Majang's Fire Elementalist of TSO Guide

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This article contains advice from other players, which may be subjective, outdated, inaccurate or ill-advised. Take advice as you see fit, and read at your own risk!
Version 0.17: This article may not be up to date for the latest stable release of Crawl.

This guide assumes that you want to ascend not only with the Orb, but also carry along 15 runes and the loot of at least one Ziggurat. It has undergone significant revision based on the advice of a reader. Originally it was assumed that the player converts to The Shining One as soon as possible, but this implied the risk of the player ending up without the crucial spells needed to reach the end game. Therefore it is now suggested to start this build worshiping Vehumet.

Why this background?

Changes in recent versions of this game have made it exceedingly difficult to win it as a pure melee fighter, no matter how much tanked up the character is. Descending down the stairs to Vaults 5 will very likely get you killed, if you cannot deal with the vault warden who lazily stands at the edge of your line of sight and blocks the stairs up, watching with glee while hordes of giants, titans, draconians, ancient liches and who knows what bring you down, how ever long it takes. Trying to get your third rune in the Abyss or in the Slime Pits will get you into a similar fix. The Slime Pits particularly are a bad place for melee fighters, as the new handling of corrosion in the game will make it inevitable for you to have both your armour and your equipment corrupted to the point of leaving you devoid of attacking and defensive options. So, if you want to win, by the time you reach the need to get your third rune, you will want access to a powerful spell that takes care of crucial enemies that you can’t get at with melee or even ranged fighting options.

The obvious response, of course, are high-powered conjurations. Fire Storm and Tornado clear even the most crowded screen, and usually one takes the road as a Fire Elementalist or a Wizard to get to casting these late-game nukes. This is also the assumption for this build. When it comes to God-choice, most conjurers rely on Vehumet, Sif Muna or Kiku, with some people also successfully trying Cheibriados. This build initially takes the Vehumet route, but then, towards the end game, proposes a conversion to the The Shining One (TSO). This is to address one of the severest shortcomings of most casters: a dangerously low pool of HP. Reaching the end-game is certainly difficult enough for most casters. Once there, monsters using torment and hellfire can grind a frail character down in two or three turns. Being engaged in such a fight, the caster sometimes faces the choice to either build up critically low health or to kill the enemies which threaten to inflict more injuries; both choices have a somewhat uncertain outcome – the fighting option might leave a foe still standing who will then serve the death blow. Healing means that the enemies get another turn at killing off the player, possibly biting off more HP than have been restored by the healing.

Investing heavily into Necromancy will give you access to Death's Door, which serves as an insurance that you survive as long as you manage to kill everything before the spell runs out. But using this spell comes with a high risk of ultimate failure. Conversion to TSO prohibits the use of any necromancy spells, but in return grants renewed health as a result of killing evil enemies, in effect eliminating the dilemma described above – killing and healing are now the same action. He also grants significant MP restoration on killing evil enemies, which, although not as strong as Vehumet’s MP restoration, in end-game situations is usually enough to keep the player afloat, because almost all enemies are of the evil kind. Clearing out a Ziggurat floor full of undead or demons with Fire Storm and Tornado will usually get the player out of the fight without ever having to channel MP or using a means of healing. This is quite fun, indeed!

Other changes in the game also make conversion to TSO more desirable: Version 0.15 has given the usefulness of sublimation of blood a nosedive – Gargoyles can’t use it at all any more, and most caster characters are so frail that having to tap into their own valuable HP to restore some MP does not sound like an attractive option, particularly in a fight involving hellfire-capable monsters. So the idea of not having access to Necromancy spells does not sound so bad anymore. And when surrounded by evil monsters, unleashing another Tornado under TSO will give much better results health-wise than using Death's Door with any other God. This of course also means that you won’t have to train the necromancy skill anymore, freeing up this experience for other purposes, such as getting to cast your high-end nukes faster, or to build up good defenses using shields or armour.

TSO’s other benefits are also very welcome to casters: In effect, he provides see invisible, eventually to the complete LOS, which means that you can wear a helmet or hat of intelligence at all times. He gives full negative energy resistance, again freeing up an equipment slot for other, more pressing matters. His cleansing flame, at least at high invocations, will soften up any evil masses crowding on you, but usually Tornado works better in these situations. Finally, having a high-quality holy wrath-branded weapon such as a quickblade or sacred scourge will make your end-game much easier, allowing you to kill some weaker enemies without having to invest any MP.

