Posted: August 30, 2020
Crawl Version: 0.25 + Trunk
Editor's Note: Dynast has put together insane winstreaks of Naga Wanders, including winning 30, 21 19 and 17 in a row (Source). If there's anyone who can snake a claim to have mastered this combo, it's him. - UV4
Naga is a powerful generalist race that can do anything. The slow movement speed makes gameplay more compelling and, while it can be overwhelming at first, the experience is far from being tedious.
Playing as a Naga helps exercise good strategic behavior and the struggles you will face makes the character development along the run all the more rewarding. Once you adjust your pace to that of a Naga, your gaming experience will be revitalized. Naga’s unforgiving gameplay will teach you the importance of danger assessment and this guide will teach you how to make the most of it.
A Naga goes through different stages of gameplay evolution and some may vary depending on what your starting gear is or what you find along the way. Naga favours the use of a shield as its main defense, Stealth to avoid danger (rather than for stabbing), and Fighting to survive.
At the very start, the main approach is to go for Stealth and Fighting for skills and stick to killing the smaller critters first, if possible. Avoid engaging enemies who are armed, unless they are sleeping at max-poison-spitting range or you can find a way around them to put yourself in such a position. Never charge towards enemies, for they are likely to wake up and alert others nearby.
If possible, avoid jackal packs until you are XL 2, avoid gnolls until XL 3 or 4, depending on their weapon. Try to always kite between poison spits until the enemy either dies or get adjacent.
Doors can be used to avoid animals and to halt a single enemy from reaching you in order to gain time to regenerate or to poison spit again since you can close the door just as fast as they can open it.
Abuse the ranged AI some enemies have to make them waste time while you catch your breath and/or use other ranged attacks. Sometimes enemies with polearms will behave as if they had a ranged weapon, and may try to enter line of sight while staying away from the player. For a demonstration, reference this video.
When uncovering terrain, always make sure you have a clear way back to where you came from, As you go down to the next floor, try to stick around staircases and avoid walking into very open areas. Sometimes it's good to not go fetch that gold piece you have nowhere to spend. Identifying map layouts and patterns helps you approach them more safely and to recognize dangerous vaults or god altars. This may seem cryptic but if you start paying attention, you will learn something new and will be rewarded for not using the auto explore key.
Naga is a terrible hybrid and, while it's completely viable to win as one, the goal of this guide is to provide an engaging gameplay experience. So, rather than training skills in a way that is vital to your current situation, you should make the most of your resources to get through it, while you invest your experience on what really matters: Ax- err, I mean.. evocables!
Mid Early Game
Unless you are playing a mage, poison spit is gonna be your main weapon. The reason why you restrain from training actual weapons is because the combat is way too swingy and, due to your inability to reset most fights, that weapon skill is most of the time not reliable against any real threat and not necessary against anything trivial. At the same time, evocables are usually found in good quantity and don't require a big investment while staying relevant for most of the game.
You should evaluate enemy engagements in 4 different categories and act accordingly:
Again, this sounds cryptic but It is very important to learn proper danger assessment. Instead of trying to build a character in a way that is optimal, you should instead push to see how far you can take things. That way, you will learn more about the game while expanding your control over it.
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained." - NaWn #31 moments before grinding to a halt...
Late Early Game
Here is where things start to get easier or nastier depending on your luck. Sometimes you will have a decent weapon to train already and sometimes you're gonna be running your mouth dry while your resources slowly evaporate. Depending on the run, and unless you are a mage, you have to decide when to transition out of stealth, since Naga is not a good ninja later on. The transition usually happens when you are ready to no longer see enemies as Uncertain Outcome and Certain Death.
You should be confident that your gear and god choices have enabled you to handle anything in the game at this point. For reference, none of your skills should surpass 10 (you usually don't want stealth or evocations to ever go above that) before you start training something else (if that happens it means you haven't found anything decent). If you must train a weapon early on, the suggestion is usually short blades if you get something branded, axes if you want a broad(axe) range of weapons to choose from via cross training, long blades as a later investment while you use short blades via cross training and anything else if you found something amazing to use.
For armor choice, due to deformed body, you want whatever has the highest enchantment or useful ego (rC+, MR+ and rN+ usually cover the nastier enemies early on). Training Armour skill is only worth it once you get your hands on a plate armour or an enchanted chainmail, otherwise you won't get any return from the experience invested. You want to make sure you have enough AC to tank tough enemies like two headed ogres or yak packs so having some auxiliary slots covered should also factor in. Enchanting scrolls should be used depending on how desperate you are, armour scrolls usually go on a shield since it's your main defense, otherwise on a barding since they are rare or anything else if you can't wait any longer. Also, even though you shouldn’t be training much Dodging early, it doesn’t mean that evasion is worthless. Sometimes, a little chance of evading a strong attack is better than absorbing very little of it.
Once you reach XL 13 and become able to constrict, melee combat becomes a lot more fluid. This usually happens in the middle of Lair. From this point onward, the game should be a lot more straightforward but if you ever come across a tough situation just remember what you did every other time before that.
As a struggling Naga, it would make sense to go for whatever is the first altar you see, but most gods don't have an immediate effect upon joining, so the most appealing choices are:
The free potion petition can be a lifesaver early on while the gold distraction allows even a Naga to be capable of fleeing from fights. Later on, the gear from shops can turn you into a steamroller. If that doesn't work, there is always bribing.
Your ancestor can be a real help in both dealing with poison resistant enemies early as well as help you retreat from fights. Later on you can become its protector while it blasts your foes.
Heroism can make early melee combat a lot more reliable, let you excel with any weapon and give a lot more flexibility with your skilling. Later on, the gifts will help you become a steamroller.
If everything else fails, just hit things harder. I don't advocate for this option but I present it here since it's arguably a strong one. The movement penalty will limit your mobility even more and you will often take a step only to see yourself too close to something you don't want be close to, only to annihilate it and move on.
For mages who want to remain mages, the channel ability makes up for not being able to kite your magic back and spellbook gifts are most of the time in the direction you are training.
For the most part Naga just wants to get Strength higher, as its size and dodging aptitude makes training for EV a wasted effort until there's nothing else to train. But if you have too much strength (between 20 to 30) it might be better to start dumping your points into Dexterity.
It might seem unfair at first, but once you start paying attention to the dungeon structure, you will find a new horizon. Despite everything, I’ve always considered Naga to be one of the strongest species in the game and I feel like anyone can pick it up and be really good at it.
About the Author:
Dynast is one of the winningest players in DCSS history. The intensity of his love for axe-wielding, Gozag-worshiping Nagas is matched only by his unbending contempt for the Dodging skill. Dynast streams Crawl and other roguelikes on Twitch and you can watch interesting runs on his YouTube channel.