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Old December 12, 2020, 22:26   #1
archolewa
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Early Game Blackguard Without a Town

I mentioned in passing in the annoying Angband thread that the early game is much more tense and engaging when you don't have access to the town, especially for the Blackguard due to their reliance on Maim Foe (http://angband.oook.cz/forum/showpos...0&postcount=39).

DavidMedley asked me to elaborate on that, so here we go.

First off, I don't consider this a bad thing. The Blackguard is my favorite class in this game, and that doesn't change with Word of Recall turned off. Indeed, in many ways Blackguard's foibles make them much more fun to play for me than Warrior and Paladin (both of which I also enjoy). For one thing, without WoR I'm much more likely to bail a big fight and slaughter some kobolds to get back some HP, so that I don't use my healing potions unless I have to. I find myself working every little advantage I have to survive, in a way I don't really need to with the town and easy access to Phase Door and Cure Light Wounds potions.

Blackguards tend to have a pretty tense earlygame because Maim Foe is incredibly important to ensuring their survival before they get Werewolf Form (after I get Werewolf Form, I tend to find the Blackguard turns into an offensive, nigh unkillable powerhouse). However, it's impossible to buy the Maim Foe book before you leave town, so you're dependent on finding it in the dungeon if you don't have Word of Recall. Since it's not just "save up until I buy the book" it adds a lot of tension to the game.

Now, the reason I think Maim Foe is so important is largely because earlygame Blackguards have highly variable damage output, and Maim Foe is effectively a hedge against unfriendly RNG. It's not a big deal if you have a rough turn if your enemy skips a turn because of stunning, or whiffs most or all of their attacks because of it. On the other hand, without stunning, a rough turn could put you so far back in the damage race that you have to burn not-easily-renewable phase door and/or healing potions that you wouldn't have had to otherwise. Maim Foe is also important because it means that the Blackguard's in-combat healing can mostly keep up with enemy damage output.

Early game Blackguards have highly variable damage output for two reasons I think:

1. They have low blows, so they tend to favor heavier weapons.
2. Because their spells grant them some healing, and as many (or often more!) blows than regular attacks, they tend to rely heavily on their spells (especially Leap into Battle) in combat, and thus have to deal with spell failures.

In the first case, if you're only swinging 1.3 times a turn for 60 damage a pop (had that with a Maul of Lightning), then you could either send an enemy fleeing with one swing, or whiff and they effectively get free attacks. Meanwhile, if your warrior is swinging their dagger three times for sixty damage, they might do sixty, they might do forty, they might do twenty. They have to miss all three attacks to do zero damage. So they're much more likely to do some damage even if the RNG is being less than friendly.

However, when the RNG gives the Blackguard a run of bad luck, the Blackguard finds himself taking hits and not really making any progress on killing the enemies. Maim Foe helps hedge against this by reducing the damage done by enemies.

In the second case, everything that applied to the first case still applies (since you're effectively swinging your weapon), but it also has the minimum 5% failure built on top of it. So you have an additional 5% chance of just whiffing on your turn. Again, Maim Foe helps hedge against this by reducing enemy offense.

The Blackguard's spellcasting healing is I think a built-in hedge against unfriendly RNG by taking the edge off of enemy attacks. However, Maim Foe massively increases the value of this healing because stunning decreases enemy offense so much that the spellcasting healing doesn't just take the edge off, it can almost keep up with enemy attacks. There's nothing as satisfying as taking down a third of your enemy's hitpoints, and ending with *more* hitpoints than you started. Oh, and then getting a free turn. Maim Foe makes this much more likely.
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Old December 12, 2020, 23:00   #2
Pete Mack
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I think you may be undervaluing Howl for this situation. Howl fear lasts a looong time, long enough to escape even the most persistent unkillable uniques. (Naar, Mim's sons, Angmar twins.) I just started playing Blackguard, and my eyes really popped open on how useful this is compared to the old priest-book spell, or that pathetic wand.
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Old December 13, 2020, 00:19   #3
DavidMedley
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Thanks for the feedback! Sounds like you're picking up what I'm putting down. I needed a thematic way to reduce the amount of damage taken in melee to make that style viable. Also, I like the first spell of each book to be very good so you have a reason to carry it.

Related note: From 4.2.1 to 4.2.2, Maim gets a nerf and fear gets a buff, and both are good for gameplay I think.
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Old December 13, 2020, 01:11   #4
archolewa
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pete Mack View Post
I think you may be undervaluing Howl for this situation. Howl fear lasts a looong time, long enough to escape even the most persistent unkillable uniques. (Naar, Mim's sons, Angmar twins.) I just started playing Blackguard, and my eyes really popped open on how useful this is compared to the old priest-book spell, or that pathetic wand.
Howl is definitely very valuable. I used it to some very good effect in my last game (before getting murdered by Gorlim, my own fault for not teleporting away though). However, Howl is in the same book as Maim Foe, so it's not really pertinent to this analysis (i.e. how having to wait for the game to generate the second book, rather than buying it in town makes the early game Blackguard more intense).
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Old December 13, 2020, 15:11   #5
Selkie
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I tried playing blackguard once but didn't really give it a fair crack of the whip. This post has inspired me to try again in earnest.

