Summoning School (Old Discussion)

Name dcss:brainstorm:magic:summoning: feedback
Summary Feedback and general discussion about Summoning.
Further information Summoning School, Ally Management
Added by evktalo
Added on 2010-09-14 16:07

This is the old discussion

Many topics on this page are out of date, especially since summons caps were introduced in trunk.

I've created a new page for new discussion: Summoning School

Summoning General

{text from former Summoning category} Summoning spell school and summoning effects in general. Summoning in general isn't very popular (apart from Nemelex' Summoning decks), but it is considered very powerful by several developers. Popularity could be addressed by improving the interface. Summoning will also be nerfed, but there is no page for a plan yet. Lastly, the spells could afford to be much more diverse and unique.

Summon Dragon and Summon Hydra feedback

Add feedback here please! — evktalo 2011-01-19 18:43

[…] Seems like a viable late game option, even when compared with haunt (hasted 8-headed hydras are very effective against low AC targets, and hilariously good at clearing out popcorn/summon spam). — rangerc 2011-01-06 05:37
On Summon Dragon, I can't really decide about this spell. While I was with Vehumet I was thinking “It's decent but not worth level 9.” but after I converted to TSO it became pretty damn good, my dragons were strong backup and the good ones lasted forever. It's probably in an okay place balance wise. Not close to other level 9 spells but still worth using if you can hold your own already.
I'll likely try a more pure summoner soon and see how it holds up with that. — st 2011-01-19 20:45
First of all, I would like to say I find these spells exciting - they use interesting monsters and they seem to fit thematically with other spells. I am about to finish an all-rune game making use of summon dragon, and while it' s usable, I think it is underpowered (not just compared to other L9 spells but to other endgame summons). Unlike with haunt, XXX, and malign gateway, every dragon summon is susceptible to torment, which is the strongest attack at the point when you can actually cast the spell. I actually had a very difficult time clearing tomb with dragons, when I expected a summoner to fare better. Another problem was abjuration, which for 2-3 dragons puts you out a *lot* of mp. My fix, TSO, was a little awkward. If one is to go TSO, why not just use daevas for summons?
My suggestion is to keep the spell L9 but to allow 2 dragons with high power, similar to spammals. This would have the added benefit of making staff of summoning actually useful.
mikee 2011-01-21 20:17
That'd certainly make it stronger, but that does nothing against torment and not so much against abjuration (assuming I understand the spell's mechanics correctly–an independent roll made against every summoned creature). — brickman 2011-01-21 21:05
I'm trying to use this again, with a character with no melee capacity this time. I think this spell has problems. It's too high level, not good enough, and it's reason for existing is a pointless one. mikee summed it up well. I don't think we need spells just for “TSO summoner” when the best summoning spell in extended is a TSO invocation, and TSO's extension being nerfed which was the main point.

If it was “Summon holy dragon” it would be worth using. — st 2011-04-25 08:17
It isn't just for TSO summoners, it's also for Zin and Ely summoners (after Ely is changed to allow summons), summoners who worship any future good god or belong to any future 'angelspawn' race (or any neutral god who dislikes demonic summoning), or any demigod who doesn't want to break the demon summoning conduct and attract negative attention from TSO (assuming I eventually write the demigod patch :-). It also caps the animal AND singular summon categories (so that they don't dead-end at lvl 6 like they used to). The problem is that 1) There is no level 8.5 where the spell really belongs (Summon Ugly Thing has the same problem - too strong for 5, too weak at 6) and 2) XXX and Haunt are too good right now without the summons cap in place. Summons are due for a major overhaul with the cap (0.10 target?) and until then it's hard to say what fits where. If buffs are needed there are 3 logical ones I can think of right now: 1) allow 2 dragons/ice dragons at high power when you roll a dragon/ice dragon; 2) increase duration to effectively 6 like most other summons(right now, capped at 4) 3) throw holy dragons into the quicksilver/golden tier for high power summons (good god worshipers only). — rangerc 2011-04-26 07:18
Holy dragons are not anywhere close to quicksilvers or goldens. The power difference is similar to that between rank 3 and rank 1 demons. Against unholy/demonic targets with decent resists (ie, anything you meet late game), they have twice the damage output of Cerebov. Not something that can be just added into set of summons willy-nilly. — kilobyte 2011-04-26 10:37
Well, pearl dragons are a little bit OTT at the moment - I tried some arena sims and 4 pearls consistently beat Antaeus by themselves. Keep in mind that adding them to the top tier would only have them summoned 10% of the time. They could be made even rarer than that (say ~5% likely at 100 power). Anyway, I prefer the 1st two buffs - duration increase (makes them less vulnerable to abjuration, too) and 2 low tier dragons sometimes. Any other changes/the fate of the spell could wait then, until the summons cap is implemented. — rangerc 2011-04-26 21:44

Vintermann's suggestions

Count me among those who hate the /2xp penalty. Dpeg says (below) that it discourages out-of-sight kills, but it does no such thing: As a matter of fact, since you take the penalty anyway, you might as well be as far away as possible.

I have some suggestions to penalize out-of-sight kills and make summoners more fun (and more risky):

* Instead of summons being occasionally hostile, some summons could have penalties associated with them dying before duration expires. It could be damage (1 hp as your spammal dies?), temporary status effects (1 turn paralysis as your dog dies? Too nasty?) or hunger. This would encourage the summoner to assist his summons in the fighting, and take some chances on their behalf.

