Welcome back to Let's Play Angabnd! This update is brought to you by my newly returned PC Duo. Do you have any idea how awesome a PC Duo with a region switch on it is? I didn't think so. The answer is: awesome. My new name for my PC Duo is "R-Type machine." I may also play Ys III on it. Are there even any other good games for the Turbografix/PC Engine/etc? Games endorsed by Johnny Turbo don't count. For more on Johnny Turbo, including delicious scans of all the Johnny Turbo comics, Sardius has got you covered. Thank you, Sardius.
This entry of Let's Play Angabnd is kind of special! Disheartened by the recent death of the beloved Viki, I decided the best thing to do was not play more Angband. No, I decided that it was time to play an Angabnd variant. With every new notable character death, I will play a new one.
What's a variant? Angband is sort-of open source. It's a complicated story because it was developed under a proprietary license (probably some kind of BSD) due to the fact that the oldest known Angband, 2.4-Frog Knows (that is the actual version number) was developed at a university. This is the reason why Angband isn't included in the games distributed with Linux; it's not a GPL-licensed product and can't be distributed with them.
Angband's source is freely available to anyone and everyone, and is not only a great source of spoilers, it's great for making games! Variants of Angband are any game that started off based on the Angband source - and many of them evolved to the point where they look nothing like Angabnd, and end up looking like Nethack. I hope that I win the game before I have to play one of those. Straight-up regular Angband is often referred to as "vanilla" because it is the plainest possible flavor of Angband, but I happen to think it's delicious.
Which variant are we playing today? Today you'll be regaled by tales from the variant known as Sangband. Sangband has been around for ages and ages and appears to have reached a "final" release sometime last year.
What is Sangband? Sangband has, on the surface, one very simple change from Angband: You don't have levels. Instead, you invest experience in 'skills' that dictate your abilities with weapons, magic, evasion, stealth, and essentially every other factor that was previously governed by class. This makes it very, very difficult to do certain things in Sangband, which we'll learn about as I play the game - and I played a lot of games of Sangband - at least 15 - to get to the point where I could have a character survive beyond the first floor.
It has other interesting features that we'll be looking at as well. Because character creation in Sangband is particularly boring - you don't get to allocate your own stats, it's all up to chance, and the races are your standard Angabnd variety - let's start off with the town.
The tutorial this screenshot mentions, by the way, is a bunch of filthy lies. I'll explain why in a moment.
1-6 are the same as in Angband, with a few minor differences. For example, the mages' shop no longer sells spellbooks and the church no longer sells prayer books. Instead, every magical tome is sold in (7), the bookstore. There is no black market in Sangband.
What's that mysterious + symbol, though?
Why, you get quests there, of course! A popular feature of variants is to add in a quest system, because everyone loves being assigned the task of Kill X of Y Monsters. Of note in Sangband is that it doesn't actually tell you what your quest is until you accept it, and you can never back out of one.
Alright, let's take a look at the meat of Sangband, the skill system.
That is a hell of a lot of skills. Okay, let's do this thing, easy ones first.
Swordsmanship, Clubbing, and Jousting influence your skills with edged, blunt, and hafted weapons, respectively. Archery skills increase your shooting ability with the appropriate weapon, and throwing is the ability to throw items. Spellcasting determines what levels of spells you can cast, magical power is how much SP you have. Magical device determines how good you are at using wands, etc. and spell resistance determines your saving throw. Dodging influences your AC and how often attacks miss. Perception helps you find doors and gives you better pseudo-ID (which in this game is almost useless; explanation to come) and disarming determines your abilities to disarm traps.
The game also has something called 'talents'. These are non-magic abilities your character gains when a skill levels up to certain points; for example, Stealth of 10% gives you the 'sneaking' talent, which puts you at a (-5) speed penalty but makes it less likely for monsters to wake up.
There are four realms of spells; Wizardry (standard Mage spells), Holy Alliance (priest), Nature Lore (druidic spells) and Blood Dominion (necromancy). Nature Lore and Blood Dominion are unique to Sangband, although another popular feature of variants is to add Druid and Necromancer classes. In my game I tried to shoot for playing a Druid at all times, which means I didn't get to try out any of the others. It should also be noted that once you put a single point into either Holy Alliance or Blood Dominion, the other becomes unavailable.
