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Old January 3, 2019, 23:04   #1
Scatha
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Sil-Q Review

Neither half nor I have had much time for Sil in a while. We were interested to read about the changes being wrought in Sil-Q. More recently, I spent several hours exploring 1.4.1. I had a few characters, including one (Christmas-present-aided) winner. For Tolkien's birthday, I thought I'd write up my thoughts. This is a review based in part on my experience playing it, and in part based just on the written descriptions in the manual, viewed with the lens of the design aesthetic we tried to build into Sil. This is solely my review. Since half and I share similar taste, I expect he would agree with quite a bit of my thoughts, but also that there will be places where we’d disagree. (Perhaps he will come by the thread.)

Overall: I am really quite impressed by Sil-Q. Quirk has taken a game where we put a lot of attention into crafting each detail, and extended it in substantial ways, largely congruent with the original vision. There are a good number of changes that I straight-up like; there are a good number that I dislike; and there are a good number that I on the fence about. In this review I’ll get into specifics of things I like and don’t like, and why. In some cases I’ll throw out ideas for how else things could be. It is, of course, Quirk’s prerogative to completely ignore these views!

---

Major design aesthetics of Sil, and how I think Sil-Q does on them:

Tokienian flavour:
Excellent, feel happy with the taste displayed here. Sure in some cases I have a slightly different take, but overall seems very good

Elegance of mechanics
Medium-good. I think many of the changes are roughly fitting with this (certainly more than a lot of game design), but there are a number of rough edges

Making optimal play interesting
Good. Some definite improvements. A few loopholes and places where it feels like it gets carried away slightly on the wrong version of things.

---

Monsters:
Removing Deathblades maybe the right choice. They had become the most egregious of the remaining monsters in terms of fit for the world (even if Tolkien does do talking swords). They did play an interesting role as an opponent that light-weapon characters would have difficulty with but actively want to fight. I wonder if something else should be filling a similar role in the monster ecosystem.

I support making Morgoth tougher to kill, and tougher as you fight him. We’d thought it would be good long term to have some feature like this, along with a record of how badly you wounded him (Fingolfin managed seven wounds!). I haven’t actually tried fighting Morgoth, so don’t have a view on how this is in practice.

Both Phantoms and Brood spiders are interesting early game monsters. I think in each case you’ve put them slightly too early, though. Brood spiders feel like they should go 50’ or 100’ deeper (and get correspondingly tougher presumably) so that it’s more likely one has met Spider hatchlings before first encountering one. This is both for thematic reasons and mechanical ones: trying to introduce monster mechanics slowly. Similarly we tried to make the first few levels of the dungeon feel more mundane, with stronger magics and weirder foes as one goes deeper. I think Phantoms at 50’ undercut this a lot: they are much earlier than the first other undead (350’), and much much earlier than the first other invisible monster (600’). They also somewhat undercut the feeling of all the Ws being dangerous/draining. I do think they’re interesting, though. My instinct while writing this is to do something like make them a ‘w’ rather than ‘W’ and push them to 250’.

No strong feelings on the other monster changes – I have minor good feelings and minor bad feelings about most of them. I rather like the paired orc uniques, although I seem to encounter them a bit too often (also be aware that paired uniques are quite a chunk of experience for the player; possibly they could do with a slight buff).

Mechanic changes:
  • Blunt weapon damage is not fully absorbed by armour
I don’t love the implementation of this one. I do think it’s an interesting way to differentiate blunt weapons, but I think there’s some flavour + incentive fail, of e.g. carrying around a quarterstaff so that you can easily deal with grotesques. Also I haven’t tested whether there’s an exception, but on the natural implementation blunt weapons would make cutting out silmarils trivial.

Spitballing: maybe the natural thing is for blunt damage to ignore a fraction of armour? That’s what sharpness currently does, but you could argue that sharp enough weapons should ignore light armour altogether. So an alternate mechanic would have bluntness do something like current sharpness, and sharpness reduce protection by a fixed amount (5? 7? 10? Variable amount with the song if that still exists? 100 for Angrist?).
  • Defence is now halved against attacks of opportunity made against point blank archery
I remember years ago discussing with half whether this (or something quite like it?) should be the case. I don’t even remember the conclusion of our discussion! It seems reasonable to me in any case.
  • Stealth is boosted a little at early levels and lowers as you descend
I’m basically happy to defer on whether this improves balance, but the implementation feels a little bit clunky: why not tweak monster Perception scores instead?
  • Monsters scared from the level yield a (little) experience
This one I again remember a conversation about whether we should do this. We decided against, because the player has already been given experience for the encounter, and it’s not obvious that scaring them off should yield more than sneaking past them. I don’t feel strongly about that conclusion.

I do feel strongly that the implementation is a bad one. The manual says “This is calculated as the current experience that would be gained for seeing a new monster of that type divided by the number of monsters of that type that have been scared upstairs or downstairs.”. This incentivises weird behaviour: there is more total experience available if you scare some monsters away rather than just kill them, and there is more available if the ones you scare are among the first few you encounter.

If you want experience for scaring monsters off the level, the simplest thing would be to count them as defeated, and award the experience for killing them (for non-uniques). A little less simple but still non-distortionary would be to count them as “half a kill” (in either case this should update the experience available for future kills as well as future scares).