* The XP penalty should not be there for creatures you participated in fighting (= harmed) at all, to counterbalance the additional costs of summon death penalties (above). It should be higher for creatures killed out of sight - maybe get no XP for them at all, unless you both participated in fighting them and they were killed out of sight, in which case it could still be 1/2.

* Summons duration should be longer for summons in sight, shorter for out-of-sight monsters. Out of sight high-level demons should have a chance to go hostile, depending on summoning power, regardless of whether the demon was summoned by card, spell or god ability.

* I have previously suggested a creature binding spell: Make a summon permanent, at a significant cost of max MP (returned when the creature dies). Death penalties should be more severe for bound creatures. This would make a limited version of the creature sheperding playstyle accessible to non-Beoghites. It seems a shame to have all that levelling monsters code sit there for no reason, and the playstyle can be real fun (it's actually one of the few things nethack does better IMO)

* Do something about the summoner's spells. Many have better ideas than me about this, but it shouldn't be as today, where it's actually more fun to play a “summoner” with the help of Nemelex or Mahkleb. If creature binding is spell-only, it could help a bit with it, but I think more fun spells are needed too.

“Penalties” like that on summon death would make it even more risky to participate in the battle yourself (since you have a chance of suddenly being struck with surprise damage or paralysis or whatever) and encourage summon-and-hide even more. As for binding, that'd mostly be useful either on the single-really-strong-creature spells (hydra and dragon; they're both new enough that it's probably too early to say if their playstyle needs this) or things you won't be able to easily resummon (shadow creatures or scrolls of summoning or makhleb 1's or similar) which is way overpowered. — brickman 2011-02-04 15:33

Mu's writeup

Summoners are a fairly unpopular starting kit, partly because people are put off by the xp/2 feature of pets, and partly because the kit is a lot of work for little payoff.

  • The summoner starting book, and most of the early spells available to summoners, don't stack up against their conjuration counterparts.
  • The level 1 spell (spammals) is fine. The level 2 spell (sticks to snakes) should probably be changed. The level 2 spell in the starting book should be the backbone of the caster's arsenal for the early game, as throw flame would be for a conjurer. Instead it requires an item to use (sticks) and requires branching into another spell school that summoners will never again use (transmutation). As a minor aside, I'm not sure I understand why it's transmutation/summoning spell in the first place; either I'm turning sticks into snakes and it's a transmutation, or I'm summoning the snakes from somewhere and it's a summon. Does it need to be both? I'd actually consider making it purely a transmutation and leaving it with transmuters.
    • Fair points, but I think the spell is good. It has power (using melee weapons, you can summon up to anacondas!) and is balanced nicely with the reagent requirement. See also Reagent (Spell Component) Interface Reform. — evktalo 2010-04-13 21:25
    • Agreed but, if you summon something you are technically translocating them so why don't any other summoning spells use tloc? Summoning to me seems to just have influence on whether you command the creature or not but, in the game, this distinction is not made clear in gameplay or description. — studiomk 2010-07-24 22:08
      • Mu. gave the nice explanation that the Sum part is the one responsible for getting peaceful monsters. — dpeg 2010-09-28 22:55
  • The level 3 spell (call imp → now canines) is fine, though would probably be okay as a level 2 spell. Summoning an imp doesn't really feel like a 3-point investment, compared to spells other casters would get at this level, like mephitic cloud, ozocubu's armour, or spider form. All of these spells would see use through to the mid/late game, but summon imp won't.
    • Shadow imps should be more common at higher power — their animate dead is definitely a nice feature that could give them utility throughout the game. Or higher power could summon a pair of imps, making it more likely that you'd get a useful one. — og17 2010-04-13 22:01
    • A few items: Call Imp wasn't replaced with Call Canine Familiar, Summon Elemental was. Also, in master, higher power now increases the likelihood of summoning shadow or iron imps. — dolorous
  • The level 4 spell (summon elemental) is awful. There is no reasonable way that a summoner can be expected to hold enough ranks in elemental schools to make use of this spell at the time it becomes available. It would be a great level 4 spell if this weren't the case.
    • This spell is actually very strong. If you have the appropriate ranks in elemental schools then this spell becomes one of the most powerful ones out there. A bunch of Air Elementals can easily devastate an Executioner, and then some. The spell is Level 4 to allow Elementalists the ability to use it. It isn't meant to be used by pure summoners. — studiomk 2010-07-24 22:11
      • you seem to have missed the point that this spell was in the summoner starting book when this was written.
  • The other level 4 (summon scorpions) is really great.
  • The level 5 spell (summon ice beast) doesn't seem worth casting once the summoner has summon scorpions. I think it might actually be worth swapping this for shadow creatures, or some new spell that has some special consideration attached to it the way shadow creatures does.
  • There are few spells available to the caster beyond level 5. Level 5 has a lot of great spells: shadow creatures, summon ugly things, and summon demon (which unfortunately duplicates a god ability). These spells are probably too high level for what they're worth, though. Summon ugly things and summon demon both call a single ally, and both have a chance of that ally being hostile. They're also incredibly variable; you cannot predict what type of damage your pet is going to be doing. Compared to the level 4 spells a conjurer would have at this point, like sticky flame or throw icicle, a 5 point cost for these summons doesn't seem justified. They'd be better off at level 4.
    • Summon Ugly Thing has been nerfed to only summon very ugly things 33% of the time at maximum power, instead of 100%. Even with that, there's a significant HD difference between ugly things and ice beasts, so after some testing, it seems inappropriate to make it level 4. As for Summon Demon, I'd definitely be opposed to making it level 4. (Very) ugly things all share certain weaknesses inherent to monsters of natural holiness, and demons don't, e.g. you can't drain or torment demons. Furthermore, most demons resist poison. — dolorous
  • Demonic Horde is a level 6 spell that calls several rank-5 demons. Considering the point when the player would be casting this spell, it's not worth much more than a fancier version of summon butterflies. Perhaps consider allowing it to call forth rank 4 demons as well.
  • The next few summoning spells are haunt (level 6, great spell), summon greater demon (a level 7 spell identical to a god ability), and summon horrible things (a level 8 spell that is actually really great, and a lot of fun to use). There is little else in the way of choice for a high level summoner.
    • In fairness, summon greater demon can't be compared to Makhleb or Nemelex, as those demons are actually good, instead of lasting a dozen turns before needing to be abjured. — og17 2010-04-13 22:01
  • Telling your pets to attack invisible creatures that you can see, or even that they can see and you cannot, is impossible. In the latter case, at least, your pets will begin attacking the invisible creature when it takes a hostile action.
    • This makes sense to me — if you can't see an enemy, you can't point it out, and if your summons can't see it, they can't do much to initiate an attack either. There's no explicit reason you and your summons should have shared vision. — og17 2010-04-13 22:01
      • It results in silly situations where pets won't try to attack an invisible creature that is hitting them repeatedly, though. Or your being unable to tell your pets to attack something that they *can* see, because you yourself cannot. — Mu. 2010-04-13 22:51
      • They aren't pets, they're summons. If you can't see a creature, then how do you know it's there? Is it because it's hitting your summons? How do you know your summons can see it? Is it because they're attacking it? To fix these problems, you simply add a “Attack at will!” command. Their sight should definitely not be shared with you. You have control over them but you definitely do not see what they see, especially if your summon is a demon (the demon is in servitude due to an unspecified arcane bond; not because you have 'telepathic' powers). — studiomk 2010-07-24 20:59
  • The great lack of varied and interesting higher-level spells means that the book of demonology is extremely underwhelming.



