So, you've stumbled across Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. I hope you're ready to die a lot.
While Crawl might look a little daunting from the outside, there's a very rich and rewarding game to be found if you're willing to give it a chance. Even after thousands of playthroughs (albeit many lasting mere seconds), I still find myself in novel situations all the time.
Make no mistake, Crawl is a difficult game. At least some of that difficultly, though, comes from the vast number of things one needs to learn when new. My goal is to assist you by collating all that crucial information in a single place. That way, once you've read this guide, you can sleep soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that your latest character died entirely to RNG rather than any oversight of yours (Disclaimer: or mine).
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is a roguelike with direct roots in the 1997 game Linley's Dungeon Crawl. If you've never heard the term roguelike before (Warning: last chance to turn back), you'd usually expect a punishing, turn-based game that features procedurally-generated content and permadeath.
Your character journeys into the Dungeon to recover the legendary Orb of Zot. We don't know why the Orb is important but you really want it for some reason.
One can't just charge to the bottom of the Dungeon and grab the Orb, however. Before your character can enter the Realm of Zot, you must collect at least 3 Runes. There are 17 Runes of Zot in total but each game has 15 available and only 3 are required to win.
Your character starts off as a weakling level 1 character and gains experience from killing monsters up to a maximum level of 27. Along the way you will explore many branches and realms with diverse enemy types and themes. You can gain the favour of a god (or gods), wield large weapons, find powerful artifacts, become a master of stealth and cast devastating destructive spells. Maybe you could even do all those things in a single playthrough!
When you have at least 3 runes and feel strong enough, head to the bottom of the Dungeon and enter the Realm of Zot. If you manage to get your hands/paws/tentacles on the Orb, all that remains is the simple task of ascending back through the Dungeon. Make it to the outside with the Orb and you win.
You can play crawl in console mode or tiles mode and offline or online. You can also choose between stable release versions and trunk (development) versions.
Console mode gives you the classic ASCII roguelike experience. This mode is incomprehensible to me but I'm told it's like the Matrix. Eventually, all you'll see is Fire Giant, Frost Giant,
With ASCII it can be difficult to determine what weapons (if any) the enemies you face are wielding and which status effects (if any) are affecting them. Close attention to the message log and examination of monsters will tell you but it's not possible to see at a glance.
You'll also want to keep an eye on the monster list on the right of screen to tell how injured monsters are. The HP bar between the glyph and monster name changes colour: green for full HP, yellow for medium HP and red for low HP.
Console mode has no mouse support at all.
Tiles in DCSS are quite attractive. And, if you're like me, you need pretty pictures to work out what's going on.
Enemies are displayed with any weapons they are wielding. If they swap to a new weapon, the tile will update. In the screenshot above, the kobold has a club in hand. Note, however, that the tiles don't show what armour (if any) monsters are wearing.
The player character tile changes for both weapon and armour.
Monster tiles also have visual indicators for many statuses (but not all) such as when they are paralysed, confused, corroded, hasted, mighted and so on.
In tiles mode, your HP bar and that of any monsters you've injured will be shown below the relevant tile. The colours change like with console but the bar also diminishes which makes it easier to tell how much relative HP is left.
Tiles mode lets you use your mouse but more so in offline tiles than online tiles.
Past releases are here.
The development builds of Crawl are referred to as Trunk.
You can find the closest online server to you here.
A more thorough description of the servers can be found at the Online Howto page. For the record, everyone knows the Australian server (CPO) is the best.
The default game mode when playing online is tiles (often called "WebTiles"). Some servers allow console play through SSH or Telnet but this requires software and a key. A guide for SSH/Telnet is also on the Howto.
Each server is separate and stand-alone. If you want to play on multiple servers, you have to register your name on each one. Games can't be shared or transferred between servers.
In terms of Tiles gameplay, the main differences between Offline and Online are player ghosts, visual inventories/monster lists and mouse support.
When most characters die, they leave a ghost for a future adventurer to encounter. If you're crawling locally, ghosts will be relatively uncommon and will always be your own characters. When you play online, and particularly if you play at a busy time on a popular server, you're likely to come across a range of ghosts from other people. Ignoring the opportunity to see hilarious (and/or offensive) names (shoutout to Robert Barachian), ghosts offer excitement, danger and valuable XP if you can manage to best them in combat.
Both Offline and Online Tiles have a minimap on the right of the screen. However, there is a stark difference below the map. Offline shows a visual inventory of items (which can be changed to spells and abilities, among other things). At a glance you're able to see what auxiliary armour you're wearing and what consumables you have available.
Rather than a visual inventory, Webtiles has a list of all monsters, summons and followers the player can see. Each is named and enemies are given a visual estimation of their threat to your character: notably, yellow is dangerous and red is very dangerous.
Uniques have their names displayed above their tiles in the Offline client.
If you wanted to, you could play most of an Offline playthrough with a mouse. You can click places to move, click enemies to attack them, click items in the visual inventory to use them and so on. Webtiles has some mouse support but you will need to use your keyboard more often to get to various menus and the inventory.
There are some other non-gameplay differences, the most obvious being that quality of anything on the internet: you pay in lag and potential outages for the ability to access your game from anywhere with a net connection.
Every player who plays on any online server is given a player page (here's mine) which tracks the games you play. In addition, the morgue files for each of your characters is kept online. This is useful because there are bots which allow you to make all sorts of queries about your playthroughs. The documentation for Sequell commands can be found here.
With a bit of practice the bots allow you to pull up any particular game. "Oh yea, I remember that time I one-shot killed myself with my own Firestorm..."
Just kidding, that would never happen.
Your experience might be different to mine but this is how the two stack up for me.
I quite enjoy seeing the ghosts of other players who died in the Dungeon. Plus, if you're the one who died, there's always the possibility that the heartbreak you felt in losing your best character yet will be soothed somewhat when that ghost kills the next poor sod to come along. You can even track your ghost kills.
I love that I'm able to look over the games I've played in the past. To that end, I wish I'd spent all of my Crawl career online because my early offline runs and very first wins are lost to the ravages of time. I can't even say with 100% confidence which version of the game I first started learning with.
Giving up the visual inventory and mouse and having to learn all the keyboard commands did seem daunting at first. It wasn't very difficult and didn't take long, though. Once I was comfortable with the keyboard, the game became much easier and smoother to play. You go from being a MOBA player who manually clicks on all their abilities to one who learns where the QWER keys are :D
One very effective teaching tool I've seen for newer players is when someone more experienced spectates their game. This is only really possible online. You can even just ask a vet to come and have a look when you're in a sticky situation.
With each new version release (roughly every 6 months) an online tournament is held for two weeks. Even if you're not trying to win the whole thing, these tournaments are a lot of fun because there are challenge combinations to play and special banners to collect. You don't even have to sign up to participate: all that's required is to play your games online during the tournament period.
Occasionally, there are other fun tournaments such as the Crawl Sudden Death Challenges Tournament. Of course, if you're intending to be at your peak performance during a competition, you want to be comfortable with online play.
All things considered, if you're capable of doing it, I'd recommend you play online.
Most online games are played in the development branch. Trunk lets you deal with changes gradually over the version cycle (which is important for tournament practice!) and gives you an insight into the devs' minds as they introduce new species or gods.
You can view all the Trunk updates at the commits page of the DCSS GitHub. When it's up to date, the change log is very handy. The devs also periodically write up an update post but these have become less frequent in recent times.
The downside of playing Trunk is that you might occasionally meet bugs and things that are imbalanced. This can especially be true if a new monster is added and hasn't been fine-tuned yet. That alone might dissuade you from Trunk if you're trying to beat the record for the longest streak of games won in a row without dying - 43 by elliptic at the time of writing. For mere mortals the rare death to a new, overpowered feature isn't a big deal.
If you're playing offline you probably just want to pick a stable release as it can be a major hassle to continually update your game manually.
Unless you have a specific reason for playing an older stable version (e.g. a removed species, background or Maces and Flails aptitude) you should just pick the latest release. Crawl often has quality of life changes which will make your playing experience better.
It can't be done. They are different clients.
Yes, I know you want to see your inventory on screen. I get it; I was there once, too.
I promise you, it's not a big deal. Your inventory is always one key away (press i). The monster list is extremely useful as it makes it harder to not notice enemies and gives you a good idea of how dangerous they are. Further, as you play more, it will become second nature to hold your inventory in your head without having to look at it at all times.
If you're playing offline your settings file is in the Crawl version folder then settings\init.txt.
To change your settings online, some servers have an "edit rc" hperlink next to each version. On others, you need to first click the version you want then "edit the settings file". Your settings file, often referred to as an "rc file", is distinct for each version.
Some servers exhibit buggy behaviour when you try to change your rc for the first time. This is because you're trying to edit a file which doesn't yet exist. If the edit window won't let you type or drop in a text file, click save then reopen the edit window.
Two settings I would strongly recommend you consider are:
There are many different things you can do to your game with the settings file. You can even write Lua scripts if you have a mind to.
There's a smorgasbord of options in DCSS: for a full list with descriptions, refer to the Options Guide.
The rc file of every online player is publicly available. You can plagiarise any one that takes your fancy. Mine is here. Some of my settings file is out of date and bits don't work properly but there you have it. You can delete everything after "# HDA Colour Stuff" if you don't care about messing with the game's colours.
For a high-tech rc file, check out gammafunk's.
Each character has a species and background. In some ways, character selection works like a difficulty system: some characters are objectively stronger than others. There's a fair bit to wrap your head around and some backgrounds that are good for one species aren't for another.
The game will try to help you when you're choosing a character. If you pick a species first, the game will suggest some backgrounds to go with it and vice versa. The game's suggestions are decent when you're starting out but you don't have to trust them completely.
Some combinations will give you further options such as a starting weapon type. To assist your decision, you can view the aptitudes table at any time by pressing %.
A background in DCSS is more like a starting toolkit than a predetermined path or destiny.
A background in DCSS is more like a starting toolkit than a predetermined path or destiny.
A background in DCSS is more like a starting toolkit than a predetermined path or destiny.
This might look like an accident but I can't stress the point enough.
A background in DCSS is more like a starting toolkit than a predetermined path or destiny.
Nothing explicitly prevents an Air Elementalist from picking up a sweet, artifact axe, putting on armour and engaging in some axe-to-face combat. Still, as much as it pains me to do this because I know some of you will get caught up in the categories, it's somewhat useful to think in terms of 5 generic approaches to the game:
I advise you to start with a melee character because they primarily care about one thing: their health. There's a huge amount of information to learn when you're new and that's true even if you completely ignore the magic side of the game. You can save yourself the trouble of also having to worry about managing magic points, spell hunger, ammunition, which spells to use in which situations, monster stealth checks and on and on and on...
Since heavier armour impedes both stealth and spellcasting, melee bruisers (along with ranged characters) tend to be the most durable. This is important for a new player because the punishment for your inevitable mistakes is less likely to be death. And trust me, you will be making mistakes. Even the most wizened Crawl veterans make mistakes.
I'd like to take this opportunity to establish a new rule starting from now: whenever I see a /r/DCSS Reddit thread from a new player who disparages themselves for learning with a Minotaur Berserker I'm going to downvote it.
You might think I'm joking but I'm not.
I will downvote you.
Any of the following species work well as a Berserker or Fighter. Berserkers start off worshiping Trog, the god of anger and violence, and can go berserk at will. Fighters have better starting equipment and a shield but won't have any divine assistance until they find an altar to pray at.
Minotaurs excel with all weapon types as well as Fighting, Dodging, Armour and Shields. They have +10% HP and a reflexive headbutt attack from their horns. Minotaur is often considered the best species for brand new players.
Hill Orc melee characters are similar to Minotaurs but they have no horns and are better axe users. With one of the highest Invocations aptitudes in the game, Hill Orcs are very powerful with gods that make use of that skill. They can worship Beogh, a god only available to Hill Orcs.
Gargoyles come with a stack of resistances and complete poison immunity. Their -20% HP is offset by an innate AC bonus which increases as they level up. Gargoyles eventually gain the ability to fly.
Trolls have +30% HP and rapid health regeneration. Their innate level 3 claws allow for gruesome amounts of damage with Unarmed Combat. Due to their size, Trolls are too big for most armours but they can throw large rocks.
Ranged weapons don't lose effectiveness as enemies get closer to you. As such, ranged characters can still wear heavy armour and, at least in theory, be as tanky as melee brutes. The added difficulty comes from having to deal with ammunition (a bow won't do anything without arrows, for instance) and kiting. Go with Hunter for the most straightforward experience.
