue. Or rather, she’s a wizard who turned herself into a statue. This means she can’t move, but can easily blast adventurers with all manner of unpleasant magic. Urist tries zapping a wand of disintegration at her, as those are often effective against other types of magical statues, but Roxanne’s magic resistance is too high and the wand fails multiple times. Urist is forced to retreat after taking some serious damage from Roxanne’s magic. Plus she summoned some demons. Urist runs back upstairs to heal and wait for the summons to disappear, and then descends again with a new strategy. I have him creep through corridors out of Roxanne’s line of sight, and then charge out to get into melee range as quickly as possible. The boots of running that Okawaru gave him back in the Lair help out a lot here. Once in melee range Urist starts beating on Roxanne with his whip. She summons a pack of demons again, but Urist ignores them for now; their attacks are somewhat disrupted by his amulet of warding anyway. Urist takes a lot of damage but finally manages to shatter Roxanne. Then he runs away to heal again, before continuing to explore.

The next few floors have little of note. There are a few more unique enemies who aren’t too tough. Things only get interesting again on the twentieth floor. Down here, yaktaurs are far more common and stone giants have begun to appear as well. Stone giants are the toughest standard giants in the game, with a lot of health, a lot of defense, and a penchant for throwing boulders. They also hit really hard. Then there are some more dangerous varieties of trolls, too. While rock trolls are basically just tougher trolls, deep trolls are not quite as strong but attack in packs. Urist is holding his own against these baddies, though. What makes the twentieth floor interesting is that Urist encounters some of the most dangerous unique enemies here. The first is Boris.

Boris is an ancient lich. If you have read my Roguelike Highlight on Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, then you know that the greatest adventurer to ever face the Dungeon was killed by an ancient lich when he entered the chamber containing the Orb of Zot. Ancient liches are no joke. Fortunately, Boris is not as tough as a normal ancient lich. Specifically, he does not have the ability to summon swarms of greater demons. But he does have some very powerful attack spells, one of which is Bolt of Draining, a horrible spell that will actually drain Urist’s experience. Draining attacks are going to get a lot more common as Urist forges onward in his quest, and they can even make him go down levels if he’s not careful. Adventurers with life protection can resist draining attacks, with each of the three possible levels of protection blocking one third of the experience loss. Urist currently has two levels, one from his amulet of warding and one from a ring of life protection that he found somewhere, so Boris’ draining spells don’t hurt too badly. Urist can actually block some of Boris’ other sells with his shield, so the only other real concern is Bolt of Cold. Urist has two out of three for cold resistance too, so he doesn’t take too much damage from that, and he’s able to defeat Boris with only moderate wounds. But Boris can never truly be killed; as he falls, he taunts Urist and promises that they’ll meet again. He’ll probably show up again on a different Dungeon floor or in one of the branches, but for now Urist is victorious.

Not long after this battle, Urist runs into Mara. Mara is possibly the most dangerous unique enemy in the game, at least among those that can be encountered randomly. He is the Lord of Illusions, a mighty demon who can spin intricate hallucinations and befuddle the mind of even the most powerful adventurers. He can make several clones of himself and can even generate a ghost copy of the player, with all the same statistics and abilities. Plus he’s got some standard attack magic and he’s not too shabby in melee combat. Usually, when an adventurer sees Mara, he runs.

But I don’t have Urist run away yet. He’s at full health, and he’s facing down Mara in a narrow corridor, which means that Mara’s clones won’t be able to surround him as easily. Plus Urist is carrying several teleportation scrolls, so I can teleport him away if things go badly. I decide to charge in and see if Urist can take Mara down. Mara doesn’t summon any clones, opting instead to blast Urist with magic and engage in melee. Urist is a formidable fighter by now, though, and he’s slowly winning. But then Mara creates a ghost version of Urist that appears at Urist’s back, blocking his escape route. With the same stats, skills and abilities as Urist, this ghost may well be one of the toughest things Urist will face, and Urist has nowhere to run — the only way to escape will be with teleportation. But Urist still has a decent amount of health left, so I have him focus on Mara. It’s a long fight, but eventually Urist is able to land a killing blow. Now all that’s left is the ghost, so I do the sensible thing and have Urist run for his life. Ghosts can’t use stairs, so I have Urist run upstairs to heal up. By the time he returns, the ghost has disappeared.

