Improving the Snake Pit


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Temple Termagant

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Joined: Friday, 31st August 2018, 21:50

Post Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 02:39

Improving the Snake Pit

In order to keep the discussion in the Gorgon thread on track, I've decided to make a separate one on how the Snake Pit could be made more interesting. While I love the idea of the Snake Pit, I feel it suffers from a lack of variety and adventure.

Teleport Other
I don't think that the AI of Crawl monsters is smart enough to use Teleport Other effectively. As far as I can tell, the only times it's strategically advantageous for a naga mage to cast Teleport Other on you is if you are near a staircase or if the mage has no nearby allies, and even then there's a high chance it will be just a minor nuisance. Teleport Other is at odds with the Blink Allies Encircling spell of guardian serpents, since you can get Encircled by a mob of nagas, but then be teleported out of it by a mage.

Suggestions: Removing Teleport Other from enemies altogether is a simple solution, which may be enough, though some kind of self-blinking spell could take its place. They could also be given Force Lance instead, as I believe they used to have at some point.

Nagarajas aren't distinct enough
Nagarajas are identical to naga magi, just with higher stats. Nagarajas are the most dangerous non-unique enemy in the Snake Pit, but there's nothing really distinct or memorable about them. There are other instances of genuinely scary and memorable "upgraded" enemies, like orc warlords, but nagarajas don't have quite the same impact.

Suggestion: There are any number of different spells and abilities that could be given to nagarajas, though some that immediately suggest themselves to me are Leda's Liquefaction, Invisibility, Air Strike, Lightning Bolt, and Iron Shot/Stone Arrow. Pretty much any change in spell set (or even giving nagarajas multiple spell sets) would be an improvement. They could also be given unique spells or abilities (maybe a "Summon Snakes" spell, something sandstorm related).

Floors are too similar
For the most part, the floors of the Pit don't have much differentiating them, apart from deeper floors having more enemies and stronger enemies becoming more common. In comparison, the Swamp and Spider Nest (and to a lesser extent, the Shoals) are all much better at keeping distinct, powerful enemies (emperor scorpions, spark wasps, thorn hunters, etc.) consigned to lower floors.

Suggestion: With a more diverse list of enemies, this can be avoided more easily, but with the current set, making the monster generator stricter about more "special" enemies, like shock serpents, mana vipers and salamanders being generated lower would help. I don't know what the exact probabilities are and I might be totally off-base, but it feels like the chances of encountering 0 of any particular monster on a given floor are pretty low.

Lack of unique environmental features
The Swamp has clouds and berserkable trees, the Shoals have tidewater, and the Spider's Nest has web traps. The Snake Pit is mostly just the Dungeon but with more stone walls and occasional tiny pools of water.

Suggestion: To me, the Snake Pit seems very much like some kind of temple. One way this can be emphasized environmentally is by adding reliquary "traps". There would be certain tiles which have an artefact or highly enchanted item on them, and when the item is picked up/apported, the trap goes off, summoning or animating large statues/golems to chase you down. A reliquary trap could also make a good rune vault, kind of like a mini orb run. Quicksand might be another idea for an environmental hazard (maybe mechanically like shallow water that drowns you if you stay in it too long). More frequent appearances of lava and water would also emphasize the salamanders and snakes.

Endings and rune vaults are too similar
Apart from a few endings involving pools of lava or water, most of the endings for the Snake Pit are just some pattern of halls and rooms filled with hordes of the same enemies you've been fighting the whole time. Compare this to the undead rune vault in the Swamp or the death scarab rune vault in the Spider's Nest, which feature enemies the player at least hasn't seen yet if they're playing in conventional order.

Suggestions: Really there's not much to do besides change the rune vaults and endings that are less distinctive. The above suggestions on environmental features can play into them. I'll leave this one in the hands of people who know how to make layouts.

Easy for Gargoyles
Poison immunity and innate electricity resistance make the Snake Pit much easier for Gargoyles, and their high Strength makes it easier to escape constriction.

Suggestion: I'd suggest giving naga ritualists Smiting and changing their spells to have the Priest flag.



Thanks for reading!
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Snake Sneak

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Post Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 04:12

Re: Improving the Snake Pit

The main problems with snake pit are the following in my view: 1) Too much poison, a bad mechanic. 2) Slow monsters. 3) The slow monsters are stat sacks and very tedious to fight.

