Crawl Legends 3 - Sapher the Fastest Minotaur on Earth

by demonblade

Crawl Legends 2< Crawl Legends 3

Originally written: March 14, 2016

Part 1: The Dungeon

In every game, it seems, there arise a few souls to push the limits. They glance at the game, perhaps briefly consider what the developers had planned, then smile and say, "Not a chance."

Crawl players are no different, and it is here that their stories are told.

Our previous Crawl Legends stories have been of extreme, remarkable feats in which the players carefully restricted themselves. We watched as 78291 darted through the dungeon to become the lowest-level character ever to win. We joined Rob as he befriended monsters instead of killing them, leaving them to beat each other senseless and escaping with only a single kill to his name. Both were remarkable heroes of the distant past--or as distant as we can hope within a game, at any rate.

The objective today is different. Our chosen hero is Sapher, a modern player with one goal in his mind: Efficiency. No idleness, no sloppiness. Every turn accounted for. Here, we will join him in one of the two fastest journies ever through the Dungeon of Zot, one which he won almost ten times faster than the average game.

He managed this through remarkable skill, a good helping of luck, and a willingness to strip away every non-essential step. In keeping with his brutal, precise takedown of the game, this writeup will include more in-depth analysis than before.

This, on the other hand, is an average game. We'll be checking in with demonblade's ill-fated minotaur throughout to give you an idea of just how quickly Sapher is going. The Time counter, over on the right, is what to look for here. The 12.5 tells how many turns have passed, while the time in parentheses describes how much time your last key-press took. Here, that's also 12.5 because demonblade's first move was to autoexplore for 12.5 turns. Follow along with turncounts as we go!

At the core, it's a simple concept. Minotaur berserkers are strong. Berserking gives the character massive boosts in attack damage, speed, and health, with a period of exhaustion afterwards. In practice, this meant that Sapher could dive down while clearing as little as possible of every level, then go berserk whenever he hit anything dangerous.

Because of the exhaustion after, he would rest off the slow effect after each fight. Notably, these slow periods are about the only times Sapher rested, usually preferring instead to explore at low health.

This meant that Sapher walked constantly on a razor's edge. Extend too far, and he would quickly die. Play even a bit too cautious, and he would slow down too much.

A fight like this, while probably winnable, was too risky, so Sapher took a rare opportunity to retreat.

Because resting normally after intense fights simply takes too long, he called on his god to heal him, costing one of his most precious resources: piety. Again, it's a knife's edge: Use it too much, and he would not have divine help in important fights to come.

Normally, these next few levels build characters up in preparation for the Lair of Beasts. At a pace like this, any time exploring on them is wasted, so down he went.

Here, he got lucky with a couple of useful mutations after eating mutagenic flesh. Unpredictable and dangerous, but again, any advantage is important. Notice how he is eating them in the slow period after berserking--because it's dangerous to explore during these times, he takes any other useful actions he can before resting it off.

Fights like this become almost trivial with berserk. This does mark a minor shift, though: the Lair can appear anywhere between dungeon level 8 and 11. For him to have any chance, he needs to find it as quickly as possible. Moments like this make or break speedruns.

Let's pause a moment and picture the absurdity of what we are seeing. A minotaur, frantically diving through a deadly dungeon, pauses to swing a scroll about wildly as if it is a weapon. There is method to the madness here, though! Take a look at the Time counter on the right side. See that (2.3)? Swinging a "weapon" you can't use (like a scroll!) takes longer than walking or resting normally, but it takes the same amount of turns.

Yes, it's just as ridiculous as it sounds. Especially when he practices the noble art of breadswinging.

Don't laugh--it saves turns!

Part 2: Lair of Beasts

But he found the Lair in the end. Since he dove so fast, he was quite underlevelled at this point, and many of the monsters here became a much bigger threat than they would otherwise be.

Now! Let's check where our friend demonblade has gotten in the same amount of turns.

...still back on D:3. Oh, well. He's trying!

This was a normal fight at first. It's hard to overstate just how strong berserk makes a character, where something like that komodo dragon (you can tell it's dangerous because its name is red) becomes quite manageable. It would likely kill him very dead without berserk. Remember: he's not meant to be here yet.

