Majang's Disquisition on the Nether Reaches

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This article contains advice from other players, and may be subjective and/or outdated. Read at your own risk and alter to fit your play style as necessary!
Version 0.20: This article may not be up to date for the latest stable release of Crawl.

A different walk-through presented the gargoyle earth elementalist worshiping Vehumet as a possible way to obtain the Orb for a first 3-rune victory as a caster. That walk-through deliberately stopped at the end-game, ignoring all post-end-game branches of Crawl that you need to visit to win a 15-rune victory. Hopefully that walk-through has helped a few players to get their first victory under their belt (by the way, has it ever occurred to anyone to create belts a a new type of equipment slot that would fit all species, except maybe octopodes?).

But your first victory should leave you hungry for more. Nobody can sleep well knowing that there are still lots of unexplored areas in Crawl. The trouble with these places is that it is so hard to develop a character to the point that you can visit them with any hope of surviving for longer than a few moves. And usually it takes at least one failed attempt before you make it out the place alive, with the rune in your inventory. Therefore even many experienced players have only a dim recollection of what it is like to fight your way through the various hells or through Pandemonium, not to speak of the Tomb or even a Ziggurat.

This second walk-through, then, intends to give you most of the information you need in order to survive in those lowest of all the places in the Crawl universe. If you follow this guide, again assume that you are going to die a couple of times, and always in increasingly more frustrating circumstances. It really hurts to lose a promising build that has collected already eight or nine runes in countless hours full of challenging battles. But eventually you will grow in experience about what you can and cannot do in a given place, and each time you die will make it more likely that you will survive the same situation next time.

The first three runes

This walk-through assumes that you will continue with the build that you developed in the 3-rune walk-through. That same character, a gargoyle that starts out as an earth elementalist, and that worships Vehumet, is in an excellent position to finish a 15-rune run, including one or two visits to a Ziggurat. It is important to note that not all possible character builds can do that. Defeating the Slime Pits crowd as a melee fighter appears to be an almost impossible proposition, except for Jiyva worshipers. Sneaking up as a cloak-and-dagger assassin on a foe like Cerebov may be successful once in a while, but almost certainly will get you killed.

Our trusty gargoyle has a lot of characteristics which give him a high chance of success:

  • The innate resistance to negative energy helps you to survive the many draining attacks of varying sources in the extended game.
  • This resistance, paired with a 50% chance of shrugging off torment attacks, leaves a gargoyle on average much healthier than most other characters after encounters with high-end mummies and fiend-type demons.
  • Many Earth Magic spells deal out irresistible elemental damage, making you well-equipped for defeating practically every enemy the game throws at you. Since you also learned some fire magic spells, including even Fire Storm, you have a truly lethal arsenal of very flexible weapons at your disposal.
  • Vehumet’s MP recovery makes sure that you will not run out of energy in a target-rich environment, such as a well populated Ziggurat level.
  • Your amazing AC boost lets you survive for many turns surrounded by hard-hitting melee characters, while you are focusing on killing off the really dangerous enemies in the second row.
  • Your rot resistance makes you suffer a lot less in the various hells and in the Tomb, where rotting is ladled out as a heavy punishment to almost every other intruder.
  • Although not quite as important as in the early and mid game, your immunity to poison and your electricity resistance eliminate other dangerous damage sources for you.

Of course there are alternatives. By no means is our character the only one capable of finishing a 15-rune run. Anyone with the ability to cast level-9 destructive spells can deal with the many dangers you will encounter in the underworld of Crawl. A deep elf, for example, if you manage to let it survive that long, is a killing machine without equal in the game. Unfortunately, because of its fragility, it needs to be played extremely carefully. A demonspawn, if lucky with its mutations, may end up better equipped than any other character for the extended game. The augmentation mutation lets you consistently cast even earth magic spells at full spell power; the robust mutation avails you with 450 HP, which even the most powerful enemies find rather difficult to burn through; and the Powered by Death mutation gives you almost immediate HP restoration in the midst of a fight, almost on par with Makhleb’s HP reward for killing enemies. But then again, you may be unlucky. A monstrous demonspawn caster is not likely to survive much beyond the mid game, and some mutations like Spirit Shield rather have a tendency to get you killed when you have to face a lot of enemies at once. In any case, if you succeed with this walk-through, it would be nice if you can try some of the other promising options.

Even if you stick to the gargoyle, you could try different approaches. Very promising is the worship of The Shining One (TSO), who gives you some incredible abilities which help you to survive almost all situations the extended game puts you into. You can develop your character as a follower of Vehumet, like you did before, and then commit apostasy about the time you finish with the Depths, the Elven Halls and Vaults 5. You start praying to TSO, clear out the Crypt and find yourself at full piety before you move on to tackle the Realm of Zot. Another good God for the extended game is Kikubaaqudgha. Of course, changing your religion is a somewhat risky option, and it will not be recommended for this, your first 15-rune victory. Here you remain faithful to Vehumet and work around the difficulties that present themselves to you because of that.

As for your strategy for getting to the late game, you also should follow the instructions given in the caster walk-through. After getting the two runes of the side-branches of the Lair, you first attack the first four levels of the Vaults to then vanquish all opposition in the Depths. If you follow the skills management as outlined in that walk-through, with the adjustments explained below, you should be able to cast Shatter comfortably with the use of a ring or staff of wizardry by the time you have liberated the Depths. Fire storm will still be lagging behind somewhat, but even that should be available soon – provided, of course, that you were able to learn these spells at all. Next in your plan of conquest will be the Elven Halls in their entirety, including the Hall of Blades, if you have not done that before; the experience you gain here should move your success rates up some more.

Having done that, you can next gain more easy experience in the Crypt. If you approach this carefully, you don’t need to fear that place. Only if you see a greater mummy, or the related unique Khufu, should you worry about getting killed. Even these guys you should be able to handle by now, as long as they don’t appear in groups. Just make sure that you have +++ rNeg, and you’ll be fine.

Being done down there, you should now have even Fire Storm available, with a Wizardry item and maybe still a potion of brilliance. Shatter should now come almost without miscasts, even unaided. Time to pay a visit to the final level of the Vaults, and to secure the third rune.

Here are some assumptions that should be met by your character by the time you decide to extend your game:

  • You have the two runes from the Lair side branches.
  • You have consistent access to Shatter and you have had a chance to learn Fire Storm.
  • You have found a Necronomicon. As a worshiper of Vehumet, you should not try to raid a Ziggurat without good access to the spell Death's Door.
  • At about the time to you can rely on your casting of Shatter and/or Fire Storm, you start training necromancy and charms. You need these two schools in order to cast Death's Door.
  • You have permanent protection against negative energy; at least two levels, ideally three.
  • You have good protection against cold and fire damage, again at least two levels for both. This can be accomplished by swapping rings if circumstances change.
  • You have a source of see invisible. It is possible to survive everything without it until entering the Realm of Zot, unless you have to get a rune out of the Spider's Nest. But ghost moths will pester you from now on, from Zot throughout most of the other Branches, and it will not do to not see them as a caster.

If these things are not all in place, you should probably not try for a 15-rune run. Maybe later, with more experience, you can be more daring, but for now, just grab the Orb of Zot when it presents itself to you, and make a run for the exit. Of course, if you don’t mind losing, you can move on and see how far you can make it. There is always the possibility that you find what is missing for your build early on in the extended game.

Your basic problem and its solution

Undertaking a 15-rune run means that you are going to face difficulties which are incomparably harder than anything that you have encountered so far, except maybe Vaults 5 and Zot 5. Imagine yourself thrown into a very challenging level of the Depths, with wave after wave of monsters attacking you from all sides, but without the possibility of escaping or even resting until you have eliminated the entire opposition. In some extended game environments you won’t find any rest at all, but you will be in a constant struggle to keep your HP and MP levels up, while at the same time keeping an eye on your other stats, which are also under constant attack. Stair dancing is no longer an option to whittle the opposition down.

Expect the following:

  • Malmutations – in almost all branches you will find monsters that throw bad mutations at you as soon as you are in their line of sight (LOS).
  • Corrosion – the trip to collect the rune from the Slime Pits and some monster encounters will have you badly corroded a number of times. As a caster corrosion is not as severe a problem for you as for a melee fighter, who finds himself all of a sudden without any attack or defensive capabilities. Your spells do not suffer from corrosion.
  • Torment – in Pandemonium, in some of the hells and in the Tomb you will encounter countless monsters that torment you. If a torment succeeds, it will reduce your current HP by 50%, although this is slightly reduced by your innate resistance to negative energy. If you have a number of foes tormenting you at the same time, it does not take much for another monster (maybe another mummy smiting you) to end your 15-rune run prematurely.
  • Hellfire – you will have encountered hellfire already in the Elven Halls or from some high-end draconians. But in Pandemonium and some of the hells you may encounter whole groups of enemies capable of hurling hellfire at you. Nothing in this game mitigates the destructive effect of hellfire, except for a high HP pool, and as a gargoyle you don’t have that.
  • Stat draining – visiting the Tomb or the hells will almost certainly expose you to the reduction of your INT, DEX or STR levels. Mummies like to get back at you in this way through their death curses. In the hells, stat draining is one of the many possible effects of the Mystical Force that turns Hell into hell for most players. The stats slowly restore themselves by gaining experience, but your abilities will be severely diminished throughout that restoration period.
  • Draining – the deeper you get in the game, the more likely you are to encounter foes that drain you. Fortunately, as a gargoyle you have a natural protection against this, but without further equipment you are not immune.
  • Paralysis – at this stage you should be able to shrug off most monster-induced attempts at paralyzing you, but your magic resistance is still likely to be low, and hell-induced paralysis cannot be countered. Being paralyzed in the middle of a crowded battlefield could end the game for you.
  • Confusion – the same is true for confusion, which is also an unpopular hell-induced punishment.
  • Fire storms – Some of your enemies in the lower reaches can unleash a fire storm at you. You know how powerful these things are, and this time you would be on the receiving end.
  • Lehudib's Crystal Spear (LCS) – this is another frequently used spell of high-end monsters. Your high AC will help, but even you can’t take too much of this.
  • Shatter and Lee's Rapid Deconstruction (LRD) – if you fear these spells in the hands of a monster, you probably don’t fear them enough. As a gargoyle you are particularly vulnerable to them. Flight at least reduces the damage of Shatter.
  • Attacks on your spell success rate – Demonspawn Warmongers do this to you. If they can apply this to you repeatedly, you may find yourself unable to cast your best spells. This effect goes away with time, but you may not have this time.
  • Attacks on your MP pool – you will have a lot more encounters with ghost moths and eyes of draining. If you don’t see these in time, you may find yourself without the ability to cast any spells, and you turn into a melee fighter.
  • Silence – some monsters, particularly the silent spectre, make all spellcasting on your part impossible. Unfortunately, they tend to surround themselves with powerful demons, who can cast their destructive spells even in a silent environment.

