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Old March 18, 2013, 08:50   #1
Join Date: May 2008
Location: Saratoga, California (in the midst of Silicon Valley)
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Sil: no magic items

"... Faith, Hope, Love; these three. But the greatest of these is Love."

Sorry for the length, but this was *really* hard, and I'm using this post as a sort of catharsis for the last month of frustration over this challenge.

Just over a month ago, on Feb 13th (oh, unlucky day!), I read about Scatha's "no magic" challenge for Sil. I had done something at least vaguely similar in Vanilla, doing a couple of "no-artifacts, no-egos" runs, so the idea intrigued me. I ran a couple of "test" characters (Grace, Charity) to get a feel for it, and then started working on it in earnest.

One of the first things I did was to modify the source. I found it amazingly annoying to find good equipment, and be unable to use it because it was also {special}. So I modified the source to not even generate the forbidden objects in the first place. This does make the challenge ever-so-slightly easier, since there are more useful objects to choose from: what would otherwise be a {special} is still generated, but as a non-special. Note however that this is the way that the "no-artifacts" challenge works (i.e. what would otherwise be an artifact is still generated, but as a non-artifact). I believe that the effect is relatively minor, except possibly in the case of +3 arrows: arrows that would otherwise be "poison" or "sharpness" are instead "+3", which makes them noticeably more common than in the "standard" game (of course, poison and sharp arrows are noticeably *less* common than in the standard game :-).

With no light source beyond lanterns, it seemed that "Listen" would be a necessary skill. And with no source of Free Action or Resist Fear, nor anything to sustain stat points, a high Will (for a high saving throw) also seemed like a must. And with no sharpness there is basically no way to get more than one silmaril. But the rest was pretty much up for grabs.

"Hope" was the first serious series of characters. I started with 2/5/4/3 (Str/Dex/Con/Gra). I save-scummed continuously to get down to lower levels and figure out what was going to be important in the end-game. Somewhat surprisingly, serpents proved to be a major sticking point. There were too many of them to just avoid (like I mostly did with dragons), or to just trap behind closed doors (serpents don't open doors). Their high defense meant I needed to find some way of dishing out significant damage. That meant either archery with multiple criticals, or hand-to-hand with a big weapon and high strength. The archery route seemed like the best choice: from a distance I didn't have to worry about the breath attacks, and I needed to take Versatility anyway if I wanted to get the Archery dexterity point. This seems to work reasonably well. Much like with my earlier no-artifacts character, I found that one key strategy was to rush down to 450 ft., and then creep down to 600 ft. very slowly, repeating a couple of levels. This allowed for getting enough experience points to be able to improve skills and take critical abilities, prior to dealing with cat warriors.

The "Faith" series was an elaboration and tweaking of the trail blazed by Hope. I was able to occasionally get down to the throne room, but the archery based character just didn't seem to quite be able to finish the job. She also had serious troubles with Troll Guards. One or two she could handle, but groups of three or four (or more) were too much, and she either had to run, or burn through consumables. I also discovered that encountering Ungoliant in the Throne Room was (for me anyway) pretty much an automatic lose. When all that dark got close, I couldn't see (or hit) anything any more. And the few save-scummed characters that *did* survive the Throne Room, never got anywhere close to making it all the way back up.

I experimented with the Stealthy-Stabber and Stealth-Archer type of characters. These seem like they ought to be good choices, since they rely more on the abilities and less on the equipment for their success. But I was never good at Stealth, and could never finish the job. I remember getting into the Throne Room with one stabber, and stealthily attacking Morgoth for big damage, and then being unable to ever make a second hit with enough damage to knock the crown off. However, Stealth did seem to be the ticket to surviving the ascent.

This all culminated in the "Love" series of characters. Here, I went the other direction: hand-to-hand with high strength. 3/4/4/3 (Str/Dex/Con/Gra). I took a few points of archery, but not many, and coupled it with forging +3 arrows. To deal with the serpent breath attack, I relied on Knock Back coupled with Pole Weapons. Breath from even just one space away is a lot less damaging than breath from the adjacent space, and if the enemy tried to move up, it would be hit and knocked back. And if I missed, or the enemy wasn't knocked back, then I'd hit it using Controlled Retreat; either knocking it back then, or if that failed again, Sprinting forward until I wasn't adjacent. This was dangerous to do with Ancient Sapphire Serpents, since even from one space away the damage is large (there is no cold protection possible in a no-magic game). But fortunately, there aren't too many of those, and they can't open doors.

In fact, I made extensive use of the following sleazy trick:
   ####    #
     sX    #
   ####@   #
      #    #
       # #
Love would stand at "@" with a serpent just around the corner at "s". In Sil (unlike in Vanilla), the serpent cannot use a ranged attack around the corner in this situation. It therefore moves to "X", where it is automatically hit by the glaive and knocked back to "s". And the cycle repeats. With a little luck, the serpent kills itself without ever being able to breathe. I managed to kill a number of Ancient Serpents in this way. Of course, this isn't limited to serpents, but it most useful against them. It was even better after I took the extra Strength point from Melee, but that didn't happen until pretty late in the day. Of course this doesn't work all the time, but it worked a lot. It also doesn't work so well if there are multiple enemies. But fortunately serpents are mostly solitary creatures. I haven't changed my opinion that Polearms are usually inferior, but in this one particular situation, they were invaluable.