Burglary is a curious one. It allows you to set traps and perform other burglar-like activities, and raising it past a certain point lowers your charisma by 2.
Weaponsmithing, Bowmaking, Armor Forging, Alchemy, and Magical Infusion are all skills that allow your character to create items, given the right raw materials. This is, believe it or not, another popular feature of Angband variants, and I have never found a use for these abilities in any of them. Why not just find an ego item or an artifact?
Karate and Wrestling are the two hand-to-hand combat forms. Wait - why are there two? Well, it turns out that you can 'switch' between them; karate can stun, confuse, and inflict other status penalties on foes, but is not as powerful as wrestling. Neither can be used while you're holding a weapon, although both can be used when you have a shield. You always get two attacks when fighting hand-to-hand, but can never hit any etherial creature (ghosts, vortexes, etc.) and have a severe penalty for hitting certain types of creatures (like, say, acid hounds).
Is that not confusing enough? Well, you can also enter into one of what the game calls 'Oaths' when you reach a certain level in some skills, which increase your attack power but make you a dunce at magic (Oath of Iron), make you a mage but a dunce at fighting (any of the Oaths for the magic disciplines), or kind of put your character as a middle-of-the-road sort of fellow with a few extra bonuses and another charisma penalty (whatever the Oath for burglary is).
Anyway; I first put a point into Karate, Throwing, and Dodging. The game recommends Slings instead of Throwing, but I will never use a fucking sling in an Angband game unless it's like Extra Attacks (+3) or something. Slings suck.
Here's a cute feature; you can't fight monsters in the town that don't want to kill you, you just push through them. Note that monsters can now push through each other too, which means you can't have a weak monster in front of a stronger monster to hold them at bay anymore, necessarily.
Time to venture into the dungeon!
That is one crazy-looking dungeon. Because I'm playing the Windows version, there's a hell of an interface to Sangband; all the tiles are extra huge (as you might have guessed) and there are even a few non-ASCII graphics to be found, like doors. Personally, I like straight-up ASCII better, but Sangband is missing a number of interface options that I love which I won't bore you with.
There's also dangerous-looking water (blue squiggles) in the dungeon now. You can't cross it if you're over 50% of your total burden, which the game helpfully tracks for you in the inventory screen. Thanks, inventory screen!
This is the first item native to the game that I find; throwing knives. I'm unsure of the multiplier that I get for throwing them with my level of Throwing skill because the game - very helpfully - doesn't tell me anything about my hand-to-hand damage dice OR throwing multipliers on the status screen. No thanks to you, character status screen.
Some karate is unleashed on a jackal, which "hinders" it. I have absolutely no idea what this means, but it's an example of something karate can do to a monster; I also confused one for a single turn, once. And by a single turn I mean that in the same turn that I hit the monster, the confusion was cured.
Because defeating monsters continuously gives you XP, put it into skills as soon as you can. This is one of the first lessons you learn in Sangband, because your HP is determined by your Dodging skill, how many points you've put in total, and your Oath. Taking the Burglar or one of the magic discipline Oaths apparently slows your HP growth, but you can take them at any time - you just function at a diminished capacity as a burglar/magic user until you do. Min/maxing a character in Sangband is possible but probably very, very hard.
A good place to end this first post is on the death of my first character. Dr. Rock, we'll miss you.
This is as good a place to mention as any that the game starts you off with the following equipment: A random amount of money, food rations, and light. You do not get armor. You do not get weapons.
This is why taking a hand-to-hand as your primary combat skill at the start of the game is a stupid idea. If you can remember from the previous post, hand-to-hand can't hurt ethereal monsters, and Sangband is kind enough to add a monster of this type to the very first floor. Players with karate and no ranged skills or no items to throw/shoot are completely screwed at this point.
Players like me. I didn't learn this lesson until another five or six games in, mind you.
I die a few more times, and then decide to try a different approach: Ranged-only combat. You'll notice the 'in quiver' slot; that's the default for shooting, so that when I go to fire an arrow, it uses the quiver in the same way as @f1 (fire object 1) would work.
However, it turns out that firing arrows in Sangband is.. less than accurate at any distance. With a low bow skill I could literally be standing two tiles away from that monster and still miss. In fact, this is what happens, and death results.