Most of these dangers cannot be countered at all. Your biggest problem, however, are the sheer multitudes of very potent enemies that you need to overcome sometimes. Fighting them will eventually reduce your MP and your HP pools. Vehumet deals admirably with your MP levels, so that you only occasionally will have to drink a potion of magic or waste valuable time to channel energy. But what about your HP? Vehumet does not help with that, and a potion of heal wounds does not restore enough HP in a turn to keep up with extended-game damage levels. Your supply of those potions is limited anyway. Makhleb is the god who restores your HP, but he has little else to offer for casters. TSO restores both HP and MP, but only if you kill evil monsters. Some of the places in the Nether Reaches, however, teem with holy monsters, and it is very difficult to survive them as a fellow believer.

That is why this walk-through places a high emphasis on Death's Door. This evil spell has two effects: It reduces your HP to almost zero, but in turn renders you absolutely indestructible for a short time. This short time is usually long enough to destroy all and everything around you, and then retreat to a safe corner for recuperation after the spell runs out; it is therefore less dangerous than it sounds, but certainly not without risk. Unfortunately, as a level-8 necromancy and charms spell it requires quite a heavy investment into spell schools you wouldn’t otherwise invest in. This is a big problem for a build that already spreads all gained experience very thinly over a lot of skills that need to be trained before reaching the late game.

If you therefore have a mind to attempt a 15-rune run, you can decide not to train any armour or shields skills. As a gargoyle you can do without these defensive boosts, as you are already quite well protected to begin with. Or if you really want to train them, because you have found an awesome artefact buckler or leather armour, stop training immediately after you reach the relatively easy skill level of five. You could even try to do without any weapons skill, and just restrict yourself to spells or unskilled fumbling with highly enchanted weapons. This in turn should help you to invest more experience into the magic skills you need.

If you restrict your skills development in this way, you could then start training necromancy and charms as soon as you get your hands on a spell-book containing a sufficiently cheap spell. Regeneration is a very useful spell that may save your tough hide a couple of times long before you even get close to casting Death’s Door. You should wait at least until the time when Vehumet gives you his final spell gifts before you invest the three spell slots into Regeneration. You’ll want your charms and necromancy skills at least in the range of 17 before you are comfortable casting Death’s Door. It will not do to be already dangerously low on HP and then waste a full turn on a miscast.

Determining the next step

You have now reached the point where the end-game is almost completed. To win a three-rune victory, you just need to walk into the Realm of Zot and fight yourself to the Orb, retrieve it and go home. This was the object of the other walk-through, but this time you are determined to go further and not leave the dungeon without all 15 runes and the loot of at least one, maybe two Ziggurats.

If at all possible, your next step will be the Realm of Zot – clear all five levels, but leave the Orb where it is. There is an awful lot of experience to be gained in Zot, with all those draconians, orbs of fire, orb guardians, ancient liches, ghost moths, and a few extras. But it is very difficult to survive in Zot without see invisible, resist mutation and at least two levels of fire resistance. If this is your fate, the only Branch that you still may enter is the Tomb, as usually nothing mutates you down there, and see invisible is not that important. All those mummies and undead monsters also run away from fire, and don’t tend to use it against you. But if you can avoid it, you don’t yet want to enter the Tomb, as you need to be much stronger in your magic skills to not feel out of your league in that place. The good thing about the Tomb, though, is the vast amount of loot to be found on the third level. There is a fair chance that you’ll get just what you need.

Another place that you may survive is the Vestibule of Hell, which you can access through one of the portals you find on all five levels of the Depths. In general, you are now ready to liberate this place, but it will only delay the inevitable, as there is absolutely no loot in the Vestibule that will fill any of the gaps in your resistances.

A final, rather desperate option you may have is to already enter the Ziggurat that awaits your visit on one of the Depths levels. At this stage you can only hope to survive the first ten or 15 levels, and the rest would be wasted. But a Ziggurat has an incredible amount of amazing loot, and you would be almost guaranteed to find some of the things you need, and more. Unfortunately, there is no telling beforehand what opposition is lurking on a given floor before you enter it, and it could be just the very monsters early on that you try to avoid in Zot.

Therefore for our purposes here we assume that you will first clear out Zot, quite according to the same game plan that was presented in the other walk-through. The only difference now is that you leave the Orb in place and retreat from Zot until the very end, when you pick up the Orb for your final way up.

Once you have cleared all five levels of Zot, you have entered the extended game for real, and these are the places you still plan to visit:

  • The Abyss – on its third, fourth or fifth level you will find the Abyssal Rune of Zot.
  • The Slime Pits – on its 5th level you need to kill The Royal Jelly before you can pick out the Slimy Rune of Zot from a huge hoard of useful loot.
  • The Tomb of the Ancients – a place full of deadly undead monsters, again with vast halls of treasure awaiting the one who manages to purify its three levels. It contains the Golden Rune of Zot.
  • Pandemonium – once entered, there is no easy return to a safe place. An infinite number of levels contains five levels holding the Demonic Rune of Zot, The Dark Rune of Zot, the Fiery Rune of Zot, the Glowing Rune of Zot and the Magical Rune of Zot. On each level you are likely to encounter one mighty Pandemonium lord (Pan Lord).
  • Cocytus – one of the four hells, an icy environment. On the 7th level you need to kill Antaeus before you can retrieve the Icy Rune of Zot.
  • Gehenna – one of the four hells, a fiery environment. On the 7th level you need to kill Asmodeus and make off with the Obsidian Rune of Zot.
  • Tartarus – one of the four hells, populated by undead and by unholy demons. On the 7th level you need to kill Ereshkigal before you can steal the Bony Rune of Zot.
  • Dis – one of the four hells, populated by extremely durable and dangerous monsters. On the 7th level you need to kill Dispater and grab his Iron Rune of Zot.
  • A Ziggurat is a place made up of 27 increasingly challenging levels full of amazing loot and incredible amounts of experience. One successful Ziggurat run will eliminate most of your skill training gaps.

There are not many critical order issues with regard to these branches. You can work them down methodically, or you can jump merrily between excursions to the hells and to Pandemonium. The only thing you need to consider is that it is much easier to get out of Pandemonium if you have already secured the rune from the Abyss. This rune should therefore be very high on your shopping list. Otherwise, there seem to be differing preferences among players about which branch to visit first and which one last. Most would probably agree that you should save up your complete Ziggurat run for the end, but lack of equipment may force you to peek into one much earlier.

In the following all these branches will be presented in detail, and the given order may be one that you want to follow. But feel free to change this around a bit.

The Vestibule of Hell

The Vestibule of Hell is a one-level place that provides access to the four hells Cocytus, Gehenna, Dis and Tartarus. You’ll find one portal to the Vestibule on each level of the Depths, and sometimes you’ll also see an entrance on the deepest level of the Lair. The Vestibule behaves like other places you have visited before in the sense that you can easily enter and leave through the access portals. Leaving the Vestibule will always get you back to the portal where you entered it. Entering the Vestibule for the first time is not as risky as entering the Abyss or Pandemonium, where you cannot just check out when things are getting dicey.

You can and should attack the Vestibule quite early in the extended game. You should be strong enough as soon as you have reliable access to Fire Storm and Shatter. What you also need is a high-powered one-target or bolt spell like iron shot, bolt of magma or LCS, and LRD, but all these are a matter of course for you.

The entrance to the Vestibule usually places you right in the middle of the level, and always within LOS of Geryon, the unique who is the warden of this place. He looks somewhat friendly, but that is deceptive, as he will do anything in his power to get you out of here. His powers are considerable. At first Geryon is usually alone, but this is deceptive, too, as there are many more characters lurking in the unexplored areas behind. On top of that, Geryon possesses a horn into which he will blow once every few turns to call up some powerful demons from the various branches of Hell. Needless to say, the more demons he calls up, the more difficult it will be for you to kill Geryon. His minions tend to surround him, and he directs the battle from the back row where you cannot reach him easily with your best spells.

This means that in the beginning of the battle you will try to get Geryon within reach of your best one-target or bolt spell, and then grind him down before his reinforcements arrive. If he is already low on HP, you might be able to finish him off with Shatter or a well-placed fire storm. Because he flies, Shatter on its own will not be very effective.

Once he is down, it will probably be necessary for you to retreat upstairs. Make sure that you always have a clear line of retreat to the stairs. Some of the monsters down here may be able to trample you off the stairs before you get up; when this happens to you with low HP, this is going to be very dangerous. If you find yourself cut off from retreat up the stairs, your best bet may be to teleport away, hoping that you find yourself with enough time on your hands to recover the initiative.

Once in a while you may encounter a special guest in the Vestibule who scares the heck out of most players. Murray is a unique curse skull with frightening abilities. But, after all, he is just a bone head, and you have just the right thing for dealing with bone heads: LRD will kill him quickly and at the same time destroy all the bad guys in his blast radius.

When the opposition stops coming in from all directions, you will have a little mopping up to do. In all four directions you find an area which contains a portal to one of the four hells, and the environment is somewhat designed around the theme of that hell. All places are defended, but there is nothing you can’t handle. When you have dispatched the last enemy, you have a real clean-up job ahead of you, as you want to use the Vestibule as the new location for your advanced operational cache, closer to the action of the extended game. Because the Vestibule has exits to all levels of the Depths, you are close to Abyss, Pandemonium, Zot and even the Vaults. Therefore clean up a large area from all debris of your conquest, and organize yourself a well-sorted warehouse. You won’t regret the time you invest into this work.

Geryon, of course, drops his horn when he dies, so you’ll want to frame it and put it in a place of honor in the Vestibule. Don’t bother to use it as an evocable item, as it summons demons which just as likely turn against you.