But sometimes plans go wrong, and another komodo dragon comes around the corner to avenge its comrade, and your berserk ends, and suddenly you're slow and exhausted and it's coming straight for you.

Times like this are when Sapher had to get creative. Here, he fired some needles to slow and poison the komodo dragon.

Then he read a scroll of summoning, crossed his fingers, and started hitting. Fortunately, his power combined with his pet crocodile was enough to take it down.

To the victor, the spoils. Because he skipped 90% of the loot in the dungeon, finding gloves like this was a huge help. At this point in the game, his defenses were, well, pretty rubbish.

Skip this screen if you don't care about minutiae. If you, like me, find numbers fun, read on!

...okay, there's actually not much to read into this. Training axes lets him hit things hard and fast. The other skills raise his defenses. Right now, they look exactly how they normally do for a skilled character at this stage. Let's move on.

The best-laid plans of mice and minotaurs can crash down spectacularly the moment you come upstairs next to a hydra. This was one of those moments of pure, unpredictable bad luck.

In reply, Sapher could only shrug, take a few hits, and teleport away.

...okay, so it didn't end up being a big deal, but it really was threatening in the moment.

This is one of those moments that tells you all you need to now about Sapher. He's exploring carefully, has just finished a fight, and finds a rare and potentially useful artefact. So he picks it up...

...and waits until after he's gone down a level and berserked through another fight to find out what it is. Can't be wasting valuable turns to identify an item, after all!

Right now, as an aside, he is working on two purposes: First, he wants to find the branches within the Lair where he can find one of the three runes of Zot he needs. Second, he needs to be strong enough to avoid horrible deaths in those. Here, he's just found some water guarded by a merfolk, a telltale sign of the Shoals. That's one branch down, one to go.

In a moment of peculiar inspiration, Sapher decided to drink an unknown potion instead of berserking for this fight, and saved a few turns by getting a potion of might. Throughout this run, he had so few resources that every scroll and potion became important, so it helped that this one went to something useful.

Sometimes, staircases were too slow, so he took a shortcut by jumping down a shaft in the ground.

The monsters got stronger, and so did he. Fighting this group would be deadly without berserk, but with it, it was simply a helpful way to gain experience.

Here's the second branch he was looking for. Now all he needed was to be strong enough not to die horribly! One part of that was getting a weapon better than a hand axe. Fortunately, Trog would probably give him one with high enough piety. So he needed to kill more things. As everyone knows, there's no better way to show your deep respect and love for divinity by slaughtering countless wild animals in their name.

Before we get to the next floor, I should pause to explain a bit more about how berserk works. Normally, it lasts long enough to get you through a short fight, but will run out midway through longer ones. Trog loves it when you kill things, so if you're killing enough, he might extend the frenzy for you.

This will become important in a moment.

This fight started out normally enough, with a hard-hitting black mamba and a pack of utterly non-threatening green rats. The spiny frog and crocodiles around just added extra flavour. Then some death yaks come onscreen. Crawl has this to say about death yaks: "A larger and beefier relative of the common dungeon yak. Its little red eyes gleam with hunger for living flesh."

A fight with death yaks is threatening in the best of cases. For an underleveled, overachieving minotaur who has just gone berserk against an entirely different group of monsters, it threatens to be game-ending. Sapher had only one choice: Keep hitting dudes, hope Trog appreciates the bloodbath and keeps him berserk, and hope they all fall over before he does.

Hey, a win's a win. This was one of the tensest moments he faced, but he pushed through it and carried on.

He did have to take a bit longer to recover from that one.

On the bright side, Trog gave him a better weapon!

You know what that means.

Time to take on the Shoals.

Let's pause for a moment and talk about the Dungeon of Zot. You have the regular dungeon, 15 levels long. Within that, you have the Lair, which takes 8 levels, and the Orcish Mines, another two. These areas are comparatively safe, and taken all together, provide a good chance for characters to level up enough to take on the deadlier, rune-containing branches. A normal adventurer will usually reach somewhere around experience level 15 or 16 before even thinking of taking on the rune branches.