Is there one race that makes a more natural blackguard, I'm guessing half orc or troll?
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Old December 13, 2020, 21:01   #6
archolewa
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Selkie View Post
I tried playing blackguard once but didn't really give it a fair crack of the whip. This post has inspired me to try again in earnest.

Is there one race that makes a more natural blackguard, I'm guessing half orc or troll?
High Elf or Dunadan. They both give you buffs in every stat you care about. The High Elf's xp penalty is pretty minor these days, and intrinsic See Invisible is *nice*. Their device bonus i nice too. Blackguards don't have particularly good shooting skill, so having a good device skill gives them an alternative source of range damage.

Don't use the default stat allocation though. Reduce your Dex by a few points, and put them into Intelligence. Ideally, you want at least 18 in both Strength and Intelligence (though I usually go more). You won't be getting lots of blows early on regardless of how much Dex you have, and getting your Intelligence to 18+ will get your combat spells online *much* faster, which makes a huge difference.

I haven't played Troll, but I don't think they'd get all that much benefit. Their innate regeneration does cancel out the Blackguard's impared hitpoint recovery, but that's not really a big problem in my experience, and Blackguards don't regain mana normally, so they don't really gain any benefits from regeneration. Meanwhile, their low intelligence means they'll struggle to get their Blackguard spelsl reliable, and reliable spells are very important for the Blackguard.

Edit: I havent tried it yet, but human might actually be a good choice too. Many of a Blackguards spells get blows at certain level thresholds. These are less important once you start gaining stats, but very important early. The humans faster leveling would let them hit those thresholds faster. I just dont know if its faster enough to make a difference.

Last edited by archolewa; December 13, 2020 at 21:22.
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Old December 13, 2020, 22:06   #7
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I don't think racial INT is that critical. By the end of the game you'll have plenty of INT. Early game INT is important, but you can deal with that through the point buy. INT 13 is a crucial level because you get 1 more SP than INT 12 (and more above CL10).

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets...#gid=229283217

Half-Troll has the worst INT, but you can get to 12 for 6 points and 13 for 8 points. I'd usually take one of those two options if I was planning to do a lot of casting before statgain. But if for some reason you wanted to eschew casting in the early game, you could still pick it back up once you've boosted your INT. 18/60 INT (Troll max with no equipment boosts) is more than sufficient (at 18/20 and above your min spell fail rate is 5%).
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Old December 13, 2020, 22:09   #8
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For a few days, I was like "Ho-leee SHIT! If I take a Gnome Blackguard I'll have great INT and my device skill will make up for my bad shooting... it'll be AMAZING!" But 2 or 3 deaths later I decided that good HP are very important to a class that takes a ton of damage. Weird.
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Old December 13, 2020, 22:54   #9
archolewa
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidMedley View Post
For a few days, I was like "Ho-leee SHIT! If I take a Gnome Blackguard I'll have great INT and my device skill will make up for my bad shooting... it'll be AMAZING!" But 2 or 3 deaths later I decided that good HP are very important to a class that takes a ton of damage. Weird.
Yeah, you'll notice I didn't suggest Gnome.

Honestly, though I'm not sure I agree with you about 13 Int being sufficient. That's what you get with default point buy for a High Elf and I was struggling really badly in the early game with that. I didn't start having a better time of it until I pumped Int to 18 or higher. Failure rate is more important than max SP for an early game Blackguard in my opinion, and a higher Int means you'll get reliable spells much faster. You'll rarely be taking enough damage quickly enough to fill up your SP bar either way, but the more your spells fail the more free turns your enemy gets.


Maybe the Half-Troll's sky-high strength makes up for that. Like I said, I haven't played Half-Troll. But 13 Int does not feel remotely sufficient for a High Elf Blackguard.


Yeah, the racial Int doesn't matter by the endgame, but Blackguards are endgame powerhouses regardless of what race you use. It's the early game where they struggle the most in my experience, and my suggestions are based around shoring up their weak early game.
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Old December 13, 2020, 23:28   #10
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Well, I could be wrong. The success rate is 85% at 11, 88% at 12, and goes up by 1% every point to 18 (94%). I don't think those small incremental gains above 12 are crucial.

But since you're trying to be efficient with your potions, you're probably casting spells at much lower HP than most would dare, in order to maximize the built-in healing. And in that scenario those fail rates could be crucial.

Ring of Open Wounds really helps save potions, too.
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