Talking about all these items, this provides the opportunity to sneak in some timely advice about your item collection habits. Up till now, you’ll have probably indiscriminately collected all and anything that was framed in green by your auto-pickup settings, and these come from the computer if you have not tweaked them already. The settings assume that you really want every wand of flame lying around, and any scroll of fog. Since you have only 52 inventory slots, you therefore constantly find yourself dropping junk in your cache. But now you will enter branches which will make it impossible to clear your inventory at short intervals. In the late game you will come across heaps of really awesome loot, and if you are cluttered up too much, you’ll find yourself constantly making hard choices about what to take and what to leave. This is felt most acutely in a Ziggurat, where you are surrounded by items, and only have very few open inventory slots. It is best to think carefully what items you really need, and then ignore the rest. So here is some advice on what you should and should not grab up from the floor once you have reached the extended game. You’ll need a lot less than you may think. After reading this following list, open the info menu and choose List of Discovered Item Types. Here you can toggle whether in the future you want to automatically pick up an item type. Change most of them to no automatic pick-up.

  • Scrolls. You’ll want to collect scrolls of magig mapping, identify, teleportation, blinking, remove curse, holy word and recharging, and you want to carry all of them with you all the time. Scrolls of acquirement you also want to pick up, of course. If it takes a long time until you make it back to your cache, you should not read these right away, but collect them. Three scrolls of acquirement take less space than the three awesome items you potentially get out of them (then again, you’re probably going to throw away at least two of them). Continue picking up each scroll of enchant armor, at least for some time, but if you don’t use them right away, you want to drop them in your cache as soon as you get there next time. Eventually you may find yourself wearing artefact armor at all possible slots. When you can’t think of any regular enchantable piece of armor that would improve your outfit, stop collecting the scroll. Now, a scroll of enchant weapon, and a scroll of brand weapon – these are awesome scrolls for melee fighters, who constantly need to optimize their arsenal. But since you are either blasting your enemies, or beating them over the head with your magical staff (preferably a staff of earth), and because magical staves can’t be enchanted at all, these scrolls are entirely useless to you. Of course you might envision getting a demon whip all the way up to +9 enchantment, but you will find that you will never use it, as switching weapons usually costs too much time, and your staff of earth is already as good as a weapon can get. Make a bold decision to forgo all mundane brutal weapons, and you can dispense with all of their accessories. Scroll of fog – although this may be a good thing to have in theory, you will find that you will never waste the turn it takes to read it. If you need to avoid ranged foes, either kill them quickly, or run for cover. You may also have enjoyed the fireworks you created with the scroll of immolation in Vaults 5, but if you have no pyromaniac inclination, you are soon powerful enough to be able to dispense with this little gimmick.
  • Most wands you can easily leave alone. If you collect all wands that can be potentially useful, you’ll have no other inventory slots left. Keep a wand each of acid and iceblast, a wand of scattershot, a wand of clouds. That’s it. And don’t carry around three or four of the same wands; instead, carry every scroll of recharging you have, and recharge your wands as you need them. Over time you will have many more of these scrolls than you ever need. If you already have more than five scrolls of amnesia in your cache, you don’t need to collect any more.
  • Evocables – your strong elemental spells, combined with Vehumet’s HP recovery, will make most evocables just a big clutter to your inventory. Lightning rods need to be wielded before they can be fired, and they will never be as strong as your conjurations. As a backup you still have your wands (which you don’t need to wield), and of course your lethal staff of earth to whack your enemies to death.
  • You will want to carry many different potions: heal wounds, curing, magic, haste, cancellation, brilliance and ambrosia. These, again, you’ll want with you at all times. A potion of experience you drink as soon as you pick it up, so it won’t be a burden to you. A potion of mutation you will probably want to quaff as soon as you have an unacceptable bad mutation on you. Hopefully you will find many more of them on the deeper levels, and it is a good idea to have your whole stack around, since the really bad genetic modifications tend to hit you far from your cache. On the other hand drop all your potions of might, agility, berserk rage and invisibility, as these buffs become less and less useful the deeper you go. If you have sufficient resistances through armour, staves and jewelery, you should also leave your potions of resistance at home.
  • Once you have identified a certain type of jewelery, you should right away stop any auto-pickup of it. You are likely to find many artefact rings and amulets, and after a while you will only wear those. At your cache, try around a bit with your various dressing and jewelery options to maximize the resistances needed for a particular branch, and have your stats, especially intelligence, as high as possible. When you see a new artefact item, identify it with a scroll of identify (you should not run out of those any more) and see whether that improves your current set-up or not. If not, it is usually best to throw it away. Don’t identify artefact items by just putting them on, as many of them may have damaging effects.
  • Do not wear any plain amulet of the gourmand anymore. Eat perma-food, and carry the complete stack of either bread rations or meat rations with you. Keep yourself well fed and feed on the little tidbits you find lying around, saving your ration stack. That should keep your inventory tidy. Do not hesitate to throw away five fruits when your pack gets full. Better than not having a slot for an awesome artefact item.
  • Once you have rounded out your spell-set, don’t bother collecting every book lying around, as you will find many of them. If you have Fire Storm, Shatter, Ignition, Ring of Flames, LCS and/or Iron Shot, LRD, Magma Bolt, Bolt of Fire, Death's Door, Apportation, Regeneration, and access to Glaciate, Controlled Blink and Passwall, then you have all the spells you will ever need to win this game. You can ignore all other spell books. Manuals, of course, are a different matter, and you should check what each has to offer. Even very late in the game a manual for a skill you want to train is a great find. But don’t bother to keep a manual of slings just because you find it somewhere.
  • If you have not done so by now, forget the Sandblast spell. Then throw away all stones and make sure they don’t get picked up any more.

The Abyss

The Abyss is the only extended-game-branch that you may have seen already, as many players get thrown in there involuntarily, often with a fatal outcome. If that ever happened to you (and it will have), your only objective was to find the next exit, and maybe to collect the odd piece of loot that you find on the way. Loot is plentiful in the Abyss. Exits, however, are very scarce.

Now, this time you go in there with a purpose, and that is to collect the Abyssal Rune of Zot that you may find somewhere on the third, fourth or fifth level of the Abyss. Fortunately, by now the many inhabitants will find it a lot more difficult to kill you off during your errand. Still, you are not likely to enjoy your stay down here, and you need to expect to come out changed for the worse, if you come out at all.

First some nuts and bolts about the Abyss. If you think it is time to collect the Abyssal Rune, you don’t have to wait for a monster to banish you. Somewhere in the Depths you are guaranteed to find at least one portal to the Abyss. Entering here means that you will also get back to that place once you find an exit. As you well know, in the Abyss you can walk for ever in any direction without reaching the end. Each of the five levels is endless. Not only that, they also change and shift around constantly, so that each turn will reveal slight changes to the walls and other structures. This also means that it is impossible to map visited terrain, and you find yourself mostly in the dark about anything but your immediate surroundings. You don’t get lost in the Abyss, you are lost in it all the time.

Structures of interest are two kinds of portals. The one glowing in a darker colour will lead you to a deeper level of the Abyss, which will also be more challenging to you than the one you are currently on. On the fifth level, of course, you will find no such portal. Portals glowing in a brighter colour are the ones leading out of the Abyss. In your earlier visits that was the only thing you ever cared for, but now, when one generates, you will make the hard decision to ignore them and move on in search of the only structure of real interest, the vault-like arrangements of walls or sometimes trees which contain the Abyssal Rune. There is a zero-chance that you find that structure on the first two levels. You need to go deeper, which in itself can take a while. Once you are on the third level, you will have to make the choice whether you want to go deeper through the next portal, or stay on the level. If you stay, looking around may take a very long time. The deeper you go, the more likely the rune vault is going to be generated at any given turn, but your opposition will also be more formidable. You may first just start out looking around on the third level, and if you feel that you can handle all enemies with ease, you can then decide to move further down.

No matter what you do, unlike in all other branches, you will never succeed to clear an Abyss level of most of its inhabitants. Enemies get spawned constantly, and there won’t be any meaningful rest for you during which you can peacefully recharge your MP or HP. If you are unlucky, you may even get swamped with dangerous enemies approaching you from all sides. It is therefore best to keep a low profile in the Abyss. Too bad that your best spells are very noisy: Casting LRD or Shatter will ensure that every monster and its brother will track you down immediately. If feasible, you should therefore try to kill monsters with your weapon or with a less noisy bolt- or shot-spell, or to even ignore them entirely and escape in a different direction. Unfortunately, this is not feasible very often. Many of the monsters in the Abyss may malmutate you as soon as they become aware of you. The only way to prevent them is to kill them fast, which almost always requires some noisemaking. In this regard you should constantly keep your eyes open for cacodemons (yellow) and neqoxecs (pink) – don’t give them even a turn to cast their filthy spells at you. This is also true for wretched stars, particularly nasty and very frequent inhabitants of the Abyss. Fortunately, the bad DNA received this way will work itself out of your system on killing a few enemies. But theses mutations pile on quickly, and the wretched stars don’t die that fast. You can find yourself crippled by very debilitating stat changes for quite some time.

Other monsters you need to consider in the Abyss: apocalypse crabs surround you with dangerous, sometimes contaminating fog. A starcursed mass shrieks you to death, and separates or re-combines at wish. They are very difficult to finish off. A lurking horror approaches you to torment you by way of its own disintegration. Spatial maelstroms hit you hard with translocational energy. And then you can find all kinds of heavy-duty demons, undead, and lots of other monsters you don’t enjoy meeting.

Since you are going to be swamped at least a couple of times in the Abyss, it is very necessary to bring along all your potions of healing and magic that you can get your hands on. You are likely to burn through most of them during your long stay. Although mostly useless otherwise, a potion of ambrosia has its finest hour in the Abyss. It recharges and heals you almost completely within a few turns, at the price of having you confused while its effect lasts. In the very short breaks between fights in the Abyss this is just what you need. It may even be worth drinking in the middle of a fight, as the recharge and healing rate easily out-paces the damage you sustain from the monsters around you while you are confused.

One exasperating feature of the Abyss is that once in a while you get teleported randomly and without prior warning. For some reason this tends to happen always when you are very close to reaching the portal that just beckoned to you from the horizon, or when an amazing piece of loot, including the rune, is about to be picked up. It is therefore good to have learned the apportation spell before entering the Abyss. It helps you a lot with acquiring the goodies that are lying around. Just make sure that you are not flying over lava or deep water when you apportate something towards you, or you can kiss the item good-bye. In any case, if you see anything that you want to reach or grab in the Abyss, do it at once without delay, as you may otherwise miss the opportunity.

