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Old October 4, 2015, 00:41   #1
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The Town and the Future of Angband

Hey Folks,

Long time player, first time poster here. As background, I have almost experienced the entire history of Angband (from a player perspective), starting with the initial X11 and IBM ports (I believe V2.7.2 or V2.7.4 was the first version I downloaded from the old "" site) during the Ben Harrison Era around 1994 up through the latest 4.0.3 release. I have witnessed the The Great Code Cleanup, The Introduction of Fractional Speeds, Object Stacking, The Explosion of Variants, The Great GPL Push, The Game Engine/User Interface Code Separation Project, you name it. I've put the game down for years at a time, but have always been pleased that the community has kept it alive during the times I have taken significant breaks from it.

I've been thinking about the recent changes that have occurred since 3.5.x and have a few thoughts...

1. I LOVE that we can *finally* edit a character's history during character generation. I have a tradition (when) playing a High-Elven Mage as Lúthien (or Tinúviel) -- that I don't care how long it takes(!), she'd better be "the only child of a Telerian King", with "light grey eyes, straight black hair, and a fair complexion". More time than I'd care to admit has been lost to this detail...

2. Flattening out the loot progression a bit has been a long time coming. There is more to be done in my opinion, but it's better than it used to be.

3. No selling in the town feels like a half measure -- and this is really the point of my post. I am recently coming off of one of those longish breaks, and wasn't aware of the "birth_no_selling" flag when I started a new game, so imagine my surprise when I first experienced it in the shops. After playing with it for a while, I can understand why the change was made, since it has significantly altered my tactical approach to Angband not only on a level-to-level basis, but also with respect to the game as a whole. So I don't hate it, but I certainly don't love it either.

In my opinion, the fact that this change was deemed necessary shows how broken (and exploitative) the town really is. If the town is to remain in future versions of Angband, then it feels very unrealistic for players to be unable to sell to the shopkeepers (yes, I know I can change it). Even though I don't outright disagree with the change per say, it still just "feels wrong" when playing the game. And it's pretty annoying to see so little variation in the wares being offered by the stores under this setting.

Here's what I'd really like to see:

The Town has always been an immersion breaker. Yes, Angband is only loosely based on Tolkien, but the point of the game is to kill Morgoth, and having a town sit right on top of the Entrance to the Dungeon of Doom seems so unrealistic to me. Over the past couple of years I was so glad to see some of the other non-immersive elements (i.e., monster types) be stripped from the game, but I would like to see this idea taken further.

Here's my proposal:

1. Kill the Town.
2. Add hidden caches containing different flavors of items throughout some of the levels to compensate. Angband is Morgoth's stronghold fortress after all, and there should be storage caches hidden around somewhere! Cobwebs or fake walls, anyone?
3. Have the caches also act as safe-havens for characters, central deposits for storing items, and for allowing characters to re-acquire base loot.
4. Enable Word of Recall spells recall a character back to the caches after one has been marked with a rune or something. Maybe even introduce different types of recall spells/runes to take you to specific flavors of caches.

With no Towns, the flexibility of purchasing certain types of loot will be lost (to a degree), so to further compensate:

5. Make a distinction between different types of precious metals, gems, and money found within the game. Have a loot bag or something similar to store these items in.
6. Add forges to the game, in a similar, yet different manner to Sil.
7. Use the precious metals/gems/money as the base and/or accent materials for forging items. This will provide players with some flexibility in what they create.
8. Introduce a skill based system that allows players to more easily forge certain types of items based upon Race and Class. Maybe have forging also be dependent upon blueprints or something (other smelted weapons/armour?) that can also be acquired in the dungeon.

In this manner, the need(?) for a Black Market is replaced with the ability for characters to forge increasingly OP (but not unique) items to fill in some of the gaps when the RNG is being unkind.

A similar thing could be done for potions via Alchemy stations.

Nick also has some big ideas, and I'd love to see them implemented.

I'm ALL for different terrain types (I believe one of the original old-school versions of Angband lost to time was supposed to have water in it). Bring on the lava, water, gas, mud, rocky terrain, etc.

I'm all for a rebalancing of the Magic system around Arcane vs Nature, and Holy vs Unholy. Bring on the tightening of the spells so that they are more focused and useful.

