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 stands before the gateway to the Realm of Zot. His final challenge. Of the hundreds of adventurers who died in the Dungeon, the ones who have entered the Realm of Zot can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Urist has come far, fighting his way to the bottom of several dungeon branches and retrieving three Runes of Zot to open the gate, and looting a few other branches for good measure. He’s reached level 27, the highest possible, and he’s become a master with his flaming demon whip and shield. He’s better prepared than any of the other adventurers who dared enter the Realm of Zot. But still, the creatures who guard the Orb of Zot will be the most dangerous and deadly that Urist has encountered, and he’ll need to be very careful and very smart if he wants to complete his quest.
He’s as ready as he’ll ever be. Time to go.
Before I send Urist through the gate, I take stock of his equipment. You see, there’s a few things that an adventurer would ideally like to have before entering the Realm of Zot. The draconians who inhabit the Realm are kind of like dragon-men, with different varieties able to breathe fire or ice, so basic elemental resistance is important. But there are also some draconians who can spit acid that will corrode equipment permanently. Therefore, an adventurer would ideally like some corrosion resistance. Electrical resistance is important for protecting against certain lightning-breathing draconians, storm dragons, and the dreaded electric golems. And, finally, resistance to mutation is key for blocking the horrible mutating energies emitted by orbs of fire.
Urist does not have all of these resistances. His +11 golden dragon armor is maximally enchanted and provides basic resistance to fire, cold and poison, which will be critical. His artefact shield “Gris” is fantastic at blocking both melee and ranged attacks and offers more resistance to cold, as well as boosting Urist’s strength. His helmet lets him see invisible things, which will be useful for tackling the pesky ghost moths in the Realm of Zot. For gauntlets, Urist has gauntlets of dexterity, which are nice, but I would have preferred a strength boost or some resistances. He’s wearing some elven boots of running, given to him by Okawaru, the god of battle, which let him make hasty retreats and will no doubt save his life on multiple occasions during the final assault. Finally, his +1 cloak of existentialism grants another level of fire resistance and two levels of cold resistance. For jewelry, Urist is wearing an amulet of warding, which grants basic life protection as well as protecting him from the attacks of summoned creatures. Very useful. Then he’s wearing two rings of life protection, which combine to give him maximum defense from draining attacks.
Fortunately, Urist is carrying a cloak of preservation in his pack, which not only protects from corrosion but will also prevent Urists scrolls from burning away and his potions from freezing and shattering. I decide to put it on, even though it means sacrificing the elemental resistances from Urist’s current cloak. I feel that corrosion is a bigger threat. But this leaves Urist with only one level of fire resistance, so I’ll have to be very careful around fire-breathing draconians and orbs of fire.
Urist also has an amulet in his pack that provides mutation resistance, as well as resistance to cold. This will be important against the orbs of fire but it means sacrificing his amulet of warding, and therefore less life protection. I decide to keep it in his pack for now; I’ll whip it out if he sees any orbs of fire, but otherwise it’s better to have the life protection.
As for electrical resistance, the only item Urist has that provides it is his crossbow Zeysuulo. As he learned at the bottom of the Vaults, he simply can’t dish out enough damage with the crossbow to make it worth it. So, I’ll have to be especially careful when facing enemies with electrical attacks, and make sure Urist takes them out as quickly as possible.
That settled, Urist enters the gate.
Architecturally, the Realm of Zot is much like the Elven Halls, consisting mostly of narrow corridors and a few larger rooms. But that is where the similarities end. The walls and floor are strange, shifting colors, and the enemies are bizarre and deadly. There’s the death cob, and undead cob of maize, which isn’t particularly threatening at this point but is still a formidable melee fighter. Then there are killer klowns, fast enemies with a lot of health whose attacks inflict a random, detrimental effect. Their appearance constantly shifts as well. Slightly less bizarre, but no less deadly, are the dragons and draconians. A pack of draconians attacks Urist almost immediately, and the battle is joined.
The draconians come in many varieties, some with elemental breath attacks, and others with melee specialties or particular affinities for certain types of magic. They can wield weapons and some armor, and are generally quite deadly. But they’re also worth a lot of experience. Before he’s finished exploring the first floor, Urist has amassed enough experience to master the fighting skill, which not only helps with his attacks but also awards extra health.
