Roguelike column thumbnail ['@ Play' is a monthly column by John Harris which discusses the history, present and future of the Roguelike dungeon exploring genre. This time, he continues a length series on roguelike Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup by examining its intriguing - but complex - skill-based gameplay system.]

In Part 1 of this article series, we examined the experience and skill advancement system of that rising star of roguelikedom, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. It’s a mixture of a straight-forward level gaining mechanism and a practice system that balances out the problems with characters doing something over and over just to gain skill by requiring he kill monsters to provide the fuel for advancement.

Like how Nethack, in many ways, is best experienced playing via telnet, with a community score list to place on and player ghosts to encounter, so is Crawl (although it tends to make Crawl games harder rather than easier, due to ghosts being so much more dangerous there). The two primary places you can play Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup online is at for the current stable version and for the current development version. Both versions are ASCII only, and Windows users will probably have to install PuTTY. Helpful instructions can be found on the akrasaic site.

(Warning: This is a full examination of all of Crawl's many skills. This article is quite lengthy!)

Character Planning

Crawl’s character development system is designed so that, if you don’t want to bother with planning your guy’s growth, you don’t technically have to. Other than being asked to pick a stat to increase every three levels, all advancement is done passively. Since character growth happens using a practicing system, and many times you must take advantage of character strengths to survive and propser, playing this way will result in a strong focus on those initial strengths, which suits some characters more than others. Strong melee characters can do very well with this, given careful play. Spellcasters, on the other hand, require a bit more care to survive, since an ogre-type monster will sometimes get into melee range without your being able to do anything about it. And even melee guys would do well to diversify their weapon skills a little, in case a powerful artifact of a different weapon type shows up or an interesting spellbook is found.

Increasing skills you don’t know requires free pool experience (which, as we discussed last time, comes from beating monsters) and an opportunity to practice. Many of those practice opportunities, especially for melee skills, come from fighting monsters, so we should be grateful that there are an ample supply throughout the dungeon. Increasing Traps & Doors happens on its own, but is greatly accelerated by trying to disarm traps (press Ctrl plus the direction of an adjacent trap to try to disarm). Dodge goes up generally whenever you’re attacked in light armor, and Stealth goes up randomly just from moving around in light armor. Shields and Armor skills go up similarly, when wearing the appropriate equipment.

Spellcasting is a bit special. Most of the time you do not need an appropriate circumstance to practice a spell, even if it ordinarily requires a special situation such as a skeleton or a handful of arrows. You won’t get much game use out of the spell in those cases, but it still counts for practicing the skill. Even unsuccessful spellcasting attempts practice magic skills, but those can cause miscast effects, which can be extraordinarily dangerous in Crawl’s system. Every class of spells has its own assortment of miscast effects, ranked from slight to perilous. The worse ones tend not to happen unless you cast spells well outside your ability. This may come as a shock to players coming from Nethack, where some of the most powerful spells like Identify and Magic Mapping can be made useful even if you have only slight skill just by trying again and again until successful. In Nethack, the penalty for spell failure is wasting a turn and some magic points; in Crawl, depending on the spell, it can include high damage or Abyss banishment, among other harsh punishments. It really sucks to die due to damage from miscasting a desperation spell, so it is best to stick with spells you know you can cast well in dangerous situations. Casting high-level spells you have no skill in should be avoided unless you have some other factor balancing it out.

dc3-1.pngOverall skills: Fighting & Spellcasting

These two skills are special in that they are overskills, which add small bonuses to multiple other abilities. They tend to train more slowly than the subskills, and their effects are more subtle, but their bonuses extend to every skill they cover. This way, if a player becomes skilled in Conjurations, along the way his Spellcasting skill will improve. If he then tries to learn Enchantments, he’ll have a slightly easier time of it than if he started from minimum Spellcasting. One level of that skill is roughly equal to a quarter-level of skill in each individual magic school.

These skills are also special in that, no matter which of Crawl’s many classes you choose, your major abilities will likely fall under at least one of them. It can be useful for characters who do not seek to gain major ability in both areas to gain at least a little anyway.

