May 31: Naga Venom Mage

by ibukisuika

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup 0.13-a0-1284-g77c6466


This seems like a natural combo, though probably not a popular one. The Nagas you fight in the Snake Pit are essentially Venom Mages, casting Venom Bolt and Poison Arrow along with an assortment of other conjurations and translocations spells. However, neither Nagas nor Venom Mages are particularly popular choices – in the last tournament, only 21 Nagas were won, which puts them towards the middle of the distribution in median terms but in fact far closer to the least played race, (Ghouls, with 11 wins), than the most, (Minotaurs, with 109). Venom Mages were even less popular. In the end, only 14 were won, making them the 4th-least chosen background and tied with notoriously difficult Transmuters and Chaos Knights. Personally, I think Venom Mages are underrated by the community at large. Sure, they lack a 9th-level super-spell like Shatter, Tornado, or Fire/Ice Storm, but their 6th-level spell Poison Arrow is the best single-target conjuration in the game, in my opinion, on account of its high damage and massive range, (full-screen targeting with Vehumet’s aid, and enough damage to 1-shot most high-level enemies that lack rPois). They do face some problems early on because of poison-resistant enemies, but not as much as you might think, and enemies that lack poison resistance tend to go down even quicker than to the other elementalists. Further, worshiping Vehumet, (the natural god choice for a Venom Mage), usually gives quick access to spells that can affect poison-resistant enemies. Overall they’re actually one of my favorite classes, and I’ve ascended 2 already and played several more.

Nagas, however, are a different story. I’ve never gotten one off the ground, let alone ascended one. I just haven’t gotten the hang of their slow speed, because my playstyle tends to focus on taking lots of risks while allowing for quick retreat if things go pear-shaped. Naga Venom Mages also face some additional challenges that other Venom Mages don’t – the standby strategy of poisoning an enemy then retreating while the poison wears down their HP isn’t going to work here, forcing more uses of Mephitic Cloud, which makes a great deal of noise. That’s bad. It wakes up enemies and potentially draws them into the battle, so I try to avoid using it when I have other options. Additionally, many of the threats early Venom Mages can’t take down on account of poison resistance, like ice beasts, wraiths, and the new-and-improved shadows, are best retreated from, which Nagas can’t always effectively do. On the belated bright side, they can use Olgreb’s Toxic Radiance, (the full-screen poisoning spell comparable to Ozocubu’s Refrigeration and Shatter), without fear of poisoning themselves though I’ve never found that particularly effective myself.

With all that in mind, I’ll be playing my NaVM the same way I’d play most VMs: worshiping Vehumet as soon as possible. If I was more comfortable with Nagas I might take a somewhat harder god, possibly Chei, but I’m not confident enough to do so. It’s hard for me to estimate how well I’ll do, since I’m very comfortable with my choice of class and god but inexperienced and possessing a poor record with my choice of species. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve got equal chances of early death, tragic midgame loss, or glorious victory.


I start out by immediately focusing Spellcasting, Conjurations and Poison Magic, while leaving stealth on but unfocused. This is my standard experience spread for Vehumet conjurers, especially elementalists. I want early access to my top tier-spell, (Venom Bolt, in this case), so I’ll eventually be unfocusing Spellcasting once I have enough mana and spell slots to take whatever useful spells Veh gives me. I’ll also be leaving stealth on for a very long time. I’ll need it early to avoid enemies I can’t take down, and I’ll want a lot of it in the long run to allow for retreat from threats that would easily chase me down with my low speed. I’ll probably be taking it all the way to 12, whereas I usually turn it off somewhere around 6-8 on most conjurers, and possibly turning it on again later towards the end of midgame. Mercifully, Nagas have a great stealth apt, so this won’t be an onerous drain on my xp.

D:1 treats me fairly kindly. I don’t run into any serious threats, and the only thing I meet that’s rPois at this point is an ooze, which I easily melee down. I find a ring which turns out to be a ring of ice, probably useless for me unless I decided to go for Ice Storm late in the game, but I hold on to it anyway in case I run into an Ice Cave where the rC it grants will come in useful. On D:2 I run into my first real challenge, an encounter with an adder and an ooze.