Sapher is many things, but he is not a normal adventurer.

What, then, are the Shoals? Four levels of seaside paradise, if paradise is covered in hordes of merfolk, sirens, and nymphs, all with an eye to sing beautiful songs, luring unsuspecting adventurers into the water, then stab the adventurers repeatedly with sharp objects until they collapse. The shifting tides complicate things, as ground that was solid when the adventurer stepped on it can give way with a splash to unstable, watery terrain.

It's a dangerous place for experienced adventurers. Going in at level 12, having not even cleared the Lair entirely, is only a little short of suicide.

Sapher's goal was to dive as quickly as possible to level 4, fighting only the enemies he couldn't avoid, and staying out of trouble as much as possible. There's a lot of skill and a lot of luck in moments like this: Hope to find staircases quickly. Hope nothing too dangerous comes near. Hope you've found enough resources to this point. Manage what you do find carefully enough that it lasts. Know when to fight, when to run.

In a place like the Shoals, those questions are amplified tenfold. Up to this point, Sapher was going very quickly, but otherwise was keeping reasonably close to a normal adventurer's power curve. Here is where that changed, and his task intensified: Instead of doing what everyone else did, but much faster, he would have to do what nobody else did.

But much faster.

Fortunately, a lot of creatures in the Shoals, like most of us, cannot see invisible things. Having just reached the end of the Shoals, Sapher went invisible for what would normally be a fairly standard fight to avoid attracting undue attention. He would stand no chance at all in a pitched battle against the whole level, so he had to rely on finding the rune vault quickly, without attracting attention.

Here's where luck came into play: The fourth level of the Shoals contains six or seven similar-looking vaults. The only real way to find whether one contains the rune is to look inside. A wrong guess for most characters means a bit more experience. For Sapher, it would mean a costly delay, dangerous attention, and probable death.

Fortunately for him, it was the first one he found.

Berserking here was simply too dangerous, so he chugged a couple of potions and started the fight. At his level, any one of those monsters was incredibly dangerous. All of them? Better start praying.

After retreating, it was apparent that things were going poorly. He used Trog's ability Brother's in Arms to provide him a berserk troll as backup, but the odds were still heavily stacked against him.

Summoning another couple of berserk deep trolls and a cloud of other monsters, though, did the trick. Barely.

The barnacled rune was his.

Did you worry that we'd forgotten our friend demonblade? No; it's just that not a great deal is going on. While Sapher was out clearing the Lair and collecting a rune, he had peeked forward another couple of levels, then run back for a better weapon.

Yes, that's right. Sapher grabbed his first rune while a normal character was still on the third floor of the dungeon.

Part 3: Enter the Vaults

Sapher had a choice here: He could have gone into the Spider's Nest for a second rune, or he could dive down and get his second rune from the Vaults, picking a third up elsewhere. He chose the Vaults--startling because it meant that he would have to rely on the chaotic Abyss for his third rune, which could mean either a momentary jaunt or a several-thousand-turn slog full of misery and danger.

This diving is business as usual. Explore, get to a down staircase, go. While we're preparing for Vaults, then, it's worth mentioning how much work it took Sapher to reach this point. As we've mentioned, a run like this requires a strict combination of many factors, and simply does not come every try. Countless characters fell short before this run--in 1304 games played to date, Sapher has only 9 wins. Each one was remarkable, almost all high scores of some sort, but it comes at a price.

By getting this far, this adventurer was already standing on the shoulders of hundreds of failed attempts.

Onward to the Vaults.

Here's a funny calculation that we touched on briefly before, but that Sapher must explore again here: When will the 15 or so turns spent waiting after berserk take less time than healing after a fight? This led to times, such as this one, where he berserked in fights that were otherwise reasonably winnable.

If you're curious, here's what his skills look like now. Again, not a lot to say here--berserkers are nice because they make skill choices very simple. Raise weapon skills very high very fast, bring up defensive skills alongside, don't worry about anything else.

In contrast to the last fight, situations like this required berserk. Margery was nice enough to drop Fire Dragon Armour for him, guaranteeing that he would have the only resistance that really matters: it's important to have a couple points of fire resistance for Orbs of Fire once he reaches the Realm of Zot.

