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archolewa September 21, 2020 16:20

[Frogcomposband] Rage Mage feels weak
I've been pouring a *lot* of hours into playing the Rage Mage in Frogcomposband, because I love berserking barbarian types (don't like Berserker though because being limited to melee and potions is no fun for me). Blackguard is my favorite class in vanilla, Barbarian is my favorite class in ADOM, you get the idea.

And I have to say, I feel like Rage Mage doesn't really work. It has too many clashing incentives. And not fun "carefully balancing" clashing incentives, more like unfun "tries to go against the grain of the game and just ends up sucking" clashing incentives.

Rage Mage is a lot of fun for the first thirty or so floors, and plays how I would expect: a raging, hyper aggressive barbarian. I can consistently clear the starter dungeons, Grendels cave, and the Labryinth without much difficulty and tons of run. However, right around the time you hit the bottom of the orc/troll cave, I feel like Rage Mage loses its steam and starts to feel weak (this is also, probably not coincidentally, the point at which you've learned just about everything from the town books).

Fundamentally, I think the problem is that way too many of their spells go against their theme. Rage Mages are rewarded for being aggressive. They lose spell points very rapidly if they're not doing or taking damage, and gain them very rapidly if they are doing or taking damage. So in order for a Rage Mage to function at peak performance, they need to be doing damage at every opportunity (not taking damage, damage is so high relative to HP in Frogcomposband, that taking damage is just going to get you killed). However, across the first two spell books, there are only *four* direct damage spells:

Shout, Greater Shout, Awesome Blow, and Whirlwind Attack.

The rest of the spells are utility spells and buff spells. Having a few buff or utility spells is fine, but having most of your spells be things you want to cast outside of combat just means that Rage Mage is way less versatile and interesting doing the thing that they feel like they're supposed to be versatile and interesting doing: fighting lots of enemies.

On standard book casters utility spells make sense. Their books are taking up inventory slots, so they probably don't have room for a Rod of Detection and a Wand of Digging and a Staff of Enlightnment. A Rage Mage doesn't need (or want) their books in their inventory, so they have plenty of room for such things. Meanwhile, the spells themselves are tedious to cast because you have to first punch yourself to use them. It also just doesn't make sense from a thematic point of view. If your magic is fueled by rage and combat, shouldn't your spells be all about rage and combat?

Buff spells are also problematic for a Rage Mage because of how damned expensive they are. First, if you cast them outside of combat it takes twice as long to cast them (focus rage, cast the spell, focus rage, cast the next spell). Not only do they take twice as long to cast, but you're effectively casting them from hitpoints so then you're either going to start a fight down as much as a third of your HP, or you're wasting precious buff time drinking (precious) healing potions. However, if you cast them in combat, then they are *expensive*. They of course have the same SP cost and spell failure chance that all spells have, they have the opportunity cost that buff spells always have (you could have been attacking or healing instead), and they *also* have the opportunity cost of spell points that you didn't earn by attacking, *and* spell points lost by decay. So the veterans blessing doesn't actually cost 7 spell points. It costs 7 + however much you would have gained by using Greater Shout instead + how every much you lose from decay. Standard casters don't generally have this problem, because they go into most fights with full SP, and there are tools they can get later in the game to regain SP (tools that a Rage Mage can't use for reasonable reasons). They also don't lose SP every round.

Don't get me wrong, Rage Mage has some nice buff spells. They're just soooo incredibly expensive. And it's not like their buff spells are orders of magnitude more powerful than other buff spells out there.

This isn't a big deal at first, because Shout, Evasive Leap and Greater Shout are strong enough to carry you through the big fights in the early game. Then we hit the orcish mines, and we start to see the costs a Rage Mage has to pay, costs that don't bring enough benefits. First, here is where you start running into summoners, high HP monsters, and monsters with nasty ranged attacks. Keeping lots of enemies in LOS is now incredibly dangerous, and a Rage Mage, despite supposedly thriving when lots of enemies are in LOS, just can't keep up. Greater Shout and Whirlwind Attack don't do anywhere near enough damage to make up for the summons popping up everywhere, the arrows skewering them, and the HP sponges battering them. So a Rage Mage has to do what every other warrior does: fall back into anti-summoning corridors.

