Bark sets off towards the temple of his battle-god. Along the way, he stops by at one of his forest homes of yore (unfortunately (?), Fangorn Forest is not a dungeon). There's still one necessity he needs to pick up.
Welcome to Lothlorien, home of douchebag elves. This is a fully-equipped town, complete with its own set of quests (the first of which gives you a house here, like Bree). In fact, it's more than comparable to Bree - it's even got a church!
Ok, for crazy elves a 'church' consists of 'pretty waterfall where they sit and contemplate nature amidst orc guts', but it's the thought that counts. Those colored-0 altars over there would let Bark kneel before a deity of his choosing and begin to worship... if he hadn't already been worshipping a god, that is. The other god, Melkor the Evil Bastard, has his altars randomly strewn throughout dungeon levels and is not worshipped here.
And, typical of Elves, they don't have what you actually need on hand. That doesn't stop them from offering their own sage 'advice', however. Tempting as they are, those Cesti of Slaying would replace our only source of free action, and that Potion of Strength would drain our money funds.
Ol'bark, however, is at once a hasty Ent and, yet, still an Ent. He has no use for money. He grabs that Potion of Strength asap, and up it goes, from 24 to 25. The immediate benefit is that he can wear slightly more armor without becoming encumbered and losing massive amounts of AC (barehand combat pretty much requires light armor only -- and Bark isn't even a true Monk, which would have the dodging skill, which functionally requires him to wear nothing but amulets, rings, and maybe gloves and a cloak if he's lucky).
He still needs that other necessity, though. He shakes his head and decides it just can't be helped. On, he heads, to that land of capitalism and commerce, to dirty superstitious humans: he heads to Gondor.
FINALLY some shop in the game has wands of fucking noxious cloud. These are vital, because at this point they pretty much say 'point and kill anything in a radius-2 area'. They're kind of expensive, but they're sooooo worth it. They'll be necessary for this Trial and Tribulation Barky is about to take.
Speaking of which, it's just to the north of Gondor.
The structure of these quests is pretty simple. Once you find the (randomly-placed, within many restrictions) entrance to the temple, in you go, and you search through 5 floors for a [color="purple"]~[/color] that your god finds pleasing for some reason unbeknownst to us poor mortals. The piece has about a one-third chance of being generated each floor, and it's guaranteed to show up on the fifth floor if you make it that far. The kicker is that the relic is only generated once, and if you miss it and move on to the next floor without picking it up, not only do you fail this quest but you fail the rest of the god quests, of which their are five total. Your reward is skill points: your god gives you five points in your Prayer skill for the first four quests, and ten for the final quest, such that if you mess these quests up you lose a very significant portion of your character build.
Now why would Bark put up with this gigantic clusterfuck again? What is Tulkas doing for us? Well, gods have spells of their own, which use the Prayer skill, and this is his first:
It makes you more accurate in combat.
At spell level 20 all your [melee] blows are critical hits.
Those critical hits are more effective than normal, too. That spell basically reads "at spell level 20 do three times damage". That is what Tulkas does for us.
But that's not all! In addition to a couple other mediocre god spells, he gives us access to the Earth school of magic, using the prayer skill as the magic school skill. Earth gives us Stone Skin, which boosts your AC, Strike, a force ball that slams monsters back, and - vitally important, if Ol'bark ever gets far enough along to fight chain-summoners - Stone fucking Prison and Earthquake. The former drops a wall of stone (it should be wood for an Ent, damnit) around a target, blocking line-of-sight and breaking all sorts of shenanigans, and the latter might as well just say 'dump granite all over'. Great stuff.
That is what Tulkas does for us.
As of yet, Bark has no points in Prayer since his Piety is too low to cast god spells. However, Tulkas will change that himself, and by then he'll probably have enough Piety (from killing evil monsters) to make buying a book of Divine Aim worthwhile. It won't be at spell level 20 anytime soon, but it'll be a great help regardless.
So yeah, all these reasons combined, plus the previously-seen fact that you get god quests randomly as you level up - meaning, you could theoretically be too slow completing them and miss out, since you can only have one at a time and the level cap is 50 - means these quests need to be completed asap. And that's why Bark is scrunching into a small, narrow stone passage even as we speak.
the only reason he waited until level 12 was because I lost like 5 characters to fucking ambushes on the world map before I rolled Bark :(
And that's why Bark brought along a bunch of scrolls of magic mapping. You need to explore everywhere on every level for these quests, and since missing a passage could prove devastating and since you really, really, really need to know what you have and haven't already explored, Bark will now light the map squares he's already seen with his mind. Psychically. Or maybe he's just setting small fires using accumulated detritus every 10 feet, who knows.
But before he turns that option on, he discovers that the temple is a clearing-house for old, obsoleted uniques! Like this guy here, who doesn't even drop anything. Smeagol usually shows up around here too, if you haven't yet offed him. Moving on.
Bark is actually having a lot more trouble here than I remember appropriate for Tulkas temples. Incessant respawns of slightly-levelled monsters (Snagas aren't usually level 12. Try more like 6) combined with a lack of equipment equals taking a beating. He's not in any imminent danger, but he's getting worn down, and resorting to Noxious Cloud more than he would like.
Also, his remaining stock of gold is getting whittled away by these things. He can't bring himself to waste a noxious cloud charge on something so fragile, but then they wake up and steal from him repeatedly.
All in all, this dungeon feels much more like a traditional Angband dungeon than many other parts of ToME. Solid stone walls, exploring whole levels... it's got the works. That's actually one of the things I don't like about Angband -- the dungeon is so bland. It has no character. I'm sure this changes the further along you get (if there aren't ribbons of lava running around near the end I'll be very disappointed), but all the same, I prefer more than one wall symbol. I'm revealing just how much time I've spent with vanilla angband right here, eh? ;)
This entire place is claustrophobic.
Of course, being a roguelike, there is of course an abundance of insta-death scenarios. That Death Sword looks like a normal piece of equipment, but if you aren't watching your monster list carefully (or if you don't have a separate window with the monster list displayed set up), the thing will murder you as soon as you step in melee. Ol'bark lost that 60% of his health in one turn. Guess iron really is supereffective against wood. ;)
And on we go.
On the fourth floor he spots a purple shiny over yonder. He shuffles over to it, holds it up, and...
Tulkas is quite pleased.
Bark hates this solid, lifeless stone, so he reads a scroll of recall immediately and heads back to Lothlorien. And now it's time for the denoument. Anybody who's played a roguelike before knows how your first really substantial trip into the dungeon ends: lots of sell-IDs for crap you found on the ground. And he found a lot of crap.
Imagine that, except twice as long. I can't see why the shopkeepers put up with him.
NEXT UPDATE: this game is completely broken. And seriously, it'll be very soon, so keep an eye out. I know what I promised last time, but I mean it.