The Let's Play Archive


by TooMuchAbstraction

Part 23: Squishy Wizards

Update 23: Squishy Wizards

The thread has spoken! Our next character will be Bryson, the Elf Mage:

In addition, we will be checking out the randomly-generated artifacts ("randarts"). Finally, Bryson, unlike Freude, will not be prevented from using up staircases; she also won't be locked out of the town entirely. All told, here's her birth options:

Something I didn't show in Bonus Update 2 was stat point allocation. After you decide what you'll be playing as, you get to allocate some points to your six stats (or you can go with an autoroller, but it won't generate better results than allocation can get you, so it's mostly for purists).

(Ignore the name; Bryson hasn't had a chance to put her name in yet)

Point allocation is pretty straightforward: you have 20 points, and you can assign them to whatever stats you want. The first six times you increase a stat cost 1 apiece, then 2, then 4 -- so you can dump up to 12 points into a single stat to increase it by 8.

Yeah, Bryson isn't going to be winning any physical contests; even with every point allocated to STR and DEX she still only gets 1 blow/round. Instead, we're going with this allocation:

Bryson doesn't need DEX because she won't be engaging in melee; she'll want CON eventually, but early on it gives rather paltry HP bonuses. However, she desperately needs all the STR she can get, because spellbooks are heavy and she's stuck with an innate -4 penalty.

Also, notice that getting to 18/50 INT increased our max SP by 50%, from 2 to 3.

Enter a name for your character: Bryson

And we're off!

You can learn 2 more spells.

Another benefit of her high starting INT: most mages can only learn one spell at the start. Then again, we only really need (or rather, can make effective use of) one spell.

Casters in Angband gain "spell slots" as they level up and gain INT. Each spell slot can be used to learn one spell from a spellbook; that slot is then permanently "used" by that spell. You still need the spellbook to be able to cast the spell, though; no memorization here! In short, get spellbook, learn spell, cast spell through spellbook. Gain levels, gain INT -> learn more spells.

Let's go get a spellbook!

Hey Inglorian! We're going to be using you as a glorified bookstore this time around. That okay with you, buddy?

You bought a Book of Magic Spells [Magic for Beginners] for 25 gold.

Let's take a look at those spells! We can either 'b'rowse the spellbook, or 'G'ain a spell; either way lets us open it up (once we learn something we can also check it via the 'm'agic command).

Hey! Some of these spells have been censored! Those are Cure Light Wounds and Detect Treasure, which are only available to the Ranger and Rogue, respectively. I believe those are the only arcane spells that Mages can't learn; there are plenty of Mage-only spells though.

"Lv" here means the minimum character level you must reach before you're allowed to learn the spell. Mana is the MP cost; Fail is the failure rate; Info provides terse information (usually damage or spell duration) on learned spells. There's also more lengthy descriptions, which I've transcribed below for the spells we're allowed to learn (the others aren't available yet).

Magic Missile: Fires a magic missile that always hits its target and does unresistable damage. Sometimes a beam is fired instead that hurts each monster in its path. The chance to get a beam goes up with your character level.

Detect Monsters: Detects all non-invisible monsters in the immediate area, for one turn only.

Phase Door: Teleports you randomly up to 10 squares away.

Light Area: Lights up all squares in a level-dependant area, and hurts all light-sensitive monsters in the area of effect. If you are in a room, the entire room will be lit up as well.

This is an excellent set of spells here. Detect Monsters is a staple detection spell; Phase Door is vital for keeping Bryson out of the Instant Death Radius that most monsters now possess (i.e. melee range), Light Area is invaluable for being able to see monsters outside of our light radius, and Magic Missile is...well, it's cheap

It's also our only effective means of attack right now, so we'd better learn it.

You have learned the spell of Magic Missile. You can learn 1 more spell.

Still no info, because we've never cast it. Well, that's easily remedied. One guinea pig, coming up!

You failed to concentrate hard enough!

Stupid 12% failure rate.

