June 1: Mummy Wizard
I sort of hate mummies. I hate their terrible aptitudes and stats, I hate their inability to drink, I hate their intrinsic fire vulnerability, and I hate how their one unique benefit, (the lack of a food clock), all but requires worshiping specific gods to take full advantage of. They might be my second-least favorite species in DCSS, with demigods taking the number 1 slot. I prefer ghouls in almost every respect, as they get most of the benefits of mummies with ameliorated downsides in every department except stats. That said, I’m sort of intrigued by mummies, and it’s about time I ascended one. Wizard seems like fine place to start: they’re a spellcaster, which I excel at, they can develop in almost any direction they want, and their diverse set of low-level starting spells gives them a good set of tools to work with. Since their bad apts ensure they’ll be late bloomers, wizard might be the best background for them aside from summoners, (the classic combo for mummies).
In any case, for all their disadvantages, I feel pretty confident about this game. Mummies may be far from optimal when compared with deep elves or tengu, but I’m good enough at both conjurers and summoners, (the two possible development paths I can either take or combine here), that I expect I can pull it off. If I lose anywhere beyond the first two levels, it’s almost certainly my own fault, barring something stupid like dying to a damage trap or falling through a shaft into an unwinnable situation. There’s two main gods that work best with mummies: Sif Muna and Nemelex Xobah. Sif since you can channel endlessly with zero hunger, and Nemelex because you can sacrifice all and every potion and comestible for extra Decks of Wonders. I’ll be aiming for Sif, but I’ll take Nemelex if I don’t find her early enough. Ashenzari and Kikubaaqudgha are both viable options as well, since Ash gives skill bonuses to offset my poor apts, (and really there are few combos that don’t do well with Ash), and Kiku will grant me access to some decent books early and is easy (if tedious) for mummies to abandon. I don’t think I’ll be taking either though, since I feel more confident with Sif or at least Nemelex.
The first thing I notice starting out is how underpowered my Magic Dart feels. This spell is always weak, especially starting out, but here it’s even weaker and the weakness persists longer. That’s to be expected, because my bad apts keep down the spellpower. Early on, a humble goblin manages to hit me down from 17 to 4 HP while I deplete my entire supply of MP casting darts at it, forcing me to pillar-dance it while I regain enough resources to take it on safely. I also manage to find a hand axe of venom here, which isn’t great but I decide to wield none the less, as venom can be particularly useful as a brand in the first 7 levels or so. While mummies don’t have to worry about hunger if they wait to recharge MP after every fight, they still have to worry about out-of-depth monsters walking up the stairs while they wait, not to mention piety decay from their god. It’s still good to take out weaker enemies in melee (or with ranged weapons like slings) if possible. Finally, I memorize all my earliest spells, adding Call Imp and Blink.
On D:2 I run into some snags with equips. First I put on a pair of gloves that turn out to be cursed -2 gloves, but I’m able to get them off by reading unidentified scrolls in my inventory. Next, I put on a ring which turns out to be a -5 ring of protection, which puts me at -3 AC. Yikes! I can’t take this off right away, but luckily find another remove curse scroll quickly. Beyond that, the toughest monster I face here is an iguana, which I dispatch without too much trouble beyond exhausting my MP. I also find another ring, but given my luck so far, I decline to equip it lest I find it’s a cursed ring of teleportation, -6 intelligence, or, I don’t know, instant death.
D:3 goes fairly painlessly, and I manage to fight off an orc pack. It looks like my Magic Dart is finally starting to work properly. When I go down to D:4, I’m confronted by an ogre skeleton camping the stairs, all of which are next to each other. This is somewhat nasty, but I have a way to deal with it. I’ve got enough spell levels now, and I memorize everything else in my book except for Slow, adding Conjure Flame, Mephitic Cloud, and Repel Missiles. I move to another set of stairs, walk down, and place a conjured flame between me and the ogre skeleton. As expected, the skeleton walks right into the flame, and, after a couple turns, burns to death while attempting to attack me. This is how I’ll be taking down most powerful monsters, especially undead, through the early-mid game.
I also notice something strange while I’m stair-dancing here. While I can see 3 sets of stairs up on D:4, I only see 2 on D:3. D:3 is fully explored, so that means there’s a hidden set of stairs somewhere. Short of a scroll of magic mapping there’s only one way to see where that is, so I take the D:4 stairs up. Here’s what I find:
This is what I’ve taken to calling the “staff vault”. It’s relatively common and (as far as I know) always appears early in the dungeon. It’s got several quarterstaffs and one magic staff, which in this case turns out to be the Staff of Air. Probably not that useful for me, but potentially good to have none the less in case I start casting Airstrike or Lightning Bolt. The rest of the level goes fairly smoothly, and I take down a phantom using the same Conjure Flame trick I used on that ogre skeleton.