  • Characters with Fighting skill begin gaining extra hit points at character level 5, with the amount proportional to the amount of skill. If you are already character level 5 the you gain hit points immediately every time Fighting goes up! (There is no advantage based on when you gain Fighting skill; the hit point bonus is applied, effectively, retroactively. Notably, Nethack’s Constitution score, which applies bonus hit points in a similar manner, does not do this. This is the source of a subtle, long-standing exploit for that game.)

  • Characters with Spellcasting may also receive magic point bonuses according to their level in that, although characters can also gain maximum magic points by instead having skill in Invocations. (Why the weasel word “may?” Magic points are actually determined by a complex system that decreases the liklihood of gaining additional magic points as the total increases, so when you have many MP increasing Spellcasting might not help here.)

Spellcasting is useful for one other thing. WIthout at least one level of Spellcasting skill, spells cannot be learned or cast at all! As I said last time, all characters have the opportunity to gain Spellcasting skill, but seeing as how the way to gain Spellcasting is to cast spells, how does a character do this without being able to use magic? The key is in reading scrolls; if the player has a zero in Spellcasting skill, then reading scrolls with points in the experience pool advances Spellcasting a bit, and when level 1 is achieved (you “gain Spellcasting skill”) the wide world of magical aptitude opens up to you.

Similarly, Fighting skill can be trained up to level two by fighting inert opponents like plants and fungi. Since that grants maximum hit point bonuses, it is a good idea even for magic-using classes to do that, although with care magicians can fairly safely train combat skills against weak monsters like giant newts and goblins.

dc3-2.pngWeapon Skills: Short Blades, Long Blades, Axes, Polearms, Axes & Flails, Unarmed Combat

These skills all affect their individual weapons’ usefulness, so their worth is tied to the worth of their respective weapons. In brief:

Short Blades: Relatively low-damage weapons, but the best at Stabbing which makes them the best weapons by far for certain classes. Contains the dagger, which is a special case in the Stabbing rules. This skill “cross-trains” with Long Blades, meaning learing one makes it much easier to learn the other to the same level.

Short blades are weak as weapons go, but one area in which they excel is stabbing (see below). Additionally, they all provide large to-hit bonuses.

Crawl generates some guaranteed knives in the first few levels of the dungeon, plus daggers are favorite weapons of kobolds, which the early game is loaded with, so there is usually no difficulty in finding a short blade to train with. Some weapons one might consider to be in the long blades category, such as sabers, in fact count as short. To discover which category a weapon belongs to in-game, go to inventory and enter the item’s letter. (This can be used to describe any object you can carry, and is excellent for figuring out how to use a mysterious object.)

Some sort of bladed weapon is useful for nearly all characters as a means of chopping up corpses for snacks, among other uses. That use probably does not depend on skills, but if the character can use it in combat anyway it means one less thing to carry around.

Long Blades: Crosstrains with Short Blades. Starting weapon skills are assigned based on the weapons a character begins with, and so only Paladins begin the game with Long Blades skill. Interestingly, Long Blades are better than most other weapons at Stabbing, but Paladins, as worshippers of The Shining One, are forbidden from doing that. Because it cross-trains with Short Blades, the best way for stabbing characters is probably to raise that skill first. Long bladed-weapons tend to do more damage, obviously, than short-bladed ones, but short-bladed weapons are better at stabbing.

Traditionally, in D&D, longswords are the “default” weapon, the most likely one to start with and the most likely to be found enchanted in the world. In Nethack, in particular, many of its best artifacts are longswords. Crawl has a good distribution of fixed artifacts among its weapon classes, but long blades ties Maces & Flails for the most fixedart-filled category. (Of course most artifacts are randarts, which are rather more random.)

Of particular note, both short and long-bladed weapons are bad to use against Hydras, which become stronger as their heads are cut off and new ones grow in their place.

Long blades are quite difficult to find in the first levels of the dungeon. Most players find their first off of an orc, such as an orcish falchion.

Axes: Axes are one of the most powerful weapon categories that can be reliably found in the dungeon early on, and are a great weapon choice for the burlier races. The orcs frequently found in the early dungeon often carry them, along with short blades, maces and polearms.

