Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Ragnarok: Temple of Doom

You win some, you lose some.
Ah, roguelikes. There's no other sub-genre in which this kind of narrative makes any sense:
When I walked into the room, I saw a deadly asp on the other side of it. I didn't want him to get too close, so I killed him with my shurikens. I wanted to eat his corpse to get intrinsic poison resistance, but I didn't have any artificial resistance, so I knew trying would kill me. I had three unidentified rings, one of which might have been a Ring of Immunity, which would have protected me from poison while I ate him, but I only had one Scroll of Identification, and I was hoping to hold onto until I found a Scroll of Blessing because blessed Scrolls of Identification identify everything in your pack. I tried one of the rings blind, but it turned out to be a Ring of Relocation, and it teleported me to another part of the dungeon. While I was trying to make it back, I stepped in quicksand and started to drown. The only thing I could think to do was drink an unidentified potion, hoping it was a Potion of Phasing, but it turned out to be a Potion of Lycanthropy, and my character dropped all his stuff when he changed into a werewolf, then ran around the dungeon killing everything he encountered for a few minutes. Eventually, he turned back into a man, but I got killed by another deadly asp before I could get back to my equipment. C'est la vie.
There's so much to learn, and enough that works differently from NetHack that I'm not sure if my previous NetHack knowledge is a blessing or a curse--an apropos phrase, as I spent forever trying to figure out how to use Holy Water to remove curses and/or bless things before coming to the conclusion that it simply doesn't work that way in this game. As far as I can tell, Holy Water just increases your luck. You have to find Scrolls of Dispel Hex and Blessing to do the other things. But if you do find a Scroll of Blessing, a good use for it is to bless your Scroll of Identification, because blessed Scrolls of Identification identify all your items, not just several as in NetHack. To find monsters on the level, I don't want a Potion of Monster Detection; I want a Potion of Depredation, which sounds like a bad thing. If you do find any "bad" potions, don't save them to throw at enemies because that doesn't work here.
And maybe stay away from mushrooms entirely.
The worst part is the monsters. While NetHack and Ragnarok have a lot of overlaps in terms of equipment, the bestiary is almost entirely new. It makes good use of Norse mythology, yay, but I've got to learn every enemy's special attacks and weaknesses again. I started keeping a list of enemies to particularly avoid, but it ended up including almost all enemies. Jacchuses give you a disease that prevents you from healing. Kalvins pluck your eyes out. Pale Mosses destroy your brain tissue, which causes you to forget potions, scrolls, and such that you've already identified. Ramapiths toss fireballs. Red oozes devour your weapons and can't even be killed by regular weapons. Ulls disorient you; Predens give you fevers; Retchweed makes you hungry; Gas balls deafen you; Pelgrats suck charges from wands that you carry. I've barely gotten started.
I had lycanthropy for a while. It was worse for the other creatures in the dungeon.
I've spent a lot of time debating whether to try to eat slain enemies or not. Ragnarok doesn't seem to have as many enemies whose corpses give intrinsic protection, but they're definitely there. The aforementioned asps will give you poison resistance if you can survive eating them. Fire dragons confer fire resistance. I haven't found much else. What I can tell you is that troll corpses do not confer regeneration, wight corpses do not give you experience, and giants do not give you strength.

Ragnarok seems to offer more items and monsters that rearrange the physical environment than other roguelikes. In NetHack, you could take a pick-axe to just about every solid part of a level, and you can do that here, too, but there are also traps that fill rooms with water or lava, cause the ceiling to collapse, or replace all the external walls with monsters. There's a scroll that summons lava, and another that randomly plants trees wherever you are. There's an artifact called a "disruption horn" that you can use in the doorway of a room to cause the ceiling to cave in, killing whatever monsters are there (you get the experience!). A creature called a "mudman" leaves gobs of mud everywhere. There's a wand that just blasts the hell out of everything you point it at, including floors, walls, and anything in between.
Using my horn to collapse the ceiling on a roomful of deadly moss.
I spent seven hours exploring the dungeon beneath the forest, and I have nothing at all to show for it yet. It's three levels with nine maps per level--as big as Rogue by itself. Commenters were right: the game got a lot harder once I left the forest. I've been trying not to abuse the backup system too much, but thank the gods it's there. Some of my more amusing deaths include:

  • I stepped on a mist trap, which confused me. Confused characters in this game sometimes randomly use their items, and in this case, I ate a mushroom that turned the whole world hallucinogenic before killing me.
  • I ate some creature that turned out to be made of lava.
  • I stepped on a trap that turned all the surrounding walls into wizards, who quickly surrounded and killed me.
At least the hill giant probably won't make it out, either.
  • The one below didn't kill me, but it made life hard enough that I reloaded.
What kind of potion was that!?
One of my most heartbreaking deaths came late in this session, when I had just come across a Wand of Wishing. These are as useful here as they are in NetHack except I don't really know the specific names of the best equipment to wish for. Since I'd already activated the first wish by using it at all, I wished for one of the only high-level items whose name I reliably knew: Mjollnir. For some reason, I got a sword instead. Before I even had a chance to investigate it, a bartok came wandering into the room and killed me with a sonic wail. My previous save was well before this area was seeded with equipment. Lesson learned: save after you find Wands of Wishing.
In retrospect, the best answer would have been: "I wish I wasn't so excited about having found a Wand of Washing that I'm failing to notice the dude coming up from the southeast."
A lot of my woes are equipment-related. I'm constantly over-encumbered, made worse by the fact that I don't understand how a lot of stuff works. But there are good things to report. I have a full set of armor, including a "holocaust cloak," which protects against fire and I think is an homage to The Princess Bride. I have both a Ring of Locus Mastery and a Ring of Relocation. This means that every 12-100 rounds, I get teleported, but I can direct my destination location. It gets me out of a lot of fights and traps, and if I don't want to move, I can just specify the next square I was going to walk into anyway. It would be nicer to have these powers as intrinsics, but with the ability to equip 8 rings, you don't feel like you're wasting a slot as much as you do in NetHack.
Thankfully, my Ring of Translocation will eventually get me out of here.
In other good news, a blessed Scroll of Enhancement empowered my silver sword up to +9. In bad news, a red slime then ate the sword. Then I found another blessed Scroll of Enhancement and got a spear up to +15. You have to roll with the punches in roguelikes.

Two Scrolls of Knowledge bestowed my character with the "Terraforming" and "Identification" abilities. I haven't tried the former yet, but the latter seems to render Scrolls of Identification moot. I wish I'd known to wish for Scrolls of Knowledge back when I had that Wand of Wishing.
That's one logistical concern I no longer have to deal with.
On Level 2, I found an enemy named Scyld, who was so powerful that I assumed he must be some kind of "level boss" and likely in possession of one of the quest items. I reloaded half a dozen times before I finally killed him, but it turns out he didn't have anything special.
This seemed like a unique enemy, so I thought there would be more to him.
The real conclusion of the dungeon came via a hole I found on Level 2, which led to some kind of temple, preceded by a title screen. The game strikes a good balance between random level generation and some fixed level content, as this particular level shows. Its enemies are chiefly "guardians," who root in place unless you walk next to them, at which point they become hostile and generally kill me in two or three blows. My teleportation abilities plus careful navigating led me to avoid most of them.
Entering the temple. These special screens help create an atmosphere lacking in a lot of roguelikes.
I soon encountered a warrior named Hrethel, standing on a stump with a noose around his neck. He pleaded for freedom, but I had options to kick out the stump and do nothing instead of setting him free. (Note that the developers, finding no good way to operate this encounter with the usual game commands, just provided a special options menu. In both this and the graphics, the authors of Ragnarok show more flexibility than a lot of roguelike authors.) Of course, I chose to free him. The grateful Hrethel joined my character, but before I had a chance to figure out what that really meant, the god Vidur attacked and killed me instantly.
I like that the game supports these special options in addition to the usual plethora of roguelike commands.
In subsequent trials, I learned that Vidur always gets angry and appears if you rescue any of the three captives on the level. If I chug a Potion of Speed, I can act as often as Vidur and can wound him, but he always pounds away my hit points in two or three turns. My Orb of Imprisonment doesn't work on him. Neither (it seems) do several wands. He has no special attacks (so far), but his physical attacks are devastating. I'm going to roam around the dungeon some more and try to build my resources before giving him another run, as I have several unexplored screens on Level 3.

I'm still enjoying Ragnarok, but I have a feeling it's going to be way too long. I also forgot how exhausting roguelikes are. You have to watch every step, pay attention to every message, and stop and think before every combat. Life and death can hinge upon whether you take a beat before entering a room, or whether you take a corner using a diagonal movement key or two lateral movement keys. NetHack taught me to stop, pause, and think between moves, which serves me well here, but it also means that it seems to take forever to get through a level and yet you still have to pay rapt attention.

The lack of permadeath helps, of course. I'm quite careful to save every 200 turns and usually glad that I did. It means that I have a reasonable chance of getting through the game without having to look at spoilers, since underestimating an enemy or misdiagnosing a piece of equipment doesn't mean that I'm starting over from scratch. But 200 turns are more to make up than they sound, and it's especially jarring when, thanks to the nature of randomization, the same stuff doesn't happen the second time.

