Brogue: what you don’t know can kill you

, | Game diaries

My name is Tony, and I’m an information addict.

I always knew I had these tendencies. It’s why I declared Invisible, Inc. the best game of 2015. Times are tough for people like me. If you ask Bruce Geryk, wargaming expert, for a computer wargame recommendation, he’ll ask to get back to you later. There aren’t any good computer wargames, because computer wargames are in the business of concealing information. (The discussion of why they do this is for another time, but it’s either because of “immersion,” “giving the computer a fighting chance by making the rules not-human-readable,” or both.)

After the jump, I can quit any time

Many roguelikes are legendary for hiding information from the player, Nethack being one of the oldest and worst offenders. Nethack is the Monopoly of roguelikes: it’s bad and nobody should play it anymore. On the other end of the spectrum is Brogue. Brogue wants you to have all the information you need. How many hits will it take for your flail to kill this zombie, and what are the odds you’ll hit the zombie in the first place? Do you have a shot at killing the zombie before it kills you, or could it take you out in one hit? What about the staff of lightning in your pack — would that be a better choice than the flail? It only has one charge left. How many turns will it take to regenerate another charge?

Brogue generously gives you all this information, and much more. Sadly, it’s not perfect. Brogue used to give you hit point numbers, and at some point, Brogue developer Brian Walker decided he didn’t want you to know that stuff anymore. This seems like a perverse decision for a developer so obsessed with giving you information, but it’s actually not. Instead of saying your dagger will do 10-20 hit points of damage to the zombie per hit, Brogue now tells you it’ll deplete the zombie of 12-24% of its hit points. The percentage figure actually gives you more useful information packed into the same amount of screen real estate. After all, “10-20 hit points of damage” is only useful information in context with the total amount of hit points the zombie has. What’s 10-20 divided by the total hit points? Oh, right, that’s called a percentage, which is now what we have from the get-go. That’s great. What isn’t great is that Walker has left some unsightly vestigial mentions of raw hit point values elsewhere in the game, like a “charm of protection” that will shield me against “up to 15 damage.” What on earth is 15 damage? The game won’t tell me. Walker told me he’ll fix this in the next update, but since the last update was over 2 years ago, I’m not holding my breath.

Still, I only care about these minutiae because Brogue is generally so good with information.


Having equipped my ring of reaping, the only item of note I’ve obtained so far, I blunder further downward, and on the fourth level I drink an unidentified potion in order to make room in my inventory. It’s a potion of life, which is one of the two items that permanently boost your two stats. Good to know.


Here I am with a pink jelly. The problem with pink jellies is this:


When you hit them, if you don’t one-shot them, they multiply. Since I’m still working with a crappy dagger, I’m not one-shotting them. Fortunately, I drank a potion of haste that lets me get in a few more wimpy stabs than I otherwise would, and ultimately I prevail. Onward to level 5!


Man, I’m really not having luck finding identify scrolls, so I have to keep clearing out my inventory by using unidentified stuff. In this case, it worked! I drank a potion of strength, which boosts my other stat, conveniently known as strength. Strength lets you use more weapons and armor. Now that my strength’s 13, I can put on some chain mail I found.


This room, filled with goblins and jackals, is a little intimidating. I only have about 2/3 of my health, and my equipment is mediocre.


The jackals rush me, so I kill them, but not before they take my health even lower. The goblins are too smart to line up in single-file in a hallway, so I take the opportunity to rest up and regain some health for a confrontation.

Uh-oh. Another pink jelly just showed up. Now at less than half my health, and trapped between goblins and the jelly, I desperately start guzzling unidentified potions in the hopes that one will help me escape.


That won’t do it. But this particular poison is weak enough that I might be able to survive it.


This would have been useful in another situation, but the jelly is already hell-bent on my location.


Aaaaand that’ll do it. Killed by a fall. My character is about as heroic as your average grandma.

So that’s it. A thoroughly unremarkable journey to (barely) level 6. I found one life potion, one strength potion, and nearly nothing else of any use (to my knowledge). My total gold, and final score, was 233 — truly pathetic, but at least I’m on the board. I’m very interested in seeing how Brian fared.

Tomorrow: How Brian fared.