I'm all for introducing outposts and tactical defensive/offensive points. Bring on varied tactical terrain challenges that would make the game more strategic.

In short (long?), I think it's time for the community to think BIG for future versions of Vanilla Angband. The code is GPL'd, on GIT, and if *everyone* hates a major change, it can always be reverted. I think for too long the mentality has been "V is for Vanilla", but with that mentality, the game has stagnated (sometimes for years at a time) as a result.

Nick -- Continue to THINK BIG! Take some risks with the game design! Be bold! Some people will hate you for it, but not this crusty old veteran.

EDITED for grammar.


Last edited by Tirith; October 4, 2015 at 02:32.
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Old October 4, 2015, 04:44   #2
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First off: welcome to the forums!

As for the town and terrain, I strongly disagree!

Terrain types appear in various variants, I hate them with a passion and avoid levels overly cluttered with special terrain like the plague. I also dont like cave levels and if there was a birth option to not have them generated, I would check it. I basically never play on them, but move on asap.

The reason is simply that both disrupt the flow of play. The original dungeon type allows for quick exploration with shift-direction, has a well-defined and usefull illumination mechanics and doesnt require *press-one-key-at-a-time-slowly* exploration for boring levels. Slow and tactical movement where I pause every move does happen and is required for the game to be intersting, but not on a random level (of which I have to advance through 100), only in special situations when dangerous monsters are close or there is a vault.

The best feature of Vanilla is that it has the sophisticated interface to deal with complex situations, but also the routines to speed up the repetitious stages. Without the latter, I wouldnt play ASCII games at all.

As for immersion, I have little problem imagining a town near a dungeon entrance, but lava next to inhabitable areas kicks me right out. And the original Angband town predates Tolkien :P
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Old October 4, 2015, 04:58   #3
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I wouldn't mind more flavor for the town. I always assumed it was more like an outpost or shantytown -- a bunch of merchants setting up shop to profit off of the adventurers that have come to explore the ruins. This nicely explains why there's so many unsavory types around town, why the exchange rates are so unfavorable for the player, and why the merchants tend to move on after maybe a few weeks' stint. But we could always add more bits and bobs of flavor -- "tents" around the perimeter, broken bottles everywhere, maybe an abandoned shop or two. Make the layout change day-to-day as the merchants set up shop in different buildings, or buildings collapse and new ones get built.

None of this would have much of an impact on the main gameplay, but it'd be nice flavor.

Regarding your other suggestions, I guess my reaction boils down to "go ahead and implement it and we'll see how it works." I tend to be extremely cautious about crafting systems in games though, since they almost always end up severely distorting the rest of the game around them and they can be incredibly fiddly to balance correctly.
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Old October 4, 2015, 05:33   #4
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Horrifying! D:

I always thought the Tolkien stuff was unrealistic, since Tolkien-world isn't real. Also think it's bad to appropriate commercial properties for use in free games. Would be better to scrap it and have an independently themed game.

Agree that town is bad, though it's core angband distinguishing thematic material. Would be better to remove town and word of recall and put towns and shops in the dungeon. Agree that vanilla is too conservative in development. Needs a vision independent of what variant maintainers stuck in the 90s have done.

Also, crafting is bad.
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Old October 4, 2015, 06:06   #5
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The issue isn't that I think the town needs spicing up -- I think the fact that the community came to a rough consensus effectively stating that it needed a 50% nerf illustrates how broken of a mechanic it is.

What is the point of the town?

1. A "Personalized" Starting Kit
2. Getting your Feet off the Ground
3. Mid-Game Storage
4. Consumables
5. Black Market

Short term, the first 2 matter intensely, but with some creativity, I believe both of these issues are readily addressable. Mid-game, storage is important, and long term, only the last two effectively matter, since by that point you pretty much carry with you as many contingency solutions as you think you need to deal with on your person anyway.

If the point of the no-sell policy is to force people away from scumming the town repeatedly, to stay down longer in the dungeon, and to avoid constantly spamming back to town to sell things off for gold (i.e., to buy that 10 mil AU +10 ring of speed from the Black Market), then really, why have the town at all?

