The Saga of Urist Redbeard is the story of my first win after roughly six years of playing Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. My hope is that it will give a sense of the complexity and appeal of hardcore roguelikes like Dungeon Crawl, but be warned that it is full of spoilers. Read the first three parts here.

Urist Redbeard is on a quest to retrieve the Orb of Zot from the bottom of the Dungeon, and he just got very lucky. After clearing out the Orcish Mines, he found the entrance to a minotaur’s labyrinth, and in the center of that labyrinth, he found the +5 Armor of the Dragon King. This is one of very few pre-set items in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, and it’s one of the best. Based on a golden dragon armor, the best type of armor in the game, it provides resistance to poison, fire and cold, in addition to excellent physical protection. The Armor of the Dragon King also provides magic resistance, a property not found in normal golden dragon armors. The only downside is that, as an artefact, it cannot be further enchanted, so +5 is as high of an armor bonus as it will ever get. But this is nitpicking; Urist Redbeard is only level 15. To find an item like this, this early in the game, is almost unthinkable. In fact, for all the hundreds upon hundreds of adventurers that I’ve guided through the Dungeon to their eventual deaths, I’ve never seen the Armor of the Dragon King even once. So I’m not complaining.

With this, Urist is ready to go after his first Rune. To retrieve the Orb of Zot, adventurers must find at least three of the fifteen Runes of Zot, and I happen to know the best place to get the first one: the Snake Pit. With a small, satisfied smile, Urist climbs the ladder out of the labyrinth and the hatch closes, sealing the way back forever.

He’s ready.

Urist emerges on the twelfth floor of the Dungeon, which he’s hardly explored at all. I decide it’s a good idea to map it out before heading back to the Lair of Beasts, where the entrance to the Snake Pit can be found. Urist heads down the hallway and around the corner, and then stops in his tracks when he spies something lying on the floor.

It’s a golden dragon armor.

I’m at a loss. Moments after donning the Armor of the Dragon King, Urist finds a standard suit of golden dragon armor, just lying there? On the twelfth floor? These things are usually found at the bottom of the dungeon, if at all. Often, adventurers have to actually kill a golden dragon, skin it, and enchant its hide to get one, which is no easy task. No, it must be some trick. Realizing that the armor is likely a mimic in disguise, waiting to pounce on Urist as he rushes to claim his prize, I instead have him approach cautiously. But there is no sudden surprise attack; it seems it is actually a real golden dragon armor. Urist picks it up.

I use the convenient search function in Dungeon Crawl to see how many enchant armor scrolls Urist has stashed away. Turns out there’s two in the Lair and two in the Ecumenical Temple. Four scrolls would only be able to enchant the armor to +4, which isn’t as good as Urist’s +5 Armor of the Dragon King, not to mention that he would be sacrificing the magic resistance if he made the switch. So for now I have him hold on to the standard suit of armor; I’ll have him stash it away in the Lair once he’s done exploring this floor.

Still dumbfounded by his incredible luck, Urist wanders straight into a pit trap, which sends him plummeting to the thirteenth floor. Stopping to rest and heal the damage he took from the fall, Urist reminds himself that he’s in an extremely dangerous Dungeon and needs to stay focused. The first task will be finding a stairway back up to the twelfth floor. Urist starts exploring, tackling monsters as they appear. Down here, some of the more powerful enemies can be found. Packs of slime creatures, which have an annoying tendency to combine into giant, very powerful blobs, are frequent. They are one of very few enemies that are better handled in open spaces rather then small corridors, as this tends to have them separate again. Trolls, centaur warriors, wyverns, the more powerful types of orcs, and a variety of undead enemies are also common. But none of them pose much of a challenge to Urist anymore, as their attacks clatter harmlessly off of his artefact shield and armor, and he is able to deliver fast, powerful strikes with his flaming demon whip. Before he finds the stairs leading back up, Urist finds the entrance to the Hive. This is actually fortuitous, as the Hive is easier to tackle than the Snake Pit, and contains huge amounts of food, as well as some other treasures. I send Urist in.