The Village idiot squeals in pain.

and we've dealt...30% of his health in damage

If we inspect the spellbook again, we'll see that Magic Missile deals 3d4 damage per cast, right now. That damage will go up with our level, but it's never going to be a reliable enemy killer. The Village Idiot has 10 HP on average, which means we'd have to be pretty lucky to be able to kill it in one shot.

We get 3 shots total. Many level-1 mages only get 2. Thus the big problem with early mages: they can't melee things and they can't reliably kill things with spells either. In fact, in the specific case of the Village Idiot, he actually regenerates health faster than we can regenerate the mana needed to kill him! Barring lucky rolls he's immortal right now. We need a backup plan.

Flasks of Oil are a popular backup way of killing things. They deal 1d4 damage when thrown, but because of their firebrand, that's tripled against basically all early monsters. Of course, mages are pretty rubbish at throwing things, so they're liable to miss. I have another idea.

You bought a Wand of Magic Missile (12 charges) for 330 gold.

Sure, it was expensive, but what else are we going to spend our money on? Armor? A weapon? Madness. Wands of Magic Missile also deal 3d4 damage per shot, but our success rate is 93% (better than casting the spell!) and they never miss: far more reliable than some flasks of oil. Additionally, as mentioned in Bonus Update 2, a high magic device skill gives you bonus damage when using attack wands (and rods, etc.). Our skill is 47 and the wand is level 3 (you'd have to look it up in the data files to know this) which means we deal 44% more damage than normal with it. Not bad!

One last thing: we gained 4 experience points for casting our spell for the first time. Experimentation in That Which Man Was Not Meant To Know is educational!

In addition to the book and the wand, we also pick up a Scroll of Word of Recall, 6 Scrolls of Phase Door, and a Potion of Cure Light Wounds. While running errands, we're followed by an immortal village idiot, getting slobbered on all the while. Why buy Phase Door Scrolls? Because even though we could cast the spell, that pulls precious mana away from Magic Missile, reducing our ability to kill things. The wand is a backup; it should only be used when we need it. That means reserving resources for faceshooting, at least early on.

Enough of the town! Enough of literally drooling imbeciles! We have a dungeon to conquer!

You enter a maze of down staircases. (to 50')

Convenient: we start in a room with some cash and a stack of more Cure Light Wounds! A good spot to learn our second spell, too: Detect Monsters. Knowing what monsters are in the area is invaluable, since we can't afford to take on too many HP worth of foes at a time.

You sense no monsters.

Oh. Well, what a dull place!

Ah ha! Our first victim! Giant white mice aren't nearly so durable as townsfolk!

The Giant white mouse dies.

And we rest up to restore our mana before continuing. Bryson is going to spend a lot more time napping than Freude did, since she's nigh-defenseless when out of mana.

Odds are we won't be able to kill both the kobold and the centipede in the same pass, but they're both still asleep...

The Small kobold screams in agony!
The Small kobold dies.

Excellent, and the centipede didn't wake up. RUN AWAY!

The further you are away from monsters, the less noise they hear, and thus the slower they wake up. Bryson's stealth is "Fair", which is I believe the highest Freude ever achieved despite stacking a decent bit of stealth gear on at some points. In any event, the centipede isn't awakened; recharged, we go back and zap it to death.

Welcome to level 2. You can learn 1 more spell. The Giant white centipede dies.

Best of all, we gained 2 more mana! That's almost 100% more zapping we can do before running out of juice! For our next spell we learn Phase Door; it doesn't much matter as we shouldn't run out of scrolls anytime soon, but we also aren't going to run into darkened rooms anytime soon, so there's no rush on learning Light Area.

The spellbook in that room was another copy of Magic for Beginners, incidentally. Spares are welcome; spellbooks are quite flammable.

Er. Hi there, Grip. Nice doggy?

Grip, Farmer Maggot's Dog yelps in pain. Grip, Farmer Maggot's Dog bites you.

