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 earlier parts here.
Urist Redbeard has just found the Silver Rune of Zot at the bottom of the Vaults. Along with the Serpentine Rune of Zot that he found in the Snake Pit and the Barnacled Rune of Zot that he found in the Shoals, this completes his set of three Runes. With them, he can open the way to the Realm of Zot at the bottom of the Dungeon, where the coveted Orb of Zot rests. It is the object of Urist’s quest, and now he holds the keys. Needless to say, getting the Orb will be extremely dangerous. So I intend to have Urist clear out a few more places first, in order to gain as much treasure, experience, and skills as possible before he faces the final challenge.
First up is the final floor of the Crypt. Urist explored the upper floors but deemed the deepest floor too dangerous, as it more than likely contains an ancient lich. One of the toughest enemies in the game, an ancient lich was responsible for the death of the greatest adventurer to ever explore the Dungeon, as he set foot inside the Orb’s chamber. I’m not excited about having to face one, but Urist is now level 25, and if he can’t defeat an ancient lich by now, then he probably doesn’t have any chance of retrieving the Orb anyway. Here goes nothing.
The final floor of the Crypt has several possible layouts. Sometimes it’s a massive fortress, filled with powerful zombies, huge golems, a few liches and an ancient lich. Other times it’s a vampire city, peppered with deadly traps and teeming with vampires, vampire knights and vampire mages. This time, though, it’s a layout I’m unfamiliar with. All three staircases empty out on a small island in the middle of a deep lake, with a bridge stretching away towards a massive doorway. A pack of flying skulls attacks immediately, but these are easily dispatched. Urist crosses the bridge and enters the door. Inside are several corridors leading to different sections of a small fortress. Urist picks a direction and finds a barracks full of zombies and abominations, which he dispatches. Another corridor reveals a curse skull, conveniently situated across a deep moat, so it would have plenty of time to blast Urist with magic and summon hordes of undead monsters while Urist is forced to take the long way around to reach it. Rather than tangle with it I just have Urist retreat and try a different corridor. Since curse skulls are immobile, it cannot follow.
The next corridor leads to some chambers filled with vampires. Vampires love summoning lots of small creatures like rats and bats, but Urist’s amulet of warding helps protect against the attacks of summoned creatures, so he can focus on the vampires. They’re not all that tough themselves, so Urist is able to dispatch them quickly. They have some treasure, but it consists mostly of spellbooks which aren’t any use to Urist.
The final corridor ends in a doorway, and when Urist opens it, he spies an ancient lich. It’s only a few spaces away. At this point I stop and think very carefully about each and every move Urist makes, because ancient liches are very, very dangerous. The biggest threat is that it will summon some greater demons. Many of these demons have the ability to cast torment, which will instantly cut down half of Urist’s health (this is reduced to 35% of his health because Urist has three levels of life protection). They can also hurl hellfire, which is powerful and can’t be resisted. To nullify the threat of demons, Urist is going to want to stay in a corridor or doorway so he can’t be surrounded, and take out the ancient lich itself as quickly as possible so it can’t summon anything else. Since the ancient lich is only a few spaces away, I decide to have Urist hold is ground and let the lich come to him, so the battle will happen in the narrow doorway and Urist can retreat back down the corridor if necessary.
The ancient lich comes into melee range and the battle is joined. Urist attacks furiously with his flaming demon whip, scorching and scarring the lich’s skeletal frame. At first, the lich sticks to offensive magic. Its draining spell is completely blocked by Urist’s life protection, and Urist is able to block its magical crystal spears with his shield, which is fortunate because they do a lot of unresistable damage. Fire and cold blasts do hurt Urist a bit and destroy some of his scrolls and potions, but Urist is dealing out more damage with his whip than he is receiving. Then the ancient lich summons some demons. One of the demons is a hellion, which is bad news. Hellions aren’t as resilient as some greater demons but they throw hellfire constantly, quickly doing a terrifying amount of damage from afar. Fortunately, the other demons are less dangerous; I forget exactly which they are but I think one is a cacodemon and the other is an orange demon. Also fortunate is that none of them is blocking Urist’s esacpe route if he needs to run.
