Welcome back to Let's Play Angband! This update is brought to you by being late because my car fucking exploded. Alright, it didn't explode. But it would have if my girlfriend hadn't said "There is smoke coming out of the engine. Stop the car now." This is not a lie; this really happend. She almost didn't make her flight to New York. I suppose this update is also brought to you by the cherry vodka that's currently going in my cupboard. That strawberry stuff was just too good! This time I really will save some for all of you. I promise.

Since this is going to be the "mage playthrough," first I think I will acquaint you will all of the fun ways in which a mage's game can end in the first 5-10 minutes.

You'll notice that for two of them, I didn't even get screenshots because the -more- prompts cleared so quickly. Mages get a Detect Traps/Doors spell very early on, and they're expected to use it every time the screen changes until they hit at least level 10. Mages have very slow HP growth.

What else can we learn about mages, really quick? Well, Mages take +30% of base experience to level, making them the second most-expensive class to level (Rangers are more expensive, at +35%) which means that if you combine them with a race that makes good mages, you should expect at least a +50% increase over the base exp. For comparison, Viki was a human priest, which was a total of +20% above base experience. This means that the mage will be diving much faster than Viki did, in part because he'll have excellent ranged attacks from the get-go.

Our mage will be a Gnome, because Gnomes have two very great properties: They make excellent mages because they have a high INT bonus during character creation, and they get Free Action. Free Action is a little weird, because it's not exactly clear to the casual player what it does. It prevents some kinds of stunning and some kinds of paralysis, but not all. Even I haven't figured out exactly what it affects after all this time.

Mages themselves have a very weird game. Player levels 1-5 are almost impossible to complete, no matter what depth you're playing at, but it's smooth sailing then until around dungeon level 9/10, when dragons start showing up. Unique monsters are almost always a pain in the ass, because many of them resist elemental brands, which means that mages are reduced to the good ol' Magic Missile, which will barely put in a dent in most of them - and on top of this, some of them have generic magic resistance.

No, where mages really shine is when they start picking up their theme books in the dungeon. Eventually our gnomish friend (who, in a strange turn of events, I did not name David - sorry, Nick Jr. fans) will be able to cast Earthquake and an absolutely ridiculous number of high-damage area of effect spells. Remember the Wand of Acid Bolts that Viki had which she used to take down one of those non-Evil unique monsters? Wands are always less powerful than their corresponding spell - and mages get Acid Ball later on. This makes floors 35+ a total cinch for well-prepared mages. My longest-running game was as a mage, and that's not a coincidence.

Anyway, when we last left Angband proper, the Mages' Guild had sworn revenge on Morgoth for (a) offering a sweet job to some bitch who was tight with God instead of the forces of darkness and (b) obviously screwing them out of all kinds of magical power back when they made that creepy blood-oath a million years ago.

There's only man (gnome) brave enough - and stupid enough - to try and solve this problem.

That man (gnome) is:

GEORGE OSCAR BLUTH. Or as we'll probably end up calling him a lot, Gob.

The first thing that happens in a mage's life is always, always, always to learn Magic Missile. You do not browse the book to see what else there is. You do not check your inventory, or equip anything. No: You go straight for that sweet 3d4 magic missile. That makes it approximately as strong as a long bow with conventional arrows, and it will only get better. This is going to be the only thing a mage attacks with until they learn LIGHTNING BOLT except under the absolute direst of emergencies. For 90% of the game, a mage should never be hitting anything with a weapon. Weapons are for chumps.

Mages start with shit all for items, too. They get a dagger, their starting spellbook, and a Word of Recall scroll - which is good for emergencies. But you'll notice they've been screwed out of something super-important that every character needs to have: Armor. Armor is super-important for mages because there's a very limited range of it that they can wear without it affecting their magical abilities. Your goal in every second of a mage game is to keep enemies as far away from you as possible: If they ever come into melee range, you are almost certainly dead. See the screenshots above for details.

Welcome to the worst possible armor-purchasing situation for a new character, let alone a mage. You'll notice that Gob only has a strength of 8, which makes him a pretty hard-hitting mage, but there are exactly two piece of armor here that he can equip: Small shield and Leather Boots, for a whopping AC of 5! With a cloak from the General Store that will bump him up to a very respectable 6, which is not bad for a mage, to be honest. A robe (the usual mage wear) only offers +2, so the small shield is essentially acting in that capacity right now.