And this is why we carry Phase Door. Grip only deals 1d4 damage per bite, but he's fast and has 25 HP; he'd kill us much, much faster than we could kill him if he had easy access to melee range.

You have 5 Scrolls titled "ma vito cestis" of Phase Door.

A great setup for shoot 'n scoot. Unfortunately, one flubbed spell and some low rolls run us out of mana, and Grip's still kicking!

You have 11 charges remaining. Grip, Farmer Maggot's Dog howls in pain. Grip, Farmer Maggot's Dog bites you.

8 HP left; I phase away again rather than risk him getting two max-damage rolls in a row.

Welcome to level 3. You can learn 2 more spells. You have 10 charges remaining. Grip, Farmer Maggot's Dog dies.

and 7 max mana! We also gain access to the last spells in Magic for Beginners:

Find Traps, Doors & Stairs: Detect all traps, doors, and stairs in the immediate area.

Stinking Cloud: Shoots a radius-2 poison ball.

The first spell is a staple detection spell. Remember how long it took Freude to get a Rod of Trap Location? Mages can magically detect traps from character level 3, and most classes get the spell well before traps start being an issue for them.

Stinking Cloud has its uses early on, but its damage is too low to keep up for long.

We pick up Light Area and Stinking Cloud for now, since traps are highly unlikely this early in the dungeon.

Incidentally, I'm setting up plenty of keymaps for quickly casting these spells. I've bound ! to "target nearest monster and cast Magic Missile", @ to "cast Detect Monsters", and F to "cast Light Area". F is normally the "fuel your light source" command; I can still access that functionality by escaping the command first with \ (so \F will access the "base" F command). Using lots of keymaps will really save your sanity as a caster; it also makes it far less likely that you'll accidentally cast the wrong spell.

Further exploration of the level doesn't turn up much of interest, though we do ding level 4 off of a Yellow Jelly. More importantly, we manage to scrape together just over 100 AU, which is what the next spellbook costs. Let's just nip back to town and pick that up. Bryson is playing with disconnected stairs, note, so there's no up staircase from where she entered the level. But up stairs can still be generated elsewhere on the level and used to return to higher depths.

You bought a Book of Magic Spells [Conjurings and Tricks] for 100 gold.

It won't be long until we know all of these too! Or at least, all of them that are worth knowing.

While here, I give Mauser the Chemist a copy of some of our un-ID'd potions and scrolls; we had an Indigo Potion of Neutralize Poison, a Chartreuse Potion of Resist Heat, and a Scroll titled "ratior milam" of Light.

Back into the dungeon!

Well, that's convenient.

You enter a maze of down staircases. (to 100')

Uh oh. Cave Spiders. 7 health apiece, and they're fast; they could kill Bryson very quickly if things go poorly. However, as long as we stay in the corridor, they shouldn't pursue us -- they'll only chase us outside of rooms if our health drops below 50%, and what's going to hit us? So we learn Stinking Cloud, aim...


You failed to concentrate hard enough!

Note that failing to cast a spell still charges us for the mana. We only have 3 attempts left.

You failed to concentrate hard enough!

Make that 2 attempts. Casters are far more vulnerable to RNG screw than fighters are. Fortunately we can eventually get our spells down to a 0% failure rate; until then, though, subjectively they'll feel like they're failing far more than they ought to. Though somehow, every time I decide to collect stats, the numbers come out about right in the long run. The RNG must know

Anyway, with only 5 mana left I'd rather retreat and rest up before trying those spiders again. Create some space:

and have a little snooze. When we return, the spiders are all still napping. Excellent! Let's give this another try!

2 monsters jerk in pain. The Cave spider jerks feebly. The Cave spider twitches in pain. You hear a scream of agony! The Cave spider jerks in agony. 3 Cave spiders flee in terror! 2 Cave spiders die.