Compared to his battles in the main Dungeon, Urist is taking a lot more damage, especially from fire attacks, but he is able to retreat to heal often. Putting on his cloak of preservation has paid off, as his equipment has so far resisted the acidic spit from yellow draconians. Also, he still has his scrolls and potions due to the protection it provides.
Urist encounters his first orb of fire on the first floor. He quickly switches to his amulet of resist mutation, but even this only provides 90% protection. Fortunately, Urist is able to defeat the orb without being mutated, but he does take a lot of damage from its fire blasts.
Urist clears the second floor much like the first, and masters the armor skill. He now has an armor class of 50, which is rather ludicrously high, and will block damage from all but the most poweful melee attacks. Of course, that’s exactly the kind of melee attack that the creatures in the Realm of Zot have. But any defense Urist can muster will help. Armor was the last of Urist’s core skills to get maxed out, leaving me wondering where to allocate his experience. I decide to focus on his traps and doors skill, as I’m sure the chamber containing the Orb of Zot will be full of traps, and the skill will help him spot them. Since I had switched off his traps and doors skill before, it’s only at level 1, but now all the experience he earns will go towards raising it. It rockets up to level 5 in no time.
On the third floor Urist finds a special vault full of killer klowns. Urist is able to block most of their melee attacks and therefore avoid the random effects they inflict, but still needs to retreat often to heal after the fights. When he has killed all the klowns, he is able to explore the large vault room, and finds that it is full of bananas. Obviously.
The third floor is also where Urist meets his first electric golem. An electric golem killed one of the first adventurers to ever enter the Realm of Zot, as it does huge amounts of damage with its lightning bolts if one does not have electrical resistance and it’s extremely fast, so one can’t run away. Urist doesn’t have electrical resistance either, but he does have a fast, powerful weapon and he’s aware of the danger. I have Urist charge into melee range as quickly as possible and attack relentlessly. He’s able to destroy the golem, but he takes heavy wounds.
The fourth floor is much the same as the ones above. Lots of draconians and dragons, a few death cobs, and another electric golem. Urist defeats them all, and his skill with traps and doors rises to level 10. He can now spot most traps from several tiles away. Once he’s mapped out the fourth floor, Urist descends to the final floor, where the Orb of Zot lies.
Half of the final floor of the Realm of Zot looks like the floors above, but the other half contains the Orb chamber. Urist finds the entrance quickly, but doesn’t go in, instead mapping out the rest of the floor and killing all the draconians patrolling it. Once this is done, I make careful note of where the stairways are, plotting out the most direct escape route from the Orb chamber. Urist will likely need to retreat back to the fourth floor several times during his assault on the Orb chamber, especially if the ancient liches start summoning demons. With an escape path plotted, Urist approaches the entrance to the Orb chamber. Only two adventurers have ever stepped into this chamber, and they were both slaughtered by the Orb’s guardians. Urist makes sure he is prepared first. Urist’s armor has only been slightly corroded in his descent through the Realm of Zot, thanks to the corrosion resistance provided by his cloak of preservation. But the guardians in the Orb chamber do not use corrosive attacks, so Urist changes back into his +1 cloak of existentialism, which gives him better fire resistance and maxes out his cold resistance. I consider switching to his amulet of resist mutation, but I’m worried about the draining attacks from ancient liches, so for now I keep his amulet of warding on. OK, he’s ready. Urist steps inside.
The Orb chamber is actually several chambers, oval-shaped, arranged in a rough circle. The first of these is filled with orb guardians, giant glowing purple creatures that the Orb created to defend itself. They have no special abilities but are poweful melee fighters with a lot of health. They are the least of the threats in the Orb chamber, but can be quite dangerous if they get close to a moth of wrath, which can make them go berserk. One of the other adventurers who entered the Orb chamber died when he underestimated how dangerous a berserk orb guardian could be.
As soon as Urist spies his first orb guardians, he retreats back into the narrow hallways outside the Orb chamber, much as he did at the treasure vault in the Elven Halls. This forces the orb guardians to come to him, and lets him face them one at a time. There’s no moth of wrath in sight, so Urist is able to dispatch the orb guardians fairly easily. Returning to the first room of the Orb chamber, Urist’s newfound skill in spotting traps lets him locate several before he bumbles into them, including an alarm trap. This may very well have saved Urist’s life; if he’d stepped on that alarm trap, all the creatures in the Orb chamber would be alerted and would have converged on his position. While Urist can handle these creatures in small groups, all of them at once would surely have spelled death.