I can envision starting the game in town with a bit more gold (maybe for your initial kit options), heading into a ravine, and having the passage collapse around you -- making a return trip to town impossible the rest of the game. All of the other mechanics the town serves in my opinion should be, and can be, addressed in the dungeon.

The fact that the need for Consumables and the Black Market are still seen as so necessary (via increased gold drops) alone tells me that the mechanic isn't anywhere close to being right.

A town that sells but doesn't buy alone should tell everyone that the mechanics are way off. It just doesn't make sense, even though from a game perspective, I partially agree with its implementation.
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Old October 4, 2015, 08:00   #6
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I think having a town does cause some issues. If you want to be able to go back to the town it would be tedious going one floor at a time (I like the chance of being able to go down multiple levels), but I think WoR kinda makes the dungeon seem smaller since you just go straight to the town and back.

Random idea for a variant: still 100+ levels. WoR keeps delay, but only brings you back up 20 levels. Towns or shops at DLvls 0, 20, 40 and 60. Reaching new towns would be an intuitive goal and the deeper ones could have nicer stuff for sale.
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Old October 4, 2015, 10:05   #7
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Angband has really gone a long way towards making the town useless, and also boring. It's one of the main things I notice when moving from O to V, along with the difficulty difference.

Early healing potions can be found in stacks, so the main use of buying potions in town is identification. By dlvl 10 I frequently have a massive stack of CLW, which is enough to remove blindness. CCW is a bit rarer, sure, but still quite possible to find at about the rate you use them.

Scrolls, well, only phase door, word of recall and identify are available (in O, you have teleport and teleport level in town), word of recall only serves to get to town, identify is less important than it used to be, and copiously available in the dungeon. Phase door I've occasionally had trouble getting, but is also present in stacks.

Shops 2, 3, and 6 sell things that are (except for daggers) too expensive for a starting character, and useless for anyone else, with the exception of staff of teleport. Mage/Priest books are important, but they're also starting to be easy to get because spellcasting monsters can drop them. Shop ammo stops being useful in general pretty quickly, although you can find some good stuff. The general store sells food, light and ammo, and all of those exist in the dungeon with okay frequency, or are quickly made irrelevant.

That leaves the Black Market, which is the only store that sells things a dlvl 20+ character is likely to want, with the exception of the basic consumables that are getting easier to find anyway. It can sell potions of speed or healing, scrolls of teleport or teleport level, a high-end wand/rod/staff, even something with speed. It's the only reason to even bother coming back to town. It's still really unlikely to give you anything. The chance they'll stock something good at a point when you can afford it is rather small.

In general, the town exists to make sure you can have the things you really need to have. I'm not sure if that's enough to justify its existence. There are probably better ways to handle giving characters things.

As for making them boring, shopkeeper racism was vaguely amusing, CHA only ever had an effect in town, though I agree it should have been removed. Sales were eliminated, which is a huge shame, because finding something at 90% off was always fun.

I'm not sure a crafting system will work, because either you can make things better than anything you can find, in which case it's overpowered, or you can't, in which case it's pointless. Sil solves this issue by limiting the amount of things you can make. Angband can't do that.
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Old October 4, 2015, 11:02   #8
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Originally Posted by Tarrasque View Post
Random idea for a variant: still 100+ levels. WoR keeps delay, but only brings you back up 20 levels. Towns or shops at DLvls 0, 20, 40 and 60. Reaching new towns would be an intuitive goal and the deeper ones could have nicer stuff for sale.
This sounds like the variants that have multiple dungeons and towns, just in a vertical format.
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Old October 4, 2015, 13:02   #9
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The town is a defining characteristic for Angband, isn't it? Replacing town with in-dungeon-shops is cool but feels wrong for Vanilla. There is a risk of getting too much of a Nethack feel. Still, I am sure the town experience could be improved. Maybe I would feel inclined to use it again (I only play Ironman nowadays).
I like the idea of secret stashes and in fact we already have part of that with the new rooms. Not too seldom you do find a 2x3 or 3x3 room full of mushrooms, potions or scrolls.
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Old October 4, 2015, 16:08   #10
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Maybe if the defining features of a game are bad, it means the game is also bad. Even if you don't buy that logic, I think you still have to worry it might be true.
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