Just to the north of here I find the Ecumenical Temple. I search around for Sif Muna’s altar… and it isn’t there. Neither is Nemelex, or even Ashenzari. The only god that’s compatible with me here is Kikubaaqudgha. I’ve essentially got two options here: I can either continue in the dungeon until I find the overflow vault for one of the gods I really want, or I can just take Kiku now and use a dirty trick to abandon her later after I’ve reached full piety and safely wait out her wrath. Her benefits, (torment protection, protection from necromancy miscasts, and an invocation to summon corpses), aren’t that good for me: I’m already torment-immune, the really nasty necromancy miscasts don’t affect me and will probably never happen anyway, and while her corpses are good for Twisted Resurrection and Simulacrum, I don’t plan on going full necromancy. However, she’ll work for now, and I follow her. Kiku grants piety for killing living enemies, so I’ll be doing that as fast as I can.
D:5 is fairly straightforward combat-wise, but I do find a Book of the Air, which contains the spell Lightning Bolt. It looks like that Staff of the Air may come in useful after all. If I don’t find anything better, this may be my primary damage spell, though Kiku is sure to gift me Bolt of Draining as well. I memorize Swiftness from the book right away, as it’s one of the best spells in the game and will allow me to quickly escape from threats that would ordinarily chase me down. I also find a ring of fire resistance, which is enough to negate my intrinsic fire vulnerability, making it a good early find.
I find a randart ring on D:6, but it turns out to be worthless: Regen, Str -4, Int+2. Regeneration will do nothing for me and the strength loss will make it a huge pain to carry anything, so I drop it. I also encounter Menkaure here. For most characters, Menkaure is a serious threat because of his torment and pain spells, but I’m immune to all of them, and he goes down easily to my Magic Darts. I get my first Kiku gift book here, which unfortunately doesn’t contain Pain, (which would represent a damage boost over my Magic Darts if I could memorize it), but does contain both Animate Skeleton and Corpse Rot, both of which I memorize. Animate skeleton will give me some meat shields to take down harder enemies or cover me while I retreat, and Corpse Rot can spew rotting and slowing miasma that I’m immune to. It’s hard to work on some characters, but if you follow Kiku you can just ask her for corpses at will and rot them for a mere 2MP while your undead servant whale on your enemies. It’s surprisingly effective.
I have a rather tense encounter with a centaur, an orc pack (including a priest), and a giant frog on D:7. I’m using Mephitic Cloud now, which has a nasty tendency of drawing in nearby enemies on account of how noisy it is, and I’m running around at less-than-full health to maximize my rate of piety gain. However, I manage to escape up a stairway and take down my opponents one by one. I also find the Nemelex altar here that was missing from Temple. It would have hardly been onerous to wait this long for it, but I was aiming for Sif anyway. I hadn’t even been picking up the food and potions I’d want to sacrifice to her, and Kiku seems to be working out quite well for the time being. I’ve turned on and focused Necromancy, and pretty soon I find a Book of Unlife. Pretty redundant, you might think, but Kiku gifts randart books that sometimes lack powerful spells. Now I’ve got guaranteed access to Twisted Resurrection and Simulacrum, two very powerful necromantic “summoning” spells, so that’s good. I’ll have to build a great deal of skill to cast them, but Twisted Resurrection isn’t even that far off.
D:8 turns out the be the gnoll level. I love the gnoll level. It’s a repeating set of vaults, little forts and houses, filled with gnolls and the occasional gnoll sergeant or shaman. Even if it’s not particularly unique in gameplay terms, (though it is, to some extent), I find it really flavorful, like a sort of little village inside the dungeon. It actually feels more like a real settlement to me than Orc or Elf. It’s also a great level for me because at my level, and with my spells, enemies will go down quickly and raise my piety about as fast as I could expect. Many of the vaults here include a deep-water moat, and if I can get the gnolls to cluster near them I can cast Mephitic Cloud and they’ll drown themselves, meaning I can get 3 or more kills for a single 3MP cast. Of course, things don’t always go as planned.