In a desperate situation, I decide that it's time to use-id, because I'm going to lose the game anyway, and discover this interesting quirk; every time I use an unidentified magical-ish item, I gain experience (careful readers will remember this is a feature also in Angband, but it's made much less explicit - and is much less useful - there). In a later game I'll abuse this by drinking and reading everything I find on the first floor in town, which is enough to bump my character up a respectable amount.
Sangband also contains rubble, which takes extra turns to cross and may have an item hiding underneath it. I came across a couple rooms filled with it in my adventures through this mysterious, alien dungeon.
In the final game I play, I finally figure something out. The game has very ambiguously titled scrolls of 'Learn Magic' - they don't actually TEACH you magic, but rather pseudo-identify an item, making them a cheap alternative to scrolls of Identify, which are ungodly expensive in this game. Learn Magic scrolls run at around 16 gold a pop, making them very, very affordable.
And of course, some monsters in the town will still want to kill you for looking at them funny.
No word yet on the cats and dogs living together, but this is a great plan! I'm excited to be a part of it!
The game also has an interesting feature where monsters on the periphery of your vision show up as little white stars, so you know something's there, but not exactly what it is. It's a nice touch.
There are also trees in the dungeon, which act like walls you can move through. I wonder if there are problems in the forest, perhaps some trouble with the trees.
Apparently some doors are unopenable without the appropriate level of Burglary.
It's difficult to tell from the image, but I've been on this dungeon floor for around 100-200 turns, and just gotten the level feeling. This is how Sangband approaches scumming; instead of having to spend a certain amount of time on the previous floor before getting an immediate feeling, you have to spend time on the current floor to get a feeling. Now, there's just one big problem with this: In Angband, if you get a high-level feeling that indicates something dangerous is going to happen, you can immediately run back up the stairs. In Sangband, you might get boned by an out-of-depth monster before you even get a feeling to indicate it's there.
One of the first talents you pick up from Nature Lore is Detect Weather. Like all weathermen it's not always accurate and this screenshot only captures part of the report, but weather can effect elemental magic, which means druids need to pay special attention to it.
Finally I manage to grind up a mage in my very last game, and get a chance to check out the game's magic system. Here's a sampling of what the druid spells are; youc an probably guess what some of them are from the names. Unfortunately, in this game, you can't browse a spell you can't cast. 'Level' indicates the level that your spellcasting (NOT your skill in the dicipline you're casting from) needs to be at.
You may remember from a previous update that I mentioned earlier versions of Angband had a haggling system, where you had to bargain with shopkeepers. Well, Sangband has that system - but only when selling an item that's not currently stocked in the store. I didn't have a shopkeeper kick me out from trying to get a raw deal out of them, but I'm sure that you can be. It's even mentioned in the documentation!
It turns out that I don't miss haggling as much as I thought I did.
Here's an example of taking an Oath (in this case, for Nature Lore). It lets you know the benefits and drawbacks up front, and there's even more (there is always more) in the documentation. I believe your skill in the chosen dicipline has to be at least 10 to take the oath.
There is also a mechanic that allows you to invest money in a store, so that they can buy more and better items and cut you better deals when buying/selling. I didn't try it out.
And with that, we leave the world of Sangband.
Is it any good? Maybe. I have a fond place in my heart for games that let you customize a character to a stupid degree, and I really loved earlier versions of Sangband (which were literally just Angband with the skill system grafted onto it; none of this other stuff) but this one is kind of overbearing. The reason I chose it as the first variant to play was because I thought that it would be easy to explain and get into ("Angband... with skill points!") but I had no idea it had changed so much... in the last 10 years.
Who should play it? Veterans of floors 1-10 only. I'm serious about this one; if you're a new player who's thinking of picking up Angband, always start with vanilla and then move on if it doesn't quite suit your tastes. But Sangband is a very brutal, unforgiving game until you've got 10 points invested in your primary weapon skills, a magic discipline, and a decent dodge skill. It also encourages - to the point of almost demanding - that you dive, and you dive fast. I learned a lot in the games I played, and I'd be happy to play the game again sometime in my spare time, but it has a very steep learning curve. Even steeper than Angband, and that's saying something.
NEXT TIME: Was that your magic trick? No... that was my illusion.