In Brogue, gold means nothing. There are no shops. Gold has no weight and no value. And yet gold is in there. It’s in there because, for the 99.99999% of Brogue players who will never win the game, and that includes me, the amount of gold you have when you die is the sole determinant of what your final score will be, and where your nameless, classless, raceless character will end up on the high score list.
In Brogue, gold means everything.
I told Brian Haskell about Brogue about a week ago and he’s already made it farther than I have. This is standard for Brian. You give him a game and five minutes later he beats you at it. Our Blood Bowl league has a slogan, if something that only I ever say can qualify as a slogan. It’s “Don’t let Brian win.” He still usually wins. Slogan’s not working.
So when Brian and I agreed to each play the same Brogue dungeon on our own computers and compare our experiences, I had one goal: Don’t let Brian win. That means, get more gold than Brian.
Fortunately, the amount of gold you find correlates with how strong your character gets, and how close you are to winning, because all three are caused by the exact same thing: exploring the dungeon. You don’t get better by whacking monsters or practicing skills. You get better in only one way: by picking stuff up off the floor that is better than (or improves) the stuff you were just using. And you find that stuff by exploring.
So let’s get to exploring.
At the very beginning of the game, I’m spitting distance from a turquoise potion and a war axe. Nice!
Oh wait, Brian is playing this exact same dungeon. Hmm.
In the next room, I find a monkey chained to the wall, and his cruel kobold captors. This is how Brogue gives you pets. You beat up the captors, free the prisoner, and then you have a critter who follows you around and fights for you. On level 1 it’s a shitty little monkey, but deeper in the dungeon you can find more powerful allies, like ogres and nagas. Brian has a great story about getting deep enough in the dungeon to find a naga. I digress. Come on, monkey!
Now that my monkey and I have fully explored level 1, here’s what’s in my pack.
I brought my own dagger, leather armor, food, and darts. The rest is what I found here. That’s an ass-ton of potions, right? Potions can permanently boost your health, which is hit points, or strength, which empowers you to use better stuff. Health and strength are your only two stats. Turns out you don’t need more than two for a game to be endlessly replayable. Take that, Elder Scrolls!
Potions can also make you hallucinate, set you on fire, or paralyze you. You know, your standard roguelike stuff. To find out what a potion does, I have to glug it down or use an identify scroll on it. Hey, do I have an identify scroll? Only way to identify an identify scroll… is to read it.
Nope, not that one.
That might have been nice to have later.
That one too.
Well, so much for my scrolls. Guess I’d better start slurping these potions. If I find a strength or life potion, I’ll be that much closer to not letting Brian win.
You know what, maybe let’s take a break from testing out all my new stuff.
Several Phish drum solos later, I’m on to level 2. Technically depth 2, because the game calls dungeon levels depths. But I’m not a deep-sea diver, I’m a dungeon explorer, and there’s no such thing as experience levels in this game, so it won’t confuse anybody if I use the word “level”.
That sense of loss can mean only one of two things: Brian just ascended with the Amulet, or my monkey was killed by the eel in the room I just abandoned him in. Turns out it’s the latter, but I’m not going to sweat it; monkeys are disposable. I’ll find a better ally deeper in this dungeon, I’m sure of it.
Here’s my pack at the start of level 3. My armor is +1 now, because I found a scroll of enchanting, also known as a scroll of enchantment. The game uses both terms, depending on the context. I hope this is fixed in the next version, although it’s been more than two years since an update. Scrolls of enchanting are key to Brogue’s design philosophy: improve your character by finding stuff by exploring. So, these scrolls are skill points, which you spend by using them on items to increase their effectiveness. Unfortunately I didn’t have any good stuff when I read my first scroll of enchanting, so I just dumped it on my crappy leather armor, hopefully giving me a tiny leg up on Not Letting Brian Win. You’ll notice I have another such scroll in my inventory. It’s waiting for a time I have something worth using it on.
Monkeys aren’t always your friends. They’re usually really annoying. This monkey snatched a key off an altar and is about to run away with it. That’s bad because keys are always and only used to unlock a door somewhere on the same level, behind which is an assortment of very cool equipment, of which you may keep a single item. That’s another aspect of Brogue’s character development philosophy. Do I already have a staff of firebolt? Then I might want to keep the ring of wisdom. I get to improvise my character build as the game progresses, based on what I find. I love this. But right now I have to kill that freaking monkey.
Damn right I did. (This is the same room, but it’s after I chased that monkey through every square inch of the dungeon.)
Behold the glory of the reward room the key unlocked. Four rings: regeneration, light, reaping, and stealth. I go with the ring of reaping, which will recharge my staffs and charms in proportion to the damage I inflict on enemies. Staffs and charms are among the most powerful items in the game. They can let you do anything from shoot fire to fly in the air, they’re infinitely rechargeable, and they play a huge role in defining your character (and keeping you alive). I also don’t have any of them yet. I’m holding out hope that changes soon. Because while this ring does precisely nothing for me right now, the other rings’ powers didn’t seem super helpful. I mean seriously, a ring of light? C’mon.
(If you would like to try your hand at Tony and Brian’s Brogue dungeon, use seed 0000000245.)
Tomorrow: let’s see if Brian’s won already.