Thread: Sil-Q Review
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Old January 4, 2019, 21:48   #4
Join Date: Mar 2016
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Quirk is on a distinguished road
Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
Removing Deathblades maybe the right choice. They had become the most egregious of the remaining monsters in terms of fit for the world (even if Tolkien does do talking swords). They did play an interesting role as an opponent that light-weapon characters would have difficulty with but actively want to fight. I wonder if something else should be filling a similar role in the monster ecosystem.
I agree deathblades filled an interesting role. I have though been looking for foes more rooted in Tolkien; partly because even Tevildo and the cats make players less steeped in lore raise eyebrows, and am not finding it altogether easy. I've generally tried to steer clear of large re-engineerings of how the existing set of enemies work as I want the game still to feel like Sil.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
Both Phantoms and Brood spiders are interesting early game monsters. I think in each case you’ve put them slightly too early, though.
I'm going to put this together with:
Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • Filthy rags and broken swords removed.
Feel a bit negative about this change. It seems like it’s coming from an aesthetic of only presenting the player with interesting choices. However, the choice not to use these items is actually a trivial one for players – not just in terms of there being not an interesting choice, but there being no hassle cost associated with not using them. So I think the cost of having them in is relatively negligible.
So - early game, Sil is very plain. There are a handful of enemies you might see at 50': wolves, orcs, tanglethorn, grimhawk - maybe spider hatchlings, orc scouts, blue serpents. Despite this, it's got a brutal reputation among players who haven't spent long with it. New players often die quickly, and then come back to the same spare first couple of levels, and die again without experiencing much of the game, only seeing enemies that are relatively dull in Sil terms. This is not helped by the list of sexy abilities which are both tempting to newbies and mostly worse in the very early game than sinking points into skills. Worse, though, I observe very experienced players wiping out at 100' or 150' much more frequently than one might expect.

Part of this is that it's very lumpy. Getting protection early on is particularly important for the survival of players unused to the stealth mechanics, but you can very easily get screwed on drops and not see any. The "hassle cost" in not using the items is that they make a drop a non-drop at a point in the game where orc soldiers are about to spike the difficulty. Once you have some quantity of armour, the next couple of hundred feet are decidedly less challenging. Getting that armour when many of the drops are useless is not a given. And, of course, there are still useless drops even after dropping the actual useless drops - seeing nothing but shortswords still leaves you horribly ill-equipped.

Harsh and highly random difficulty at a point where the player has barely seen the game and feels they've hardly made any real choices is IMO questionable, and I think not deliberate. I read Sil complaints such as:
Originally Posted by A player on /r/roguelikes
I was a little disappointed by the way the enemies I encountered felt pretty samey, and that almost all of my deaths came from just being a little too surrounded by boring mobs. The dungeon itself is almost featureless, in contrast to the OP's two picks.
I felt like there was a rich complex game under the surface of this first-contact experience and sameyness of the first few floors every run
and I cringe, because I can see exactly how they got there.

There are two tacks I've taken here: one is to ease early difficulty, and one is to give the player more to see. Improving item drops counts for both, and brood spiders and phantoms are not hard to fight, but necessitate very different tactics to fighting orcs or wolves. I agree phantoms could go a little deeper, perhaps with some buffing, but in that case I would like to find something equally interesting to confront the player with at 50'.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
I rather like the paired orc uniques, although I seem to encounter them a bit too often (also be aware that paired uniques are quite a chunk of experience for the player; possibly they could do with a slight buff).
They began buffed, and got gradually debuffed after player complaints. Some of the players complaining certainly knew how to play, so I took them seriously. Of course, nobody complains when they're a little too weak so maybe they've gone too far.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • Blunt weapon damage is not fully absorbed by armour
I don’t love the implementation of this one. I do think it’s an interesting way to differentiate blunt weapons, but I think there’s some flavour + incentive fail, of e.g. carrying around a quarterstaff so that you can easily deal with grotesques.
So - I actually don't love this either. The problem though was that blunt weapons were almost strictly worse than alternatives. Axes have many dice and are good if you are strong. Polearms have many dice sides and are good if you're weak (well, in theory). Swords are a happy medium, and grant evasion. Blunt weapons...? Sceptres are an odd flavour choice, and unplayably bad without a certain ego. Quarterstaffs grant evasion at the cost of not being able to have a shield, and do pitiful damage. Hammers are slightly weak but fixably so.

I could have thrown out sceptres and quarterstaffs altogether, but having hammers sit in a smithing category on their own felt wrong, and it wasn't clear what kind of identity any other blunt weapons would take - or even could take, given we have the Power weapons in the axe corner, the Finesse weapons in the polearm corner, and the swords in the middle. In the end I fell back on the well-used anti-armour trope, which is at least rooted in real medieval warfare, though it's not particularly suited to sceptres and quarterstaffs.