I really want to take that ancient lich down, and it’s already damaged, so I have Urist hold his ground for now. The hellion throws hellfire, doing a lot of damage to Urist. He keeps fighting. The other demons are behind the lich so they can’t engage. Urist takes some more hits from the ancient lich’s magic, but his whip is dishing out a lot of damage, and the lich is almost destroyed. Finally, Urist lands the killing blow, and the ancient lich’s skeleton shatters, the magic that held it together and gave it life dissipating. Unfortunately, the demons are still there, and there’s now nothing blocking their path to Urist. So Urist runs. He sprints down the corridor, but the demons don’t give chase. Instead, they hurl hellfire. Urist is engulfed in a cloud of roaring, demonic flames. It hurts a lot. Several of his scrolls are burned away. He keeps running. The cacodemon emits unholy energy, and Urist’s body mutates, deforming in such a way that his armor doesn’t fit very well anymore. This means Urist’s armor provides less protection, and the condition is permanent, at least until he finds a way to cure mutations. He keeps running. More hellfire engulfs him before he finally rounds the corner and gets out of sight of the demons. If they can’t see him, they can’t smite him with hellfire. Taking no chances, I have Urist run all the way back across the bridge to the stairs and back up to the fourth floor to heal his wounds.
When Urist returns, the summoned demons have disappeared, returning to Hell from whence they were called. There’s not much left on the bottom floor the Crypt. Urist does meet one standard lich, but they’re not nearly as dangerous as ancient liches because they can’t summon demons. Urist is able to dispatch it relatively easily, and he helps himself to the treasure hoardhoard. The liches were guarding the best treasure, although it still mainly consists of spellbooks and magic staves which are useless to Urist. There’s lots of gold though. Now the only thing left is that pesky curse skull across the moat. I decide to be clever and take it out with the use of levitation. I switch one of Urist’s rings of life protection for his ring of levitation and use it to levitate over the moat, so he can charge the curse skull head on. This gives it little time to react before Urist is upon it, furiously attacking it with his demon whip. The curse skull can cast torment, and does, instantly taking away 35% of Urist’s health. But Urist just keeps fighting. Soon he’s destroyed the skull, and I have him retreat from the undead creatures it summoned. He heals up while they disappear. The small treasure stash the the curse skull was guarding contains a scroll of enchant armor, which Urist uses on his golden dragon armor, bringing it to +11, the maximum enchantment.
There’s no Rune here, just treasure, so that’s it for the Crypt. I decide that Urist is now ready to face the Elven Halls. The entrance is way back in the Orcish Mines, but it’s easy to send Urist there using the auto-travel options provided. Urist enters and starts exploring. To be honest, I probably should have had Urist explore the early floors of the Elven Halls a while ago. The deep elves are all talented spellcasters, but they are not very resilient and Urist can easily carve a path through hordes of them. There are some summoners but they can only summon weak, minor demons and are easy to dispatch. Only the occasional annihilator or high priest is cause for concern, but on the upper floors they usually appear alone and are easy to kill. During the fighting, Urist’s skill with maces and flails (yes, his whip falls into that category) rises to 27, the highest possible. This is the second skill he has mastered, after shields. I hope he’ll be able to master armor and fighting too by the time he heads for the Orb.
The first four floors of the Elven Halls are easy, but the fifth is another story. This is why I delayed so long before coming here. Most of the floor consists of the standard corridors, but one corner of the map holds the elves’ treasure vault, guarded by some extremely dangerous and powerful spellcasters. Deep elf demonologists can summon demons every bit as terrifying as those summoned by ancient liches, and deep elf sorcerers and annihilators can hurl some incredibly powerful spells. Many an adventurer was killed here, made overconfident by the relatively fragile elves on the floors above. Even worse, controlled teleports are impossible on the fifth floor of the Elven Halls, so using teleportation to escape will be much riskier. Urist’s teleportation scrolls will probably all be burned away by the elves’ magic anyway.
