Brogue: it’s all over but the crying

When Tony Carnevale and Brian Haskell tried their respective hands at the same Brogue dungeon, they each met disastrous fates. What happened?

After the jump, post perma-death sight is 20/20

Tony: So, Brian, the first thing I noticed was that you clearly don’t care about gold, which is the only thing that impacts the high score list, as well as how much you beat me by.

Brian: That’s true. I know gold is used to score your delves on the High Score list, but as there’s no place to spend it and no utility for it in the game, I tend not to pay attention to it. Although since I’m obsessively completist, I generally won’t leave a level without all of it, just like I’ll make sure I expose all the tiles on the map … even the corner tiles in rooms that I know are just walls. Unless I’m fleeing for my life when I leave the level.

Tony: I only recently started using auto-explore, mainly to make sure I don’t pass up any food, scrolls of enchanting, or potions of strength or life that may be hiding out on the level. Now I just auto-explore level 1 in its entirety, auto-explore 2 until I run into a tricky situation (that usually is guaranteed to start happening on 2), and then hit auto-explore once on every subsequent level after I think I’ve manually explored it all, just to make sure I didn’t miss any corners.

Brian: I always make sure I hit it before going down. I usually try to think, while exploring the first couple of levels, about minimizing the number of steps I have to take. Though I almost always wind up having to backtrack at some point anyway. But I will take an extra step into a room even when I know that the only unrevealed tiles are certain to be walls (or statues, I guess). Around level 4, I start looking for a spot to test potions and scrolls. Like I said in my diary, I have two approaches: either try every potion or scroll the moment I pick it up, or wait until my pack is full and find a “safe” spot. I tend to favor the second approach, although the first has always occasionally worked out for me. Especially if I have multiples of something — the % indicator on the “Magic Items Indentified” screen is not completely reliable, but usually if I have 3 scrolls of something, I’m confident that they’re Enchanting or Identify.

Tony: I’ve started thinking a lot about the “hypothetically optimal player” Nicholas Feinberg talked about in his Roguelike Celebration presentation. In Brogue, once you start getting to the levels where traps are a big problem, a hypothetically optimal player would keep track of exactly what tiles in each room he’d walked on, so that, if he had to backtrack, he’d retrace his steps exactly, and not increase the risk of setting off a trap. I don’t like that I’m thinking about that now.

Brian: Ha, yes. Maybe that’s an advantage of manually moving — I usually wind up covering mostly the same tiles, since I try to go for the shortest route each time. Although I think the auto-explore option also goes for the shortest route. Although it will route you around, say, rooms that were full of caustic gas the last time you saw them, even if they’re surely empty now.

Tony: I wait to start reading scrolls until I’m standing next to a treasure room that has no obvious entrance, in case one of my scrolls is a scroll of shattering.

Brian: I didn’t think shattering worked on treasure rooms?! I’ll have to try that again. I’m sure that a staff of tunneling won’t work (at least not on any that I’ve tried).

Tony: On some of them it does, but I think those rooms may be explicitly set up for it (and I think a scroll of shattering may be guaranteed to be on the same level as those rooms, but I haven’t verified that.)

Brian: Yes, I have noticed that the “puzzle” rooms — where the key is located on an inaccessible platform in the middle of a chasm, for instance — always seem to have an item on the same level that will allow you to solve them.

Tony: Also, did you know that, even though you only get to keep one item from each treasure room, you can USE any items there before you leave? So if you have pets, you can fully discharge any wands of empowerment on all your pets, drop them on the ground, and keep something else.

Brian: WHOA, I did not know that! I’m definitely draining any wands of empowerment from now on.

Tony: Also I think some of those rooms have garden variety bullshit items sometimes. I’ve found totally normal, non-magical armor in there.

Brian: I’ve found cursed items in them!

Tony: Not sure why those are in there. Just means I’ll never take armor from those rooms. (Without identifying it first.)

Brian: That’s why detect magic is my favorite potion. In several of my most successful delves, the first potion I tried with a full pack was detect magic. That’s a game-changer.

Tony: Hmm, I may not be valuing detect magic enough. It only tells you whether something is good, normal, or bad, right? The degree to which it’s good is still a mystery.

Brian: Yes, but if you have ten potions, knowing right off the bat which are good and bad is invaluable. I find my success often depends on how many of the magic items I’ve managed to identify. Getting to the lower levels (and by that I mean, say, ten or lower) with only half the potions ID’ed is terrifying. And knowing what the harmful potions are is great too — so many times you can clear a room full of monsters with caustic gas, or creeping death. Or confuse a bunch of monsters next to a magma pool.

Tony: Yeah, at a certain point you just have to stop drinking unidentified stuff, and wait for scrolls of identify. Which were in very short supply in this game.