I would love to get to discuss this further.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • Stealth is boosted a little at early levels and lowers as you descend
I’m basically happy to defer on whether this improves balance, but the implementation feels a little bit clunky: why not tweak monster Perception scores instead?
Well, the effect is largely the same whether Perception is decreased or Stealth increased, but it came out of an initial misguided attempt to improve Stealth before I did my own pacifist runs and came to the conclusion there was little wrong with it. I agree that it would probably be thematically better to adjust monster perception instead.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • Monsters scared from the level yield a (little) experience
This one I again remember a conversation about whether we should do this. We decided against, because the player has already been given experience for the encounter, and it’s not obvious that scaring them off should yield more than sneaking past them. I don’t feel strongly about that conclusion.

I do feel strongly that the implementation is a bad one. The manual says “This is calculated as the current experience that would be gained for seeing a new monster of that type divided by the number of monsters of that type that have been scared upstairs or downstairs.”. This incentivises weird behaviour: there is more total experience available if you scare some monsters away rather than just kill them, and there is more available if the ones you scare are among the first few you encounter.

If you want experience for scaring monsters off the level, the simplest thing would be to count them as defeated, and award the experience for killing them (for non-uniques). A little less simple but still non-distortionary would be to count them as “half a kill” (in either case this should update the experience available for future kills as well as future scares).
I am not convinced this is good either. One or two people pushed for it, and initially it yielded experience equivalent to a kill. This was clearly too good because scaring is easier than killing. I think half a kill would possibly be too bad, as it would be a significant loss of possible XP for monsters you see early on. As it is, the reward is barely useful - yes, if you scare the first monster you meet you get half the experience you got for seeing them (this is worse than killing them), but walking into a room, seeing and scaring three new monsters of the same type gets you just 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/12 of the experience you'd get for killing one.

I don't think Majesty/Elbereth need this and I'm not sure this is enough to help the scary pacifist anyway. I would be disposed to remove it again, I think it is probably a mistake.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • All stairs are shafts during the escape
I believe that this could create better gameplay, but the implementation has(for me) a weird breaking-of-immersion. Could the change happen more off-screen, so that they appear as just stairs on the level, but taking any stairs with a Silmaril makes you go an extra 50’?

Relatedly, I don’t think removing crumbling stairs on the ascent straight works: stair-scumming to try and get two in the same room is pretty powerful. One could not increase the relevant variable for taking up staircases on the ascent (and perhaps not for taking down staircases in the main game).

A more extreme alternative would be to have “the stairs crumble behind you” on the ascent, so you’re always dropped into a level without an immediate escape. (I think this might be pretty interesting to play with, actually.)
These are all useful thoughts. The stairs crumbling when you were escaping in the most natural manner possible seemed a petty and frustrating annoyance, so I removed it, but I actually very much like your idea of the stairs crumbling behind the player.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • Traps easier to detect and disarm
This might be alright, but I notice I’m worried about it. I think traps throwing players into unexpected and difficult circumstances provide some of the most exciting moments in the game. If it’s too easy to opt out of the dealing-with-traps game, people will do that, and then the game will be less interesting.
I think traps lead to a lot of frustrating deaths that feel unfair, as well as randomly eroding armour and whisking people off the level where they've finally found a forge. These are mostly bad play experiences. When I hear players talk about traps, pretty much everything I've heard has been strongly negative.

I would like in the long run to make traps feel more fair. This means letting players determine from the environment that there might be traps about, so they can slow down and play accordingly. I have done this to a small degree lately with spider-infested rooms which have webs; ages ago I considered generating whole levels which felt like caves or felt like underground city, where one might consider the cave with skeletons likely to be spider-infested, or the treasury likely to be booby-trapped. Without doing this though they're a random frustration of the players' plans, placed without logic to ruin your armour.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • you now start with a curved sword equipped
This one is a convenience for experienced players, but removes something about the feeling of desperation at the start, and also doesn’t include the subtle nudge to make sure new players know how to equip things. I feel mixed about it overall.
This also I fought for a long time. Eventually I started looking at starting equipment, trying to find something that better differentiated the starting races and made it look like you were there on purpose: why are you in Angband unequipped, and why has someone left a sword lying next to you? I couldn't quite settle on starting equipment I liked and put it off for another day, but made a concession to the mpa-sil crowd. I am also mixed.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
I believe that polearms may have been slightly underpowered before, but I think not by much, and the stat changes here are one of several different buffs they’ve received. I think this may be a bit much overall. I’ll discuss in the abilities section.
Having simulated: I strongly disagree.

Two-handed weapons are in general not great for much of the game. The lack of protection means you take damage a shield would spare you. They do gain something because you can half-kill an unaware enemy, or finish one enemy before another arrives, but the ratio of damage dealt to damage received is in simulation mostly bad. Even being very strong doesn't make a two-handed weapon look great in an extended brawl in a corridor - but here I'm talking about axes and greatswords. Great spears and even glaives are frankly terrible in Sil in comparison - and then, to add insult to injury, elves get a bonus to sword proficiency, making them even worse.

Then we get to the one polearm that you can wear a shield with, the spear. The Sil spear does (-1, 1d9). A longsword is (0, 2d5)[+1]. A spear is 3 lb, so you need to crit by 10 to get a second d9.