Urist carefully explores the rest of the floor before approaching the entrance to the treasure vault. The entrance is a narrow corridor, but the vault itself opens into a wide room. To enter that open space would be suicide; many of the powerful elves would be alerted and Urist would quickly find himself surrounded by hordes of minor demons, unable to escape, while greater demons pummeled him with hellfire and deep elf sorcerers blasted him with magic. Instead, Urist carefully creeps up the corridor until he spies his first elf, and then runs back around the corner. This way, he makes the elves come to him and can face one at a time in melee, which should make them manageable. He dispatches a few annihilators and sorcerers this way. There are also some deep elf blademasters, who eschew magic in favor of dual-wielding swords. They’re pretty tough and hard to hit, but Urist is a master with his whip now, so they fall as well. Urist also takes down a deep elf demonologist, but not before it summons some greater demons. Fortunately none of them can cast hellfire, so Urist just runs away.
When he returns and resumes the process of luring elves out of their vault, one of the sorcerers that Urist kills drops a storm dragon armor. Just like that. What luck! Urist has been hoping to find a storm dragon armor because he found a portal to a treasure trove that is asking for a +3 storm dragon armor as the price of entry. Urist grabs the armor and heads back to his stash, where he’s kept some enchant armor scrolls. He uses three scrolls to enchant the armor up to +3, and spends the fourth scroll on his boots of running. Then he lugs the storm dragon armor back to the second floor of the Vaults, where the portal to the treasure trove waits. Presenting the armor, the portal opens and lets him through.
I’ve never been to a treasure trove before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Turns out it’s simply a small room full of treasure, without any enemies or anything fancy. This one is actually a bit disappointing. The only item of interest to Urist is an artefact ring, but when he identifies it, it’s not actually useful. Definitely not worth all the enchant armor scrolls he needed to enter. Sigh. Oh well, time to head back to the Elven Halls.
Urist resumes the business of luring elves out of the treasure vault. He actually needs to creep into the open room itself in order to get to some of them, but fortunately his boots of running still let him run back to the corridor for the actual fighting. He kills a few more blademasters before another sorcerer joins the fray. Urist’s killed a few of these already so he lunges in to strike. But rather than casting attack spells at Urist like the others did, this sorcerer begins weaving a different kind of spell, before throwing it in Urist’s face. It doesn’t damage Urist directly. Instead, it warps space around him, rending the dimensional farbric, and suddenly Urist finds himself somewhere else. Somewhere much more frightening. He’s been cast into the Abyss.
The Abyss is the realm of Lugonu the Unformed, the god of chaos and corruption. It is not a nice place. It’s an infinite, ever-changing plane seemingly formed at random from land, lava, water, and errant pillars. It’s mostly open with small, one- or two-tile pillars interspersed. It’s also full of demons, as well as other dangerous creatures like ugly things and even draconians, humanoid lizards distantly related to dragons who are usually only found in the Realm of Zot. But the worst part about the Abyss is how hard it is to get out. The Abyss can’t be mapped, with Urist forgetting the contents of a tile as soon as it’s out of view, and every so often the entire map will be re-generated with a new layout. While that can get you out of trouble if you’re cornered by demons, it makes finding an exit very tricky. Gates out of the Abyss are rare, and the only other way to leave is to find an altar to Lugonu and choose to worship him. If Urist did that, though, Okawaru would get quite angry at being abandoned and would probably send hordes of giants to kill him. Plus Urist would no longer enjoy Okawaru’s gifts and wouldn’t be able to use his divine combat-boosting abilities. No, Urist will only settle for a true gate out of the Abyss, so he’ll need to start exploring.
In earlier versions of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, the Abyss would wrap around on itself at the edges of the map. This meant that it was a bad idea to move in a cardinal direction, and instead was better to move in an off-diagonal direction that would eventually cover the whole map. In the current version this is no longer true, but I didn’t know that at the time, so it’s an off-diagonal for Urist. Soon he starts seeing enemies, but it doesn’t pay to fight in the Abyss; it’s best to just keep moving. I want to find a gate out before the map resets. Urist’s boots of running help him outstrip any pursuers, but even so he’s forced to kill a few weaker demons along the way.
