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Old February 16, 2010, 15:43   #1
Xaxyx
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How I Beat Angband. Or: A WoW Player's Dungeoneering Guide

As a min-maxing, number-crunching, efficiency-scraping computer RPG player, I've always had a love-hate relationship with the various text-based, rogue-like dungeon crawls. Love, for these simplistic-seeming games are often richly detailed with fascinating combat mechanics and character development dynamics. And hate, for each days-long session of careful character nurturing always ended in a disappointing, depressing, and permanent death.

As I played my mage last year, I resolved myself to be utterly paranoid at all times. Death lurks around every corner! I must not take chances. I must not die. Moreso: I must not *allow* my character to die. In a turn-based game, rather than real time, my character's fate is largely in *my* hands. I must not fail him. And so after stumbling upon a large, elaborate vault, I approached with extreme caution, releasing one enemy at a time, dispatching each one from afar, and resting to full strength before approaching another, as always. Har har! I thought to myself. Those folks at the Angband forums will sure get a kick out of my ridiculously high turn count, at the end.

And so it was that as I pounded magic missile after magic missile into yet another uniquely-named monster that I had awakened from this vault. His health dwindled as he ploddingly approached me. His health was at merely a fraction by the time he reached me. Oh, well, I thought to myself. I'm at full health. He'll die at any moment. Surely he's not going to kill me in one swing. Surely if he hits me so hard that I fear for my life in a subsequent turn, I can simply Phase Door away. Come on, "Quaker". Show me what you've got.

He hits me. He causes an earthquake. And I die.

As the blood drained from my face, I closed the program and deleted my Angband folder, swearing never to return to the sick, twisted dimension of Angband, where it's possible for a character to *instantly and permanently die* in a single round of combat. From hero to zero in one swing? Rubbish. Only an idiot would make a game like that. Only an idiot would play a game like that. Screw Angband.

No, sir. For I am a WoW player! And in WoW, as with all of the online RPGs of its ilk, if at first you don't succeed -- and die horribly in the process -- you can simply pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again. Death, far from being permanent, is merely an inconvenience. Thus, you can merrily shriek "Leeroy Jenkins!" (a WoW inside joke for a suicidal charge) and attack anything in the game, at any time, fearlessly, knowing that moments later you can be back in town, laughing and sharing silly stories with your fellow effectively-immortal brethren.

Months later, on a whim, I popped by the Angband forums. Some part of me was hoping, you see, that they'd "fixed" the game. That maybe it had finally occurred to one of the developers, gee, you know, it's kind of dumb that Drolems can breathe poison on a character just as he steps inside of the room and instantly kill him before he can react. Maybe we should change that. Maybe we should change the game. Maybe we should make it possible for players to casually mash their way through the dungeon without having to worry about death at every turn.

And indeed, some changes had occurred (as of this writing, I am playing 3.1.2b). But not the changes I'd expected. The largest, most fascinating change, in my view, was the incorporation of the Detect Traps radius. A buff now appeared on my character, indicating that I am standing in the relative safety of my detection zone. And a friendly green line now glowed warmly just at the border of where my spell's efficacy ends. "Careful!" this line said to me. "This far -- and no further!"

Traps were always a source of irritation to me. I'd always found it tedious to have to constantly search for them every time my screen slightly scrolled. And invariably, I'd get lazy or distracted, and forget, and step into some horrible trap and my character would suffer accordingly. What was particularly irksome, in fact, was when during the use of the Run command, my character would tear up some particularly long hallway, far outside the range of my last Detect spell, and blunder into a trap all on his own.

In this newest version, however, a character will *stop running* right at the border of the Detect radius. Run will not work; now, if you truly want to leave the Detect zone, you must do so manually, at walking speed. Proceed at your own risk, as it were. An extremely handy feature, certainly. But to me, it was more than that. To me, it was a message.

