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fizzix April 20, 2018 17:16

Vaults, banishment, and exploits
Prompted by some of the discussion about whether you should be able to banish monsters in vaults, I have some thoughts on the matter.

1) Vaults are supposed to be high risk - high reward. However, because of the nature of permadeath games, and angband in particular, anything risky is almost never worth it. Angband gets dinged especially hard in this matter because there's no forcing clock, you can just endlessly respawn the level until you get the items you want without the danger aspect. Therefore, players only tackle vaults if they know they can handle it. Removing the abilities for players to handle vaults will mean that experienced players will just skip them, and inexperienced players will just die to them. (Don't read the implication that banishment is needed to handle vaults, it's not, I'm speaking more generally) Also note that this environment changes when you try to push turncount or add other restrictions like forced descent.

2) Greater vaults are large and full of monsters. Sometimes these monsters produce challenges, sometimes they're a stream of wimps to wade through. Almost always there's one or two monsters that you just can't deal, or don't want to deal with and have to remove through other means (teleport other usually). A common tactic is to open the vault and let the monsters funnel out one by one, teleporting away the ones you can't handle. This winds up being pretty darn tedious when the number of monsters is very large.

3) A common choice to banish in vaults are 'E', not because they're dangerous, but rather because they destroy items. Removing the ability for players to get rid of monsters with the destroy item flag will make many vaults pointless. (simple option here, don't allow those monsters to spawn in vaults). On the flip side, monsters like dreads are great to see because they'll wander around, picking up a bunch of stuff, essentially looting the vault for you. Maybe prevent monsters with pickup item from picking up stuff in vaults also.

4) Because greater vaults take so much time to clear, it's easy to get exhausted with them. Also there's some significant variation in size, some greater vaults are pretty small, some like Divisi are gigantic. They also vary greatly in loot. I might consider varying frequencies so the more gigantic vaults show up rarer. Rare, highly rewarding vaults can appear as often as super rare gear like the one ring. Maybe you only see some of the crazier vaults once in your angband career (like the amount of times I've found the one ring). Maybe never.

5) The improved status effects in v4.1.x should allow us to, in general, rethink how we approach removal options like teleport other, banishment, destruction and the like. If it's always the case that a vault will spawn with a monster that an at level character could never handle, then the player must always have some option for how to remove that monster. If we pull back on stuff like banishment or TO, then we should also pull back on the difficulty of vault monsters.

6) This is more long term thinking, but it might be worth having monsters in vaults be more "tied" to their location. As in they want to stay in the vault. This is tricky because it often leads to situations where you can abuse AI in very uninteresting ways. Some of the more interesting vault interactions come with never-move monsters, like Qs (including the dreaded nexus Q who is more annoying than interesting).

7) I believe we have more tools to edit vaults these days. We can think of more thematic designs. For example:



Here the gs are all silent watchers or perhaps other new thematic monsters, the $ represent treasure. The idea is the player runs through the room to get the treasure on the other end.

8) Vault specific monsters. Vaults vary greatly in both gear and difficulty, some variation is good in this front for sure. However, it runs into thematic problems. Often times uniques with escorts will spawn in the vault and the escort will be forced outside. Blanket bans on stuff like teleport other and teleportation are hard to pull off because often vaults will be produced where your only option is to teleport other, or avoid the vault. Imagine the vault above, but instead of silent watchers, those monsters are now colossi (or a renamed similar monster called vault guardians or something). Also add the restrictions that nothing in the vault can be teleported, the colossi never leave the vault, and no missiles or spells can pass from outside the vault to inside the vault. Can you engineer the situation where you can run across grab the loot and escape before the colossi block the doorway?

I probably have more thoughts that I'll remember later, but I think I'll stop here for now.

Philip April 20, 2018 18:22

My main perspective on this is, I suppose, that I just played a bunch of O (the comp, though my character is dead and I have no plans to make a new one). O doesn't let banishment affect vault squares (though it does let it affect vault monsters who have left the vault, which can become relevant for hounds, for example. Another thing O does is have variants of point 7) on this list. Specifically the hall of eyes vault, which has 8 'e' monsters, one 'g' monster, a couple items, and a chest. Chests in O are quite valuable, they tend to be basically *Acquirement* except for a specific type of item, and frequently (for O) provide artifacts. That particular vault does not work quite so well - monster pathfinding and the nature of annoying 'e' monsters means it's essentially a question of whether or not you have TO. The vault fizzix proposes does seem rather interesting, however.