At this point I consider whether Urist should head back and tackle the Vaults instead of continuing in the main Dungeon, but I decide to keep going. The twenty-first floor doesn’t have any unique enemies, but Urist does find his first portal to Hell. There are four Runes in the branches of Hell, but they’re all harder to obtain than the Rune in the Vaults, and Urist is hoping to avoid going there if he can help it. There’s also a one-way portal to the Abyss, the infinite and ever-changing realm of Lugonu the Unformed, god of chaos and corruption. The Abyss is a thoroughly unpleasant place, and while it does contain a Rune, it’s very hard to find. Getting back out isn’t easy either. I don’t plan on entering the Abyss voluntarily. Finally, the twenty-first floor is also home to the first of many portals to Pandemonium. Pandemonium is another demonic realm that is quite hard to escape, and is notable for being even more dangerous than retrieving the Orb of Zot. There are five Runes and a lot of treasure inside, but the demons are terrifyingly powerful, and Urist isn’t planning on paying them a visit.

The stone giants, ugly things, packs of yaktaurs and slime creatures, and other monsters down here are putting up a good fight, but Urist manages to take them out, and reaches experience level 20. At this point I decide he’s ready to start tackling the Vaults. But first, I take some time to consider Urist’s equipment. His +5 Armor of the Dragon King has been great, but at some point he’s going to want to switch to a standard suit of golden dragon armor so he can enchant it to a much higher bonus than +5. Amazingly, Urist already found a standard suit, right after he found his current armor, so all he needs is enough enchant armor scrolls to make the switch worth it. I use Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup’s search function to check how many enchant armor scrolls Urist has stashed away, and find that he’s got six of them. That’s enough to make a +6 golden dragon armor, so it might be worth it. I decide to head back to Urist’s stashes and at least start the enchanting process, even if I decide not to switch just yet.

The auto-travel options in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup make it easy to send Urist back to his stashes in the Ecumenical Temple, Lair of Beasts and the Hive. Once Urist has all the scrolls gathered in one place, I have him change into his standard golden dragon armor. Turns out it’s already modestly enchanted, to +2. This is a great stroke of luck. Usually enchanted items have special descriptions, like a “shiny” or “polished” suit of armor, but not always. This one appeared to be a completely normal suit, but it turns out it’s already got some magical enchantments on it. Six scrolls of enchant armor later, Urist is wearing a +8 golden dragon armor. The extra defense is going to be more important than the magic resistance that the Armor of the Dragon King offers, so Urist leaves the artefact armor on the floor of the Hive. His new armor can go all the way up to +11, so any more enchant armor scrolls that Urist finds will get spent on it immediately.

Now it’s time to head to the Vaults. Again, the fast travel options make it easy to get Urist to the entrance. Inside, things aren’t much different from the lower floors of the Dungeon, except for the completely open layout. Yaktaurs, trolls, and giants are all in residence, and they’re joined by the odd pack of deep elves. Deep elves are usually found in the Elven Halls, but sometimes small packs of them show up in the Vaults and lower Dungeon as well. They’re not very resilient, but all of them are skilled spellcasters, even the fighters. Urist takes them out in melee as quickly as possible. There are also some shapeshifters here, which can take the form of any creature in the game, complete with the appropriate special abilities. They can also switch forms in the middle of a battle. Fortunately, they never form demons or undead, and they cannot turn into creatures that are higher level than they are themselves.

Aside from a few unique enemies who are not too challenging, nothing of interest occurs until the second floor, when Urist finds a portal to a secret trove of treasure. Unlike normal portals of this type, which disappear after a certain amount of time passes, portals to treasure troves will only disappear after an adventurer enters them. They do, however, require the sacrifice of a certain item in order to enter. This one is asking for a +3 storm dragon armor. That’s quite annoying actually, because the only way Urist is likely to find a storm dragon armor is by killing a storm dragon, butchering it for its hide, and then enchanting that hide with a scroll of enchant armor. And then it would take three more scrolls of enchant armor to get it to +3. That’s a pretty high price, and to be honest I can’t really say whether it’s worth it. For all the hundreds of adventurers I’ve guided through the Dungeon, I’ve rarely encountered treasure troves, and I’m not sure I’ve ever had the right item to be able to enter. It’s curiosity more than anything that makes me decide to stash the enchant armor scrolls I find from now on, in case I get my hands on a storm dragon armor. If I don’t find one, I can always use those scrolls on Urist’s own equipment later.

