Welcome back to Let's Play Angband. This episode is brought to you by my triumphant (?) return to college... to take a class required for graduate school admissions. Which was not part of my undergrad, or previous grad school, requirements. It is also brought to you by the noble dtsund, who was brave enough to continue posting shit while I was busy doing things like seeing INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, which is fucking great. I did not expect 2009 to be a good year for movies, but it has been very kind to my eyeballs. Unfortunately, Fantastic Mr. Fox looks like it will be both very good and want to shove grapefruit spoons straight under my eyelids, in that late-70s/early-80s Rankin-Bass kind of way.

Anyway, we're about to enter a world of pain. Pain which is known only as:

I'm not going to lie: This is my least favorite variant of Angband I have ever played, and it always was, and there's a good chance it always will be. Judging from the name of it, you're only getting about one quarter of the story, because sCthangband has quite the lineage. You see, it's actually a third-generation variant. Gather 'round the campfire, and I will tell you a tale. A tale of three little Angband variants.

We begin back in the distant past, with the Angband 2.7 and 2.8 codebases. These were significantly less refined and balanced than 2.9 (and especially the new 3.x) lines, and had essentially persisted from the early 1990s into near 2000, back when everyone was more interested in the shareware likes of Doom and Quake than little @-symbols running around all over shit.

Naturally, some crazy dude thought that it would be a brilliant idea to make Angband more like Nethack. In fact, a number of Angband variants seem to suffer from a condition that I'm going to term Nethack Envy, which is dropping the deep but relatively uncomplicated mechanics of Angband in favor of something much more sophisticated and requiring more spoilers, more player knowledge, and more devotion overall. These variants are the Ameritrash of the Angband (and probably the whole Roguelike) world. This person also apparently really, really loved The Chronicles of Amber, the first five books of which are very very good and exactly the appropriate kind of trippy scifi/fantasy for the early seventies, which of course would later be supplanted by the far superior (and significantly less trippy) Gene Wolfe style of fantasy, which would eventually degenerate into an endless series of Dragonlance books and paperbacks with crying gryphons and/or two shirtless dudes riding a dragon on the cover.

Thus, Zangband (Zelazny Angband) was born. I never played it, because honestly, that is a ridiculous kind of thing to put in a setting such as Angband's. But there was something even more ridiculous that happened.

Somebody took a look at Zangband and said, "You know, this would be a lot better - if I replaced some of, but not all of, this Zelazny shit with Lovecraft shit!" And lo, the Angband gods did smile upon this proclimation, and Cthangband was born (Cthulu Angband). Were there other differences between Zangband and Cthangband? Probably, but who knows. I can't find any real documentation on it - because Cthangband died somewhere along the way. It died the cold, hard death it deserved to, along with tens of other variants that weren't terribly good.

But that wasn't enough. No, it wasn't. Somebody decided that Cthangband could be improved upon, and thus, like the super nintendo before it, we were delivered super (note: the 's' may not actually stand for 'super' but I like to pretend it does) Cthangband. And this brings us up to the middle of 2004, when all (s)Cthangband development died. One can only assume it was killed by natural selection.

We will see why momentarily. Let's begin with the needlessly complicated character creation system.

That's right. I can choose between 30 races, because "more" clearly means "better". Instead of having some very small, clearly defined set of races (I find 6-10 acceptable) we obviously need access to a ludicrously wide variety of nearly indistinguishable dudes (or dudettes) to be.

Let's take a look at one of them in detail.

Here we go: Nothing says Lovecraft like a Great One (except maybe The Old Ones, or perhaps Dagon, or maybe Cthulu itself, or, depending on your views, Jeffery Combs (or alternately: a disembodied head trying to get it on with a woman)). The description reveals a few things about the game: For one, you have TWO mana pools in Cthangband, SP and CHI. SP is for actual magic stuff and CHI is for "mind powers". We'll get into the overcomplicated magic system later, don't worry! The 'wise ones' and 'clever ones' things indicate special powers that this particular race gets when they reach a certain stat level, one of the few additions Zangband/Cthangband/sCathangband (hereafter referred to as THIS VARIANT) has that I think is kind of clever.

You may notice that their being is incompatible with the Pattern. The Pattern, for those of you who didn't read the wikipedia article on The Chronicles of Amber, is this magic doodad that's a leftover remnant from Zangband. I sure wasn't going to play this fucking thing long enough to find out what it was there for, and the game's documentation gives no hint as it what it is.

This may be a very good time to mention that the game's documentation, as a whole, does not tell you what the goal of the game is. In Angband this is very clear-cut, but in THIS VARIANT, it's a little more... nebulous! We'll find out why later!

Anyway, I pick human. I'm not wasting any time fussing around with this.

