H's Minotaur Fighter Guide

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Version 0.29: This article is up to date for the latest stable release of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.
This article contains advice from other players, which may be subjective, outdated, inaccurate or ill-advised. Take advice as you see fit, and read at your own risk!

So you want to win at Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup for the first time? This guide is for you, covering a great beginner combo: Minotaur Fighter (MiFi). Forget everything else written in the wiki (well, just forget everything that I tell you to), because isn't going to be trivial optimal. But I will aim to guide you through a simple combo with a simple and consistent path to success.

This guide was made during the tail end of 0.28 life cycle, aka July-August 2022. Note that 0.29 ("trunk" as of writing) introduces a massive gameplay change, and I'm sure that there'll be more differences as time goes out. See Differences Between Versions for more detail. I'll try to my best of my ability to make this guide relevant for 0.29, but I'm sorely out of experience there.

I'll assume that you know the very basics of the game. If not, view the Tutorial, whenever ingame or via the wiki. For a very brief description: Use lowercase i to view your items, you'll get a lot of them soon. Use the numpad or click around to move. Move into monsters to attack them, and hopefully you won't die. There's a lot of shortcuts and a lot of things that you may or may not use. Use ? then ? to view all commands. All commands in the game are case sensitive. Also check out the table of contents on the right for each subsection.

Main Menu

The absolute first thing you'll see is the character select screen. This is a Minotaur Fighter guide. So pick Minotaur, then click Fighter. Both should be just about the first options in the class selection screen. Then, pick the War Axe. Finally, if you're playing offline, you can choose your name. I'll cover these choices (except name) in the section below; feel free to skip it if you wanna head right in to the Dungeon. 

Specs

  • Minotaur (monster).png Minotaur - Minotaurs are 7/10 on the "monstrousness" scale, an ancient classification that's only really surpassed by the Troll and the occasional Demonspawn. And it's true: Minotaurs are absolutely monstrous at physical combat and absolute dumbasses at magic. Don't let a suite of "+2"s and "+1"s fool you - Minotaurs are incredibly proficent at anything resembling a blunt stick, easily having the best skill set in the entire game* [Note 1]. The same can be said about their 'measly' +10% HP, which only 3 other species can match.

    Minotaurs might be monstrous, but they aren't **that** special. They don't have the eight arms of an Octopode or undead properties of a Vampire. Their main sticking point is... their horns. So powerful are these horns, that you can go through the first three or so floors without ever swinging with your axe and still come out on top. More specifically, Minotaurs have a headbutt counterattack; while other species might randomly mutate horns, only Mi can retaliate with them. This chance starts at a bit over 20%, and rises as you get stronger. It might seem weak as you progress, but DCSS is a game where a raw +1d4 damage/accuracy buff is one of the most valued (if not powerful) rings available. You don't ever interact with horns; they are automatically activated.

    Unfortunately, Horns prevent the use of certain forms of headgear. This was a massive contention point 10 years ago, where the unfortunate removal of Mountain Dwarf left the helmetless Minotaur in their stead. Minos can still wear Hats, which have a better enchantment pool, anyway. Just beware that if your horns ever grow larger (via mutation), then you won't even have that. That's about it in terms of gimmicks: just horns and stats.

* [Note 1] The one or two species with better skill aptitudes have gimmicks that limit the skill XP you'll actually obtain. Gnolls have their obsene +8 apts, but are forced to split XP between every skill, meaning that each specific skill is one of the worst in the game. The 0.29 race Meteoran is comparatively more humble (matching Mi in physical skills, but also good at magic), but they simply do not have the time to kill the same amount of monsters, which is just less XP.

  • Buckler 1.png Fighter - Fighter is a very generic class, most similar to the Valkyire of NetHack (or a Knight in non-holy contexts, or a Warrior...), and similarly recommended as a beginner and general class alike. Fighters start with a 'good' weapon (we're picking war axe, more on that in a bit), scale mail for armor (easily the heaviest armor within starting kits, but becomes trash not even 10 floors in), and a buckler (actually quite good, but you'll want a heavier shield eventually).

    The main selling point really is the buckler. Like all shields, bucklers restrict two-handed weapons, and such a light shield only slightly decreases weapon speed. But SH secretly comprises a large amount of defense. I say secret, but the devs caught on, nerfing them twice in a row. Needless to say, shields still reign supreme. Being the heaviest pieces of equipment from any starting kit, Fighter serves to give you a headstart in combat potential, guaranteeing that you won't be stuck in a robe and handaxe for a hot second.

    Fighters also start with a potion of might, which gives an extra 1d10 damage for a fairly long but limited time. It's obviously useful against tough enemies. However, make sure you actually have the HP to fight before quaffing one.
  • War axe1.png Axes - "I suggest an axe (axes are fun)" - Linley Herzell, quickstart.md

    Axes have the unique ability to cleave: every time you swing, you'll hit every adjacent enemy for 70% damage (and the main target for full damage). Why this has never been touched upon in cleaving's 8 year existence is simply unknown to me. Over the years, there has been a single nerf to a single axe that was reverted in the following update. Perhaps the main reason is that you shouldn't be fighting multiple enemies at once in the first place! A player with full control will fight enemies one at a time, Axe or not. But "control" is the keyword here. There's many times where the game will yoink you straight out of nowhere with a teleport or shaft trap, or a guardian serpent instantly teleports 8 allies right on top of you. Axes are insurance against these types of situations. In short, fighting 4 surrounding enemies at once isn't optimal, but Axes are great when you have to do so.

    Notes: Axes are useful against invisible opponents; you can attack with ctrl-direction and still attack pesky unseen horrors. Axes also cut hydra heads, a single enemy which this guide will plan for later.

All these traits make MiFi^Axes quite the meme throughout the DCSS community, only surpassed by MiBe (Minotaur Berserker). The reason we aren't playing MiBe? Because I said so. MiFi also opens up god choice for an easier (if not more powerful) deity to deal with the later potions of the game.

Dungeon:1

Dungeon exit.png

Alright, we're actually in the game! Or so you think. Before you even start moving, hit m to access the skill menu. Switch from automatic to manual (if it isn't so already). You can still win the game with automatic skilling, but we can do better. Plus, this won't take much micromanagment.

Fighting, Axes, Armor, and Shields should be the skills trained right now. Turn everything else off.  Press the Axes button again to focus it (shows as * instead of +). Now press = in the skill menu in order to turn on skill target. Select Axes and put a target of 18. Don't touch any of these skills for the rest of the game, don't turn on any skill unless explicitly mentioned otherwise, and you should be golden. This is, again, not the truly optimal way to spread skill XP. But it works - Minotaur strength should easily compensate.

Dungeon:1 (for real)

Alright, you're actually in the game! You'll start in one of many carefully crafted entrance vaults. Which specific room you get is random, but they were all manually created by some person. Take note of any suspiciously structured structures: they might get dangerous later. If you're in 0.28 or earlier, you'll also want to look for a "pillar" - basically anything that you can run in circles around. Anywhere from a 1x1 block to the outside of an entire room. 

Then, you want to start exploring. But not in any ol' direction; explore a bit of land, then go back and explore tiles closer to your starting position (and/or pillar, if still in 0.28). You never want to go through unknown territory, because there could be monsters anywhere. When you're desperately running away, a monster could appear any moment, cut off your retreat path, and end your Minotaurish dreams.

Take items. Potions and Scrolls are your main consumables, and almost always have some use. Conviently, these items will automatically be picked up if you walk on their tile (signified by the green border around them). Their names (dark blue potion...) are always randomized, but consistent per item type per game. We'll get to Identification in about two floors' worth of writing. Every other item will be covered in the Items and Gear section, about three floors from now.

And fight monsters. But before you do so, make sure to press x to enter examination mode, then press v on the monster in order to examine. If you're playing on Tiles, you can right click the monster, too. You'll want to make that a habit for any new monster you find, though this guide will point out the many especially scary threats. Once you're done, don't charge into monsters right away

You'll want to instead wait (with the s or . or numpad-5 keys) for the monster to go to you. This reveals less unexplored territory, and thus less monsters are likely to come in and ambush or surround you. If you are especially careful, you should retreat towards known areas, preferably in a hallway.

Notable Threats

  • Gnoll (monster).png Gnolls are incredibly scary as a first monster, even for a Minotaur. They are also an important lesson on weapons! Gnolls only display that they can deal up to 6 damage, and that's true... with no weapon. However, we have NOT considered weapon damage, nor is it listed on the monster screen, which I find incredibly odd (NOTE: fixed in 0.29, which does display damage with weapon included. I suspect it had remained for so long due to bad code). In 0.28, you have to go out of the xv screen, hit ?, then hit / to search, search items, and search the weapon you want. For example, a gnoll with a +0 club has 6 damage at base and 4 damage from the club, resulting in 10 max damage - enough to 2-shot an XL 1 character. Monsters in this stage will easily deal 150% or even double damage with a weapon.

    Also keep in mind that monsters can use any special weapon properties that you can. Monsters with axes can cleave, but more importantly monsters with polearms (spears, tridents, halberds) reach, able to attack from two tiles away. A gnoll with a spear deals up to 6+5=11 damage and will get 1 'free' attack due to polearm reach, meaning that you can get two shot before you can even attack. Monsters are also unhindered by weapons, no longer how big they are. The infamous D:1 halberd gnoll deals up to 19 damage, which will one-shot. Thankfully, they can no longer spawn with halberds on D:1. But notice how I always say up to. Monster damage distribution is not uniform - it is actually favored towards low rolls. Plus, AC reduces damage, and you can also dodge attacks. While you may be willing to take the risk, taking a 1% risk 100 times should *not* end well for you. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, in true roguelike fashion, is a game centred about managing luck.