The second floor also holds the entrance to the Crypt. The Crypt is, predictably, full of undead, including some tough varieties like bone dragons and liches. It does not contain a Rune but it does have a treasure hoard at the bottom, so it’s worth clearing out. But many of the enemies there possess draining attacks and I’d prefer to get all three levels of life protection for Urist before venturing inside. For now, Urist continues on in the Vaults.

The third floor contains Azrael, an efreet surrounded by fire elementals. Urist only has one level of fire resistance, so this is a tough fight. Plus Azrael can use hellfire, which can’t be resisted at all. Fortunately, he’s weak to cold and Urist just happens to have a wand of cold, which he zaps at the pack of flaming creatures repeatedly. This whittles down and kills many of the elementals, as well as damaging Azrael quite a bit before he enters melee range. Then Urist starts whipping him to death. Azrael is immune to fire so the extra fire damage from the flaming whip is moot, but the whip itself is still quite powerful, and Urist emerges victorious once more. He’s heavily wounded though, and many of his scrolls burned up in the fight. He retreats to heal up before exploring again.

On the next few floors, Urist starts running into dragons. There are several varieties of dragons in Dungeon Crawl, including some small ones like steam dragons and mottled dragons that Urist has been encountering for some time. But these here are the full-size ones. There’s the standard fire-breathing dragon, which is actually quite dangerous given Urist’s relatively low fire resistance, as well as the ice dragon, which is essentially the same but breathes bolts of cold instead of fire. Both types have powerful breath attacks and hit hard in melee, but Urist is able to handle them with careful tactics. He typically has to retreat and heal after each battle.

On the fifth floor of the Vaults, Urist finds a jewelry shop. He’s encountered plenty of shops in his travels, but so far none have had much of interest. This one does, though: an artefact amulet which provides mutation resistance as well as resistance to cold. Mutation resistance is going to be critical for the end of the game, and Urist hasn’t found an amulet of resist mutation yet. This one is even better due to the extra cold resistance, and it’s not too expensive, so he buys it. For now, though, Urist keeps his amulet of warding on for the life protection.

On the sixth floor Urist finds the Hall of Blades. This is a single-floor branch that contains a bunch of flying weapons, each with a brand. Brands are specific types of enchantments that weapons can have; for example, Urist’s demon whip has the flaming brand, which adds extra fire damage to attacks. In the Hall of Blades, one can find a weapon of the right type with pretty much any brand one desires, provided the flying weapon can be defeated in combat. There’s no chance of finding a weapon better than Urist’s demon whip, but there is a chance of finding a decent weapon in the Maces and Flails category (yes, Urist’s whip falls into that category, strangely) that has the holy wrath brand, dealing extra damage to demons and undead. Such a weapon could be quite useful in the later parts of the game, so Urist heads inside. The Hall is a large open area, and the only real danger is from weapons of draining, but Urist’s two levels of life protection and good shield skill will mostly nullify that threat. After running around and defeating all the weapons, Urist finds several with a holy wrath brand, the best of which is a modestly enchanted morningstar. But after checking the numbers, I determine that Urist’s flaming demon whip will still do more damage against undead and demons, due to its high enchantments (I’ve been using enchant weapon scrolls on it whenever I find them) and fast attack speed. Oh well, it was worth a shot.

Moving on to the seventh floor of the Vaults, Urist finds a magical portal leading to a wizard’s laboratory. These portals will close if too much time passes, so Urist has to decide whether or not to enter now. There are a few potential layouts for the wizard’s laboratory, some of which are quite dangerous, but it’s usually possible to run away if overwhelmed. I send Urist inside.