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My game easily could have ended right here. Up to this point, I’ve foolishly been neglecting to use my Spit Poison ability, which basically works like an extra shot of Sting at the cost of some hunger. I barely manage to pull off this battle with its help, along with quaffing an unidentified potion that turns out to be curing, but almost stumble while melee-ing the ooze. Under normal circumstances I would have just run away to heal up, but Nagas are even slower than an ooze, so that wasn’t an option in this case.

When I proceed to D:3 the level I find a trident of pain, which isn’t that useful for me at this point as I have 0 necromancy skill, but I decide to wield it anyway as it’s better than my bare fists. Hopefully I’ll find something better, preferably a weapon of protection or even a staff of poison, before I make it to Lair. Nothing much challenges me here, but on D:4 I quickly run into this fine fellow:

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He’s the ghost of a Minotaur Berserker who would most definitely eat my balls if I’m foolish enough to take him on, (as a side note, this is actually the ghost of my internet friend, jools). Thankfully, my high Naga stealth allows me to escape and I can explore the rest of the level freely, as long as I’m careful. I actually considered immediately taking a down stairs to avoid that ghost, but decided against it because I really need the experience and loot at this point. Later in the level I run into Prince Ribbit, a fairly nasty early unique that’s essentially the same as the blink frogs I’ll face later in Lair: high speed, blinks randomly, and hits fairly hard. On most characters I’d avoid him this early, but this is where a Venom Mage shines: I’ve got Mephitic Cloud to confuse him and Sting to hit him with hefty poison damage, and he’s quickly dispatched, granting some much-needed experience.

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I very quickly run into something I can’t handle on D:5, an ice beast. Once I’ve improved my skills at little, I’ll be able to take these down with repeated Venom Bolts, but right now they’re all but invincible. I at first attempt to retreat, but he notices me, and I’m too far from the stairs to reach them in time before he makes it to me, so I’m forced to use other options. I haven’t identified my scrolls yet, (probably an error on my part), but read unidentified scrolls quickly reveals teleport and away I go. I realized in retrospect that I should have been wearing that ring of ice I found earlier to neutralize the ice beast’s freezing attack, but I’d forgotten I even had it.

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I explore the level further, but stop once I find a jelly. These are another sort of enemy I really have no defense against at this point. Luckily it’s asleep and I can easily avoid it, but most of the level is closed off to me at this point. I explore that last bit of the map that’s both unexplored and safe, and discover the Ecumenical Temple. Great! I’ve been getting really lucky with all these early Temples.

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I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t find the Vehumet altar here and be forced to either choose another god, (probably Sif Muna or Kikubaaqudgha), or wait until I found a Veh altar in an overflow vault somewhere else in the first 9 levels of the dungeon. Both of those would significantly decrease my chances of survival. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about that, as Veh’s altar is right there as I take the down stairs. I immediately take him and decide to skip the rest of this level. There’s too much I can’t deal with at this point and I’m totally out of escape options. I annotate the level using the “!” key to say that it’s unfinished, to remind me to come back and clear it later, and proceed to D:6.


Immediately upon descending the stairs to D:6 I’m confronted with a scorpion and a centaur, both asleep. Intending to cast Meph on the centaur, I misclick and cast Olgreb’s Toxic Radiance instead. To my surprise, neither of the monsters wake up. It appears that this may be a more effective spell than I anticipated: high Naga stealth combined with silent casting is a good thing. After a second cast they do wake up, but I dispatch them without problem. Later in the level I end up in a protracted fight that attracts an ogre, probably because of my use of Meph. This is exactly the position I didn’t want to be in.

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Ogres hit hard. In the worst case scenario, it could take me down in 2 or 3 hits. Also, as you can see from the screenshot, they’ve got enough HD to shrug off the confusion from meph sometimes. I do manage to escape from this encounter by retreating until I’ve recovered enough MP to cast another shot of meph, which works this time, but it easily could have gone the other way, with the meph not working or the ogre killing me before I even get another chance to cast it. I might have been better off teleporting again, but I hadn’t explored much of the level at that point and I may have ended up in an even worse position.

On D:7 I run into Duvessa and Dowan. These two aren’t that threatening at this point, but could still kill me if I’m not careful. I start off with a few casts of Toxic Radiance, which again fails to wake them up. I’m starting the battle with them heavily poisoned and getting low on HP, which is great. I then meph both of them, use up the last of my MP on some shots of Sting, and finish them off with a few sling bullets. It turns out Toxic Radiance is actually much better than I expected at this point in the game, which is a welcome surprise.