    Regardless, they are respectable fighters and easily able to take out non-Minotaur players.  If you fight them at XL1, don't be afraid to drink that potion of might after 1 nasty hit. If you're XL3, a lone gnoll should be a pushover. A note that gnolls on D:1 are using kiddie gloves! We'll get to that on the D:2 overview. And like a lot of threats on here, they are also quite the rare enemy for D:1; the chances of actually having to deal with one are quite low.
  • Quokka.png Quokkas are another lesson - this time in monster speed. Quokkas are fast, meaning that they occasionally get 2 rounds for every 1 you have. This means that you can't run away, and repositioning pre-fight is limited. And because of the war axe + shield, you attack slow, or a greater chance of being double hit. This means that the quokka can deal up to 10 damage per turn, twice reduced by AC. While they are annoyingly evasive, outside of some pretty bad luck rolls, quokkas aren't especially strong monsters. Assuming you're at full health, they are complete pushovers at XL 3 and still very managable at XL 1. The little masperal is probably getting over hyped here, especially considering that we're a MiFi.

    A trick with fast enemies is that, when they are two spaces away from you (1 tile gap), start walking away. With normal enemies, you can just wait and they'll use their turn to move, meaning you get the first strike. Fast enemies can double turn, so they can hit you by just waiting. So by walking away, eventually they'll double turn in order to move twice, allowing you to get the first hit again.
  • Jackal.png Jackals are fast (actually faster than quokkas, or more likely to double turn) and often come in packs. A mob of jackals isn't a pretty fight, even with your axe. Their speed also makes it harder to position so that you fight them one at a time. So if you see even one jackal, let it come to you, instead of you charging straight in. Jackals are brutal for mage type characters, but lone jackals should not be a threat even at XL 1. A pack is easily fought if you can back up into a hallway, so that 4 jackals aren't biting you per turn.

Tactics

Tactics - that is, what you actually do when you encounter monsters - are extremely hard to describe in a text based format. What's said in quickstart.md is all pretty good advice:

  • Never fight more than one monster if you can help it. Always back into a corridor so that they must fight you one-on-one.
  • Remember to use projectiles before engaging monsters in close combat.
  • Rest between encounters. The `s`, `.`, or delete commands make you rest for one turn, while pressing `5` or Shift-and-keypad-5 make you rest for a longer time (you will stop resting when fully healed or if you see a monster).
  • Learn when to run away from things you can't handle - this is important! It is often wise to skip a dangerous level. But don't overdo this.

Don't approach melee enemies. That much is certain. If there is a 1-tile gap between you and a monster, wait so that you can get the first strike. As mentioned in the quokka entry, if the monster is fast, then you should be backing up instead. But you shouldn't really approach enemies even from 7 tiles away, at least if they don't have ranged attacks. You simply don't know what's in the darkness of fog, and an extremely dangerous monster could appear of out nowhere. It is best to wait and/or throw items at the monsters. The more studious might want to back up into completely known territory before getting a monster close. This also, ideally, will let you back into a hallway and fight enemies one at a time.

For enemies with ranged attacks, you want to hide behind a corner or wall (if possible) so that they have to approach you. Take this example:

..@..
__.__
.|.|.
.|.|.
.|.|.

In a situation like this, where a hallway opens up into a room, the @ symbol (the player) needs to move 2 tiles left or right in order to not be seen. The "two tiles, aka 1 tile away from the diagonal route" is a rule that I completely made up but should work with most corners. A good portion of ranged monsters (centaurs in particular) won't fire their stronger ranged weapons in melee.

You can visualize line of sight (aka line of fire) by using exclusions. Use X and then e to create an exclusion zone; the exclusions cover every tile that can see the selected tile, so you can see where line of sight is. Use X then ctrl-e or use the exclusion command on the same tile again to clear exclusions afterwards. 

Note on Learning

It's just hard in general to describe tactics, whenever by visual/audio or by text. It might be better to watch other players play DCSS (via video), and imprint their habits by visual example. This is the point where I mention autoexplore, pressed with the o key. The entire rest of the guide will assume that autoexplore does not exist because manual exploration is safer. However, in realistic terms, autoexplore saves a lot of time. It's really your choice.

Dungeon:2

Dungeon 2 is infintely safer than D:1 for one reason: it has upstairs. Three, in fact! The vast majority of floors in DCSS have 3 up- and down- stairs, obviously excluding branch entrances. Anyways, going upstairs into an already clear floor is fairly safe. While it takes 2.5 turns to do, only monsters that are directly adjacent to you can follow you up the stairs. And as descending down into a floor you've never been into before is fast, you have a one time out against bad spawn RNG.

As an extension of the previous floor's advice, try to explore near staircases; always have a fully explored route to them, visit each 'side' of every unexplored split. It'd be optimal if you could explore in a circle around each staircase, so don't be afraid to turn around and explore another direction completely.  This assumes that you haven't found any monsters yet. Visiting all three staircases to optimize staircase tile distance is certainly possible, but puts you at risk of encountering some incredibly dangerous monsters, and is also just unnecessary (except for really bad layouts).

If you see (or are fighting) a monster, then see more coming in, you can come back *to* the stair and go up, intentionally bringing (only) adjacent monsters into a cleared floor. If you're close enough, you might as well go back to the stair first. In 0.29, do NOT try and drag monsters into a staircase mid-fight. Monsters next to you will have a chance to get a free attack on every movement. Instead, drag enemies into staircases before they are adjacent to you. This applies to all ranged monsters in (except the slow dart slug) in any version.

Also, the rise of staircases now 'allow' us to start the identification minigame! That will be covered in the Identification section below. But first, the notable threats:

Notable Threats

  • Adder.png Adders are beefed up Quokkas, with faster speed, better defenses, a stronger bite, but most notably, the abiltiy to poison you. Poison stacks up really really quickly in this game, and weaker characters soon find themselves taking half their health purely from poison. A reminder that adders are fast: once they are right next to you, there is no option but to fight. If you see one right as you descend into D:2 for the first time, don't bother, just go back up. In truth, an XL3 or even XL2 Minotaur can probably take one down, but you never want to take a probably in a game like Crawl. And this is because Minotaurs are overpowered and have overpowered horns, not because adders are easy.

    If you are forced to fight one of these dudes at a low level, you'll probably want to drink that potion of might very early into the fight. I'm talking when you are poisoned to be below 70% HP (shown as yellow damage in the health bar, use % to check exact poison amount). If you still happen to be fighting an adder and are at critical health (<50% HP, not including poison), you should start blindly drinking potions. The most common potion is Curing, followed by Heal Wounds, so drink larger potion stacks first. But by the end of D:2 (XL5), adders should be no threat barring extreme bouts of luck (We sometimes have to take the tiny chance. If we compensated for those, then we'd have no consumables to use).
  • Gnoll (monster).png Gnolls unsheath their swords(? clubs? halberds.) from this floor onwards. While you can most likely handle one Gnoll at this point, four polearm wielding gnolls striking you at once (most likely, you won't be able to cleave!) is not a fun time. Fight them one at a time, and if they have polearms, it'll take more than a simple hallway to deal with them.

    What worse is that they (on this floor onwards) can spawn with the incredibly fearsome Throwing Net. I'm not joking. Nets pin you in place, preventing you from moving or melee attacking, and reduce your EV to near zero until you break or teleport out. It's a risk run away when one is on screen, though they must quiver the net first, and you can xv to check if nets are quivered. Even if you can fight a gnoll pack (again, possible by end of D:2 assuming no Shaman), you will not want to face a big meaty ogre while trapped in a net.
  • Orc priest.png Run away. They aren't supposed to spawn here. You aren't ready. Regular orcs are fine enough, but multiple orcs might be a signal that a priest is nearby. Go down into D:3 if you have to. You aren't ready. They'll be covered in the next floor's threat list. If you happen to be next to one unscathed, they aren't that bad though? Might and swing away. Good luck getting past the orc horde first.
  • Sigmund.png Sigmund is one of the first possible Uniques you can encounter (unique monsters, named monsters, guys-with-a-humany-name). While most of the other D:2 uniques (Jessica, Terrence, Robin) are alright-ish as a MiFi, Sigmund's 2 damage hit (+14 from scythe, a polearm) really adds up. What's worse is the funny, which is Confusing you over and over so that you get pelted by Throw Flames while unable to do anything meaningful until you die. Do everything I said in the Orc Priest section and more: Sigmund intentionally spawns this early.

    Thankfully, if you are already the full 7 spaces away, then you should be able to run safely: Sigmund is a normal speed enemy. Enemies are unable to attack if they are not in your line of sight. So if you retreat a square, a 7 tile Sigmund will now be 8 tiles away, and needs to spend the turn to move.

Stat Points

On XP level 3 (XL3) and every 6 levels afterwards, you have a choice of stat points. Pick strength. Damage is good, and it helps with armour. There is a lategame risk of intelligence reaching 0 and thus being inflicted by stat zero effects, so start investing into INT at around XL 15, or if you find a -INT item you really want to use.

Identification

Scroll of identify.png

Identification is one of the core gameplay elements of NetHack, but here in Stone Soup territory, it is greatly simplified. Recent versions will automatically ID all equipment that you can wear (weapons, armour, rings), meaning the only things you actually need to find are potions and scrolls.

