early game balance


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Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 01:07

early game balance

I didn't locate a page for this on the Wiki, but it seems like the sort of thing that somebody would have brought up in the past so I figured I'd bring it up here first, where it can be buried if I'm excavating zombie horses.

I am of the opinion that the early game is unreasonably hard, and more importantly the early game is hard in a bad way. Once you're past the mid-Lair, you're probably only going to die if you actually screw up or run into a situation you've never seen before. In the early game, though, your starting character has few viable options to work with, and no matter how good you are at the game there's a random chance the RNG will just declare you dead. The longest streak of games on a public server ended with a Kenku Venom Mage in the very first room, a combination that really should have had no trouble on D1, simply because the player's entire mana bar got randomly miscast away and there were no other possible actions to take.

Judging by observations of the best tournament players, optimal starting play for many backgrounds appear to be picking up and throwing random dungeon trash, a practice which is non-intuitive to a beginning player and is actively punishing later on when the experience wasted on throwing sabotages loot generation later in the game. According to forum posts I've read on rpg.net or the SA forums, mediocre players often seem to simply accept mashing the buttons idly until they reach the Temple, at which point they start taking the character seriously and playing with actual care. I believe that this attitude is detrimental to the game; start-scumming in this manner is detrimental to playing skill overall but the playing skill demanded by the first few levels is completely unrelated to the playing skill required after that point.

The first issue to discuss, I suppose, is whether anybody agrees with me on whether the early game should be consistent in difficulty with the rest of the game. The second issue would be to brainstorm ideas for correcting the issue if it exists. Here are a few of mine:

1) It might be worthwhile to start with a few consumables as an early-game emergency button. These could be motivated by mechanics (a potion of speed for berserkers, to abbreviate the aftereffects of one rage) or flavor (a scroll of fear for necromancers, to drive off a dangerous living early-game enemy and allow a reprieve), but in either case the consumables should provide a benefit early on but not later. Just potions and scrolls, basically, which can be used to alleviate RNG screwjobs early on but will eventually be popped by fire or cold effects (or just become obsolete) if the RNG screwjob doesn't happen. Transmuters already get this -- their starting potion of poison can be used to flat-out solve any one otherwise-dangerous encounter before the Temple, and the starting potions don't seem to cause any detrimental power creep for them later on.

2) Objects that can one-shot a level appropriate character before that character can reasonably react should not generate too early. For instance, wands of frost are fine in in Ijyb's filthy hands, wands of cold not so much. You can't see the wand before you're dead. You can't go around him and Sigmund and Jessica and Terrence all on the same level without waking up at least one, and it's a matter of pure dumb luck whether the one you pick happens to generate with a line-of-sight instakill. Similarly, D1 kobolds should probably not be walking around with distortion brands. This is at least partially in place already, since scrolls of immolation don't spawn in the first few levels, and I can't remember anybody complaining about that! And on the other hand, there are plenty of items that are simply too good to generate early on, like spellbooks or demon weapons, which could likewise be deferred so as to not encourage start-scumming.

3) Starting characters should have basic competence in their job. A fighter, for instance, will typically replace every piece of starting equipment they have before they even reach the Temple. They are completely at the mercy of the RNG, and a mediocre player is well-rewarded to replay the first two levels until a good weapon or armor randomly spawns. Spellcasters are all almost without exception generated with a good item (their spellbook) that will define their character at least until the early midgame, so why not extend that same courtesy to the non-casters? Merfolk are popular at least in part because they don't start with the single worst weapon of their weapon type. Is there even a drawback to starting non-casting melee characters with a vanilla sabre/war axe/trident/morningstar?

Thoughts? Links to development wiki pages I somehow stupidly missed?

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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 01:40

Re: early game balance

I agree with your premise: the early game can be difficult. The drudgery of throwing characters through the uninteresting D:1 to D:4~5 meat-grinder is probably the biggest deterrent to my starting a new game. Things don't start to get fun till you've got an established character.