The secret to success (and to survival, which is almost the same) in the Abyss is to keep moving. Rune generation is based on the number of tiles revealed to you. The more you move (always towards unexplored area), the more new tiles you see, the sooner you find the rune. Of course, sometimes you will be happy to have found a quiet corner where monsters leave you alone while you are healing up. Exits generate whenever you have killed a good number of monsters, but you don't need an exit before you have the rune.

As said above, this rune is always found in a vault-like structure (only on level 3 or below). When you see something with doors, or with anything resembling a symmetrical lay-out, or a ring of trees, or a place guarded by lightning spires, go and investigate. Chances are that you have found the rune. But you need to be careful, as there is usual a strong guard placed around the rune. If you see the rune, apportate it towards you, pick it up and run away. Once you have the rune, exit generation receives a massive boost, so you can expect to see the portal to safety soon.

One final word of warning: When you are surrounded, teleporting away is a good idea. But most teleports take much longer than outside the Abyss. After initiating the teleport you therefore have to survive a lot more turns before you are (hopefully) in the clear.

The Slime Pits

The entrance to the Slime Pits is placed on the 5th or 6th level of the Lair. Having seen it that early, you may have tried it once as an unsuspecting player, and that will have quickly taught you to not to put your nose into places you don’t belong, and to treat unknown areas with respect. This attitude is entirely appropriate regarding the Slime Pits. Some characters should never walk in there. Even if you have corrosion resistance, the high number of aggressive jellies spitting their globs at you will have your equipment corroded to the point of rendering it entirely useless within a few hits. What good is even an executioner's axe when it is corroded with -16? You won’t hit a thing with hit, and if you do, you won’t do any damage. Melee fighters therefore better go for a 14-rune run, or at least they should leave the Slime Pits for the end and then convert to Jiyva to retrieve the rune unmolested.

Being a caster, the situation looks more hopeful for you. Corrosion still makes you more vulnerable to attacks, but at least that does not affect the accuracy or the damage output of your spells. You can kill whatever you find down there, and that gives you a good chance to retrieve the rune. Still, you should not take the Slime Pits lightly. It is one of the few places where your nature as a gargoyle does not give you much of an advantage. The two most dangerous (and very frequent attacks) are acid (of course) and malmutations. Inherently, you have nothing to protect against either. It seems to be wise to protect yourself with a ring of resist corrosion. And you really should not enter the Slime Pits without a few potions of mutation for treatment.

Considering their almost insubstantial nature, jellies are rather difficult to kill. Even your best bolt or shot spells usually take more than one shot to bring an azure jelly or an acid blob down. They often attack in groups, so area-of-effect spells are good. Distressingly, Shatter does not work very well against jellies, as they somehow tend to absorb the damage with their gelatinous bodies. The best spell against jellies is Fire Storm, as it takes care of most jellies on the first cast. By now you should be able to cast Fire Storm with some confidence, although you will still suffer greatly from spell hunger. It also works against the various eyeballs that levitate through these levels. Eyeballs definitely need to be taken seriously, although they tend to drop very fast from your shots or fireballs. LRD also works well, if you can catch the eyes in the blast radius. The shining eye was already mentioned. Kill it on first sight, and don’t feel ashamed to use a Fire Storm against it. Golden eyes confuse you, and giant eyeballs paralyze you. You can’t afford either while dodging jellies, so you need to prioritize them. Remember, your magic resistance is probably still quite low.

The Slime Pits have five levels, by the way, and some of the first four consist of two, often three unconnected areas. Even when all places are technically connected, you may still not be able to cross certain stretches where the walls are getting too close to each other. This is because the walls are corrosive, too, and you should avoid coming near them. The game marks the dangerous spots in an eerie greenish colour, and auto-travel will also not touch them.

In any case, this is a branch where voracious jellies are roaming free, and you are guaranteed to not find a single piece of loot on the first four levels. You may therefore decide to cut your visit short by going deep as quickly as possible, without careful exploration of where all these different stairwells go to. All you are missing out on is experience. One of the most rewarding kills of the game would be Dissolution, the only intelligent being in this Branch (except you, of course); he is a slime glob that likes to summon eyeballs against you. He is the only unique you expect to encounter in the Slime Pits, except of course for The Royal Jelly (TRJ).

TRJ is the boss of the fifth and final level, and you’ll have to kill it in order to retrieve all the many treasures that are well hidden behind strong walls. This level is one huge open area, with four hermetically sealed treasure vaults placed in the middle, and the three staircases usually very close to the outer walls, out of sight of the treasure vaults. Because all is so very open here, you are vulnerable to dangerous attacks from several sides simultaneously. Explore the area around your entry point carefully. It may be a good idea to try all three sets of stairs to get a feel for the situation. Whenever you come down, make some noise, kill those jellies or eyeballs which lurk around, and see what happens. Normally, TRJ will gravitate to one of the places where you announce your presence. When you seem him, you hopefully still have a good supply of MP, because you are going to need it. Try to engage TRJ on or near the up-stairs. If you are within sight of the treasure vaults, do not use Shatter under any circumstances, as this would probably result in many of the goodies being eaten by jellies. Instead, hit TRJ with a volley of Fire Storms, if possible amplified by casting Ring of Flames first. It usually takes three or four Storms to bring TRJ down. The moment you apply some damage, TRJ will spawn great numbers of dangerous jellies. Because they are summoned, their killing will not restore your MP. If you have not seen TRJ yet, but you are killing jellies whose demise you find “strangely unrewarding”, it means that you have hit TRJ with a Fire Storm outside your LOS, and he has started to release his summons. Keep throwing Fire Storms into this area, and you may kill TRJ without ever seeing him. When he dies, the game gives the message “with an infernal noise, the power ruling this place vanishes”. Expect to be getting very low on MP before TRJ finally dissolves into goo. You may have to retreat upstairs for a while to recover your energy and even some health.

This would be quite distressing, as you then cannot defend all your prospective treasure against the remaining jellies' appetite; killing TRJ had the effect of breaching the walls surrounding all these goodies. You and/or the jellies are now free to reap them for your very different purposes. Some of the stuff in this treasure vault tends to be quite awsome, so don't let it get slurped away by the wobblies!

I hope you made it out of the Slime Pits alive, and not too badly deformed. Before you move on, you may have to quaff a potion of mutation, or two, to eliminate all your unacceptably bad mutations (and, sadly, also some of the few good ones you may have acquired by now). The good news is that now you have completed all the quests awaiting you in the Lair of Beasts. You won’t have to return here for this game. All the other action will now be much further down, near your cache in the Vestibule.

The Tomb of the Ancients

It is difficult to say when would be the best time to visit the Tomb of the Ancients. Everyone would agree that this is probably one of the nastiest places in the game, and that in itself would be a good reason to leave it on your to-do-list for as long as possible. But there are good reasons to attempt this job before you approach the three complicated end game branches Pandemonium, Hells and the Ziggurat. At least you can leave the first floor of the Tomb through a normal exit right where you enter. It will also be nice to have already successfully dealt with a bigger number of high-end mummies before you encounter them on some of the floors of a Ziggurat.

Except for the last level of the Crypt, all mummies you have encountered so far have been deceptively harmless. They are susceptible to fire damage and seem to crumble as soon as you look at them. This is still mostly true for most mummies in the Tomb, but the greater mummy certainly takes a lot of abuse before it rolls over. Expect to have to use at least two, if not three, fire storms to finish them, and certainly at least two applications of Shatter. During this time the greater mummy will hit you with torment and dangerous smiting attacks, against which you are basically helpless. If you have to engage two or three greater mummies at the same time, it won’t take long for them to bring your HP all the way down. And killing them is only part of the problem. Once they unravel, they apply mummy death curses against you, and these can be just as dangerous to you as what these mummies do to you when they are still at large. You find yourself surrounded by reapers, who hit you from afar with enchanted scythes. You are racked with pain-attacks, which take a big chunk out of your HP pool. Your basic stats Intelligence, Dexterity and Strength may be slashed by up to seven points at a time. Well, there are some good things about being a gargoyle here. Your negative energy resistance and your torment resistance help a lot, and the rotting death curse of some mummies means nothing to you. In the same way you can ignore anything that Death scarabs can do to you.

Fire Storm, Shatter and your various bolt and shot spells are all top-notch weapons against mummies. Shatter even allows you to ignore the dangerous guided tour that the mummies have arranged by the devious layout of their branch. You may decide to learn dispel undead for your trip down there, which is also an effective one-target spell against mummies. But your conjurations and elemental magic probably work better.

This is what you need: have your negative energy resistance all the way up, and otherwise boost your intelligence as much as you can. Your wand of iceblast you can leave at home, because most enemies here are resistant anyway. If you have, bring both a staff of fire and staff of earth with you, to boost your spell power even further. With that and with casting Ring of Flames, at least your Fire Storm should reach 9+, which will hurt the stiffs mightily. Bring some potions of haste, and as many scrolls of blinking as you can carry. If possible, have lots of inventory slots empty, to have place for all the loot you find on the final floor. In the Tomb nobody is going to fling fire at you, so you can trade this resistance against more important things.

It will be a nice life insurance for you if by now you have Death’s Door available, maybe with the help of a wizardry item, and a potion of brilliance. The tomb is also a good place to read a scroll of holy word, if you have one by now.

When you enter the Tomb, you are placed at one corner of a rectangular wide open area with a large structure in the center. If you read a scroll of magic mapping, you will notice that the entrance to this structure will be almost at the other side of the level, and you have to go around the structure. You will also notice that there is a long corridor between the inner and the outer walls of this structure that can only be accessed by stairs from the lower level. This is the guided tour mentioned before.

You will therefore start by moving around the structure and fight all (rather weak) enemies that you encounter on the way. Be careful not to use Shatter for these fights, as this would get you quickly into trouble. You have to take every step here very carefully, always making sure that you are not running into too many enemies at once. When you get to a corner of the central structure where the next side leads you to the entrance area, you will soon be swarmed by a gang of fast sphinxes. They like to confuse and paralyze you before they finish you off with powerful smiting attacks. Confusion you can counter by drinking a potion of curing, and by now you will have many of those. But if they manage to paralyze you, you are practically doomed. A Fire Storm or two should take care of them. Again, don’t use Shatter here; they fly anyway.

After dealing with the sphinxes, don’t proceed to the entrance area, but retrace your steps to make it all the way around past the exit to the other side of the structure. You might encounter a few more sphinxes before you finally get to the entrance of the structure. Once the sphinxes here are gone, you are not likely to see many more of them down here.