Again, Trog's piety is an incredibly valuable resource for Sapher, and one of its main uses is letting him heal up faster. In a normal run, where resting for a couple hundred turns isn't a big deal, you would never see Trog's Hand used like this, but there you go.

The first four levels of the Vaults, honestly, are one of the less threatening parts of a run like this. They're predictable, have little dangerous terrain, and can be managed with relative ease by a careful adventurer.

Note that "relative ease" is not the same as ease.

The fifth, on the other hand... oh, boy. Recall the previous branch order mentioned. Well, after branches like Shoals, characters will typically go through the rest of the Vaults, the Depths, and perhaps the Elven Halls and the Crypt to gain experience and power. Vaults:5 is saved almost without exception for characters who are approaching the maximum experience level (27), just before they enter the Realm of Zot and wins. It is a sprawling, exhausting floor packed with some of the most dangerous monsters the dungeon of Zot has to offer.

This is the kit Sapher is bringing there. A few things to note:

  • He is only wearing one ring, and no amulet. He didn't find any useful ones to this point in the dungeon.
  • He has a grand total of 20 AC and 21 EV, which is about what you could expect from a decent character about to enter their first rune branch. Not someone on Vaults:5.
  • He is still only level 15. For context, people have grabbed the silver rune, found at the end of the Vaults, more than 60000 times. Characters below level 16 account for less than 250 of those. There is a reason for that. But one makes do with what one has.

With that kit, Sapher went downstairs and prepared to take the level by storm. His journey is presented in gif form for your viewing pleasure. To summarize: He went downstairs, berserked his way through a dozen vault guards, then pulled a few up with him to finish them off and heal back up. On his second trip down, he read a teleport scroll before descending, sending him to one of the four quadrants on the level. He cleared that for a bit, fighting a motley crew of elves, dragons, and other nasties, then teleported again when things got tricky there. Still slow from the berserk, he was faced with a few more monsters, but was able to get past them with the help of several Brothers in Arms from Trog. From there, he turned his head around a corner and ran straight into the Silver Rune.

Don't try that at home, kids. Honestly, this part was the more dependent on luck than anywhere else in the game. If his teleports (and, to be fair, his play) hadn't been near-perfect, the situation could have escalated quickly into something more or less unwinnable. As it was, though, he grabbed the rune in a grand total of about 250 turns.


Just before we leave this part, I want to point out another delightful Sapher moment, easy to miss in the chaos of the above gif. After he pulled the last group of Vault Guards upstairs to kill them, he was faced with a huge amount of lost HP to restore. Far too many turns' worth. He used Trog's Hand and breadswinging, naturally. That's not the funny part. The funny part comes right after he speeds up from his post-berserk exhaustion. What does he do?

He zaps himself with a wand of slowing so that his breadswinging takes longer each turn and, by extension, his healing goes just a tiny bit faster per turn.

Truly a moment of beauty.

Now that Sapher has two runes under his belt, let's check in with our friend demonblade.

Check it out! He's made it all the way to D:7. Truly a feat for the ages.

Part 4: The Third Rune

After Vaults, the next priority was to find a gate to the Abyss, which meant delving into the Depths.

And so, slow and exhausted but not defeated, the minotaur dove into the abyss.

Luck was on his side once again with the Abyss, as he was able to dive down to the deepest level in only three hundred turns, without major incident.

Not too long after that, he found an easy vault containing the abyssal rune and was well on his way to the gentlest abyss trip of a lifetime.

Of course, the Abyss is the Abyss, so complications arose.

This time, slowed and surrounded in the Abyss while waiting for a delayed teleport, was another of the most dangerous moments of Sapher's run, and all he could really do was hit monsters and hope for it to end.

Things were more tense than ever when he dropped down to 27 health...

Which means that now is a good time to check on demonblade!

He made it to a bailey, which is pretty cool! You know. Lots of good things in baileys.

...yeah, still nothing interesting here. Let's move on.

So anyway, Sapher got away from that mess and continued onward.

Less than a thousand turns after entering the Abyss, he left with his third rune in hand.