I was inspired to start a DSSu game, and I'm finding it both easy and fun. I've also won a TSO Summoner/Tukima's user in 0.5. In general, I don't find summoning playstyle to be too taxing on the interface, I generally just spam the critters and avoid herding. It might matter that I'm a slow player so I don't mind playing a little slower. (I also don't care about XP/2.) Naturally, any improvements on the interface, I'm all for it.

Summoning is powerful because you can pin down enemies by covering them in summons. In my game I hardly get touched by monsters unless I want to train Fighting (or I mess up, of course). sorear has a plan to introduce a cap for the number of simultaneous summons, and also to use clouds of translocational energy to block summoning into the spot — I support this.

I've seen this summoning cap referenced, but never explained — is it written up somewhere? What's the reasoning of it? A summoner isn't more powerful than a conjurer (or crusader) at any stage, generally speaking, and conjurers also “hardly get touched by monsters unless they want to train Fighting (or they mess up, of course).” Despite this, summoners already suffer from the massive half-XP companion kill penalty, along with the nagging built-in penalties of the higher summons (sickness, stat drain, demanding abjuration) which are completely absent in the higher conjurations. Why is there a need for a summon cap to tie down the main strength and draw of an already heavily-penalized school? Is there some long-standing notion that summoning is overly powerful because “the player” isn't necessarily personally in combat? If so, that's entirely superficial, as summoning's comparable to any other ranged playstyle. The main differences are that the kiting demands are different, and that speed is traded for “safety” - basically, there's nothing there to explain the current penalties, never mind future ones. — og17 2010-04-14 23:06
A massive number of pets makes you basically immune to damage, and that's outright wrong. If nerfing that would make summoners underpowered, there are so many ways to boost them in some other way. — kilobyte 2010-04-15 09:09
Personally I always found that a perk of the summoner class. It definitely is most effective early on, as later the summons pop too easily. And having a few easy-mode characters (like any berserker, for example), is a good thing™. — blue_anna's page 2010-09-18 21:01
If summoners are effectively godmode, where are all the summoners? If this was currently true, it'd be heavily abused like .5 AC/berserk/whatever, but instead summoning is almost universally ignored (outside of god abilities, which take little investment while being stronger than a summoning-focused character's spells). In practice, a conjurer or crusader's casting of butterflies is as useful defensively as a dedicated summoner's mass of creatures, as all they need to do is hold enemies off while moving to a better position. Then there's the way that blinking enemies and piercing, smite-targetted, and full-screen attacks threaten summoners regardless of what they have onscreen, and how any non-summoning character is able to take out such threats (and all other threats) in a much faster and more direct manner, exposing himself to less turns that could result in damage. This is a sweeping solution to a problem that doesn't exist. — og17 2010-04-15 11:28
Finally commenting on this: I think there's no summoners because (a) xp/2 is a turn-off, (b) people think they need to herd summons, © message spam makes play slow. I mute all the ally messages to be able to play them, which kind of sucks. By now I don't think a summoner is quite the god mode after winning a DE conjurer, but I do feel the former are easier than the latter. Especially gruesome: surround your foe with summons, walk away from sight. Beams, smite, torment — won't help. Summons should perhaps go poof or turn hostile if the player loses them from LOS. — evktalo 2010-08-07 15:48
A massive number of pets does *not* make you immune to damage, maybe in the early game but after that, no way (mephitic cloud is the same). Torment will still hurt you (and kill you), smiting will still hurt you (and kill you), beam spells will still hurt you (and kill you). A summoner benefits from avoiding single target spells and melee attacks. That's it. They gain no protection from other spells and they do not gain the ability to kill things quickly. That's their play-style. I disagree with the translocational energy idea. If you want a way to prevent mass summoning during a fight, then instead give each summon a random number of turns to appear. The square would have “A dark shape”. For spells that summon multiple creatures, the max turns should be increased for each summon. This would prevent the filling of the screen instantly. For demonic summons the square should instead have “A demonic gateway”. And I strongly disagree with a cap. — studiomk 2010-07-24 21:13
Delayed appearance is a good idea, but it would make summoning before the fight (more) optimal, and that would be very tedious. The idea could be used for summoning Invocations, where your god would require a needful situation (tension) before sending reinforcements. (Well, we could probably handwave certain spells to require tension as well.) — evktalo 2010-07-26 12:14