Stiking Cloud currently does a flat 12 damage per cast; that's the damage at the center of the cloud, and it falls off a bit towards the edges (I don't know by how much), but it still makes a good crowd-control weapon in the early game. It's only 2 mana per cast, after all, and it doesn't take much to beat Magic Missile considering it can hit multiple targets.

Cleaning up the spiders with the aforementioned Magic Missile, we hit level 5 and 2 more spells to learn! One neat trick about learnable spells: the game gives you additional "spell slots" you can learn spells into as you gain levels and INT, but it doesn't require that you learn spells in any kind of order. We have an "extra" learnable spell held over from the previous level because we still haven't learned Detect Traps, Doors & Stairs, which means:

We can learn 3 of these! Of course, only one of these is actually worthwhile...but it's still a neat thing you can do. Priests have one specific case where they want to use this trick.

Anyway, we have new spells!

Confuse Monster: "Attempts to confuse a single monster for a level-dependent duration. Uniques and monsters that resist confusion are not affected." Confusion is a total-lockdown, effectively; confused monsters can't cast spells (including "natural" spells like breaths, bows, and boulder throwing) and are very unlikely to be able to line up a melee attack either. But you're really not likely to succeed in landing this spell; monsters resist it distressingly often.

Lightning Bolt: "Fires a lightning beam that hurts each monster in its path." This is excellent -- a spell that always beams! Invaluable for fighting in corridors, where the monsters line up neatly for us; this will make a great orc killer. A bit expensive per-shot and not very damaging compared to other attack spells, though.

Trap/Door Destruction: "Destroys all traps and doors within a 1-square radius of you." I guess if you really don't want to risk triggering a trapdoor, this could be worthwhile, but honestly it's just one of many, many filler spells.

Cure Poison: "Neutralizes poison." Ironically, priests get access to this spell far later and have to pay more mana for it. Mostly only worth casting if you're trying to rest, since the 1HP/turn damage from poison is almost always negligible even for mages, but still "disturbs" you each turn, preventing repetitive actions like resting.

We just pick up Lightning Bolt for now. It only does 3d6 damage (at the moment; it'll pick up a bit with level), but it's still a good spell, and will definitely have its moments.

Case in point.

The Apprentice writhes in agony. The Soldier screams in agony. The White jelly squelches. The Apprentice flees in terror! The Soldier flees in terror! The Acolyte dies.

Not bad for four mana, eh? Now that we have a few spellpoints under our belt, we can actually kill early monsters pretty safely...but we still can easily get overwhelmed if we run out of mana, and random spell failures make that a constant possibility. Heck, mopping these guys up (with Magic Missile, since they broke formation) still took us down to 1 point remaining, and it turns out there was another Soldier in the room we couldn't see. Fortunately still sleeping, so we were able to recharge before dealing with him.

That encounter put us 2 experience short of leveling; I grab Detect Traps, Doors & Stairs and cast it for the experience to level us up.

You sense no traps. You sense the presence of doors and stairs! Welcome to level 6. You can learn 2 more spells.

Then I grab a couple of spells from Conjurings and Tricks; it doesn't really matter which since they're all junk, but casting them gets us 20 experience apiece, and now we're about to level again. Learning and casting spells is a great way to speed up experience gain in the early game for mages and priests.

At level 7, we really ought to be able to handle deeper depths, so let's continue.

You sense the presence of traps! You sense the presence of doors!
You sense the presence of monsters!

Oh man, being able to detect monsters and traps so early on is fantastic. Granted, we need the ability because we'd never survive without it, but it sure is nice to not be in danger of getting blindsided by monsters we didn't know about.

...except for invisible monsters, of course. But the early ghosts are all weak, so who cares?

We pick up level 7 pretty quickly, which unlocks the remaining spells in Conjurings & Tricks:

* Sleep Monster: "Attempts to put to sleep a single monster. Uniques and monsters that resist confusion are not affected." Even more worthless than Confuse Monster, since as far as I'm aware the odds of success are unchanged, and confusion lasts for a lot longer than sleep (unless you're highly stealthy anyway). Plenty of monsters never sleep but can be confused, too (Zephyr hounds, for example).