Maces & Flails: This wide-ranging skill covers maces, clubs, flails, whips, hammers and morning stars. The earliest ultra-powerful weapon usually found in the dungeon are the giant clubs and maces usually carried by ogres, but like all the powerful weapons, they are slow, heavy and using them causes large to-hit penalities. Note that Crawl does not support the traditional D&D prohibition on priests against cutting weapons, so there is no particular reason for them to wield maces if they don’t begin with skill in them.

Polearms: Also a surprisingly inclusive weapon category. In addition to the sticks-with-knives-tied-to sorts of weapons it includes spears and scythes too. Sigmund, a deadly unique opponent frequently encountered in the early game, comes with a scythe, but to get it first you have to kill him. Many players try to put this off for when they’re a couple of levels up on him.

Two special weapon brands, dragon-slaying and reaching, can only be generated on polearms. The former is limited in application, especially in the early game, but reaching allows you to strike one space away by using the ‘v’ key with it wielded. This feature can be utilized by monsters too, especially by gnolls, who are prone to suddenly having this weapon when you’re trying to cast spells on them.

Staves: The least inclusive of all the melee weapons, this category only includes quarterstaves and the exotic and rare lajatangs. The random staves found in the dungeon, as of version 0.5.2, are useful for their magical properties, not too useful in combat. Although there are some special battle applications (some inflict special damage types depending on effect), they cannot carry the enchantments that make other weapons so useful later in the game. Word is that the current development version of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, called “trunk” in the developers’ parlance, promotes magic staves to full weaponhood. [[check]]

Unarmed Combat: Okay, so it's not a weapons skill, but it fills the same kind of hole in the skill system. This is best trained if your character has, or is likely to receive, some kind of special attack mutation, like horns on your head or claws on your hands, so you're doing more than just punching damage. It also trains if you're wielding no weapons when fighting in melee. Notably, Unarmed Combat skill allows you sometimes to get in free hits in battle, such as punches with your off-hand and headbutts, even if you're using a weapon, so many melee characters could stand to get a little training in it.

Missile Skills: Bows, Crossbows, Slings, Darts, and Throwing

The choice of missile weapon matters a little more than melee weapon due to some requiring spending a turn to switch to in order to make use of them and availability of both weapon and ammo.

Bows: This skill covers use of both normal bows and longbows. It requires a turn to equip the bow, so it can be a good idea to make the bow your exploration weapon, and switch to melee if the situation demands it. Arrows are very common, on the ground and in the inventory of centaurs. Centaurs always carry bows, too. In 0.5.2 missile weapon ammo can carry a brand. Bows can have a brand too. Either case will impart a magic property to a shot, but will always destroy the ammo in the process. (Exception: if the arrow is flaming and the bow is freezing, or vice versa, the shots will be normal!)

Crossbows: Faster to fire than bows, and hand crossbows can be fired one-handed. (Important note: it looks like hand crossbows will be removed in 0.6.0.) It is much harder to find crossbows and ammo than bows. Sometimes the player will have to wait until the Elven Halls, a dangerous mid-game dungeon, before he can start building his crossbow skills. A useful trick for conserving ammo is to wield a stack of bolts and reading a scroll of enchant weapon; ammo that carries a plus is much less likely to be destroyed by firing than unenchanted.

Slings: These are midway between the power of bows and the ease-of-use of darts. Slings can be used on both sling bullets (which may carry a brand) and stones (which do not). [[check]] Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the Throwing skill is neither checked nor trained by using slings. The two skills do cross-train, however. Stones are an important missile weapon in the early game for being the best way for a non-magic character to kill Jellies, since they do not consume rocks.

Darts: Using darts as a weapon practices both the Darts weapon skill and the Throwing skill. Darts are convenient due to their being able to be thrown without wielding anything ahead of time; they can be tossed directly out of the quivver. Darts are also governed by the Throwing skill. The word from the Crawl Dev Team is that 0.6.0 will remove the Darts skill in favor of using Throwing entirely.

