Editing and fact checking help from Ultraviolent4
Posted in January 2018
If you’re reading this guide, you’re here to beat Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup. The information contained within will equip you with the knowledge you need to turn unfair fights (for the player) into unfair fights (for the monsters).
The number one most important thing you can do, the Rule 0 of Crawl, is that you usually want to run from monsters. Even at full HP and MP. Because Crawl is a game with only one adventurer but thousands of monsters, you must be cautious and risk averse to win with any consistency. Imagine if you have a 5% chance of losing a tough fight and there are 100 tough fights per game. This gives you only a 0.6% chance of winning - or hundreds of hours of gameplay just to get one win!
We want to win faster than this, so we should minimize the risk of every encounter as much as possible. The best players, when playing to optimize winrate, have a winrate of 95% or more, and the longest streak (winning games in a row without dying) is 33 by both zxc and elliptic (if you don't count games won with the double-damage melee bug). With a winrate that high, you will win in a day instead of in weeks or months.
If it’s possible to achieve such amazing feats, we can deduce that very few deaths are truly unavoidable. And, if there was at all a way to avoid the death you just experienced, you should analyze what options you had that you DIDN'T take. That way, you can improve your diversity of tactics should you arrive in that situation again (and you will). Remember, there are no physical or dexterity tests in Crawl and no time limits. Everything you do is your own choice. What will you do when presented with the dungeon's threats? You’re here to win, so do what it takes to win.
The information contained within this guide is sourced from the learndb, Crawl Wiki, my own experience, source diving, and Reddit/Tavern articles I've read in the past.
For some further reading, look at Berder's Guide to Safe Crawling.
A monster is a potential threat if its name is indicated by yellow or red on the monster list OR if it’s a member of a pack that has other members we’re currently scared of (such as a regular orc indicating the possibility of a priest nearby).
Whenever you see a potentially threatening monster, immediately do the following:
By following this strategy, the chances of new monsters finding us while we fight and rest, is minimized. This minimizes our risk of being put in a dangerous situation with low resources and having to use precious consumables to stabilize (or even chance a risky escape, such as teleportation).
The rationale for the specific number '14' will be explained in future sections on noise.
Note that if the monster is faster than you and has a ranged attack (such as a centaur), you should weigh the risk of getting shot more times against the risk of fighting too close to unexplored territory and having to fight additional monsters. If you can break LoS with a nearby corner or door, do that. Otherwise, it may be less risky to charge the centaur head-on. Use your discretion in such cases.
Always remember: Rule 0 of Crawl is that you usually want to run from monsters! Caution will give you easier fights that you can make plans for. Rushing forward into the unknown will swamp you with monster's friends, and their friend's friends, forcing you to make difficult decisions at low resources.
It can't be stressed enough that you should use consumables early, not late, in a fight.
First, there's the obvious reason that many consumables are buffs - things like invisibility, haste, might, agility and brilliance help more the more turns you have them active in a fight.
Second, the less HP you have left when you start to use consumables, the harder it is to come up with a safe plan. If you're at 60% HP and wish to retreat from a fight, you can read a scroll of teleportation and start fleeing. If you're at 30% and wish to do the same, you may lose all of your HP before finishing. This necessitates the use of another consumable to make the situation safe - usually heal wounds. And what will you do if you always wait for 30% HP before starting to retreat and, as a result, you’ve run out of all heal wounds in the game? You will either get lucky or die, and relying on odds as bad as 50% will ensure a quick demise in a game where you have to survive 100 tough fights to win.
So not only does using consumables early give you more flexibility to use the best consumable for the situation, it means your plans are less risky overall. Think of 'heal wounds' as a mistake eraser - aside from some unlucky damage spikes, you should only ever be using it if you misjudged the situation and should really have started escaping 20 HP ago.
Every so often you should open your inventory and figure out what consumables you have in what amounts. Keep in the back of your mind what escape plans/consumables you will use against what kinds of dangerous fights.
When we encounter a monster that we have not seen before or have only fought with other archetypes (and therefore it may be stronger or weaker than anticipated against your current character), it’s important to be able to gauge roughly how strong it is. You want to compare it to other monsters you are familiar with fighting. Do the following:
What does all this information mean? Going from left to right in the top image:
Of course, if you're ever uncertain about your assessment, treat the monster as dangerous. It is better to be cautious than to be roadkill.
So important, it needs its own section!
Every time a monster makes a movement (i.e. not an attack/spell), the amount of time taken to do its turn has a 1/3 chance of being 0.1 turns slower, a 1/3 chance of being 0.1 turns quicker and a 1/3 chance of being the normal amount. Over time, these 0.1s add up or cancel out to cause 'double moves' or 'lost moves'.