I like 1. A small emergency consumable could save enough characters to reduce initial monotony without messing up balance much. Not having strategic options is dull.

3 I'm not so sure on. Sure, I'd be nice if mele classes had better initial gear, but for the most part they can afford to wait for the RNG to provide better. Mages, on the other hand, need a good spellbook or they die. Instantly. Besides, being at the mercy of the RNG seems important to me. Great initial gear means less interesting choices and more ignored dungeon trash.

2 . I don't like. Sure, it stinks when a D:1 kobold gets you with a short sword of distortion. But it's awesome when you manage to kill him and get a fun brand early. OOD items should stay.

Aside: throwing trash for the first few floors is optimal play? O_o Gah! I swear, the very first thing I thought I learned after coming to crawl from nethack was "Huh. So throwing things at everything in this game doesn't work." >_<

TGW

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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 02:22

Re: early game balance

2) isn't the problem because those are rare and interesting deaths. The biggest parts of early deaths (of all deaths) are kobolds and hobgoblins, enemies that make up a huge portion of D:1 in every game and can kill characters in one or two hits.

The solution is to somehow make early game interesting or to nerf the culprits. I made an FR about this a while ago. https://crawl.develz.org/mantis/view.php?id=2179
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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 03:42

Re: early game balance

I feel this is in the spirit of the game.

So many things depend on randomization, so yes in the beginning a little bit of luck can change a lot. Sometimes it can be easy, sometimes it can be hard. However as the game progresses, the importance of luck is compensated by skill. Let's not forget that randomization is what makes the game so enjoyable and replayable.

I personally enjoy the first levels, as hard as they can be with some builds. I can get frustrated when a gecko kills me on level 1, or a couple of orc priests ambush me on level 3, but I am also elevated if I come across a nice randart or even a good wand early on.
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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 05:39

Re: early game balance

KoboldLord wrote:I am of the opinion that the early game is unreasonably hard, and more importantly the early game is hard in a bad way.
...
mediocre players often seem to simply accept mashing the buttons idly until they reach the Temple, at which point they start taking the character seriously and playing with actual care. I believe that this attitude is detrimental to the game; start-scumming in this manner is detrimental to playing skill overall but the playing skill demanded by the first few levels is completely unrelated to the playing skill required after that point.

Could not have said it better; early game balance is the biggest issue I have with crawl. There are a number of opinions that semi- and experienced players hold regarding early game, but I think a crucial demographic to bear in mind here is the beginning player. Crawl has a pretty steep learning curve, and it is a vast minority of beginning players who after dying 30+ times before reaching a branch decide to keep trying. Also, as touched on above, the notion that throwing random dungeon items should make a significant difference is ridiculous to me. Imagine for a moment that non-skilled throwing was completely nerfed. Would this have any effect on your early game? If so, early game has a problem. My suggestions/comments:

- I like out of depth monsters. It's important to learn that you'll have to run away, frequently, in crawl. I especially like OOD items, and would like to see them more frequently (perhaps not more per game, but a greater chance of spawning an OOD item for each early game). For me, the possibility of finding and the potential difficulty in extracting an early ego weapon, randart, good jewelry, etc is the most exciting thing about early game.

- I'd love to see more low-level portals. I think this would be a good way to add both balance and interest early-game. I was really excited when I first saw sewers in trunk last year; I'd like to see even lower-level, smaller portal areas. Rats' nests, Jackels' dens, a goblin hideout; there are tons of possibilities here (does anyone have a link to where this sort of thing is actively designed/discussed for development?)

- Starting with 50-100 XP pool could make a huge difference. If it's decided that enough people share this opinion about early game, tinkering with this number could be an easy way to correct early difficulty without introducing or modifying too much.

- Decrease the chance of found and monster-dropped weapons being cursed on at least the first level or two. This could go in the "What makes crawl not fun" topic below: it is incredibly annoying to have one's butchering weapon end up cursed.