Comments on spells: S2S is good and scales to big snakes with high power. Right now (Lair done) scorpions has superceded that for me, but once I get the power up it might come in handy again. Ice Beast has great utility in Shoals (and possibly Swamp) thanks to swimming. In general I think the Callings book is fine now, with Canines replacing Elementals. (I find Call Imp underwhelming but I have a proposal below.) Haven't got the other books just yet, and I've never played a demon-summoner so I can't comment on the demon spells, although I do believe them to be on the boring side thanks to overlap with god abilities, apart from Demonic Horde. — evktalo 2010-04-14 09:03

I'm thinking that if summoning has a fundamental issue, it's that its durations tend towards being too long. Creatures from a single casting can last through several battles, which contributes to the perceived problems with both the number of simultaneous creatures and with the passivity of the summoning playstyle, and also removes much of the distinction between summoned companions and permanent ones. This is particularly a problem with Haunt, though I'll probably add something about that specifically. — og17 2010-05-09 17:13

Agreed about the durations (incidentally, it's in my opinion the same with Mephitic Cloud.) — evktalo 2010-08-07 15:48

If you reduce the duration and also the number allowed, then you definitely need to do the same for monster summoners. Adding a cap on monster summoners just makes them weak. Part of their threat is their ability to flood you with dangerous creatures. If they only created one or two creatures, why have them in the first place; they'd just die. Instead of changing summonings, change the monsters. Give them the intelligence to target the summoner at all costs. Give them other abilities to deal with summoners such as more blast/smiting spells. We shouldn't force players to take up other schools. If they want to be pure summoners, let them. There exist certain branches and certain monsters that can get through the 'spam'. As with any school, there are things they dominate and there are things they get destroyed by. — studiomk 2010-07-24 21:42

There is no need for player summoners and monster summoners to behave the same and have the same constraints (durations, cap). They already don't. Agreed that the monsters could use some more anti-summoner tools. — evktalo 2010-08-07 15:48
Any monster summoner can instantly abjure all of your summons. You say monsters don't have enough anti-summoner tools? — zchris13 2011-02-06 22:48

Yes, I don't think abjuration alone makes for very interesting threats and in my experience Summoners could use some additional, interesting challenges. I don't actually even recall abjuration being that bad.. The abjuration mechanic itself could be more interesting (OG17 has a good idea for targeted, fireball-like abjuration). — evktalo 2011-02-07 11:57


Haven't read the above, but based on IRC, here are some thoughts:

Problem: The spam

Summoners can spam, and their spammed summons can sometimes summon, too.

Some of this is due to the choice of spells — several of them encourage hordes of weaker monsters (e.g., spammals). We could aid this in some way by also encouraging use of a few, much stronger summons that you would want to fight next to.

Diagnosis: Summon cap. PCs using the Summoning school should have some kind of cap on maximum concurrent summons. Maybe (but only maybe) this should apply to monsters, or non-summoner PCs, too.

Per-spell caps are not a good idea. (Too complicated.)

  • sorear favors a hard global cap and dpeg thinks 8 is a suitable number.
    • I think 8 is too many, and that 4 or 6 might be better.
    • There could be items (e.g., staves of summoning) or god abilities that increase this cap.
  • There could instead be a soft cap based on skill or spell power.
    • Either additional summons are prevented, or are far more likely to show up hostile.
  • Or, we could actually decrease success rates of summoning spells based on number of current summons.
    • This would be similar to the above, but actually increase miscast chance, too. This should show up on the 'z' screen. (It would be nice if the 'z' screen text labels were closer to reality (e.g., 'Fair' actually being abysmal success rate). It would also be nice if trying to cast spells at a certain success threshold gave you a warning. This is an interface tweak applicable beyond this case.)
      • Increasing miscast chances is bad, because it forces players to check success chances all the time. Simply losing turns and MP is enough punishment. — dpeg 2010-09-28 23:05
  • I favor summons consuming max MP when cast.
    • This max MP is released back instantly if the summon dies/disappears in LOS.
    • If the summon dies/disappears outside LOS, the max MP will be instead restored with some % chance when a normal point of MP would have been restored, or (dpeg) restores slowly with time (usual Mp regeneration).
  • tgw: Rather than a hard cap, summons should decrease in duration in greater quantities. One can last a while, four-ish long enough for a fight or so, and ten summons would disappear very shortly. This would give summoners the capacity to get more allies in emergencies but in a way that's inefficient for normal fights, the same way conjurers can by breaking out storms, etc..