The main way to identify items is to just use them. Both consumables are identified on use. It doesn't matter if the item actually did anything. They will also be identified if you see a monster use 'em, though enemies will only use certain specific potions (you wouldn't want a goblin using ligma and becoming a goblin tree), and it'd still be consumed. The other way is to use a scroll of identification, but the scroll of identify is not itself identified, meaning blind consumption is required. Finally, certain pre-generated locations may come with pre-identified items; potions of degeneration for an Ossuary, as an example. This isn't reliable in the slightest.

Basically, you're gonna have to 'waste' items sooner or later. In order for your blind-use ID to actually be useful at the moment, try to read/quaff items that you have at least 2 of. This isn't required, but very helpful. It is also convienent, as the two most common potions (curing, heal wounds) and scrolls (identify, teleportation) are very useful items to have. Of these, read scrolls first. But don't do it immediately!

Read scrolls (that you have 2+ of) on the upstairs leading to a cleared floor, when you can't see any enemies, preferably on an unexplored floor.

The upstairs part is essential because of the teleport scroll; it teleports you just about anywhere on the floor, which could end up with you in dangerous situation without the safety of an upstairs. It's also helpful to have a retreat upward for the scroll of noise, which might attract enemies. It is necessary for the above floor to be cleared, as teleporting next to the thing you've skipped an entire floor on isn't fun. The unexplored floor is not super necessary, but gets the most benefit out of the scroll of magic mapping, which becomes more useful from D:4 on. Basically you don't super need an unexplored floor until you get to D:4.

In general, reading scrolls over potions is preferred. Many of them grant permanent or lasting boosts (brand weapon, enchant armour...), none of them grant permanent harm, and the sheer fact that identify is in fact a scroll makes blind reading required. This is in contrast with potions, where only the rare potion of experience gives a boost, the potion of mutation can give permanent changes either way* [Note 1], and the potion of degeneration requires XP in order to cure. Some players like to never blind quaff potions, but I will personally tell you to also drink potions that you have >=2 of. There's no stair requirement - just make sure that you are safe before doing so. If you are in a desperate situation, you don't even need that. Potions lean towards powerful temporary effects, and should be blind quaffed in dire need.

Once you have scrolls of identify available to use, use them to identify potions. This is for the same reasons said above; they are more likely to give powerful-but-temporary effects. The scroll of blinking is the only scroll really designed around emergencies that you won't have a ton of (like teleport or fog), so identifying other scrolls isn't as valuable. 

It's also worth noting that some players like save their scrolls to read (either with the above identifying process, or reading every single scroll) on D:4 in hopes of getting magic mapping and finding the Temple fast. The Temple is very likely an imporant branch because it houses the many gods. But I'm putting this advice as a footnote for a reason.

Finally, make sure to visit Appendix 1: Potions & Scrolls to see what these items actually do.

* [Note 1] The potion of mutation can give potentially game-ending terrible terrible mutations (teleportitis, berserkitis, no unsafe scrolls). These three mutations far outweigh any possible good mutations you might get, which can actually be good (rElec, Will+, Regen+....), even though the potion leans towards good mutations in the first place. Thankfully, the likelyhood of recieving one of those three mutations on a blind quaff, then the 2nd potion not removing one, is actually kinda low. Note that potions of mutation are our only source of curing mutations, so you really shouldn't gamble. If you still have one of the aformentioned badmuts, you might as well restart the game** [Note 2].

** [Note 2] Note that the game's still fairly playable, or at least that's what the devs think.

Dungeon:3

Dungeon:3 is a lot like Dungeon:2 in that you have stairs, the dungeon itself is generated similarly, and that there's a bunch of monsters. The same strategies above don't suddenly get worse. Instead, I'll use this space to talk about the big difference between 0.28 and 0.29, before talking about threats or gear.

Differences Between Versions

In 0.28 (and below), monsters at normal speed (10-speed), move at normal speed. They might get random energy, or an extra 0.1 turn plus or minus; enough changes lead to them losing or gaining a turn, though a monster that's gained a turn is likely to lose it (and vice versa). What this means is that you can circle around a wall with a same speed monster nearly infintely, assuming you can take at least one more hit. While both you and the monster both regenerate, you can retreat from monsters but the monster won't ever retreat from you (leading to near infinite chances to try and kill melees). This technique is known as pillar dancing. This would traditionally be called "overpowered", but let me tell you that overpowered *is* what's needed to cushion against extremely bad luck rolls. There's geniune reasons for its removal (it takes forever, namely) and geniune risks (a monster coming in mid-dance), but I heavily prefer pre-0.29 versions for this reason. I'm going to be biased here, but who isn't?

In 0.29, adjacent monsters will roll for attacks of opportunity every time you move. As a benefit, random energy is removed. But not only is pillar dancing for melees removed, but it is absolutely imperative that you lure enemies into a stair or hallway before they get right next to you. You do NOT want an overwhelming enemy to appear when fighting an already dangerous monster. For comparison, an adder in 0.28 is less likely to hit you on-retreat than a 10-speed monster in 0.29, and it's not like faster monsters can't get opportunity attacks. You know how much I stress about adders. If you can get that extra tile of space (polearm monsters will always stay 2 spaces if possible), then you can pillar dance just fine.

At least in compensation, players were buffed. More consumables spawn, all backgrounds start with a consumable item (though fighter already had the potion of might), many early game threats were nerfed, monster wand damage reduced... I think you could describe it as "making melee as hard as magic", with the mage folk getting continous buffs over the last two years. But if I seem like I'm stressing to play on < 0.28, I am, though you shouldn't be ashamed to play on later versions. There's a bunch of cool other changes, and I'll be sure that there's more.

For more differences/oddities between versions, see Appendix 2: Older Versions & Mechanics. What happened to food? See the appendix for more details.

Notable Threats

  • Orc priest.png Orc priests are still really scary. This is thanks to their AC-ignoring, never missing, 7-17 Smiting attack from anywhere from the screen. Many monsters, like their fellow orc wizard, require a direct line of fire in order to hit you. Priests just need line of sight. While the Smiting attack won't happen every turn, and defintely won't max roll every turn, there's no explicit cooldown for it. You could get smitten multiple times if you try to charge in, or get smitten in the middle of an orc fight. Speaking of orcs: priests tend to spawn with a pack of other orcs. If you see other orcs, start backing up immediately and lure the minions away.
  • Orc wizard.png Orc wizards have the same spellset as Sigmund. However, without the scythe, power, or durability, they are much easier to manage. It's best if you have a potion of curing on hand and identified before fighting one. It's kinda risky to fight hand to hand, but it's riskier to run away unless you are already 7 tiles away. Like priests, they are also often found with other orcs.
  • Grinder.png Most uniques are extra powerful "boss" monsters. There is way too many to list, and most of them are designed to be challenging for your level. But you could always right click or x v to see what you do. Grinder is easily the scariest due to the Paralyse spell, which reduces EV and SH to zero  and makes you unable to do anything. This lasts for up to 7 turns (5 in 0.29). Most uniques from this point forward are going to be omitted for brevity's sake.

Items and Gear

We (you) are a Minotaur Fighter, an axe wielding, shield using, heavy armor dude. There's really no need to stray away from that. Wyrmbane? Garbage. The big ass Frostbite axe? It's probably viable, but keep your shield on. Arga? That's the best one-handed axe in the entire game. All these items are really good (and really unlikely to be generated), but they are not necessary. In order to optimize winrate, it is actually better to switch to Wyrmbane, but describing so many cases would be way too long to describe, let alone that it's arbitrary in the first place. The only objective thing (if that) is that a luckless Minotaur can win with the same build, so just stick to the above.

Equipment

The broad axe is the only one-handed axe type better than your starting war axe. All brands (enchantments: vorpal, freezing...) except distortion are better than none; brands are better than an unbranded-but-enchanted weapon. Pick up any flaming axes you find; flaming 2-handers are the one exception to the "wear a shield!" rule, but not yet. Of hand axes, electrocution is the only non-flaming brand worth using over a plain war axe, though a really, really high enchanted one (+6 or +3 and a brand) works as well. It's safe to swap to broad axe when you have at least 10 Axes skill. Do not use enchant weapon/brand weapon scrolls on a war axe unless you are forced to (blind reading these scrolls forces you to, so you might as well). You shouldn't need it.

Wear the heaviest piece of armour you can. Minotaurs have enough Strength to wear anything comfortably. Plate armour is the heaviest of the "common" armours and are sometimes worn by monsters. Higher AC is better (you can check the inventory for AC change), though avoid the ponderousness brand. Slow movement is not worth it, even in 0.29. Every piece of armour that is not body armour has absolutely no cost to wearing them: hats, gloves, cloaks, and boots are free AC. If you happen to get enchant armour scrolls, I would enchant in the order of boots -> gloves -> hats -> cloaks -> body, which is also the order of least-likely-to-be-replaced. Hats of willpower and cloaks of any resistance are pretty much best in slot, so don't be afraid to enchant those first. Shields are more arbitrary. I like to upgrade to kite shield as soon as I see one, and swap to tower shield at 15+ skill.

Please note that curses, i.e. items that stick to you, have been removed. Equip items as much as you want, the game will warn you about the few things that are punishing to take off.

Artefacts

Artefacts (artifacts, which the game accepts as spelling) are in white text.