Mines Malingerer

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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 15:34

Re: early game balance

Relatively, I'm a noob. However, I've been to the Lair and beyond, and I've never even thrown a single item, ever.

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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 18:21

Re: early game balance

Throwing is optimal but not necessary; it primarily helps with streaking and survivability of some of the far weaker character combinations.
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Post Monday, 10th January 2011, 20:11

Re: early game balance

I don't think starting with more XP would be good unless victory dancing was eliminated somehow. It's already a bit of a problem when I start a High Elf Reaver - I spend a couple minutes each time casting magic dart at empty space to train conjurations to level 3 so that I get one more power level with the spell, and it takes a while because with just one MP to start I have to rest in between each casting. So there optimal play requires that I bore myself. Having more XP would just encourage me to bore myself longer.

I also think scavenging through all the runed / glowing daggers for the early game also is a way that players are encouraged to bore themselves.

To be honest, I feel like the game would not be much worse if most things were just ID'd on sight, except for cursed status. That would make the early game easier, and not affect the later game much because by then most items have been identified anyway.

Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Tuesday, 11th January 2011, 04:26

Re: early game balance

Well, there seems to be at least some kindred spirits. I'm glad I'm not entirely crazy here.

mageykun wrote:3 I'm not so sure on. Sure, I'd be nice if mele classes had better initial gear, but for the most part they can afford to wait for the RNG to provide better. Mages, on the other hand, need a good spellbook or they die. Instantly. Besides, being at the mercy of the RNG seems important to me. Great initial gear means less interesting choices and more ignored dungeon trash.


On the other hand, *every* bit of random dungeon trash is better than your starting weapon as a fighter or gladiator. There is literally no worse weapon in the game, so a better one will definitely generate. The difference between a fighter and a crusader on D2 is that the crusader has a spellbook.

If spellcasters were equipped like the fighter background, they'd start with Magic Dart prepared. And that's it. They're going to have to learn to afford to wait for a real spellbook.

mageykun wrote:2 . I don't like. Sure, it stinks when a D:1 kobold gets you with a short sword of distortion. But it's awesome when you manage to kill him and get a fun brand early. OOD items should stay.


Wouldn't it be more fun, thematic, and memorable if you wrested that short sword of distortion out of the gullet of a crocodile in the Sewer instead of out of the hands of kobold janitor #16?

mageykun wrote:Aside: throwing trash for the first few floors is optimal play? O_o Gah! I swear, the very first thing I thought I learned after coming to crawl from nethack was "Huh. So throwing things at everything in this game doesn't work." >_<


If you're at all concerned with win ratios or making streaks, picking up and throwing dungeon trash is optimal for any background that doesn't start with a ranged attack. It remains optimal until you pick up that ranged attack, whether it's from your starting spellbook, a quickly-cooling centaur corpse, or devotions at the Temple.

Ranged attacks are really good.

On the other hand, if you're just trying to brute-force your way through the early game until one of your fodder characters wins the Temple Lottery, you're best served to play fast and carelessly so you can throw as many expendables into the grinder as possible. You'll get lucky eventually.

TGW wrote:2) isn't the problem because those are rare and interesting deaths. The biggest parts of early deaths (of all deaths) are kobolds and hobgoblins, enemies that make up a huge portion of D:1 in every game and can kill characters in one or two hits.

The solution is to somehow make early game interesting or to nerf the culprits. I made an FR about this a while ago. https://crawl.develz.org/mantis/view.php?id=2179


This is probably true. The highest-skill tournament players drop a travel exclusion on every hobgoblin or kobold they see with a weapon of any kind until they've leveled up a time or two, which might be a little more demanding for new players than is desirable. I'm not sure shaving a single point of average damage will necessarily do the job, though.

I notice that in the thread you mention you ran into the unpleasant sentiment that start-scumming is a good solution to any and all early-game design problems… I had expected to see more of that when I started this thread, and I'm glad it didn't really end up happening.

cyborgemu wrote:- I like out of depth monsters. It's important to learn that you'll have to run away, frequently, in crawl. I especially like OOD items, and would like to see them more frequently (perhaps not more per game, but a greater chance of spawning an OOD item for each early game). For me, the possibility of finding and the potential difficulty in extracting an early ego weapon, randart, good jewelry, etc is the most exciting thing about early game.


