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Old June 26, 2018, 07:20   #1
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Angband Philosophy III: Theme, Races and Monsters

Angband is obviously based on Tolkien mythology, but has multiple other influences. Notably, it owes a lot to D&D for combat, spellcasting and monsters, including several things from other mythologies, mostly Greek - see this list, for example.

Given that the proposed (yes, still) next version will include a major rework of player races and monsters, it seems like a good idea to consider what we want thematically.

This is the area where I am most inclined to take a hardline approach to sticking to Tolkien theme. So here are my assessments of the current races, done in convenient order for discussion:
  • Human, Dunadan: So we have two types of human. Fine. Potentially we could look at having more, or different ones, or reconsidering stat bonuses and abilities.
  • Hobbit: Great.
  • Dwarf: Basically fine. Possibly we could have more than one type. My main gripe here is stats. Dwarves are skilled at crafts and clever at designing things, but don't necessarily make the best choices - I would expect plusses to INT and DEX and minus to WIS, and they are currently the opposite of these.
  • Elf, High Elf: First a quote: "In those days Elves and Men were of like stature and strength of body, but the Elves had greater wisdom, and skill, and beauty; and those who had dwelt in Valinor and looked upon the Powers as much surpassed the Dark Elves in these things as they in turn surpassed the people of mortal race". In contrast, the Elf race gets -1 to STR, WIS and CON, and a lousy hitdie. I would suggest having at least two kinds of elf, with one being essentially the current High Elf representing the Noldor, who also tended to be canny but poor at life choices, and any others having +WIS and -INT.
  • Half Elf: Tolkien makes a big deal of the fact that there were only three unions of Elf and Human (Beren/Luthien, Tuor/Idril, Aragorn/Arwen), but that can be written off as only three prominent ones (especially since he implies that the people of Dol Amroth have elven blood). On the other hand, what is this race actually adding, and would it be better to have another type of elf or human? I'm open to be convinced either way.
  • Half Orc, Half Troll: No indication of these existing in Tolkien's writing, but maybe he was just too high-minded to talk about the necessary shenanigans. These both seem to have good gameplay niches, and I'm happy to keep them.
  • Gnome: Here we have a problem. This is a D&D race with nothing in common with anything in Middle Earth, except in as far as they're derivative of both hobbits and dwarves. Also "gnome" was Tolkien's name for the Noldor for a long time. Need to go.
  • Kobold: Just no.


Here I'm prepared to be a lot more lax. Tolkien talked a bit about there existing weird stuff people didn't have names for; we're just filling that in a bit. Possibly some of the specifically Greek stuff should come out - Medusa, Atlas, Kronos. Also there are some potential unused Tolkienian monsters that could come in - for example O has Tevildo, Prince of Cats and FA has Wiruin, the Maelstrom. On the whole, though, I don't feel that there's a huge amount of thematic work to be done on monsters.

Other Stuff

The only other thing that really comes up is the anachronistic nature of the game, with everyone from all times thrown in at once. IMHO the quote on the splashscreen is enough cover

Keen to hear people's opinions on this, especially the player races.
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Old June 26, 2018, 07:47   #2
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In principle, keeping to Tolkien compatible races seems reasonable - it adds flavor with no particular down side.

I think when looking at the races, it is important to consider what gameplay niches they fill, and every race should be a reasonable choice for at least one class - unless you want a challenge race of course.

The minor themed abilities at recent releases are good. On the other hand, some method of balancing the more powerful races apart from a large experience penalty would be welcome. Adding tedium is not a good way to balance.
Perhaps more distinctive penalties would make for more interesting choices.

I don't feel strongly about the monsters.
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Old June 26, 2018, 07:56   #3
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About the mixed races: Half Elf isn't a great choice anyway, I think we could get rid of them.
Half Trolls could be proper Trolls but with severe penalties (make them stupid and maybe vulnerable to light or so).
Half Orcs could be proper Orcs with other penalties, they should get very bad stealth at least.

About the monsters - I am not very happy with the greek mythology monsters, they just don't feel right.
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Old June 26, 2018, 08:09   #4
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Originally Posted by jevansau View Post
On the other hand, some method of balancing the more powerful races apart from a large experience penalty would be welcome. Adding tedium is not a good way to balance.
I am planning to remove XP penalties. In fact, I see no reason for races to be balanced against each other.
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Old June 26, 2018, 10:01   #5
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I've always thought that Bill Ferny, the "swarthy sneering fellow" in Bree where "queer folk call at his house" and who was very close with "Southern strangers", had some orcish blood in him.