Centaurs have +10% HP and are excellent with bows. They move quickly which allows you to keep away from enemies while peppering them with arrows.
Halflings have a +4 aptitude for the Slings skill which is tied for the highest weapon aptitude in the game. Their small size gives them a natural bonus to evasion at the cost of only -10% HP.
Mages are difficult to learn DCSS with because the magic system is an extra layer (or 5) of complexity on top of everything else you're grappling with. It doesn't help that many of the "best" magic species have low HP and relatively poor defensive skill aptitudes. Furthermore, spellcasting success is hampered by heavy armour. Getting the glass cannon picture?
Keep an eye on your MP at all times and try not to let anything into melee range lest your fragility becomes all too apparent. Remember that the idea of a "pure caster" is a player invention: nothing stops you from picking up and using weapons.
Draconian Fire Elementalist
Fire Elementalist is probably the most straightforward of the book starts and the Book of Fire can take you a long way on its own (just ignore Inner Flame). Draconians are not as powerful "blaster casters" as some of the more dedicated conjurer species but they have +10% HP and a +1 aptitude in Fighting.
To add to the survivability, Draconians get bonus AC as they level up in exchange for the inability to wear armour (this is kind of like free AC because you would have used a very light armour anyway). At XL 7 your Draconian will mature and receive a colour. There's a small chance your character will roll white (the cold type) and that will mess with your Fire Elementalist plans but it's still not the end of the world.
Gargoyle Earth Elementalist
Gargoyles are not just melee brutes. A +2 aptitude in Earth Magic makes for a strong Earth Elementalist start and a +1 in Conjurations allows them to branch out into other forms of destructive magic.
The innate Gargoyle resistances (poison immunity in particular) really help to free up an early-game caster to focus on their magic. In addition, Gargoyle bonus AC is ridiculous on a mage. Even in very light armour a lategame Gargoyle will have about as much AC as the typical melee brute of most other species.
Did you notice the pattern there? The secret to learning Mage is free AC!
Stabbers rely on the fact that attacks with a dagger on an asleep, immobilised, distracted or confused enemy do ridiculous amounts of bonus damage. The idea is to sneak up on monsters and kill them in a single turn by stabbing them. Since it's not possible to sneak up on every monster (some monsters spawn awake and it's inevitable that something will notice you and make a bunch of noise) it's a great idea to use Hexes to set up additional stabs. As stab damage is dependent on the Stealth skill, even the most accomplished hexer will want to train some Stealth. A light armour is recommended because heavy armour impedes your sneaking and hex casting. Stabbers should have a backup plan for when an enemy wakes up and resists all their hex attempts.
Spriggans have a +2 aptitude for Hexes and +5(!!!) for Stealth. In addition, they move extremely quickly. This allows a Spriggan to simply run away from almost any situation where a stabbing attempt has gone wrong. Their tiny size gives a large natural bonus to evasion but they need to be careful with -30% HP.
If I'm being frank, there aren't really any "good" beginner hybrids. The path of a hybrid isn't clear cut and relies heavily on what's found in the dungeon. That's true to an extent for every character but at least other approaches to the game give some guidance: your "blaster caster" probably wants to use some combination of conjurations spells and elemental damage. A hybrid's subset of possible spells is every spell in the game and, until you've got some experience under your belt, it's very difficult to judge which spell schools to move into and when and why. Should you be wearing lighter armour to cast higher level spells and/or making use of a shield? It all depends!
Gnoll (any non-Berserker)
Gnoll is a funky species that always trains every single skill all at once. By XL 27 you will have around 16 skill points in each. If your character is capable of using every item type and spell school you might as well.
Merfolk have the perfect aptitudes for the Skald background. Pick a spear because it has a very strong synergy with the Skald's starting Book of Battle. Merfolk have a +4 Polearms aptitude, +3 in Dodging and +1 in Charms and Fighting.
Transmuters use magic to change themselves and enhance their unarmed attacks. Transmuter is probably one of the weaker starting backgrounds but it is relatively straightforward and it's certainly an interesting playstyle.
Draconian's all-rounded aptitudes allow them to both cast and fight and their natural tankiness is always handy. Note that some forms will take away your innate bonus AC.
The top-right of your screen is where you want to look for a bunch of important information about your character. I'll be moving down the left column then the right column as I describe the elements.
Your species (just in case you forget who you are), god and piety level are shown at all times. Piety begins at 0 stars and goes up to a maximum of 6 or ******
If you ever anger your god (not recommended, by the way) and are put under penance, this line will become red.
Current health and magic are straightforward enough. Keep your HP above 0 for long enough and you might just win the game!
AC, EV and SH are your major defensive stats.
AC or Armour Class is your ability to mitigate incoming damage. Works on most sources, including elemental damage.
EV or Evasion is how well your character can dodge attacks, bolts and projectiles.
SH or Shield is how well you block attacks and projectiles. SH will probably be 0 unless you have a shield equipped or an amulet of reflection.
XL stands for Experience Level and Next is the progress you've made towards the next level.
The noise meter gives an indication of noise at your character's location. The bar will turn from white to yellow, red and magenta. Sources of noise include fighting, opening doors, casting spells, monsters yelling and alarm traps.
The top item is the one currently wielded (usually a weapon). The letter on the left, a) in this case, tells you the item slot.
The second item tells you what you have quivered for throwing (or for firing with a ranged weapon). The letter is the item slot.
Time is how long your game has lasted. It's determined by adding up the durations of every action you've performed so far.
1.0 Time consists of 10 AUTs or Arbitrary Units of Time. You will often hear this referred to as a "turn" but it isn't exactly (please don't ask). A "normal-speed" character (or any "10-speed monster") takes 10 AUTs to move.
The number in brackets is how long your last action took to perform. This is important because a slow action (swinging with a large weapon you're unskilled with) will give enemies the chance to attack you multiple times in response. A fast action (taking off a ring) probably won't allow them to respond until you move again.
For movement you can use the numpad (if you have one), your arrow keys (so long as you never want to move diagonally) or the vi keys. When I don't have a numpad, I personally use an ungodly hybrid of arrow keys to move in cardinal directions and vi keys for diagonals.
vi keys take some practice. h and l do left and right. j and k do down and up. ybun do the diagonals with their relative positions on a qwerty keyboard indicating which direction they will take you in.
Some other very important commands:
x allows you to examine your surroundings. While doing this, v will describe the thing you're highlighting.
X (Shift + x) enters the level exploration view. This is useful if you want to travel to the other side of the floor. Pressing Shift + direction will move your cursor multiple tiles at a time.
Ctrl + x lists all enemies and items visible from your location.
Use Ctrl + s to save and exit your game.
You can bring up the entire list of commands at any time by pressing ??
There are many different menus in DCSS (but don't worry, there aren't as many as in Dwarf Fortress!). Some correspond to specific game information while others are associated with the inventory and types of items. I'm going to go over the ones which I think are most essential.
The Character Overview is accessed with %.
This screen is a hub for almost everything about your character. The top rows have some information that's missing from the regular game screen, notably: Gold and Spell Levels.
In the list of resistances on the left, protection from fire (rF or rFire), protection from cold (rC or rCold) and protection from negative energy (rN or rNeg) all have 3 levels of resistance. It's possible to be vulnerable to fire and cold damage but you should try to avoid that if you can!
Magic resistance (MR) is shown on a scale of 5 possible "pips". Yes, players really do refer to it as "a pip of magic resistance". People will also understand the plus signs. To describe the resistances we've covered in the picture above you could say: "I have rF++, no rC, rN+ and MR+++"
For the other resistances on the left you either have them or you don't. Those are protection from poison (rPois), protection from electricity (rElec) and protection from corrosion (rCorr).
The middle column displays properties your character may have. Some can be intrinsic to your species such as Trolls having gourmand (the ability to eat raw flesh at all times) or Vampires being able to see invisible monsters. Others such as faith or reflection will need to come from an item. Note that not all of these properties are necessarily desirable. Harm, for instance, let's you dish out additional damage but it comes with the very real downside of you taking extra damage in return.
Note that the stealth bar isn't showing the maximum stealth possible. An extremely stealthy character can continue to gain stealth even when the bar is full.
The Dungeon Overview menu is opened with Ctrl + o.
This menu shows all the branches of the Dungeon you've found (or could have potentially found), where they are and how many floors you've explored of each.
Every altar you've found is displayed here too. This is very handy in the early game because gods aren't guaranteed to be in the Temple. Every god, however, with the exceptions of Beogh, Lugonu and Jiyva, will be found on Dungeon 9 at the latest.
Your Inventory is opened with i.
This screen gives you access to every item (up to 52 of them) you're carrying. If you don't want to learn the commands to interact with types of items directly, you can use everything from here with a few more keypresses.
The letters on the left tell you the item slot for each one. Taking the inventory above, if you press H it will show you the +2 hat of magic resistance. Every (sensible) interaction you can have with the hat is displayed at the bottom.
There are a number of interaction menus which allow you deal directly with a type of item rather than having to go through the inventory every time. I highly encourage you to try to use these menus. While it might seem daunting at first, the menus mostly correspond to a mnemonic so you will learn them quickly as you play.
When faced with a dangerous situation the number of options can be overwhelming if you look at the entire inventory. I find it helps a lot to look through each item menu in turn. "What potions do I have? Would reading a scroll help here? What are my choices for evocables?"
q for quaff. The quaff menu shows potions.
r for read. The read menu has your scrolls and books. Book reading won't be too useful in an emergency, though.
V for eVoke. Wands and miscellaneous evocables. The number in brackets next to each wand is how many charges they have remaining.
w for wield. The wield menu displays all valid weapons. - chooses unarmed.
P for Put on jewellery and R for Remove jewellery.
If you add the "equip_unequip = true" option in your rc file, you'll only really need to remember the P menu because then putting on a piece of jewellery you're already wearing will remove it.
W for Wear armour and T for Take off armour. Don't change your armour when monsters are around because it takes multiple turns to do.
As with jewellery, the "equip_unequip = true" option means attempting to wear armour you're wearing will take it off.
Q for Quiver. This allows you to have projectiles ready to be thrown or fired from a ranged weapon. You can quiver things whenever and as often as you'd like because it doesn't count as an action for your character. The game will remember what you've quivered for each weapon.
You can also use ( and ) to cycle through your available ammunition types.
e for eat. Om nom nom nom.
M for Memorise. This shows you what spells you can learn from your spell library. Next to each spell are the magic schools, the failure rate and the level. The failure rate refers to your cast success after you learn the spell - as long as you're not interrupted, memorisation will always work. Level tells you how many spell levels you need to memorise and how much MP is used for each cast.
If you press ! while looking at this menu you will switch between "Memorise", "Describe", "Hide" and "Show". Ctrl + F lets you search your library by spell name or school.
Hiding a spell takes it off the memorisation screen and show puts it back. If you'd like for new spells to automatically be hidden, you can put the option "auto_hide_spells = true" into your RC file.
A spell description explains how it works and tells you the power, range, hunger and noise for that spell.
The Ability menu is accessed with a.
At the top you'll find innate abilities whose success depends on your XL and evocable abilities (gained from items) whose success hinges on your Evocations skill. Invocations are abilities granted by your god. Success rate for invocations depend on which god you're worshiping but most will be some combination of Invocations skill and piety.
The Spell Overview menu is accessed with I.
Pressing I again or ! toggles the view. When you try to cast a spell whose success is shown in yellow or red you're more likely to suffer a harmful miscast effect if it fails.
The Relgion Overview is shown with ^.
This screen explains the god you're worshiping. Pressing ^ again or ! will cycle between the overview, powers and wrath sections.
The Innate Abilities, Weirdness and Mutations menu is accessed with A.
Blue lines are innate to your species and are essentially permanent: Minotaurs have horns, Draconians can't wear body armour, Trolls have claws, Gargoyles are poison immune, etc. White lines are ones the game considers "good" mutations while red are "bad". Transient (temporary) mutations are purple. God-given mutations can be a range of colours.
It's possible to build on innate mutations (Minotaurs can go from level 2 horns to level 3) but they can't be removed. Some transmutation forms will temporarily mute some mutations.
When no monsters are in sight you want to explore the level around you. That can be done by moving manually or by pressing o to autoexplore. Manual exploration might technically be optimal because you have absolute control over where your character goes but, for the sake of sanity (and because the benefit of manual exploration is relatively minimal), I'd suggest you go with autoexplore.