I do want to draw a distinction between D2 Sigmund, centaur, or orc priest and Random Goblin with a Wand of Draining. When you come around a corner and end up face-to-face with Sigmund, you can reasonably be expected to have prepared some countermeasure, even if it's simply popping a teleport and diving for the staircase the moment you come out of confusion. Wand of drainlol from a random goblin, however, cannot be meaningfully prepared for or prevented. There is nothing distinguishing this particular random goblin from the dozens of other, non-threatening goblins you harvest for xp, and once you can possibly recognize the problem, it is already too late to fix.

OOD items are more palatable to me if they're more-or-less intentionally there. A vault guarded by a OOD monster, for instance, or a Portal to the Sewer or Ossuary. Dropping a +5/+5 katana on D1 is much less cool, whether a monster picks it up or not.

cyborgemu wrote:- I'd love to see more low-level portals. I think this would be a good way to add both balance and interest early-game. I was really excited when I first saw sewers in trunk last year; I'd like to see even lower-level, smaller portal areas. Rats' nests, Jackels' dens, a goblin hideout; there are tons of possibilities here (does anyone have a link to where this sort of thing is actively designed/discussed for development?)


I think these might be the right places:

https://crawl.develz.org/wiki/doku.php? ... anch:start
https://crawl.develz.org/wiki/doku.php? ... tal_vaults

Most of the discussion seems to revolve around existing features, but there's a lot of effort put into adding more components to the Swamp/Snake/Shoals roulette. Not so much into adding more early-game portals.

There are some non-portal vaults, though. I've run into a rat vault with a piece of cheese as the reward for hacking through a lot of regular rats and grey rats, plus some dangerous green rats and potentially an OOD orange rat or two.

cyborgemu wrote:- Starting with 50-100 XP pool could make a huge difference. If it's decided that enough people share this opinion about early game, tinkering with this number could be an easy way to correct early difficulty without introducing or modifying too much.


I'm not sure victory dancing is necessarily the first skill new players should have to learn. If we wanted to start with higher skills, it might be more practical just to raise starting skills for background across the board without doing the intermediary step.
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Post Tuesday, 11th January 2011, 17:25

Re: early game balance

I'd support this. Put those 25 XP into the class's base skills, and just start the character with 1 XP in their pool just for the experience of entering the dungeon.

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Post Wednesday, 12th January 2011, 19:19

Re: early game balance

KoboldLord wrote:1) It might be worthwhile to start with a few consumables as an early-game emergency button. These could be motivated by mechanics (a potion of speed for berserkers, to abbreviate the aftereffects of one rage) or flavor (a scroll of fear for necromancers, to drive off a dangerous living early-game enemy and allow a reprieve), but in either case the consumables should provide a benefit early on but not later. Just potions and scrolls, basically, which can be used to alleviate RNG screwjobs early on but will eventually be popped by fire or cold effects (or just become obsolete) if the RNG screwjob doesn't happen. Transmuters already get this -- their starting potion of poison can be used to flat-out solve any one otherwise-dangerous encounter before the Temple, and the starting potions don't seem to cause any detrimental power creep for them later on.

As someone who has played a lot of transmuters, the starting potions you get don't help until char level 2, so running into a gnoll pack on DL 1 can be certain death, just like any other character. I've lost many, many transmuters on DL 1 due to missing with unarmed/not damaging with unarmed attacks. I now do what apparently is an "expert" tactic and pick up dungeon trash to throw to soften up hobgoblins and the like before they close. Once you get a Tm to CL 2, your options open up greatly between the number of potions you should have distilled and sticks to snakes.