With 0 strength (most players have at least 1), the spear is doing an average of 5 damage with 1 die, 10 with 2 dice. The longsword does 6 damage with one die, 9 with 2. In practice it would outdamage the spear in most realistic confrontations - at 0 strength - even without having both a melee and evasion bonus. Then of course we have elf sword proficiency on top of that, so the most-played races have even less incentive to use them.

Spears have had a lot of buffs. They have needed them.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
If Robes are also very often special, I think it’s squeezing on the natural market of leather armour even further. Then there’s a judgement call to be made on whether it feels flavourful to have a significant proportion of characters descending into the depths of Angband doing so in robes. Maybe that’s OK actually?
I don't see many players using robes - the first little bit of protection makes a huge difference. Early game they're certainly very much worse than leather armour.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
An exception is around new bows. Sil tried quite carefully to make bows ignorable for characters who didn’t want to dabble in archery (with a single mild exception in Belthronding). But several of the new special types have bonuses that matter outside of archery, which means that they start to matter. I find this is somewhat immersion-breaking.
So this is a case of hard choices. Someone made the point that having a bow care about what it's pointing at is silly. Why would a bow slay dragons but not orcs? An arrow might be enchanted to special deadliness, but the bow is just the launcher.

It turns out that once you've removed slaying from bows, it's hard to make good bow egos. Putting archery abilities on them only negates the point of archers taking them (and if archers don't want ego bows, who does?).

Having also disliked the idea of having bows affect non-archers, I found I didn't really have much of a choice if I wanted bows to have egos and didn't want to write a ton of new code to do special bow-specific things. The latter may yet happen, as my muted feelings as to how much bonus is fair on a bow has made them possibly a little dull, but it wasn't a question for this release.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
  • Horns now affect a cone instead of a straight line
Nice! I’ve thought that something like this could be good. (Spitballing: maybe there could be an artefact horn of dragonfire, which lets you create flame like a dragon?)
I like the idea, but I can think of at least one Tolkien fan whose hackles I suspect would rise at it. An artefact horn would be cool though.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
I do still think that damage sides on weapons are underpriced relative to accuracy on weapons. (Based on old combat-simulation spreadsheets.)
I find the rules governing the costs confusing. One of the aesthetics we aimed for in Sil was trying to have good behaviour come out of fairly simple rules. I think this is particularly good if achievable for smithing, since the player needs to be able to plan. On the other hand perhaps it was already relatively opaque, and it just seemed more transparent to me because I’d been involved in the design.
Ironically, it's trying to keep things simple which I think is the root of the issue there.

Melee and evasion are still priced the same way over all items. Evasion is easy to get to be completely broken late-game. High Melee is much less broken. Costs which are necessary to prevent stupid late-game Evasion look oddly high for Melee.

I think +Melee on weapons could be a good deal cheaper and not be broken. Weaponsmith in particular is a good deal more limited than armoursmith, so it needs to make its weapons count. I am less sure about Melee costs on armoursmith, which gets to double up its advantages with both heavy armour and gauntlets. Possibly the calculations need split.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
Things that were particularly surprising to me:
  • Why is it so expensive to move a shortsword weight down to 1lb?
  • Why is it so cheap to increase protection on a hauberk (e.g. relative to a corslet), and one can do it twice?
1d8 shortswords at 1 lb are broken good with Subtlety. Devastatingly so. Weakening Subtlety would make them less desirable, but leave pretty much any other choice underwhelming. Were they cheap to make, they would displace every other possible weapon a Subtlety build might take.

Hauberks are worse than corslets. I spent a bunch of time simulating and playing with the stats. At 2d6 they're slightly better, though still heavier, and are worse than corslets again once corslets hit 2d5. They drop deeper than corslets, so by the default smithing mechanics, a hauberk is more expensive, and a fine hauberk more expensive than a fine corslet.

I don't know if anyone is smithing hauberks, but I wanted to make players have some reason to choose to do so.

Protection incidentally is cheaper than before and Evasion more expensive: this is largely because in the early game, protection is very good, often better than an extra point of Evasion, but in the late game Evasion is king. Smithing is now priced more round the late game than the early game. A 2d7 hauberk will carry you easily through the levels where enemies do 2d7 or 3d6 damage, but late on where enemies hit for 2d19 or 3d13 and criticals are extremely damaging the lost Melee and Evasion are less amply compensated.

Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
I’m not quite certain that either of those are mistakes! But I’d prefer to have an elegant system that naturally generates outcomes like this, and can be explained to the player, if one exists. (Maybe with a few exceptions that get special flags)
This proves to be a little difficult. Symmetry is always tempting, but often the things we are looking at are not actually symmetrical. Evasion is not the same as Melee, and Perception is less useful point for point than Stealth. More than this, the equations change over the course of the game as the gap between the player's Melee and Evasion and the enemies' Melee and Evasion widens, and to cap it all, these things do not widen linearly: as soon as you roll two dice against one another, you find yourself in binomial land, and while +1 Evasion may reduce your odds of being hit by 10% when you're both equal, when you're already 17 Evasion ahead that same +1 Evasion can halve your odds of being hit.

In the end, I'd rather have an asymmetrical system in which players looking for an advantage disagree which route is best than an elegant symmetrical system in which experienced players always take the obviously best choice.
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