June 3: Minotaur Assassin
Lair:2 and onwards gets off to something of a rocky start when I end up in a fight with some blink frogs that gets me down to low HP. I’ve only got 23 AC at this point, which is nothing to sneeze at, but apparently not quite sufficient to deal with a pack of blink frogs all at once. They’re fragile, but they do a surprising amount of damage and their blinking makes them great at surrounding you even when you get them locked in a 1-tile corridor. My damage is feeling rather lacking as well, because while a battleaxe of chopping is the best thing I have at this point it’s not that powerful overall. I would have much preferred frost, flame or most of all vampiric brands, but none have been forthcoming as of yet. I actually end up using a potion of heal wounds during this fight when it looks like a few more hits might take me down, but I do manage to survive and finish them off.
I find an unbranded executioner’s axe on Lair:3, but decide not to use it. I’d need 26 skill for minimum delay, so I’m not sure if I’ll be doing more damage than I am with my current weapon. If I don’t find or get gifted anything better, I can always come back and vorpalize it with a decent once I’m done training up axes. I immediately run into Erica on Lair:4. She’s one of the more dangerous uniques I can meet at this point, sort of like an upgraded Sigmund: she casts Confuse, Invisibility, Slow and two fairly damaging conjurations, Iskenderun’s Mystic Blast and Venom Bolt, and carries a scimitar of flaming. However, with a shot of Heroism, the fight goes extremely well and she goes down without managing to damage me at all.
A few fights later, I get my first armour gift from Okawaru, a randart scale mail.
This isn’t particularly useful. Scale mail has a fairly low base AC, and even with the +4 enchantment it ends up lowering my AC by a couple points, and except in some rare cases it’s not worth wearing for those resists. The MR might save me from being banished when fighting a few particular enemies, and the rElec can help me with a few uncommon enemies and uniques, but it’s definitely not worth wearing around all the time for those rare occasions. However, I carry it with me anyway just in case, and I actually end up running into one of those situations on the very next floor, which is filled with electric eels. Electric eels are a weak enemy with low HP, but they can shoot bolts of lightning that can take down characters that are unprepared. There’s a few ways to deal with these: if you lack rElec, you can zap them with damaging wands, polymorph them into something less dangerous, quaff a potion of resistance and take them out, or just avoid them. However, in my case, that gift ended up being rather timely, as rElec essentially neutralizes their offensive capabilities and I was able to take them out safely with standard melee attacks without wasting any consumables.
Later, when read-identifying my scrolls, I came across my first scroll of acquirement.
There are two obvious options here: armour or wands. Armour might net me a high-level body armour like gold dragon armour, crystal plate armour, highly-enchanted splint or plate, or possibly one of the coveted rare egos for other slots like a cloak of preservation, boots of running, or a helm of see invisible. Wands has a high chance of giving me one of the rare and useful wands like heal wounds, hasting and teleportation. Both, however, have their downsides. I’ll already be getting plenty of armour gifts from Okawaru, and there’s a good chance whatever I get from acquirement will be useless. On the other hand, the chances of getting a good wand from acquirement are reduced when you haven’t already identified most wands, (as the chance of acquiring any particular wand is increased if it’s unidentified), so I’ve got a good chance of getting something useless there as well. I’m somewhat low on AC though, so I choose armour, hoping for something useful. I’m not disappointed. I get a +2 cloak of poison resistance: not the best, but very good none the less, (it’s the only source of rPois besides the ring and randarts), and a small but useful AC upgrade over my +0 cloak. Considering some of the totally useless acquirement gifts I’ve gotten, (+0 caps, -7 randart guantlets, and so on), this is a fairly good result.
On Lair:5 I find another scroll of acquirement but hold off on using it, not wishing to push my luck. I may have a better use for it later. I also run into the toughest enemies I’ve faced yet, a pack of death yaks.
Death yaks, with the possible exception of hydras, are probably the most dangerous enemies in Lair. I’ve got 27 AC right now, which is fairly good for this point in the game, but death yaks are heavy hitters and it’s not going to be enough for a prolonged fight. Worse, I’m on an open level, and the best placement I can get is engaging two at once. With the help of Heroism I manage to take a couple down, but there’s 5 or 6 in the pack, and I’m pushed into low HP and forced to teleport away. I heal up then come back and finish off the rest, then proceed to the next level.