[Part of the reason I care so much about this is that Sil is quite delicately balanced in terms of the pools of experience points available, and a modest change in the amount of experience available can have a surprisingly large affect on difficulty.]
  • Gorged status gone - you can overeat without losing the ability to eat more
This is a tradeoff of realism-seeming against avoiding really annoying seeming downsides for the player. I don’t have a strong view either way. [I do have some feeling that things like this contribute to the erosion of the hunger clock as a significant mechanic in Sil. Maybe it should eventually be removed, I’m not sure. I certainly used to lose characters to starvation and don’t anymore.]
  • All stairs are shafts during the escape
I believe that this could create better gameplay, but the implementation has(for me) a weird breaking-of-immersion. Could the change happen more off-screen, so that they appear as just stairs on the level, but taking any stairs with a Silmaril makes you go an extra 50’?

Relatedly, I don’t think removing crumbling stairs on the ascent straight works: stair-scumming to try and get two in the same room is pretty powerful. One could not increase the relevant variable for taking up staircases on the ascent (and perhaps not for taking down staircases in the main game).

A more extreme alternative would be to have “the stairs crumble behind you” on the ascent, so you’re always dropped into a level without an immediate escape. (I think this might be pretty interesting to play with, actually.)
  • Traps easier to detect and disarm
This might be alright, but I notice I’m worried about it. I think traps throwing players into unexpected and difficult circumstances provide some of the most exciting moments in the game. If it’s too easy to opt out of the dealing-with-traps game, people will do that, and then the game will be less interesting.
  • Passive identification is faster
Sounds fine.
  • Sunlight
I think I do like the addition of sunlight. Half and I discussed whether there should be sunlight at some point and thought maybe it was a bit weird, but it feels better in-game than I would have expected. Don’t feel very strongly either way.
  • you now start with a curved sword equipped
This one is a convenience for experienced players, but removes something about the feeling of desperation at the start, and also doesn’t include the subtle nudge to make sure new players know how to equip things. I feel mixed about it overall.

Objects:
  • Filthy rags and broken swords removed.
Feel a bit negative about this change. It seems like it’s coming from an aesthetic of only presenting the player with interesting choices. However, the choice not to use these items is actually a trivial one for players – not just in terms of there being not an interesting choice, but there being no hassle cost associated with not using them. So I think the cost of having them in is relatively negligible. And there are a few benefits: giving some easy things to work out for new players; adding flavour to the world; occasional interesting decisions with the artefacts.

(If we added features to Sil, broken swords would also appear in a couple: some ability to reforge broken swords might be interesting, and perhaps some nightmare mode where one starts with a broken instead of a curved sword.)
  • Quarterstaff, spear, great spear, glaive and war hammer base stats tweaked
The base stats for the blunt weapons definitely depends on where the rules for blunt weapons end up.

I believe that polearms may have been slightly underpowered before, but I think not by much, and the stat changes here are one of several different buffs they’ve received. I think this may be a bit much overall. I’ll discuss in the abilities section.
  • Daggers, sceptres, robes and crowns have new flag that increases the chance of having special abilities.
I feel mostly fine about this (similar to these items (except daggers?) having the modifier making it easier to smith powerful artefacts).
  • Robes default to +1 Evasion.
Feel odd about this in conjunction with the previous. At [+1], Robes are at basically the natural point in the armour spectrum – better for extreme evasion characters than leather. They’re shrinking the natural market for leather armour down, but it still exists (characters whose exchange rate puts [+1] at between 2 and 2.5 sides of protection dice, where those below 2 will naturally prefer heavier armour, and those above 2.5 will naturally prefer robes). If Robes are also very often special, I think it’s squeezing on the natural market of leather armour even further. Then there’s a judgement call to be made on whether it feels flavourful to have a significant proportion of characters descending into the depths of Angband doing so in robes. Maybe that’s OK actually?
  • [new items]
I generally like these.

An exception is around new bows. Sil tried quite carefully to make bows ignorable for characters who didn’t want to dabble in archery (with a single mild exception in Belthronding). But several of the new special types have bonuses that matter outside of archery, which means that they start to matter. I find this is somewhat immersion-breaking.

(This is a matter of taste, and Sil already violates it a bit, for example having melee weapons sometimes affect archers. Still, wanting to share where my taste is.)
  • Horns now affect a cone instead of a straight line
Nice! I’ve thought that something like this could be good. (Spitballing: maybe there could be an artefact horn of dragonfire, which lets you create flame like a dragon?)
  • Cursed negative stat jewellery removed
A bit like traps, I feel like this leads to some interesting experiences and stories. Don’t fully feel the pull for removal (even if it’s obviously frustrating in the moment to put on).

Smithing:
I initially felt confused and like things were mispriced. After exploring more and trying to break things I felt less sure. e.g. slays and damage sides on weapons seem very cheap and good value, but perhaps that’s OK because it makes Weaponsmith more attractive?

I do still think that damage sides on weapons are underpriced relative to accuracy on weapons. (Based on old combat-simulation spreadsheets.)
I find the rules governing the costs confusing. One of the aesthetics we aimed for in Sil was trying to have good behaviour come out of fairly simple rules. I think this is particularly good if achievable for smithing, since the player needs to be able to plan. On the other hand perhaps it was already relatively opaque, and it just seemed more transparent to me because I’d been involved in the design.

Things that were particularly surprising to me:
  • Why is it so expensive to move a shortsword weight down to 1lb?
  • Why is it so cheap to increase protection on a hauberk (e.g. relative to a corslet), and one can do it twice?
I’m not quite certain that either of those are mistakes! But I’d prefer to have an elegant system that naturally generates outcomes like this, and can be explained to the player, if one exists. (Maybe with a few exceptions that get special flags)

[This has got pretty long already; I'll put discussion of abilities into a follow-up message in the next couple of days.]
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