He emerges in a small clearing, surrounded by colorful autumn trees. But there are shadows flickering at the edge of his vision. As Urist starts to explore, these shadows soon coalesce into the form of monks, both human and troll. These are skilled unarmed fighters, but Urist is able to dispatch them without much trouble. It seems that they will continue to appear until Urist can find the source that is summoning them, which is likely located in the nearby monastery. I’ve never seen this particular map before, so I’m very cautious about entering the building, first guiding Urist around the grounds to completely map it. He’s assaulted by many more shadowy monks, but is able to verify that nothing nasty is going to block his escape if he needs to run. So he opens the door to the monastery. Immediately he sees the source of the shadowy monks: it’s the statue of Wucad Mu, an orange crystal statue. These statues have a bad habit of draining one’s intelligence, and as a mountain dwarf Urist isn’t the most intelligent adventurer, so this could be deadly if his intelligence gets reduced below zero. Fortunately orange crystal statues are weak to wands of disintegration, and Urist has one of those. It takes a few zaps, but it shatters the statue, and the shadows stop flickering and come to rest. This feat also earns Urist a mutation, increasing his intelligence by one. Urist already has a few mutations that he got from accidentally drinking a potion of mutation back in the Lair, but he still hasn’t found a potion to cure them. Fortunately they’re not too debilitating, and extra intelligence is always good.

Urist searches for treasure and finds some manuals, which are special, rare books that help train specific skills. Unfortunately they’re not for any skills that Urist uses. He does also find some potions of experience, though, which simply give experience when quaffed. Nice.

Heading back into the Vaults, Urist finishes exploring the seventh floor. There’s only one floor left in the Vaults, containing the Silver Rune of Zot, but Urist is not ready to tackle it yet. Amongst other dangers, the final floor of the Vaults contains shadow dragons. They’re like normal dragons except they breathe bolts of draining. Even with two levels of life protection, they can quickly drop Urist down a few levels, which would be serious bad news. No, Urist is going to need all three levels of life protection before braving the eighth floor. Unfortunately, there aren’t many other places to go at the moment. After some deliberation I decide that the early floors of the Crypt won’t be too dangerous, so Urist climbs back up to the second floor of the Vaults and goes inside.

The Crypt contains all manner of animated skeletons and zombies, none of which are particularly dangerous, but it also has skeletal warriors. These are strong melee fighters who, unlike other animated skeletons, actually use weapons and shields, and usually appear in groups. Urist is high enough level to tackle them, though. The Crypt also has some bone dragons, assembled out of the bones of other creatures. Unlike other dragon varieties, bone dragons don’t have a breath attack or any form of elemental damage, but they have a lot of health, hit hard, and can knock Urist backwards in a fight. Encounters with these result in long, protracted battles, but Urist is eventually able to strike them down. The other great danger in the Crypt is the appearance of curse skulls. These are immobile enemies, but have the ability to cast torment, which immediately halves Urist’s health. His life protection blocks a little of this damage, but not much. Curse skulls also summon swarms of powerful undead, including flaming corpses, spectral warriors, and simulacrums. Urist only runs into one of these, on the second floor, and he’s able to sneak up on it by hiding in hallways much like he did against Roxanne. Curse skulls have a lot of health, but Urist is relentless with his whip strikes and manages to destroy it. Unfortunately, it’s hit him with torment and summoned a horde of undead around him. Urist fights his way out of the mob and runs for the stairs, outstripping his pursuers due to his boots of running. Once he’s back upstairs, Urist heals up, and when he returns to the second floor the summoned creatures have disappeared again.

On the third floor, Urist finds the entrance to the Tomb. He gives it a wide berth. The Tomb is full of powerful mummies, which inflict curses upon their killers when they die. Normal mummies’ curses aren’t too bad, usually simply cursing items in an adventurer’s inventory, but the more powerful varieties in the Tomb can dish out some deadly curses, up to and including bad mutations and torment. Adventurers with the means to summon or create allies to kill the mummies for them might try to brave the Tomb, but for Urist it’s far too dangerous.

Urist clears the fourth floor of the Crypt but doesn’t venture down to the fifth and final floor. There’s a very good chance of running into an ancient lich down there, and I want Urist to have full life protection and ideally a few more levels before he tries taking one on. Again, though, this leaves few options of where to go. Urist could head down to the final floors of the Dungeon but those get very dangerous fast, and I’d prefer to be able to finish the Vaults first. I decide that the only way Urist will be able to get full life protection is to get a second ring of life protection. This is not an ideal solution; it means that his amulet and both his rings are dedicated entirely to life protection and can’t be used to provide any other resistances. Or, even better, slaying. Urist has actually found a ring of slaying, which basically acts as further accuracy and damage enchantments for whatever weapon he is using. Removing it will noticeably reduce his attack power, but at this point the life protection is more important.

Guessing that there might be a ring of life protection for sale in one of the shops, I use the search function to find one. Sure enough, there’s one for sale, and it’s actually in the same shop that Urist bought his amulet of resist mutation from, on the fifth floor of the Vaults. Urist heads back there and buys it. Putting it on, he’s now ready to attempt the eighth floor of the Vaults.