The entrance corridor is flanked by two rows of sarcophagi, which you can use as a base for LRD attacks. If the doors are still closed, blast them open from far with LRD, and then retreat to await the inevitable attack by high-end mummies in some distance. It is extremely important here that you have some control over how many mummies you fight at any given time. Take your time to study the emerging mummies. You can kill all of them quickly with fireball or LRD, except greater mummies. You see them, you blast them with nothing short of Fire Storm, and then run for cover. You will have to do a lot of hit and run in this way, just to make it inside this structure. You may even have to undertake a strategic retreat once or twice to the stairs out, to recover from the damage you will take.

Whenever a mummy goes down, see what its death curse does to you. If it drains your stats, get a feel for how long it takes (how many mummies you have to kill) to recover a lost point. If you get tormented or smitten, take your time to recover your health. Regeneration is your friend here. You will notice that making noise has a much bigger effect than in most other places. The Tomb is a quiet place, so enemies can hear you from far away and come to investigate. In a sense this is good, as you can fight most of the mummies right here in this entrance corridor. Once you are done here, the inside of the structure should be almost devoid of opposition. The layout inside varies from game to game, but once you have explored everything, you will see that there is still an unexplored and inaccessible corridor that can only be reached by stairs from the level below.

Now, if you’d follow the guided tour devised for this place, you’d be expected to take the one set of accessible downstairs into a wide open hall where you find yourself immediately surrounded by countless mummies of all calibres, to fight your way into a narrow set of rooms and to there take a set of upstairs back to this level into this narrow and winding corridor, often called the “gauntlet of greater mummies”. This gives you a pretty good description of what to expect in there. Yes, the corridor behind this wall is teeming with about a dozen greater mummies, and your line of retreat to the stairs to the relative safety of the second level is getting longer and longer with every greater mummy you fight.

Not that all this cannot be done, but you are not going to do it. You will get into this corridor on your own terms, in the Earth Elementalist’s way.

Make your way back to the stairs that lead back into the Crypt. You will probably have to make a few steps from the foot of the stairs towards the central structure, so that both layers of the wall separating you from the corridor are in your line of sight. Cast Ring of Flames, wield your staff of earth, and then cast Shatter. It might take you a few attempts to breach both layers of the wall, but now you have an access to the corridor quite near to the stairs to the Crypt and safety. Pop a potion of brilliance, and pour a Firestorm into this breach; then retreat towards the stairs. If you needed more than one attempt to breach the wall, you may have to go upstairs to recharge. You will now have to face a bunch of very angry greater mummies, plus all their summoned minions, so you better stay close to the stairs until the onslaught stops. Bring them down with Shatter or Fire Storm, whatever seems more opportune, and retreat up the stairs whenever your HP or MP goes down too far for your comfort.

When the mummies stop coming out of the breach, you will have to go in to finish the job. Explore a short distance in both directions, because you don’t want to get caught from behind while you are facing a greater mummy up front. Once you are sure that your back is clear, explore one end of the corridor, but very slowly. If you are careful and always retreat for a bit after stirring up a mummy, you should never have to face more than one at a time. At the end the corridor will turn into some kind of spiral, in the middle of which you will find a set of downstairs. In this place you may have to face several greater mummies at once, and here Shatter can do the job for you without bad side-effects. For now, retreat to the breach and repeat this procedure for the other section of the corridor, until you hit another set of downstairs.

You have now liberated this first level of the Tomb, which is not usually considered the easiest. Your shatter-landscaping will have turned the structure partly into a ruin, but no conservationist will complain about it here.

Before you enter the second level of the Tomb, you need to understand one of the most devious level arrangements designed for this game. The three levels are not connected by regular downstairs/upstairs dungeon features, but by one-way trapdoors which always drop you at a place a short distance away from where you can return to safety. Often you can't even see where the next way out is, so you need to read a scroll of magic mapping as soon as you descend to look for the next safety hatch. To get to the second level, pick the trapdoor that was accessible before you broke into the narrow corridor. This will drop you into a wide and open area where you are quickly surrounded by dangerous mummies. Move towards the safety hatch in that open area while taking care of the opposition with Shatter and Fire Storm. You need to be at the hatch before your MP or HP get too low, so that you can vanish from the fight with sufficient health. You may have to repeat this procedure a couple of times before clearing the area.

On this second level you will face a new enemy, the bennu. It is modeled around the mythical bird phoenix, who resurrects itself in a blast of flame. A bennu can do that only once, but it flies fast and hits hard, and it makes a big mess both times it is dying.

As you can see from your map, the open area is surrounded by smaller rooms, some of which are disconnected from where you are. Your incessant shattering will create the necessary connections, so that you will be able to explore the whole level without having to return to the first level and descending the other stairs.

Now to the final and probably most dangerous fight in the Tomb. All three trapdoors to level 3 take you to the end of a six-tile-wide corridor, which is tactically good for you, as all the opposition will come from the same direction. And come they will, lots of them, of all calibers, in a seemingly unending flood, attracted by the noise you make from killing the first bunch. So before going down, gorge yourself on food, cast ring of flames, drink a potion of brilliance, and wield a staff of fire. You should rely on Fire Storm for the first part of the battle, as Shatter would create breaches to the neighboring treasure vaults, from where you would also be exposed to attacks. Don’t let anyone flank you. Oh, right, read a scroll of magic mapping as soon as you can, so that you see the hatches towards safety. They will be in rooms to the left and right, which you can access through doors on both sides of the corridor.

The sheer mass of enemies ensures that Vehumet will keep your MP high throughout the fight. Try to wait one or two turns between casting a new storm, as you will then catch a lot more advancing unseen enemies with it. But when you have lots of greater mummies in your LOS, that is no time to be subtle. Once your HP starts going down, it is time to use a Shatter or two to open up the area somewhat. Take a few steps towards the hatches, and as soon as they are within reach, blink to one of them with a scroll of blinking - that will get you out of here.

This fight will give you a good idea how fighting in a Ziggurat is likely going to be, with no easy way out of the danger area. And indeed a Ziggurat usually has at least one or two levels full of greater mummies, and you will then have to deal with them without a break in between. Death’s Door is then a must-have for your survival.

Once the mummies stop rushing you, you need to start exploring. There will still be many enemies lurking behind corners, so you need to advance very carefully, and you should always retreat a bit before restoring health and MP.

The rune is found after crossing many corners at the other end of the corridor. The two rooms containing the hatches upstairs are full of treasure, but you may have to conduct some mopping up before you can investigate all these goodies. When you have bagged what you want to take along, you not only can congratulate yourself on defeating this part of the game that has frustrated many a hopeful player, you can also put your back on Tomb, Crypt and Vaults for the rest of this game. You won’t ever come back here. From now on all your further objectives can be reached directly from your base in the Depths/Vestibule of Hell.

One item to be found in the Tomb is a little figurine that you can use to create a second Ziggurat on top of the one you find in the Depths. Take it along if you fancy to do two Ziggurat runs, or if you have to cut your first attempt at a Ziggurat short.

Pandemonium

Having cleared all places that cannot be reached directly via the Depths, it would now be a good time to widen your skill set again. By now, you should be close to mastering your first skill, probably Earth Magic, if you have not reached level 27 already. All other skills should have developed well enough that you can cast all your spells with some confidence, even without the help of aids like wizardry (wiz) items or potions of brilliance. Even Death’s Door should be available for you in case you need it. You have therefore reached all your initial skill goals and can look around for what else you may want to accomplish. Keep focusing on your current skill set and you will become slightly more powerful with current spells. Start training underdeveloped skills instead, and you will become much more powerful in some things you have not tried yet. In any case, it is now time to switch on some neglected skills such as staves (you want to bring this up to 12 for reaching minimum delay for your elemental staves), and dodging for improving your ability to evade blows and projectiles. But looking ahead, you will soon encounter some really bad enemies who don’t respond well to either Shatter or Fire Storm. Having a third option to hurt them would require training another elemental skill. The recommendation here is ice magic, which will allow you to cast Glaciate in a surprisingly short time, because your current high spellcasting and conjurations skills give you a good head start on that. Glaciate is an amazing spell which allows you to shock-freeze almost the whole LOS in a 90°-angle starting from your position, which is usually enough to kill almost anything that is attacking you. Many late game bosses throwing hellfire at you are not particularly cold-resistant, or even susceptible to cold damage. Alternatively you can start training air magic in order to cast Tornado. Tornado complements Shatter most effectively, as it hurts anything especially badly that is left relatively unscathed by Shatter. And the other way round. Ironically, because Tornado is a single-spell-school spell, you will take much longer now to bring it up to speed for you than training Ice magic for Glaciate.

If you have by now visited the Slime Pits and the Tomb, you have cleared all the great treasure hoards the game has on offer, except for the Ziggurat, which of course is the mother of all treasure hoards. This can be quite a sobering realization for you. You may still find yourself without a crucial piece of equipment that you’d like to have before continuing the game. Quite likely you find that you have not nearly as many potions of mutation as you’d like to have, or that you still can’t pile on as much INT on your character to give you all spells hunger-free (you’d need 38 INT at spellcasting skill 27). The realization that filling these gaps puts you once more at the mercy of the item generation algorithm is probably something of a bleak prospect.

Well, there is some treasure to be found at the lowest levels of each of the hell branches, but the hells are somewhat complicated and tedious places, so there is good reason to leave these branches for the last bit of the game. And, truth be told, the treasures there are usually not that exciting. If you go there just with the hope of finding the missing Book of Annihilations or the Necronomicon, you are most likely going to be disappointed.

Another sobering realization is that the next phase of the game will be a plateau with regard to your skill development. Blazing your way through countless greater mummies will have made your skill counters increase in leaps. Things will slow down considerably again when you come back to the bread and butter of clearing branches which consist mostly of middling opponents.

The only place that would change both problems at once is the Ziggurat, the entrance to which you have found somewhere in the Depths. If you enter it now, you will find heaps of both treasure and experience, but you are also likely to find sudden death. You want to keep this Ziggurat for the very end of your 15-rune run, so that you are not wasting it should you feel the need to abandon it half-way through.

The recommendation of this guide is to continue your quest by entering Pandemonium. It will be a more tranquil place than Abyss or Tomb, and you will build your character slowly, but steadily. And it has a better item-generation rate than most other places in the game, so you are going to find at least some useful loot (but probably not the one thing you are looking for).