As you might expect, the hive is full of killer bees. Killer bees can be dangerous, as they’re very fast and have a poisonous sting, and their stings can stack poison effects on an adventurer until he loses terrifying amounts of health each turn. Furthermore, the Hive has open floor layouts similar to the Orcish Mines, so it’s easy to get surrounded. But Urist has poison resistance, which removes the main threat, and his high armor class in his swanky new armor (not to mention his excellent skill with his artefact shield) means he will hardly take any damage even when fighting swarms of bees. So he sets about the slaughter, much to the delight of Okawaru, the god of battle. By now, Urist has risen to become Okawaru’s champion, earning glory through his many kills. Okawaru soon grants Urist another gift, this time a +1 cloak of preservation. These are really useful; not only do they partially protect against the acidic corrosion of weapons and armor, they also prevent the destruction of one’s magical scrolls and potions from fire and ice attacks. Urist puts the cloak on.

The Hive has only two floors. The second floor is a huge open expanse with a massive, wax beehive in it. Urist works his way through, killing bees and their larva, and finally faces the queen bee. She’s not much tougher than the standard bees, though, and Urist eventually kills them all, claiming his reward: more honeycombs and royal jellies than he can carry. Honeycombs are almost as nutritious as rations, but royal jellies are even better, as they will restore damaged attributes in addition to satiating hunger. These will be Urist’s main source of food for the remainder of the game. He picks up as much as he can and lugs it all back to the stairway. The second floor of the Hive is also a great place to make a stash, as the bees can’t pick up any items, so Urist drops his standard suit of golden dragon armor here. When he’s found more enchant armor scrolls, I’ll have him come back and swap armors; in the late game having extremely high armor class will be more important than having magic resistance. Normally Urist would also drop any enchant weapon scrolls he’d found, but I’ve been applying them to his flaming demon whip as soon as he gets them. It’s now enchanted up to (+3,+4) which is pretty nice (that’s +3 to accuracy and +4 to damage).

With the Hive taken care of, it’s time to find that stairway back to the twelfth floor of the Dungeon. Urist locates it without incident, and maps out the twelfth floor. Nothing interesting here, except for the standard monsters. Now it’s time to head to the Snake Pit. The fast-travel system in Dungeon Crawl lets me direct Urist there with only a few keypresses, and he’s off, his trek interrupted only when the odd monster is spotted. He heads back up to the tenth floor of the Dungeon and enters the Lair of Beasts, and then descends to third floor of the Lair, where the Snake Pit entrance is located. He heads inside.

The Snake Pit, like the Hive, is suicidal if one lacks poison resistance. It’s full of venomous snakes and armies of nagas, which love to spit poison at adventurers and then close in for melee combat. Fortunately, Urist’s new armor provides poison resistance and a lot of protection against melee weapons. Urist is also high enough level now that the nagas don’t pose much of a challenge. The fast snakes, which now include vipers and anacondas in addition to the black mambas and water mocassins that I’ve already seen in the Lair and elsewhere, have a tendency to run away when wounded. But Urist simply switches to his crossbow Zeysuulo, a ridiculously poweful atefact weapon that electrifies bolts fired from it, as well as offering the wielder a slew of elemental resistances. It’s an example of a “randart”; unlike Urist’s armor, the crossbow’s stats were randomly generated. It was another of Okawaru’s gifts, and is very useful in taking out stragglers.

The floors of the Snake Pit have a similar layout to the main Dungeon, and honestly, the first three floors aren’t that interesting. Standard nagas are dispatched easily, and the stronger naga warriors aren’t much tougher. Naga mages are the main danger; their powerful poison magic can affect even poison-resistant adventurers, and it’s no joke; when Urist is hit by one of their poison bolts he can lose half his health over time from the poison effect. Fortunately the mages aren’t too robust so Urist tries to dispatch them quickly, retreating to wait out the poison after the battle. If necessary, he can quaff a healing potion to cure the poison.