Throwing: In addition to darts, this skill governs everything else that is thrown, including stones that are not launched from a sling. Although this is technically an overskill like Fighting and Spellcasting, it is very limited in application and doesn’t carry extra benefits as do those other skills.

dc3-3.pngMiscellaneous skills: Stabbing, Stealth, Dodge, Armor, Shields, Traps & Doors, Invocations and Evocations

Stabbing: An extremely useful skill for certain character classes, stabbing is Crawl’s term for what other games call a backstab, a highly-damaging attack made against a compromised foe. Whenever you make a melee attack against a monster with (in the tiles version of the game) either an exclamation point or a question mark in the monster’s tile, there is a chance relative to the level of the Stabbing skill that the character will carry out a stab. The damage done depends on the level of Stabbing, the level of the weapon skill corresponding to the wielded weapon, the kind of weapon, and how incapacitated was the opponent, with the best cases being stabbing with a dagger and a sleeping monster.

A character with full-level Stabbing skill, stabbing with a dagger, and attacking a sleeping monster, does over twelve times his usual damage. He is also practically guaranteed to hit. Even at relatively low levels of Stabbing the damage bonus is high enough that monsters much stronger, in other ways, than the character can be dispatched in one strike if they only they be put to sleep. I recommend the experience of taking out an eight-headed hydra with one hit at low level to everyone. Of course many higher-level opponents tend to resist such sleep effects, or are cold-resistant (sleeping spells in Crawl are cold-based), but considerable damage bonuses can still be achieved against monsters who are merely confused.

Stealth: A passive skill that determines how likely a monster is to notice you approach. Every race has a stealth modifier that Stealth skill is multiplied by to produce a character’s base stealth score, to which various other bonuses and penalties are added. Notably, being burdened by carrying too heavy a load or confused greatly increase the chances of being noticed. Armor adds in a substantial penalty to stealth relative to its weight. Stealth bonuses can be provided by items, artifacts, silence and invisibility.

Stealth is most useful partnered with the Stabbing skill. A very stealthy character like a Spriggan often ends up as a natural assassin regardless of what class he began with. Stealth is trained randomly just while moving around while not wearing “heavy” armor, which makes it, for better or worse, very easy to train. For more on this, see the next skill.

The wiki downplays the worth of Stealth, saying that it’s practically useless for non-assassins, but it can be of value in escaping from powerful monsters that have not yet noticed you, or getting in an extra missile attack before the foe closes in for melee.

Dodging: Training this skill decreases the chances enemies have to strike your character. Its effectiveness is lessened if your character is wearing heavy armor with low Armour skill. Even with good Armour skill, it is not trained while wearing heavy armor unless the player has enough Armour skill, but if the player’s character isn’t wearing any it gets practiced frequently whenever an enemy makes an attack against him.

The usefulness of Dodging goes up relative to the player’s Dexterity, up to a point which is determined partially by the size of the character. A side effect of this is that, even with high Dexterity, only Spriggan-size characters (the smallest player race) don’t receive any benefit from Dodging until they get their second level in it.

Every practice event that occurs in Crawl takes points from the experience pool, and thus makes other practice events that much harder to devote points to. And high skills cause practice events to devote many, many more points to them, exacerbating this situation. Thus it is that, without some planning, high scores in Dodging and Stealth can absorb many skill points the player might prefer go into other areas, especially for spellcasters, who will want to avoid heavy armor, and Spriggans, who can’t wear most of it. Some players “turn off” training in Dodging and Stealth early on, from the ‘m’ screen. This doesn’t actually deactivate skills, it just makes them much less likely to train. In fact, this can be a useful strategy for many kinds of characters in the early game where every skill point counts.

Armour: If you’re wearing heavy armor then Dodging and Stealth do not train; what does instead is Armour skill, which lessens the negative effects of wearing such armor. It can also provided added protection from armor as the player learns to wear it better. For technical reasons, this is potentially very useful for Orcs worshipping the orcish god Beogh.

Heavy armor can produce substantial combat penalties (not to mention those for spellcasting), so melee characters will benefit greatly from training the Armour skill.