Just like the Abyss, Pandemonium has an element of infinity to it. Whereas in the Abyss the number of levels is finite, but each level in itself infinite, it is the other way round in Pandemonium. Here each level is well defined by clear boundaries, so that you can fully explore it, just like any dungeon level. But there is no limit to the number of levels you can explore here. If you don’t get bored with it, you will never have to start another game in your life, and just keep exploring more and more levels of Pandemonium. Well, you will get bored with it.

There is nothing nasty about exploring a Pandemonium level. No mystical force punishes you just for the mere transgression of being here; walls are admittedly made of “weird stuff”, but at least they don’t burn or corrode you. You can clear a level of all opposition, and new monsters spawn at reasonable rates. Finally, given your current abilities, you will find that most levels are not that terribly challenging. Of course you still need to be careful and proceed slowly, but that goes without saying.

There are a few features to consider here, and the game warns you about them whenever you want to enter Pandemonium. It is not to be entered lightly:

  • Pandemonium is easy to enter, but not that easy to leave. Most levels do not provide an exit back to the Depths. Usually you only find several transfer-portals to another level of Pandemonium. Every other level or so you can leave Pandemonium through a portal to the Abyss, and from here you can then make it back to the Depths. Given the sheer terror that just mentioning the word Abyss will have instilled in you earlier in the game, this may not sound like a desirable option. But since you have already secured the Abyssal Rune, that place has lost its sting entirely to you. Quite often immediately on arrival in the Abyss even two exits are generated right in your LOS. If not, then just a little bit of roaming around will get you to one. If your respect for the Abyss is still too high, you need to wait a bit longer until an exit from Pandemonium is generated inside a Pandemonium level. Even that does not happen very infrequently. Exits are gray tiles, whereas portals to other levels have a blueish color. An exit will take you straight back to where you entered Pandemonium in the Depths.
  • Pandemonium does contain some dangerous enemies. Mostly you are going to fight demons of various levels, and many of them can hurt you badly. All kinds of fiends may show up here, which like to torment you, or pester you with hellfire. If they come as individuals, you will not be worried, but a big crowd of the wrong guys can really ruin your day. The most dangerous foe on each level is a so-called Pandemonium Lord, short Pan Lord. Those are semi-unique high-level demons, randomly generated with fearsome characteristics, a huge HP pool, and many resistances. They always have a name (like uniques), and they tend to hang around vault-like structures, surrounding themselves with powerful allies. When you encounter one, you should always read its description to see what it’s strengths and weaknesses are. If it flies, Shatter is not a very good option. If it is highly fire resistant, it will take a lot of Fire Storms to make it keel over. Often they bring both traits, which means that you need to bring them into range of your LCS/Iron Shot. Other opponents are demonspawns, a playable species which is entirely restricted to Pandemonium as an opponent. They are quite powerful and come in many different flavors, like real demons. They attack you with spells and weapons, and they usually come in groups. Some of them leave behind edible corpses, if you need a snack.
  • Pandemonium can get you mutated. Cacodemons and Neqoxecs are commonplace, so expect to receive some genetic modifications.
  • Another serious danger about Pandemonium is that your insertion to a level might happen anywhere, even right in the vault cheek to cheek with the Pan Lord guarding this place. Whenever you pass from one level to the next, be prepared for the worst!

When you explore a Pandemonium level, it sometimes happens that you are not attacked by a Pan Lord. This is a clear sign that some part of the level is entirely enclosed by walls. You won’t have to waste a scroll of magic mapping in this situation. Once more Shatter allows you to complete the exploration in the Earth Elementalist’s way. Just be prepared to face the Pan Lord that you are going to release that way. He won’t thank you his freedom.

You can visit each Pandemonium level only once. When you leave it, it is impossible to get back there during this game. This is important to note, as you don’t want to miss out on a rune lying in a particular Pandemonium level. If you enter a level with a rune and exit without retrieving it, this rune is lost for you, turning your 15-rune run into a 14-rune run. How disappointing.

The only exception to this is the Demonic Rune of Zot. This rune may show up on any level of Pandemonium, and is not tied closely to the presence of one of the four unique Pan Lords. If you miss picking up this rune on one level, it will regenerate on another level until you are smart enough to pick it up. It is usually found in some vault. Often it shows up on an island in a lava lake, and that island is defended by a host of hellions throwing hellfire at you the moment you approach. Or it is found in the keep of the fortress of a level full of holy-themed monsters, defended by a Seraph, the holy Pan Lord in charge of this level. In any case, you won’t have to explore many levels before you find it, and it is likely to be the first Pandemonium rune that you pick up.

The other four runes are generated on very specific levels of Pandemonium. When you enter such a level, the game warns you that “The mighty Pandemonium Lord xxx resides here”. The three xxx stand for one of four names, and each of them requires a subsection to this chapter. Generally, when you arrive on such a floor (and you are not standing right next to the boss), you first read a scroll of magic mapping.

  • Lom Lobon is a master of destructive magic, and his realm is a level made of white walls and a light gray floor. To survive and thrive in here, you need cold resistance and your magic resistance as high as possible (which is usually not very high for a gargoyle). Flight helps here, as there are some stretches of deep water. Your main opposition consists of various wizards of all races: humans, spriggans, draconians, elves and titans. The spriggans and titans like to cast airstrike against you, which hurts more when you fly, so take them out quickly. You will notice that all these wizards do a good job of keeping you away from the central vault for quite some time; it is surrounded by crystal walls and lots of water. Since you have both flight and Shatter or LRD, you have all it takes to get at Lom Lobon through the not yet existing backdoor, to even just steal his Magic Rune of Zot. But you also want to kill him, don’t you? Then you can be at least as polite as coming through the front door. Lom Lobon is extremely dangerous, and often the first thing you notice of him is a Tornado reaching out towards you. Then it its really time to stop flying. He also casts painful ice magic, including Glaciate. Buff yourself up with a potion of brilliance and some haste, and then hit him with LRD (those crystal walls make it very efficient) and iron shot/LCS. These things will bring him down fastest, and fast you need to be. The rune (and not much else) can be found behind some corner, so don’t forget to pick it up, and get out of here.
  • Gloorx Vloq guards the Dark Rune of Zot, and rules over a place made of gray walls and a dark gray floor, quite similar to the features in Lom Lobon’s realm.. It is populated by skeletal undead (including curse skulls, use LRD against them!), and dark-themed demons, such as executioners. As long as you are fully protected against negative energy, there is nothing else you can do to prepare. The Boss dwells in a very large and very symmetrical structure that you can’t miss on the map. As usual, clear everything outside and then go in to bring him down. He flies, but is not resistant against fire, so Fire Storm is your best weapon against him, or Tornado. After you kill him, remember to pick up the rune, which usually rests in a hidden corner. He won’t have any other goodies for you.
  • Cerebov’s realm is easily recognized by a red floor with red walls. You quickly get the impression that things are going to be hot here. Cerebov watches over the Fiery Rune of Zot, and this is certainly one of the most dangerous places in Pandemonium, if not in the whole game. Cerebov has a metal-walled stronghold, and it is well defended by all kinds of heat-emitting monsters. You definitely need rF+++ in this place. Your biggest danger comes from balrugs and brimstone fiends, who show up in great numbers and fling hellfire at you on first sight. Good if you now have Glaciate, because it will kill almost anything in here. More than on any other level it is necessary to clear everything outside the stronghold before going in. Cerebov is extremely resilient, and you are not likely to kill him on your first attempt. You will need to teleport away (and then this new place should already be safe!), to channel up more MP and heal yourself up. Find Cerebov again and then finish him off. There is one quick way of killing him, if you have Tornado. Fly over a patch of lava that completely surrounds you, and start the storm. Cerebov will be lifted up and home in on you, trying to hit you from melee range – until the storm ends. Then he will remember that he actually can’t fly and drown in his lava. You will lose his artefact sword that way, but you wouldn’t have used it anyway, would you? As a reward for killing him, you can now at leisure examine Cerebov’s many treasure rooms, and of course you also need to pick up his rune before leaving.
  • Mnoleg is the Pan Lord of a realm that has yellow walls and brownish-reddish floors. He is the master of malmutations, and he surrounds himself with those demons that specialize in this devious business: Cacodemons and Neqoxecs. Take them out with all you have as soon as you spot them. Still, almost certainly a few of those corruptors will manage to get a clear shot at you. To escape this level without any bad mutations is almost impossible, even with resistance. Like with the other rune levels, first explore the area around Mnoleg’s vault and eliminate all opposition. Except for picking up bad mutations you should not have many problems here. Then walk into Mnoleg’s vault, kill him and grab the Glowing Rune of Zot. Mnoleg does not fly, and a number of Shatters will suffice to drive the smirk from his glowing face.

It will take you quite a while to collect all five runes from Pandemonium. The four unique rune levels usually let a good number of regular levels pass by before they show up. Once you have collected all the runes, there is not much point to linger much longer in Pandemonium. You want to win your first 15-rune run, and it is time for you to move on.

The Hells

The reasons to keep the four hells for the end of the game are not decisive. If you have the right equipment, you should be strong enough to take them on right after coming out of Zot. But they are difficult, complicated and tedious places, not unlike the Abyss, and for the first 15-rune run it is just nice to see all the other fun-places before having to spend much time in the grinder of the hells. Although the four hells are very different from each other in their basic theme, they have a lot of things in common, and none of them is to your advantage.

Firstly, each hell is seven large levels deep. This is a lot of ground to cover, and doing it feels endless. As all but the last levels are usually devoid of loot, you are under no obligation to explore each level completely. You want to keep your stay as short as possible, and that means that you will want to go deep as fast as possible. Just like in the Abyss or in a Ziggurat, you’ll never find upstairs in a hell branch. You either go down or you go out. So if you find yourself with the need to escape from a level without going downstairs, you can take one of the three portals out, which will take you back to the Vestibule, and you will have to start from the beginning again. At least the levels don’t change, so you can track your previous progress to the spot where you left the hell, and mapping works permanently.

Since you are not keen on lingering on any given level, you can put your many scrolls of magic mapping to good use. Let them show you the next set of downstairs, and go there straight. Just make sure that you have four maps left for the lowest levels, as it helps you tremendously to have those mapped out. Whenever you go down a level, you will stand on an exit, which gives you the opportunity to leave in a hurry, if necessary.