Let's diverge slightly into what armor a mage can't wear. Anything with encumbrance affects SP, I believe, meaning that any armor with a (-x) after the name is right out. Anything that goes on the 'hand' slot is out too, because it cuts your SP by 1/4 or 1/3rd (I forget) when you put it on, unless it's an ego item of Free Action.

It will be a miracle if Gob survives his very first encounter with a monster.

But not only does Gob survive it, it nets him an instant level-up. Score! He gets 2 new spells out of the deal, which will end up being Phase Door (teleport ~10 squares) and Light Area. These are the two most useful support abilities at this point in the game; Phase Door isn't a perfect means of escape, but it's better than nothing, and will at least give Gob the time to read his recall scroll.

A few screens later, Gob nets his second level-up, along with Find Hidden Traps/Doors. This is a spell that needs to be cast every time the screen scrolls as previously mentioned; if Gob runs down a hallway that has a trap in it, he will die (hard). Not unlike Hans Gruber, which might be the best name a villain has had, ever. Unfortunately now I can't watch Die Hard without thinking of Snape. Can you?

Somewhere along the way Gob reaches level 4 but doesn't learn any new spells, and espies Farmer Maggot in town. The old (?) codger (???) drops a very nice dagger for the trouble of whittling down his health in tiny tiny increments. God bless the automatically clear -more-, because otherwise this would have taken me like 15 minutes to do. Mages are not designed to hit things, and do teeny tiny amounts of damage.

I suppose now is the right time to talk about how useful/less the spells in the first book are. The only three critical ones Gob already has; Magic Missile, Light Area, and Find Traps/Doors. There is one at the very end of the book that is super-tempting for new players, but experienced ones will always skip it - Stinking Cloud. This is a radius-2 spell which does poison damage, around 30-35, and is great at low levels for clearing out explosive growth monsters that are a little out of control. Unfortunately, almost everything resists poison and the damage it does is piddly compared to some of the crowd-control techniques that Gob will learn later on.

Other than that there's Detect Monsters - which will eventually be learned - and a bunch of dross. Having an extra spell to learn around is extremely useful as a mage, too - if I get into a situation where suddenly poison needs to be immediately removed, Gob can learn Neutralize Poison (in the second book) and take care of his problem.

Hey! Speaking of that second book, Gob can start learning spells in it at level 5! Let's check it out.

Here's what Gob needs to learn out of this book, 100% for sure: LIGHTNING BOLT, Teleport, Spear of Light, and Frost Bolt. Wonder can be safely skipped, because it acts like a Wand of Wonder and will have a terrible effect most of the time. Confuse/sleep are useful, but Gob will be packing so many wands with these charges on them that he won't be wasting time learning spells that use valuable mana that could be converted to straight-up pain. Spear of Light is an attack that always beams and does light damage, which makes it essential against the orcs living on floors 6-14 and kind of useless afterward, and LIGHTNING BOLT has been changed from what it originally was to a 100% beam lightning-elemental attack.

Now, you'll notice that LIGHTNING BOLT costs 4SP. Magic Missile costs 1, and Frost Bolt costs 6. So which of these spells should Gob be using most often? The answer might surprise you: In earlier versions of the game, it was always LIGHTNING BOLT because it gained damage dice the fastest, and quickly outpaced magic missile, and costs less than Frost Bolt. I'm not sure how it behaves in this version, because LIGHTNING BOLT was very easy to exploit for min/maxing a mage. We'll see when Gob hits around level 20, at which point there should have been enough spell growth to tell me a little bit about what's most useful to cast.

Anyway, with all the PHAT LOOT obtained, Gob is able to buy some leather armor for +4 to AC. Fantastic! Almost reached 10, Gob! Keep on reaching for that rainbow.

And Gob shows no signs of stopping his ongoing rainbow-obtainment, quickly leveling up to 5 (where he can get LIGHTNING BOLT, and does) and 6 (where he wisely saves his spell).

Level 7, Teleport Self, and Frost Bolt aren't far behind. Making good progress!