Autoexplore will stop when you come across a new item or an enemy. If it's an item you want, move over and grab it with g or, if it's an item you don't care for, keep autoexploring. If you found an enemy, it's now time to fight.
Tab is your autoattack button and pressing it will either fire a ranged weapon, melee attack an adjacent enemy or walk you towards the nearest one. Usually it's not too clever to tab towards a monster because you might reveal additional enemies in the unknown. Instead, you could manually walk back a few tiles, use . or s to wait turns as it approaches, cast ranged spells with z or fire/throw projectiles with f.
If there's one particular monster you want to melee (and you don't trust Tab), you can do so by moving into it with the direction keys (or use v to evoke the range on a polearm). When you're choosing targets for spells or ranged combat, you can move the targeter manually with direction keys or cycle through the options with - and =. Remember that you're not stuck in a duel to the death: if a fight looks difficult you can use a consumable (or 2 or 3), wand or ability to help you. Escape should always be on the table as well.
After each fight you want to rest back to full HP and MP with the 5 key. It can be a good idea to back up a little from where a fight took place to rest. This is because new monsters might come to investigate the noise that was made. Don't explore again until you're fully rested.
Your character might become hungry as you go. In the newest versions of DCSS, autoexplore will take you to any edible corpses in sight and butcher them. Rest and autoexplore both automatically eat chunks of flesh if you become hungry. Stand over a corpse and press c for chop if you want to manually butcher it (suppose you're about to rest and you don't want the corpse to rot in the meantime). e manually eats but most species won't consume raw flesh unless they're hungry.
Once a floor is fully explored, it's usually time to move down to the next one. The way to find a downstair is to press X (Shift + x) then > to cycle through the available ones. Enter will take you there. If you're stopped on the way you can press G (Shift + g) for Go then Enter to resume travelling to your most-recently-selected destination. > will take you down the stair when you get there and < will bring you back up. The * symbol above a staircase means its destination is unknown to you. If you do know the stair and want to see where it leads, select it with X then press [ to look up a floor or ] to look down a floor.
To travel to a branch of the Dungeon you can use G. A list of all the places you've found will be displayed. Once you choose a destination, the game will ask which level of the branch you want to go to. 1 will take you just inside the entrance, 0 will walk to the entrance (but not enter) and $ will take you to the deepest floor you've been to in that branch.
You can find items in the Dungeon by pressing Ctrl + f. On the results screen use ! to switch between the "travel" and "view" modes and / to sort alphabetically or by distance. You can make fairly sophisticated searches with a bit of practice. In the picture below I found all the branded axes in the game by searching for "axe && brand".
Some places in the game, notably Abyss and Pandemonium, don't show up in the G list. To find them you need to search for the entrances with "Abyss" or "Pan".
As you gain experience your character's skills will raise. It's up to you how many skills, which ones and in what proportions to train.
One of the first things you should do when you start a new game is to open the Skills menu with m.
Unless you added the "default_manual_training = true" option to your RC file, skill training starts off in automatic mode. This assigns experience based on what skills you use and, while it kind of works, you can get much better results with even a small amount of input. Press / to enter manual mode and the letter of the skill to turn its training off (- symbol), turn its training on (+) or focus it (*). A focused skill receives double the XP of an unfocused one. ? then the letter of a skill will give an explanation of what it does.
Experience is filtered through the aptitudes your character has for each trained skill. An aptitude of 0 is a modifier of 1x. +5 corresponds to a modifier of approximately 2.4x while -5 corresponds to approximately 0.4x. As higher levels require more and more experience to reach, species with a positive aptitude have a much easier time than ones with a negative aptitude. To see your aptitudes for the full list of skills press *.
There are some restrictions on the skills you can train, however. The game won't just allow you to train any skill at any time:
You can set skill training targets with =. These are very useful to avoid overtraining as they will automatically stop the skill once the target is reached.
If you're just after a rule of thumb: mostly train offence (weapon, spell school, etc.) until you're comfortable killing things then mostly train defence. Every character wants Fighting skill because it gives extra HP. For a given weapon, the most important skill level to reach is the point at which more training won't make it swing any faster (this is referred to as the point of minimum delay or mindelay).
Suppose you've just met a new, scary-looking unique. Should you be afraid of it? Generally, yes. But how afraid? And what can it do?
The best way to find out about a monster is to examine it. Begin examining by pressing x then move your cursor to the enemy you want with - and = or the arrow keys. Just hovering over a monster will tell you some information about it: what weapon it's wielding (including brand), what armour it's wearing, any wands carried and other otherwise non-visible buffs such as deflecting missiles. Note that an enemy might still have some dangerous items like potions and these won't be revealed to you.
To see in-depth information about the selected monster, press v. This process of examining is often called "xv" (ex vee) by Crawl players. As in: "Why didn't you xv the Ettin to see how much damage it could do, you dolt?"
In addition to a description, this screen provides an indication of HP, AC and MR and an estimate of difficulty which isn't always reliable. Any interesting properties of the monster will also be listed such as their speed (watch out for fast enemies because you probably can't run from them), elemental resistances and vulnerabilities, and the ability to see invisible.
To me the most important bits of information are usually the potential maximum damage and the spells + abilities section. As far as damage goes, don't be fooled by the "plus its weapon" part because that can be extremely significant. One very common early-game killer is the ogre and if you were to xv it, you would see: "It can hit for up to 17 damage plus its giant spiked club". "Well, that doesn't sound too bad" you might think until you discover a giant spiked club does up to 22 damage. In the hands of an enemy on Dungeon 1, a weapon is effectively double damage. And that's with a plain weapon, let alone one with a dangerous brand like electrocution.
Monsters can have spells or abilities with the major difference between the two being that they interact differently with silence and antimagic. Pressing the corresponding letter will give a description. If a spell is a targeted hex, the chance of it affecting you will be shown in brackets. Adding additional MR will lower the hex chances and vice versa.
Some monsters can have multiple sets of spells which will all be displayed until you see them casting something. The game will narrow down the possibilities for you automatically based on a process of elimination with the information you've gained.
It's possible to find some information about most monsters, spells, items and features in the game.
To launch the ingame lookup, press ? then /.
This is a very useful way to see what a monster can do even when it's not around for you to examine. Say you're heading into the Orcish Mines, it's not a bad idea to check the odds of an orc sorcerer paralysing you before you meet one face to face.
The CrawlWiki can be found here.
Please know that the Wiki is unreliable. It's often out of date, misleading or just plain wrong. Be especially wary when the Wiki moves from stats and equations to giving advice and opinion. The person who wrote that 1337 tip for winning may never have won.
I highly recommend that you don't rely on the CrawlWiki if you have a life-or-death question about the game.
The Learn Database or learndb is a repository of Crawl knowledge, strategy and jokes which is maintained in the ##crawl IRC channel.
While the learndb can also be wrong and out of date, it tends to be more reliable than the CrawlWiki.
Monster entries are especially useful because they tell you how much damage spells are capable of. In the Sigmund entry below, Throw Flame can do 3d5 (3 rolls of a 5-sided die) which is up to 15 damage.
beem is a bot designed and hosted by gammafunk. The bot spectates WebTiles players and allows queries to the learndb and sequell from the comfort of your own game. You can type to it in the chat box found on the bottom-right of the screen. Documentation is available here.
To get beem to spectate your games you need to say !subscribe to it on the server you want. There are 2 easy ways to do this:
To ask about an entry use "??". If there's more than one entry, you can see the second by ending your query with "[2" then "[3" and so on. To get the stats of a monster (such as the spell damage values or exact speed) use "@??". A couple of illustrative examples follow.
If you come from roleplaying games you probably think your character's stats are crucially important. Stats do matter in Crawl but not too much; I find new players tend to worry way more than they should.
Your character's starting stats depend on the species and background. Each species has its own total and distribution. Backgrounds always add 12 stats in a related configuration: Wizards are intelligent but not strong whereas Berserkers are the opposite.
Many things will affect your stats over the course of a game. Artifact items frequently have stat-changing properties. Some gods and mutations will also affect them. In addition, your stats can be temporarily (they come back as you gain experience) lowered by, among other things, some monsters, the deterioration mutation, potions of degeneration and death curses from higher-level mummies.
You character will naturally accrue stats as they gain experience and level up. Every 3 to 5 levels, depending on your species, you will get an extra stat. Sometimes the stat is fixed (Trolls get a point of strength every 3 levels) and other times it's random (Minotaurs get either a point of strength or dexterity every 4 levels). On top of that, every character gets a stat of your choosing upon reaching a level that's a multiple of 3 (3, 6, 9, 12, etc.). This stat choice gives you some direct control over the progression of your character's stats but the ultimate outcome will still relate to the species most of the time: despite your best efforts, a Troll is much more likely to end up with high strength than high intelligence.
Watch out for your stats ever dropping near 0. If one reaches 0 you will immediately become paralysed for 2-4 turns. If you manage to survive that, your character will be left in a state of collapse (strength) or will be brainless (intelligence) or clumsy (dexterity). The effects of each status differ but know that all are unpleasant and slow your actions.
To decide which stats you most care about, it helps to know what each does. I'm going to list what I think are the most important effects.
A section on which stats to raise will follow.
Traps make the game fun and exciting. During your adventures you may be (un)lucky enough to come across an assortment of various kinds. Some of the more notable fixed traps are teleport traps (which teleport you somewhere randomly on the level), alarm traps (which make noise and mark you if anything steps on it), shaft traps (which can cause you to fall up to 3 floors), dispersal traps which blink you and all the enemies on screen, and Zot traps (which have various effects that include paralysis and banishment to the Abyss).
All fixed traps will be revealed to your character so you should be able to avoid those most of the time. However, the game will also hit you with trap effects which have a chance to occur as you reveal new tiles. Note that the teleport trap effect doesn't teleport you randomly on a level, it specifically brings you near enemies.
A status is a buff or malus that can temporarily affect your character. Most will display a word on at the bottom of the game information section, top-right of screen. Positive statuses tend to be blue while negative ones tend to be red or yellow.
There are over 9000 statuses in Crawl. If you see one you don't know, ask learndb or the ingame lookup (?/) about it.
Poison applies damage to your character over time. The yellow portion of the HP bar indicates the health to which you will ultimately fall. If that's below 0 you are lethally poisoned and you'd better hope there's an ace up your sleeve.
The poison status stacks. If you become further poisoned you will take more damage per turn for longer. The status name changes from yellow to pink and then red to display this.
Dealing with poison
A potion of curing immediately removes all poison.
Poison is most deadly in the early Dungeon and that's when you might not have any potions of curing. A potion of heal wounds could raise your HP enough to take you out of lethal poison range. You might also live if you can increase your HP regeneration by a means such as a potion of ambrosia or the Trog's Hand ability if you're a Berserker.
Confusion comes with a whole stack of negative effects:
Dealing with confusion
A potion of curing or potion of cancellation immediately removes confusion.
Some monster attacks, weapons with the draining brand and negative energy spells can drain you. The status colour changes from yellow to red and then a very deep purple as you become more heavily drained.
When you're drained, your skills are temporarily lowered. If you get badly drained enough, it's possible for all your skills to go back to 0. Good luck fighting anything then. The following picture shows some drained vs undrained skills.
Dealing with draining
Experience is the only way to remove draining. The skill drain will progressively lessen as you kill enemies.
All actions take 50% longer when you're slowed. This can be deceptively dangerous.
Dealing with slow
A potion of haste has the opposite effect as it quickens your actions by 50%. Quaffing a haste will make you fast+slow which means, in effect, you move at normal speed. A potion of cancellation immediately removes slow.
Corrosion works in stacks of -4. The number in brackets is the total corrosion and that number is a penalty to both AC and slaying (attack damage).
Being heavily corroded can lead to a very quick and brutal death. The slaying penalty makes it so you're unable to kill with weapons and any attacks against you will do much more damage than they usually would.
Dealing with corrosion
Corrosion will eventually wear off over time. If you're getting swarmed, however, you might not have that time. Even teleporting away from the source of the corrosion might not necessarily help because you'll still be corroded afterwards. A potion of cancellation immediately removes corrosion.
The marked status communicates your presence and location to every awake monster on the current floor. If you're on a relatively unexplored floor, expect enemies to rush you from every direction. For a bit of additional fun, alarm traps make an extremely loud noise when something steps on them for the "wake everything in the area up then show them your location" wombo combo.