If I were a normal human being, this is exactly the point at which I would turn off the game, put it into the "Recycle Bin", and click DELETE so hard that my mouse would break straight through my desk and probably smash my kneecap.

But I am not a normal human being. I am a LET'S PLAYER and LET'S PLAY THIS CRAZY SHIT. I do these things for you. I do all kinds of dumb things, so that other people don't have to. I have watched Cinderella 2000 - perhaps the worst movie ever made - so you don't have to. I read all four books of Twilight, so that my friends would never have to (although I made sure they felt my pain at every possible second). And now I am playing sCathangband, so you never have to.

Wait. I got totally sidetracked here for a moment. Let me grab a vodka and we'll start over.


Alright - templates. That's THIS VARIANT'S version of classes. You see, THIS VARIANT had the crazy idea that everything in Angband should be skill based. You might remember the last time this happened, I was somewhat okay with the results. This time, I am not.

Here's how this works: There are a set of universal skills that everyone can learn, and then there are (semi, possibly, I didn't play long enough to find out) 'restricted' skills that your initial template determines. We'll talk about how you "train" skills later. Here's a spoiler: Do you like Final Fantasy II? I hope you do! SPOILER 2: [color=white]I DON'T.[/color]

As if you needed more proof that somebody was taking protips from Nethack.

Anyway, this is what we end up with. As mentioned in my last variant update, I love playing unarmed monk-style characters whenever I get the chance; for some reason it really suits my style. Let's get around to actually looking at the world, shall we?

(1) : Current time of day. This is important if you are a vampire; you do not want to be out in the sunlight, because otherwise you will sparkle and the Itlian supervampires who rule the vampire world will totally come and snuff your shit straight out. This, by the way, is (part of) the actual plot of Twilight II: Your Indian is a Werewolf.

(2) SP/CHI. Again, SP is for your regular magical powers and CHI is for everything to do with awesome mind powers. SP is for Gandalf, CHI is for some guy who can bend spoons with his mind.

(3) Your current "truck with the spirits" as it were. Spirits are part of the game's insanely complicated magic system. We'll be coming back to them.

(4) LE: I have NO IDEA what this stands for, but THIS VARIANT'S claim to fame is probably its absolutely fucking insane turn system - and I say this as somebody who admits that Angband's current turn system, while an elegant solution to gradations of slowing/speeding effects, is kind of nuts. Anyway, LE indicates the current number of 'action points' you have left. Most actions (like moving) take up 1000 points. But swinging a weapon could take up, say, 491 of them. Some spells (notably, teleportation ones) will take up about 4500 (FOUR AND A HALF TURNS TO TELEPORT - think about this for a second, especially in light of Gob's demise). This gives you some indication of what a 'safe' action to take next is, if you're one of those people who tries to count cards.

(5) This is a tree.

(6) This, I believe, is a house. Houses in this game are special - you don't start with one, you have to buy one! And there are towns all over the world map (wait, trust me, we're getting there - see 9).

(7) The Inn is where you can go to buy a house or go read a book or whatever, I totally forget. I never went in there in the games I played.

(8) Is your standard variant-added bookshop.

(9) Is your current location. You might notice that it says "Dylath-Le", which may lead you to believe this is not the only town in the game. Your hunch would be correct. Not only are there more towns, there's an overworld, more dungeons (the game calls them "sewers"), and there are towers. Towers! That just drives me nuts.

Well I'll be damned. There is an actual concrete goal to the game, hidden in the description of "this variant has an overworld."

I also circled the location of the two (!) black markets. That's right - towns can have more than one kind of shop. This is only semi-convenient; as you might imagine, duplicate black markets are the most useful.

You will also notice that even though I didn't take a class which can study magic, there's still a "study" notifier on the bottom of the screen, which means that this character could probably bring up his magic skills someday. Note that I'm not going to be doing this, ever.

In fact, here's what Dr. Awesome's skills look like. Now, a brief primer on skills. Here's how they work: Skills go up when you use them. But! They can only go up if that skill is currently printed in [color=yellow]YELLOW[/color]. As your skills get better, you have to go deeper into the dungeon (or higher in towers, or further out of town, or whatever) to get that all-important [color=yellow]YELLOW[/color] color.

There is one particular stat I want to draw attention to here: TOUGHNESS. TOUGHNESS determines your level of HP. TOUGHNESS was never able to be improved on floors 1-5, on any of the characters I played, in any of the games I started (and finished). Yes, THIS VARIANT expects you to be able to finish floor 5 (250') with 19-21 HP. Total.

By the way, TOUGHNESS has a chance to increase every time you get hit. And only when you get hit. So if you're a careful, cautious, good Angband player - sooner or later your TOUGHNESS will be "underleveled" and some dumbass monster will come up and completely fuck your shit over. People complain about depth/resistance, but this is worse. Way worse.