Amulet of Warding and Abjuration would become less useful if large numbers of summons were less common. They could be modified slightly:

  • Amulet of Warding could weaken the bonds of enemy summons, making those in LOS always be counted as out-of-LOS of the caster.
  • Abjuration could sever the connection 'violently', not restoring max MP.

Problem: XP loss

People don't like the idea of losing XP to their summons.

This is a bit scummable right now: as long as you deal the killing blow, you get the XP.

But not much: doing so makes life more risky again. I believe that xp cost is okay. — dpeg 2010-09-28 23:40
  • Instead of a kill by a summon eating up 50% of XP, your XP from kills could be decreased globally, to a degree depending on the number of summons you have or their power. We should remove any incentive to just let your summons dissipate before delivering the final blow — we could store this as a property of the monster, 'peak number of summons the player had when they fought me'.
  • Perhaps fighting alongside one single summon doesn't decrease XP gained at all.
However, these are ideas are interesting. But I believe that the other two problems are more pressing. — dpeg 2010-09-28 23:40
I am really not a fan of XP/2. To me, it discourages keeping permanent allies (like aboms) around for non-summoners, because even though they seem potentially fun, they're too weak to be worth the experience they cost. In general, it seems to encourage stealing kills from your allies (which is very, very unfun). I don't think it even balances anything. If summons are supposed to be god mode or whatever, they're not going to be less powerful just because they cost your character a bit of experience for occasional use. All it does is make career summoners a very unattractive choice for me. — tgw 2010-09-29 00:51

Problem: Off-screen fighting

Summoners are encouraged to let their summons do all the fighting out of sight. (And we don't really want that: it is lame and tedious. The summons for the player is what we want, but the player should be near the battlefield, not hiding. — dpeg 2010-09-28 23:48)

  • There could be more summons with synergistic effects — such as letting called imps' taunts distract opponents more frequently.
  • There could be more spells that make your summons better instead of making more of them. For example, a Nec spell that infuses a living summon with vampiricism, or
    • If anything would be “lame and tedious,” it'd be casting a bunch of spells to directly buff your summons. This should stay very limited (like haste) - it'd be more interesting do this sort of thing by introducing summons that boost their allies, eg with a vampiric aura. That'd make summoners have a reason to use more than one summon type at a time, and also make such summons appealing to characters that aren't dedicated summoners. — og17 2010-09-29 00:17
  • There could be more summons that attempt to fight at range, instead of closing to form a barrier with the PC.
  • Summons could 'go wild' when out of LOS. The duration could be low, but not low enough that it happens instantly.
    • How 'bound' they are could vary with the nature of the spell, such as demons becoming unfriendly much more quickly.
    • Some summons should just become neutral or insane when they go out of LOS. Some might remain friendly but become confused, or stand there aimlessly. Others should become hostile.
    • Shadow Creatures (and mirror images, Mara illusions, etc.) could blink out of existence if they can't see their summoner or any enemies — they're illusions, after all.
  • The max MP restoration idea, described above.
  • Increasing XP penalties for large number of summons, described above.
I like the idea of summons operating less well when not supervised by the summoner. (I.e. “going wild” above.) — dpeg 2010-09-28 23:48


In order to leave eronarn's proposal in peace, I start my own. There are three fundamental problems with allies, I list them in what I perceive as order of importance.


The biggest harm are out-of-screen kills. This is only partially due to (missing) monster AI, the main problem is that it offsets all the tactical challenge and risk. In other words, it is lame. xp/2 may not be the best solution to that, but it is a decent one (in my opinion). Also, the discussions so far didn't bring up other proposals (MP costs, spell slots, skill investments are nothing to balance this with).

A simple idea would be have out-of-screen kills not take place, but this is not done easily, and would break immersion a lot (think of Beogh's orcs, or Trog's berserk brothers). Since I believe that's not working in a simple fashion, here are some better ideas:

  • Summons and enslaved monsters (can) go wild if out of sight. (I believe this fits well.)
  • For each hostile monster, track who does how much damage against it. When the monster dies, assign xp to everyone who took part. If the player is in LOS, then give him at least xp/2. This would allow players to use out-of-sight kills to clear areas, but they would not get any experience for this. It would also take care of kill-stealing (see below).


Kill-stealing (trying to get the killing blow on a monster whittled down by allies) is a corollary of xp/2. Many players hate it (because the loss of xp/2 seems like a double burden when you could almost have got it). A quite reasonable proposal was to give xp/2 if any ally took part in attacking (or damaging) the hostile monster — this would immediately render kill-stealing useless.

However, I think the above rule is better, as it prevents kill-stealing and does much more.