Dealing with mark
The best way to survive being marked is to get back upstairs to a fully cleared floor. Teleports won't necessarily solve your problems because monsters are informed of your landing position. A potion of cancellation immediately removes mark.
When paralysed your EV is tanked to almost nothing and you can no longer move.
Dealing with paralysis
You literally can't do anything except hope not to die. Prevention is preferable to cure in this case.
Berserk is a single status that buffs your character with haste (+50% movement speed), might (bonus damage to melee attacks) and a 50% increase to current and maximum HP. The downside is that you're only able to move, melee attack, wait/rest, switch weapons, drop/pick up items, eat and butcher corpses. The red screen is a nice touch.
You can only willingly berserk if your hunger level is above Very Hungry. Performing any action that's not attacking makes the berserk duration decrease significantly. Also know that there's a small chance your character will "pass out" as the status ends. This will result in paralysis for a few turns. I've never personally died to this effect so I wouldn't worry about it.
Once a berserk ends you'll be left for a period of time with the statues Slow and -Berserk (you can't berserk again while this is active). Please, as a minimum, rest off the slow before you go autoexploring into the wild. And, for best results, wait out the -Berserk status too.
Dealing with berserk
Since your options are severely limited when berserk, you're basically committed to fighting or running away with your bonus speed. Note that the berserk status will wear off very quickly when you're running rather than attacking. If you're still in a dangerous situation after a berserk ends, you can quaff cancellation to remove the slow or drink a potion of haste to go back to normal speed.
Some monsters (basilisks, liches, ancient liches and Jorgrun) can petrify you directly if they have a clear line of fire and manage to bypass your MR. You can also be petrified by standing in the calcifying dust from a catoblepas.
At first you will be "slowing down" or "petrifying". This part lasts for 3-4 turns and you will have your EV halved and your actions slowed. Once petrification kicks in you'll be left unable to move. You'll take half the damage you normally would from most sources (shatter damage is MUCH higher) but you'll have 0 SH and almost 0 EV.
Dealing with petrification
You can think of petrification like paralysis with a wind up time. A potion of cancellation removes the petrifying status. If you don't have any cancellation and you're about to be petrified next to something terrifying like a hydra, you have options available to you:
Many of the potions in the game give your character temporary and stackable buffs. These can be useful to live through difficult situations or take down threatening uniques.
Dealing with buffs
The only thing to deal with is your enemies. Kill them with your new-found powers.
Enemy statuses are displayed by icons on their tile (don't ask me how you tell in console mode). In the picture below, Rupert, the unique on the left, is both berserk and corroded. If you ever see a status icon you don't recognise, examine the monster with x and that will list them.
It's important to know that player statuses and monster statuses aren't always the same. In particular, mighted monsters get +50% damage. Don't ever ever ever ever ever underestimate a mighted enemy (and remember that berserk enemies are hasted AND mighted!).
I'm going to let you in on a little secret here. Your tactics are the most important factor in whether you succeed in DCSS.
A player who makes enormous blunders in the overall strategy and macro decisions of their run can still win if they have a solid foundation of tactical play. Conversely, a player who uses a spreadsheet to calculate perfectly optimal skill training and stat distributions but has poor tactics when engaging enemies will die over and over again.
What follows are some basic tactics you should employ at all times.
An extremely good practice while trying to live is to engage as few enemies as possible at once. Ideally, you only fight one enemy at a time so you can begin each encounter at full HP and MP and only receive approximately one hostile action in return for each action you make.
When you find a new enemy your first reaction might be to shout "RAAWWRRR" and Tab towards it. You should resist those urges. As you Tab towards an enemy, the unknown tiles you reveal might contain more enemies. This is very likely to be the case because packs of monsters are super common in Crawl. And as you Tab towards those additional enemies, there might be EVEN MORE enemies behind them. And as you Tab towards those enemies...
What should you do if not Tab? And yes, I realise that's an existential question for some players. Best practice, if you're really patient, is to walk backwards a handful of tiles. Heading back into known territory to fight helps prevent you from meeting new monsters who might come to investigate noise they've heard from shouts, spells or combat. Instead, you could simply wait for the monster to approach by pressing . to wait a turn. A caster or ranged character could shoot at the enemy. Even a melee character with no Throwing skill could still use the opportunity to chuck tomahawks or stones in the hopes of landing some bonus damage. You could fire wands, quaff some potions to buff up, use your god abilities and so on. The non-Tab possibilities are almost endless!
Crawl is a turn-based game. Once you've made a move, enemies respond by making their moves. Suppose there's one tile of space between you and an angry, melee enemy like an ogre who wants to smash you over the head with his club. If you use your turn to step into the ogre, the ogre begins its turn and finds you adjacent. SMASH TIME. If you instead you press . to wait a turn, the ogre will use its turn to close the distance and step into you. On your next turn, you get to hit first.
This one simple trick will save you a lot of damage. Ogres hate it!
Sight is reciprocal in DCSS: if you can't see an enemy it can't see you. With very few exceptions (deep troll earth mages being a notable one) monsters won't attack or cast spells when you're not in vision. If you're cognisant of this fact, you can use the Dungeon's layout to your advantage.
Imagine an early and very threatening ranged enemy. Are you thinking of an orc priest? Good. Suppose you come across one of those green terrors at the edge of your line of sight. If you use your next turn to walk towards the priest, it can stay put and smite you. In fact, it can do that all 6 turns you spend closing distance. That's up to 6 x 17 (102) non-missing, AC-ignoring smite damage, much more than any early game character can live through. And that's just to get to the orc priest; you still have to fight it!
A much better way to engage is to walk backwards until you find a dungeon feature, usually a corner, that obscures vision and wait there. That way, the priest will be forced to close distance while not having any line of sight. An ideal corner will force a ranged enemy to come into vision only when its adjacent to you but that's not always possible.
In the situation below I've come across a cyclops who is 3 tiles away. As cyclops can throw large rocks, those 3 tiles represent 3 potential rocks to the face.
A step to the left uses the corner to obscure vision and puts an end to the rock confetti. Still, this isn't an ideal spot because monsters with human intelligence and range can seek to maintain their range. In this situation, the cyclops, rather than simply walking up, might walk up-right to get more throws.
As a cyclops is a slow-moving monster, I was able to walk back to a more suitable corner. This forced the cyclops to close to within a single tile which is much preferable to 3.
Even if you have range yourself, you still want to think about your line of sight against ranged enemies. If you start firing/spell slinging from a corner, you then have the option to step around it and block line of sight if things get hairy. Also, unless a monster has the extremely rare "master archer" flag, it won't be able to use ranged attacks when adjacent to you. Instead, it will switch to melee attacks. This is extremely valuable to know against dangerous ranged enemies like centaurs because you'd much rather they try to punch you than pepper you with arrows.
Even with the best of care you're inevitably going to attract the attention of multiple enemies at once. Which is better? Every time you attack, 3 enemies hit you back or every time you attack, 1 enemy hits you back. I mean better for survival not better in a "more exciting" sense.
Where possible, you should use corridors and choke points to prevent enemies from surrounding you.
The following picture is an example of what you shouldn't do.
It's better to bring the enemies into a corridor so you can fight them one at at time.
It's even possible to create your own corridors in rock walls (but not stone, metal, etc.) with a wand of digging. If you place 2 corridors at right angles you've created what's called a "killhole". This configuration forces one enemy at a time to come into vision on a tile that's adjacent to you (unless they then blink behind you lol).
Stairs work in an interesting way. If you go up or down a set of stairs when monsters are around, only those ones adjacent to you will follow. This means stairs can be a useful tool to split packs or escape dangerous enemies.
If you see a threatening unique and it's not adjacent to you, go back upstairs and it can't follow.
When you're "stair dancing" monsters with you, you typically want to go upstairs because then it's a cleared area rather than the unknown. In a pinch, though, rolling the dice on a downstair might be worth it. As an added bonus, fights on a previously-cleared floor will allow you to rest fully without any new monsters coming to investigate the noise.
Summons won't ever use stairs. That goes for yours and a monster's. If some enemy summoners are going off by summoning a million dudes, you can interrupt them by changing floors. Zombies and skeletons can't use stairs either.
In the situation below there were 6 spiders.
Rather than fighting all 6 at once (and however many others who were just out of vision), I went back upstairs. Only 2 spiders were pulled up which is a much more manageable fight.
No amount of enemies is too large for stair dancing (but player discretion is advised).
Gods are a major part of the DCSS experience. Indeed, god choice is usually considered one of the most defining elements of a run along with species and background.
There are more than 20 gods in Crawl but you're only allowed to worship one at a time.
To worship a god you first need to find one of their altars. A large number of these will be present in the Temple which can spawn from D4 to D7. It's not uncommon that the one god you really wanted isn't in the Temple but fear not. With the exceptions of the non-Temple gods Beogh, Lugonu and Jiyva, every god will have an altar generated by level 10 of the Dungeon.
Stand over an altar and press > to pray. You'll be shown an overview of the god and then asked if you want to join.
Each god works in a unique way but most use a system of piety that you can build throughout the game by doing things they appreciate. As your piety rises you'll be given passives and/or abilities (whose power and success chance might depend on the Invocations skill) to assist your character. Some gods give gifts at higher levels of piety. Many enforce a form of conduct and will put you under penance if you do things they don't appreciate.
Don't abandon your god unless you'd like to die.
Gods are (mostly) there to help you. Don't just hoard piety for the sake of it. For the love of god, use your god.
At first, when you're learning the game, you might want to worship some of the more straightforward gods. I think that's a solid idea as it will help keep the complexity down. I'll introduce some of those shortly.
Several schools of thought exist when it comes to god choice and you'll find much disagreement among experienced players when it comes to the relative strengths of gods. Some players will say you should look for a god that covers the weaknesses of your character and not worship one who makes you all-in on a particular strategy. For instance, this wisdom goes, if you're a stealthy character who stabs enemies, you shouldn't worship Dithmenos (the god of darkness who makes you stealthier). That sort of thinking isn't persuasive to me: if I'm playing a Deep Elf caster, should I choose a god that helps me cover the weakness of being poorly suited to melee combat? Covering a weakness can be a very good reason to pick a god but it shouldn't be a consideration that's restrictive in nature.
Some gods are strong enough to carry you through a 3-rune game irrespective of what your character's approach is. I'd say Yredelemnul, Beogh (look at the picture below then tell me how you could lose with so many orcs and the power of friendship) and Fedhas fall into that category and Hepliaklqana ("Hep" for short) comes close. Otherwise, it makes sense to choose a god that assists your plan in some way.
As you play the game and become more comfortable, I'd recommend you simply experiment with new gods to see how you like them. With experience, you'll come to find there's a lot of value in simply getting a god as soon as possible. Indeed, this is one of the biggest strengths of a Berserker: you begin the game already worshiping Trog and have berserk available from turn 1.
In almost every game you're going to find at least a couple of altars before getting to the Temple. If I were simply trying to win a random character I would ask myself a question every time I found an altar: "Does this god work for this character?" If the answer is yes, I would worship that god even if it's not the strongest possible choice.
Not every god will accept worship from every character. "Good" gods (The Shining One, Zin and Elyvilon) spurn "evil" species (Demonspawn, Ghoul, Mummy and Vampire). No gods allow Demigod worship. Fedhas doesn't accept undead species (Ghoul, Mummy and Vampire) and Yred hates Gargoyles. Only Hill Orcs can worship Beogh (and you usually convert by pressing a then Y when in sight of an orc priest).
In making these suggestions I'm considering both the straightforwardness of playing the god and its overall power level. As there are 2 gods who centre almost entirely around casting spells, I'm going to split the recommended gods into 2 categories: gods for mages and gods for everyone else.
Trog is the god of anger and violence. He appreciates it when you kill things and, since Trog hates nerds, he enjoys it when you burn spellbooks and especially likes it when you kill magic users. Trog rages when you learn spells or train magic skills.
At * of piety Trog gives you the ability to go berserk. This is your ticket through the early and mid game. Seriously, you should berserk hard and often - it doesn't even cost any piety to use!
** gives access to Trog's Hand. It gives extra HP regen and MR++. You should use this whenever you face a dangerous enemy who can hex you.
Brothers in Arms comes at ****. This ability summons a berserk ally and, as mighted monsters do 150% damage, it's extremely powerful. There aren't many situations in a Crawl game that a few Brothers in Arms + Berserk can't handle. Don't stress too much about trying to use this ability even if the failure level is high: the piety cost only applies if the ability succeeds.