*Slow and *Rage are always a no go. Never have a vulnerability to an element, though resistances from another item will cancel it out. Weapons that are not axes, and non-broad axes past like Lair/Orc are not worth considering. Body armour / weapons should have a decent +X too; equal or better than your current non-artefact gear. Keep stuff for resistances you might need, but take the things with the most power / best weapon brand otherwise. Armour with resistances and no terrible downsides (Str/Slay -4, vulnerability, *Rage...). are good. You don't need artefacts to win.

Also, don't take the obsidian axe. It's not my fault if you lose!

Usables

But there's more items than equipment slots! Let's go over a couple of great items that you can encounter. If you've missed an item anywhere in the dungeon, you can use ctrl-f to search for them. Potions and scrolls are in Appendix 1: Potions & Scrolls, as a reminder.

  • Stone.png Boomerang 1.png Throwable items (stones, boomerangs, javelins, in order of strength) are easily obtainable ranged attacks. We're going to invest in throwing later (not yet!), but throwing stones at 0 skill is still better than nothing. Boomerangs and onwards are quite powerful items. Javelins are particularly busted because they have penetration, and can pierce multiple enemies per through. Axes might hit 8 enemies at once but you are also taking 8 monster's worth of damage. Javelins in a hallway can hit 7 enemies and you're only taking 1 monster's worth of damage. This is ridiculously strong, so the devs have (eventually) nerfed the amount of throwables that spawn naturally.

    Keep in mind that throwing the two larger weapons unskilled takes over a single turn to fire, so don't throw if an enemy is 1 tile away. Pick up all throwables you might find. All throwables persist whne thrown, but have a chance to mulch (disappear) when you do so.
  • Poisoned dart.png Poison darts are fairly powerful, assuming the enemy is not poison resistant. It took until this version (0.28) for their spawnrate to properly be nerfed. Being accurate and stronger than a stone, you might as well drop stones if you have a fair supply of darts. Poison darts remain useful up until Lair, and still useful against poison vulnerable enemies (like bees and spiders).
  • Curare-tipped dart.png Curare darts are an order of magnitude stronger. That's because of the Slow, reducing all action speed by 33%. That's a 33% damage reduction, and you can run away from slowed enemies. Curare also deals fairly significant damage for this stage in the game. Like normal poison darts, poison resistant enemies are immune to all effects (make sure to check monster's armour!). Poison resistance starts being incredibly common later on (and common through Lair), though it is still effective against a large amount of uniques. Unlike the other special darts (atropa, datura), curare will always apply its effect, as long as it hits and the target isn't rPois.
  • Throwing net.png Gnolls had them, but now you can use the power of throwing nets to your advantage. A netted enemy can't move from their tile, will often use their turn to break the next, have reduced EV, and are vulnerable to stabs (slightly more damage for you). They are actually quite rare, but very powerful and quite accurate. Keep at least 1-2 nets for emergencies and for a specific strategy much later in the game.

All of the above items are still throwables. But there's defintely other items available:

  • Wand wood.png Wands are quite strong with quite a few charges. For my non MiFis I like to train a small amount of Evocations for them. But for the purposes of this guide, just don't train Evo. Wands are fairly powerful even at 0 skill. Of these: wands of flame are useful against electric eels, iceblast will always hit, status inflicting wands will solve any situation this early (if their willpower check succeeds), and acid wands (or quicksilver or light in 0.29) both have raw power and inflict a strong debuff.

Yeah, that's the other consumable left. How about jewellery?

  • Amulet copper.png Amulets are all pretty much beneficial with no downsides, except for faith. The order for me is: regeneration > reflection > faith > guardian spirit > acrobat. Regeneration and Reflection are both great combat amulets. Faith punishes you if you take if off but increases godly favor while its on, so it's pretty good. Guardian spirit, acrobat, and magic regen are all minor buffs for our build but you might as well wear them.
  • Ring copper.png Rings are also universally beneficial, except for the ring of fire and ice, which provide vulnerability to the other element. As rings are quick to swap, you can change them when you find a relevant enemy or enter a relevant branch. Rings of willpower, slaying, protection, and evasion are always useful and should be worn in that order, should you find more than two. Note that if you have Will++++ elsewhere, you don't need extra.

Note that artefacts (bright white text) may have negative properties.

Dungeon:4 (& the Temple)

Dungeon:4 is the same as Dungeon:3. The same stairs, a similar floor layout, and the same bunches of monsters. The one difference is the possibility for the Temple to spawn.

The Temple is a completely safe branch (unless you drag monsters into it) that is incredibly likely to spawn Temple Gods. Temple Gods are guaranteed to spawn once and only once either in the Temple, or between D:3 and D:10. It can hold all the gods, or in 0.29, none. The point remains: the god that we want is likely to spawn there. The Temple itself can spawn in between D:4 and D:7, so some players like to read scrolls when entering here.

Notable Threats

  • Ogre (monster).png Ogres wield giant club. That's up to 37 damage per turm, or 39 if it's spiked. Fortunately, they swing slowly; they'll only get at most 1 free attack off you (in both 0.28 and 0.29). They are also 10 speed enemies, however trying to pillar dance an enemy that 2KOs is kinda dicey. A trick in 0.28 is to attack, back up, attack, back up in order to reduce hits inflicted. Take off or put on your weapon or a ring in order to wait for the ogre to come (these actions take 0.5 turn to do). Regardless, I wouldn't fight them right here, right now.
  • Phantom.png Phantoms have a load of resistances... resistance to weapon isn't one of them. But they are the sole monsters with the blink with attack flavour, which causes you and the phantom to teleport to a random, nearby spot. Continous reckless fighting could lead to you being surrounded by enemies! They are also fairly tough for this stage in the game, but have normal speed. They are fairly safe to deal with if you stair dance them up - assuming that you don't blink while going up.

Temple, Gods, and Okawaru

Okawaru altar.png

The god we will be picking is Okawaru. No other options here. Forget "pick gods that appear early", Minotaurs are technically strong enough to not need any help until D:10. It could be more optimal to pick an earlier god, but for the sake of the guide and consistency I will have to recommend Okawaru. Don't worry; Oka is a very simple, very powerful, and very synergestic god.

Okawaru is the god of honorable, physical combat. It rewards you for killing enemies of high HD (monster level) compared to you. This quirk makes Oka piety rise noticably faster than other "kill things for piety" gods, though easy monsters will scarcely provide any. Minotaurs have a -1 XP level aptitude, so there's a slight synergy beyond meleelol. It's also convenient because tough enemies that you'd want to use abilities (which cost piety) for, will likely just give you the piety back.

Okawaru might demand honor, but has no grievance against stabbing, poison, or any evil robo-tricks. Oka instead demands that you fight without any allies. All summoning spells, some Necromancy, and certain items simply won't function. You won't ever be casting spells as a Minotaur!Heavy Armour, so the worst losses are items: the phantom mirror (creates a slightly weaker copy of a monster), scroll of summoning (creates many allies suitable to the area), and in 0.29, scroll of butterflies (many butterflies which block attacks and enemy movement). In exchange, it will grant some powerful abilities, and gifts (throwing ammo. and later weapons and armour).

For now, all Okawaru does is limit your options. You can't even abandon it, as most gods are jealous and godly wrath is way too deadly to consider. Abilities will be covered as I unlock them, in the sections below. I obviously can't control for when you get enough piety, so scroll down or check Okawaru's page for more details. Click for the next ability.

Dungeon:5 - Dungeon:7

Alright, you get the drill.

Notable Threats

Note that depths are estimates (as usual) using their base depth, and can appear earlier or later

  • Centaur (monster).png Centaurs [D:5] are fast and shoot arrows from a distance. Fortunately, most monsters will not use a ranged weapon in melee, and centaurs don't usually have melee weapons. Hide behind a corner, charge the centaur, or use a scroll of fog (or scroll of butterflies) to close the gap.
  • Water moccasin.png Water moccasins [D:5] are beefier and slightly faster adders. You should hopefully have a potion of curing. And even without, a lone snake should not be a threat as a Minotaur, at the very least by D:6.
  • Steam dragon.png Steam dragons [D:6] are the first dragons you'll come across. Their steam breath actually does decent damage from a distance, assuming you don't have fire resistance. Thankfully, all dragons must catch their breath (-Breath) afterwards. While it may not look it, steam clouds can and will hurt you (unless, again, you have fire resistance). Also include acid dragons here because they are the same.
  • Hornet.png Hornets [D:7] are actually really scary, fast, poisonous monsters. Scary in pure combat, even. What's worse is that they can paralyse - even with poison resistance. Only poison immunity makes you fully immune to para, meaning that they are really nuts. They thankfully don't spawn up here very often...
  • Killer bee.png Killer bees [D:7?] really make me regret using all my super scary warning points on adders and quokkas. Killer bees move twice as fast as the player, come in large packs (not this early??), and are relentless in their poison. Teleport away, drink a potion of lignification, or get into a hallway and buff up because these guys (especially packs) shouldn't really spawn here.

Heroism

From my experience, you'll get Heroism 1-2 floors after gaining Okawaru. It's that quick.

Heroism is Okawaru's 1* ability. Using it gives +5 to all physical skills. Considering that you're likely at the 10's at this point, that's a 50% skill increase. Now, damage doensn't work like that, but Heroism is still ridicously strong. Your skills will be 4-5 levels ahead, which shoud let you take on out of depth enemies 4-5 levels ahead of you.

Here's the kicker. Heroism costs 0-1 piety to use. A good chunk of the time, you'll use Heroism for free. When considering that Oka rewards killing "dangerous" monsters, you will often get more piety than you used. These two facts lead to one single conclusion: use abilities early and often. This is quite a difficult lesson to learn, but you need need need to respect it.

