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Old February 11, 2013, 20:53   #1
bron
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Sil 1.1.1 no-artefacts, polearm master

After a great deal of experimentation, and over a dozen serious attempts, I give you Jill: eschewer of artefacts, mistress of polearms, queen of free hits. (http://angband.oook.cz/ladder-show.php?id=13995).

I often play vanilla with no-artifacts, so I thought I'd try it with Sil. I had expected that this would not make a huge difference, since with few exceptions (e.g. Idril), most Sil artefacts are good, but not overpowering. But (subjectively at least) the game felt much harder without them. I am also a fan of polearm mastery. That extra free hit is very satisfying, especially combined with controlled retreat, especially combined with sprinting to repeat the move a little further down the corridor. But while I find polearms to be fun, I think in the final analysis a good sword is a superior weapon.

My initial build was a Noldor with 3 strength. There are a couple of reasons for this: the raw damage of course; the hope that I might find Gauntlets of Treachery; and the fact that I had lost a couple of promising earlier characters by being trapped in webs. At the first forge I made a glaive, a longbow, and a mattock. The glaive because that was sort of the whole point, the mattock because it is always good to have a digger handy, and the longbow because there are some things I'd rather not fight hand-to-hand (e.g. dragonflies, green worms). I invested 4 points into archery fairly early on, but left it at that until almost the end of the game (when for some reason that I don't remember, I put in a couple more). That, plus the dexterity, plus using +3 arrows (and later, the ring of accuracy, and Rauko-bane) gave me enough archery skill that on the rare occasions I did shoot, I hit most of the time. And with 3 strength, the longbow has good damage output.

I invested heavily in evasion early on, and took Flanking and Controlled retreat, along with Zone of Control. This is a really deadly combination for orcs, and later for cat warriors. The A.I. has them try to move past to try and surround you, in preference to hitting you immediately, and with a little practice (and some room to maneuver), you can score a great many free hits. And the extra +3 evasion from Dodging you get while doing a flanking attack makes you that much harder to hit when they do decide to attack you. It does take some experience to know when you can get away with this, and when it's better to fight in a corridor (or cut and run). And occasionally you unexpectedly fall into a pit or get stuck in a web trap and get surrounded and die (grrrrr). But it's addictingly fun to see a mass of bad guys sort of melt away as they die while trying to surround you. And high evasion (for the pits) and high strength (for the webs) somewhat mitigate the danger.

My cause was helped by finding two important pieces of equipment at 400 feet: Gauntlets of Treachery, and Studded Leather of Venom's End. I waited until I found a Sanctity staff before wielding (and then uncursing) the Gauntlets so I could remove them as needed. Opportunist is a great thing, but I didn't want to spend that many experience points on stealth just for the one ability. But I was willing to temporarily go down to two strength for it, at least for awhile. The poison resistance was nice because it meant that I could postpone putting points into Will, and instead concentrate on building up my melee score. I bounced around between 500-550-600 feet for quite some time building up experience points and preparing to face the cat warriors. Finding a ring of accuracy +2, plus a Corslet of Resilience and an Amulet of Constitution, really helped.

After that, it got a lot easier. The first few cat warriors were tough, but with a couple more melee points, they died in droves trying to force their way through the Zone of Control. The cat Uniques required the use of Quickness potions, but fortunately I had enough. I made the deliberate decision to just stay away from any dragons above hatchlings: too much potential for disaster, not enough potential gain (particularly with no artefacts). And Rauko-bane is a wonderful thing.

Light level was a problem. I came very close to taking Song of the Trees, but finally found a Fenorian lamp at 850 feet, which (coupled with the Amulet of the Blessed Realm) was enough to get by. I did have to do a lot of equipment swapping, since my only True Sight item was a Lantern. Fortunately, I did not run into too many cat assassins.

Right towards the end I took Opportunist (and ditched the Treachery Gauntlets) so I could take Rapid Attack. It would have been slightly cheaper to go the Finesse+Subtlety route, but since I took a lot of melee skills it wouldn't have been very much cheaper, and neither Finesse nor Subtlety was all that useful to this character, while Opportunist was.

The throne room was actually pretty easy. Less than 100 turns. I finally realized what I had been doing wrong all this time. In previous games, I sang Sharpness+Slaying. This time I sang Slaying+Sharpness. What a difference! The melee bonus rocketed up, completely overwhelming the reduced sharpness. I was especially amused to note that I killed Gorthaur, Thuringwethil, and Lungorthin, all on the same turn. The Silmarils popped out quickly, and as I was leaving I found a really sweet Greatsword of Hador's House (3d7, only 4.6 lbs). I was very tempted to wield it since it was significantly better than the glaive, but decided that wouldn't be in the spirit of the character. I got in trouble a couple of times on the ascent, but had enough consumables to deal with it.