Creeping farther into the room Urist spies an orb of fire. He quickly switches to his amulet of resist mutation, but he’s not fast enough; the mutagenic energy from the orb of fire causes Urist’s vision to become blurry. This means he will often fail at his attempts to read magic scrolls, which can be deadly when one is trying to teleport to safety. Urist lures the orb of fire back into the hallway and takes it on. His increased fire resistance helps and he’s able to fell it with only moderate wounds. I decide that it might be prudent to keep Urist’s amulet of resist mutation on; he will become slightly vulnerable to the draining attacks of the ancient liches but the orbs of fire seem more common and I think the mutations could be more dangerous.
Urist maps out the first room of the Orb chamber after fighting a few dragons. At this point, even golden dragons are relatively minor threats. I now must decide which way to circle around. I decide to go left. There’s a short, narrow passageway leading into the next room. Urist heads that way and soon spies the first ancient lich. An ancient lich was the cause of death of the other adventurer who preceded Urist into the Orb chamber. Urist was able to defeat one of these back in the Crypt, but that one was close to melee range. This one is a lot farther away. Urist quickly retreats back towards the Orb chamber entrance. He stops, just to be sure that the ancient lich is following, and then ducks back into the narrow corridors, and waits. The ancient lich soon appears in the doorway, and Urist begins his attack. At first the lich focuses on attack magic, hitting Urist with cold blasts and iron shot. Urist is fully resistant to cold and can block the iron shot with his shield, so he doesn’t take too much damage. Then the lich summons some greater demons. I don’t remember which kind, but I think there was a pit fiend, a huge demon capable of throwing hellfire and casting torment. Hellfire is unresistable and hurts a lot. Torment immediately halves an adventurer’s health (although this is reduced slightly due to Urist’s life protection). The combination can bring death very quickly. At the moment Urist is OK, so I have him continue he assault on the ancient lich. The pit fiend casts torment, and Urist’s health is nearly halved, but he keeps fighting. The ancient lich is almost destroyed. Finally, Urist is able to land a kiling blow and the lich’s skeletal body shatters. But the demons are still there. Urist runs, with the demons behind, throwing hellfire at him. He manages to reach the stairs, though, and climbs up to rest and heal. When he returns, the summoned demons have disappeared again.
Continuing his exploration of the Orb chamber, Urist finds several more dragons and orb guardians, who are dispatched relatively easily. Some of the creatures in the other rooms have been alerted as well, and Urist has to face down several more orbs of fire. Even with his mutation resistance, Urist gets a few more mutations, reducing his maximum health by 20% and increasing his metabolism so he gets hungry more often. By now Urist has worked his way around through the third room of the Orb chamber, and he has almost reached the back where the Orb itself must lie. I decide that it might be prudent to cure some of Urist’s mutations. There’s a potion of cure mutation that Urist found on the floor above, and I have him run back and grab it. This cures almost all of his mutations, but still leaves him with 10% lower maximum health. But that’s not too bad. Then Urist heads back down to continue clearing out the Orb chamber.
At the back of the Orb chamber is a much smaller room, which is presumably where the Orb itself lies. Urist heads inside. There’s a pack of orb guardians there, and a moth of wrath. Moths of wrath are not particularly dangerous on their own, but if they make those orb guardians go berserk, Urist is going to be in trouble. I have Urist charge in and focus on the moth. He’s able to kill it quickly, but the orb guardians have landed some blows in the meantime. Urist turns his attention to them, and retreats back a little ways so he won’t attract the attention of any more creatures. He’s able to dispatch the guardians, and then runs back to heal. Returning to the rearmost room of the Orb chamber, Urist finds that it contians two small alcoves at either end. The first holds a few minor treasures. The second holds the Orb of Zot.
Urist is the first adventurer to ever lay eyes on the Orb of Zot. It sits, pulsating and changing color and shape, and seems to emanate a malevolent energy. It’s the object of Urist’s quest, the single reason he has braved so many foul creatures and dangerous places. Urist does not pick it up. I want to be absolutely sure that he has a clear escape route once he grabs the Orb, and that means clearing out the other half of the Orb chamber first. With some effort, Urist resists the urge to just grab it and run, and instead heads around the other half-circle of rooms that form the Orb chamber.