Early on Lair:6, I find the entrance to the first rune branch in Lair, the Snake Pits, guarded by a surprisingly large number of black mambas and water moccasins. These aren’t too dangerous to most characters alone, as they usually appear, but they’re a much more potent threat in the groups of 3-5 I’m fighting them here, not the least on account of the high poison you can rack up fighting a black mamba, (just fighting one can often get you into red poison, which can translate into losing several HP every turn). However, my cloak of poison resistance works wonders here, and I take them out without much difficulty.
I’m glad I’ve found Snake rather than Spider here, because it’s probably the easier of the two poison branches in Lair. The enemies are somewhat beefier, and the Snake-specific unique, Lamia, is usually a greater threat than the Spider-specific unique, Arachne, but it’s much more straightforward. Spider has tarantellas, whose bites inflict confusion that requires clarity to resist, (rPois does nothing), as well as orb spiders, which will kite you while hitting you with orbs of destruction, and generally has a larger number of weaker enemies that can gang up on you before you know it. There’s also ghost moths, which present a serious threat to spellcasters on account of their MP draining, but are less of a problem for me. In any case, I almost always prefer Snake to Spider, so this is a welcome development. I later stumble upon the entrance to the other rune branch in Lair, the Shoals.
Shoals is perhaps the hardest of the Lair rune branches, and definitely harder than the alternative, Swamp, which is widely regarded as the easiest rune branch on account of its weak monsters, (the strongest of which being hydras, swamp dragons and alligators – not huge threats to a well-prepared mid-level character). Shoals is a different story. Most of the regular enemies, including snapping turtles, manticores, hippogriffs and merfolk, are easy enough, but its top-tier enemies are truly deadly. Krakens can kill you easily if you underestimate them, and the last level in particular is swarming with merfolk impalers, (a strong melee unique), merfolk javelineers, (one of the strongest archers in the game), merfolk aquamancers, (fairly dangerous mages), and the terrifying Shoals unique, Ilsuiw, who’s accompanied by a whole pack of the rest. Shoals is also difficult and dangerous to explore without flight, as whole sections of the level can be blocked off at high tide and it’s often necessary to fight in the water. I’ll definitely be saving this branch for after Snake, and possibly even after Vaults if I don’t find a source of flight.
Entering Lair:7 I’m alterted to the presence of a Labyrinth. These are maze-like levels mostly devoid of enemies except for the rare hungry ghost, but at the center is a pile of loot guarded by a minotaur. I quickly read a scroll of magic mapping to discover its location, fight my way through a few enemies, (including a 4-headed hydra that falls easily to my broad axe of flaming), and enter. This turns out to be a rather easy Labyrinth. I’ve sometimes spent 15 minutes or more exploring for a route to the center, but I’m dropped almost right next to it and find it in just a couple minutes.
The minotaur dies without putting up much of a fight. It’s almost never a threat by the time you find a Labyrinth. However, the loot isn’t particularly great: a redundant +0 plate mail of poison resistance, a few books with spells I’ll never cast, and a couple wands. The wands turn out to be fire and draining, which are nice, but I’ve definitely gotten much better. Oh well. I’ve had fairly good luck with loot so far so I was hardly depending on it to save me. I leave the lab, finish off the rest of Lair:7, and move on to the final floor.
I end up getting the dog vault here. This is a fairly easy affair: it’s filled with jackals, hounds, wolves and the occasional warg or hell hound with a piece of loot or two at the end. Nothing truly tough, and more a nice source of piety than anything else. In fact, I get a gift from Oka here, a glowing battleaxe that I immediately equip. Bad move. It turns out to be a battleaxe of distortion.
Distortion isn’t a bad brand at all. It’s actually excellent in some ways. It deals extra damage and banishes enemies to the Abyss. On the other hand, it also causes them to blink around and teleport, which makes fights more annoying and potentially deadly when you’re dealing with powerful ranged enemies like yaktaurs. The real problem, though, is that it’s extremely dangerous to unequip: each unequip has a 25% of banishing me to the Abyss, (which would definitely kill me at this point in the game), and even if I avoid that I may be hit with magical contamination that give me nasty mutations. I briefly consider using it until I feel I can escape from the Abyss safely, but after a few obnoxious battles with enemies blinking all over the place I decide to go ahead and risk the unequip. I have an amulet of resist mutation anyway, which may prevent the mutation. I get very lucky: I’m merely hit for some distortion damage rather than any of the truly serious effects. This was probably an unnecessary risk, but I hate being saddled with distortion weapons and I didn’t want to spend most of the rest of the game wielding it to avoid that risk. I may actually come back for it if I don’t find anything better before Zot, because it’s surprisingly effective at banishing orbs of fire, but for now I’m happy to leave it behind.