A lot of fun, and very challenging.
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Old February 11, 2013, 23:01   #2
HallucinationMushroom
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Good write-up. I see now that my biggest fail with polearms is that I'm a stand-your ground and fight kind of player but being on the move seems to be the key. With dodge, flanking, controlled retreat, sprinting, etc... you do a lot of moving around! I also play protection usually, so +3 to dex from dodging never makes much sense to me, but since you don't use a shield you might as well go evasion and shuffle and side-step... I like it! Thanks for this, it helps me understand all the things I've been doing wrong.
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Old February 11, 2013, 23:49   #3
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He definitely nailed it when he said it's tough figuring out when you can engage a crowd and when you still need to fight 1-1. I'm also used to descending a lot faster than what bron described here, which might be needed to overcome all the XP burned on abilities just to stay alive.

Then again I've done Polearm Mastery with highly advantaged artefacts (Gaurin, Celebrist, and Sirion) and still managed to off myself every time, so there's a big margin of safety / superiority there that I'm not using. I actually think the no-artefact part of this win is a lot more impressive than the polearmy part of it.
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Old February 12, 2013, 05:59   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by debo View Post
I'm also used to descending a lot faster than what bron described here
I tried this of course. Several times. I found that I could pretty much breeze down to 600 feet or so without much trouble, whereupon I would promptly be killed by some cat warriors. After doing this enough times, I figured out I first needed to repeat the levels at around 550 feet to build up my melee a bit more, before descending further.

As for moving around a lot: the only real advantage to a pole weapon is the extra free hit on an advancing enemy. If you aren't taking (repeated) advantage of that, you're just fighting with an inferior weapon for no reason. The flanking/zone-of-control tactics are independent of polearms; it's just easy/cheap to take zone-of-control if you take polearm mastery, so it sort of naturally dovetails. I certainly recommend trying it; it's a lot of fun (IMHO). But it does take a bit of practice to become adept at it.

Polearm+ControlledRetreat+Spinting is a nice combo for corridor fighting. I often wanted to add Knock-Back to the mix, but I never felt I could justify the exp. cost. And I don't really know just how effective Knock Back is anymore, what with the 1.1.1 mods.

Last edited by bron; February 12, 2013 at 06:11.
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Old February 12, 2013, 08:41   #5
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Great story. I love your descriptions of the tactical movement. I've never got so much value out of Zone of Control!

I'm interested in the idea that polearms are just bad compared to swords. We did put a reasonable amount of thought into balancing, and I'll be a bit surprised if this is correct. However it could be that the character types they are good for aren't popular (or are themselves weak).

Even without Polearm Mastery I think polearms should be the two-handed weapons of choice for two groups of character:
- low strength characters
- characters who are hitting by a lot (high Melee, Assassination, Song of Slaying, Focused Attack, etc.)

The most natural comparison is glaives (-2, 2d9)[+1] with greatswords (-2, 3d5)[+1]. The glaive loses a damage die and gets 4 extra damage sides to compensate. If you have 2 extra damage sides (normally coming from points of strength, but could be a superior weapon, rings of damage, or the ability Power), their expected damage on a regular hit is equal. If you have less than 2 extra sides, the glaive is better; more and the sword is better. This will go well for low strength melee characters.

When you start getting criticals, the glaive improves. Comparing single criticals, you'd need 6 extra damage sides to make a greatsword equal to the glaive, and for double criticals the number is 10.

Of course perhaps many characters have at least 2 Strength, and want 2-handed weapons for high damage output without criticals. But I think there's enough of a space where polearms have an opportunity to shine. All of glaives, greatspears and even regular spears used 2-handed are pretty reasonable weapons for an assassin, losing out to Subtlety-powered shortswords at extreme melee values. They also benefit particularly from slays.

Adding Polearm Mastery, which is a pretty fun ability, on top of all of this makes me suspect they don't need a boost. I could, of course be wrong. I haven't managed to win with a polearm master. But unless there's some good analysis in the other direction I'm inclined to think at the moment that this is because I haven't worked out how to, rather than because they're inherently underpowered.

Good opportunity for a competition character?
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Old February 12, 2013, 10:50   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
Good opportunity for a competition character?
Definitely.

I agree with Scatha about polearms being strong enough -- though I'm also not completely sure. I think their main disadvantage is that the artefact swords are excellent and the artefact polearms are merely very good. However, this is how we want to keep things as the swords are much more famous in the books.

A few points about polearms:

- One thing that makes swords (or axes) good is that Elves (or Dwarves) get a melee bonus with them. This makes it a bit harder for polearms to compare to the race's favoured weapon. It also means that polearms will be a bit better compared to other weapons for Edain (though the Edain will still be less powerfull overall).

- Polearms work well with passing your turn. This gives natural synergies with Blocking, Focused Attack, and to a lesser extent Controlled Retreat. Unfortunately since all but one are two-handed, it is only for regular Spears that Blocking can be used.