Each level is packed full with mid-level undead or demonic enemies. Most of them are completely outclassed by you, but some fiends might still ruin your day. Here is what makes hell so tedious for everyone – each level subjects you to what is called Hell’s Mystical Force: A frequently doled out punishment for you coming here. Many of these punishments don’t bother you much as a gargoyle, such a rotting or draining. But getting confused or paralyzed while low on health is always bad news, and picking up contamination just like that might get you badly malmutated. Once in a while your stats get reduced by up to seven points, so you may want to carry around equipment giving you stat bonuses for these reduced stats. Other punishments are painful blasts of conjuration spells, and, most of the time, the appearance without warning of an entirely new and uninvited gang of enemies right next to you. At least these are not summoned, give real piety and experience and might even leave behind corpses for snacks.

All this being said, you realize that you won’t have any real rest to heal up or recharge after a fight. You constantly find yourself fighting off new groups of enemies, and there are no quiet corners where you are entirely save from attacks. Bring all your stacks of potions of healing or potions of ambrosia to get your health back up in a hurry. Bring also some means of channelling energy.

Once you reach the seventh level, you have a prolonged fight ahead of you, until you meet the local boss. This is always an exceedingly strong character, not unlike the Pan Lords of the four unique rune floors in Pandemonium. You will have a hard time killing them, and you need to kill them to obtain the four runes stored in the vicinity. Another important unique that often shows up in the hells is the Serpent of Hell. This is a fearsome creature, as bad as anything you meet in this game. It doesn’t fly, so Shatter it to death, but don’t feel ashamed to abandon the fight if you sustain more damage than you deal out.

The following subsections give more detailed advice on the four branches.

Cocytus

Cocytus is a good way to start your exploration of the hells. It is a place of great wetness, and shiveringly cold. You will want at least two levels of cold resistance, as you will frequently find yourself moving through freezing clouds. All kinds of ice-themed monsters, including ice fiends and ice dragons, will try to cool you down. They are supported by various undead, both zombies and skeletons. On all levels you will have to cross huge stretches of water, so your ability to fly permanently is a big help. Your fire magic also helps here, because many monsters are susceptible to fire damage.

Fight yourself down all levels. Don’t go too fast; you should always be at max HP and MP before going down a set of stairs. The Mystical Force can make that a difficult task, as it interferes a lot with your recharging and regeneration capabilities.

Cocytus 7 will have even more water than the previous levels, and a map will not always make it obvious on which of the islands you are going to find Antaeus, the demon lord guarding the Icy Rune of Zot. He is the monster with the highest number of HP in the entire game, so expect several attempts to bring him down, with you teleporting away for a short rest when your MP is too low. To find Antaeus, you have to get past countless ice fiends, but you will also see some treasure hoards which may contain something useful to you.

When you kill Antaeus, he often enough drops into deep water, which is not a problem, as he is not wearing any artefact prop like many of the other end game bosses. Just pick up the rune, and find your way out of here.

Gehenna

Gehenna is just the opposite of Cocytus: ice is replaced by heat and brimstone, water by lava. Your opponents are flame-throwing creatures of hell, such as hell knights, hell hounds and the deadly brimstone fiends. Bring along as much fire resistance as you can carry, and otherwise everything else you needed in Cocytus. If you know Glaciate, you have an excellent weapon against almost anything here. Unfortunately, a lot of the fire here is hellfire, and there is nothing you can do to prepare against it. Just kill all hellfirers as soon as they come up on the horizon.

The boss of this branch is Asmodeus, once more an extremely strong and durable demon lord. He resides in the deepest dungeon of a fortress with at least two lines of defenses. Many of the walls here are stone or even metal, so you can put LRD to good use against minor enemies. Once you reach Asmodeus’ inner sanctuary, he will have surrounded himself with brimstone fiends, hellions and balrugs, and you need to kill these fast alongside Asmodeus. Again, Glaciate is what you want to use here, with a few LCS shots for good measure. You may have to retreat or teleport away during the boss fight. Heal up quickly to catch him low on HP. Don’t forget to collect the many treasures, the Obsidian Rune of Zot, and the Sceptre of Asmodeus. This staff is well enchanted, but not near anything as good as any of your elemental staves. It summons fiery demons, but who needs summons?

Tartarus

In Tartarus you are mainly facing high-level dark-themed monsters, just like in the realm of Gloorx Vloq. Here you also need to expect silent spectres, lots of tormentors and also the odd hellfirer. In terms of preparation you need mainly high resistance against negative energy, but you have that anyway.

There won’t be much water or lava to cross here, except on the last level. Most places have lots of walls, and it will be very tedious to find the next set of downstairs. Use scrolls of magic mapping to avoid wasting time.

The final level consists of several mazes, one of which Ereshkigal dwells in. Sometimes you also have a large river to cross, but with your permanent flight you couldn’t care less. If you find navigating the mazes too tedious, remember that you can re-arrange the wall layout dramatically with Shatter. Just be prepared for lots of fresh monsters to swarm you afterwards. Shatter is also useful for breaking into sealed treasure rooms, of which there may be a few, containing considerable loot. It certainly pays to read a map for this level.

Ereshkigal is neither resistant against fire, nor does she fly, so she responds well to both Shatter and Firestorm. If you get a clear shot at her, LCS is also very effective. But one of her spells is Major Healing, so you need to bring her down swiftly, before she casts it again and again to save her ugly hide. And she likes to cast silence, which can be very dangerous when you are already low on health.

Dis

Of the four hells, Dis is probably the most challenging. Monsters here are very hardy, and they throw everything at you: fire, earth spells, cold, draining, torment, hellfire. It is advisable to bring all your resistances up as high as possible. The most dangerous opponent here is the hell sentinel. You will have fought it before, but here you bump into it around every corner. Sometimes even several of them. It takes and gives a lot of abuse, hitting you hard with torments and iron shot. It is immune against almost everything, except of course against earth elemental damage. The hell sentinel is one of the most convincing arguments for going into earth magic. It also does not fly, so Shatter is good for taking out several of them at the same time. You still need to be generous in your application of it.

The layout of the levels varies a lot, but very often you need to find your way through whole rows of small rooms. Again, if you have, read maps to find your way to the next set of stairs.

The lowest level looks like one big castle, with countless connected rooms, and often several places where you might want to look for Dispater. This late-game boss is extremely powerful, constantly surrounded by nasty minions, and happily blasting hellfire at you from his brutal staff. It may take you several attempts to subdue Dispater. Be ready to blink and teleport yourself away at any moment. It is no shame to conduct a few tactical retreats in his presence. Remember, he guards your probably final rune, the Iron Rune of Zot, so don’t let him prevent you from winning this game so close to its conclusion!

If you manage to overpower Dispater, pick up his staff, which you want to try out at least once or twice. Killing enemies with hellfire is extremely effective. Unfortunately, you get punished for each shot by the loss of some HP, of which you still don’t have very much. If you ever come back here with a robust Demonspawn build, this would be a great find for you! Also, pick up all the other loot and finish the game!

Ziggurat

The Ziggurat is not a necessary part of winning a 15-rune victory, because no rune can be found in it (lots of other things, though). It is even important to know that raiding a Ziggurat will reduce your final score (if that matters to you), because it will add to your number of turns by which your final score will be divided. None of the treasures you pick up will add to your score, and the effect of the gold you collect will be negligible, and many times over it will be countered by the turn-penalty to your score. Still, for many players a 15-rune run is not complete unless they can cap it off with a successful raid through all the 27 levels of a Ziggurat. Just the accomplishment as such is worth the effort, and you can brag about it in decades to come in front of your deeply impressed grandchildren. This is to say that raiding a Ziggurat is an exceedingly difficult accomplishment. Frankly, most character builds shouldn’t even try, as they are sure to be killed before they reach the end on the final floor. But your trusty gargoyle earth elementalist of Vehumet has a number of advantages down here which make a complete raid a feasible proposition.

Here are a few things you need to know about a Ziggurat. They come in slightly different shapes, but all of them have a number of things in common. Their East-West axis is always a bit longer than their North-South dimension. The player begins each turn alternating on the East or West end of the level. Behind you will be the wall, and all enemies are waiting for you towards the other end. If you start the Ziggurat, the first level is so small that usually you can see all of it, including all enemies, all features and all treasure, from where you start. You kill the opposition, which is not much to write home about, and then proceed to the end of the level, where you find a number of things:

  • The corpses of the foes you have just vanquished, plus their equipment, if any.
  • Two exits leading back to the place where you entered the Ziggurat.
  • One set of downstairs that leads to the next level of the Ziggurat.
  • Some treasure. It tends to be little and unexciting on the first few levels, but this will change pretty soon.

You will therefore have the choice to either continue downwards to the next level, or to chicken out of this Ziggurat. If you go out, there is no turning back, and this Ziggurat will be lost to you forever, including all its treasure and the experience you can gain here. But at least you have escaped with your life. If instead you decide to move on (and you certainly should on the first level), you will then drop down precisely under these stairs on the next level, facing it this time from the opposite side than the previous level. This level is slightly bigger than the previous one, but otherwise will have exactly the same features as the first level: monsters to kill (a few more than last time), two exits, one set of downstairs, a little bit more loot.

Since each level is slightly bigger than its predecessor, dangers and rewards also slightly increase with each level. After some levels you will have to walk a few steps before you see the first few monsters, and you’ll notice that after each level there will be more of them, and they become on average increasingly stronger. The bigger the level gets, however, the more space is there on the other side to store treasure, which means that on the lower levels you will spend quite some time sifting through all the goodies after the fight that entitled you to their possession.

After a few levels the floor gets big enough to include some kind of central feature, such as a few trees, or some rock, stone, metal, or crystal walls, or a statue, or an oklob plant or two. These structures not only stand in the way between you and the other side of the floor, they can also be opportunities, or at least tactical options. A crystal wall surrounded by enemies is an invitation to cast LRD. Two large structures in a row across the North-South axis divide the available space into three distinct choke points to throw your Fire Storms in. So once you have evaluated the tactical situation, place yourself in a way that the level features work mostly to your advantage, and not for the opposition.

This opposition is the main ingredient of your tactical situation. Once you know who your enemy is going to be, you can think about how best to defeat them. You may also have to adjust your resistances depending on what you encounter. Sometimes you may reach the conclusion that you cannot defeat the enemies on a given floor. Then your goal is to reach the other side of the level (that means either the exits or the downstairs) alive. Obviously, controlled blinks will be the key to success here.