Naturally, with such low HP, I decide it might be smart to buy some armor. Putting on anything beyond the soft leather armor the game provides this class with at start, though, causes this message to appear. I presume that the amount of armor you can wear (1) goes up as Martial Arts goes up and (2) completely fucks you in the ear if you have too much on when using Martial Arts/Hand-to-Hand.


If you think that Stiv will keep playing sCthangband, TURN TO THE NEXT POST. If you think that he won't, GO READ ANOTHER THREAD.

Wait! There's more to get out of the way before we start in earnest.

I get the very uncomfortable feeling that all of this information will be necessary at some point in a successful game. I feel kind of ill.

I know what will make me feel better: A jaunt through the countryside!

This is a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad day. I guess it's back into the city and then down into the "sewers" for some hot sexy dungeon crawling action! Yeeee-haw!

Actually, I could have explored the overworld, but the game advises you that the overworld is in fact not a safe place and you should spend some time in the sewers leveling up before traveling around. That strikes me as kind of a cheat.

Meet the only possible Lovecraft reference I spotted in the whole game outside of the documentation. It may not even be one. I can't remember if Ib is mentioned in his writings anywhere. [ED: After a quick google, it is; it's mentioned in The Doom that Came to Sarnath, and apparently Lovecraft's dream cycle (those stories which feature Randolph Carter).]

Clearly, the name of this game is a misnomer. It should be Romancing SAGAngband.

I'd like to imagine Professor Daravon saying this. By the way, Dr. Awesome dies shortly afterward and so let's roll up a new character, alright? I mean, this post is only about 3/4 of the way finished. We've gotta get our 20-image quota going on here, and maybe - maybe - I can squeeze another update out of this traumatizing experience.

Once again, because I am nothing if not persistent, I roll up a human warrior-monk. It should be noted that your starting town appears to be semi-random, which is interesting, because some towns have much, much more difficult sewer levels than others.

Wait a minute. I just realized that this game somehow managed to add sewer levels to Angband.


Curious to try something out, I call up the psi powers screen. Psi powers are the easiest to explain in the magic system as well, so let's totally go there. By hitting the 'P' key (not the 'p' key, that's a different kind of magic!) you can bring up a menu that displays your currently available psi powers, which are granted as your psi skill levels up. Precognition is a freebee, available to everyone (because it costs 0 skill), fails 1/5 times, and takes one point of CHI. Very easy to read, and understand. It works just like regular magic in Angband, except it comes for free, and only takes one skill.

Well, two skills! Chi Balance determines the number of Chi points you get, and many characters will probably only ever have their initial starting point of it.

Down to the sewers!

Despite not holding an edged weapon of any kind, this generically-named fantasy character (I forgot to name him) manages to stab a sleeping monster. "Stabbing" is the game's generic term for hitting a sleeping creature, and it deals damage comparable to a critical hit. I also like this mechanic, actually.

Redweed is a new monster, and my favorite example of why THIS VARIANT is so horribly unfun to play. It's like anti-fun; I would turn this game off and play Peggle and not have fun because THIS VARIANT took all the fun out of me. It's like a fucking (sparkling) vampire.

Okay, so here's what redweed is: A monster with explosive growth that blinks (~10 square radius teleport). Does that sound not so bad? Alright, imagine this, if you will: These monsters appear in groups initially, and are very vigilant (have a high chance to wake up when you approach). They will immediately blink out - and begin spawning others. Which also blink out. Which also spawn others. Which... and so on.

There was one level I got where a whole quarter of a screen was taken up by these monsters in the number of turns it took to get from one side to the other.

Shortly afterward, generic fantasy character dies. I roll up another, which I didn't even bother to take notes on what class it was. Let's say that it was a... warrior monk?

Believe it or not, useless items are not unique to THIS VARIANT. They're an artifact of the 2.7/2.8 line, where there was a lot of stuff laying around in the dungeon that served no purpose beyond "flavor". These items were (rightly) removed from the game in 2.9.x.

At some point I roll up yet another new character, and kill a Hobo. This is strangely cathartic.

DRINKING TIME: Please go grab a glass of your favorite beverage (I'm still sipping on my vodka, so I'll wait here). We'll continue just after the post break!

It's time to go into the home stretch. Let's roll up just a few more, so that we can learn about... magic.

Junk, affectionately named after my favorite character from the FFTLP, is a Dark-Elf Ranger. Rangers have the power to commune with spirits, which is one of the game's forms of magic; you make a request to a spirit, and they (hopefully) grant it. You might be wondering why he has such a high charisma score: Well, it's because this game finally found a use for charisma - it affects how likely the spirits are to think you're an asshole for wasting their time.

You're prompted to choose either a Life (healing/support, will help against the undead) or Wild (attack/other, doesn't care about anything) spirit when you roll, and I decided to choose life.. and then live!