My 5th or 6th "Love" character started out lucky by finding a 2nd forge at 150 ft, allowing her to finish up her armor early. This was nice, but hardly crucial. Nicer was finding a 2d5 Mail Corslet with no melee penalty at 250 ft. It was horrifically heavy, but I welcomed the extra protection. Things went pretty much according to the standard script until 500 ft, when I found my first Glaive and took Polearm mastery. This was somewhat useful, but not until I was able to take Knockback and Controlled Retreat at 700 ft. did it really start to shine. I had found a lot of Strength potions, and was able to use that to deal with a couple of troublesome uniques (e.g. Dagorhir) without using up my tiny supply of Quickness. Polearm Mastery + Controlled Retreat + Knockback + Sprinting is a totally deadly combination of skills against a single opponent moving at normal speed without a ranged attack. Fortunately, that describes a great many monsters in Sil (especially uniques).

I thought for a long time before taking Rauko-Bane. It was between that and Focused Attack. I eventually decided that the Rauko specifically were enough of a threat to justify it, and I didn't use the glaive all the time, just in certain situations. I had a (-1,3d6) Greatsword that saw a lot of use.

I wanted to avoid 950 feet. I generally find that the bad guys there force me to burn consumables faster than I'm able to find new ones. The idea was to stay at 900 ft. until the "Min Depth" went to 1000', then go down. Unfortunately, I fell through a false floor, spent 2000 turns at 950 ft. before finding up stairs, whereupon I fell through another false floor. I guess I was better prepared than I thought, because I didn't have serious problems: the vampire lords didn't drain my stats when they hit me, and I could actually see the cat assassins.

The final piece was Stealth. I felt I needed it for the ascent, but not so much for the descent. So I didn't put anything into Stealth until after I got the Melee point of Strength at 900 ft. After that, I committed heavily to it, until I got Exchange Places and the point of dex.

The Throne Room was fairly ordinary (as such things go). I waited near the stairs at 950 ft. until I was plenty hungry so I wouldn't suffer bloat. Once down the stairs, I snuck into the main room to get the exp. for seeing all the monsters and to check if Ungoliant was there. Mercifully, there were no blotches of impenetrable blackness. I went back to the entryway, bought some more melee, buffed up, and hacked away with the Mattock (fully buffed, my most damaging weapon). It took two tries to get the first silmaril out. I didn't even try for a second one: without sharpness it seems almost impossible.

The ascent was nothing short of miraculous. Immediately upon arriving at 950 ft., a hidden door opened and Vallach appeared. Not only did he not notice me, he turned and went the other way and disappeared, showing me the location of an up shaft. Angels (or the Valar, or somebody) guarded my steps: I fell through one false floor, but none of the stairways collapsed. I didn't even *see* Morgoth until 500 ft. He put in several appearances after that, but Listen helped me largely avoid him. I put all the exp. I got during the ascent into Stealth. I was annoyed at how many things noticed me anyway, but Exchange Places definitely proved its worth, getting me out of a couple of otherwise tight situations.

When I got to the up stairs at 50 ft., I decided not to fool around and I drank a Quickness potion, went up the stairs, and just ran for it. I managed to bypass the hordes of critters before they blocked the hallway, and get to the exit double-doors without stopping. I buffed up, drank more Quickness, opened the door, and once again ran for it. I think I probably could have killed Carcharoth, but I saw no reason to take the risk: with the extra HP from the Con potion and plenty of Miruvor, I knew I'd make it out.

This challenge was extremely intense and consuming. For a long time it was tantalizingly just out of reach. I tried quite a variety of builds and abilities trying to get what I thought was that one last step further .. only to find that I needed to go yet one step more. I would say it's definitely right at the edge of what's possible (for me at least).
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Old March 19, 2013, 02:19   #2
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Thanks for this amazing write-up of an amazing achievement. I hadn't thought this sounded too hard until you explained just how much of the game was missing. Really great work. I note that unlike the (also amazing) shovel victory, you have fewer dramatic strengths to work with to overcome the (many) weaknesses that no magic entails.

Regarding Stealth on the way up, note that in recent versions creatures have a bonus to perception during the escape (+5 or something). This helps to avoid it being anticlimactic.
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Old March 19, 2013, 10:28   #3
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That's the cleverest use of polearm mastery I've seen yet!

Very well done. I'd have thought that high-stealth would have been the way to go for this, but you faced every challenge head-on, which IMO is a lot more predictable but also a lot tougher. I'm also impressed at how low your evasion was -- usually if I have less than ~25 evasion by the deep depths, I find myself getting cuisinarted constantly.

Awesome job!
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