Now, Rage Mages are gaining way less SP, Whirlwind Attack and Evasive Leap are pointless, and Greater Shout is good for dazing your opponent, which helps, but isn't your bread and butter. This is where Awesome Blow seems like it's supposed to shine: after all if you smash an enemy into the wall, you could be doing up to 50 + 250 damage. For comparison, your Rage Mage is probably doing between 100 and 150 with a regular attack. However, Awesome Blow is:

1. So expensive that you're probably only able to use it every two to three turns or so (at which point, it ends up *not* doing more damage than your regular attack).

2. Has a chance of failure, just like every other spell.

3. Can miss! So even if you have enough SP, and you successfully cast the spell, the damned thing can miss! Not only are you paying the opportunity cost of casting a spell that failed instead of just attacking, but you're also losing both the cost of the spell, the SP that you would have gotten from doing damage, and SP from decay! At least with Whirlwind Attack, you're doing a full round of attack against every adjacent enemy, so you're probably going to hit *something*.

Between these three, Awesome Blow's expected damage plummets, and you end up probably doing less damage by using Awesome Blow than you do just attacking. So now we're in a situation where the Rage Mage is reduced to a weak Warrior. Their spells, the big thing that's supposed to make up for their weaker melee are rendered pretty much useless.

tl;dr Rage Mage's magic encourages the player to break one of the rules of Frogcomposband by keeping lots of enemies in LOS. However, you don't get anywhere *near* enough benefits to make up for the huge disparity in the action economy. Also, very few of their spells are actually meant to be used in situations where you have lots of SP.

There are a couple of possible buffs that I can think of:

1. Reduce the rate at which you lose SP each round. You don't need to go as far as Blackguards in Vanilla, who basically have infinite SP in the endgame. But reducing the rate will significantly reduce the opportunity cost of buffs and of miscast spells. Maybe your spell decay decreases with more monsters in LOS? So you don't gain SP from just having monsters in LOS, but you do keep what you have.

2. Strip out the utility spells and replace them with more offensive oriented spells. Some more single target spells so that they do better one on one. Some crowd control spells (a spell that inflicts confusion like the Staff of Confusion, or fear for example) would make keeping lots of enemies in LOS much more feasible. The buff spells you could probably keep if you reduce the SP decay rate, because they are very nice and they'll have less opportunity cost that way. Hell, even just not replacing the utility spells, and shifting a bunch of spells forward might be a big enough power boost, since the fact that the books are consumable means it takes a long time for Rage Mages to get spells after the town books.

3. Reduce the cost of Awesome Blow and/or give it a big bonus to to-hit. You'd probably need to create a slightly different version, rather than just reusing the one used by the Mauler. I haven't played the Mauler, but I'm assuming that for them Awesome Blow is a technique like a Polearmmaster's techniques: a low HP cost, and a zero fail rate, in which case they can use it every round if they want, and missing is the only way for the spell to fail. I've actually implemented this change locally, though I haven't had a chance to playtest it yet (I also dropped the costs of the utility spells to zero to reduce tedium, tempted to do the same thing to the buffs, though for now I just doubled their duration).

4. Implement something like what the Blackguard has, where you heal every time you cast spells (maybe heal an amount equal to the cost of the spell?). This would go a long way to improving the Rage Mage's resilience, and would make up for their lower single target damage output compared to a warrior, and their lack of healing compared to paladins. Also means that if Awesome Blow misses, your turn isn't *completely* wasted.

5. Give Rage Mages some spells that allow them to better handle the action economy disparity that their playstyle encourages. A spell that grants them one or more auras for example (I think Rage Mages having the shards or retaliation auras would be thematic), maybe a spell that gives them Reflection, something that gives them a flat damage reduction. Give them *something* that allows them to tank hordes of enemies attacking them at once.

I really love the idea of the Rage Mage, and I have a ton of fun playing them at first. I just think that they need to be significantly reworked to live up to their promise.

Sideways September 21, 2020 16:55

Thank you for the suggestions and feedback!