The run was pretty heartless, as you can tell. In his mad rush towards Zot, Sapher would not stop even to pick up the gold around a shop.

After Vaults:5, the Depths were nothing unusual. Sapher was threatened a few times, such as his entry into Depths:5, but was never in extreme danger as he searched for the gate to Zot.

By this point, almost any minotaur berserker is strong enough to defeat the toughest enemies in the dungeon. Even underlevelled as he was, Sapher easily pushed through the guardians at the entry to Zot.

It was now beyond question that the run was extraordinary. All that was left was to finish the job. The realm of Zot awaited as the final test of his success.

Part 5: Finale

It started with the move so favoured by speedrunners and careless maniacs--diving down an escape hatch on Zot:1.

In Zot, nothing can be taken for granted. Every resource is important, every enemy significant.

A wand of invisibility Sapher found helped him deal with draconian packs that would otherwise have been much more threatening and time-consuming to deal with.

In an exciting development, demonblade found the orcish mines somewhere around the same time!

Rushing downstairs at every opportunity proved just as effective in Zot as it had in all other dungeon branches, and so Sapher reached Zot:5.

The trick at this point was not being strong enough to clear Zot:5. Minotaur berserkers are powerful enough that, even underlevelled, they can push through a lot. His fire resistance meant that orbs of fire were manageable; his axe meant that everything else was as well.

No, the trick was to clear Zot:5 without stepping back and resting constantly. It can take a lot of time, and at this point, time was every bit as valuable as life.

There is little left to say, so let's sit back and appreciate the artistry.

And so, a mere 9000 turns after entering the dungeon, Sapher found the orb of Zot.

There were a few dicey encounters with pandemonium lords on the way up, but the best by far came when Sapher met our friend Marioxic on D:4. Let's set the stage: Here is an adventurer moments away from the exit after an intense, remarkable run through the dungeon. All he wants to do is finish the job safely and quickly.

So of course a pandemonium lord casts him into the Abyss.

It would have been even funnier if he hadn't found an exit in less than 50 turns.

Marioxic was a nasty piece of work, even summoning shadow fiends and other fun pets to fight alongside him. Nothing a berserking minotaur can't take care of, though. And with that, Sapher had cleared the last threat in the dungeon, and was prepared to win.

First, though, I'm sure one question is burning in the hearts of all who read this:

Did demonblade find the Lair before Sapher won the game?

Yes, yes he did.

Now: This looks like--and is--a paltry achievement compared to Sapher's game, but it's worth noting that the average game actually takes a couple thousand turns longer than this minotaur to reach the Lair.

The dungeon made one last half-hearted attempt to stop Sapher, but it was finished. He escaped.

So ends the story of Sapher the Executioner, a minotaur berserker who played so precisely, so carefully that he won the game faster than the average player can even reach the Lair of Beasts. He did not just beat Crawl, he dismantled it with a brutal efficiency unmatched by virtually any player before or since. In fact, it is the only recent game finished in less than 15000 turns, much less 10000.

There is a difference, though, between this and the past Crawl Legends. Unlike them, this game was less than a year ago, and Crawl has had no run-breaking changes since then. Everything done in this run--even breadswinging--can be replicated in the current version of Crawl.

It is time for new legends to arise.

Thanks as always for reading! You can find Sapher's log file here if you'd like to take a closer look at things or if you have any questions about the run.
(One easter egg in here: He won with an unknown scroll of acquirement in his inventory. Perhaps reading it would have taken too long...)

Finally, if any of you approach the 15000 turn mark with a game of your own, I want to hear about it! Speedrunning Crawl is the most fun I know of in this game, and there are plenty of unexplored horizons for it.

Until next time.

About the Author:
demonblade (or: Blade-) is a writer and (mostly retired) Crawl veteran who spent his glory days, such as they were, cheerfully scumming MuCKs, setting obscure Dungeon Sprint speed records, and getting ##crawl to save his hide in tight spots. He wrote several well-received chronicles of Crawl legends, then faded away with a promise to return with another story within months. Several years on, that promise seems suspect, but those who know where to look can still find him lurking around and taking notes on the new legends.