But there is a price to pay for worshiping TSO, particularly as a high-end caster. Any spells involving poison (such as the otherwise priceless Mephitic Cloud) are out of bounds for you. Also TSO will not help you a bit with your magic, like Vehumet does. In the end game, when magical skills are high, there is no difference playing TSO or Vehumet, because all your spells are down to 1% failure rate anyway. But reaching the end game is certainly much easier when following Vehumet.

It also needs getting used to that sometimes you are not able to cast an area-of-effect spell on a cluster of monsters, because one of them still happens to be napping. The game will warn you before that happens, so there is no danger of doing it inadvertently. At worst this means that you will have to waste another half turn on a yell, or that you have to adjust your targeting somewhat. The biggest difficulty when starting out with TSO, however, is that you have absolutely no guarantee that you will find the high-level spells that you need to win this game. If by the time you enter Vaults 5 you still have neither Tornado nor Fire Storm online, then most likely you have lost the game. You can try anyway. Good luck.

This now makes it desirable to not worship TSO from the outset. In the beginning, the many benefits of Vehumet will give you a much better start, and will also make it much more likely that you have all the spells you need before you enter the late-game branches. Only then is the time to convert to TSO, who is your best friend when most of the environment around you is dark and evil, and Vehumet’s initiually wonderful benefits somewhat fade compared to TSO’s protection. This implies having to deal with Vehumet’s significant wrath for some time, but in most cases, you should be able to survive it, if you are not too careless or very unlucky.

Suitable Species

Obviously, no evil species can pick this background, and Demigods are also excluded. Orcs will do somewhat fine (TSO accepts them!), as they have a very high invocations aptitude, and easily build up defensive skills. Their spellcasting in general, however, is worse than just mediocre. You’d rather look for a species that comes with high intelligence, and has good chances of reaching the high-end spells by the time they are needed. The following come to mind:


The Gargoyle is the species that got me to the idea of writing this guide, as it gave me a complete 15-rune run, including a Ziggurat. It’s many mutations are well complemented by what TSO has on offer, so that in the end all resistances are easily met. From the beginning you don’t need to bother about poison and electricity. You can fly permanently when you need it, are immune to rotting, and even somewhat resistant to torment. On top of that you have obscenely high extra AC and GDR, and the shield and armour skills to go along with that. On the flip of the coin, however, your intelligence does not match that of any elf species, and also your magical skills could be somewhat better. But still, all in all this is a very good choice, which shines particularly in the late game branches such as the hells, The Tomb and Pandemonium. You will want to equip your gargoyle with a sacred scourge.

High Elves

The High Elf is very adept for the hybrid type that this build envisions. They are good at magic, quite intelligent, and have a good weapons aptitude for long blades and short blades. You will want them to enter the late game branches with a highly enchanted quickblade of holy wrath, or with an eudemon blade.

Deep Elves

The Deep Elf is more frail than the High Elf, but also much more adept at magic, and a lot more intelligent. They will have their high-level spells up and running long before they enter Vaults 5. Their weapon of choice will be the quickblade.


A Tengu has excellent aptitudes for playing a blaster, and can also handle any weapon. His defensive skills are also outstanding, but he is a bit frail, and does not like to serve a god that requires you to train invocations. His ability to fly permanently gives him a huge advantage in some branches.

Basic strategy outline

You start out as a pure caster, switching off almost all skills until your fire magic spells reach #### power. This should happen pretty soon. Next you train your skills on a rather broad scale, developing your defensive and weapon skills alongside your magic skills, which get boosted with Vehumet’s help. Since one of your goals is to cast Tornado, start learning air magic as soon as you can get your hands on it. Reaching the mid-to-late game, when you already have decent melee and defensive skills, you again start focusing on your attack magic skills, until you get Fire Storm or Tornado online. When one of these two spells work for you, you are ready to clear out almost any level of the game.