And the message was this: no, we the makers of Angband do not want to kill your character outright. But we will, if you are not careful. Death does lurk around every corner. But it is not inevitable; it is not unavoidable. It is the responsibility of the player to learn the game, to maintain an awareness of what is going on and what can possibly happen from round to round. If you do, then you can survive, and eventually win.

Thus I resigned myself to once again plunge into the depths of Angband. As I did so, I established several rules for myself, rules that I would never break -- for if I did break them, then I'd surely expect to die, and could blame no one by myself. My rules were:

- I will not engage *any* monster unless I have read that monster's full spoiler description. It was fun for a while to "explore the unknown". But now I want to win; and to win requires full knowledge of the capabilities of every monster I encounter. I need this information because I need to know whether or not that monster can instantly kill me in a single round of combat. Which leads me to my next rule...

- I will NOT engage *any* monster that can kill me in a single round of combat. Even if the chances are remote. The risk is simply not worth taking, ever. Indeed: if, during the course of combat, my health lowers to within this dangerous range, I must exit immediately. Which leads me to...

- I will ALWAYS have a way out of combat. Early on, this would be the Phase Door and then Teleport spell or staff. Eventually, this would be Teleport scrolls (100% reliable). I always carried them. If I ran out, I would store scum for more.

I followed these rules explicitly. I recall, in fact, one incident in which I was engaged with some sort of large dragon with a nasty breath weapon. As I fought it, it smacked me rather hard with a melee attack, at which point I realized that I currently had less health than its breath weapon was capable of dealing. I then calculated that if I managed to connect with a few of my swings in the next combat round, its health would be reduced sufficiently that it was no longer capable of killing me outright with a breath attack. There was, however, a chance -- tiny, perhaps, but a chance nevertheless -- that I could miss all of my swings, it would breathe, and I would die.

I teleported.

And *that* was when I won Angband. Killing Sauron was relatively easy, and Morgoth was mostly a grind (I'd made a Ranger this time, and I used the "trick-shot" method, consuming 100+ arrows and several teleport other wands in the process). But forcing myself to admit defeat to some silly effect-breathing dragon on dungeon level whatever simply because there was a tiny chance that it could kill me outright? Yup. You betcha. Because *that* is when characters die.

So thank you, makers of Angband, for creating a fun and fascinating experience, and thank you current developers for continuing to make it even better. And if you, the reader, are like me, and have always hated the thought of playing a game where your character can instantly disappear forever, know that it is possible, through concentration, patience, and perseverance, to avoid such a fate. That power is yours to wield.
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Old February 16, 2010, 16:55   #2
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Awesome post!
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Old February 16, 2010, 17:43   #3
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I really liked the first half, then you lost me.

I hate to sound cynical , but I just find this slightly unbelievable. There's a time when I would have bough it, but that time has passed.

EDIT: Although, with scumming and spoilers, I guess all things are possible.
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Old February 16, 2010, 18:19   #4
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Skeptic pessimist that I am, there was a time when I wouldn't have believed it either. So I can hardly blame you.

I uploaded my dump here. Managed 31 speed before finding any Rings of Speed; that +14 ring I have on now was just gravy, really. In fact, I only uesd it to fight Morgoth; I used a +damage ring the rest of the time.

For Sauron and other irksome summoners, I made a summoning tunnel and stood on a Rune of Protection at the end. If the Rune ever broke, I just recast it. And I beat him down with melee. At one point during Sauron, my health dipped too low, and I only (silly me) brought regular Healing potions. Out of concern that I wouldn't be able to raise my health high enough above what he could Mana Storm me for, I teleported away, rested up, and reengaged. I got him the second time.

In fact, I found Sauron a much easier fight than Gabriel. Gabriel, in addition to being a frequent summoner, also loves to cast Teleport-To, which yanks me off of my Rune and into the middle of the room where Gabriel's friends are all standing around. After failing to take Gabriel out for the umptienth time, I finally found myself a small room and built *four* summoning tunnels with Runes at the ends. Then, whenever he'd yoink me out of one, I'd duck down another. Playing hide-and-go-seek in this fashion, I wore him down.