Trog gives gifts of ammunition and, at higher piety levels, gifts weapons. He's especially fond of giving weapons with the anti-magic brand. Please, please, please don't use this as a reason to not use Trog's abilities and hoard piety: the weapon gifts are a kind of bonus, not the main reason you pick Trog.
No Invocations skill is required for any of Trog's abilities. The success chance and power rely only on your piety level.
It should go without saying but don't choose Trog if you want to cast spells.
If you're planning on worshiping Trog you should strongly consider starting as a Berserker so you can have him from the start.
Okawaru is the god of battle. He accepts all kills but is impressed when you kill enemies that are dangerous relative to your XL. You'll be put under penance if you attack or harm your allies.
At * of piety Okawaru gives you the Heroism ability which increases all skills by 5 except for magic, Invocations and Evocations. Note that you don't get the extra HP that 5 extra Fighting skill would normally give. Heroism is extremely cheap to use in terms of piety and is the main reason to pick Okawaru. You should use it at the beginning of EVERY non-trivial fight.
***** piety unlocks the ability Finesse which doubles your attack speed for melee and ranged attacks. This ability stacks with Heroism but not with the Haste status. Finesse has a higher piety cost than Heroism so you shouldn't spam it but don't shy away from using it either.
Like Trog, Oka gifts ammunition. At higher piety levels, you can receive weapons or armour. The gifts are weighted towards ones that will be useful to you but Okawaru has a reputation for being a master troll.
Oka's 2 abilities require Invocations training but mostly just to lower the failure rates. More Invocations does increase the durations but I don't think you need to worry about that because you can always reuse them. Train 7 or 8 Invocations skill.
Makhleb is the evil (and edgy?) god of bloodshed and mortification of the flesh. Makh appreciates all kills and has no conduct restrictions.
At * you get the chance to gain HP on killing. How much HP you gain depends on the difficulty of the monster (Hit Dice) and how likely the healing is to occur rises with your piety level. This passive ability is perhaps the most iconic part of playing Makhleb. At high levels of piety, healing will trigger on most kills and this gives you the sustainability to melee fight for indefinite amounts of time.
** brings Minor Destruction which fires a random, low-level destruction at an enemy. This ability is rather lacklustre without any Invocations training but its deployment only costs 1 HP and no piety. You can use Minor Destruction to ping enemies with when you're not tabbing towards them into the unknown.
At *** you get the workhorse ability of Lesser Servant of Makhleb. This costs 4 HP and a small amount of piety and summons a temporary demon ally (smoke demons are the best). Know there's a small chance the demon can spawn hostile (the ability's displayed failure rate) but this drops with Invocations and you should be making summons at the start of a fight, not when you're about to die. Lesser Servant can carry you through all of Lair on its own: 3 demons working together will take down almost anything and if they don't, make more.
**** adds Major Destruction which fires a random but powerful destruction. The cost is 6 HP and a tiny amount of piety.
Finally, ***** piety comes with the ability Greater Servant of Makhleb. This summons a high-level demon (but never a fiend) for 10 HP and a decent chunk of piety. There's always a chance that Greater Servant will fail (even at 27 Invocations skill) and summon a hostile demon instead. For this reason, you should use this ability at the start of a fight (so you can escape if need be) and not in a situation where you're dying. Remember that summons can't use stairs: if you're afraid of a hostile servant, summon when you're on or near a set of stairs. With a bit of care (and some Invocations training) Greater Servant of Makhleb is a very powerful ability. Rolling an Executioner as your summon any time before you've found 2 runes is akin to winning the floor you're on.
All of Makhleb's active abilities use the Invocations skill. Healing-on-kills doesn't but you're a memer if you're using Makhleb just for healing. I like to train around 5 levels early to assist with Lesser Servant but then don't rush to get more until my character feels stable. Ultimately, I usually train 12-14 Invocations to make Greater Servant safer and more reliable.
Yredelemnul is the god of the undead. He appreciates it when you or your undead allies kill things. Yred won't allow you to attack with a weapon of holy wrath or knowingly read a scroll of holy wrath. He will straight up excommunicate you if you ever cast Statue Form.
By my estimation, Yred is the most powerful god in the game for a 3-rune victory. He will single-handedly carry you all the way to Zot and the only thing you need to do is train Invocations and figure out a means of finishing off.
At * you get Animate Remains which allows you to stand over a corpse or skeleton and raise it as an undead slave. Undead made by Yred's abilities don't ever time out but, like other undead, they can't leave the floor they were made on. At *** Animate Remains upgrades into Animate Dead which raises every corpse/skeleton on your screen at once. There is no piety cost for this ability so go crazy!
** gives 2 abilities: Recall Undead Slaves and Pain Mirror. Recall brings your undead slaves and any permanent followers to you. Note that while you can pull permanent followers to you from anywhere, only undead slaves from the floor you're on will come. Pain Mirror reflects any damage you take back at its source. I don't really use this ability because the piety cost for the damage you reflect is very high and I'm not a huge fan of an ability that relies on taking damage for its success.
From *** Yred will start to gift you permanent undead followers. As the number of gifts you've received increases, the quality of the followers tends to become higher. For the highest-level gifts (Profane Servitors and Bone Dragons) you can never have more than 3 in total. This permanent undead army is what makes Yred such an effective god: once it gets rolling, your army will kill everything for you while you cheer from the sidelines and twiddle your thumbs.
At **** you get the ability to Drain Life. This deals damage to all living things on your screen and then heals you for half the damage done. Drain Life is the reason I advocate heavy Invocations training for Yred and is a major reason for his strength. A spammable heal wounds effect that also kills everything on the screen? Sign me up!
***** gives Enslave Soul. This is a kind of funny ability: you can use it on a monster of at least "normal intelligence" which has at least 75% of its max HP. If the enemy dies while the ability is still active, it will become a spectral follower which can use all the spells of the original. You can only have one enslaved soul at a time and powerful, spellcasting uniques make good targets. I would consider this ability to be a kind of bonus and not necessary to Yred's core functionality.
Yred's higher-level abilities use the Invocations skill. It's worth training Invocations for Drain Life alone, however. I'd recommend at least 20 points by the end of the game.
Hepliaklqana is the god of ancestry who gives you an ancestor to fight alongside with. Hep appreciates when you explore new areas and has no conduct restrictions.
Upon worshiping Hep you will get a -10% HP mutation (you can't get rid of this, don't try) and discover the memory of your ancestor. Your ancestor is a permanent ally who shares XP with your character, can follow you between floors and will respawn after dying. You can recall your ancestor at any time for 2 MP and you can give it a name which is, honestly, one of the best things about this god. Pro tip: the devs love it when your ancestor names call them out.
At ** you can make the permanent decision to specialise your ancestor. The options are Knight (a tanky melee fighter who ends up with an axe and shield), Battlemage (a kind of blaster-caster who fires conjurations at enemies) and Hexer (uses hexes to confuse and paralyse enemies while fighting with a dagger of draining and, ultimately, an anti-magic quickblade). You can't go too wrong here but my personal favourite is the Hexer. Your ancestor will become stronger and receive upgraded gear and spells as your XL rises.
At *** you get the Transference ability which allows you to swap a unit (including yourself) with your ancestor's position.
With **** you can Idealise your ancestor. This heals it, removes harmful effects and gives a temporary buff to strength, spellcasting and armour. The amount of healing and the duration depend on your Invocations skill.
Lastly, ***** adds a draining component to Transference. Enemies near the target of the ability will be drained for a duration that is longer with Invocations.
It's only Hep's later abilities that really use the Invocations skill so I'm not usually in a hurry to train it. When I finally get around to it, my main consideration is more about lowering the failure rates of the abilities than increasing the durations. 12-14 Invocations skill should be more than enough.
Gozag Ym Sagoz
Gozag is the god of greed. He is one of the few gods that doesn't use a system of piety. Rather, Gozag will provide as much assistance as you can afford with gold.
As a Gozag follower you have access to some passives and some abilities. Enemies you kill no longer drop corpses and will instead turn into piles of gold. As this happens, you will take on a short-lived aura that can momentarily distract enemies. No corpses means no chunks. If you're a Troll (who needs to eat constantly) or someone who wants to cast hungering, high-level spells, Gozag probably isn't for you.
Gozag followers will passively detect gold and shops on the floor around them.
The Potion Petition ability gives you several sets of random potion effects and allows you to pick one. While your first use of the ability is completely free, subsequent uses cost 400 gold. Use this ability any time you find yourself in trouble (and, ideally, beforehand) and it will go a long way towards saving you. You can probably find at least one set with a heal wounds effect in it.
Call Merchant offers 4 potential shops (one of which is always food so don't worry too much about starving to death as Gozag) of which you can choose one to appear where you're standing. There's an ever-increasing minimum gold you must have to use this ability (starting from 800) but most actual stores are cheaper to fund than the requirement. I like to use this ability heading into the mid game (often sometime in Lair) once I've saved enough money to fund a shop and still have enough for some Potion Petitions in the bank. A strong weapon, heavily-enchanted armour or artifact ring can all make a very big difference to your character's strength at this stage in the game.
As far as standard mage gods go, Vehumet and Sif Muna are somewhat interchangeable. The two have ways to give you extra mana and both essentially gift additional spells. I will say that Vehumet characters tend to be more "blaster casters" using conjurations whereas Sif characters (or at least my Sif characters) end up more as well-rounded mages. Which one you should worship probably comes down to personal preference: try them both and see which one you prefer.
Vehumet is the god of destructive magic. He accepts all kills and has no conduct restrictions.
One really nice thing about Vehumet for new players is that all the abilities are passive.
At * of piety you get the chance to gain MP from killing. The amount of MP you gain is relative to the difficulty (Hit Dice) of the monster killed and the chance of triggering depends on piety.
With *** your miscast chance for "destructive" spells is reduced by 33%. The definition of "destructive" is a bit funny but you can be sure anything in the Conjurations spell school is included. With this passive it's possible to have spells online much earlier than you would otherwise.
**** of piety increases the range of your destructive spells by one tile. This doesn't work for spells like Freeze or Sticky Flame that require the enemy to be adjacent to you. This passive might not sound like much but an extra tile of range is a very big deal. This lets you shoot an extra Fireball or Bolt of Fire to kill an enemy before it reaches you.
As you gain piety, Vehumet will offer you destructive spells you haven't seen yet. You can learn these from the memorisation (M) menu. If you don't learn the spell, it will be replaced by the next offer so don't dally. One strategy to deal with this is to train more of the Spellcasting skill than you normally would to earn additional spell levels. You can also use a scroll of amnesia to temporarily forget a different spell which you have the book for and can thus relearn later.
Upon reaching ****** of piety, Vehumet will offer you 3 high-level destructive spells. These spells will remain on offer for as long as you continue worshiping.
Sif is the god of magical knowledge. She accepts kills for a small amount of piety and appreciates when you train magic skills.
At * of piety you get the ability to turn Divine Energy on and off. Turn it on immediately and never turn it off. Divine Energy allows you to cast a spell when you don't have enough mana for it in exchange for a temporary -Cast status. This status prevents you from casting any further spells for a handful of turns. Divine Energy might appear underwhelming but it allows you to continually spam high-level spells if you're also able to throw some kiting into the mix.
** gives a passive protection against bad miscast effects. The chance to be protected rises along with your piety.
At *** you can use the Channel Magic ability. This rapidly increases your MP regeneration for a temporary period whose duration relies on the Invocations skill.
**** lets you forget spells for a hefty piety costs. This works in the same way as a scroll of amnesia so you should probably use one of those if you have any lying around.
In addition, Sif gifts spellbooks from ***** of piety. These books are often artifact books that are themed but Sif also gives most regular magic books too. The spells in the gifted books are weighted towards spells you haven't already been gifted and, given enough time, Sif will eventually give you every spell in the game. This, combined with the ability to forget spells, allows for some very flexible magic users.
Channel Magic is the only Sif ability that uses the Invocations skill. While I do ultimately train some by the end of the game, I don't rush to get there. In Sif's current form it's very hard to get and keep high levels of piety. One result of this is that you're unlikely to be in a position to spam Channel Magic and you probably don't want to use it too heavily until you've been gifted a spellset you're reasonably happy with.
I don't know why but new players seem to love the idea of switching their gods. My best guess is that they want to pick the ABSOLUTE BEST god for what they see as their character's plan. Then, when that plan changes slightly during the game, there's now a new ABSOLUTE BEST god for the updated plan.