An aside: Bill Ferny sold a haggard pony to the fledgling company of hobbits and Strider for "twelve silver pennies", paid for by Mr. Butterbur who added another eighteen pence to Merry as "some compensation", but "thirty silver pennies was a sore blow to him". I've always wondered whether Tolkien was making a subtle reference to Judas Iscariot's thirty pieces of silver.
“We're more of the love, blood, and rhetoric school. Well, we can do you blood and love without the rhetoric, and we can do you blood and rhetoric without the love, and we can do you all three concurrent or consecutive. But we can't give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They're all blood, you see.”
― Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

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Old June 26, 2018, 12:13   #6
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The southerner in particular is described by Frodo as "He looks more than half a goblin"

So the concept is there if nothing else...
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Old June 26, 2018, 12:23   #7
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Half-orcs are fine by Tolkien canon. There is a clear suggestion in The Two Towers that Saruman made his Uruk-hai light-resistant by cross-breeding the original orcs with humans.

The current versions of elves, half-elves, and dwarves have abilities based on the D&D races of those names rather than Tolkien. As you note, it doesn't fit well with Tolkien's descriptions of those races. Reversing INT and WIS on elves and dwarves fits well with what those stats would mean to a non-adventurer. But in-game, it would make dwarves candidates to become arcane magic users, which doesn't really fit.

Come to think of it, the canonical users of arcane magic in Tolkien are pretty much all Maiar or their descendants: Gandalf, Melian, Luthien, Sauron, etc. Do we want to add in demigods as a racial option? If we do, that'll displace the high-elves as the race with the strongest intrinsic stats.
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Old June 26, 2018, 12:51   #8
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Originally Posted by Nick View Post
I am planning to remove XP penalties. In fact, I see no reason for races to be balanced against each other.
Hmm... not sure I like this. When I started playing Angband I'd play as High-Elf Paladin to make my life easier. Once I came to understand what the exp penalty meant, it was a good motivator for me to try other class/combos; and it gave other class/combos a distinctively different experience to play over the very slow experience gain of HE/Paladin (I used to hoard mushrooms of vigor--as HT/Warrior I never need to do this).

I think varying levels of experience gain are one more way different class/combos are ... different; and I think anything that increases a noticeable difference between race/classes is good for the game. Plus, it kinda makes sense that a race/class that starts with some experience would need to experience more stuff in order to gain more experience/levels and a stupider race/class like HT/Warrior would require experiencing less in order to gain experience/levels.

I also don't understand why more powerful race/class combos shouldn't be rebalanced against weaker ones. Although I suppose by not doing so it's sort of like having difficulty settings. Still, I like that there is some kind of benefit for taking on more difficult combinations, and faster experience gain seems like a good way to do it.

EDIT: I'm not opposed to losing the Greek monsters. And would be very happy to see new ones that are closer to Tolkien's universe. For example, how come there is no kraken in Angband? (I guess you'd have to add water to the dungeon in order to have one, although this logic doesn't stop Osse from showing up, whose description is of being from the sea). I also would like to see monsters/uniques added that were close to Tolkien's heart from the books and poems he enjoyed (such as Grendel and Fafnir).

Here is a description of Fafnir (who I guess was a dwarf before he was a dragon): I mean, it doesn't get more thematically fitting than this.
“In what way will you fight the dragon?” asked the boatman.
“With my trusty sword Balmung I shall slay him,” answered Siegfried.
“But he wears the Helmet of Terror, and he breathes deathly poisons, and his eyes dart forth lightning, and no man can withstand his strength,” said the boatman.
Siegfried saw him coming far down the road, hurrying with all speed, that he might quench his thirst at the sluggish river, and hasten back to his gold; and the sound which he made was like the trampling of many feet and the jingling of many chains. With bloodshot eyes, and gaping mouth, and flaming nostrils, the hideous creature came rushing onwards. His sharp, curved claws dug deep into the soft earth; and his bat-like wings, half trailing on the ground, half flapping in the air, made a sound like that which is heard when Thor rides in his goat-drawn chariot over the dark thunder-clouds.

On came the hastening feet and the flapping wings: the red gleam from the monster’s flaming nostrils lighted up the trench where Siegfried lay. He heard a roaring and a rushing like the sound of a whirlwind in the forest; then a black, inky mass rolled above him, and all was dark.
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Old June 26, 2018, 16:31   #9
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Re: Trolls: Eh?
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Old June 26, 2018, 16:50   #10
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Races are stat modifiers, innates resistances / sustains / powers, which ultimately have minimal effect in the late game. If the rework is switching numbers around, removing xp penalty, streamlining races... then gameplay won't be affected much I think. From a theme point of view, I'm mostly indifferent.

However, if the rework involves even more, such as racial abilities, racial specific interactions etc., perhaps you could share your thoughts on what the final state of the rework would look like.

Also, I do have slight issue with Dwarf Int. Perhaps you're taking reference from the Silmarillion and literature, but vast majority of popular media has not been kind to dwarves and their intelligence. Even in Peter Jackson's middle earth movies, the dwarves look like they're there as bumbling comedy relief. From a general populace POV, it might seem... odd for Gimli to have more innate intelligence than Elrond.
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