Barring exceptionally bad luck, you should expect a monster you are fleeing from for a long time to get at most one more double move before it gets a lost move and falls behind by one tile, and randomly drifts between next to you and one tile away. But if you are exceptionally unlucky, it could get a double move as often as every 10 movements! So, do not start fleeing when the next attack could kill you - start fleeing when two more attacks could kill you. Finally, once you have your one tile gap, use it for whatever purpose you intended to (fleeing via stairs, casting Conjure Flame or summoning an ally to fill the gap, etc.).
Many actions in the game create noise. Noise of loudness N extends outwards to a square of radius N, and every monster who hears the noise will be attracted to walk towards their center. (Technical note: When a resource like the crawl wiki reports a noise as being loudness N, it's actually reporting its in-game value. However, open floor attenuates loudness by 0.85 per tile, not 1. All noise numbers listed in this section are modified to show their actual radius, which is what players actually care about). Noise is muffled by walls, losing 10 loudness each time, and monsters who hear a noise through a wall or around a bend in a corridor may guess the noise's center wrong. Otherwise, they will always know the noise's center correctly.
Here are some examples of noises created by actions:
When a monster that’s asleep or wandering hears a noise, it will become seeking and walk towards the noise's center. When it reaches that tile, it will go back to wandering. If you never enter that monster's LoS it has no chance to pursue you - it will give up immediately.
When a monster hears a noise, it has a scaling chance to be 'alerted'. If alerted, it will always start to pursue you and there's an 80% chance the monster will shout. The scaling chance for a monster to be alerted depends on how close the perceived noise's center is to you:
If the chance fails, the monster will become wandering with the noise's source as its target.
Let's consider the two cases - monster in LoS and monster out of LoS.
When a monster that's wandering reaches its target, it picks a new target at random and continues to wander. In addition, monsters that are wandering with you as their foe have a 1/20 (1/60 for human intelligence) chance of randomly picking a new target and forgetting about you as their foe every turn. If this happens before it even reaches the source of the noise, it will appear to have 'gotten bored and wandered off'.
Because of the way noise works, it is important to not make noise in a way that could alert monsters in unexplored terrain to walk towards you - then find you - while you are already busy fighting or recovering from a recent fight. Because the maximum noise of shouts, meleeing and ranged combat is 14, this justifies the recommendation in 'Fleeing and Rule 0' to fight 14 tiles from unexplored terrain. In addition, since walls muffle noise loudness by 10 each time, we typically don't have to worry about waking monsters through walls, but it can occasionally happen. If you intend to fight with loud toys (explosions and electricity in particular), you may want to use a number even higher than 14 to be safe.
There used to be a trick called 'shoutless' where throwing a stone (or equivalent action) at a wandering monster would cause them to start pursuing you without shouting, but it no longer works in Modern Crawl - the monster will have a chance to shout as you would expect.
Besides making your stabs stronger, Stealth influences three things related to monsters learning about you:
So, besides the obvious effect of making monsters in your LoS notice you less often, stealth has a secondary, less-well-known effect of making monsters out of your LoS give up and go back to wandering faster. While this is sometimes good (if you're fleeing from something scary, you probably don't want it to continue pursuing you), it can also be bad (if you're trying to lure a monster to a specific part of the map, you probably don't want it to forget about you, wander off and surprise you later).
Decide for yourself if you prefer high or low stealth.
A quick explanation of 'memory':
Imagine that you're a melee character fighting melee enemies (and not using an axe). If you fight a melee enemy one on one, you might expect to lose 10 HP before killing it. What happens if you fight two such enemies at once? By the time you kill the first one, you've lost 20 HP from their combined attacks - plus a final 10 HP for fighting the second one afterwards.
We can form a table as follows by recognizing the triangular number pattern:
Ouch! Fighting 8 monsters has 4.5x the expected damage of fighting them one by one. And actually, it is even worse than the numbers sound - because if you always have the first strike on enemies, you will sometimes kill them before they even have a chance to damage you.
Even if you use axes, it’s still worse to fight many enemies concurrently if you could instead fight them one by one - for one, cleaving is only 75% damage, for another, it is harder to safely retreat while surrounded than if monsters are solidly on one side of you.
What is an adventurer to do when faced by a pack of monsters? Retreat - but specifically retreat to a chokepoint. That is, a formation in the dungeon created by walls (and sometimes doors) that minimizes the amount of tiles around you that enemies can reach and melee you from.