I do agree though that melee characters often get the short end of the stick, but don't discount the value of starting with a shield and armor that some classes have. The shield especially contributes to early dungeon survivability if there are a few XP levels in it.
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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 16:51

Re: early game balance

The thing is, the early game is also very short. A high percentage of deaths in the early game essentially amounts to start scumming - it's just the game that is rejecting a lot of early characters, rather than the player.

If the early game was just a bit easier, people would get through it more of the time and into the middle game, which IMO is the most fun part because that's where you start to have a few good items that make each game a bit different.

The early game is quite monotonous in comparison so I would design the game in a way that minimized the amount of time people spent in the early game.

So I totally agree with making goblins / hobgoblins just a titch easier. That won't make the middle or late game any easier as those monsters become trivial even by the late early game, it would just allow people to get through the early levels more often and spend more time playing the full richness of the game that is found in the middle game.

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 16:52

Re: early game balance

Speaking as a newbie here who's only made it to the Temple once or twice, one thing that makes the early game harder/frustrating is the lack of food. The near constant search for edible food that won't poison/sicken you once you've eaten your one bread ration has a certain tension to it can be fun, but man its not too fun when a character dies from starvation. I'd like to see characters start with more food and have there be more food found on the upper levels of the dungeon.

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 16:57

Re: early game balance

Food shouldn't be a problem 99% of the time as long as you follow a few simple rules. The biggest one is never eat permafood unless you are Starving. Always carry a few chunks with you if you are Satiated, in case you drop to hungry before they rot (at which point you can immediately eat them)

I can really only remember one game where food indirectly contributed to me dying and none where i actually starved.
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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 17:03

Re: early game balance

Try a halfling hunter. You get slow metabolism so your food lasts longer. Soften enemies with your sling with 1-2 shots and finish them with your dagger (the ' key toggles your weapons a and b). That way all the enemies become a bit easier and you will train fighting and short blades skill. Short blades are nice to start with because there are so many in the early game and you have a good chance to find something like a venom blade, and later on having short blades skill helps you train long blades if you find a nice long blade.

Also, they start with a buckler which really helps with survivability, and their natural ability at dodging, shields, stealth really help too. Also, ammunition for slings is very plentiful throughout the game, and slings, unlike bows or crossbows, don't have a penalty when using a shield.

That should get you to the temple. Once there, go with Okawaru and use Might at every opportunity.
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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 17:06

Re: early game balance

minmay wrote:If the early game is monotonous then the problem is that it is monotonous, not that it is too hard.


I agree, but making the early game less monotonous encourages start scumming. If there was more variability people would be more inclined to start-scum until they found a D:1 that gave them a good start.

That said, I personally wouldn't mind if there was more frequency of something interesting getting generated in D:1 or D:2.

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 17:09

Re: early game balance

thanks for the tips there, I'll try that halfling hunter. Just wanted to give you the perspective of a newbie who doesn't have all the early game strategies nailed down yet and other newbies who might quit playing because of the lack of food (from their perspective)
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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 17:54

Re: early game balance

Well, my HaAM just found daggers of electrocution and venom on D:1, so I'm happy with that!

All I want now is a buckler...

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 18:58

Re: early game balance

danr wrote:Well, my HaAM just found daggers of electrocution and venom on D:1, so I'm happy with that!

All I want now is a buckler...


My HaHu to be is insanely jealous :)
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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 19:37

Re: early game balance

Don't be too jealous, the HaAM is now dead.

Just FYI, Iguanas are much, much tougher than newts and geckos.

Here's another great tip for a newbie: whenever you see something you don't recognize, go to http://crawl.develz.org/info/ and type in the name of it and it'll tell you how tough the monster is. I think the #1 cause of death in this game is not knowing how tough new monsters are. So every time you get a little further, you bump into something that you don't recognize as something to run away from.

Another great tip - when you do see something tough, press Shift-X, move the cursor to the monster and press e. This will set an exclusion zone that will prevent autoexplore from moving you into spaces where you might wake up that monster. Then you can explore the rest of the level, maybe get a little tougher, before you come back for it.