* Teleport Self: "Teleports you randomly within the current level." Freude made good use of Staves of Teleportation for a similar effect through about 2500', after which point random teleportation gets rather hazardous. This spell will be helpful for a similar duration. Though we'll still need a Staff of Teleportation unless and until we get protection from both blindness and confusion.

* Spear of Light: "Fires a beam that lights up each square and hurts each light-sensitive monster in its path." Wands and Rods of Light have a similar effect. The damage isn't bad, and being able to light up corridors comes in handy surprisingly often, so this is a great utility spell.

* Frost Bolt: "Fires a frost bolt that always hits its target. Sometimes a beam is fired instead that hurts each monster in its path. The chance to get a beam goes up with your character level." Frost bolt will be our next staple attack spell; it does far more damage than Magic Missile (or Lightning Bolt) and only costs 3 mana. That failure rate needs to come down a bit though.

* Wonder: "Invokes a random spell effect." Terrible: it's expensive, it has a high failure rate, and the effects are unpredictable and potentially harmful. If you need early access to high-level spells, you're better off just using a Wand of Wonder, which does exactly the same thing but gets bonuses from your magic device skill. There's the slim chance that you could pull a Fireball or the like and hit your opponent for 80+ damage, but if you're that desperate you should probably just run away (c.f. Teleport Self). This would be more interesting if it were cheap and easy to cast; even then, the unpredictability makes it of low utility.

Several good spells in there! Frost Bolt and Spear of Light are the picks for now...and casting them puts us 8 EXP from leveling again

You have a Wooden Torch of Brightness (5000 turns).

Awesome! A radius-2 light, just like a lantern. Unfortunately, torches can't be refuelled, so at the end of those 5000 turns we'll be stuck with normal torches again. With any luck we'll find a proper lantern before then. This isn't quite the amazing find it would have been with Freude; Freude wanted the lantern so he could see monsters before bumbling into melee range, but we can detect monsters long before that. Still, more light = more better.

A bit more exploration and zapping of random molds and jellies nets us level 8 and only 1 more spell; looks like we can't continue riding the learn-by-casting experience train. We'll hold off on learning new spells for now; there's no real rush.

Taking the stairs down, and speak of the devil:

A lantern! Excellent. Lanterns weigh 5 pounds compared to 2.2 for a torch, but being able to stack 15000 turns into them makes them more weight-efficient in the long run. Sure, we have a decent carrying capacity buffer right now (30 more pounds before we get overweight), but we're also butt-naked and missing half our spellbooks. With a STR of only 13, weight is going to be a recurring problem for a long time. We only get 234 turns of use out of that Torch of Brightness, but oh well.

Detect Monster starts coming into its own. We can handle all of these groups, but the pair of Scouts to our northwest are potentially threatening; best to make sure we're rested up first.

Hm, that's a lot of enemies. Incidentally, there was some rubble in the way on the way over; it took Bryson 79 turns of digging with her hands to clear it. Poor girl.

A line of blue shimmering light appears. The Blue jelly cringes from the light!

Most jellies are light-sensitive; this one just took 6d8 damage. Unfortunately, blue jellies are frost-aligned, so we can't take advantage of their other traditional weakness and have to just missile this one down. The Scouts and a Gallant show up afterwards, and get missiled as well. Our prize is a Whip and a Hard Leather Cap, which we put on for the sake of having something in those slots.

Mages have far worse pseudo-ID abilities than warriors, so we won't know if these items are magical for quite some time (or until we can ID them by use). In the old days, mages and priests couldn't even tell the level of enchantment of an item through pseudo-ID; they could only distinguish {magical} and {cursed}. They couldn't even recognize {average} (i.e. no enchantment)! I'm pretty sure that's gone now and everyone has access to the same tiers of pseudo-ID.

We clear out some minor kobolds, and net a new wand -- a Wand of Wonder. Well, it might make a good nuke button if we run into some nasty uniques. Best hold onto it for now.