All three stairways leading down to the eighth floor deposit Urist in the center, surrounded by a ring of about twenty vault guards. Vault guards are powerful, heavily armored human warriors unique to the Vaults, and they’re some of the toughest melee fighters in the game. Urist lets some approach him and then retreats back up the stairs, knowing that only those directly adjacent to him can follow. He ends up facing three or four Vault guards, which he is able to dispatch. Stopping to heal before descending again, Urist is able to eliminate all the vault guards in small groups by repeating this process. At one point Okawaru gives Urist a heavily runed cloak, which Urist discovers is the +1 cloak of existentialism, providing one level of fire resistance and two levels of cold resistance. This is actually very useful, making him fully resistant to cold and mostly resistant to fire. It’s better than the stat boosts from his old cloak so Urist swaps them.

With the vault guards vanquished, it’s time to explore the eighth floor. Like the other floors, it’s an open space, but is divided into the four titular vaults, each with its own layout. One vault is a spiral passage leading to the center, another contains several smaller rooms, the third is completely open, and so on. There are wide corridors between the vaults themselves. Nowhere is there a narrow passage or other means to avoid getting surrounded, so Urist will have to explore very carefully. As he creeps away from the stairways, he spies his first shadow dragon almost immediately. With full life protection, though, Urist needs not fear its draining breath attack, so he lets it approach, breathing all it wants. Once in melee range, shadow dragons aren’t too tough, and they tend to flee when they get moderately wounded. They’re fast, but Urist is able to shoot this one down with his crossbow as it tries to run. There are going to be a lot more of them.

The sound of fighting has alerted some of the other monsters, who start converging on Urist’s position. The first to arrive is a quicksilver dragon. These are very rare, but very dangerous; they’re extremely fast and breathe energy bolts that can’t be resisted. Urist lures it back to the stairways and heads back up to the seventh floor, so he can fight it alone. It’s a tough battle, but Urist’s shield saves him yet again, letting him block the dragon’s energy bolts. With it dispatched, Urist heals up and heads down again. Now, he sees that a golden dragon and an iron dragon have shown up to investigate. Great. I think Urist can take them, but not both at once. The golden dragon is closer and gets to Urist first, so he retreats again and faces it on the seventh floor.

Golden dragons are kind of like super-dragons, able to breathe fire, cold, and poison at unfortunate adventurers. Good thing Urist has good resistances to all of those. But golden dragons are quite tough in melee as well, so it’s still a hard fight. Urist trades blows with the dragon, blocks many of its attacks with his shield, gets several of his scrolls burned by the dragon’s fiery breath and several of his potions shattered by its freezing breath, and gets knocked backwards until his back is to the wall. But he finally manages to deal enough wounds to the dragon that it turns to retreat. Urist takes out his crossbow Zeysuulo, loads a bolt, takes aim, and shoots the dragon down. Urist then wearily stumbles over to its corpse. If he hadn’t already found a golden dragon armor, he would butcher the corpse for its hide and enchant it. But since he’s already wearing the armor in question, he just offers the corpse to Okawaru, before stopping to rest and heal his wounds. He wishes that was the only golden dragon he’ll have to face, but he knows there will be more.

Now Urist needs to tackle that iron dragon. He heads downstairs, and there it is, waiting for him. To avoid getting ambushed during the battle, Urist lures it back upstairs like he did the others. Iron dragons, like their name implies, have extremely high defense, and focus on pure physical damage. They can breathe a volley of metal shards and have formidable claw and bite attacks. Fortunately, melee combat is Urist’s specialty, and his trusty shield is invaluable yet again. The fight goes much as the last one did, with Urist eventually triumphant. This means he can finally start exploring the bottom of the Vaults without getting immediately pounced upon by enemies.

Urist explores each of the four vaults slowly and carefully, much as he did the Rune chamber in the Snake Pit. The enemies here are quite deadly: fire and frost giants, stone giants, cyclops, yaktaur captains and their bands of yaktaurs, high-level shapeshifters, dragons and ice dragons, some of the more powerful deep elves, and of course lots of shadow dragons. Urist moves slowly, trying to avoid facing too many enemies at once, and he retreats to heal often. During one of the battles, he reaches the maximum skill level of 27 in shields. This is the first skill he has mastered, but I hope to have him master armor, maces and flails, and fighting by the time he attempts to retrieve the Orb of Zot.