Moved discussion from above to here:

Why is kill-stealing a problem ? You said earlier this is not a problem because it means player is actively putting himself in danger. Most of accusations thrown at Summoning (no risk, “inherently safer”) don't apply in this case. In any case I think this is solving the wrong problem. — b0rsuk 2010-09-30 11:02
Yes, that is a good point. We had a lengthy and noisy discussion on ##crawl from which I learned (i.e. I didn't knew this before) that killstealing is the most aggravating bit of ally play (for some players). The reason is that some players hate to lose resources, including xp. So they'll let allies whittle down the opposition, eager to get in the killing blow. You could say that it's an attractive tactical situation (is it dangerous to step forward?) but I believe that it's quite unfun.
Most people on ##crawl didn't believe me that ally kills need to be balanced in some way (stronger than MP costs or spell slots), so they told me that getting rid of xp/2 would solve all problems. Which is not an option (at least not now, for me: off-screen kills, permanent allies, zombies would all need to be re-thought).
So assuming we are fine with the xp/2 philosophy (i.e. you get fewer xp for kills by allies — which is very thematic, too, since the allies could get the other xp/2), the above proposals take that and remove the need to kill-steal. — dpeg 2010-09-30 11:31
Those (and others) aren't problems solved by the continued existence of xp/2, either, and nobody said its removal will fix “everything” (e.g. off-screen kills, Makhleb being overpowered, poverty). — tgw 2010-09-30 13:12
No need to repeat yesterday's discussion, but removal of xp/2 was put forward quite loudly and repeatedly. Also, you (again?) seem to miss one of my points: xp/2 does make off-screen kills less attractive, and it helps to balance permanent allies. You pay with something, after all. — dpeg 2010-09-30 13:22
What people were actually saying is that xp/2 is a very weak attempt to balance summons and, if such a thing is needed, there's surely better options that would actually affect gameplay instead of simply tacking a large penalty onto the aftermath of a so-called free ride. Haste, old silence, sticky flame, and so on could be equally “balanced” by giving them fractional exp, but that wouldn't actually be fixing anything. — og17 2010-09-30 17:21
You keep saying there is no problem. Do you read what I write?
You keep saying there are “surely better options”. Where are they?
dpeg 2010-09-30 17:46
There's no quick and simple fix, because summoners are not simple. It would be a waste to post a longer analysis here where doy can censor it. I'll post one on one day. — b0rsuk 2010-10-15 06:57
Please, do not post silly remarks like this. doy did not censor a useful contribution, he removed a needless flame. Let's not pretend otherwise. You are free to post an analysis here (or rgrm, certainly). — evktalo 2010-10-15 10:35


It is a problem that players can dominate the battlefield by spamming it with weak allies. This is often very beneficial, both for attacking (distraction, separating enemies) and defence. For example, butterflies are often employed. There are a number of ideas what to do about this (including trampling against small enemies, better monster AI) but I believe that some sort of summon cap will be a good solution. See Eronarn's section for proposals.

RangerC's Breakdown of High Level Summons

There's some question about the power of Summon Hydra and Summon Dragon relative to the existing summoning spells, so I thought I'd break down the current options from Lvl 5 and up:

Summon Ice Beast - Lvl 5 - Ice/Summoning 1 Ice Beast, always friendly, Duration usually 6 with any power Good combinations with bolt of cold, freezing cloud. This is summoning backup for ice elementalists, not a realistic option for summoners in most cases relative to the other lvl 5/6 spells.

Shadow Creatures - Lvl 5 - Summoning Random creatures based on environment. Hilariously broken in certain areas, fairly weak in others. Can generate bands. Able to generate golden dragons, storm dragons, and draconian bands in Zot. Even more broken if a friendly Blue Death casts it for you. Duration is 2 (about 20 turns). Spell power has no effect on results. Probably should be duration 1, or removed.

I've no aversion to this being removed. It's either useless or overpowered and I don't really see a way it could be properly balanced without lots of checks against the monsters being placed. It would be a simple matter of just disabling it as a player spell, too. — due 2011-01-07 11:57
I'd try duration 1 if a nerf is needed, as the spell is often practically necessary in Zot. I don't think it needs to keep band behavior, though. — og17 2011-01-07 14:47

Summon Demon - Lvl 5 - Summoning Summons a random 2, 3, or 4. Occasionally hostile (pretty low chance - 3% at 100 power, 6% at 50, etc.). Duration usually 6. Extreme variability - hellion to hellwing. OK as a toolbox - hellwings can raise dead, neqotexs and ynox summon popcorn, etc.

Demonic Horde - Lvl 6 - Summoning Summons 7-11 5's. Basically Butterflies lvl 2, but has its uses (free raise dead through shadow imps, high EV distractions). Large numbers make 1-2 hostile summons likely. Not much kill power against hard targets. Duration usually 6.

Summon Ugly Thing - Lvl 6 - Summoning Summons 1 Ugly Thing or 1 Very Ugly Thing. Chance for the upgrade is: 21% of time at 50 Power, 47% of time at 75 Power, 61% of time at 100 Power, 70% of time at 125 Power. Very Ugly Things have pretty nasty branded attacks. Duration and hostility chance essentially the same as demons. This spell is sort of in limbo between lvl 5 and 6; too strong for lvl 5 (where it used to be) too weak for lvl 6 and totally overshadowed by the lvl 7 spells.