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Over the rest of the level I end up placing a few exclusions on enemies I don’t think I can deal with, namely an ice beast and a wyvern zombie. The Wyvern zombie in particular would most likely force me to teleport, as they hit hard in the early game and despite being a zombie they can’t be outrun even by a normal character, let alone a Naga. Vehumet also grants me my first spell gift: Freeze. Not very good. It’s not going to help me take down any undead, and worse yet, they need to be right next to me for me to use it. It’s also a pure Ice Magic spell, meaning I’d have to train Ice Magic a little to even use it. I would have much preferred Shock, or at least Magic Missile, but I memorize it anyway because it might help me in Lair.

D:8 is where I really run into some trouble.

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That’s Erolcha over on the lower left. She’s a nasty unique Ogre Mage that can cast Banish, Confuse, Lightning Bolt and some other potentially deadly spells. If I met her alone I might be able to take her down, but even in that case I’d probably avoid her at this point, and I’m not really in a position to do either. This level is filled with undead, as you can see to the north, and I can tell from the vault layout that this is going to be a reoccuring problem on the level: that vault repeats over and over on the levels in which it occurs, meaning that even if I somehow managed to take down these undead, I’d still have to deal with all the rest. I try taking the last down stairs, but it’s no better. It puts me out just to the west of where I was earlier, and is guarded by an orc pack lead by an orc warrior. I’ll have to skip this level, but I’m not sure how.

Luckily, there’s a trap door that takes me to a more reasonable position. I read a scroll of magic mapping to find the down stairs, and run to the nearest one. I have to take down a manticore to reach it, which is somewhat tense as it requires casting Venom Bolt, (meph also would have worked, but might have woken up/attracted those undead), but I manage it.

D:9 goes much better, though I have to escape from a pair of phantoms a couple times. My sling bullets probably aren’t enough to kill them, and they’re immune to all my other spells. I manage to take down a few orc packs though, including orc warriors, and get my second spell gift: Sandblast. I don’t even both memorizing this one, it’s worthless to me since I have no Earth Magic and am not carrying stones.

D:10 is filled with harder monsters than I’ve faced so far. I have to take down several hippogriffs, a troll and a hill giant, but I’ve gotten Venom Bolt down to 8 so I’m in surprisingly good shape and able to take down most enemies without breaking a sweat. I also find the entrance to the Orcish Mines, which I’m planning to skip for now and come back to after Lair. However, while I’m healing up after the fight with Orc’s defenders, this happens:

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I manage to get teleport up before he kills me, but it’s not enough. I try quaff heal wounds, but he kills me the next turn. Ugh. I should have tried retreating instead, and I definitely shouldn’t have been resting in such a dangerous place, but it’s a bad way to go none the less. An eight-headed hydra skeleton is really strong monster for this point in the game, and I wasn’t expecting one to rush up on me. That’s that though, and there’s no take-backs in Crawl.


Aside from that last, fatal battle, I think I played pretty well here. I avoid enemies I couldn’t take, I didn’t lean on meph so much that it woke up everything in the level and dragged it in to kill me, and skipped levels when they were too tough for me to handle. But that’s not enough. I was a little confused about whether I could outrun that hydra, (I don’t think I could, but it probably would have been enough of a delay to prevent it from killing me outright before the teleport kicked in). I’m not sure if I learned much here, but I do feel I have better handle on what Nagas are all about.

Still, the combo is tricky. If I’d made it through Lair and Orc I’d expect to be in better shape, especially if I was gifted Poison Arrow early, but the inability to retreat is a real pain. I’ll be coming back to Nagas again at some point, hopefully soon, but I think I’d prefer a more traditional combo: an Ice Elementalist or Fire Elementalist, or maybe even a berserker. There’s definitely some synergy between the Venom Mage spells and Nagas, particularly in the form of Toxic Radiance and their great aptitude for Poison Magic, but their weaknesses also have a degree of synergy as well. This game ended on a somewhat stupid note, but it could have ended a couple levels earlier instead, cornered by a pack of zombies with no way to either retreat or harm them. Still, it’s hardly a bad combo, just one that’s rather risky, and while I won’t be avoiding NaVM I probably won’t be seeking it out either.