Most of the creatures here were alerted by Urist’s first pass through the Orb chamber so there are many fewer creatures left. But there are still several dragons and orb guardians, and even another pair of orbs of fire. Urist is able to kill the first without much trouble, but the second manages to mutate Urist again, leaving him with a slower healing rate. That’s annoying, but livable. Especially since Urist will soon be running for his life, and stopping to heal will be the last thing on his mind.
Finally, Urist faces another ancient lich. I’m pretty sure that there are no other creatures left in the Orb chamber, so I don’t bother with retreating. Urist charges in to engage the lich. This one doesn’t summon any demons, instead focusing on magical attacks. Urist blocks its crystal spears with his shield, and has decent resistance to its bolts of draining. Like the others, the ancient lich eventually falls.
After stopping to heal, Urist returns to the Orb of Zot, which still sits there, pulsating. All that remains now is to take it and get out of the Dungeon.
Urist picks it up.
The Orb immediately emits a piercing shriek of rage, calling to its guardians to protect it. Urist has killed them all already, but I’m sure that more will be on their way. Urist also feels a strange magical shroud fall over him, preventing controlled teleports of any kind. He’s going to have to get out of the Dungeon on foot. Better get moving.
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is a turn-based game, giving the player as much time to think about each move as he or she wants. But that didn’t make Urist’s escape run any less tense and frantic. I use the auto-travel controls to have Urist make a bee-line for the nearest stairway. Before he gets there a pack of hell hounds appears, blocking his path in either direction. But Urist isn’t going to let anything stop him. He quickly dispatches the hell hounds in front with a few strikes from his demon whip, and then keeps running, ignoring the blasts of flame that the remaining hounds breathe at him. Soon Urist is up the stairway and heading for the next. Occasional packs of minor demons appear, but Urist is able to dispatch them quickly and keep running. On the third floor of the Realm of Zot, another ancient lich appears, but it’s behind Urist so he just ignores it, not even slowing down. Soon he emerges from the realm of Zot and sets foot on the bottom floor of the Dungeon.
From here, Urist must climb twenty-seven floors up to the Dungeon entrance. The floors go by in a blur, as Urist locates the nearest stairs and heads straight for them, not letting anything slow him down. Occasional packs of hellhounds and minor demons appear, but Urist quickly cuts a path through them and keeps going. He suffers some wounds, but there’s no time to stop and heal. Just keep running.
Urist has climbed several floors when a strange creature appears behind him. For all the hundreds of adventurers that I’ve guided through the Dungeon, I’ve never seen this creature before. I check it’s description, and find that it’s Nuamus Blao the Pandemonium Lord.
Pandemonium is the one place in the Dungeon I have never dared to venture. It’s notable for being one of very few places that’s actually harder than retrieving the Orb of Zot. Pandemonium Lords are extremely powerful demons who rule over each floor in Pandemonium, and are possibly the most terrifying enemies in the game. Seeing as this one is behind Urist, I decide the best course of action is to simply keep running, and try to get out of sight of the demon before it can do too much harm.
Urist keeps running down the corridor, but Nuamus Blao doesn’t give chase. Instead, he casts fire storm, one of the strongest spells in the game. The corridor Urist is running through erupts in flames. Any scrolls Urist had left are burned away. Urist resists some of the flames, but they still do a lot of damage. Even worse, several fire vortices appear amid the roaring flames, blocking Urist’s path. Urist is able to dispatch them with a few quick strikes, but they forced him to remain inside the flames longer, taking even more damage. Once the vortices are gone, Urist runs forward and around the corner.
Out of Nuamus Blao’s line of sight, Urist heads towards the stairs as fast as he can. He’s heavily wounded, but there’s no time to stop and rest. He reaches the stairs without encountering any more creatures and climbs them two at a time. When he emerges, I locate the nearest stairway upwards, and I’m surprised to see that it is the gate out of the Dungeon. Is Urist on the first floor already? I check the corner of the screen, which lists the current location, and I’m surprised to see that he is indeed on the top floor. He just has to get to that gate, and he’s won the game.
Things are really getting exciting now. I send Urist on the shortest path to the exit, but when he gets about halfway there, he’s suddenly surrounded by monsters again. There are several large abominations, as well as Vaarr, another Pandemonium Lord. Panicking, I have Urist frantically attack the Pandemonium Lord, to try and take it down as quickly as possible. But then I come to my senses, and stop to think. Urist is surrounded by enemies and he’s only at about half health. One of the enemies is a deadly Pandemonium Lord. Urist can’t move, and if he gets stuck in a protracted battle, more baddies will start showing up. I decide its a much better idea to teleport away. Urist can’t use controlled teleports, but he can teleport randomly. His scrolls are gone but he has a wand of teleportation, which he zaps at himself. It takes longer than usual to kick in because Urist is carrying the Orb of Zot, but after a few turns he finds himself somewhere else on the same floor.