The first two vaults simply contain treasure, in the form of gold, randarts, spellbooks, scrolls and magical staves. Nothing is particularly useful to Urist except for a few scrolls of enchant armor, which he will come grab later, so they don’t get burned up. In the third vault Urist meets a storm dragon. These aren’t as tough as golden dragons, but they breathe lightning bolts which spell doom for those without electrical resistance. Urist switches to his crossbow Zeysuulo since it provides said resistance, and starts shooting. This does not go well. Due to his shield, he can’t fire very fast, and the bolts simply aren’t doing enough damage. The storm dragon charges in and starts mauling Urist, and I have to resort to a scroll of blinking to save him. Scrolls of blinking provide an instant, controlled teleport, but only to somewhere you can currently see, which makes them a very short-range escape solution. Urist teleports away and legs it for the stairs, with the dragon in pursuit. Even with the electrical resistance, he’s nearly killed by the dragon’s lightning bolts before he manages to escape to relative safety on the floor above.

I decide to have Urist stick to his trusty flaming demon whip, which is now enchanted up to (+4,+5) from some scrolls he found in the other vaults (that’s +4 to accuracy and +5 to damage). He won’t have electrical resistance, but he’s be able to hit hard and fast, and can hopefully take the storm dragon down without being killed. I’m right. The lightning hurts a lot, but the storm dragon isn’t much more resilient than a normal dragon and Urist is able to kill it while only losing about half his health. Unfortunately, the storm dragon doesn’t leave a corpse, so Urist is unable to obtain its hide for enchanting purposes. On the bright side, the vault it was guarding contains the Silver Rune of Zot, amongst the rest of the treasure. Again, the other items aren’t very useful, so Urist just grabs the Rune, feeling its power flow into him and combine with that of the Serpentine Rune and Barnacled Rune. That’s three Runes, enough to open the portal to the Realm of Zot. But there’s still the fourth and final vault to explore.

The most notable things there are another golden dragon, and the unique enemy Frederick. Urist finds the dragon first, and the fight goes much like the earlier one. Urist eventually prevails, although he takes heavy wounds. Stopping to heal before venturing further into the vault, he’s at full health when he spies Frederick. Frederick is a figher-mage who wears a monocle, and he’s not to be trifled with, as he possesses some very powerful magic. No time to be cautious. Urist charges in with his shield raised, hoping he can block some of Frederick’s spells. Once in melee range, Frederick stops blasting too much magic and opts for some old-fashioned swordplay. Good thing he’s nowhere near as good a fighter as he is a mage. Urist is able to defeat him quickly. After dispatching any remaining giants and dragons, Urist has cleared the bottom of the Vaults.

There’s still a bit of housekeeping to do. There are a lot of shops down here, so Urist checks them out and buys a few things. He gambles on an enchanted pair of gauntlets, but they turn out to just be boring +1 pair. Urist currently has a +1 pair of gauntlets of dexterity, which Okawaru gave him a while back, but I was hoping to find gauntlets of strength instead. Oh well. In another shop Urist buys a scroll of enchant weapon III, which is like a super enchant scroll that will give a weapon several accuracy and damage enchantments. Since his whip is already heavily enchanted, though, it doesn’t always work. This one takes his whip from (+4,+5) to (+5,+6), which isn’t too bad, but an unenchanted weapon would have gotten several more boosts from the scroll. Urist also buys three scrolls of enchant armor. Since he’s got several stashed already in case he finds a storm dragon armor to get into that treasure trove, he’s able to use a few of these now, and his golden dragon armor rises to +10.

With nothing else of interest in the shops, Urist is finished here. He has three Runes now, enough to enter the Realm of Zot. All that remains is to head to the bottom of the Dungeon and go inside. But Urist can use any help help he can get, so it will pay to raid a few more areas first for treasure and experience. The first destination, I think, is the bottom floor of the Crypt. It’s got treasure and high-level monsters who are worth a lot of experience. Also, I think it’s time we saw whether Urist can handle an ancient lich.

His eyes glowing with the power of the Runes, Urist unfurls his flaming demon whip and marches back up the stairs.

Stay tuned for part 6 of Urist Redbeard’s epic saga.

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