Brian: I usually use Identify scrolls on my staves, if I have any. Knowing how many charges they currently have is also key.

Tony: Yes, staffs (I’m going to keep calling them staffs) are the most important thing, I think. Although I have never won.

Brian: Echoing what you said — information is critical, and usually supplied by the game, although you may not necessarily enjoy the means of obtaining it. I’ve had a few games in which armor and weapons outclassed staffs (I have no real preference, but years of D&D…), but not too many. I think it might be because 1) staffs are much more common than the higher-class, runic armor and weapons, and 2) they are much more readily identifiable.

Tony: Magical weapons can be very cool, but I’m always hoping for a staff of lightning, because if monsters can’t touch you, they usually can’t kill you. To use a magical axe, you have to wade into the thick of combat.

Brian: Right — which is why *pairing* a cool weapon with some badass armor is, I think, when they outclass staffs. I’ve forgotten all the names, because generally I’ve only ever seen each one once, but having a suit that transfers some damage to the attacker each time you’re hit with a weapon that heals you each time you hit something can be very effective. But yes, most of my most successful attempts have included at least one powerful staff. Although I think I prefer Firebolt to Lightning — lightning won’t set a room full of lichen or explosive gas on fire. That can also work against you, too, so optimally, I’d like to have one of each.

Tony: Did you watch Brian Walker’s Roguelike Celebration talk?

Brian: I have not watched it yet. (I did see some of it while it was live, but I was also doing other stuff, so I was not paying close attention.)

Tony: He talks about how he designed Brogue in such a way that players have to improvise a “character class” based on what they find, which I think is one of the most successful (and unique) aspects of its design.

Brian: Yes, that is fantastic. Especially when the items you find combine to form a workable “class” — like rings of stealth and clairvoyance, plus an invisibility charm. I haven’t done any serious analysis, but I would guess that most of my character classes would be something like magic user/thief multiclass. I seem to always find weapons and armor that are too heavy for me to wield — I think 18
strength is the highest I’ve ever gotten, once.

Tony: And reading into your comment a bit, a drawback to his design is that you are somewhat at the mercy of randomness in terms of what’s available and when you find it. Which is exciting, in a way, but a little frustrating if you know how to make a really cool “build” and just can’t find the stuff to do it.

Brian: I totally agree. It is exciting, but it can be a bit of a bummer when you find a high-powered ring of stealth (I keep going back to them because I think they’re among the more common rings? Although the magic item ID screen doesn’t give a percentage) and some heavy runic armor. They kind of cancel each other out. I also learned at one point that there’s a limit to how much an enchanted ring of stealth will reduce your “stealth range” — I don’t think it will ever be able to mimic the one-tile range of being invisible.

Tony: How do you feel about the amount of information the game presents, and the way it presents it? Is there anything you’d like to know that it doesn’t tell you?

Brian: Well, I would like some clarity on the Magic Item ID screen, which I go to constantly. For instance, the percentages — are they indicative of how frequently each potion/scroll is likely to appear? And if so, why don’t Strength, Life, and Enchantment get percentages? Are they distributed independent of the other potions (i.e., completely randomly)?

Tony: I have some insight into that question, actually! Because strength, life, and enchantment are the most important items in the game — they are literally your character’s “skill points” — they are doled out in a somewhat deterministic manner. By each dungeon depth, all characters are supposed to have had the opportunity to pick up approximately the same number of each. Food is treated similarly.

Brian: That seems about right. Although I find that, generally, Strength potions are in shorter supply than Life and Enchantment. Perhaps by design … but I’ve not yet been strong enough to wield any of the heavier weapons, or wear the heavier armor. But I have had plenty of +7 rings and staffs. Speaking of Life potions, do you quaff them immediately or hang on to them? Potions of Strength are always consumed immediately, but I sometimes hang on to Life for a tough spot.

Tony: You should always hold on to Life potions. And you know that when you enchant an item, its strength requirement is lowered, right?

Brian: I did know that.

Tony: And I could be wrong, but I think you can tell if an unidentified piece of armor is enchanted or not because its strength requirement is lower than it otherwise would be. I don’t really like that, I think it’s a flaw in the game design, but I definitely exploit it.

Brian: Oh! Good to know. I don’t have all the strength requirements memorized, but I always assumed, if it was unidentified, it showed you the requirement for the default, non-magical version of the weapon.

Tony: I might be totally wrong.

Brian: I’ll start pafying closer attention to that from now on.

Tony: Please look into it. I assume you can spare the attention on that detail, since you won’t be looking at your gold total.

And there you have it.

We ventured into the same dungeon, and neither of us came out. Who can be said to be the victor? Since Brian doesn’t care about gold, I’m going to say the fact that he found much more gold than me doesn’t matter. We tied. Please ignore the first entry in this series, in which I said gold is everything. Thanks.

It all started here.