After finishing the dog vault and grabbing the (useless) loot, I manage to blunder into a Zot trap.
These start appearing late in Lair and throughout the later dungeon and branches. All it does in this case is summon a few monsters, which I opt to escape from, but it can give some truly deadly effects – the worst of which are, much like distortion, banishing me to the Abyss and giving me mutating contamination. I get lucky this time, but it reminds me I’ll have to train up my Traps skill from now on if I don’t want this, or worse, to keep happening over and over again.
As I’m finished up the level I get my next Oka gift, which turns out to be a vampiric broad axe. This isn’t ideal – broad axes are a 1-handed weapon that isn’t that powerful, so I would have much preferred a vampiric battleaxe or executioner’s axe, but the vampiric brand is still one of the best brands in the game and the outright best brand for axes. It heals you with each successful hit, and combined with axe cleaving, that can allow you to sit there attacking huge groups of enemies while staying at high HP. Even though it means a loss of damage per turn, I decide to equip it, because it’s going to increase my survivability by a lot.
The final part of Lair:8 turns out to be the reptile vault.
This seems to be one of the rarer Lair ends. As you can see, it’s filled with various reptilian enemies, including drakes and a dragon at the center. The dragon will be the toughest enemy I’ve faced so far, but despite the fact I don’t have a source of rF yet I’m pretty confident I can take it with my vampiric axe. I drop my scrolls before I enter here – the fire drakes and the dragon will probably trash some of them if I don’t, and if you read my Mummy Wizard post from a few days ago you’ll remember how nasty mottled dragons can be in that respect. I can get rid of the mottled dragon’s sticky flame by standing in the water, but I’d rather just not risk it. As expected the fight goes well, and I don’t go below 75% HP at any point thanks to my vampiric axe. That’s it for Lair.
As I’m getting ready to leave, I notice I have a manual in my inventory. Nice! Manuals give a +4 aptitude for a given skill for a limited time, and finding a good manual is one of the best things in the game. I’m not really sure where I picked it up, either somewhere over the course of Lair or possibly even in the Labyrinth, and if that’s the case I significantly underestimated the quality of the loot there. It turns out to be a Manual of Shields – interesting. I’m wielding a powerful one-handed weapon now, I’m carrying a buckler of protection gifted to me by Okawaru, and there’s a regular shield sitting on D:10. Shields aren’t the best combination with axes, because their effectiveness drops after blocking the first attack and axe-wielders will often be engaging multiple monsters at once, and I generally prefer two-handed weapons for the increased damage regardless of which school I’ve chosen, but this is a rare occasion where I think it makes sense to use shields, at least for the time being. I already have a good shield apt, so it won’t be a major investment combined with this manual, and I’ll probably be using this axe for a long time so I might as well. I’ll only be training Shields up to 15, enough to eliminate the penalties for wearing a regular shield but not a large one, but depending on how the game progresses I may end up taking it all the way to 25 for wielding large shields as well. It’s a strange build, but it might end up being the best option given the circumstances.
I have a few potions of flight, so I wipe out that island full of yaks I mentioned before, then drop my unnecessary loot at my Lair:1 stash and head off to the Orcish Mines.
The first few levels of Orc aren’t really worth mentioning. All I’m fighting here are low-level orcs who represent a near-zero threat to me at this point, (the only problem I might have run into is getting drained by one that spawned with a short sword of draining or something). However, I do run into something of a snag on Orc:2, Nergalle.
This fight isn’t dangerous so much as obnoxious. Nergalle never does much damage to me, but she casts Death’s Door, a spell that makes her invulnerable for a short period of time, something like 8-16 turns. While she’s doing that, she hits me with bolts of draining that do pitiful damage but drain my xp. She actually manages to cast Death’s Door twice while I’m whaling on her, (I’m not actually doing that much damage with a vampiric broad axe), and manages to knock about half of a level off my xp counter. Ugh. I think I made the right decision in staying there and hitting her over and over. I could have teleported away and come back when Death’s Door was over, but she could have just cast it again and I’d be right back in the same situation. There wasn’t much I could really do, beyond perhaps equipping a more damaging weapon and hoping to take her out before she got a chance to cast.