If I didn’t have good luck and a scroll of blinking, I would have incredibly dead here. The meph noise attracted not only a swarm of killer bees, but an ogre skeleton that crept up behind me and started hitting for massive damage while I was held in a gnoll’s net. I’m really lucky to have survived at all, and this should be a message that I’m going too fast. Still, I made it, and managed to clear the level with only one other mishap:
Ugh. It’s been a while since this happened to me, so I guess I was overdue. I was walking around manually, clearing up the last major unexplored portion of the level, when I mottled dragon crept into view. I wasn’t paying close enough attention, and it managed to hit me with a sticky flame that trashed quite a few of my scrolls before I could do anything about it. At least I dropped the most critical ones, blinking, right away, but some were unidentified and might have been really nice. It also nearly killed me, since I was at half health to begin with, and had I not shot the thing down with a couple zaps from a wand of draining it might have been the end of my game. Mottled dragons are resistant to poison, so they can’t be meph’ed, so they’re a pretty terrifying monster in the early game for a wizard with no other options. Had I been paying closer attention, I would have immediately retreated, dropped all my scrolls, and returned to take it down with imps, but I wasn’t, and I payed for it.
I finally find the Sif altar all the way down on D:9.
I’m not sure if overflow vaults are set at game start, but if they are, this would have been a pain in the ass to get into. However, it wouldn’t be impossible, as I’ve both got scroll of blinking and the blink spell, so I could have wait until here and started worshiping Sif. It wouldn’t have even meant a huge delay in book gifts, but had I not found any other books up to this point, I probably would have to face Lair with only the spells in my starting spellbook, a rather daunting (though hardly impossible) task. In any case, I’m planning to be back here soon, probably after finishing Lair or at latest Orc, as once my Kiku piety’s maxed and I’ve returned to her altar for a Necronomicon, I’ll be abandoning her. Over the course of this level I also get my second Kiku book gift and decide to unfocus spellcasting and turn off stealth, since I’ll need higher necromancy and conjuring to get access to some of the stronger spells in my books. Twisted Resurrection is at 34% now, and a few more levels of Necromancy will make it roughly castable.
This is my first sight on descending the stairs to D:10:
That’s Josephine, the necromancer unique. She casts Bolt of Draining, (which I’m immune to), Bolt of Cold, (which I only resist), and comes with a pack of depth-appropriate skeletons and zombies. I’m lucky she didn’t wake up here, because I would have had to chance a 1-on-1 fight with her, rather than facing her on my own terms, (namely, with a long path of conjured flames between us). I go back up the stairs and look for a decent approach where I can fill a hallway with flames before coaxing her and her pets out, and I run into Gastronok. If there’s one unique on a level, there’s a good bet there’s probably more.
This guy is arguably more dangerous than Josephine for most players. He’s got a ton of HP and enough HD to make him all but immune to Mephitic Cloud, and worse yet, he casts Airstrike, a smite-targeted air spell that can hit for dozens of HP in damage. His main weakness is his speed. He’s a slug, after all, and even when he casts Swiftness on himself he’s slower than the player. I decided to take him on: I could probably take him down with Conjure Flame, and I’ve done so many times before.
And that’s the one risk I shouldn’t have taken. From the opposite side of the screen, at “nearly dead” HP levels, he hit me with two quick Airstrikes and ended the game. You die…
I said at the beginning of this that if I died, it would almost certainly be my own fault. And it was. It would be easy to chalk this loss up to a series of bad rolls – Gastronok not dying from the flames quickly enough, him choosing to Airstrike twice in a row, Airstrike hitting for enough damage to kill me – but in fact it was a progressing scale of carelessness and unacceptable risk that brought me to the point where a few bad rolls could end the game. As should be obvious from my experience on D:8, I was rushing the game in a really risky way. I’m very comfortable playing wizards, probably too comfortable, especially when I’m a mummy and can’t just quaff heal wounds when I’m in a jam. I was also very, very concerned about getting my piety maxed, because I wanted to drop Kiku ASAP, but in the long run a couple extra dungeon levels to get it maxed isn’t going to translate into that many more Sif gifts. I could have slowed down, especially in a situation like this where I know full well I’m in imminent danger.
There were also some serious tactical errors in the actual engagement. The most glaring, obvious and stupid mistake I made was beginning it at all. I could have just avoid Gastronok if I wanted, because he moves at half my speed. I didn’t even need to avoid him permanently, but just enough to heal up fully from the 36HP I started the battle with. With HP that low, I could have been one-shotted. Granted, I was in a good location when the engagement started, and was nearly able to take him down even under these circumstances, but I was walking on a razor’s edge to begin with and shouldn’t be surprised I got cut. But more than that, I played this poorly. I didn’t have Swiftness up, which could have bought me the extra turn I needed to escape. I died with two scrolls of blinking in hand, which is inexcusable – I could and should have blinked away as soon as I got hit with that first Airstrike. This was all just poor play on my part, and should count as a lesson learned, or at least reinforced.
As for the combo, I’ll definitely be coming back to it. I still haven’t won a mummy, and a MuWz seems like my best shot. And when I do, I hope the Sif altar’s in Temple.