I seem to recall my main misgiving when I played Rage-Mage was that my winner relied on Greater Shout way too much and it got a bit onerous. Admittedly I also got to CL50 on a character who barely used Greater Shout at all, but I think I was underestimating it on that run and that particular character was also pretty much optimally set up for having other viable options.

My immediate instinct was to nerf Greater Shout; but Rage-Mages just don't have that many other options. So I gave some consideration to buffing their melee, which is underwhelming once you get into the game a bit; stronger melee would keep spells like Veteran's Blessing more useful and give Rage-Mages another way to handle big fights besides just using Greater Shout and Mana Clash on everybody. It was not too bad on my deep runs as it was since they were both werewolves, which to some extent sidestepped Rage-Mage's main melee problem, low blows; but even then, I could see it being potentially much worse on a more normal character.

I did not follow through on it at the time, since werewolf 2 proved the basic viability of the shout-at-everybody approach regardless of race and my main concern was making sure that rage-mages worked at all without crashing all the time; but I have kept the idea in mind, and buffs to Awesome Blow could certainly be part of a melee buff.

archolewa September 21, 2020 17:16

Yeah, I probably should have mentioned the race I was using. I've been mostly playing a Barbarian Rage Mage, since it's most thematic and it gives me Berserk (which based on code diving apparently buffs many of the Rage Mage's spells) much sooner and without using a precious dungeon book to get it.

Improved melee would definitely be a benefit, since they really feel like warriors supplemented with spells, despite their 0% fail rate.

Where exactly are the blow counts determined? I've been doing some code diving, but can't for the life of me figure out how and where the max blows for each class is set.

I can easily enough try out some of the tweaks pointed out here (lower spell decay, buffed Awesome Blow, more melee blows), and send you a PR if I decide the changes improve the class enough to be worth it. You'll have to take my balance-sense with a grain of salt since I'm not very good at this game (I've only reached the Serpent once, with a polearmmaster, but that was with wilderness off, and he kicked my ass).

Sideways September 21, 2020 18:13


Originally Posted by archolewa (Post 148461)
Where exactly are the blow counts determined? I've been doing some code diving, but can't for the life of me figure out how and where the max blows for each class is set.

They're in combat.c, I should probably move that data to the class files but it's a fair bit of work for no immediate benefit.

Pete Mack September 21, 2020 23:53

Did you snaffle the new parsing code from V? It is MUCH cleaner and easier than the older implementations.

Sideways September 22, 2020 00:48

Frog has its own parsing code, which has been gradually improved over time (including by me), not sure who wrote the bulk of it (not me). Frog's code meets Frog's needs and V's code meets V's needs; both can do things the other can't, and I have no desire to copy V's code.

In any case, no parser is involved here; class specifications are hardcoded and I have no plan to change that, I was talking about moving combat specifications from combat.c to ragemage.c (and other class-specific files) so all rage-mage specifications would be in one place. I know V specifies as much as it can in class.txt, and acknowledge the merits of that approach in making class specifications easier for the casual player to edit (which is not necessarily the case for some of Nick's other edit files...); but Frog needs to worry about lots of little things that are easily handled in code but would complicate the edit-file approach enormously, and class-specific code is needed for other stuff anyway.

(Although Frog does still also have some edit files for classes, to specify things like weapon proficiency caps and spell availability/cost for the standard book realms.)

archolewa September 22, 2020 03:16

Honestly, the class stuff in Frog as it is is fine. The only thing I had difficulty finding was the blows, but now that Sideways told me where it was, I was able to make some (fairly significant) changes to Rage Mage in the span of a few hours:

1. Max blows are now 4.5 (instead of 3, assuming I'm reading the max blows right). More than most other pure casters, but not as much as other hybrids (or even as much as priests).

2. Gave Awesome Blow a probably ridiculous accuracy buff (+200) for Rage Mage only. We'll see how it plays out.

3. Replaced every out of combat utility spell except smash (thematic) and barbarian lore (probably extremely useful for people who actually have item identification turned on) with buff spells.