One thing you should certainly not do is to charge ahead overconfidently into a situation that you cannot control. Your enemies will use any means they have at their disposal, and when you blunder into a place where 17 casters take shots at you in the same turn, then things will look bleak. Get your fingers off your movement buttons, because one move too many may reveal you to dozens of previously unseen opponents, with fatal consequences.

Most Ziggurat floors follow a particular monster theme, and once you have determined what that theme is, you can expect certain dangerous monsters to be present, and prepare yourself accordingly. Here is a list of themes (probably not complete), and some tips on how to deal with them. It proceeds from easiest to most challenging:

  • Many floors will contain monsters that originate from a particular branch of Crawl. You may be lucky and hit an orc-themed floor, which contains nothing but orcs of all sizes, and a few trolls and ogres. If so, then just cast Shatter or Ignition to clear the screen. Remember, though, that some orcs have smite attacks, against which you are probably poorly protected. So don’t give too many of them any time to hit you with their smites. Other similar floors would be based on the Snake Pit, the Shoals, the Lair of Beasts or the Swamp.
  • Elven floors can also easily be cleared by Shatter. But some elves can hit you with hellfire or some painful conjurations, so you need to be quick about killing them.
  • The most dangerous low-level branch theme in a Ziggurat is probably the Spider’s Nest, as this will also come with a number of ghost moths. If you see the first few spiders coming your way, retreat quickly to your insertion point, so that the area in front of you is as narrow as possible. Hit this area with Fire Storms as soon as you see more than one monster getting in your LOS. When you see a ghost moth, don’t wait, but hammer it straight away, before it drains any MP from you. As long as you have MP to cast one more Shatter or Fire Storm, Vehumet will make sure that you are not running dry, but a ghost moth could change that. Should you find yourself out of MP, channelling under the cold stare of a ghost moth won’t work. Retreat into the corner, so that only three spiders can hit you at any given time, and then whack them one by one with your staff. If there is only one moth in your LOS, you can try to shoot it down with a wand. When it falls, then quickly bring your MP up high enough for a Shatter, and the crisis should be over.
  • Some Ziggurat floors seem to focus more on a type of monster than on a branch. Sometimes you may encounter nothing but all kinds of giants. This is a good place for you, because they tend to collapse instantly from Shatter. Other levels may focus entirely on animal monsters, which should also not bother you too much, but they will contain ghost moths.
  • Some levels are based on deeper areas of the game, such as the Vaults, the Depths, the Tomb, the Abyss, the Slime Pits, Zot, Pandemonium and even the various Hells. In these levels expect to see the worst of what you have fought in the corresponding branches, and you need to be very careful. Some detailed instructions for some of them will be given below.
  • An Abyss-themed floor is certainly very annoying. Expect to get temporarily malmutated by wretched stars. To have to face many of them at the same time can be quite debilitating.
  • A Pandemonium-themed floor will throw high-end demons, demonspawns and hords of Pan Lords at you. Being exposed to too many of them at the same time will kill you quickly.
  • A level full of jellies should be easy to handle for you by now, as long as you don’t let them get too close. All treasure will be hidden in a closed vault, so that the slimes cannot devour it before you are done with them. Beware of shining eyes, who still want to get at your DNA!
  • On a Tomb floor you may find yourself surrounded by dozens of durable greater mummies. They will have you extinguished in a few turns, no matter how many you manage to kill before that.

Don’t be fooled by the apparent ease with which you have cleared the first few levels of the Ziggurat. Things will become a lot more challenging, and this may happen quite suddenly. If you have killed three or four levels of orcs, nagas and elves without breaking a sweat, you may eventually consider yourself invincible and act accordingly on the next level. But that may then be populated by an army of greater mummies or orbs of fire, and charging ahead like on the previous levels will have you killed. Here is what you can do to survive even the most challenging levels:

  • If your initial reconnaissance reveals that you have to face great numbers of highly dangerous enemies such as Pan Lords or mummies or orbs of fire, immediately retreat to your entry point and hug the wall. Now all enemies will only get at you from the same general direction. If the lay-out is favorable, you can get attacked by only three melee fighters at any given time. If you have time, buff yourself up with Ring of Flames and brilliance. Every bit that makes your spells stronger will help you.
  • You need to conserve your MP, so you should not squander it away on just one measly enemy emerging out of the mist before you. Wait until you see two or three. Then you know that you will have lots more in the blast area of your Fire Storm that is out of sight. Cast Firestorm. Often you need a second firestorm to finish everything off. You will have killed lots of unseen enemies, and your MP is still likely to be at maximum.
  • Keeping your MP up is the key to survival. If you don’t squander it too badly, Vehumet will take care of it most of the time. By now you will almost certainly have found a crystal ball of energy, and a high evocations skill may tempt you into using it for MP recovery. This may be a good option in some places, where you can escape if something goes wrong, but a misfiring crystal ball in a Ziggurat can well be a death sentence. You’d need at least a few turns to shake your confusion and to bring your MP up to start a fire storm or cast Shatter. Even with evocations at 27 the risk of a crystal-ball misfire is unacceptably high at about 5%. This means that on average every 20 attempts you’ll find yourself confused and without MP. Not a good idea. If you really need to channel, use a staff of energy, which is a good item to have around all the time.
  • If you see a lone hellfirer or tormentor or ghost moth emerging, don’t wait for company, but engage them right away. Many of these need more than one shot, and you can’t give them the time to bring your HP or MP down in one fell swoop.
  • Eventually some strong monsters will slip through your defences and get to places where you can’t engage them safely with Fire Storm. Try to bring them down with Shatter, which will not work on every monster. If you now have Glaciate at your disposal, that would probably solve all problems. You need to swap your staff of fire and any ring of fire for something else before you cast it, as these will reduce its spell power.
  • If for some reason your MP fails to recover, you’ll have to drink a potion of magic. There is no point doing that when a ghost moth is watching you, as it will immediately drain away its effect. You’ll first have to deal with the critter, probably with a shot or two from a wand.
  • Sometimes the arriving opposition may start to overpower you. When you see your HP going down in larger and larger chunks, it is time to engage your ultimate weapon. First haste yourself, as you will now have to kill many enemies very fast, and then cast Death's Door. Hopefully this will not be a miscast, because at this stage that will probably be fatal. Also you can’t afford any extra contamination, as you will now have to make a controlled blink as far as possible right into the midst of all your enemies. You will be almost completely surrounded by countless angry foes, and they will do all they can to kill you, but they can’t. A single Shatter will bring your MP all the way up, and a few more, plus one or two well placed Fire Storms or Glaciates will eliminate 95 % of the opposition. Take another controlled blink towards the other end, and you will be surrounded by even more angry enemies. Repeat the procedure here. Within a few turns you should have killed almost everything on that floor. Under Death’s Door, you have a total of about 20 invincible auts before your life is given back into your hands. If you are hasted, that should give you plenty of opportunity to get the job done. If the effect ends, and you have still some enemies around you, you need to make one more blink into a quiet corner and quickly drink one or two potions of heal wounds. Alternatively you can hop to the stairs or exits to leave this level or even the Ziggurat altogether. From all this blinking and hasting (and hopefully no miscasts) you will have accumulated some contamination. This is bad, but much better than dying. If necessary, drink a potion of cancellation to get your contamination down to safe levels (gray instead of yellow or even red). Resist mutation may also protect you a bit. The good thing about a Ziggurat is that you collect many a potion of mutation, so if things go wrong, you can always treat yourself to a generous application of these.
  • If you find yourself in the need to chicken out of a level, there is only one way to do it. Blink yourself as fast as possible to the other side and take the stairs down. This will not work if you are not under the effect of Death’s Door, as the sheer number of surrounding enemies will kill you instantly. You may also be unlucky in the sense that all exits and stairs are occupied by monsters, and you will have to kill them first.

Particularly on these lowest five or six floors of a Ziggurat, the procedure just described may become necessary. For that reason, if you don’t have Death’s Door at your disposal, it will be wise to abandon your raid after about level 15. Don’t even dream of keeping your health up by drinking potions of heal wounds. The damage you sustain during that move is probably bigger than the health you restore. By now you will have already collected considerable loot, and you will have also brought up your skills significantly, so take the money and run!

If however you manage to survive a complete Ziggurat, you will have bounced your skills up in a huge leap. It practically means that now you can probably cast all your spells with a failure rate below 3%. One or two of your skills you may now have mastered entirely. You will also enjoy the effects of vastly improved equipment, such as more helpfully enchanted jewelry or armor. You will have quaffed a few potions of experience. If you have had any enchantable equipment on you, most likely it is now fully enchanted. All in all, you see, raiding a Ziggurat is a most lucrative undertaking. If you survive.

Now, having survived your first Ziggurat, you may get cocky and can’t wait to enter the next, using the figurine of a Ziggurat awaiting you at the end of the 27th floor, or the one from the Tomb. Be advised that in Crawl each completed Ziggurat will make the next Ziggurat of the same game a lot more challenging. You will have a lot more monsters on each level, and more of them will be of the highly dangerous kind. Isn’t it time to complete your first successful 15-rune run?

Well, if you do decide to raid more Ziggurats, towards the end of the second, or at the latest during the third, you will find that you have mastered all your relevant skills. You are having a luxury problem now. Do you really want to train slings or summoning, even if you are determined to never put these skills to any use? If this doesn’t appeal to you, you can then just ignore the skill training system. But since you have gotten yourself this far in the game, you may also put your amazing powers to good use and train some skills that you have never exercised before. Then you can try out how badly a high-powered crossbow shot damages your opponents, or how useful darkness turns out to be in the late game. See what kind of armor you can still wear as a caster without bad effect on your spells, if you bring the armor skill all the way up.

Finale

Once you have all your fifteen runes and all the loot from the Ziggurat, it is time to wrap this game up. This is not different from finishing a 3-rune game: Just go to Zot 5, grab the Orb, and walk out. The preparation should also be the same: take a wand of digging with you, and learn passwall. Both will help you to find shortcuts to the next upstairs, and to shake pursuers.

This time you will be a lot more powerful than at your last ascension. Meeting a Pan Lord on your way out will this time not cause you to wet yourself. Kill him and get moving again. Nothing will stop you. On Dungeon 1, find the exit and enjoy reading your newest high score.

When you start your next game, remember that a kobold wielding a mace is a lethal enemy. Treat it with respect.