To remove exclusion zones, Shift X and then Ctrl-e.
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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 20:05

Re: early game balance

You can also set exclusions from x mode (examine), but maybe only in trunk. It's slightly faster (because you can use + to put the cursor on the monster).
<+Grunt> You dereference an invalid pointer! Ouch! That really hurt! The game dies...

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 20:07

Re: early game balance

It's been like that for a while; pretty sure I used it in 0.7, at least

as for early game balance, I'd like more variance (perhaps with more out of depth spawns too) but with some nice escape options (so the player has choices besides pillar dance or die)

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 20:10

Re: early game balance

danr wrote:Don't be too jealous, the HaAM is now dead.

Just FYI, Iguanas are much, much tougher than newts and geckos.

Here's another great tip for a newbie: whenever you see something you don't recognize, go to http://crawl.develz.org/info/ and type in the name of it and it'll tell you how tough the monster is. I think the #1 cause of death in this game is not knowing how tough new monsters are. So every time you get a little further, you bump into something that you don't recognize as something to run away from.

Another great tip - when you do see something tough, press Shift-X, move the cursor to the monster and press e. This will set an exclusion zone that will prevent autoexplore from moving you into spaces where you might wake up that monster. Then you can explore the rest of the level, maybe get a little tougher, before you come back for it.

To remove exclusion zones, Shift X and then Ctrl-e.


Yeah I saw in another thread that he had died, sorry about that. :( I did start my halfling hunter, but this is getting off-topic here, so I'll post elsewhere when I have a question and/or die. :) Thanks for the tips though.

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 21:24

Re: early game balance

Part of the reason so many people start playing troll berserkers is that they are one of the few combinations that has a 95% chance of beating the "shallow" part of the game that people have to repeat so often anyway due to permadeath. Even if TrBe has its flaws, the player at least feels like a dead TrBe accomplished something. Not so for a dead DeFe that died on level 1 to a hobgoblin 2 seconds in.

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Post Thursday, 13th January 2011, 23:13

Re: early game balance

The complaints about Crawl's lethality are not new, they are old. (For what it's worth, Crawl has a reputation of being fiendish among roguelikes although largely, and sadly if I may say so, undeserved.)

Some comments on the topic:
  • Whether a character has good chances to make it to the Temple (let's accept that as the first yardstick in skill/success/luck) strongly depends on the species/background combination. Nobody (within the devteam at least) cares if unviable combinations regularly don't make it.
  • I sometimes play a string of random viable characters and try to get them to XL 7, playing as good as I can. Try it! The success rate is surprisingly high.
  • If some viable background fails to deliver, then that means that the starting kit may be too weak. In this case, discussion about whether something should be done and what is welcome.
  • We have added early portal vaults (a la Sewer) precisely so that players who rarely reach the midgame have exciting content.
  • What we write about chances in the manual's philosophy section also applies to the early game: if everyone can survive level 1, we can just skip it and give characters 100 more xp. Monsters only matter if they kill.
  • There are a huge number of combinations which make it to the Temple with a very good chance. Among them are trolls (not just TrBe), spriggans, deep dwarves, berserkers, assassins (curare), gladiators (nets), artificers (wands) and I didn't even talk about the casters. The basic purpose of a background is to get the character to a level (say 2 or 3) where she can make choices. (Of course casting backgrounds may have to compromise because they also offer very longterm appeal.)

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Post Friday, 14th January 2011, 00:04

Re: early game balance


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Post Friday, 14th January 2011, 02:02

Re: early game balance

I'm locking this topic not because of comments about the game but because the debate has become about what kind of debate it is. That is always a death trap.

If anyone doesn't like HOW anyone said anything, or the fact that they said something in particular, report the post. Don't try to point out or correct the perceived misbehaviour yourself because
a) it derails the topic, and
b) it is very rarely productive of the desired change in tone or attitude.

Instead, just report the post, and continue the main discussion in the manner that you think is appropriate, ignoring the offensive comment.

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