Orc:3 has something a little more interesting: a particularly rare giant vault that only appears in Orc. I’ve only seen this once before, and it was great to see it again.
As should be clear, this vault is full of hill giants. The fact that I can sit there surrounded by 5 of them at once should be a testament to the power of a vampiric axe – even with my 30 AC, this wouldn’t be viable otherwise. Since I’ve seen this vault before, I know there’s a tough giant at the end, (I’ve only seen fire giants so far, but frost or stone may be possible), but I expect I’ll be able to kill him and grab the loot. On the north end of the vault, I meet it.
Fire giants are nasty. They wield powerful 2-handed flame-branded weapons and shoot powerful fire magic, including undodgable fireballs. As you can see here, this one managed to get me down to half health, entirely with its fireballs, on account of my lack of rF. (You might notice the Staff of Wucad Mu over there on the left as well – that’s perhaps the best item in the game for a spellcaster, but useless to me). I retreat through the doorway and close it to keep the giant from hitting me with more fireballs and wait for him to walk up to the door so I can engage it in melee, and quaff a potion of heal wounds while I wait just to be sure. However, once I get it melee range, my vampiric axe makes for a rather one-sided battle.
Unfortunately, there’s not much I can use in the loot here. There isn’t a single axe in all the weapons, and I’d expect they all have the flame brand anyway which is worse than my vampiric in most cases. However, in the back room, I discover this:
The plutonium sword is a +12, +16 triple sword. That alone makes it the most damaging weapon in the game, and it also inflicts translocations miscasts with each strike which essentially give it the equivalent of the distortion brand. It used to be useless as each swing would give you magical contamination, resulting in severe mutation, but with the changes to the Contam brand in 0.12 you’ll now only be contaminated when you unequip it, (and why would you want to?). This makes things even more interesting. Despite the fact I’ve been building for an axes-and-shields build, I’m now considering branching into Long Blades just to use this weapon. It’s perhaps the perfect weapon for Zot: it will kill orbs of fire faster than anything else, (though it might blink or teleport them away annoyingly in the process), if it doesn’t banish them first. For now I’ll be sticking with axes, but unless I get some sort of incredible gift I may well be putting all my point into Long Blades as I approach the endgame. For now, I leave the sword on the floor and move on.
The end I get for Orc:4 turns out to be something of a challenge. I think I’ve heard this referred to as the “school end”, but whatever it’s called, it’s quite nasty.
As you can see, it’s totally packed with constantly-smiting orc priests, orc warriors, and a few orc knights. And this is only the first part. The next section will be the same, except with all the enemies upgraded – orc high priests instead of priests and orc knights instead of orc warriors, (though, thankfully, no orc warlords). It’s perhaps the most dangerous orc end because of the priests and their smiting alone, not to mention the knights. here I’ve already gotten to half health despite my vampirism brand on account of the smiting, and though I managed to kill most of what you see there I ended up being forced to teleport away before I could totally clear the first area. I returned, mopped up what was left, and moved on to the next section.
Even worse. I managed to kill several knights and a couple of the high priests, but the task is made more difficult by the demons they summon, which aren’t huge threats to me right now, (except for the smoke demons, which can smite and hit me with sticky flames), but are immune to my vampirism and block the way to enemies that aren’t. I end up at severely low HP, risking death, and have to teleport away once again, totally exhausting my supply of teleport scrolls, which haven’t been dropping much this run. My second attempt goes much better, finishing off what was left of the orcs, and I’ve finally got access to the ending shops. They’re not great. Two food shops, a jewelry shop, and a weapon shop. I’m hardly hurting for food and everything in the weapon shop is useless to me. The jewelry shop isn’t that great either, but it does contain an amulet of conservation, which I buy. I’d rather not take off my amulet of guardian spirit, but conservation is really nice if you want to avoid getting all your scrolls and potions trashed.
That’s all for now. Between the giant vault and the packed orc end, I managed to make up all the xp Nergalle drained and then some. Next up I’ll be continuing with the dungeon then going for some runes. I’ll try to post that later today but I’m not making any promises as these posts are getting pretty lengthy, over 3000 words on average, which is a lot of words for a computer game. Later!