Shields: In many ways, as Armour skill is for heavy armor, Shields skill is for shields. A high skill means the negative effects of bearing a shield (hit less often, reduced attack speed, spell fail chance) are reduced and the positive effects (blocking of enemy attacks) are increased. Shields in Crawl are useful even if they provide no visible Armor Class benefit, but they also make it more difficult to hit in battle or cast spells.

Traps & Doors: Relative to other games, Crawl has remarkably lethal traps. The only roguelike with traps more deadly is ADOM, whose door-mounted stone block traps have squished many early characters. But Crawl provides a defense against these traps in the form of the Traps & Doors skill.

The effects of this skill are: it increases the chances of finding a trap by searching; it increases the chances of finding the trap passively, just from passing time near it; it appears to increase the distance from which hidden traps can be spotted; it decreases the damage done by the trap if it hits; it decreases the chance of being struck by it when it goes off; and as a bonus it even helps find secret doors, both passively and from searching or resting. (An interesting feature of Crawl is that, although both search and rest keys are supported by the game, they actually do the same thing. Resting a few turns automatically searches nearby spaces in the bargain!)

It isn’t very far into the game where traps start doing substantial damage, so all characters should increase their Traps & Doors skill when they can. The skill is practiced sometimes when a trap is set off or spotted randomly, but the best way to train it is to attempt to disarm traps, by holding the CTRL key down and attempting to move onto it. (This is also the fight-without-moving command, by the way.) Failing to disarm a trap often results in taking damage from it, so it is best to do this with traps on the earlier levels, since they do much less damage. It certainly is worth making a trip back up the dungeon in order to practice with less risk. Some kinds of traps, notably alarm traps and any magical types, cannot be disarmed.

An interesting thing about this skill is that while, like all skills, it takes a bit of doing to get it to first level, once you get it to maybe level five it sort of takes over for itself, and becomes almost a self-training skill. The reason is that automatically finding a trap from a distance is itself a practice event for the Traps & Doors skill, so the better you are at it, the better you tend to get. If this process steals away too much pool experience you might end up having to turn it off to slow its advancement.

Deep in the dungeon the player will start to encounter Zot traps, which are one of the most diabolical hazards in Crawl, capable of doing a wide range of terrible things to the player’s character including banishment to the Abyss. Having a good Traps & Doors skill is one of the few good ways of avoiding these.

Finally, one of the more wonderful things about Crawl are the occasional goodies found in secret vaults. These can be found even on some higher levels, hidden by secret doors. It can sometimes be worthwhile to return to earlier levels once you get Traps & Doors up to a respectable rank and seeing what previously-unseen passages call out to you.

Invocations: Many gods, once you gain enough favor, or piety, with them, will grant you special abilities that you can use. The use of these abilities trains the Invocations skill.

The use of many invocations also carries costs, in the form of food, magic points or piety, making them more or less useful for training. The Invocations skill applies to all gods, so theoretically you could train the skill under a god with a cheap power, then switch over to the god with the expensive power to use it more effectively, but most gods will punish those who convert away from their religions very harshly.

Overall Invocations is one of the less generally-useful skills in the game (it is completely useless for atheists and Demigods), but it does have an extra benefit; characters with low or zero Spellcasting skill can train this skill to receive extra maximum magic points.

Evocations: Crawl even has a skill for the use of magic items; this is it. The higher Evocations skill rises the more useful useable magic items will be. Most items that use the v or V command to activate train Evocations (but not weapons of reaching). For most characters the most useful function of Evocations is the use of wands, which become more useful generally as Evocations skill rises. Rods, which are like wands but more easily rechargable, can make this skill quite useful, as well as provide greater opportunity to train it. Rods are rare generally, though.

Artificers in particular, which have magic item use as their focus and begin with wands or a rod, tend to get more lot of use out of this, as do Deep Dwarves who can recharge wands as a special ability.

One particular use of this skill is in drawing from decks of cards. The cards are not changed by Evocations skill, but the ones drawn can become more powerful (which can be good or bad) as skill increases.

dc3-4.pngPrimary magic skills: Conjurations, Summonings, Enchantments, Translocation, Transmutation, Divination, Necromancy, Poison Magic

The individual magic skills affect memorization chances, casting chances and spell power for the spells covered by their corresponding school.

