There are games that set up an epic storyline; that involve you by developing your attachment to fleshed out, well-written characters; that put in front of your eyes a world so beautiful, you’ll forget it’s made of pixels and will put all of your skill and soul in genuinely trying to save it from whoever wants to mess with it.
Dungeon Crawl – Stone Soup is NOT one of those games.
Dungeon Crawl – Stone Soup (from now on DCSS) is a game that puts a sword in your hand and tells you to go fetch an artefact you couldn’t care less about, sending you with little training and even less equipment into a dungeon chock-full of things that want to kill you, without giving you a hint about why you’re going towards certain death, because stay sure, you WILL DIE, and then I WILL FUCKING LAUGH ON YOUR BATTERED REMAINS!
…sounds fun, doesn’t it? Follow me in my adventures after the jump.
So, DCSS is all about recovering a McGuffin called the Orb of Zot that apparently someone happened to forgot IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING DUNGEON. Ahem. It’s a dungeon crawling game (surprising, isn’t it?) available for PC, Mac, or Linux, for free. Or you can play it in your browser on the website, and have your laughable score enter the last places of a Hall of Fame which even features legendary heroes who managed – hear! – to FINISH THE GAME. I call hax, by the way. It comes in two visual flavours – an ASCII version and a graphical tiles version. Now, I am not one who requires fancy graphics from his games, but still, I’ll go with the tiles version, because I need my interface to be understandable by a human, and honestly, if you prefer the ASCII one, I say you’re probably HAL 9000.
This is not a review – I will limit myself to play the game and chronicle the adventures of a few characters, with the occasional screenshot now and then. Hopefully, if the words “for free” didn’t send you already playing the game now, this will.
As a necessary premise, in Dungeon Crawl your character is defined by three things: its race, class, and religion. You get to choose at least two of these (race and class) at the beginning, while you can adopt a religion as you find altars inside the game – though some classes come bundled with a religion as well (think Paladin and the likes). There are 24 races and 28 classes in the game, for a grand total of 672 combinations – ranging from Orc Berserker, to High Elf Elementalist, to Ghoul Assassin. That’s right, this game allows you to be a NINJA ZOMBIE! Mind that the most defining trait for you is the race – the class only provides you with a certain starting point for your training, which of course you’ll want to follow, but that’s it. Some of the things I’ll do will look a bit complicated, but the game has an excellent Tutorial and a “Hint Mode”, plus in-game manual, that will all help you getting started easily. So, shall we begin?
First corpse candidate – Bubbuntu, the Minotaur Fighter
As you can see, I don’t really have my hopes high there. My first choice is a Minotaur Fighter named Bubbuntu, wielding a axe. This is a rather easy kind of character – it slices, it dices, and does little else. As such I’ll focus my training (you can decide which of your skills get more experience and grow faster, yes) on “Fighting”, forgoing everything else for now. Let’s bash ‘em good.
My Minotaur’s first kill is a giant rat. Which is good, because that’s one of the few edible monsters you’ll find around here (yes, you have to provide for your own food and no, it doesn’t get much better than this. Rats, bats and snakes are going to look tasty after a while spent in these dungeons). The first floor goes rather smoothly, by the end of it I reached level 2 and have found and tried a few scrolls – none of which is an Identify scroll, however, which I would need to guess whether the gear I find will try to kill me if I use it. Oh well, for now the starting stuff will do.
At floor 2 I find an altar of Elvylion. He is a good, lame good who supports healing and the destruction of weapons. HAHAHAHAHA NO. Not joining this religion. I am a Minotaur with 21 STR and 5 INT, what do you expect me to do with my life? Next to the altar, however, I find a decent War Axe, which is neat. On to chopping more monsters.
At floor 3, things get suddenly diresome! I am doing my thing when a named monster called “Purgy” that I never met before pops out. Must be an addition of the new version. Named monsters, however, are usually bad news – they are tough, they have nasty powers, but they DO give shitloads of EXP in exchange for killing them. So I try a couple blows, and before I can say “crap”, I’m down to 7 HP. The next few turns will be crucial. I am not very fast, so escaping only exposes me to the risk of being stabbed from behind. My best option is probably try drinking some of the mysterious potions I have in the inventory and hope they are health potions or strength boosts and not, say, poison. Statistics help us a little with this – health potions are the most common ones out there, and so they will usually be the most abundant in our inventory. I’ll go and try my luck.
And I fail. I had both potions of curing and heal wounds (the latter heal a whole lot more) in my inventory, but the bastard was still too hard to beat, also because he could heal himself as well. Other monsters came to the party, I tried to escape, I failed. So long, Bubbuntu. On to the next character.