I quickly take stock. Urist is far enough from Vaarr the Pandemonium Lord that he’s unlikely to run into him again. He’s at less than half health, but if he waits around more monsters will show up, so it’s better to get moving. He’s not particularly close to the exit but he’s got a relatively clear path. He starts running.
In the last corridor before the exit, a pack of hell hounds appears again. Urist cuts his way through them, but they’re immediately replaced by a pack of large abominations. These are a lot tougher than hell hounds, but they’re still not much cause for concern. At least not usually. But Urist is at low health and he’s in a hurry. He attacks the large abomination that blocks his path, ignoring the one behind him, and fortunately he manages to kill it before anything else warps in. Then he just starts running again. He rounds the corner, entering an open space, and he sees the exit. Beyond it is another large abomination, rushing towards Urist.
It’s a race to the exit. Urist’s boots of running have been invaluable during his entire escape run, and they’re no less useful now. He reaches the exit just before the abomination is upon him. I hit the “<" key to climb out of the Dungeon. A message appears at the bottom of the message log, which simply reads "Are you sure you want to win?"
I type "Y".
There's no special ending to Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. There doesn't need to be. I just get the same few screens I got whenever any of the former adventurers were killed. The game gives me a look at Urist's inventory, and then shows me the high score list. At the top, with 1,415,210 points, is Urist Redbeard the Dwarven Barricade, the Champion of Okawaru, who escaped with the Orb and three Runes on November 25, 2011. Here's that screen again:
There doesn’t need to be anything else special at the end, because I’ve guided every one of those other adventurers on the list. I was there when the few, mighty warriors got all the way to the Orb chamber before being killed, and I was there for those poor souls who were killed on the first floor right after they entered the Dungeon. I was there for each and every death, slowly learning how to survive deeper forays into the Dungeon. I was there for many adventurers who aren’t on that list, because they were played with an earlier version of the game. I was there for each and every one, for roughly six years. So I know what that simple line at the top of the high scores list entails. No cutscene or special ending could add anything; Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup isn’t about that. It’s about me versus the Dungeon. And I finally won.
But I’m not done playing Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. I finished with a mountain dwarf fighter, but there are so many other races and classes to try. For a different kind of fighter I cold try a hill orc and worship Beogh, the orc god. I would smite my enemies and call forth armies of orcs to rampage through the Dungeon. Or I could pick a magic-attuned elf and try to play a wizard, taking time to learn the extra layer of strategy required in learning and casting spells effectively. Spellcasters can become extremely powerful, with some players attempting to find all fifteen Runes of Zot with them. Or how about a transmuter, who fights unarmed and can transform into giant spiders, ice beasts, or even dragons, and can throw potions like grenades? I could play a stealthy character and try to sneak my way through danger, or an artificer, who focuses on using wands and other magical tools. Then there are a bunch of other interesting races to play, like trolls, kenku (bird-men), or even mummies and vampires. And the developers are updating the game all the time. I originally thought that the next update would be v1.0, but it’s actually going to be v0.10 (zero point ten), implying that the game is far from being considered “finished”.
In fact, I recently learned that the developers are planning on removing mountain dwarves from v0.10, with the argument that they are too similar to minotaurs. This angered a lot of players, and I’m also sad to see them go, as they’re a great race for beginning players. But minotaurs will be a good substitute, and there are still deep dwarves, who are hardy dwarves but are unable to heal normally. Plus more races will be added in the future; already announced are octopodes, strange creatures with eight arms who can wear eight magical rings simultaneously, but cannot wear most armor.
Basically, there’s a lot more fun to be had with Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, and I doubt I’ll stop playing anytime soon. I might take some breaks, sure, but I always come back. Nothing else offers the same challenge as a hardcore roguelike, or has enough complexity to reward repeated plays in the same way. If Urist Redbeard’s saga sounded interesting to you, I recommend giving Stone Soup a try. Maybe you’ll manage to win it one day, but even if you don’t, you’ll find that losing over and over again can be very, very fun.
I’ll see you in the Dungeon.