Because of reader comments, I never did switch to the Valhalla version of the game. It's a more apt name, since far more of my characters will have ended up there than at Ragnarok.

Time so far: 10 hours


  1. The authors of this game seem to have been mining Beowulf for names.

    Hrethel was a king in Beowulf who died of grief after one of his sons accidentally killed another in a hunting accident.

    Scyld was one of the first kings of the Danes in legend, but his name was rendered as Skjöldr except for his appearance in Beowulf.

  2. This game seems like one of those rare hidden gems that is actually, in fact, hidden and a gem. I would trade the mouse interface for a bigger game window, but I imagine it helps a lot when learning what verbs are allowed by the game.

    The limitation of saving every so often is one I haven't seen before in any game old or new; usually you get static checkpoints, a flat number of saves per level, or some consumable that you trade for the ability to save. I think this is one of my favorite approaches, next to Fallout 4 Survival's.

    1. I agree about the mouse buttons--otherwise, the interface is essentially perfect. And also about saving--I so wish more games would adopt a limited-saving approach. Making death actually meaningful (but not permanent) adds at least 50% to my enjoyment.

  3. Roguelikes, of all games, generate the best stories. Especially when they kill you.

    Great lycanthropy caption.

  4. "Its enemies are chiefly "guardians," who root in place unless you walk next to them, at which point they become hostile and generally kill me in two or three blows."

    As though that's any special when Zelda puts them on the overworld map! Though admittedly those looked like Minions more than anything...

    1. Zelda was good to me, back in the day. She sent me a letter that laid out all her dreams and what she wanted from the world and in that letter she said she wanted me.

      We had an idyll. It lasted 20 minutes (game time).

      But then she left - was taken - and I set out to find her.

      I can't tell you how much blood I spilled or even why I spilled it but I can tell you that I don't sleep much. I see things when I close my eyes that I don't want to see because I'm afraid of what I'll remember.

      Sometimes when I do fall asleep I see Zelda. Sometimes I think she sees me too and I start to scream and I wake up.

      F*cking Zelda.

  5. Are you sure that those corpses don't convey attributes? I've certainly played roguelikes where the boost is subject to a failure chance based on how high your attribute currently is. You might want to test them a few times before giving it up.

    1. The three that I mentioned I each tried at least a few times, but I suppose I might just need to try more. As I mentioned, there are SOME corpses that clearly do convey intrinsics.

  6. These entries always make me want to go and play nethack or something similar, but I truly lack the stamina for these games. Always nice to hear few fun adventures that you've had though!

    1. Maybe try Dungeons of Dredmor

      It's a more recent effort that's a lot easier to pick up and play, and a lot more forgiving of errors.

    2. I find roguelikes quite playable when I backup my save files and/or kill the game process shortly before death so the save doesn't get deleted.

      Some would call it cheating, but when playing with permadeath I never make it past the first few levels before quitting in frustration.

    3. Dredmor lets you not play permadeath.

      I play non-roguelikes permadeath because I'm insane.

  7. Before I even had a chance to investigate it, a bartok came wandering into the room and killed me with a sonic wail.

    "A 'sonic wail'? Megsértettél!"

  8. I ate some creature that turned out to be made of lava.

    This made me laugh out loud. I really need to play this game.

  9. "I ate some creature that turned out to be made of lava."


  10. You're right in thinking the holocaust cloak is paying homage to The Princess Bride. The cloak makes a brief appearance on Fezzik (Andre the Giant) as he rides in a cart pushed by the other characters. They wind up lighting him on fire to intimidate a bunch of soldiers who are guarding the castle's gate.

    Not sure what makes the cloak a holocaust one though, but maybe that's explained in the book version I never read.

    Such a fun movie.


  11. Gonna guess that potion you drank was 120 proof spirits, because you were immediately legless.

    Making a roguelike with a Norse focus works so well because you can assume the sheer arbitrary cruelty on display is due to a trickster god antagonist. It's perfect. I wish you all the luck in reaching the end.

  12. Roguelikes...only for those who like to suffer.

  13. Well, I don't know what happened. Co-author Thomas Boyd left an awesome comment here with lots of background information and then deleted it. I hope you come back, Thomas. I really enjoyed reading what you had to say.

    1. I spelled something wrong. I'll edit and repost soon.

  14. Enchantment, not enhancement.

    1. I'll have to wait until I get one again, but I'm pretty sure it's "Enhancement" in this game.

  15. This one looks interesting... I've mainly played Hack in the past and then NetHack later... I'll have to add it to my list.

    I've also heard Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is good as well, so two Rogue-likes may be on the list.


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