Skill Training

When you get to 1* of piety, start training Invocations and set a skill target of 5. Heroism doesn't really require Invo training for a reasonable failure rate (~ 7% failure at 1* and 0 Invo), but it's very convenient because the next ability does warrant training. The skill also increases Heroism's duration to a more comfortable level.

After you get Invo to 5, start training Throwing and set a skill target of 5. Important later and its just good timing for the 3* Throwing gifts.

Click for the next ability.

Dungeon:8 - Dungeon:11

With Heroism (hopefully) in-tow, you've offically reached the midgame! With a fair supply of identified consumables, you growing stronger in a relative level, a godly ability, and the choice between Dungeon, Lair, and Orc, and you should be a lot more comfortable from this point forward. The famous quote is, "Once you've entered Lair, you've won the game", or something like that. Simply put, there's a lot more options to prevent bullshit from happening.

Notable Threats

  • Killer bee.png Hornet.png All the advice for these guys still applies, being perhaps more relevant here, where they are realistic to try and fight. Also killer bee packs.
  • Unseen horror.png If you are attacked by an invisible monster out of nowhere (they usually have to cast the Invisibility spell first), it is most likely an unseen horror. They are incredibly fast (3 turns for your 1) but are batty, meaning they retreat after going in. Best to get in a hallway if you're fighting, and swing in place with ctrl-direction. They can't open doors and their battyness will cause them to retreat from stair-adjacency if you wait a turn or so.
  • Two-headed ogre.png Two-headed ogres [D:10] are ogres but double. They have two giant clubs and hit twice as hard. You can get two rounded. Otherwise, they are 10-speed monsters with no special abilities or resistances.

Finesse

Okawaru's second ability, unlocked at 4*, is Finesse. It doubles your attack speed. The only caveat is that it doesn't stack with haste. It is aboslutely nuts but also not stupid cheap like Heroism. There isn't too much to say; use this on dangerous monsters!

Once you've done training Throwing, train Invocations and set a skill target to 8.

Why You Go to The Lair

Or why to skip the late Dungeon! Or threat list (D:12 - D:13).

The Lair's entrance spawns from D:8 to D:11. While the hydras and cane toads aren't that fun, it is still the safer option of the three (Lair, Orc, Dungeon). There are a few very dangerous monsters that will absolutely want you ignore D:12 and even D:11 (if possible) until completing the Lair. It's still recommended that you clear up to D:10 first.

  • Wizard (monster).png Wizards know the Banish spell, which sends you to the deep dark Abyss with continously spawning monsters way out of your league with no time to regen. You can use all your consumables there and still die. They are quite frail (as to be expected), but you never want to take this risk until you have to. Preferably you find Willpower+++ before fighting one, and throw your way to victory anyhow.
  • Ugly thing.png Ugly things are not that easy to face when first entering D:11, unless you have silver javelins already. It is the combination of damage and their slightly faster movement speed that makes them dangerous. If found in a pack, note that they'll continously waste turns mutating into different colours (though that does mean that there's a pack of ugly things you could re-encounter in an unfortunate situation).
  • Skeletal warrior.png Skeletal warriors are just stat sticks, melee only 10-speed tough guys. They still aren't pretty to fight even with Heroism. Though, they become pushovers if you've finished one or two of the other branches first.

Lair of Beasts

Lair entry.png

The Lair is a pretty homely place. Branch overviews are going to get a lot shorter, as branches themselves are shorter than the Dungeon proper, and you can fight the "hardest" enemies on the first level. You are getting more and more powerful compared to the game (both due to being a MiFi and the general level curve). It's 6 levels in 0.28, and 5 in 0.29. Don't go into any of the Lair's sub-branches right now.

The Lair itself is much more open, with few of the distinctive hallways of the Dungeon. There are plenty of walls, though, and they are quite jagged. You can take advantage of diagonals in order to create faux hallways, and the animals are often too dumb to go around.

Lair will has 3 sub-branches. There will be a poison-themed branch (Spider or Snake) and a water-themed branch (Shoals or Swamp), along with Slime. Don't go to any of these yet, but keep note of where they are. Once you find them, you can autotravel with G.

Recommended: Poison resistance is helpful. Willpower, too.

Notable Threats

  • Hydra.png Hydras are the big bad of any Axe playthrough, if a bit overhyped. Axes cleave, which also cleave hydra heads, which causes the hydra to grow two more in its place. They are actually very powerful against any melee player at this stage of the game, but with some luck you'll have a few tools for them:
    • Run away: Unless they are camping a staircase, you can simply not fight them. Hydras are 10 speed enemies while on land.
    • Throwing: Even with 0 natural Throwing skill, Heroism boomerangs can take half or more of a Hydra's HP. Javelins hit 1.0 delay at 10 skill, so 5 before Heroism. With 10 skill, even boomerangs wil severely weaken hydras before they get to you. You can still throw at melee range, but if the hydra's not at red HP then just don't take that risk. Make sure to always always have an escape route planned early!! If you are forced to take that risk, make sure to have Finesse up, as well. Reminder to train Throwing to 5.0.
    • Flaming weapon: Flaming cauterizes the wounds, meaning hydra won't grow heads. Hydras with 6+ heads are still scary to fight so... I wouldn't, not until you've done a few floors of Lair. Reminder to use Heroism.
    • Potion of lignification: Drink the potion, take off your weapon, and fight. This potion prevents you from moving or even teleporting, but with just Heroism, tree form can take out a lone hydra. Be extra careful of other monsters coming in!

You also want to keep note of their heads; hydras naturally spawn with 4-8 of them. An 8-headed hydra hits twice as hard as a 4-headed one!

  • Basilisk.png Basilisks will Petrify you, which will lower EV and SH to zero and leave you helpless to monsters attacks, even if you have extra durability. It takes a hot second to actually petrify, but you're slow for the process. Not too scary on their own, though imagine for a second, being helpless next to a hydra. A potion of cancellation will end Petrifying.
  • Dream sheep.png Torpor snail.png Dream sheep and torpor snails both have irresistable debuffs. Dream sheep put you to sleep, which gives monsters a free turn on you. Torpor snails slow you.
    • Dream Sheep have more chances to sleep you the more of them are in sight, and they are pack animals. Use a scroll of fog and walls to make absolutely sure to avoid sleep, and keep to the hallways so that you don't take too many hits.
    • In 0.29, you can Enslave (Charm) torpor snails to slow enemies, though their will is increased to compensate. In 0.28 both charm and polymorph will prevent you from being slowed.
  • Cane toad.png Black mamba.png Cane toads are another fast, poisonous enemy. If you fight them right on hitting Lair:1, I would Heroism to make sure that you can actually fight one on one. Otherwise they aren't so much of a threat on their own. Same with black mambas, though you usually fight them a bit later (and still use Heroism a little later). Much easier to fight with rPois, but it is not required per-se.
  • Death yak.png Death yaks are mostly a humbleness check to people mindlessly tabbing. They are standard melee threats, though with high willpower. Weak to curare and/or throwing blunt weapons, and please don't fight more than one at a time (use the stairs!).
  • Catoblepas.png Catoblepas fire a piercing line of petrifying clouds. If you're standing on one and use your first turn moving away, then you will not get petrified. Beware of hallways! Animals will also walk into the petrifying clouds, making them easy pickings (if not for the catoblepas itself, which is a fairly strong enemy).

On a final note, you might want to skip the last floor of the Lair. Every branch has a "vault" on the final floor which is usually more difficult than the proceeding floors. Vaults are nonrandomized structures, though which one(s) you get is random. This is not to be confused with the Vaults branch.

Midgame Lull

Once you have completed Lair, the game starts taking a turn for the easy. It's somewhat reasonable to complete any of D:15, Orc, and Lair first and not face too many issues. Because of this, the other two branches are going to feel very easy. You'll likely have 5* or even 6* of piety with Okawaru, which means you can spam HeroFinesse often, which means you are going to stock up on non-renewable consumables, in addition to Minotaur growths and potential equipment gifts. You can do Dungeon or Orc in either order without it mattering too much. I'll actually list Dungeon first, simply because a wizard's Banish is actually less scary than an orc sorcerer's Paralyse at this point. (Note that Orc also has more loot)

Recent updates were aimed at stopping the "entire-lategame-until-Zot-lull", which at least existed for experienced players. Basically, don't get too comfortable with the ease of the next few branches. The rune containing S-branches won't be as easy.

Late Dungeon

Beware of wizards!

Recommended: Willpower+++, various resistance swapouts

Notable Threats

See Why You Go to The Lair first. Other than that...

  • Slime creature.png Slime creatures are very weak on their own, if you've completed Lair. However, they are unique in that they merge in closed spaces, such as a hallway. A fully merged slime can deal over a hundred damage per hit. As Axes cleave, just get them in an open area, and maybe stair dance them up.
  • Vaults entry.png On D:13-D:14, you'll find the entrance to the Vaults. There's normally a bunch of scarier-than-normal enemies there, which are mostly deadly because they're so concentrated. With proper luring and awareness of escape routes/options, it shouldn't be too difficult. You can't enter the Vaults until you have at least one rune, which by then you should be ready to go in.
  • Depths entry.png On D:15, you'll find the entrance to the Depths. There's one or multiple out of depth enemies, like a fire giant. No need to clear if its too frightening. Depths itself is one of the last branches you should be entering, though early Depths is the main focal point of the Lord of Darkness challenge.