- Polearms work very well with Knock Back. I think this is their best synergy and I definitely would have built towards this.

- Compared to other weapons, polearms might work less well with Flanking, since you want to stay still, not to move.

- If you have Polearm Mastery, Focused Attack, then ZOC and Riposte do work well, as you can spend the turn passing and still get your attack. I suppose Opportunist is similar. It might even work well with Cruel Blow to make the enemies confused so they trigger free attacks.

- One of the best synergies is Smithing. It lets you make a starting Glaive (which are otherwise rare) and lets you make a fancy one later. It also lets you make one with a carefully chosen weight, which will help with getting criticals.
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Old February 12, 2013, 19:11   #7
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Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my opinions. Certainly I don't have as much experience with the game as some, and my thoughts are clearly strongly colored by the particular charater I was just running, so it's good to have them tempered by people with a better view of the big picture. And half and Scatha clearly put a lot of thought into the choices they made. And I could be just plain wrong about things.

That said, these are my thoughts on polearms. I make no claim that this is anything other than my (today's) personal opinions:


I agree that swords (for elves) and axes (for dwarves) should be the weapons of choice. That is the right and proper thing. But that is what the affinity bonus is for. I also have no problem with the artefacts being tilted in favor of swords and axes: I can't think of any heroic myths about a magical halberd. [Truth to tell, this is at least part of the reason why I did both polearms and no-artifacts in a single game: I would be experimenting with using a glaive, and then suddenly I'd come across some artefact sword or axe that was clearly way better, and I just couldn't not wield it. Turning off artefacts was easier than finding the internal fortitude to leave one lying on the ground.]

A glaive is a weapon with low dice and high sides. That implies that maximum effectiveness would come from getting criticals. However, a big two-handed polearm like a glaive is relatively heavy, and so is hard to get criticals with. You can try to Smith a lighter one, but the smithing cost rises dramatically below 5.4 lbs. And if you're a good enough smith to make a 3.5 lb glaive (the minimumn allowed), you should instead be making a poison-branded one (if you add the "of Danger" curse, a glaive with a poison brand only takes 1 more smithing skill point than a 3.5 lb standard one).

At zero strength, a standard glaive will do more damage than a standard greatsword (10 vs. 9). This changes as the damage bonus goes up, since a glaive uses two dice, and a sword uses three dice. But also note that it is not unusual to find a 3d6 greatsword (or 3d4 bastard sword). They are rare it is true, but you only need to find one. And unless you are extremely lucky, you are not going to find the corresponding 2d10 glaive until quite deep.

The special advantage a polearm brings is the free hit you get on an approaching enemy. This implies a couple of things: the enemy is awake and advancing on you, and you are deliberately choosing to meet it in combat rather than run away. So you are a combat character. You are either high-strength, or low-strength. If low-strength, you are probably either a stealth-assassin type, in which case you want to be wielding something lighter than a glaive, or you are an archer, in which case you want to shoot a (possibly flaming) arrow into your opponents face, rather than pass to get the free hit. If you are a high strength character, then you are probably better off wielding a sword or axe in the first place. I suppose that leaves the niche of being a low-strength combat character, but not an assassin or an archer. But that seems like a sub-optimal build choice on the face of it.

Polearm + Knock Back is potentially a nice synergy. But in 1.1.1, Knock Back depends on your strength, not on weapon weight. So to make it work well, you need to be high strength, so (as above) you'd probably be better off with a sword or axe in the first place.


All that said, I still play with polearms, because they are fun.
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Old February 12, 2013, 20:13   #8
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Even if they're not super-light, going for criticals can be pretty effective with glaives (and other polearms) because the criticals are so worthwhile. And while you're right that for most purposes you can find a stronger weapon than a glaive, one of its advantages is that it's a good all-round weapon.

That said, we could consider the minor buff of dropping the default weight on glaives from 7lb to 6lb. This is where halberds used to be, and I don't think we really thought about weights when dropping halberds from the game.

What do you think about the other polearms? I'm pretty happy with spears as being a versatile weapon but not normally the strongest. Great spears are more of a specialist weapon than glaives, and I admit I don't use them that often.
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Old February 12, 2013, 20:17   #9
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I think Bron did a good job of outlining the "tension" that exists between weight/dice/builds when trying to figure out how to use polearms effectively. I know I've struggled with the same thing before.

One thing I'd really like to try is creating a crit specialist that uses a great spear - what's the average weight on those? I seem to remember them being quite heavy. If you could reasonably go for an e.g. 4lb one with a brand or two or maybe extra damage sides, that could be quite entertaining
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Old February 12, 2013, 20:29   #10
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From memory, Debo, I think they are 6 lbs. I had a similar idea a while back, but the other way, a double weight great spear. A poison and fire branded half weight great spear would be pretty ridiculously awesome... let me know when you break 60 in smithing with mastery...
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