Shiren players may sense that this is something of a familiar sight. This is a Big Level - Big Levels are another common thing in variants, believe it or not. They're just big, empty expanses - in this case, though, there's an odd trick of the light that I think is kind of hilarious. You start the level knowing where every object on the floor is, but! There are still rooms (as evidenced by the wall south of Our Hero) and some of these items are inside rooms and should be outside of the line of sight algorithm. Big Levels in THIS VARIANT fuck with line of sight so hard that it's not even funny.

The discussion of what Angband's line of sight computations are good for? Well... that's another day, and a topic that I personally find very fascinating.

[center] FIG 1: What happens when you don't come up with a line-of-sight workaround.[/center]

Junk calls on Frupper, SPIRIT OF LIFE, to come and bless him. Frupper flips him the finger (not really) and gets all kinds of pissed off because how dare he make a perfectly reasonable request like that?

Think of spirits as like praying in regular Angband, except that in addition to a failure rate, God can also get really pissed off and decide to smite you. Not that I got any smiting going on, but the manual seems to indicate that yes, this can happen.

Junk momentarily channels the spirit of Freddy Kruger. This is even more cathartic than murdering a hobo in cold blood.

What the fuck does this do? Revive Hitler? We'll never know.

By the way, Junk dies. Are you getting the impression that I don't really care for this game very much? That, perhaps, I was kind of half-assing it when I was playing, to give you guys the most overall general feeling of malaise and disgust that permeated my very being the whole time I had that window open?

I don't blame you if you are. NEW CHARACTER.

This is, I shit you not, an actual name of a real live person, question mark and all. He performed a study of infectious disease by modeling a zombie apocalypse. I am not making this up. It was on the BBC the other day.

Also, I hate The Cure, and I like the implication that Robert Smith may not in fact exist.

Wait, okay! So. Robert Smith? is a warlock sprite. Warlock means that he's going to be good at hitting shit and also at casting what this game calls "hedge magic" but which we regular Angband players know as "normal person magic". Gob might refer to them as "illusions".

So what the hell are all these choices to make. Well.

There are four different schools of magic (Thaumaturgy, Necromancy, Sorcery, Conjuration) and four different realms of spells (Animae, Corporis, Vis, Naturae). Each spell belongs to one school and one realm, and your combined skill in those two areas determines damage, casting time, success rate, and so on.

It sounds simple. But then you think a moment and realize - what the hell's the point?

These are the first messages I get when I start the game. I have absolutely no idea how this could happen, ever, but apparently Robert Smith? is going to glitter in the sunlight and watch teenage girls while they sleep and think about sucking their blood (but not actually sucking their blood). This, by the way, is what counts as romance.

I find it oddly appropriate that the quantum state Robert Smith? is a vampire. The actual Robert Smith is probably a vampire, when he's not crying or taking sit-down baths.

Anyway. Robert Smith? goes ahead and heads to the bookstore, which incidentally, is now the only place you can learn spells - mages in THIS VARIANT are huge-ass pussies and don't have time for studying in dangerous, dank sewer levels! Take THAT, mages!

I think I chose Thaumaturgy because that's the one that has Magic Missile. Magic Missile is a (Na)turae spell, and requires a combined skill of 2 to cast. It takes a full turn, which ain't so bad!

Also, teleport takes "only" two and a half turns, not four and a half as I originally thought. Whatever, it's still too long - teleport is an emergency spell, and I don't like having to think more than five turns ahead in Angband (which is probably one of the reasons why I've never finished a game).

Robert Smith? learns Magic Missile, naturally.

Christ, I had forgotten about these things. Okay. What if I told you there was a moderately powerful lightning-branded monster that appeared in groups on the first dungeon floor? Would you say that I was a crazy man, that I was obviously telling a lie, because that would be ridiculous and unblanaced? You would - if I weren't playing THIS VARIANT!

Anyway, at this point I begin wondering if magic is bugged - because magic missile doesn't do any damage at all to these grid bugs (the aforementioned monster). Magic should always hit. Magic should always either do damage, or give me a message that says "IT SEEMS INEFFECTIVE."

Magic does not do damage. No magic I cast, for the rest of this game, for the rest of any game of THIS VARIANT that I play, does damage.


No damage.

Goodbye, Robert Smith?! We'll miss you - I just wish that I could stop playing this game now. But there are a couple features left for me to tell you about.

No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you! This is a 3x1 level; a Small Level, the counterpart to the Big Level. I believe that THIS VARIANT is the only variant that has them! Kind of neat, and I really like it. It feels very satisfying to have a smaller space to explore every once in a while.

(1) This is the first unique unique monster I've encountered. Good show! (2) It's actually called a Rat King.

That's it. I'm done.

You can guess what I think about this game. But wait a minute! Could it be... Pete Hammond?

An instant classic... four stars!



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