Orcish Mines

Orc entry.png

Orc spawns from D:9 to D:12. Even though there'll be a lot of plain orcs, very easy at this point, you'll want to do Lair first. Many of the threats (in the usual place, below) are tougher than what the Lair has in store, and also have ranged attacks.

Orc is incredibly open (less walls than Lair), leaving you vulnerable to the orc priests and other ranged attacks in stow. If you haven't found/recieved a broad axe yet, orcs are likely to be holding one.

The Mines also house a ton of gold and four seperate shops to spend it on.

Recommended: Willpower+++

Notable Threats

  • Orc sorcerer.png Orc sorcerers are the main reason you do not want to do Orc before Lair. Orc Sorcs inflict Paralyze, much worse than Petrify (being instant and not giving damage reduction). Also their magic hurts! At least if you don't have resistances to both Fire and Negative Energy. Remember to throw javelins, if you got them, though you can get away without Heroism.
  • Stone giant.png Ettin.png These are the "out of depth" spawns for Orc, and they are the other reason why to do Lair first. Stone giants hit really hard and large rocks from afar hurt really hard. Ettins are suped up two-headed ogres that can deal 90 damage per round before weapons, i.e 130 per round after. For comparison, an 8-headed hydra deals up to 144 damage but is reduced 8 times by AC, has to high roll 8 times in a row, and you normally face hydras with less heads.
  • Orc high priest.png Orc high priests still have smiting but also summon demons. This includes the Neqoxec, which can inflict permanent Malmutates on you, along with other physically tough monsters. Smiting alone sucks when you are getting swamped by orcs/demons. The ultra-fast Sixfirhy and the fact that the priest needs to actually spawn demons in the first place means that you should take them on as quickly as possible, instead of running away.

Also, I would be careful of being pelted by a bunch of ranged enemies all at once, especially with an orc knight or orc warlord in play.

Rune Branch Prep

With the 2nd floor of Orc completed, you'll have free reign over its four shops. You might want to use ctrl-F on everything: plate armour, dragon scales, axes, scroll, potion, gold... Who knows, you might've missed a ghost vault or a pile of items lying from your orcish massacre. It's also a good time

Shopping Trip

Hopefully, there's things that you can buy/ctrl-f:

  • Emergency items: Includes Scrolls of blinking, scroll of teleport, potion of haste, potion of heal wounds, potion of cancellation. These should be your first priority, never a bad idea. You want potions of curing for Spider.
  • Willpower: So that you don't instantly die. Will+++ is practical, Will++++ is enough. Don't use the body armour slot unless its plate armour, and don't use any weird weapons or negative artefacts. Otherwise prioritize getting enough willpower as soon as possible.
  • Equipment: If you haven't found one already, broad axe, kite shield, amulet (see Items & Gear for what to prioritize).
  • Poison resistance: This is most often found on the ring of poison resistance; don't take any body armour lighter than swamp dragon scales. rPois is useful in Spider and Snake, and useful against swamp dragons in Swamp.
  • Flight: A permanent source of it, namely the ring of flight. Useful in the watery Swamp and Shoals; while you still can't outrun most aquatic creatures, at least you'll be avoiding the attack penalty of water.
  • Electricity resistance: Quite the rare resistance, without a ring dedicated to it. Take artefacts without too much bad qualities on them (no handaxes or rF--) or the not-common storm dragon scales. There are a few dangerous elec enemies throughout the game and you'll want a source of it.
  • Other resistances: rCold is good for Spider. rFire decent for Snake and Swamp, rCorrosion useful for Spider and Swamp. A scarf of repel missiles is good for Shoals.
  • Strategic items: scrolls of enchant armour / weapon and a scroll of brand weapon.
  • Artefacts: Artefacts of equipment you'd use anyway with high enchantments, no vulnerabilities, and no *Slow / -Tele are good to grab eventually. They are usually expensive, though.
  • Overpriced garbage: Scrolls of acquirement are pretty much gambling; the worst you can get is a smaller pile of gold than you started with, though there are very good items too. Manuals are often too expensive even with Orcish gold under your belt. XP-based evocables (box of beasts, lightning rod...) are also very expensive and you can get them later.

Skill Training

By now, you should've reached the skill target for Axes, 18.0. This opens up skill training into a few side skills that you may or may not need:

  • Throwing to 10.0. Getting natural 1.0 delay javelins is pretty good, and extra damage is always useful.
  • Invocations to 12.0 - 13.0. This gets the Duel ability up and running. Honestly, I don't have much advice for this one; it's fairly recent, being introduced in 0.28 along with Okawaru's no-ally conduct. But even with just HeroFinesse, and regardless of ally restriction, Oka is a very strong god. Duel is not necessary. It's supposedly a good ability: sending a single monster into a single combat, and when you're done you have about 20 turns to gather loot, drink a potion of ambrosia, and/or buff up. But I really can't say anything else about it other than that it's quite expensive.
  • Evocations to 8.0. While I said to ignore this skill earlier, specific skill training doesn't really matter as much anymore. As monsters have stupid high will, wands become less and less useful even with this amount of training. However, many monsters (moth of wrath, death cob, most animals) are still vulnerable to hex effects, and a scroll of vulnerability boosted wand can even take out quite a few uniques. Just beware of uniques with paralysis themselves.

There's really no rush for any of these skills. You'll want Throwing 10.0 by some point in the game, but the others can be forgone completely.

S-Branches

With Lair, Orc, and Dungeon done, the only place left to go is the Lair branches. They all start with the letter S, hence the name "S-Branch". Three of them will spawn in any particular game; use ctrl-o to see all of them.

To be honest, I'm not terribly sure about the order nowadays. It used to be Swamp -> Snake/Spider -> Shoals but then Swamp got buffed and Spider got buffed and Shoals is still hard as ever...

Basically, the order I'll suggest is: Snake -> Swamp -> Spider -> Shoals, from first to last. This is the order I'll list 'em in. Don't do Slime.

An option you can do is to do the first 3 floors of a branch, then go to the other S-Branch branch. It isn't required, but the last floor tends to be harder than the rest.

Snake

Snake is mostly generated like the Dungeon, though lacking a few layouts. This means its the only Lair branch with hallways. Savour that, because the rest of the game is lacking. Snake is filled with human-snakes (nagas, slower than average) and snake-snakes (faster). You can run away from the former but not the latter. Most nagas constrict you in melee, which prevents movement, reduces EV, and even has a chance to stop blink.

Recommended: rPois
Rec. Swapouts: rF+, scarf of repulsion, rElec

Notable Threats

  • Guardian serpent.png Guardian serpents are easily the scariest enemy in the entire branch. Blinks enemies in its sight to surround you, which could instantly teleport 8 monsters right next to you. Even with Axes in your possesion, go all out with Throwing and Oka buffs, and all out with everything if you get surrounded.
  • Nagaraja.png Nagaraja are the biggest naga. That's about it. Not terribly hard with buffs, though they can Haste and actually outrun you.
  • Naga sharpshooter.png Naga sharpshooters hit really hard from afar, but aren't too hard in melee and also can be run from from a distance. Tough if you're naive about them and just charge in.
  • Shock serpent.png Shock serpent have very high and very swingy electric damage. Using throwing means you won't take discharge damage. Vulnerable to hex wands.
  • Anaconda.png Anaconda are fast, and the only snake-snake with constriction. Not that tough for a well-armed Minotaur (different story for casters!) but can be annoying.

Swamp

One of the scariest places in Swamp, for me, is the entrance. Swamp worms will pull you all 'round, and monsters will swarm you without a place to really retreat to. From Swamp:2, you'll have access to a long sought tool: the stairs.

Other than that, it's a very open branch. It has extremely few hallways, so open Axe combat and stair dancing are nice tools to have.

Recommended: Willpower+++, Flight
Rec. Swapouts: rF+, rPois, rCorr

Notable Threats

  • Fenstrider witch.png Fenstrider witches inflict paralyse. What else is to say?
  • Shambling mangrove.png Shambling mangroves constrict you from afar, which prevents movement. They also release hornets, which inflict paralyse. What else is to say?
  • Swamp worm.png Swamp worms pull you closer to them. Tree form prevents this but also comes with the flaws of tree form.
  • Will-o-the-wisp.png Swamp dragon.png Will-o-the-wisps fall easily to javelins, but actually hit fairly hard without rF+. Swamp dragons hurt without rPois.
  • Hydra.png Hydras still will regrow heads, but now you (should be) noticably stronger. If this is your 2nd rune branch, you can easily plow them with Heroism even without Flaming (just not in a large group, and maybe with Finesse). With flaming, and you shouldn't worry about them except for their fast swim speed.
  • The Lernaean hydra.png The Lernaean hydra is a 27-headed hydra that spawns on Swamp:4. It can't see invisible and is frail enough to be weak to the holy HeroFinesse Javelin, but its higher swim speed means that you gotta be prepared to take on.

Spider

Spider's layout generates much like the Lair proper; quite open, but not nearly as much as the watery branches, with many faux hallways around. Which you'll likely need to use, considering the massive swarm of spiders. Many (but not all) threats are weak to poison, and very few are immune to curare - this is the best place for those darts and I would use them over boomerangs. Also most spiders can't see invisible, so it's a good anti-swarm "emergency" button.