If we increase the number of plain ugly things that can generate, you could therefore get one (1) very ugly thing, or multiple (with a max of three (3) perhaps) ugly things; it's therefore not too strong for level 5, and not too weak for level 6. — due 2011-01-07 11:57
+1 to this change (could just occasionally get 2 regular ugly things when 1 is rolled, even about 25% of the time would make a difference). That would probably be enough. — rangerc 2011-04-26 08:01

Haunt - Lvl 7 - Necromancy/Summoning Summons between 2-6 undead of varying power (phantoms to shadow wraith). Smite targeted (but needs a hostile target) and often immediately surrounds target. Drawback - makes you Sick (if you can be sick, or don't worship Kiku). Duration 3. Could be lvl 8, easily. Capable of clearing out anything in the game, and probably needs a nerf (something like only working on intelligent creatures, and/or summons instantly disappearing when the 'haunted' individual is slain).

I'd rather start with nerfing the list of summons. This can go all the way down to just wraiths (ie, that old useless spell no winner memorized). — kilobyte 2011-01-07 10:08
Nerf is good. — due 2011-01-07 12:29
The duration's already been nerfed, and could be further. The spell wasn't broken because of the power of the individual monsters, but because you could create an army anywhere you liked and lead it around the rest of the level - the lower duration directly affects this. Also note that the spell doesn't need a hostile target, so you could build an army on a summoned rat, then keep it going by building it on itself, which is again reportedly less practical because of the duration nerf. I do agree that it'd be a better mechanism for the ghosts to vanish after killing a single designated target, as I've suggested elsewhere - bring the duration back up, have the summons ignore recall and shouted commands, and have them despawn if the target's continuously unreachable. — og17 2011-01-07 14:47

Malign Gateway - Lvl 7 - Translocation/Summoning Some arena battles -

  • Eldritch Tentacle 10-0 v Orb of Fire
  • Eldritch Tentacle 10-0 v Executioner
  • Eldritch Tentacle 9-1 v Golden Dragon (only lost because it berserked the golden dragon w. its chaos brand attack)
  • Eldritch Tentacle 8-2 v Quicksilver Dragon

Seems balanced, though, because of the delayed arrival, limit of one, minimal duration (about the same as duration 2), int drain, and danger to caster at the end of the summon. Really cool spell.

Interesting to note! Thanks for the stats. The eldritch tentacle toughness may need to be toned down just slightly, but the delay and the duration are also variables that can be adjusted. — due 2011-01-07 12:29

Summon Greater Demon - Lvl 7 - Summoning Summons a random 1 that turns hostile at the end of the summon. Easy to abjure because the summon is about to run out, but can hit you before you are able to abjure it. Getting out of LOS also works. Pretty powerful if used carefully - underused because of the mostly unwarranted fear about the hostility at the end of the summon. Occasionally (5% at 100 power) initially hostile, too.

We could adjust all of the values here. The hostility is an interesting effect, but I don't think it's comparable to the Malign Gateway hostility because at least with the tentacle it's either still attached to the portal or is thrashing about; you can get out of the way without having to run out of LOS. — due 2011-01-07 12:29
“Turns hostile at the end of the summon” is curiously inaccurate, as the demon's friendly for only a fraction of the total duration - it's allied for around 10-30 turns, then stays hostile for around 50-100+. Abjuration also demands mp and turns that wouldn't be wasted if using another spell. You need to head right out of LOS to make the spell competitive, and out-of-LOS summons seems to be on the chopping block. 100 power is also a bit optimistic for low-int races, I think, and 5% is rather unattractive anyway given torment etc. There's nothing unwarranted here. — og17 2011-01-07 14:47

Summon Horrible Things - Lvl 8 - Summoning 2-8 large abominations, chance for 2-4 of them to be replace by 1-2 tentacled monstrosities. Drains int pretty frequently. Overpowered spell unless you're a mummy and have trouble with int restoration. Some Arena fun, comparing SHT typical results to those of the proposed dragon summons:

  • 2 large abomination 10-0 v dragon
  • 5 large abomination 5-5 v iron dragon
  • 2 tentacled monstrosity 10-0 v golden dragon
There's a long-term plan to change SHT to actually summon Abyssal creatures; tentacled starspawn, zymes, etc. We should probably look over this spell when that changes has happened. — due 2011-01-07 12:29

So, the power level of the two proposed spells is actually less than that of already existing spells (Summon Hydra is worse than Haunt universally, situationally worse than Malign Gateway or Summon Greater Demon). Summon Dragon is worse than SHT despite being a level higher (I expect SHT will be nerfed, though, during the summons cap process). — rangerc 2011-01-07 07:37

Many thanks for the write-up. I agree with most of it, and rest of the spells I haven't really used. I've won a DSSu/Kiku allruner in the last tourney. I only had Haunt, SHT, spammals and butterflies memorized in the end. Out of Haunt and SHT I pretty much feel just one would have sufficed. This is a bit sad, especially since Malign Gateway sounds like it has really interesting drawbacks. The sickness/int drain is not entirely inconsequential in my opinion, but maybe they need to be more pronounced as a drawback. Or some other nerfings/drawbacks are due. There are good thematic ideas for Haunt around. Spells I can't comment on: Shadow Creatures, Summon (Greater) Demon, Demonic Horde, Malign Gateway. — evktalo 2011-01-07 11:21

Summon Cap

I think we have two main options for the summon cap: overall summon cap, I am going with 5 for this (see changes below) and individual spell summon cap, I think this should be 1 as default. I prefer the latter ultimately, however it pretty much requires new spells and a lot of changes to current spells (see below), but I think it would be playable with the current spells if we put summoner in the hybrid column of the character select screen and start them with a +2 dagger or a weapon choice.

