Elynae's Sludge Elf/Merfolk Transmuter guide
Transmuters are unarmed fighters that use different transformations to boost their unarmed combat. Sludge Elf often comes up as the ideal choice for a new player interested in Transmuters. If you look at HP and aptitudes of Merfolk, you will see extreme similarities. Therefore, it doesn't make much of a difference which one you try as an interested player, and therefore this guide can be applied to both. It also applies to Humans, Demigods, Nagas and others, but to a lesser extent. Some points may not be the optimal strategy for races other than Sludge Elves and Merfolk.
Before level 3, you will have a hard time. Cast Beastly Appendage before every fight and use darts, stones and javelins to soften up enemies. Train Unarmed Combat to increase your damage output. Instantly memorise Spider Form at level 3 and proceed to use it in every hard fight. Run away with it if things get iffy.
Your next goal is to get Spider Form castable reliably, by training Transmutations and Poison Magic. This means that the very first thing you should do is turn off every skill but Transmutations. Spider Form gives excellent evasion. While you lose out on armour slots, you don't have much AC early on anyway. Spider Form gives speed, allowing you to escape many early threats such as ogres, orc warriors, orc priests, orc wizards and some uniques. Spider Form gives you a venomous unarmed attack. Not only is poison one of the best brands in the early game, it also combines with Spider Form speed to the deadly combination of you killing enemies without taking damage.
At level 3 and at every level afterwards, pick Intelligence - it offers the greatest benefits to a spellcasting character and Strength and Dexterity are both rather lackluster in comparison anyway.
Turn off Transmutations and Poison Magic when Spider Form has 80% success. Turn on Unarmed Combat to increase your damage.
- Sticks to Snakes is often overlooked. It is pretty useful for swarming low-AC enemies in the open - orc priests, orc wizards, ogres, uniques, et cetera. However, do not get it at level 2. You need these spell levels for Spider Form because Spider Form is the best early game tool for a transmuter.
Okawaru and Makhleb are good gods for SETm and MfTm. They only have low requirements (low levels of Invocations) and high returns. Okawaru gives Heroism and Finesse, and fills your armour slots, Makhleb heals you when you kill monsters and grants summoning and conjuration invocations. Both are comparably strong, but Okawaru gives stronger early returns - Heroism is +5 base damage for unarmed combat and a speed increase for it, which is better than Minor Destruction. It also compensates your low EV. If you are a new player struggling with reaching the Lair, I would recommend trying Okawaru.
Turn off Unarmed Combat when it hits 10. You now want to train for a higher-damage form that works well againt rPois monsters - Blade Hands. You will need around 10 Transmutations for this. Memorise both Blade Hands and Ice Form when they have a decent success rate. If you need more spell levels (this is likely) get appropriate levels of Spellcasting.
Now that you have three forms at hand, it is worth looking into their individual uses.
- Spider Form - Kiting poisoned monsters, running away, for times when you are in need of EV. It gives rPois- so don't use it against poisonous monsters if you can avoid it.
- Ice Form - When you are in need of rPois, when you need to cross water (you can float!), when you are in need of rC+++, when you want to slow cold-blooded monsters (draconians, frogs, snakes). It gives rF-, so usage is highly dangerous around fiery monsters. For Lair, this spell is extremely powerful due to the few fire using monsters and the high incidence of cold-blooded monsters.
- Blade Hands - It gives felid item usage restrictions in Trunk and deals extremely high damage. Once you have a good success rate and can handle the hunger cost, it will become your standard transmutation due to its lack of disadvantages and damage potential. Do not use this spell against hydra, as like any bladed weapon, it will cause more heads to grow; ice form is a better choice.
Note that casting a form spell while in a form will instantly transform you, and End Transformation accessible over (a)bilities will end any form in a couple of turns.
Further Skill Progression
Now your offence is covered for a while. Your defence, however, is really bad, so train Dodging until your EV is 20 in normal (Sludge Elf/Merfolk) form. With their good aptitudes, this should not take a long time. After that, you are offensively and defensively decently established.
- Under Makhleb, getting 10 Invocations now (to summon servants) is a good idea. This will reduce the chance of a Greater Servant being hostile. Summon a Greater Servant *before* tough fights and never do so without a source of teleportation, because it is still risky. Proceed by training Unarmed to 15, then Fighting to 10.
- Under Okawaru, proceed with Unarmed Combat 15 and then Fighting 10 before training Invocations to 5. Heroism and Finesse success is lower-priority than reducing servant hostility is for Makhlebites.
After this you will probably want to reduce your spell hunger. Getting Blade Hands to Choko hunger is a good rule of thumb. This character type doesn't exactly spam spells, so you don't really need more.
The Rest of the Game
Fighting, Dodging and particulary Unarmed Combat should always be at very high skill levels on this type of character, because your strength depends on them. Blade Hands is an excellent transmutation for the rest of the game. If you do happen to find Statue Form on a Sludge Elf, consider training some Earth so you can use it. On a Merfolk, your low Earth Magic aptitude will make it hard to reap the benefits of Statue Form/Stoneskin AC, so I suggest sticking with Blade Hands. Dragon Form is problematic for both races, because it hurts their very good EV, which is one of their big strengths, and in addition, it takes a lot of investment, especially for Merfolk.
Both characters, should they find Haste after completing the steps described in Pre-Temple, Temple and pre-Lair, and Further skill progression, should train Charms for it. Translocations for Phase Shift and Controlled Blink will also be useful, as these spells are good for basically every character. As usual, 5-10 Traps&Doors are very helpful for Zot.