Recommended: rPois
Rec. Swapouts: rC+(+), rCorr, rN+

Notable Threats

  • Ghost moth.png If you find an invisible thing in Spider, it's most likely a ghost moth. These things are nasty in melee combat and inflict stat drain, which can cause the extremely detrimental stat zero if intelligence (or another stat) hits 0. They'll also drain your MP which prevents you from using god abilities. They also can't see invisible, for what it's worth.
  • Moth of wrath.png Moths of wrath inflict the incredibly strong berserk status. Don't underestimate anything with it. Target moths of wrath with javelins, fear them, or just get the hell away. Don't go in melee unless you are absolutely sure that no monsters will come in (tons of explored floor around you), as they will also berserk you and berserk prevents almost all item usage.
  • Entropy weaver.png Even with rCorr, an entropy weaver's Corrosion stacks up very quickly. Not terrible to face in melee without corrosion, but watch the status bar!
  • Spark wasp.png I don't think they appear outside of Spider:4's rune vault, but spark wasps hit like a truck especailly without rElec, and can zap to go in front/behind you.
  • Pharaoh ant.png Pharaoh ants hit pretty roughly without rN+, but are very frail. But all the fast spider simulacrum are created if you kill the ant before other spiders. They are extremely nasty without rC++.
  • Radroach.png Radroaches' Irradiate hits hard and contaminates you. Malmutate bad! Thankfully they won't Irradiate if another monster is next to them.

Shoals

Shoals is even more open than the Swamp. There's no walls and not even trees, just deep water - as you should expect, most enemies can swim just fine in it. The challenge comes from a pelt of bullets and tridents with enemies that swim much faster than you.

Recommended: Will+++, Flight, repulsion

Notable Threats

  • Merfolk javelineer.png Merfolk javelineers fire javelins. Javelins ignore shields completely, so hurt a lot.
  • Alligator snapping turtle.png Alligator snapping turtles are mostly tab checks, simply reaching dudes with high stats.
  • Water nymph.png Water elemental.png Both these guys (water nymph and water elemental) can inflict Engulf, which prevents god abiliites and scrolls. Nymphs in particular will block staircases due to their watery aura. You can move a tile to end engulf.

To be honest, most of the threat comes from the fast-swimming swarms of ranged foes (in an extremely open branch), not any one specific enemy. Multiple merfolk with tridents, with ranged fauns/javelineers and merfolk impalers all suck to fight as they all hit you at once while your axe isn't. Also merfolk sirens inflict Mesmerise, which you need to teleport or break line of sight to end. This isn't to say that Shoals isn't hard, but its not complicated.

The Lategame

We're close. Lategame here comprises of Vaults, Elf, Depths, and Slime, getting the third or even fourth rune.

It's the midgame lull, but again, but actually quite a bit harder. At this point, many characters will be decked out with Okawaru gifts, piety is plentiful, and every player ends being far ahead the "curve" of the earlier parts of the game. There's things that can kill you, but it's much closer to not paying attention and not taking things seriously than monsters actually being tough. Descriptions are gonna get way more terse, at least until we get to Slime. Just watch if you health gets too low.

Vaults: 1-4

Not much prose here. Don't enter Vaults:5 yet, which is surrounded by heaps of guards and endgame level monsters, especially as vault wardens can lock out the stairs up.

Recommended: Will+++, rC+, scarf of repulsion
Rec. Swapouts: rElec, rF+

Notable Threats

  • Vault warden.png Vault wardens lock staircases and doors, meaning you can't travel through them. They can die to javelins but aren't *that* frail. Mostly dangerous on the aformentioned Vaults:5, as teleport still works just fine (though might send you to unexplored floor, as usual).
  • Ironbound frostheart.png Ironbound frosthearts hurt quite a lot; they target any tile adjacent (remember diagonals) to walls. Managable with rC+/rC++, and managble (on its own) without. Makes it harder to use corridors, though.
  • Ironbound thunderhulk.png Ironbound thunderhulk are the similar, but with rElec, which is a rarer resistance. Their special gimmick is that they can't hit you from 3 or fewer tiles away, but is a stronger smite otherwise.
  • Ironbound convoker.png Ironbound convokers use 3 turns in order to bring in a pack of allies from another floor. It can be stopped with a phial of floods or a scroll of silence, and if monsters are confined to a hallway, is mostly fine (just beware of frosthearts).
  • Vault sentinel.png Vault sentinels inflict Mark, just like an alarm trap without the noise. Vaults is big enough where all monsters aren't likely to wake up and chase you, but it might get a bunch of them. Even Will+++ won't drop it to 1%.
  • Yaktaur captain.png Yaktaurs (and even centaur warriors) aren't fun to approach. They are simply stronger centaurs, but without two of: a good shield / repulsion / reflection, they actually hurt quite a bit. Do what you would centaur.

Depths

Depths is the Dungeon, 2 (not to be confused with D:2). There's a lot of enemy variety, though many are just popcorn at this point. There's still things that can kill you

Recommended: Will+++, rF+, rC+
Rec. Swapouts: rElec, rCorr

Notable Threats

  • Caustic shrike.png Caustic shrikes are the killer bees (hornets, water mocassins) of Depths, coming in fast in swarms and just having really high stats. Bring rCorr as it stacks up really quickly, and hopefully fight them one at a time. As of 0.28, they can't see invisible, so use a potion of invisibility if need be. They also aren't resistant to poison, so both Condenser Vane or scroll of poison (0.29) work well.
  • Juggernaut.png Juggernauts move incredibly quickly, and hit (slowly) for a ton of damage per strike. Thankfully, they are still weak to curare. Curare + HeroFinesse should be fine with heavy armour, and don't get too caught up in the former (i.e HeroFinesse can take 'em out dfine).
  • Walking crystal tome.png Walking crystal tomes summon spells that deal 3d40 each, and its 1-3 at once. Block it with some mob or something and rush it down ASAP.
  • Fire giant.png Frost giant.png Spark wasp.png These guys are mostly just resistance checks (rF for fire giant, rC for frost giant, rElec for spark wasps). If you don't have 'em, they are still managble if they are alone, even without Oka buffs, just suprisingly angerous more than anything.

Third (and Fourth?) Rune

You need 3 runes to enter the Realm of Zot. We've already got two, so one more is required for entry. There are three realistic options for the third rune:

  • Slime is the most consistent of the 3 branches. It's reliant on one of a few "tricks" to beat the Royal Jelly; while tough, it's mostly a single encounter, and much easier to control than the others.
  • Vaults:5 is the most simple of the 3. It starts out hectic, but as soon as you can "stablize" and get a safe spot to regenerate in the corner, then it becomes fine. Raw strength is rewarded here more, I feel. It's also the only third rune that happens to avoid any mutation risk.
  • Abyss is the most RNG of the 3. Monsters spawn randomly, the rune spawns randomly. In 0.28, the Abyss' monsters give no XP/piety, but the rune itself gives 2 XLs. In 0.29, monsters give XP again, and you'll know where the rune location is. On the plus side, it can often be one of the fastest runes, and once you're in the rune chamber, its fairly easy with spare scrolls of blinking and a few buff potions.

The other big thing is that both Slime and Vaults are loaded with treasure. Treasure is often good, so this guide will cover both non-Abyss runes in greater detail.

Slime:1-4

Slime:1-4 is mostly set dressing. Slimes aren't worth XP, and there's no items worth noting. So when considering the large mutation threat, what most people do is dive floors 1-3 as soon as they kill all monsters in sight. Floor 4 is more important to clear because you'll want escape routes from the boss in the 5th level.

One of the most useful things to do is stay on the up stairs. Stairdancing works well, as the main threats are the masses of slimes and stacking corrosion. Both which won't matter if you can go up, kill 8 slimes, rest, and repeat. Watch out for the notable threats even more than usual, as they are specifically designed to make stairdancing not perfectly safe. Most aren't very common, though.

Slime is covered in acidic walls which will hurt you if you stand adjacent to them. The branch also has plenty of seperated areas, which can often be annoying (esp. on Slime:4).

Recommended: rCorr, Will+++(+), rC+

Notable Threats

  • Shining eye.png Shining eyes inflict bad mutations on you. Kill them as quickly as humanly possible. Use silver javelins. Shining eyes can't inflict you if monsters are in the way, but javelins pierce just fine. You don't want bad mutations.
  • Rockslime.png Rockslimes trample you, just like elephants and their ilk. They are also fast and not complete pushovers in melee (mostly a threat in groups). One of the higher priority to javelin before they get in melee. Keep in mind that you can't be moved if the rockslime would push you to a space already occupied by a monster.
  • Quicksilver ooze.png Quicksilver oozes engulf you, preventing you from using scrolls and godly abilities if you don't move. Not a threat on your own, but losing blink scrolls as an option is incredibly scary if you're already close to dying.

If you don't have Will+++(+) yet, watch out for golden eyes and their potentially permanent-confuse. Also floating eyes are an even higher priority, but aren't natural spawns (only appearing with other eyes or with Dissolution).

Slime:5

The first thing you do in Slime:5 is go down the stairs - all three, if possible. Go around and kill everything at the outside, circle around said outside, and don't go in the building. If any stairs are unexplored, go up and clear them out. Avoid alarm traps if possible. Monsters can trigger them, but traps can't be sprung if you can't see them. If you do get marked, either run to the stairs or quaff a potion of cancellation, then teleport.

If you see the Royal Jelly, run to the stairs or teleport. Most 'dangerous' slimes and TRJ are fast, with the bossman being as quick as a hasted player. Clear the entire outside safely, then we'll go on to the boss.