In most cases, abandoning your god will result in your character being wrathed for a time that's relative to your XL (lower level = shorter wrath). Wrath is where the former god tries to kill you with the rage of a jilted ex-lover. If you're insane enough, it's possible to be under multiple god wraths at the same time. Each god displays their displeasure in a distinct way but it should suffice to know that the experience is never pleasant. If you do happen to be under penance (why didn't you listen?!), though, you can check the status with Ctrl + o. Any god who's angry with you is displayed in red.
I often hear newer players say they want to swap from Trog because he's no longer giving them anything useful. Firstly, that's almost certainly not true because Trog's Hand and Brothers in Arms remain useful for an entire 3-rune game. Secondly, it's not the right way to think about an arrangement which has become a kind of hostage situation. Even if you think Trog isn't directly contributing to your survival, he's doing so indirectly by promising not to kill you by dropping packs of berserking enemies on your head.
There are some exceptions to the blanket ban on god switching. If you're leaving one of the "good" gods (Zin, Elyvilion or the Shining One), they will only get angry if you later worship an "evil" god (Makhleb, Kikubaaqudgha (say that 3 times fast), Lugonu, Yredelemnul or Beogh). Zin will also wrath you if you leave him to join Jiyva or Xom because they're chaotic. It can be a legitimate tactic to temporarily join a good god from an early altar with the purpose of switching when you later find Temple. Further, the good gods will even transfer half your piety over if you change between them.
If you're doing a 15 rune game, it can make sense to switch to a god that excels in the extended game, usually Makhleb or the Shining One. When that switch happens, however, your character usually has at least 5 runes. That makes them strong enough to deal with god wrath most of the time (and even then, it's still extremely dangerous). If you're just after the minimum 3 runes required to win, there's almost no reason to ever switch your god.
Just don't do it. Please.
No two games are exactly the same but generally you want to follow roughly the same route:
The early Dungeon is when your character is the most fragile and has the fewest tools to survive with. It's a matter of priority to identify your consumables and find a god to worship.
At this point you may as well pick up anything marginally useful you come across. Stones can be thrown at enemies to alert them of your presence (without having to walk right up to them) and to get some bonus damage before they get to you. Hunting slings are very common in the early game and are extremely powerful even with 0 training in the Slings skill. Don't bother with clubs: they are more an item to give monsters extra damage than one for players to use.
You should be aware that even regular, plain-looking items can be cursed. There is some danger in wielding, wearing or putting on ANY item that came from the floor without a spare scroll of remove curse to stop it being stuck to you. If you're reliant on your weapon to kill enemies, you probably shouldn't try new weapons unless you're willing to be stuck with it. Under NO circumstances should you ever wield the new hunting sling or blowgun you just found if you don't have any ammunition for it (stones or sling bullets for sling, needles for blowgun). Jewellery is particularly dangerous to put on without remove curse because there are harmful rings and amulets such as a cursed amulet of inaccuracy or a cursed ring of teleportation. You might gamble that the next remove curse scroll is just around the corner but I've had and wittnessed games where the first remove curse scroll wasn't found until the middle of Lair.
If you find multiples of a scroll in the first 3 levels of the Dungeon there's a good chance it's identify or remove curse because they are the most commonly generated. I like to read these multiples of scrolls on the next new floor while still standing on the stairs to find out what they are. In the event that you read a scroll of noise or teleportation, just go back upstairs. If you do find identify, start identifying your unknown potions with the largest stacks first. You really want to know potions of curing and they generate relatively commonly. Poison enemies are much less likely to kill you if you have a potion of curing at hand.
As the Temple will spawn somewhere on D4 to D7, I like to read all my unknown scrolls at the start of D4. If magic mapping is in the mix it could potentially reveal the Temple location. Some players prefer to hold their scrolls until they have at least 2 or they can use a scroll of identify on them. There's no right or wrong answer for this sort of thing but I'd prefer to have the extra information earlier.
You might also come across Portals as you make your way down. The game will announce the presence of these as you enter a level and, as you explore, will give you an indication of how close the entrance is. There's a timer before the entrance closes so don't spend too long resting if you intend to go in. I'd say that portals are generally worth at least looking inside because the early ones like Sewer or Ossuary can provide you with extra consumables. Don't hesitate to leave at the first sign of trouble.
Once you have a god your goal is to start building piety. Staying alive is still the top priority, though, so don't shy away from using your god abilities.
Keep an eye out for a source of rPois because that will make the next few sections of the game much more survivable. Also keep an eye out for auxiliary armours you don't have covered yet (boots, cloaks, etc.)
The Lair of Beasts will spawn between D8 to D11. If you find an early Lair on D8 I wouldn't recommend you go in immediately because you'll be somewhat underleveled for some of the threats there. I usually clear D11 before Lair but, if you've found an earlier one and there's an extremely threatening unique on D10 or D11, there's no shame in leaving the Dungeon for now.
If an invisible enemy starts hitting you multiple times per turn it's almost certainly an unseen horror. They move and attack extremely quickly but their movement is random like a bat's. Most of the time an unseen horror won't follow you between floors but if you're far away from stairs or have low AC, you might want to teleport away.
Lair is a branch of 6 floors that's mostly filled with bloodthirsty critters. It's basically like being in Australia. Keep an eye out for fast, poisonous enemies (spiny frogs and black mambas) and for hydras.
Hydras spawn with up to 8 heads and each one has its own separate attack for 18 damage! It should go without saying that most characters shouldn't let a hydra have many attacks at them if any. Hydras also have a special mechanic where they heal and grow two heads for each one you chop off with a non-short blade, edged weapon. A weapon of flaming is able to chop off heads for good so, if you've got one in a type you're skilled with, keep it nearby. Otherwise, you can use some combination of wands, spells, god abilities and throwing projectiles to take them down. Note that while hydras move at normal speed on land, they move faster through water.
Lair spawns 2 entrances to rune branches between L2 and L4 and an entrance to the Slime Pits on L5 or L6. Don't go into any of these yet!
Lair 6 will have one large or several smaller ending vaults with a bit of loot. These make the floor significantly more dangerous than any of the proceeding ones so be careful. If the vaults are too challenging, leave. You can always come back later.
The Orcish Mines is a 2-floor branch which spawns between D9 to D12. You might need to clear another floor or so of the Dungeon to find its entrance. The place is mostly filled with orcs but very nasty enemies such as stone giants can spawn. This is a large part of why Lair is recommended before Orc. Be careful around orc sorcerers (who can paralyse) and high priests and remember that enemy summons can't follow you up stairs.
Orc has an abundance of gold and a bunch of shops in which to spend them. Keep an eye out for rPois if you still don't have it: the shops might deliver or an orc might have been wearing a magical armour with the rPois property. The layout of Orc often spawns disconnected sections so make sure you check all the stairs to explore everything.
Orc 2 houses an entrance to the Elven Halls.
After Orc, finish off the rest of the Dungeon's 15 floors. Be wary of the entrance to the Vaults which will spawn on D13 or D14 and which can have nasty monsters, and the entrance to Depths on D15.
The Lair branches or S branches (because they all start with the letter s) are the first places for you to collect some runes. They come in mutually exclusive pairs:
Lair branches are all 4 floors deep with a rune vault at the bottom. If you didn't already learn during Lair and Orc that the bottom floor of a branch is significantly more dangerous than the proceeding floors, you're going to learn it now.
In terms of difficulty, Snake and Spider are similar but Swamp and Shoals vary quite a bit. For most characters Swamp is the easiest S branch while Shoals is the most difficult. If you rolled Swamp, do it first then Spider/Snake. Otherwise do Spider/Snake first then Shoals.
rPois makes Swamp, Spider and Snake much more survivable. Magic Resistance is extremely useful in Shoals to prevent mesmerisation. If one branch is proving too difficult, you can always go try the other one. Some players prefer to do 3 floors of the first branch then 3 floors of the other, saving the rune floors for last. As long as you end up getting 1 of the runes from these 2 lair branches before Vaults, you can save the rest for later.
Vaults has a runelock so you need to have at least one rune to enter. Note that at this point in the run you're ONLY doing the first 4 floors of Vaults. DO NOT ENTER VAULTS 5. That floor is a rune area and shouldn't be attempted until later.
Elemental damage is much more common in Vaults than it has been in the game so far and you're likely going to see fire and frost giants along with fire and ice dragons. MR is also very important because of paralysis enemies and vault sentinels who can alert monsters on the floor to your position by marking you. Watch out for ironbrand convokers who can call in monsters from other parts of the level and vault wardens who can lock doors and stairs to keep you trapped in place. Teleporting is a solid strategy against both.
An entrance into the Crypt is present on Vaults 1 or 2. I generally don't recommend you go in there during a 3-rune game due to some very scary enemies such as curse skulls, ancient liches and greater mummies.
Elf is a 3-floored, optional branch which doesn't have a rune. I tend to do it on almost every single one of my characters and I do recommend that you at least visit the first 2 levels because there are often shops which generate. If you want do Elf, don't come in unless you have at least MR+++ (to avoid being banished to the Abyss) and ~120 HP (annihilators can do up to 102 damage with a single cast of Crystal Spear).
The end vault on Elf 3 tends to have high-quality loot but it's guarded by many dangerous deep elves. The main thing to know is that each of the high-level elves is like a glass cannon: they are capable of gruesome amounts of damage very quickly but they are fragile. As such, you should avoid engaging multiples at once. Use luring, stair dancing and kill holes to split them up and fight one at a time. Note that deep elf elementalists have anti-kill hole technology and will blow them up.
Elf 2 always has an area called the Hall of Blades which is filled with dancing weapons. I only clear this area if I'm still after one of the rarer weapons such as a quickblade or an executioner's axe.
Depths is 5 floors long. Expect to face large and threatening packs of deep trolls, ugly things and spriggans. Depths tends to have many vaults with extremely nasty monsters such as caustic shrikes ("but shrikes are so cute in real life! ahhhhhhhh"), juggernauts and liches. You should be on high alert any time you see stone walls in a purposeful shape.
It's common to see gigantic, entire-floor sized vaults while in Depths. I'm a completionist and personally love doing these enormous vaults but no one would look down their nose at you if you chose to skip them by going down to the next floor.
On Depths 5 you will find the entrance vault into Zot. This is usually filled with all sorts of nasty dragons and draconians and should not be underestimated.
Once you've fully cleared Depths and ONLY after you've cleared Depths is it time to obtain a 3rd rune. There are 3 options which are considered standard:
Vaults drops you into the middle of an ambush of vault guards. Every stair is in the middle of the floor and, as noise is made, powerful enemies swarm in from the chambers on the 4 corners to say hi. Forget about stair dancing for long because vault wardens will inevitably show up and lock the stairs, trapping you on the level.
There are several ways to do Vaults:
The Abyss is a chaotic hellscape which randomly generates as you travel through it. The walls are constantly shifting and enemies (a number of which are Abyss specific) spawn over time. Teleports are delayed here but controlled blinking is possible. The only way to escape the Abyss is to find a gateway out.
There are 5 "levels" in the Abyss but each one is infinite in size and, as you explore, you can be pulled to new regions and deeper floors. Gateways leading down and out spawn randomly but will also be generated as a result of you killing enemies. As you go down the spawn rate of enemies increases and this can be an issue because it's usually very difficult to stop and rest. You can find the rune from Abyss 3 onwards.
The main trick to know in the Abyss is that you should teleport frequently and early. Teleport at the first sign of trouble. Due to the infinite nature of the Abyss, an enemy you teleport away from is not one you'll ever have to deal with again.
Rune vaults generate randomly but do so with more frequency on later levels. As the enemy spawn rate becomes absolutely brutal on Abyss 5, I wouldn't recommend you go past Abyss 4 unless you know what you're doing and have a very strong character. Don't worry if you miss a rune vault because they'll continue to spawn until you collect the rune.
To help you notice the rune vaults, there's a tile which indicates a rune is nearby. In the picture below it's the (aquamarine?!) tile at the corners of the rune on the left. If you see the tile, explore the area around it. Once you've managed to get the rune, gateways out will spawn much more frequently.
The Slime Pits is a 5-level branch with a challenging boss fight at the end. Protection from Corrosion is an absolute must-have; don't even think about coming in if you don't have rCorr or a giant stack of resistance potions. It also helps to have at least one pip of rC because azure jellies are capable of enormous amounts of cold damage. Stay off the walls because they burn.