Unfortunately, this trip to the Abyss turns out to be a long one. The map resets several times, and there’s still no gate in sight. Urist is lucky enough to avoid combat with any of the nastier demons, and he even finds a corner to hide in and heal up on a few occasions. Urist is pretty powerful at this point so he can survive a longer stay in the Abyss when a less experienced adventurer would likely have fallen. Finally, shortly after the map resets again, I spy a gate leading out of the Abyss, and Urist makes a beeline for it. Passing through, he’s dumped back into the fifth floor of the Elven Halls, on the staircase. Stopping to rest and heal up, he steels himself to face down the sorcerer who banished him, and make him pay.
Urist returns to the vault entrance, and the sorcerer is still there, standing guard. Charging into battle, Urist hits the sorcerer with several powerful lashes, severely injuring him. But just as Urist is about to land the killing blow, space starts to warp around him again. Son of a… the sorcerer has banished Urist to the Abyss again! Urist is very angry now. He immediately starts running through the Abyssal plain, searching for a portal and cutting down anything in his way. This time, Urist is able to find the exit quickly, after only a few minutes of searching. Back in the Elven Halls again, Urist storms towards the vault, vowing to destroy the foul sorcerer who dared to banish him a second time. The sorcerer is still there, guarding the entrance to the vault, and Urist wastes no time, charging forward and attacking furiously. I like to think that the sorcerer was terrified to see Urist emerge from the Abyss a second time, and in his fear he was unable to muster enough magic to save himself. Urist kills him, and with a grim smile of triumph, heads towards the vault once again.
The elven ranks are thinner now, and Urist dares enter the vault chamber itself. There are even fewer elves left than Urist thought, so he simply attacks them on sight rather than luring them away. The death mages cast powerful draining attacks but Urist’s full life protection renders them harmless. Deep elf master archers have a formidable ranged attack, but Urists shield mastery protects him long enough to close the distance and dispatch them. Soon all the elves have been killed, and there’s nothing standing between Urist and their treasure hoard.
Like the Crypt, there’s no Rune here, just treasure, but there’s a lot of it. True to their elven nature, much of it is useful to spellcasters, consisting of spellbooks, enchanted robes and magical staves. But Urist also finds the mithril axe “Arga”, which is one of the few pre-set artifact items in the game. If Urist had focused on axes instead of maces and flails this would be a great find, as it carries the speed brand which makes it attack twice as fast, as well as providing magic resistance. It’s probably the best one-handed axe in the game. But Urist just grabs all the gold, scrolls, and jewelry and leaves the axe where it is. He finds some more enchant weapon scrolls, which he uses on his demon whip. Since the whip is already heavily enchanted most of these fail, but he does get the whip up to (+6,+6), which is the highest he will manage. One of the rings he found turns out to be a randart ring that protects against stat loss, increases strength and increases stealth. It’s pretty good but right now Urist’s life protection is more important. He hangs on to it anyway though.
The Elven Halls are done. Now there’s nothing else for it but to continue his descent to the bottom of the Dungeon, where the entrance to the Realm of Zot lies. Urist climbs back out of the Elven Halls and the Orcish Mines , and starts heading down the main Dungeon. The deepest he’s been is the twenty-first floor, so he starts exploring the twenty-second. Monsters here are much like those in the Vaults: stone giants, yaktaurs, ugly things, and even the occasional dragon. By now Urist can handle all of these foes. On the twenty-third floor, Urist reaches experience level 27, the highest level possible. Only a few adventurers have reached level 27, and they did it after entering the Realm of Zot. Urist is doing quite well. Even though he’s the highest level, though, he can still gain experience and build his skills. He’s quite good with armor and fighting but hasn’t mastered them yet.
On the twenty-fifth floor, Urist meets Xtahua, a unique, ancient dragon. Much tougher than a normal dragon, she’s a serious threat, but Urist has survived worse by now. The battle is even more epic than the ones Urist had against golden dragons in the Vaults, but eventually the wounded Xtahua turns to flee. But she can’t outrun the crossbow Zeysuulo.