If the monsters are faster than you and the chokepoint is not very close or not very good (it allows more than one monster to stand next to you), calculate the expected number of attacks you would take if you stand and fight, versus if you beelined towards that chokepoint - and choose whichever option is safer. (You should usually retreat anyway because you also want to minimize the amount of noise hitting unexplored territory.)
Ranged enemies are nasty because they can shoot you from across your field of view whenever they can see you. Note that, just like many player spells, some enemy spells don't have the full 7 tile range.
When you see something like a centaur, orc priest or orc wizard, standing still is obviously unideal, because it can choose to shoot you as often as it wants instead of approaching you. Walking towards it is better - maybe it will still never approach you, but at least you will be next to it and meleeing in finite time. But this has the problem that you are generating noise near unexplored territory and that orc probably has many orc friends who also want to beat on you. We would rather break LoS and force the enemy to come to us into melee range, minimizing the number of times it can attack us from a distance before we can melee it to death. Even better - monsters like centaurs are unable to use their ranged weapons in melee range (unless they have the 'master archer' tag, which is rare).
Some common ways to do this are as follows:
It’s not strictly necessary to break LoS to stop a ranged monster from attacking you – breaking Line of Fire, that is, a continuous line from the monster to the player with no obstructions in the way – will also work. Besides opaque dungeon features such as walls, doors and clouds, other monsters will also break LoF!
If on the only path between you and a ranged monster is another monster, it will not be able to target you - so it will step towards you instead. In the following picture the centaur will not be able to shoot us through the hound, and will come forwards without firing.
This is easiest to do on orthogonal or diagonal lines, but can be done in any direction. It's easier in corridors but can be done in rooms too. You don't even need an enemy to Chumpblock - an ally will work too! Sure, it will probably shoot the ally, but if the attack hits the ally, obviously it won't hit you. A great deal! Animate Skeleton, Animate Dead, Summon Butterflies and Summon Lightning Spire are all great Chumpblocking tools in a pinch, but feel free to come up with your own.
Ranged enemies are not smart enough to walk around the Chumpblocking monster in their path. If they don't have a clean shot, they will walk towards you on the straightest line, the same as if they randomly decided to not shoot.
Note that some kinds of ranged attacks are 'smite-targeted' and don't require uninterrupted LoF (the monster just needs to be able to see you). Chumpblocking, therefore, will not work against them. Such attacks include smiting (orc priest et all) and Airstrike. Note that hexes (like Slow and Confuse) are not smite-targeted - and since they ignore EV, ally and enemy Chumpblocking are flawless against them!
Further, note that Chumpblocking with an enemy may fail if the chump and the ranged enemy are of the same genus:
If you need to recover HP or MP badly in order to safely win (or escape) from a fight, Pillar Dancing is an important technique. It typically only works on melee monsters that aren't faster than you. To use it, you need an enclosed chunk of wall that you can run all the way around, and the knowledge that no other monster will show up and cut you off.
Here's an example of a pillar you can use:
As long as you keep walking counter-clockwise around the pillar and cutting the corners, the monster will follow behind you and you will be able to flee for an infinite amount of time.
Note that because of Energy Randomisation (see earlier section), you should expect the monster to sometimes get a free hit on you and sometimes fall a tile behind you. However, it is very unlikely it will fall more than one tile away or get more than one free hit.
Pillar dancing can even be done on a one tile pillar:
But because of energy randomisation, it will occasionally get free hits on you, but worse - the lost moves will not be converted into an advantage for you, since you'll have to wait on the spot and let it walk towards you to be able to continue to pillar dance. So, you will be the recipient of many more free hits than a full pillar dance, and this makes it usually not worth doing. But it does have the nice advantage that if the monster you're pillar dancing is ranged, every single move you make will bring you out of its LOS.
First, some information about how stairs work, so that you can use them effectively:
In the following picture the left panel show the initial situation where 3 enemies were present and closing in. Rather than fight them all at once, a series of stairdances were undertaken to split the monsters and fight them one by one:
Stairs are extremely powerful. Perhaps the most OP, broken part of Crawl. Let's look at all the things they can do:
Just be aware that after taking stairs, everything on the new level has 0.75 turns (if you've never been here before) or 1.5 (if you have) to act. Adding on top of this the 1.0 turns you need to leave, this can result in some scary damage spikes when stairdancing!