On the fourth floor, greater nagas start to appear. These guys are quite tough; they’ve got some powerful magic and hit really hard in melee. Urist uses the abilities that Okawaru granted him: Heroism increases Urist’s weapon skill temporarily and Finesse lets him make faster attacks for a short time. Finesse doesn’t always succeed, unfortunately. It’s dependent on Urist’s Invocations skill, which increases the more he uses his divinely granted abilities. I have Urist “focus” this skill, a new feature introduced in v0.9 of the game that will allocate extra experience to a skill even when it’s not being used. Soon he’s raised the skill to a high enough level that Finesse will succeed reliably, and I can turn the “focus” option off again.

Guardian serpents also appear on this floor, and their powerful magic can be dangerous. Urist’s magic resistance helps and he tries to dispatch them as soon as possible. The fourth floor is also home to sveral unique enemies. Donald, a rival adventurer seeking the orb, is a tough melee fighter, but can’t stand up to Urist’s flaming whip and impenetrable armor. Frances can summon demons and smite Urist from afar, but isn’t too tough once he closes the distance with his boots of running. His amulet of warding also protects against the demons she summons. Then there’s Snorg, a powerful troll berserker who can give Urist a run for his money in melee. This one is tough, but Urist’s shield shines, protecting him from most of Snorg’s furious blows. He whittles Snorg down with fast, burning whip strikes, finally landing the deathblow. Okawaru is pleased, and gives Urist a slimy cloak, which turns out to be the +1 cloak of the Eight Eyes, another randart. This one offers some stat boosts, which I decide are more important at the moment than preservation, so Urist swaps his cloak of preservation for the new artefact. Lastly, Urist faces Kirke. Based on the Greek myth, Kirke is surrounded by a herd of pigs, who are of course men she has transformed with magic. She can transform Urist too if he’s not careful. I have lost a few adventurers to her before. Here is where the magic resistance from Urist’s armor really comes in handy, as it blocks most of her hex spells while he charges in to engage. Fortunately Kirke isn’t too resilient, and when she falls, the pigs transform back into men, neutral towards Urist, who wander the floor fighting monsters.

Now all that remains is the fifth and final floor. Most of this floor is like the others, but one corner contains the Rune chamber. This is a large, open room full of nagas, naga warriors, naga mages and greater nagas, and can be deadly if one faces too many of them at once. Urist explores until he finds the entrance to the chamber, but then bypasses it, carefully mapping out the rest of the floor so he’ll have a clear path of retreat in an emergency. When that’s done, he creeps carefully into the Rune chamber. As soon as he spies any nagas, he retreats, luring them back into the narrow corridors where he can face one at a time. The mages throw magic at Urist from afar, but he stands his ground, forcing them to come to him. In this manner he only ever faces a few nagas at once, and has time to heal after each battle. After getting poisoned by naga mages, or facing one of the tough greater nagas, Urist retreats back to the fourth floor to rest up, before descending again.

While I rush through many of Dungeon Crawl’s battles quickly, here I am very careful, taking stock after each attack, and creeping into the Rune chamber manually, without using any of the auto-explore options. A few wrong moves here could spell death, as the mages and greater nagas can cause a lot of damage with their magic. After a lot of strategic retreats, it seems Urist has dispatched most of the nagas. He creeps warily into the chamber, each step revealing more empty floor. There’s a wall shaped like a giant crescent towards the back of the room, and behind it Urist finds a few more nagas. I wager he can take them on here as there aren’t many reinforcements left. I’m right. Soon, Urist’s mapped out the whole chamber, its host of naga guardians defeated. At the apex of the curved wall, the Serpentine Rune of Zot sits on the ground. Urist picks it up.

In earlier versions of Dungeon Crawl, Runes were physical objects that had to be carried and took up inventory space. With the v0.9 update, adventurers simply absorb the power of the Runes they find, and can view which ones they’ve found on a separate screen. So it is; Urist feels the power of the Serpentine Rune flow within him. That’s one Rune down, two to go. Unfortunately there’s no treasure trove here, just the Rune, so Urist trudges back up to the Lair while I decide what to do next.