Down this deep in the Dungeon, Urist has been seeing quite a few portals to Hell. I hadn’t been planning on visiting Hell, but upon further consideration I decide a short trip might be worth it. Urist enters the nearest portal, and finds himself in the Vestibule of Hell. This area acts like a hub, leading to each of the four branches of Hell where the Hellish Runes can be found. But I’m not interested in the branches, I’m just interested in Geryon, the guardian of the Vestibule. To open the way to the four branches of Hell, one must defeat Geryon, take his horn, and blow it. But I want the horn just to have it. And the fact that it’s worth a lot of points at the end of the game, should Urist succeed in his quest. I can be vain sometimes.
The Vestibule is a wide open space, and Geryon is in sight as soon as Urist enters. He’s a big, strong melee fighter, but what makes him dangerous is that each time he blows his horn he summons a beast, a large animal-like demon. These can quickly surround an adventurer and knock him around. Urist has to retreat back out of hell to dispatch the beasts a few times, but eventually he manages to lure Geryon close enough to enter melee with him. He’s tough, but without any powerful magic he’s no match for Urist’s demon whip. He falls, Urist grabs his horn, and then gets back out.
Nothing left now but the twenty-seventh floor, the final floor of the Dungeon. This is much like previous floors, but has the entrance to the Realm of Zot, which is surely heavily guarded. Urist explores the map until he locates the entrance, but then skirts it, to tackle it last. While mapping out the rest of the floor, Urist finds a curious chamber containing an altar to Xom, the fickle god of chaos. The chamber is filled with strange-multi-colored smoke, but also holds a potion that Urist has never seen before. This is rare, since Urist has identified most of the potions in the game by now. As Urist heads inside, the smoke clears for a moment and reveals an orange crystal statue. The statue immediately attacks Urist’s mind, draining his intelligence and bringing it below zero.
In earlier versions of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, Urist would have been immediately killed. That would have been it. All the work he’d done so far, for naught. The high score table would embarrassingly note that Urist Redbeard forgot to breathe on the twenty-seventh floor of the Dungeon. I would have to start all over with a new adventurer. Fortunately, in the current version, when an adventurer’s intelligence is lowered below zero, he simply gains the “brainless” status. This lasts for several turns, and if the adventurer’s intelligence is not restored in time, he dies. While Urist is brainless, his actions are quite limited. He can move, but only in a random direction, making that a bad idea. He can’t read scrolls. But he can, apparently, drink potions, as I discover while frantically trying to get him to quaff a potion of restore abilities. This brings his intelligence back to normal but does not remove the brainless status, and that orange crystal statue is still there, ready to attack Urist’s mind again. I wonder if Urist can zap a wand while brainless? I try it, with his wand of disintegration. It works! The wand blasts the orange crystal statue to smithereens. I have Urist rest and he soon regains his mental capacities. That was close.
Urist grabs the mystery potion lying on the floor and drinks it. It’s a potion of cure mutation. Urist’s twisted body returns to its normal shape, giving him better protection from his armor, he loses his ability to breathe flames (which he actually never used, now that I think about it), and his magical capacity is restored to its full maximum. Unfortunately he also loses the intelligence boost he got from destroying the statue of Wucad Mu, but that’s a price I’m willing to live with.
With that, all that remains is the entrance to the Realm of Zot. This is guarded by draconians and dragons, including a few golden dragons. The corners of the room hold some draconian zealots, who can blast Urist with hellfire and summon demons, and they’re hiding behind moats of lava so Urist can’t reach them. Instead I just have him ignore them, staying out of their line of sight. The dragons, including the golden dragons, are tough but manageable at this point. That just leaves the draconians. Like dragons, they come in several colors, and each color has a different special characteristic. Some breathe fire or ice like the respective dragons, others can breathe acid that corrodes equipment, still others excel in melee combat or specific types of spellcasting. They are dangerous, but then so is Urist. By using the tried and true tactic of luring them back into narrow hallways to face one at a time, Urist is eventually able to dispatch them all.
That’s that. Urist heads back towards the entrance to the Realm of Zot. Only three or four other adventurers have ever entered. They died. I’m hoping Urist will not. As he approaches the portal, he feels the power of the Runes stirring within him, and mingling with the magical seal that blocks his entrance. The seal recognizes the Runes, and the portal opens.
Urist walks through.
Stay tuned for the final chapter of Urist’s epic saga.