Snakes as a theme are a solid concept though. Actual snakes are generally fast and the theme is broad enough to encompass more types of attacks than standard poison. Snakes bite, constrict, have hypnotic gaze or whatever. There are lots of places to go with it. The idea of petrifying gaze monsters seems okay, but hornet/wasp type poison would probably be better. I would like to see the teleport spells removed and most of the naga-type monsters removed, especially plain nagas and naga warriors. Fewer, better nagas could work.

Most branches have a problem of undifferentiated floors. The best way to address that is probably two floor or maybe three floor branches with tactically interesting entry vaults as well as end vaults, so you get an interesting entry floor or a vanilla floor, a vanilla floor in the three floor case, and a rune floor. Seems like currently active devs are big on vaults, so that'd perhaps be a project suited to their interests.

I would add to this the suggestion of shaft entry to the bottom floor of the branch with a snake-heavy entry vault, sort of a vaults:$-lite situation. Two floors of mostly non-naga snake pit monsters, with tweaks to some of them, plus an end vault with a few high-tier nagas would make a pretty solid branch in my opinion.
This is where mechanical excellence and one-thousand four-hundred horsepower pays off.

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Temple Termagant

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Post Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 06:37

Re: Improving the Snake Pit

A more radical alternative could be to completely revamp the Snake Pit into a more generally reptile-themed branch, including some more reptilian humanoids (like chameleon people who can turn invisible and have a ranged tongue attack), new lizards and snakes (e.g., rattlesnakes that make noise, pit vipers with paralyzing venom, maybe transfer alligators from Swamp), and maybe even some fire/ice dragons or draconians in the bottom floors/rune vaults.

It could also be renamed "Snake Temple" to be more evocative and more differentiated from the Pits of Slime and to push it into a distinct "exotic jungle/desert temple" direction rather than just "rooms full of snakes". It would be really cool to have vaults and enemies inspired by Quetzalcoatl and other mythical snake-beings, not just nagas, as well as more temple-like features like animated idols.

I'm generally fine with the slowness of the nagas as a point of contrast between the Snake Pit and Spider's Nest (the Snake Pit's enemies are slow but sturdy, compared to the fast, weak enemies of the Nest). Although they're kind of boring, naga warriors are one of the better designed enemies in the Pit since they embody all the species strengths of nagas: they hit super hard, are very resilient, and their constriction is especially hard to break out of. Naga magi and nagarajas really need to be reworked though. Plain nagas could quite comfortably be changed into an enemy that's virtually the same but moves at speed 10.
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Snake Sneak

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Post Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 07:03

Re: Improving the Snake Pit

I don't often hear someone say they have a more radical take on a crawl-related subject than I have, but I welcome all challenges.

About this one in particular, I may have overemphasized the idea of theme in the previous comment. Theme is nice, but it is not a useful guide to design. Snake pit as it stands is a case in point: It's basically the naga branch and we gotta have nagas because we have player nagas. But nagas are terrible monsters for reasons that are completely thematic: They have a lot of hp, they're slow, and they shoot poison. If you proposed a monster like that today, no one would take it seriously.

The problem with using fast vs. slow as "a point of contrast" between two branches is that one is good and one is bad, so you end up with at least one bad branch.
This is where mechanical excellence and one-thousand four-hundred horsepower pays off.

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Temple Termagant

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Post Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 07:11

Re: Improving the Snake Pit

I agree that the Snake Pit probably does have too many naga enemies, or at least that it shouldn't rely on them as the main enemy because they're slow and very specialized. I pointed out the contrast between the Pit and the Nest because I wouldn't want to slide too much in the opposite mentality (i.e., that speed is everything).

Halls Hopper

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Post Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 22:46

Re: Improving the Snake Pit

It does seem like naga-type monsters work much better as band leaders than individual enemies. Nagas with ranged weapons/spells/abilities and swarms of snakes shielding them or something. Though I suppose you'd have to make sure that you couldn't easily separate them from their escorts.

And I definitely like the idea of making the levels more diverse and interesting, instead of dungeon-like. The whole "reliquary" idea could be a nice sort of runed-door-like mechanic, where you guarantee something good, but bring down horrors upon yourself. Could even work it in with wrath mechanics, to add difficulty, or even have it determine the difficulty of the bottom level - you can only open the reliquaries before cracking open the rune vault, and each one you open makes the vault harder.