Ideally, I would head to the Swamp for a second Rune, but the Swamp was not generated this game. Instead, I got the Shoals, which is much more dangerous for a heavily-armored fighter. I could head deeper in the main Dungeon instead, but seeing as the Snake Pit went very well, and knowing that the Shoals is still easier than any of the other Rune locations, I decide I may as well try my luck there. Urist is level 16 now, which is pretty good, and he’s got some really excellent equipment for this point in the game. Plus, it’s close by… just one floor farther down in the Lair, the entrance to the Shoals sits in the center of a small pool. Cracking his demon whip, Urist heads inside.

The Shoals are modeled after Greek myth, and consist of small archipelagos in a vast sea (yes, there is an ocean with islands that is somehow inside the Dungeon… don’t think about it too hard). Populated mainly by merfolk, who can swim through water just as easily as walk on land and generally fight with polearms, the Shoals are not an ideal place for a heavily-armored dwarf. Urist will be slowed down wading through the surf, and the completely open layout means he’d get surrounded easily too. Even worse is the tide. The waters slowly ebb and flow, creeping up the beaches and cutting off paths. And if Urist gets caught in deep water, it’s over. He drowns. Time to start again with a new adventurer.

The deadliest enemies in the Shoals use the tide to their advantage. Mermaids and sirens both have the ability to mesmerize adventurers, which prevents adventurers from moving away. The longer an adventurer is mesmerized, the closer in he is pulled. While mermaids tend to hold their ground and fight, sirens like to mesmerize adventurers and then retreat into deep water, pulling them to a watery grave. There are a few ways to counter this. The easiest is to kill the sirens quickly, before they have a chance to retreat, but that’s not always possible. Another method is to use levitation; that way one can close the distance and kill the siren without drowning, provided it’s possible to get back to solid ground before the levitation wears off. Unfortunately Urist doesn’t have a reliable means to levitating, and would need to utilize some of his precious levitation potions. Instead, I’m planning on teleporting away, which is usually achieved with teleportation scrolls. Good thing Urist happens to have a lot of those. They take a few turns to kick in after they’re used, so I’ll need to display some foresight, and they will teleport Urist to a random spot elsewhere on the floor, so I might be sending him into greater danger. But teleporting away will at least release him from being mesmerized, and then I’m hoping that his boots of running will be enough to get him upstairs to safety.

The first two floors of the Shoals doesn’t pose much of a challenge (yes, the archipelago in the middle of a vast sea that is somehow inside the Dungeon also has several floors, each with their own islands and vast sea… don’t think about it too hard). The merfolk like to throw javelins and spears, but Urist’s shield protects him from such attacks. Snapping turtles can attack from afar, but Urist’s demon whip makes short work of them, even when they retract into their shells. And the sea snakes aren’t any tougher than the snakes Urist faced in the Snake Pit, although they do have an annoying tendency to run away and submerge before Urist can shoot them down with his crossbow. Urist only runs into a few mermaids, and is fortunate enough to face them on dry land.

On the third floor Urist finds his first pack of harpies. Harpies are really annoying because they eat your food. Urist just found a huge bounty of food in the Hive and he’d really like to hang on to it to supply the rest of his quest. Fortunately, harpies can only steal your food if they can hit you, and Urist’s got a lot of defense going on with his shield and armor. Even so, they manage to eat a few honeycombs and royal jellies. But Urist should still have enough.

The third floor is also where Urist meets his first siren, and this actually goes rather poorly. She shows up with a pack of merfolk, and immediately entrances Urist, so he cannot move away from her, only toward her. He hasn’t fully lost control of himself yet, so I’m able to have him dispatch a few of the merfolk that are beating on him. Then I turn my attention to the Siren. She’s standing on a sandbar between two islands, and the water is generally pretty shallow, so I have Urist charge in. I want to take the siren out as quickly as possible so Urist will be free from her spell. The remaining merfolk chase after him, and soon he’s standing in the middle of the sandbar surrounded by merfolk who are all poking him with spears and tridents. But at least the siren is within reach of his whip. His eyes only for her, he lashes her repeatedly, ignoring the attacks of her brethren. The tide is coming in, slowly, during the battle, and I see that the path behind Urist has now submerged and can’t be used again until the tide goes back out. The siren isn’t too tough up close and soon Urist takes her down, freeing himself from her magic. He then turns his attention to the merfolk who have been trying to poke holes in his armor. They don’t last long either, but they last long enough for the tide to cut off Urist’s path forward as well as the path back. He’s now stuck in the middle of the sandbar with deep water all around.