Fire elementalist is a good background choice for this build, as it gives you a good mix of strong offensive and defensive spells which work well into the mid-to-late game. But you may also consider using the Wizard background, as it gives you a few more points of intelligence, and also access to air magic spells early on. Mephitic Cloud is a great asset in your build-up phase, but you may lack good offensive spells like fireball and sticky flame for longer than you care for.

Equipment choice

Your weapons choice is determined by the aptitude of your chosen species. Armour choice is less straightforward. Except for gargoyles and tengus, the other suggested species have poor aptitudes for armour and shields, but still you should work towards having decent levels of both. Maybe a buckler does not provide much blocking power, but there are some amazing branded and artifact shields out there, which can contribute nicely towards your resistances. As soon as you can, make yourself a light dragon armour, such as a mottled dragon armour, or maybe a swamp dragon armour. If you are not playing a gargoyle or tengu, then anything beyond that may imply too high an investment into the armour skill. Even the gargoyle has difficulties keeping the spell success rate down with an armour of encumbrance rating 11, such as a fire dragon armour or a pearl dragon armour.

Otherwise, keep your eyes open for any kind of artifact secondary armour, with a bias towards gaining more intelligence or needed resistances.

Spells to learn

From the starting spell book you learn to cast Conjure Flame, sticky flame and fireball. These will give you sufficient offensive and defensive options to make it through the early dungeon, the Lair and the Orcish Mines. You want to be on the lookout for any spellbooks containing air spells, as you may want to be ready for Tornado as soon as possible, and you may want to learn airstrike or Repel Missiles anyway. If you have a good aptitude for earth magic (being a gargoyle or deep elf), there is now no reason not to learn some good earth spells, since there is no more antitraining in the game (just remember to timely remove any earth-or-air spell enhancers, because they still dampen the magic of the opposite school).

Later on, Fire Storm will be your mainstay for obliterating large groups of dangerous enemies. As soon as you can cast it (employing the help of a source of wizardry and a potion of brilliance), learn it and use it to walk from victory to victory. Not too long after, Tornado should become available to you. Again, learn it as soon as you can cast it. Both spells are likely to be granted to you by Vehumet, but he is also known to have bad surprises in store for his followers.

Other useful spells for you are

  • Ring of Flames – this not only gives you double protection against fire, but in spite of its C-- penalty it will actually protect you from most sources of cold damage. On top of that, it may be the one extra fire magic enhancer you need to get your fire storm to full spell power.
  • Orb of Destruction – your best single-target option for killing difficult enemies such as uniques, and usually quite early available.
  • Bolt of Fire – cheaper than Fire Storm, but just as effective when your opposition is nice enough to line themselves up for a good shot.
  • Bolt of Magma – excellent option against fire resistant monsters.
  • Blink – good to reposition yourself, for example to make a Fire Storm or a Tornado more effective. Particularly in a Ziggurat, blinking yourself into the middle of a pack of evil monsters and then unleashing a Tornado will be a highly rewarding exercise.
  • Lehudib's Crystal Spear – since you are not learning any costly necromancy spells, you will have some spell levels left for this towards the end. Having no antitraining to consider, getting this spell online from scratch is surprisingly fast, when spellcasting and conjurations are already at high levels. It may only take two or three of the final Ziggurat levels to get the failure rate down to 1% from a base of zero Earth Magic skill.

Skill management

In the beginning, your starting spells are rather pathetic, and you need to work particularly at fire magic, conjurations and spellcasting to make them more powerful. When your fire conjurations reach #### in spell power, you need to branch out broadly to train all the following skills: Fighting (you should never switch that off again until you have maxed it out), your melee weapon skill to what it takes to reach minimum delay for your weapon of choice (only 8 for a quickblade!), armor (up to six if you are aiming for a mottled dragon armor), dodging (initially up to 10 or so), fire and air (never switch those off), and evocations (up to 10 initially, but later more if you want to use a staff of energy or a crystal ball of energy for channeling). Don’t ever train stealth (with TSO you don’t want to be stealthy, and the noise you create even while serving Vehumet will not ever let you hide your presence to anyone), and leave all non-elementary magic skills except conjurations switched off. What you need here, you get through your spellcasting skill.