At this point, you might wonder why Gob needs so many bolt spells when they're all (roughly) equivalent, and firing off a single bolt of Frost Bolt costs 6x the amount of magic missile, yet it doesn't even do close to 6x damage (usually). Well, this is where elemental resistances come into play; when LIGHTNING BOLT becomes the main damage dealer (if it ever does) there will always be monsters resistant to it that need to be turned to mush. Other elemental bolts will do the job for marginally more cost, and each one is incrementally more powerful: If Gob really needs to take out a monster fast and is willing to spend the mana to do it, then these higher-level spells can be a godsend. It's a turns/SP tradeoff, and mastering it can be very difficult. This is where Detect Monsters comes in; it costs 1 SP, so casting it to check for surrounding baddies that might swarm a low-mana character before unleashing uberdeath on a particular monster is fairly harmless.

And level 8! This means that it's time to invest in the third spellbook, because Gob can start learning those at level 9.

This is the first really super spellbook, just like it is with priests. Gob's going to want Satisfy Hunger (rations are heavy), eventually Recharging, Turn Stone to Mud (his low strength means he can't afford to carry a shovel for digging, and it's extremely useful against some monsters later in the dungeon), Fire Bolt, Acid Bolt, and the godlike IDENTIFY. Slow Monster can be skipped for the same reasons as Sleep and Confuse - especially when Lesser Recharging enters the mix.

At this point I should mention that mages have no - that's right, no! - pseudo-ID because they get an identify spell at level 11. In addition to Magic Missile, this is the only other 100% essential spell for a mage.

Gob, by the way, has apparently inherited Viki's terrible luck with traps. This is an unfortunate instance in which he forgot to cast Detect Traps before running down a hallway. Not to be a Sally Spoilers or anything, but Gob is currently at level 15 and still has not recovered from this stat drain. Fuck you, alchemy shop!

Kids, always cast Detect Traps.

Gob hits level 9, and collects Satisfy Hunger and Turn Stone to Mud for his troubles. Stone to Mud will only be useful for getting treasure that's immediately obvious at first - but later in the game there are extremely powerful monsters made of rock, and Stone to Mud will destroy them. Not outright, but it does ridiculous damage to monsters that naturally resist almost everything else.

Gob satiates his hunger with an untried spell from the last level up, and hits level 10. Only one away from identify!

By the way, the reason you're seeing only levelup shots this update is because nothing is happening. Gob's life does go beyond garden-variety a little later, but for now he's taking it slow because the experience modifier hasn't really kicked in yet. It doesn't start hurting bad until around level 12, at which point Gob's going to have to start diving a lot faster in order to get reasonable exp growth.

He takes the chance to learn Fire Bolt, as well.

Level 11! A big turning point for mages, because now Gob can identify everything and immediately determine if it's worth carting back up to the surface. He will never have to use- or sell-ID ever again, and won't have to waste his income on petty things like scrolls of Identify. Later on he'll even be able to forgo Word of Recall scrolls, making him a lean magic machine!

Smeagol has apparently done his penance and is done being touched by elves. Regardless, at this point Smeagol is way too hard a fight for a mage - he has tons of HP and Magic Missile will barely make dents in him - so Gob does the smart thing and runs away.

At this point Gob finds his first useful piece of Dungeon Armor, a ring of Resist Fire. It immediately gets put on because again, fire is the most dangerous element to a mage, but even worse than a priest - if any of his books get destroyed, Gob is immediately screwed out of his primary offensive abilities and will have to escape the dungeon. Fire Hounds are death incarnate for mages.

Gob has heard that reading these can be hazardous to your health. And continued membership in the mages' guild.

Gob is swimming in money, so although he doesn't need it yet, why not buy the last book for mages that's available in town?

Probably the most important thing here are the area of effect spells - note that Gob gets the first one at level 19, around the time he should start encountering Hounds if everything is timed correctly - and Haste Self. Haste is just what it sounds like, granting an immediate +10 speed bonus. In conjunction with a decent pair of Boots of Speed and maybe a Cloak of Speed, Gob can be faster than everything in the dungeon except Morgoth. Awesome.

NEXT TIME: I go on vacation to England. Actually that's not what happens in Angband, that's what happens to me. So I have no idea what's going to happen next time, but it will be in early August, most likely. I think that Smeagol gets killed again, but don't hold me to that one.

Meanwhile, please enjoy this endorsement of Calris.

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