In my opinion, a very important thing with a summon cap is that if the player summons something when they are at the cap the existing summons should disappear and be replaced, either the lowest duration summons are replaced or (my preference) the lowest HD. With the latter this allows the player to expend all their MP on a spell and end up with the 5 strongest guys you could have had. The reason I think replacement is important is because it removes the need for recall, and prevents annoyance when using slow summons / fast race or teleportion etc.

I don't know if a cap should apply to monster summons but monster summons are some of the most annoying guys because either the summons are worthless (vampire summon, ynoxinul) and you just ignore them or they are really dangerous (early sixfirhies/sun demons, Ls summoning 1s) and you just teleport or haste and retreat, wait off level and attack the summoner again hoping to kill them before they summon the same things. God summons can have a cap. Decks of summoning could also but we'd need to change some of the cards (basically all the ones besides bones and pentagram).

Along with a summon cap summons should be made to never volentarily leave player LOS, even when told to wait.

st 2012-04-09 02:09

Implemented in Trunk

A per-spell summon cap is now in trunk, I consider this a clearer and simpler cap than a global one with weighting, but maybe we could move to that (or have it as well).

Certainly changes to a lot of spells are needed to go with this, but it's easier to get a clear picture now of what needs to be done.

What I'd like to know is if st, or anyone else who's commented on this page, or in fact anyone else, have further opinions on the following list of spells (which is now slightly old and at least needs reviewing) and what if any changes should be made to them, and of course any new spells that might gel better with the new summoning mechanics.

mumra 2013-06-26 07:30

Existing spells

These are some initial changes I think could go with a cap, it will of course need a lot of testing but I think this would keep everything somewhat inline with current power, I've put down changes for both an overall cap and an individual cap.

Summon Small Mammals

Overall: No change needed.

Individual: Remove spell.

Call Imp

Overall: Always gives white/shadow/iron imps with high power

Individual: Level 1, and same as above.

Call Canine Familiar

Overall: Remove jackals.

Individual: Same as above, level 2.

Summon Scorpions

Overall: Always friendly, should give emperor scorpions with high power. It's important that the book of callings has spells that can last a while, remember it's dual school also with a school that summoners won't want.

Individual: Either level 2 or 3, or always gives an emperor scorpion, being level 5.

Summon Ice Beast

Overall: Would be okay as is. Possibly we could change it to “summon ice creature” and give better stuff with greater power. Some things it could give: freezing wraith, azure jelly, frost giant, white draconian.

Individual: Would need to be level 3, higher if it did give better stuff too.

Summon Butterflies

Overall: Um… remove?


Summon Elemental

Overall: Would be okay if we lowered the air requirement and buffed fire elementals a bit.

Individual: Having elementals be much stronger would be good but it's too much to talk about here.

Shadow Creatures

Overall: Either remove or always summon out-of-depths or a few hard coded things per branch, I don't like this as a player spell much to be honest.

Individual: Same as above, leaning more towards remove.

Summon Demon

Overall: Would be fine.

Individual: Put it in book of callings.

Summon Ugly Thing

Overall: Level 5 and restore the old chances for very uglies.

Individual: Level 5 and always give a very ugly thing with decent power, could be in callings too tbh.

Demonic Horde

Overall: This one is kind of tricky, it could give a mix of 5/4/3s or remove it.

Individual: remove.

Summon Hydra

Overall: This isn't really affected by the cap, I think it should be level 6 though.

Individual: Same as above, could have a longer duration.


Overall: This is probably the biggest problem… with the current stuff it summons and the duration it would be worth like level 5. I'm not really sure about this one…


Summon Greater Demon

Overall: Fine.

Individual: Fine.

Malign Gateway

Overall: Fine. Unrelated but it could stand to come out quicker.

Individual: Fine.

Summon Horrible Things

Overall: Would be okay but it could have a slightly higher chance for tentacled monstrosity.

Individual: Always a tentacled monstrosity.

Summon Dragon

Overall: Level 8.

Individual: Same as above.

Ugh, that's just wrong. You're counting one dragon or one tentacled monstrosity the same as a butterfly. This doesn't make the slightest sense – and no wonders spells like spammals or butterflies can't work in your system.
There should be weighting of some kind – a single dragon should take as many slots as a whole bunch of butterflies. Summon Dragon is a spell that should have a cap of 1 or 2, trying to balance it with the same cap as Demonic Horde is not the best idea – especially that the latter is literally supposed to summon a “horde”.
Also, with tentacled monstrosity being what they are, SHT summoning these is downright broken. A single of those seems to be worth 5 large abominations or 11 small ones (judging from arena performance against several sets of opponents). — KiloByte 2012-04-09 08:44
Is “my system” the individual one? Spammals works with the overall cap (everyone ditches it at XL2 now anyway) and demonic horde does too, butterflies is a silly spell. I did think about having individual spell caps different between spells (I said 1 as default) however I decided to just go with 1 for everything because I don't care much about the caps breaking those spells to be honest, they aren't very interesting. That being said, I'm fine with using weighting. — st 2012-04-09 10:03

New spells

From that page: phantasmal sentinel, summon manticore and summon sphinx would all be great spells for the individual cap.

st 2012-04-09 02:09

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dcss/brainstorm/magic/schools/feedback.txt · Last modified: 2013-06-30 02:49 by mumra
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