Conjurations: The most direct of magic skills, all the Conjurations spells in Crawl have to do with creating effects out of nothing. It includes direct damage spells of both its school alone (like the common Magic Dart spell) and spells that are mixed with elemental schools (like the awesome Lehudib’s Crystal Spear). Spells of mixed schools average the levels of those skills when checks are made.

Conjurers are a class that focuses in Conjurations spells, but Wizards, who are typically generalists, usually end up relying on them as well.

Summonings; These spells call creatures (of many different types) to aid the caster. Or at least that is the intent; not all of these spells guarantee that the called being(s) will be friendly. Higher levels in Summonings increases the odds of the summoned creature, for those spells, of being favorably inclined towards you. The lowest-leveled Summoning spells are Summon Small Animals, a.k.a. “Summon Spammals,” and Summon Butterflies, both useful even late at the game as ways to put things between you and slavering horrible monsters.

Enchantments: Enchantment spells are more subtle than Conjurations but still powerful if used correctly. Spells that confuse or put to sleep are excellent early in the game, especially to stabbing characters. Confused monsters cannot cast spells, smite you or fire missiles. One of the most powerful early spells in the game is Mephitic Cloud, which is Conjurations/Poison/Enchantments.

Later on Enchantments becomes less useful as many of its status effects get resisted by high hit die monsters. There are even some monsters who are entirely immune to Enchantment. Back on the plus side, Selective Amnesia, one of the most useful spells in the game, is an Enchantment spell that allows you to forget other spells, freeing up those spell levels for other magic. The only other ways to forget spells are a Sif Muna ability that costs piety and certain miscast effects, which have the added drawback of not letting you choose the spell forgotten. There is also Invisibility and Haste, spells that are so powerful that they cause “magic contamination” if used too frequently.

One of the most useful Enchantment spells is Enslavement, which makes a monster (if it doesn’t resist) temporarily into an ally. To digress for a moment to compare Crawl to another game... one of Nethack’s little strangenesses is that its “pets” are never struck by enemies as a direct attack, they only hit as a counter-attack after a pet hits them first. Crawl’s pets/summons/allies/slaves are full-fledged monsters that must be targeted by enemies, so just having a friend fighting with you makes you marginally safer as some enemy attacks will be spent attacking the pet. This seems to me to be a much more realistic way to handle allies.

Translocation: This spell school is about moving things around, either you, monsters, or items. A low-level spell of the school is Apportation, which moves an item in sight to your space. At higher levels you can blink or teleport, or control teleports, or banish monsters to the Abyss (although you might find them there when you go there yourself).

Most of the magic schools have low-level spells that help the player in little ways that can be used to gain basic skill in that school. Translocation has Portal Projectile, which can be used, according to the game, to teleport launched projectiles directly to their targets. The result, functionally, is a to-hit bonus. Enchantments also provides such a spell in the form of Corona.

Transmutation: This is the magic school of turning-things-into-other-things. Before you get Nethack-inspired visions of limitless resources, polymorphing objects is not possible in this game. You can polymorph monsters, but player polymorph is limited to a few special forms and a handful of special cases. Many of the Transmutation spells involve morphing into those forms, which each provides for various benefits (and often some drawbacks). Other useful Transmutation spells are Dig, Passwall, Disintegrate and Shatter, which can be very useful in getting around Crawl’s complex multi-level dungeon.

One of the Transmutation spells is Alter Self, which inflicts upon the player a number of random mutations. Crawl divides mutations into “good” ones and “bad” ones, and Alter Self (and most sources) picks randomly from the lists. Curing mutations, for most characters, is harder than gaining them; the most common sources of mutation removal are potions of cure mutation, which are fairly rare. (The message they give is “This potion has a clean taste.”)

Many of these magic skills have a character class that specializes in them (that is to say, begins with several levels in it). An early-game engine that works for Transmuters is using the spell Fulsome Distillation to extract harmful potions from corpses then Evaporation to use those potions against monsters.