I decide to wait out the tide. Urist’s taken some damage in the fight, and if I teleport him now he might reappear in the middle of another pack of enemies. So Urist waits, and his wounds slowly heal. Soon, the water is lapping at his feet — but surely the tide must be nearly at its apex. Not so, apparently. Urist finds himself standing in a single tile of shallow water, with deep water all around. If the tide gets any higher, he will drown. Reluctantly I activate one of his scrolls of teleportation. Now I must hope that it kicks in before the water level rises any further.

It only takes a few turns, but they’re agonizing. I can just imagine the water rising, Urist standing on his toes to keep his head above the surface… and then, suddenly, poof! He’s standing on a different island, with some confused-looking merfolk nearby. Could be worse. Urist sets on them with his whip, and manages to slay them all without taking too much more damage. I look for the nearest stairway back up to the second floor and make a beeline for it. Stairs are nice because they will never get submerged, making them the only truly safe places to stand in the Shoals. Urist finds the stairs and climbs up, and then rests, still standing on the staircase, until he’s recovered from his wounds.

Urist faces a few more sirens while exploring the Shoals, but the encounters go much more favorably. On the fourth floor there are some tougher types of merfolk, including merfolk aquamancers, who attack with powerful water magic. They can be dangerous, but like any magic caster Urist targets them first and takes them out quickly. Urist even sees a few cyclops with their herds of sheep. At this point cyclops aren’t very challenging, but they can throw boulders. Good thing Urist’s shield arm is so strong.

The fifth and final floor is where the real challenge lies. The layout is similar to the other floors but the map is dotted with several small temples, each with an item inside. One of these temples contains the Rune, but all of them are heavily guarded by powerful merfolk, including merfolk javelineers who can deal frightening amounts of damage from afar with their javelins. But as soon as Urist climbs down the stairs to the fifth floor, he’s in worse danger than that. Just within view to the north is Ilsuiw, an unique enemy guaranteed to appear in the Shoals. She’s a very powerful merfolk aquamancer, who can summon water elementals, turn invisible and teleport around, all while knocking an adventurer around with her Primal Wave spell. Worse, she can summon the tide, trapping adventurers in shallow water with unsure footing, or even drowning them outright if they were already too close to deep water. And closer to Urist, to the south, is Saint Roka. Saint Roka is the chosen of Beogh, and he’s the toughest orc in the game. He’s like a combination of fighter and priest; wearing heavy armor and wielding a huge glaive, he’s formidable in close combat and can also call upon Beogh to smite adventurers from afar. Plus, he’s leading a band of orc warriors and knights.

But that’s not all! Urist also sees Norris, an evil peace-in-death cultist. Norris has a bad habit of draining one’s intelligence, and as a fighter Urist doesn’t have a particularly high intelligence stat. If Norris damages Urist’s intelligence enough, Urist can die, just like that. Not good.

There’s nothing for it but to take these guys on, but I’d prefer to do it one at a time. Saint Roka is closest, and I know that he’s going to charge into battle against Urist, but Ilsuiw is farther away and she might prefer to attack from afar with her magic. So I have Urist wait on the stairway so he won’t get caught in Ilsuiw’s tide-call, while Saint Roka’s band comes to him. He takes a few hits from Ilsuiw’s magic but fortunately is not swept off of the stairway by her conjured waves, so when Saint Roka gets within melee range, Urist retreats back up the stairs. This lets the orcs get a few free hits in, but it’s better than taking on Saint Roka, Norris and Ilsuiw at the same time. Since only the enemies directly adjacent to Urist can follow him, I find he’s facing Saint Roka and a handful of orc knights and warriors when he emerges on the fourth floor. I have Urist focus on Roka, as Roka’s glaive can do a lot of damage, and he can also put his host into a battle frenzy. Urist’s defensive capabilities are very useful here, but he still takes a lot of damage. I have him chug a few potions of heal wounds during the fight, but eventually he prevails, and sacrifices Saint Roka’s corpse to an appreciative Okawaru.