Notable Threat

The Royal Jelly.png The Royal Jelly (TRJ) is the boss of this infernal place. TRJ is fast, quite tanky, but most importantly, spawns high level jellies, worth no XP, whenever it gets hit. This is quickly overwhelming if you just tab into TRJ... so don't do that. TRJ itself won't go up the stairs, but any spawned slimes will. Killing the big slime is practically required to get the rune and everything else inside the central chambers. TRJ is vulnerable to silver.

The Strategy: Javelins

This is a fairly safe strategy that (somewhat) relies on Okawaru and its powers. There is a more sane method, but this should be both simple and reliable.

Required:

The strategy itself:

  1. Clear Slime:5 except for the central chamber and TRJ itself.
  2. Stand on the stairs. Try and lure TRJ near you - Slime is quiet, so shouting (t t) is more attractice than usual. Go down different stairs if possible. It's alright to be *near* the stairs, because you can haste and stand on them.
  3. When TRJ is in view, 6-7 tiles away (no closer), quaff Haste if you aren't on the stairs. Get to them. Teleport if much too close (4 tiles).
  4. When on the stair, use a throwing net; TRJ isn't immune. Then use Heroism and Finesse.
  5. Start throwing javelins. Use silver javelins, as many as you have. Use silver boomerangs if you don't have javelins and have a clear line of fire to TRJ.
  6. When TRJ spits enough jellies (so that you can hit 2+ jellies and TRJ at the same time) OR when TRJ gets "severely wounded", use the scroll of immolation.
  7. Continue throwing until things explode and TRJ dies. Then stairdance, but don't get too cocky. Better to just go down a different staircase, go to the central chamber, and let the slimes disperse.
  8. If TRJ gets within two tiles and you have no more nets, or 4+ slimes get adjacent to you, just go up and try again. HeroFinesse + Javelins can work on their own if you're high enough level.
  9. And you should be done! Grab the loot and rune and get out.

The Other (More Sane) Strategy

See User:Hordes/Guide_Appendix#Appendix_3 (WIP). This is less reliant on Okawaru/Throwing in particular, and thus well-suited to more characters.

Vaults:5

Immediately upon entering Vaults:5, you will be attacked by two dozen vault guards. Resist the urge to immolate them to bits, because they aren't the real threat. However, don't forget to buff up before entering; Heroism+Finesse should be enough, and you'll want Might and maybe Haste during your first entry in case scary things appear.

Notable Threats

  • Vault warden.png Vault wardens are the main deterrent torwads mindlessly stairdancing; they lock the stairs. A primary target to javelin out. Note that wardens won't retroactively lock the stairs; if you already hit the command to go up, it can't interrupt.
  • Tentacled monstrosity.png The same can't be said for a tentacled monstrosity, who will constrict you if it gets into melee range.
  • Ancient lich.png Ancient liches are the biggest "raw" threat in the Vaults. While they normally aren't too threatening once you get into melee, you always have to beware of sudden 100+ damage spikes, potentially boosted by haste. A scroll of silence is the strongest button against them, but limits your own options too.
  • Quicksilver dragon.png Quicksilver dragons end buffs, including Tele(port), but not including Heroism or Finesse. Super dangerous if you rely on said buffs.

The Strategy

Every time there are a few monsters next to you, go up the stairs, which brings up to 8 guards at a time. Do this over and over to stairdance them. There is a major threat that prevents this from working (hint: vault wardens), which you should have javelins for, but this is the basic strategy involved. Rebuff yourself with Okawaru abilities the first few times you go down, at least until the inital entrance party (guards + first set of monsters that wander in) ends.

The alternate strategy relies on getting to a random location and rolling with it. Usually this uses a scroll of teleportation, but an escape hatch (the wooden stairs down) or shaft will do the trick. Try to get to the corners and plow things and teleport way early, when things are getting too crowded. Thanks to the random placement and types of monsters, there isn't a process like there is for TRJ.

The Final Stretch: Zot & the Orb Run

With 3-4 runes in tow, the final challenge awaits. As long as you're in Realm of Zot, teleports from the scroll will take longer to kick in (minimum 8 turns). Use all your magic mapping here, because there's nowhere else to really use them on.

Recommended: rF++(+), rElec, Will+++(+)

Notable Threats

  • Quicksilver dragon.png Purple draconian.png Quicksilver dragons still have quicksilver bolt! And now purple draconians do, too.
  • Draconian shifter.png Draconian shifters have Blink Allies Encircling, which will immediately surround you with up to 8 allies in its sight, which ranges from scary to a two-turn death. On the plus side, draconians can't see invisible, so if you're surrounded by just mostly them then just drink a potion. Just remember that they are also purple draconians.
  • Moth of wrath.png A Moth of wrath can inflict berserk. You don't want berserk gold dragons.
  • Death cob.png Death cobs are extremely fast and will slow you. They aren't strong at all for a Zot enemy, but the slow can be extremely annoying. Thankfully, they also can't see invisible.
  • Curse toe.png Curse toes inflict torment. Potion of lignification will make you immune to torment, but at this stage, will likely lower your raw defenses. Another "make things dangerous if other things are nearby", though having other torment-vulnerable enemies in sight makes it less likely for torment to actually happen.
  • Orb of fire.png The infamous orb of fire deserves its reputation. Will be covered in Zot:5.

Zot:5

The final stretch of the final challenge. Zot:5 contains the "lungs", which can easily be identified by the surrounding stone walls. Explore everything outside the lungs first. Before charging the lungs, if you have spare digging wands, you can create hallways near the lungs.

There are two lungs, and two, tight hallways in each lung, Clear the middle out first, and make sure that nothing is on the "edge" of each side. You may want to stand just outside the lungs and use a scroll of noise.

Not advised: You may want to set off an alarm trap (if available), use a haste potion, run to a pre-set hallway, buff up, then javelin your way to victory. This might be required if both lungs are "trapped". As orbs of fire can pierce each other, you are going to need rF+++ (after using potion of resistance) for this to be remotely sane, instead of absolutely insane.

Notable Threats

  • Orb of fire.png The orb of fire is the final enemy. Go all out on them, have rF++(+), Okawaru buffs, Heroism+Finesse+Might. They have tons of health, deal tons of fire damage, and mutate you. Watch out for berserkitis, teleportitis, and -Scroll while mid combat. Vulnerable to silver.
  • Ancient lich.png An ancient lich can deal 140+ damage per turn on a max roll. Antimagic and silence work well on them, and they aren't too too bad on an "average" combat roll, but don't fight one with another enemy without Okawaru buffs + Haste.
  • Dread lich.png Don't let anything that torments you on the screen. Use fog, silence, potentially throwing to kill dread liches ASAP (but slower than OOFs). Also watch out for paralysis - Will++++ is required to fully resist it.
  • Killer Klown.png Killer Klowns Throw Klown Pie can turn you into a pig, which prevents you from using your weapon or any of your armour. Orb of fire lol. Also, they can inflict silence, -Potion, rF-... everything can be cancelled with a potion of cancellation, except -Potion, which a wand of quicksilver will end. Not too scary on their own, though. Vulnerable to silver. Duel if there's an orb or lich nearby.
  • Orb Guardian.png Not much of a threat on their own, orb guardians are standard fast melee threats that become a threat due to their high numbers, and extremely powerful when berserked.

See the Zot:5 page for more info.

What to do if teleported to the lungs

Assuming you're in danger (any monster in sight):

  • Haste.
  • If there is a teleport trap in vicinity, you're probably gonna want to use a blink scroll (or just walk to it).
  • Get to an edge as quickly as you can.
  • Use Duel if you need to regenerate.
  • Use Teleport -> Fog (if you have it) if you have no other option.

What to do if the lungs are trapped

Lungs are considered trapped if you can't get through them without going over a trap. This covers traps, going in order of "least worst trap to worst trap".

If both lungs are trapped, and one lung just has an alarm trap, you should: activate the trap -> potion of cancellation -> haste -> run. Or you can do what I outlined above; activate the trap -> haste -> run to hallway -> buff -> fight.

If both lungs are trapped, and one lung has dispersal/net traps, it's probably best to: 1. lure out monsters with multiple uses of scroll of noise, kill them and then 2. run over the trap. Dispersal should send you to the other side eventually, while you can break out of the net trap. You're gonna need a scroll of blinking to get out reliably.

If both lungs have teleport/Zot traps, then you're out of luck. Zot is ironically easier to tank than teleport (unless Int is <=5 due to risk of stat drain), but teleport doesn't hurt you when monsters step on it. Lure monsters in and hope for the best; just don't let monsters step on Zot traps. You might have to use scrolls of blinking to get in. It's defintely better to use the alarm trap trick, assuming you have access to one. It may be necessary to grind the Abyss for XP at this point. (The Abyss does not give XP in 0.28).

Orb Run

Once you've cleared Zot:5, get the orb and get out of here! Enemies of midgame to endgame quality will spawn everywhere throughout the Dungeon. Use G D 0 for autotravel to find the fastest route up. This doesn't take into account places that you can dig to. If you need to leave the floor immediately (as a monster spawns), use x < to locate the closest upstairs.

Don't fight anything that you can outrun (without items). Scrolls of blinking and haste are your best friends. Use throwing nets. This works well on most of the demonic enemies you fight, prioritize demons that can torment you.

Once you've reached the exit on D:1, go up and win the game. If you were planning on getting more runes, then you should've thought about that before grabbing the Orb!

Conclusion

So that's it, for now. Hopefully this is enough to learn the fundamentals and get past the early-game of DCSS.