Divination: Roguelikes are almost unique among CRPGs these days for providing spells whose sole purpose is to provide information, and Divination is the spell school in which Crawl’s information magic lives. The star of the Divination school is Identify; Crawl’s system of randarts means there is rarely a lack of magical things to query even late in the game. Also spells include Magic Mapping and an assortment of detection magic. Other than those things, Divinations seems to be the magic school with the fewest spells.

Necromancy: The magic of dead in Crawl is, in gameplay terms, a kind of hodge-podge of spells with effects like those in other schools. There are direct damage spells like in Conjurations, enslaving spells like Enchantments, and monster zombie-raising spells are a bit like Summoning.

One unusual speciality for Necromancy in Crawl is healing. Interestingly, Necromancy is the only spell school in Crawl with healing magic, and even then it always have some strange mechanism behind it, such as increasing regeneration, stealing hit points from monsters or sacrificing maximum hit points. This makes healing items (potions of healing, potions of heal wounds, wand of healing) and gods very valuable in Crawl.

Poison Magic: Similar to the elemental magic schools, Poison Magic involves a particular theme of effect. Also like the fire and ice spells of those schools, it is a lot less useful generally against monsters resistant to it. Unlike fire and ice resistance, poison resistance is all-or-nothing; there are no multiple levels in it. I do not know if Poison Magic counts as an elemental skill for purposes of learning (see next entry for more information).

Elemental magic skills: Fire Magic, Ice Magic, Earth Magic, Air Magic

Elemental magic skills are an exception to the rule that knowledge in one skill doesn’t hinder knowledge in another. All elemental magic skills other than the one the player has the highest level in are harder to learn, and the one opposed to that skill is even harder to learn. Fire opposes ice, and air opposes earth.

Fire Magic: This is generally the elemental magic school for attack magic. Utility spells include Conjure Flame (which blocks off a space to -some- enemy movement for a while; it tends to be fairly weak), Ignite Poison (useful both to damage monsters you’ve poisoned and as a painful way to cure it in yourself), Dragon Form (grarr!!!), and Evaporation (a very interesting spell where you throw a bad potion and it explodes in a cloud of vapor; quite useful combined with Fulsome Distillation).

Ice Magic: Contains the oddly-named spells Ensorcelled Hibernation and Metabolic Englaciation, which you might as well think of as Sleep and Mass Sleep. Sleep spells are super powerful in Crawl because the game uses coup-de-grace rules, in conjunction with Stabbing skill, against helpless opponents, for huge damage bonuses. This allows for a potent engine for Enchanters. Note, dear players, that if monster slept with one of these spells wakes up, a further casting won’t work on them for around 20-30 turns. Ice Magic has fewer attack spells than Fire Magic, but it’s still no slouch.

Air Magic: This is the elemental school that contains Lightning spells, which are powerful and with less common resistances than fire or ice magic. On the defensivce side, one of the most dangerous monsters in the Realm of Zot are lightning golems, against which the Air Magic spell Insulation is very useful. Airstrike is one of the few magic attacks in Crawl that uses “smite targeting,” meaning the attack strikes from above without having to pass through intervening creatures, which is highly useful for taking out summoners. Air Magicians also get the SIlence spell, also of tremendous aid against spellcasters. This school, with Poison and Conjuration schools, combine to provide the potent early-game confuser Mephitic Cloud.

Earth Magic: Unique among the elemental attack spells, there is no special resistance against Earth attacks. They tend to be like physical strikes. Possibly the most useful spell in the game, Lehudib’s Crystal Spear, is of this school. Utility spells are more frequent in this school that others, with Dig, Magic Mapping, Passwall, Shatter and Statue Form, among others, to choose from.

Next time it’s yet more Dungeon Crawl! We’ve talked a bit about engines here, a gimmick a character uses to kill monsters and prosper. Next time we’ll devote a bit more focus to those as we take detailed looks at several race/class combinations and what is awesome about them. Until next time....

Extra: If you are a Nethack player and are a little dismayed at all the Crawl stuff lately, it might be entertaining to speculate as to the origin of this user score page at