After healing up, it’s time for Urist to take on Norris. He heads back down the stairs and sure enough, there he is, waiting. Luckily Ilsuiw is still some distance away. Urist immediately runs back upstairs so Norris will follow, but Ilsuiw will not. This battle is a little easier. Norris does indeed try to damage Urist’s brain, but I have Urist quaff a potion of restore abilities in the middle of the battle to keep his intelligence from getting too low. Norris is a decent melee fighter but he’s not as strong as Saint Roka, and he doesn’t have a band of orcs following him around, so Urist is able to fell him before long.

Now all that remains is Ilsuiw. Urist heads back downstairs and sees her, but she’s still some distance from the stairs. Again, I’d like to lure her back upstairs so Urist doesn’t get any visits from the powerful merkfolk guards on the fifth floor in the middle of the battle. But before Ilsuiw comes close, she summons four or five water elementals that surround Urist, and then she disappears. She’s either teleported away or gone invisible, so I have Urist battle the elementals. They’re dishing out more damage than expected, so Urist retreats back upstairs to eliminate them before returning to kill Ilsuiw. The elementals follow, but Urist is able to take them down one by one. When there’s only one left, though, Urist is suddenly hit by a wave and knocked off the staircase. Apparently Ilsuiw had turned invisible, and followed Urist up the stairs alongside her elementals. That’s not good. Ilsuiw calls the tide, and the water rushes in, coming up to Urist’s waist. He frantically scrambles back onto the stairway, where he will have steadier footing and won’t be in danger of drowning, and then quickly dispatches the last water elemental.

Urist can’t see Ilsuiw, but he can see her magic attacks. She’s directly south of him, so he starts lashing out with his whip. Since she’s invisible she’s a lot harder to hit, but Urist still manages to score some strikes. A sudden puff of smoke indicates that Ilsuiw has teleported a short distance away. Some water blasts soon reveal that she’s to the northwest now, but Urist stands his ground; he needs to stay on that stairway. Eventually she comes closer again and Urist resumes his attack. Luckily she doesn’t summon any more elementals, and after she teleports a few more times, Urist finally manages a lucky strike that takes her down. With her death the tide is released, uncovering the sand around the stairway again. This kill takes Urist to level 18, a satisfying reward for the tough battle.

After healing up, Urist heads downstairs again to look for the Rune. He faces several aquamancers and a small horde of regular merfolk, but compared to Ilsuiw, they’re not that tough. But they’re still dangerous, so I proceed very carefully. Luckily, the second temple that Urist searches contains the Barnacled Rune of Zot. After dispatching the guards, Urist picks it up, and its power flows into him and joins that of the Serpentine Rune. Two Runes down, one to go.

The other temples contain some treasures, so Urist looks around some more. But after facing down a pack of merfolk javelineers who deal too much damage for comfort, I decide the risk isn’t worth it and have Urist retreat back up to the Lair.

Urist makes it out of the Shoals alive, with his second Rune. Earning two Runes is not easy; other adventurers have managed it before, but they are relatively few. Urist is now in the esteemed company of those who were real contenders for retrieving the Orb of Zot. But what comes next will be no cakewalk. The third Rune will be much harder to obtain than the first two, and if Urist manages to get his hands on it, he’ll still need to prepare himself for an assault on the Realm of Zot at the bottom of the Dungeon. To succeed there, he’ll need to be very, very powerful, far more powerful than he is now.

But there’s nothing for it. Barring a couple particularly dangerous branches, the only way to go now is down, deeper into the main Dungeon. The deepest Urist has been is the thirteenth floor, but there’s another fourteen floors until he reaches the bottom, not to mention several more dungeon branches, all of them quite dangerous.

No sense in waiting. Urist climbs back out of the Lair into the main Dungeon, and starts heading down.

Stay tuned for part 5 of Urist’s epic saga.