Once you have cleared out the Lair, the Orcish Mines and the first two levels of the Elven Halls, it is again time to focus on your magic skills. Switch off all the support skills (except fighting, and if you still have to train some armour or shields skill to eliminate casting penalties), and focus on spellcasting, conjurations, fire and air until you can reliably cast Fire Storm and Tornado.

Once you convert to TSO, you may want to train invocations to improve some of TSO’s active gifts. But you may be perfectly fine not training any invocations at all, since MP and HP restoration are entirely passive, based only on the slain creature’s hit dice. Except for maybe TSO’s shield, you are not likely to make much use of his other active gifts. The blessed weapon also comes irregardless of your invocations skill.

In the end-game, you may max out some of your skills. Train shields and dodging instead – these will all increase your survivability in the late game branches. It feels good to carry a large shield into a fight without having any of the penalties!

Order of Branches

After clearing the Lair and the Orcish Mines, follow up by sanitizing the first two levels of the Elven Halls, except for the Hall of Blades, which you should only enter if you have a high-powered airstrike. Return to the Lair to attack the first three levels each of the two side branches (of course you leave out the Slime Pits for now). Having done that, you work yourself down all the way to the last level (15) of the dungeon. Return to the Lair to finish off the two side branches to get your first two runes.

The first four levels of the Vaults are considerably easier than any level of the Depths, so you want to start out here to increase your experience. Some characters may already get to the point of using level 9 spells during this exercise. Now it is time for the Depths. They always give me a scare with their high concentration of angry bad attackers. Done with those, you will clear the last level of the elves (and now certainly also the Hall of Blades), and finally attack Vaults 5. You are ready now!

With Tornado and Fire Storm you are also well prepared to enter the Slime Pits. You need to go there anyway to get all 15 runes, so why not now, at least if you have a source of resist mutation? Corrosion is not as bad as it has been before 0.15, as long as you don’t take too long killing The Royal Jelly. You will not trash your valuable equipment that way anymore, and there is plenty of good loot down there, plus another rune.

Having cleared all these places, by now you have gained all the runes you need to enter the Realm of Zot, all levels of it. There will be a few minutes of intense terror when you brave Zot 5, but eventually you will stand over the Orb. Don’t touch it yet, because you still have many plans.

If, however, you have no means of warding off mutations, and are low on potions of cure mutation, you should not enter Zot, and not even the Slime Pit. For you it may be better to first attack the Ziggurat found in Depths, and clear it for 15 to 20 levels. You will not yet be strong enough for the last few levels, but up to then you may find what you have been lacking so far in your supplies. A Ziggurat is very good for finding the more helpful potions, and lots of good jewellery. You can always find more Ziggurats later on when wandering through Pandemonium for a full Ziggurat raid.

Having cleared Zot 5, it is now the time to convert to TSO. This is a bit of a tricky time, as Vehumet has some nasty surprises in his divine retribution. Be prepared that he will unleash hellfire and fire storms on you. These are quite endurable when you have kept your fighting skill going all the time, but if these hit you already with your HP down, they could kill you easily. You therefore have to tread very carefully. His other punishments often don’t hurt as badly if your are flying, so you may want to stay airborne at most times – Vehumet is not known to conduct airstrikes. Clear your spell portfolio of any items frowned upon by your new deity, and then enter the Crypt to attack its three levels. Try to not take on too many opponents at once, which you will be always tempted to do, being as strong as you are. Your piety will rise fast, and you may go to have your weapon blessed even before you are finished with the Crypt. Vehumet’s wrath will diminish quickly, depending on how much you use conjurations to kill your opponents. Each time you do so, there is a 5% chance of a nasty punishment. Considering how many enemies you encounter, you will use conjurations a lot, and this means that the retribution counter will count down steadily. Just make sure that you heal up between fights, and when down on HP, it may be safer to use your melee weapon for a while. Usually, by finishing off the last level of the Crypt, Vehumet’s wrath should be almost over.

Afterwards you should conquer the Vestibule of Hell, which by that time should be a manageable proposition. Again, if Vehumet is still mad at you, do it slowly, come up often to heal, and return fully refreshed. If you encounter Murray down there, it may be a good idea to postpone this conquest until you are safe from Vehumet. Once you are at it, and you have ways to deal with mummy curses, you can also become a Tomb raider.