You should consider yourself extremely lucky if you don't end up with bad mutations after a trip into Slime. Shining eyes are monsters which have no form of attack except for hitting you with Malmutate and they will do so with wanton abandon. The best thing most characters can do is try to block line of fire and kill them quickly.
Since there's never any loot on the first 4 floors and the jellies are worth relatively small amounts of XP, you should dive down to Slime 5 rather than clear floors. On Slime 5 you will come across the Royal Jelly in its home. This represents one scary boss fight and you should buff up before it begins. The Royal Jelly is threatening in its own right as it's fast, has high HP and damaging attacks. However, it has a very interesting mechanic that makes fighting it very tough. As you damage the Royal Jelly other slimes will pour out of it. Try not to get surrounded and consider teleporting or blinking away from the remaining jellies once the Royal Jelly goes down.
After the Royal Jelly has died the inner chamber walls will disappear, allowing you access to the rune and loot inside.
Different players have their own preferences for which 3rd rune they prefer. Some people, for instance, ALWAYS do Vaults 5. I like to mix it up a fair bit depending on my character but I personally think the Abyss is the most consistent.
Which one should your character do? Here are some considerations:
Here we go. Take a deep breath. Then check that you have at least rF+ (although even more is preferable) and rC+.
Zot applies a constant Orb status to your character. This delays any teleports (a scroll will take about 10 turns before teleporting you), prevents blinks from being controlled (a scroll of blinking will cause a random blink) and stops the spell Passage of Globruia from working. It should be obvious that this status adds significantly to the dangers of Zot.
There's no prize for ending the game with scrolls of magic mapping in your inventory. You may as well use any spare ones you have here. Some players prefer to spend as little time as they can in Zot and dive down floors rather than clearing. You spend less time in Zot overall by doing this but your orbrun becomes more dangerous.
Zot has many packs of draconians. Note that they can't see invisible so a potion of invisibility is a very strong play against them. You should also be on the lookout for curse toes who can torment you but are slow moving - employ the "walk away" strat. Electric golems blink around and zap you with electricity which is very dangerous if you don't have rElec.
On Zot 5 a number of very very nasty enemies are common, especially in the "lungs". Orb guardians move fast and hit surprisingly hard in melee. Under no circumstance do you allow a moth of wrath to berserk an orb guardian. Ancient liches are never a joke because they can paralyse you, hit with 144 damage Crystal Spears and summon fiends. And then there's the orb of fire. They are fast, magic immune, reistant to basically everything, relatively evasive, have high HP and do disgusting amounts of fire damage while malmutating you. Get as much rF as you can, buff up, use you god abilities and don't underestimate them in any way. Many a player's dream of a first win has been burnt to a crisp so close to the end. One very effective tool against both orbs of fire and ancient liches is an antimagic weapon because it will stop them from casting spells much of the time they would otherwise.
Clear the entire outside of the floor before heading into the lungs. If the chambers on both sides (or the entrance to the lungs) are blocked by teleport or zot traps, try to lure as many monsters out as possible by making noise. Once the area around it is cleared, you can attempt to blink over one of the traps.
You mission is to get the Orb of Zot then make it back out of the Dungeon. Rest to full HP and MP before you pick up or apport the Orb because the orbrun will begin. During the orbrun enemies will spawn around your character and all over the floor you're currently on. These can include high-level demons such as fiends that can torment you and panlords. Don't ever mess around with a panlord - they have random properties and spells which means the very-fast panlord blocking your path might have both Symbol of Torment and Firestorm.
Run from everything you can and haste, blink, teleport if you have to! Dig passages through the walls to shorten your path and avoid monsters! Your aim isn't to kill everything, it's to escape!
Resting isn't really something you should do on the orbrun. If you really must rest, do so while standing on an upstair. That way, if something dangerous appears, you go upstairs and never think of it again.
Freedom! The crowd goes wild!
Why are you still reading this section? You got 3 runes, took the Orb of Zot and then escaped. Victory.
Some crazy people will want to collect all 15 runes available in a game. If that's you, this is the path you should take after getting your 3rd rune:
Unlike the 3-rune portion of the game, negative energy is very important in Extended. rN reduces the amount of damage you take from torment and there's certainly a lot of that from all the fiends and greater mummies you're going to fight. Elemental resistances are crucial in both Hell and Pan. When you face Cerebov, the fire panlord, you want to have rF+++ and when you enter Cocytus, the ice-themed Hell branch, you need to have both rC+++ and rElec for Antaeus who resides there.
A major issue I often see new players grappling with is which weapons, armour and spells to use. The circumstances of each character are different but I'll try to give some general guidance to help you make decisions.
The first consideration is the type of weapon. If your character has a Background which starts with a weapon, such as Gladiator or Hunter, you'll have to think about the type right away. If you're starting off without a weapon, you'll have to see what the Dungeon provides.
Most weapon types have some distinctive properties. It helps to know what those are.
Axes have cleaving attacks that can hit enemies in all 8 of the tiles adjacent to you. The enemy you aim at takes full damage and any secondary cleave attacks do 75%.
Polearms can be evoked to reach an additional tile away from you. This can be especially valuable to reach over any summons or followers you might have. Tab will automatically evoke the reach where applicable but you can also press v to reach at one particular target.
Maces don't have a special quality as such. Their utility comes from their reasonable damage, from not being edged and thus not able to cut off hydra heads and in being the most common weapon to find lying around in the Dungeon.
Short blades give the most stabbing damage and daggers especially so. They are also very common to find in the early parts of the Dungeon and they require relatively small amounts of training to get to the point of minimum delay.
Long blades give you the passive ability to riposte. This is a counter-attack that can trigger when you dodge an enemy's melee attack. Riposte has synergy with Evasion and anti-synergy with Shields (you can't dodge an attack you've blocked) but you should really think of it as a nice source of bonus damage and not a mechanic to primarily base your skilling and equipment decisions around.
This isn't technically a weapon but it is a means of fighting and you can always choose to start unarmed rather than with a weapon. Unarmed attacks start off relatively weak because they don't have the damage that a weapon adds. Unarmed Combat only hits its very fast mindelay of 0.5 at 27 skill. This means that an unarmed fighter eventually ends up putting out extremely fast and heavy-hitting attacks.
Staves come in two forms: fighting staves and magical staves. Quarterstaves and lajatangs, the fighting staves, do relatively high damage with relatively low skill but they are two-handed and quite rare to find in the Dungeon. Magical staves are usually used to enhance spellpower for mages but they can work as melee weapons too. I generally wouldn't bother fighting with a magical staff because they have a low-damage base weapon and they require the training of 3 separate skills: Staves to attack faster and more accurately, Evocations to increase the chance that their magical effect procs and the magic school of the staff to increase the damage of the effect when it does proc.
Hunting slings are very common in the early dungeon and do impressive damage with very little (or no) Slings training. A Fustibalus will take down most enemies in the game from range with only 14 skill points.
Bows rely on arrows (which are somewhat common in the early game) and are all two-handed. A longbow is more than sufficient to win a game with.
Crossbows fire slowly but do tremendous amounts of damage. They require quite a lot of skill training to use and have the issue that bolts can be hard to come by until the flood of yaktaur packs in Vaults. A hand crossbow can be used with a shield.
Throwing projectiles is especially fun if you're capable of throwing large rocks (Trolls and Ogres). The more damage the projectile has, the better.
The following brands are pretty much always good in a 3-rune game:
The following brands will get the job done:
The following brands are effective in niche cases:
The following brands are pretty bad and you'd probably prefer not to use them:
The most important quality of a weapon is its base type and the most important quality of a base type is how much damage it does. While the enchantment rating makes a big difference for an untrained user, "bigger is better" applies to a character who is skilled in a weapon type. If you have 20 Axes skill, you'd rather have a +0 battleaxe than a +9 handaxe.
Unless you have a fast weapon with a brand that doesn't care about weapon base damage (elec or pain), I'd suggest you just pick the heaviest base weapon you can use, then pick the best brand, then pick the best enchantment.
Some weapon types cross-train with others. This means that 40% of the skill experience will transfer over for free. While cross-training isn't usually a huge consideration in your weapon choice, it does facilitate a transition from Short Blades in the early game to Long Blades in the late game. It could also allow a character to use a different weapon type for "free". A heavily-invested axe user might be able to wield a mace against a hydra in order to not cut off heads.
Don't do it.
"But I just found an artifact spear and I've only trained 15 points of Long Blades!"
No. Don't do it.
In truth, it can sometimes make sense to switch weapon types. It helps a lot where cross-training applies to the switch. I'd say this is a case where you're allowed to break the rules but only once you know and understand them. The inclination of new players seems to be so so so so so so strongly in favour of unnecessarily switching weapon types that I'd rather just tell you not to do it.
If you're not casting spells or trying to sneak around, armour choice is fairly straightforward. As a nice rule of thumb, I like to add AC and EV together into a combined score and then wear the armour with the highest combined score.
The value of a magical property on an armour changes depending on what part of the game you're in. In the earlier parts rPois armour is much more valuable than an armour with rF+ but that switches towards the end. If you can manage to snag a gold dragon scales that will cover many of your resistance requirements on its own.
Mages and stabbers still want to have the highest combined total they can get but there's an additional requirement. You should wear the heaviest armour that still allows you to successfully sneak or cast your spells. I'm not a huge proponent of the glass-cannon mage wearing robes and I'd much rather pilot a mage who has swamp, ice or fire dragon scales.
Spell choice can be quite difficult and it requires a lot of experience to do well. Part of the decision depends on what you're trying to use spells for: killing things, utility or escaping. If you already have spells that cover your aim, you don't really need duplicates.
When thinking about a spell ask yourself the following questions:
If you're a blaster caster who's struggling to decide between spell schools, you should know that Conjurations is the safe bet. Not only does it bridge the gap between other spell schools, but it's also the most general at killing things because it works on all enemies.
Mages also like to have some variety in what their spells do. It's useful to have single target damage for powerful uniques or enemies such as orbs of fire as well as AoE to take on packs of enemies in an efficient way.
My main tip is really just to experiment with spells and spell schools and see how you go with them.
For some very in-depth information about the individual spells themselves, check out duvessa's spell guide.
With every 3rd level comes a choice between strength, intelligence and dexterity. Which one to choose?
Your most pressing concern is whether you're going to have enough strength for the armour you intend to wear. As a general rule of thumb, you want to have at least as much strength as the encumbrance rating (some players like to have 1 or 2 more). There's no point worrying about intelligence for spell success or dexterity for dodging if you're suffering a heavy encumbrance penalty. The penalty will be much more significant on spellcasting and dodging than any additional int or dex would ever be.
As a mage, it's not too often you'd go above a fire or ice dragon scales which has an encumbrance rating of 11. For a melee or ranged combat character, you might plan to end up in the heaviest armour in the game which is 23 (gold dragon scales and crystal plate armour). You can see the ER of any armour by examining or querying it.
Once you have (or will have) enough strength for your armour, intelligence becomes the most valuable for any character who's going to cast spells. Int has a 3-fold effect because it lowers spell failure and hunger while increasing spell power. If you're going to cast very high-level spells or rely on spells that succeed or fail based on spellpower (hexes need to overcome magic resistance, for example), intelligence will be extremely desirable.
For a non-caster or one who doesn't need more intelligence (maybe you're only casting low-level spells that don't rely on spellpower such as Blink?!) you can go with strength or dexterity. The question is whether you'd prefer slightly more damage on your attacks or higher evasion. There are definitely schools of thought that advocate for strength every time but I don't think you can go too wrong.
To summarise (in order of importance):
You'll be much more survivable if you start each fight with full HP. That means you should rest back up to full at the end of each skirmish. Wait out bad temporary statuses such as the Slow and Exhaustion you get from berserking.
Keep your house in order. If there's a chance your hunger level might dip into Very Hungry and stop you from going berserk during a dangerous fight, eat beforehand. You will lose an additional turn in a potentially critical situation to eat if you wait until you absolutely need to.
Paradoxically, better offence makes you more survivable. It makes sense, though; if monsters are dead they can't threaten your existence. But don't become a glass cannon because that's going too far. Every single character you play should be training the Fighting skill for the extra HP it gives. In fact, more than 50% of the characters I've ever won have had Fighting as their highest skill at the end of the game. If you look at the picture below, Conqueror and Slayer are both Fighting titles.