A bit further on we find a good opportunity to practice safe electrical procedure:

The Large grey snake hisses furiously. 9 Cave spiders die.

Like shooting fish in a barrel

Next level!

Yikes, okay, that yeti (white Y) could be dangerous. They have a lot of HP and normally only show up at 450', i.e. four levels later.

Though it turns out we have another problem. Stupid Silver Mice! At least they don't resist poison (i.e. Stinking Cloud).

This is ideal; the Yeti is well away from us, so we can plink it down from a distance. Simply back up: to cast Lightning Bolt twice in a row...

Have the Yeti wander around a corner and leave us to waste our mana on some chumps...

Finally! And six Magic Missiles later, it dies, leaving us at 4 mana left.

Most early-game monsters do not have ranged attacks, so mages are best-served by keeping their distance and plinking away with Magic Missile. It's currently doing 4d4 damage for every point of mana we spend, and has an 8% failure rate; nothing else comes remotely close in terms of mana-efficiency against single targets. At level 9, now, we have 19 mana -- barely enough to deal with small groups.

That said, there are times when it's definitely worth breaking out the bigger spells -- either because we're in a damage race, or because they hit weaknesses. Like with this naga:

Nagas are weak against cold

You failed to concentrate hard enough!
You failed to concentrate hard enough!
The Green naga freezes and shatters!

That was not a 24% failure rate! Stupid RNG. Resting up from our unexpectedly-large mana expenditure, our pseudo-ID finally kicks in:

You feel the Whip in your pack is magical... You feel the Maul in your pack is magical... You feel the Short Bow in your pack is magical... You feel the Whip you are using is average... You feel the Short Bow you are shooting missiles with is magical... You feel the Hard Leather Cap you are wearing on your head is magical... You feel the Pair of Iron Shod Boots you are wearing on your feet is magical...

Not bad. A magical missile launcher in particular can be a great way to stretch our mana supply; far more efficient than the Wand of Magic Missiles, anyway.

Next level!

The big hitters here are the Skeleton Orc (white s) and Large Kobold (blue k), both of whom have relatively large HP pools and thus take awhile to wear down. Skeletons are also immune to cold and poison, so we're stuck with Magic Missile and Lightning Bolt for them.

Also we can cast Phase Door now without cutting into our mana supply too heavily.

Even though we can't see the Large Kobold, we know where it is, and Magic Missile will hit it 100% of the time anyway. In contrast, if we fired arrows at it then we'd suffer a decreased hit chance because we can't see it. Spells have their advantages!

It cries out in pain.
It screams in agony.
You hear a scream of agony!

He drops a Gold Wand, which turns out to be a Wand of Light. Excellent, we have all we need to kill orcs en masse now. Well, as long as they aren't Hill Orcs or Uruks, both of whom don't care about light.

Something touches you. One of your 7 Rations of Food was eaten!

There's a Green Glutton Ghost in the vicinity. Well hey, we have AOE attacks. Spamming Stinking Cloud on our position...accomplishes absolutely nothing

I waste almost all of our mana before thinking to check the monster memory and discovering that all ghosts are immune to poison by default. Great. Then a naga shows up, and in the process of spending our last points missiling it,

You hear a scream of agony!

Guess the ghost wandered into the line of fire. Not the most efficient way to deal with monsters you can't see, but I'll take it. I could have sworn that Stinking Cloud made a good ad-hoc ghostbuster back in the day...weird.

We Shoot 'n Scoot the Skeleton Orc and hit level 10 (21 max mana). They're normally native to 400' and we're still only at 300', so we're netting some good experience returns, despite our slower dive rate compared to Freude.

This seems like a good place to stop for now. We've gotten Bryson through the most perilous part of the game; she now has some options when it comes to dealing with her opponents. Assuming the RNG doesn't make her waste her mana.

Next time: we unlock the next book's worth of spells, and maybe track down some uniques to slowly plink down!