Second corpse candidate – Salazar, the Naga Stalker
Next comes a combination that is one of my favourites. Nagas are sort of half-snake-half-man… things, and Stalkers are not warriors who do in their enemies by driving them mad with obsessive remarks on their Facebook pages, but a very cool sort of magic assassin. They are silent, they stab people in the back, and they can extract juices from the monster corpses to make poisons – which then they can throw (as soon as they gain the spell Evaporate, that you can learn at level 2) to engulf their enemies in noxious fumes. Nagas, on their own account, are the most silent creatures in the game, with an incredible ease of learning Stealth. So for now I’ll push on that and see how it turns out. If everything goes well, in a few minutes of play I’ll be stabbing sleeping or unaware monsters before they know what hit them.
When I get to floor 2 I’m level 3 and everything went rather smoothly. At a certain point I realized I needed to train my Spellcasting skill as well because I was failing at magic rather often – and you don’t want that, first because it could be crucial in a fight, and second because failed magic can and will backfire on you. Now, however, I meet a group of gnolls, which are rather nasty monsters – I could handle one maybe, but a whole bunch is a bit troublesome. Luckily, I have a few potions of confusion and poison in my inventory – let’s start having fun.
And what fun it was. Ok, I was stupid and careless here, and maybe the fact that I’m jumping back and forth to write this document has something to do with it. I had handled perfectly the gnolls – confusing two so that they killed off each other and then poisoning to death a third one. I could have continued, but when a fourth one, weakened, popped out, I thought “naaah, screw this, let’s slice him with my dagger”. Which turned out not to be the wisest course of action ever, as it left me dead. Damn.
Third corpse candidate – Ukur-Ai, Orc Priest of Beogh
Orc Priests are a weird class. Priests would usually be followers of Zin, a boring lawful good god who wants you to kill evil, and blah blah blah and most importantly leave money at his altars. For serious. Orcs however are too cool and badass to follow such a creed, so an Orc Priest will be a follower of the orc god Beogh. This will grant you some rather cool powers – the main one being the possibility to convert orcs you meet in the dungeon to your side and gain your little army of faithful followers, all the while brandishing an axe yourself, because that’s what being a priest in orc society implies. In exchange for this, Beogh wants you to kill everything that crosses your path, and to pray on the corpses of fallen orcs (both your companions, and those pesky infidels who weren’t converted by your charisma and you had to slaughter mercilessly). Sounds fair, right? Let’s go then.
Ok, this time I’ve focused on taking my character a little beyond the first levels to show something more substantial. I am now level 6, at the third floor of the dungeon, and have earned my first follower. Can you see him following me? Can you see how much he loves me? Does it creep you out? Yeah, me too, but he’s damn useful. I also found a totally awesome “ring of regeneration” (which I can wear to get faster healing at the cost of more hunger), but I also accidentally cursed my armour with a scroll, which means that I can’t take it off. It’s a good armour though, so I don’t want to for now. I will stumble upon a scroll of remove curse eventually.
Well, isn’t that nice. I found an entire shop of scrolls! I can buy remove curse here, if needed, but I think I’ll go for an enchant weapon. I already have a +1, +1 War Axe – improving it is definitely easier than hoping for something better to pop out.
By floor 5, big rooms become more common. Using scrolls, my axe has now gotten to +4, +1, and the only follower I have left is another orc priest. I hope to find someone else soon.
At floor 6, something weird and awesome happens. I end up into what appears to be a shrine to Beogh, full of other orcs. Most of them convert to my cause, and end up slaughtering the ones who didn’t. In the end I am left with seven followers! That’s quite good. I feel like this match is going well.
Ok, THIS IS AWESOME. In the shrine I found an entrance to the Orc Mines! You can understand what that means. Lots and lots of orcs. Those in the screenshots? All my followers. This is starting to look like an army.
I am now level 9, at the ninth floor, with too many followers to count, a plate armour, and my war axe maxed out to +5, +5. I just met a pair of what look like tough enemies: a troll and a hill giant. I’ve never been so deep in the dungeon, so these guys are new to me. I’ll go at them and see if I can make it.
I kill the bastards and receive from Beogh the ability to walk on water. But now I’m up against a six-headed hydra zombie! Never met any of those. I heard hydras regenerate their heads if you don’t burn them though. I’m excited, y’all.
Ok, here’s a final screenshot. After a very hard battle against yaks, crocodiles, giant snails and other weird creatures I got to the entrance of something called the “Lair”. I’ve never been this deep until now, so I decided to save and leave the continuation for some other occasion, or the article will grow too long.
I hope you enjoyed the trip. I think this should have given you an idea of the variety of situations, tactics, and possible approaches that DCSS will allow you. This is truly a hidden gem of the open source world; beyond its simple appearance, the rule set is so ample and flexible that it is second only to an actual tabletop RPG. Give it a die.
Ops, slip of tongue there. I meant try. Give it a try.
*insert evil chuckle here*