Another obvious way to become more survivable is to increase your AC (armour), EV (evasion) and SH (shield) values. AC is undoubtedly the best to have of those 3 (if only because it doesn't drop to 0 in the event of paralysis) but it's still better to have at least a little bit of balance. Having a really high AC is great but it's less impressive in practice if every enemy attack lands. As a guide, I like to have a decent and relatively balanced amount of 2 out of the 3 of AC, EV and SH. You can raise the corresponding defence by training the Armour, Dodging and Shields skills.
One question that often comes up along these lines is whether you should use your enchant armour scrolls now to raise your AC or wait for a better armour to appear. Generally speaking, you should favour the here and now over the future. First of all, there's no future for you if you die now. Secondly, how do you even know that you will find a better armour? When you do use scrolls on your armour, it's preferable to enchant your auxiliary slots such as boots first because those tend to be less frequently replaced than body armours.
Elemental resistances are very important for survivability too. rPois is an extremely valuable resistance to have pre-Lair and all the way through the S branches. The Spider's Nest in particular has some very toxic monsters that will poison you rapidly if you're not resistant.
Heading into Vaults, rF and rC become increasingly more important and you should have some from that point until the end of the game. The first point of fire and cold resistance is by far the most important because it lowers damage by 50%. The additional 2 points also help but they give increasingly diminishing returns.
From Shoals (if you have it) onwards, MR becomes arguably the most important resistance to have. Suppose a fire giant hits you with Fireball when you have no rF: you will lose a large chunk of your HP but then you can take drastic actions to escape. Now suppose you have low Magic Resistance and you get paralysed. There's literally nothing you can do except wait. MR+++ is the minimum I feel comfortable walking around with but that's usually enough to avoid most hexes unless you're unlucky (ancient liches will still have a significant paralyse chance on you).
The other 3 main resistances are rN, rCorr and rElec. rN is usually not too important in a 3-rune game so it's nice if you have some but not a big deal if you don't. rCorr is mandatory in the Slime Pit and helpful against the few acid enemies such as caustic shrikes but unnecessary otherwise. rElec is quite rare because it's said to be a "luxury resistance" and the only items it comes on are artifacts. Unfortunately, enemies with electric attacks are present in almost every branch of the game and, because elec damage partially ignores AC, they are extremely dangerous. In a pinch, you can get rElec with a potion of resistance.
Lastly, don't ever be vulnerable to an element if you can help it. Taking 100% damage is bad enough with no pips of resistance. With a vulnerability you take 150% of the regular damage.
The best cure for bad situations is prevention; ideally you would avoid all of them. The earlier you recognise a situation going bad (and even if you just see the potential for a situation to spiral out of control) and react to it, the better your chances of living. However, despite your best and most noble efforts, things will invariably go wrong.
You fall through a shaft...
Once a situation has gone bad, the first and most important thing you can do is SLOW DOWN.
Remind yourself that DCSS is a turn-based game. You can think about your next move for as long as you'd like and it's even possible to stop and come back later. I can't count how many times I've died to some situation then, 10 minutes later, it occurred to me how I could have lived.
Once you've calmed down and taken some deep breaths, you want to be aware of all the options you have. Do the following steps (and note that the common theme is "consumable"):
Now you're ready to make some decisions. Ask yourself how permanently bad the situation is. If huge amounts of damage are coming in every turn then trying to live by quaffing potions of heal wounds is only going to delay the inevitable. If you don't need to escape and it's just that a max-damage roll from an enemy could kill you then a heal wounds could be perfect.
Let's say you do need to escape from a horrible situation. Scrolls of blinking are probably the single best way in the game to do that because they can take you right out of harm's way. You can even chain multiple together. Blinking scrolls can buy you time to retreat, read a teleport scroll, summon some allies or heal up. If you're threatened by a ranged enemy, a blink followed by a scroll of fog can take you away and then obscure vision.
Scrolls of teleportation are also very handy to escape with but there's a bit of a delay before the teleport and there's no guarantee it won't just move you 1 tile from where you are now. This is partly why it's so important to TELEPORT EARLY. Teleport scrolls are also less reliable on unexplored floors because you're probably about to make some new friends. If you desperately need to live as you're waiting for a teleport to go off, it can be a good idea to randomly blink away from the enemy or quaff potions of heal wounds.
Other good escape tools include scrolls of fear to make the enemies run from you. Note that fear only works on (non-berserked) living enemies and it has to pass an MR check. Haste potions can give you a burst of speed to run away or perform other escape actions faster. Many gods provide panic buttons which you shouldn't overlook.
Wands can come to the rescue too. A hex wand such as paralysis or enslavement might just get the dangerous enemy away from you. A digging wand could provide a useful corridor that stops 6 enemies from swarming you at once.
Dangerous spellcasters such as ancient liches can't cast spells when they're silenced. Note: you can't silence demons, orbs of fire or panlords. Use xv to check if you really need to know whether a monster spell or ability can be silenced.
After listing all those possible options for dealing with bad situations, I can't stress enough how much better it is to ACT EARLY. If you take evasive action before your HP drops low your chances of living are much much higher. Don't wait until you have less than 50% HP to teleport because there's a good chance that it's too late and you're just going to die.
Always remember that it's better to use a relatively common consumable like a potion of agility before or early into a fight than it is to nearly die and be forced to use an extremely valuable one such as a scroll of blinking. When the next bad situation then rolls around, that scroll of blinking won't even be an option. In a way, you're surviving a future bad situation by being proactive about this one.
In Crawl there are both positive and negative mutations that can affect your character. Demonspawns have special mutations as part of their ancestry but that's not what we're talking about here. Rather, this is about the changes to your body that occur as a result of the Dungeon and the monsters in it.
There are only 2 real ways in the game to try to give yourself positive mutations. The first is to worship either Xom or Jiyva because they will mutate your character and usually (but not always) in a good way. The second is to quaff a potion of mutation. This potion causes the following effects to happen in the following order:
Other causes of mutations are primarily bad. Becoming contaminated from spamming Invisibility or miscasting spells to the point where you glow will result in at least one negative mutation most of the time. Some monsters (neqoxec, cacodemon, shining eye and orb of fire) have Malmutate which gives you a negative mutation 80% of time and a random mutation (which could still be negative) the other 20%. As rMut is extremely rare (it mostly exists on a couple of pre-determined artifacts), the best way to avoid being malmutated is to limit line of fire from the monster and kill it quickly.
Some negative mutations are almost run-endingly bad and others significantly add to the fragility of your always-under-the-threat-of-permadeath life. "Teleportitis" occassionaly teleports you to enemies on your floor and there are 3 levels of the mutation with increasing frequency of teleports. This is much like stepping on a teleport trap except that there will always be enemies where you land. "Berserkitis" causes your character to go berserk against its will when performing melee attacks. The "deformed body" mutation halves the base AC of your body armour. "Blurry vision" makes it take longer when you read scrolls. "Slow healing" stops your HP regeneration completely when any monster is visible.
Suppose you've ended up with one of those negative mutations listed above (or one of the others not listed there). How do you go about removing it? The only way to remove mutations is to quaff the potion of mutation outlined above. Of course, there's no guarantee that the potion will remove any specific mutation or that it won't add even more bad mutations after removing some. You just have to keep chugging until you either get a mutation set that isn't horrible or you run out of mutation potions.
Since potions of mutation are so valuable as the only way to remove negative mutations, I strongly recommend you don't use them in an active quest to mutate yourself for positive mutations. Instead, you should save them. I've lost a character before on Zot 5 after an orb of fire gave me the teleportitis mutation. That then triggered and threw me into one of the lung chambers, surrounded by dangerous Zot 5 enemies.
I see these things happen much too often (it keeps me up at night):
Watch any experienced players and their gameplay will appear much smoother. Here are some of the things they're doing.
As you learn spells they will be assigned letters in alphabetical order. Spellcasting can get annoying when the buttons to cast them are all over your keyboard. Imagine if you could change the spell letters to put them closer to each other and the z key... Well you can!
= is the command for adjust where you can choose to change the slot of an item (i), spell (s) or ability (a).
' (the apostrophe key) switches between weapons in the a and b item slots. This makes it very easy to alternate between 2 melee weapons (such as your primary axe and a secondary flaming axe for hydras) or a ranged and a melee weapon. If the item in your a or b slot isn't a weapon, you'll instead go unarmed.
This tip works very well with the previous tip because = allows you to put the weapons you want on the a and b slots.
If I'm routinely wielding more than 2 things I next use the w slot so it can be wielded with ww. After w comes q for wq and so on.
Macros are a way to assign a series of key presses to a single input. I honestly don't know how it's possible to play a mage character without macros and not lose your mind.
Press ~ (the Tilde key which is usually below Escape) or Ctrl + d to begin. s saves the macros you've made so they persist into new games and m lets you input a new macro or clear/redefine a macro you already have.
Good keys for macros include the number keys (1 to 9) and function keys (F1, F2, F3). You can also use letter keys that have no functionality such as p.
If you use a macro to cast a spell that requires a target, you need to use . (period) or f in the macro. The period has 2 potential meanings and you need to be a bit careful of the 2nd if your spell doesn't require a target: Enter or wait a turn. For that reason, I'd recommend you use f to confirm the target. Note that a macro for a targeted spell will choose the closest enemy. If you want to aim at a particular monster that's further away you should cast the spell manually.
In the picture below I've created a macro on the 1 key that casts my spell in the c slot at the nearest target.
For gods like Fedhas or Yred who constantly require you to use their abilities, I like to macro "aa" to the p key. Once upon a time p stood for "pray" so this has nostalgia as a bonus effect.
For more in-depth coverage of Crawl's macro functionality, check out Neil's Macro Guide.
` (below Escape) repeats the previous action. This can be useful for firing spells, throwing projectiles or more conveniently using 12 enchant armour scrolls on your gold dragon scales.
Suppose you're a heavy-armour-wearing melee fighter with no use for books. Or suppose you already have 3 rings of protection from fire and you come across a 4th. Conversely, suppose you're a mage and you want to check all the magical staves you come across. Rather than having to manually pick up and drop those items you do/don't want, you can set rules for what autopickup will grab or ignore.
Press \ to open the autopickup menu and then turn on or off whole classes of items or specific ones.
When in the autopickup menu you can hit - to see what items are still unknown to your character. This can be useful when trying to figure out what the 3 unknown potions you're holding might be.
Exclusions are markings which prevent autoexplore from entering. You can exclude a single tile, an area around a tile (every square that can see that tile), a staircase or a door. While you can manually walk through an excluded area, the game will prompt you first to make sure.
Press x or X then move your cursor to the place you want to exclude. e cycles through a small exclusion, large exclusion and no exclusion. You can remove all exclusions from a level at once with Shift + x then Ctrl + e.
Exclusions can be handy to stay away from a unique or other dangerous foe that didn't wake up when you first saw it. I also like exclusions to mark dangerous stairs that I shouldn't use and to exclude the entrances to branch rune vaults so that the rest of the floor can be cleared first.
Suppose you know there's a unique or ghost you want to hunt down somewhere on your floor but you've already fully explored it. Rather than manually searching the floor again, you can "forget" it and then use autoexplore.
X (Shift + x) then Ctrl + f forgets the floor. X (Shift + x) then Ctrl + u "undoes" the forgetting.
When you're in a shop you can press Shift + the letter of the item you're interested in to add it to your shopping list.
Peruse marked items from all shops by pressing $ which is very apt. The game will even give you a message when you've collected enough gold to buy an item on your shopping list.
A nice tip to look through all the items on your current floor is to open find with Ctrl + f then search for ".". This is particularly useful on loot-heavy branch endings such as Elf 3 or Vaults 5.
Focus on your tactics, they are the most important thing by far.
After each death think about why you died and what you can do to prevent that from happening again. If you died to some new enemy because you didn't know what it did, remember for next time. Even better, the next time you see something new, examine it. If you're at a complete loss as to why you died, ask a more experienced player.
Maybe mastering DCSS isn't your goal and you're reading this just to learn a few things. Regardless of your intentions, you're going to have runs where you never get a single artifact or find the exact spell you want. You'll experience deaths that are essentially due to RNG such as being shaft trapped. And you're going to lose characters in ways that are heartbreaking. If you play enough you're even going to die in extremely embarassing ways (sometimes you might even directly kill yourself). It happens to everyone, just keep going.
If you'd like to see much of this put into practice go have a look at my YouTube channel where there are many DCSS playthroughs. The playlist for a beginner Minotaur Berserker tutorial can be found here. While that game was recorded in the 0.19 Version, the fundamentals remain the same. Episode 1 of the tutorial can be watched just below.