Two important kinds of traps that naturally spawn are the teleport trap and shaft trap. Sure, you can jump onto them yourself, if you're desperate - but you can also lure a monster onto them, using up the trap and making them a problem for future you, rather than present you. If the stairs are far away or inconvenient, or you only need to get rid of one monster, you may wish to lure an enemy to a trap instead of to a staircase.
Note that enemies won’t always be shafted, especially if they are intelligent.
Imp Parking is used on two classes of monsters - irritating monsters that you don't have the ability to kill right now, and scary monsters that you don't want to have wandering around on a mostly unexplored level, and would prefer to deal with later.
To do this, pull the monster to a fully explored floor (by waiting until it's next to you, then take the stairs). Lose it on the explored floor (by waiting for it to blink itself away if it's something like a crimson imp or a phantom, waiting for it to lose a move while pillar dancing it if it's a melee monster, or using teleport/blinking/fear/haste/swiftness if it's the only safe way), then take the stairs again. Now the monster is on a floor that you aren't doing anything important on, and you can resume exploring the new level. You may want to leave a note with ! to remind yourself what you parked on that floor.
Let's say that an ogre is next to you, you don’t want it to be, and you also don't want to wait for energy randomisation to give it a 'lost move'. For example, you desire space so you can flee up the stairs or cast Conjure Flame between you and the ogre. Simply repeat a very fast action (swapping weapons, putting a ring on, taking a ring off) until the ogre swings once. Step away, and more often than not, the ogre will be a one tile gap away from you. But why does this work specifically with ogres?
It's actually a generic mechanic. Just as players have weapon delay that will cause them to swing their weapon for a different amount of time than it takes them to move around, monsters who wield a weapon also have weapon delay, calculated as follows:
Here are some examples:
As you can see, if you delay a very small amount of time and during that delay an ogre swings at you, it will rest for 1.3 turns (1.4-1.5 turns if it was a giant spiked club). You can then take a 1.0 turn and more often than not, the ogre hasn't got enough energy to take its next turn yet. This creates the gap.
If you can move AND attack substantially faster than a melee only monster can move, then you can get an infinite number of free hits on it by repeating the following forever:
Most slow, melee-only monsters are gone from modern Crawl. This used to be a must for killing goliath beetles safely, but you can still use this on worms if you're desperate.
Of course, if you have a polearm or ranged attack, then you can simply attack the monster until it's next to you, walk away until it is not, and repeat. This is much easier to execute.
You can also 'Hack And Back' a ranged monster with a ranged attack - wait with a fast action until it steps into LOS, shoot it once, back away until it's out of LOS, repeat.
If the monster is not slower than you both in movement and attacking, you can instead speed yourself up, using some combination of Haste, Swiftness, Finesse, a quick weapon, being a fast-moving race and so on.
While nothing in this Dungeon matches the power of stairs, doors are also pretty good. By closing them with C, not only do you break LoS with all monsters on the other side of that door from you, a monster will have to spend a turn to open the door again. And if none of the monsters have hands, then that door is going to remain shut! This leads to a tactic called 'Doordancing', which is like Pillar Dancing but doesn't need a pillar.
To doordance, simply continue to close the door every turn and let the monster open the door every turn, while you regenerate HP/MP. Sadly, this tactic ends the first time the monster double moves you due to Energy Randomisation - it will open the door AND step onto the door. And obviously, if there are multiple enemies, this tactic will not work.
Door Dancing has another interesting use - the Amnesia Door. Because you never end a turn with the monster in your LoS, if it is wandering it will never be able to use you - as soon as it hits the 1/20 (1/60 for human intelligence) chance to wander randomly, it will stop trying to get through the door and go somewhere else.
If the monster is pursuing you, once it runs out of 'memory' (see Stealth section), it will drop to merely 'wandering with you as its foe and target'. In this state it's susceptible to the same 1/20 (or 1/60) chance to go away. If you are lucky and get this to happen before the monster gets a double move due to energy randomization and steps onto the door then it will appear to have suddenly forgotten about you! Also note that if the door creaks when you close it, the noise will get a wandering monster's attention.
You used to be able to kill monsters with Doordancing by placing a hazardous cloud under them first (such as Freezing Cloud), but in Modern Crawl, player-placed clouds disperse instantly when out of your LOS, so this is of limited usage.
LoS Edge Kiting is having a monster on the edge of your LoS, and every time you get a turn, moving so that it is no longer in your LOS. This has two properties, useful at different times:
No matter where your allies come from (Necromancy, Summons, items, God abilities, etc.) there are things you can do to maximize their effectiveness in battle:
Further examples of ally positioning and tactics can be found in an excellent post by nago.