For Morgoth, I kept him out of line of sight as best I could. Naturally, whenever he was in line of sight, he would summon nine thousand ancient dragons or something fun like that. But I brought a stack of five Wands of Teleport Other with me, which let me clean up those messes whenever they occurred.
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Old February 16, 2010, 18:27   #5
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Oh, it's possible, and doesn't seem especially far-fetched to me. Once you make the connection that the surest way to win is to *not die*, you can go pretty far. Congratulations, OP! That was a nice read.

I have to say, though, that sometimes the most fun games of *band are the ones where you just say "**** it" and play as aggressively and quickly as you can --- sure, you may die, but you'll go out in a blaze of glory. And if you survive until the middle game, you can turn on "safe mode" and go from there.

All of my winners have resulted from a conscious decision to not screw up, but my most fun games have always been the kamikaze ones, where the crazy stuff happens.
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Old February 18, 2010, 01:09   #6
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I love this post! It is very well written and deserves to be in a newspaper somewhere (I wish). And as a fellow WoW player (5 years now!) I agree with your observations. The same reasons I love this game are often times the same reasons I hate it.
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Old February 18, 2010, 01:35   #7
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Personally I think maybe not so experience characters should just use the (avoid death) option in the cheat options. You can at least beat the game a time or two without worrying about dying. That's what I did, once you get a feel for the game then you can play hardcore.

It keeps you from wanting to say "screw angband!"
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Old February 18, 2010, 04:43   #8
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I'll admit, I was sorely tempted many times to engage that option (or keep a backup of my character around; same thing ultimately). But, well, that would kind of defeat the point, I figured. Sure, I'd kill Morgoth eventually. But I wouldn't be doing so the way the game was designed, the way the creators had intended. I wouldn't really "beat the game", as you phrase it. I would just be practicing, goofing around.

Contrast that with Diablo II, for example. There, you can play normal (your character comes back from the dead) or you can play hardcore (death is permanent). The delineation is clear. Indeed, hardcore mode isn't available until you've beaten the game at least once on normal mode (though this is changing once the newest version, 1.13, is finally released).

So, yes, that is one way to get a feel for the game, as you say. But I opted instead to get my experience by playing it through legit. It was irksome. I quit playing a few times for several month spans. But now I feel like I've truly earned my victory. I clawed my way through the dungeon, paranoid of death at every turn. And ultimately it wasn't just my familiarity with the game mechanics or application of the spoilers that brought me victory. It was the paranoia. My mindset had shifted. I accomplished what I believe was the true goal of the game as set forth by its creators.

Of course, I have no place speaking for or judging others. To each his own. To "practice" by reloading characters to gain familiarity, and then to start a new character and play that one through legitimately to a win, as you've suggested, is just as reasonable an approach. It just wasn't the approach I went with. To each his own, as it were.
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Old February 18, 2010, 15:13   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Xaxyx View Post
So, yes, that is one way to get a feel for the game, as you say. But I opted instead to get my experience by playing it through legit. It was irksome. I quit playing a few times for several month spans. But now I feel like I've truly earned my victory. I clawed my way through the dungeon, paranoid of death at every turn. And ultimately it wasn't just my familiarity with the game mechanics or application of the spoilers that brought me victory. It was the paranoia. My mindset had shifted. I accomplished what I believe was the true goal of the game as set forth by its creators.
When I was playing a lot of *band in college I went through this change: hoarding escapes, learning as much as I could about monsters before fighting them, and trying to mostly kill easy monsters to get better stuff. It was definitely instructive.

Well done!
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Old February 22, 2010, 11:40   #10
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Lightbulb

Quote:
Originally Posted by d_m View Post
... learning as much as I could about monsters before fighting them, ...
You mean it's not considered cheating, when I read the full spoiler description of a monster? I know I can answer myself: Either you learn it by your mistakes and countless deaths or you read the spoilers and save you four years of playing and learning the nasty things of the monsters. Right?

So it's not the character's monster knowledge which is needed four cautions play, it's the player's monster knowledge.
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