I mentioned chests earlier. They are a feature of many of the more scary vaults (generally the open ones, the ones with lots of a specific type of monster, generally a rather annoying type), They are also very valuable, and very rare outside of vaults. This has serious implications for entry 1). O vaults are high risk, and options for mitigating that risk are limited. The only real advantage O characters have in terms of mitigating risk is that scrolls of Teleport Level are available at 5. On the other hand, the reward is significant enough that I have repeatedly found myself sneaking into a vault to try and get a chest out and open it elsewhere, or to grab an item that I think could be an artifact. I did it on my comp character and found Cambeleg, and that character was a warrior with OK stealth and one charge of TO.

My final thoughts on banishment and vaults are this - vaults should be interesting for all characters, and this means simultaneously that vaults should not require banishment to crack, and not be trivialized by the existence of banishment. Perhaps it is a personal preference, but I think vaults should be about sneaking in, quickly grabbing all the interesting stuff, and running away, possibly pursued by a dragon. Hobbit-style. Not disarming the vault from outside.

fizzix April 20, 2018 23:32

I think I'd settle for vaults to have different times that are interesting for different characters, instead of every vault being accessible to every character.

I'd be ok for some vaults to have the treasure behind a square of lava and only accessible to characters with a (currently non-existant) apportation spell. I'd be ok for some vaults to require high stealth. I'd be ok with some vaults requiring good single target removal. And some that require good AoE removal.

Perhaps the best design is one that we don't really exploit well in Angband, where the vault itself is tiered in both difficulty and reward. It's segmented into sections with each section harder and more rewarding than the previous one. This would allow weaker characters to at least clear out the first section or two and avoid the deeper parts. We don't have strong gradations in tiers of loot/enemies and that's something that can be improved.

Derakon April 20, 2018 23:50

Regarding Dreads and elementals and so on, the simplest solution there would probably be to prevent anything but the player and spells/breaths from affecting items on vault squares. That is, items can't be trampled or picked up by monsters, but they can be destroyed by fire breath.

It seems like the big problem with vaults is simply that they're so ridiculously huge. If a vault were just a few rooms with carefully-curated threats and rewards, then we'd be more free to restrict the ways the player can interact with them. As it is, the fatigue issue that fizzix mentioned is a very real problem. A single vault can take a long time to clear, and there are a lot of greater vaults in any given game. If we're going to ban banishment and other "abusive" interactions with vaults, then they need to be more rare so that the player is more willing to engage with them in a non-abusive fashion.

Stealth is also pretty impractical with a lot of vaults, because there's so many monsters in them, with lots of unobstructed LOS, high chances of hounds/vortices that might wake everything up, etc. Again, a stealth-oriented vault would need to be smaller and more carefully set-up to ensure a mostly clear path to the loot.

Unfortunately, in most cases the quality of loot scales directly with the size of the vault. In other words, our current vault selection doesn't really favor the kind of highly-focused gameplay that I'm proposing. Speaking as someone who contributed a lot of the really huge vaults (sorry about Divisi), I wouldn't object to them going by the wayside in favor of better-designed content.

Philip April 21, 2018 02:39

Ah, I may have been unclear there - what I meant is that vaults in general should be interesting for every character. So, no character class should be able to trivially farm most (all) vaults, getting a reward with no risk. Similarly, no character should go through the entire game without thinking "hey, opening this particular vault is a better way to progress than walking around".
The vault design ideas you've mentioned - fewer huge vaults, tying segmentation to differentiation, or challenges that are difficult or even impossible for some characters but class features for others - would go a long way towards achieving this, fortunately. An idea I would add to this is the NPP (?) or Ironband mechanic of having some vault objects carried by the monsters. Only for some vaults, of course, but it would be nice to balance out the dungeon control or stealth focused vaults with some combat-heavy vaults. Also, for detection-impaired classes, some vaults that (like early labyrinth levels) give you some information for free. And if the goal is to differentiate vaults by class, then giving them themes in terms of layout and monster types would also help. Or, for a stealth-oriented vault, force all monsters to be asleep, make large parts of the vaults accessible without obstruction, maybe stick some sleeping guardian monsters in front of the fancier loot that have to be worked around somehow. This vault wouldn't even have to be that small.

On the topic of vault size, I have rather mixed feelings. I do feel like significant rewards should be available even in smaller, though still dangerous vaults. The amount of vault reward should scale with size, and the quality with danger. More tactically focused vaults are also desirable. I also don't think that increasing rarity on greater vaults will make them any more tempting to the player. If the problem is fatigue, then I believe the solution should address that directly. Currently, greater vaults are mostly walking from one small area with some loot to another, weighing the contents of each subsection against its inhabitants. I feel like there should be more of a goal to vaults. Some central chamber with the good stuff and a mini-boss, perhaps. The vault is simply a gauntlet on your way to that. This way the player has to move between fight mode and loot sorting mode less frequently, and has a goal to work towards throughout the vault.

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