Animal or higher intelligence enemies who aren’t currently standing in a hazardous cloud will tend to not step into one - they have a random chance (higher the stronger or more resistant the monster is) of stepping into it, and otherwise will wait instead. However, if they ARE standing in a hazardous cloud already (even one that has relatively little effect such as steam) this check does not apply, and they will happily walk into any other hazardous cloud to approach you. This has two properties, useful at different times:
Note that a monster who is standing in a cloud it is immune to does NOT consider it hazardous. This means you can't make a player ghost (or other poison-immune enemy) walk into a Conjure Flame by hitting it with Mephitic Cloud.
Another way to trick strong enemies into stepping into Conjure Flame is to chumpblock them with a weak enemy. Have a setup like this:
Place a Conjure Flame between the lizard and the ogre. Eventually the ogre will randomly step into the conjure flame and stay there. It cannot push past the lizard, since it is of a different genus.
Also, while we're on the subject, a lesser known use of clouds is that invisible monsters standing in a cloud have a much higher chance for their position to be revealed.
When you begin a teleport, it will happen 2 + d3 'turns' (units of 10 aut) later. Add 4 + d10 if you are in abyss, or 4 + d5 if the power of Zot is delaying translocations (they don't stack). Interestingly, the time spent starting the teleport is subtracted from the delay. So, from when you finish reading teleport, the shortest teleport delay is 2.0 more turns, and the longest is 4.0 more turns. Note that the blurry vision mutation doesn't help with this because the time spent reading is split into separate 1.0 turn actions.
If the teleport delay ends WHILE you are making an action, you will teleport BEFORE any monsters move. So if you know your teleport delay will run out if you make a very long action (or if you need to have it happen for survival's sake!), then making that very long action will help you survive. However, the time spent making that move will be waited out at the destination - so hope that where you teleport to is safer than where you are right now!
Some examples of ways to make slow moves:
Note that putting on/taking off equipment doesn't count as a long move, because it's implemented as a 'delay' that waits 1.0 turns several times in a row, and can be interrupted in the mean time!
We will exploit the tendency of monsters to try to gang up on you to our advantage:
Here is a tactic that lets us get infinite free hits on same speed melee enemies when 2 or more of them are fighting us in favourable terrain. Imagine a scenario like the following, where the player is fighting two yaks while kiting them around a pillar:
Sometimes when the player hits the closer yak in melee, that yak will decide to step forward into the 'elbow' of the corner to allow his fellow yak to gang up on you, instead of hitting you back:
Rather than fighting two yaks at once, simply back up to the next corner:
Since the yak, instead of hitting you back, wasted a turn, you got a free hit. You can get an infinite number of free hits by repeating this process forever. Needless to say, free hits = good!
If you have a way to swim (Octopode, Merfolk, Ice Form, Hydra Form, Beogh's water walking) or fly (grey/black Draconian, Tengu, Gargoyle, potion of flight, Dragon Form, equipment with +Fly, Tornado) or otherwise cross normally-impassable terrain (Blink, Passage of Golubria, Ru's Power Leap) then you can cheese a non-swimming or non-flying enemy by finding some deep water or lava and traversing it. This allows you to flee from or prevent the melee damage of that enemy.
Once you're on the other side of some impassable terrain, you can attack from a distance (ranged weapons, polearms, spells, evokables, god abilities, summons, allies) while any enemies have to circumnavigate the deep water/lava to reach you. If they even can at all!
A monster that can't reach you might run away. If this happens, simply approach them again and they'll advance.
While an island encircled by deep water/lava is the optimal scenario as it totally cuts the monster off from you, even a single tile is enough. Simply move diagonally across the tile of impassable terrain and you'll make a one tile gap. Once the monster is next to you again, lure it around a pillar and you can use that single tile to make a gap once more. Repeat ad infinitum.
You can also confuse enemies standing next to deep water/lava, and they will sometimes walk in and die.
Finally, Fedhas worshipers can make deep water on command using Rain.
Every tough fight in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is its own puzzle – but used together, the tactics outlined in this guide are all you need to win. You don’t need to pick the best weapon, deck yourself out in artifacts, or start as a Minotaur Berserker, as long as you use your toolbox of tricks to make every unfair (for the player) fight an unfair (for the monsters) fight.
Keep a level head, be patient, take breaks, take your time and don’t rush forward recklessly. Be the scheming Dungeon Master of every fight you start, and the Orb of Zot will be in your grasp in no time. And who knows - perhaps you’ll start streaking wins before you know it, or perhaps you’ll find an unfair trick or two of your own!