I know I whined about the large number of buff spells, but those were really easy to add, since it was just flipping a flag on for various statuses. Offensive spells would probably be more complicated, and I figure that at least the buff spells will be more thematic than the utility spells. The buff spells mostly either increase the Rage Mage's melee capabilities, or make it easier for the Rage Mage to fight crowds.

a. Unstoppable Rage replaces Detect Magic Foe, and grants temporary regeneration. This should improve your resilience a bit while you're jumping around and shouting at people.

b. Blade of Rage replaces Light Area, and grants Enlarge Weapon. Based on reading in the code, it looks like Enlarge Weapon increases your weapon's damage dice. Not a big difference early, but should stack well with brands (like say, Rage Mage's high level off-weapon Force brand spell) and powerful weapons.

c. Cloud of Daggers replaces Rage Sustenance, and grants you a Shards Aura. Not only will this grant an effective bonus to melee DPS, but it should allow you to better handle multiple melee monsters attacking at once. My hope is that this plus Whirlwind Attack will allow you to facetank three or more trolls at once.

d. Crude Mapping has been replaced with Rage Reflection. This grants you Reflection, and should make you more survivable when facing hordes of ranged opponents. Note that this plus Spell Turning may be a bit overpowered, since with both active you'll be able to reflect every type of ranged attack that enemies can throw at you. We will have to see.

e. Detect Magic has been replaced with Mountain of Rage, which enlarges you (pretty sure this will give the same effect as a Potion of Giant Strength).

All of these buffs have their durations roughly doubled if you cast them while Berserking.

I'm play testing it right now, to see if these make a difference. My hope is that if this does work, it effectively gives the Rage Mage two modes: spells that make the Rage Mage more effective against physical opponents (i.e. the town books) and spells that make the Rage Mage more effective against spellcasters (i.e. the dungeon books). A lot of the tactics for Rage Mage then become figuring the best time to cast each buff.

Melee is mostly regular attacks supplemented with the occasional spell depending on your situation, while range is mostly shouting and the anti-spellcaster attack spells, supplemented with arrows.

Sideways September 23, 2020 01:24

Will be interested to hear how it goes. I don't think Enlarge Weapon as currently coded actually works on anything other than Ruyi Jingu Bang; the code wants to make sure using Ruyi Jingu Bang's activation only enlarges it and not any other weapon you might swap in or be dual-wielding, so it takes advantage of the simplifying assumption that there are no other sources of Enlarge Weapon.

In this case, that's probably just as well; my instinct is that 4.50 blows combined with easy access to Enlarge Weapon would encourage a "forget about every other spell and just kill everyone with an enlarged Sting" playstyle.

archolewa September 23, 2020 03:17


Originally Posted by Sideways (Post 148493)
Will be interested to hear how it goes. I don't think Enlarge Weapon as currently coded actually works on anything other than Ruyi Jingu Bang; the code wants to make sure using Ruyi Jingu Bang's activation only enlarges it and not any other weapon you might swap in or be dual-wielding, so it takes advantage of the simplifying assumption that there are no other sources of Enlarge Weapon.

In this case, that's probably just as well; my instinct is that 4.50 blows combined with easy access to Enlarge Weapon would encourage a "forget about every other spell and just kill everyone with an enlarged Sting" playstyle.

I figured there would be some niches like this. It's not exactly easy tracking down what each status does, so I was sort of flying bind. Just skimmed through the effects code and was all "well, this looks cool, and if it's ridiculously powerful that'll probably be obvious, and/or Sideways will nix it."

I honestly figured that Enlarge Weapon probably just increased the number of dice faces by a few points, like going from 1d8 to 1d10, which is nice (and gets nicer the more dice you roll) but doesn't seem like that big a jump when your weapon already has a +15 damage bonus.

Regardless, if it isn't actually doing anything and/or has a bigger effect than I thought (I'm leaning towards the former, haven't really seen much of a difference yet in my playing), then I'll just remove that spell.

archolewa September 23, 2020 04:08

For now, I've replaced Blade of Rage with Scare Monster. Scaring a single monster seems like a reasonably thematic spell. Maybe useless, maybe overpowered, I don't know how reliable scare is, but we'll just have to see!

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