In the old days, you would have stashed a lot of valuables in the Vestibule, but now, with restrictions on your loading capacity and item destruction gone, I find myself carrying a lot of stuff with me at all times. All potions of brilliance, heal wounds, curing, magic, cure mutation; all scrolls of magic mapping, remove curse, recharging, teleportation and blinking, the full stack of one food item (and then I tend to snack on the other odds that come in to keep my inventory tidy), and one of each good wand – these give me peace of mind that I don’t lack anything when I need it. With these goodies all right under my belt, I now find it a lot less daunting to enter a place like Pandemonium from which I cannot return anytime I want to stock up on my supplies. In the old days this drove me to the hells before going in there, but these are actually a lot more difficult to navigate than Pandemonium – it’s just that you can return from the hells when things get too hot.

Anyway, Pandemonium is not that difficult a place when you have mastered Zot already, and the loot is quite good. On top of that you have the chance to find another random Ziggurat and raid it at least partially, if not fully. This will net you a lot more potions of cure mutations, it will increase your experience (through kills and potions), and get you all the better prepared for the final fights in the hells.

I would definitely attack the Ziggurat found in the Depths before going into the various hells. You are most likely to survive, and it is so much more fun to die in a Ziggurat than in a hell. But you have TSO, Fire Storm and Tornado on your side, so you need not fear. And when you come out, you have enough potions of cure mutation and curing at your hands to also master the final places of horror, including the Tomb, if you have not done it so far.

Some final warnings

  • As long as you do not attract too many non-evil enemies at once, you should be pretty safe in almost all situations while serving TSO. But there are some places where serving him is highly dangerous, and those are paradoxically the places which are defended by others of TSO's followers. Each brother in faith you encounter apparently thinks that you are from a split denomination, and will therefore attack you as fervently as if you were an ancient lich. Usually they come in small numbers, and you can get them down without difficulties. But there are occasional levels of a Ziggurat or Pandemonium which are entirely populated (and heavily so) by all kinds of holy high-end creatures. Because you don’t get MP or HP restored on kills, you can’t win here, so from the first inclination that this is the case, do your best to get your holy neck out of there. Read a map to find the exits (in Pandemonium), and try to get there with all dispatch, if possible using controlled blinks. You may still have to burn through a stack of healing devices or potions of magic to get there alive. Alternatively, you can try to subdue your fellow believers individually, but then you have to avoid all noise-making. Tornado and Fire Storm will get you swarmed. Lehudib's Crystal Spear or Iron Shot or various bolt spells could do the job for you.
  • Hellfire you cannot resist by any means. Kill its source before it kills you! And keep your HP high by training fighting throughout the game. Remember, as a reward for the kill TSO will grant you some HP and MP, so it is wise to prioritize hellfire-capable monsters before turning to lesser threats.
  • One of TSO’s gifts is providing powerful summons, holy warriors from your own denomination who for a change fight on your side against the forces of evil. Unfortunately, your background as a caster interferes heavily with this. Having your daeva fighting it out in the midst of the enemy crowd means that you will incur penance if you unleash a Fire Storm in the general direction. The same happens when they stick close to your side and get fried in your ring of flames. You are a conjurer, and you don’t need any summons! Whatever these angels and daevas may accomplish for you, you can accomplish it faster with a well-placed Fire Storm (if your allies don’t stand in the way), and it does not even cost you any piety. On the note of penance: If you find yourself in this situation, TSO is still good enough to provide you some protection against negative energy. And, given that you are fighting hordes of evil creatures, the penance won’t last long.
  • Another difficult Ziggurat theme contains lot of spiders. They won’t give you any MP or HP on killing them, which is bad in itself. But these levels also contain quite a flock of ghost moths, and these will turn you into a melee fighter in no time at all, and you are not that good at melee. Find yourself a niche where you have only three spiders attacking you at any time, and kill any moth as soon as you see it with a fire storm – it does not do any good to be subtle with them! Once you are out of MP, kill them with wands, and try to re-channel as soon as you don’t see a moth. You only need 9 MP for another Tornado to clear the air around you!