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Lair Larrikin

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Post Thursday, 20th December 2018, 10:23

Re: Improving the Snake Pit

I always thought Nagaraja's were way less of a threat than a Naga Sharpshooter, but I guess that's just because I usualy play caster/ranged characters that are squishier than most melee brutes and those PProj hits really hurt if I'm not lucky enough to have Dmsl and a bunch of SH.

What I think makes Snake Pit meh is:
- Nagas outside of sharpshooters and maybe Nagarajas are such pushovers. It's because they're slow and poison is trivial. But since they have a lot of HP it is very boring to grind them from a distance. I would suggest giving nagas that cannot haste themselves some kind of swiftness spell which would increase their movement speed but not attack speed. This would also make Yara's Unraveling an interesting choice for Snake Pit. Maybe give warriors ability to "blink close" and reduce their HP/AC so they are more like a "blink and hold you down for my teammates to kill you" and you would actually consider them a threat. Discrepancy between speeds of different snakes makes separating and dealing with threats easy. If I ever see a Shock serpent/Black mamba and a bunch of slow nagas, just step back until nagas are far enough for me to deal with fast threats first.
- Another option, instead of making nagas faster is to add -Swift de-buff spell to their list. But then it would make high MR characters immune to it so i don't know.
- Maybe change Salamanders to some other unique monsters. Salamanders are meh and boring.

Temple Termagant

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Joined: Friday, 31st August 2018, 21:50

Post Friday, 21st December 2018, 17:15

Re: Improving the Snake Pit

That's my point about nagarajas, VortexTurtle: they have a whopping 15 HD -- the same as an orc warlord -- but they just seem like a medium-tier threat. When you see a warlord, you instantly go on high alert (and if you're in the Mines, maybe leave the branch altogether), but seeing a nagaraja is pretty ho-hum.

Some more thoughts I've had (besides gorgons):

Enemies

- Introduce another intelligent humanoid reptilian species (I provisionally call them saurians) who move at regular speed but are more frail than nagas. These can replace plain nagas, and possibly naga magi, naga warriors and nagrajas.
Some possible saurian enemies, in addition to plain saurians:
-- Saurian cutthroat: an assassin armed with a rapier and a blowgun with a wide range of needles; can turn invisible and has melee attacks with the shadow stab flavour
-- Saurian supplicant: a dragon cultist with a weaker version of Summon Drakes that can summon only acid dragons, steam dragons, rime drakes, lindwurms and death drakes
-- Saurian oracle: a clairvoyant who can inflict others with bad luck: their spell failures increase, they may fumble their attacks as if in standing in water (even if their species usually has no attack penalty in water). Other possible misfortune effects could be lowering EV/SH and lowering power of hex wands. Not sure if the misfortune effect should be a hex, full screen (like a torpor snail), or an aura
-- Saurian nomad: A desert mystic with a sand attack that inflicts sandblindness (1 rank of blurry vision + sacrifice an eye; does not stack with sacrifice an eye or other instances of sandblindness) and move itself and others with gusts of wind

Any feedback is welcome

- Introduce dragons as late-branch/rune vault monsters. Ice dragons are likely best. Fire dragons are too similar to salamanders, and most other types of dragons will probably be too powerful for an early rune branch.

- Replace water moccasins with something more distinctive since they are just weaker black mambas. Possibly a rattlesnake with a "warning rattle" (like Warning Cry, but without the breath flag). Water moccasins outside the Snake Pit/Temple are fine.

- More diverse snakes

Branch features

- Relic traps: Discussed above, relic traps always spawn with an artefact (maybe also the Serpentine Rune?) on top of them, and are triggered when the item is picked up or apported. Effects of the trap can be: immediately hatching all reptile eggs on screen, animating guardian statues,

- Reptile eggs: A dungeon object that breaks open if attacked or if a relic trap is triggered, releasing an enemy with animal-level intelligence. When an egg hatches, all other eggs in the hatched egg's LOS to start a countdown to hatching on their own. The hatching countdown is also started when the player visits the floor the eggs are on either with the Serpentine Rune, or on their second visit to the floor whether they have the rune or not (not sure which; feedback is welcome).

- Collapsing staircases: Upon triggering a relic trap or claiming the Serpentine Rune (at least some of the time), staircases leading up will collapse. There are several ways this could be implemented: should it apply only to up-stairs on the bottom floor? Should the collapse be timed, or immediate? Should there be one staircase that's exempt? I'm not sure how exactly this should work, but I think it'd give the Snake Pit/Temple a nice Indiana Jones adventure feel.

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