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On balance versus fairness

I'm fully aware of the fact that many players consider SLEX to be unbalanced. And also some who never played it but have only read about it and played other variants will probably happily say that SLEX is unbalanced. But I think what they really mean is that SLEX is unfair. Because at least with my definition of balance, SLEX is a well-balanced game. Of course it's not perfectly balanced, and whenever I add new stuff there's a good chance it will be unbalanced at first, but that's why playtesting is required and patches are made. When I see others play my game, I always try to evaluate game balance in the progress and think about ways to improve it if I feel that it's not working correctly. But I guess I should define what makes a game "balanced" in my book.

  • First and foremost, the game doesn't necessarily have to be winnable 100% with perfect play in order to be balanced. At least that's not the premise of SLEX. Those who consider a game where the player can lose through no fault of their own to be innately unbalanced will probably also find SLEX unbalanced no matter what, but then again they'd have to consider vanilla NetHack unbalanced too because sometimes the game just happens to make a dart trap or spiked pit and roll that it ends your game when you trigger it. Or that a random wand in Sokoban is a wand of death and a hill orc spawns on top of it and shoots you before you even have the chance of knowing that the orc is holding the wand. Or of course, that a chameleon in Sokoban decides to become an arch-lich that then teleports to you and instakills you with no warning. If the fact that there's a 1 in 40000 chance for a random trap in SLEX to be a death trap that has a 1 in 20 chance to instakill you when triggered is supposedly unbalanced (despite being extremely rare), then the above three examples in vanilla NetHack (which are all way more common than the SLEX example too) are also unbalanced :P
  • If the player has a bunch of options to choose from, no single option should be so powerful that it completely dwarfs all the other options in every regard. That means for example if there's 20 different weapon types the player could be using, and let's say one of them is a knife does so much damage that a player would always use it over every other weapon even if the player doesn't have the knife skill at all, something is most certainly wrong. A player doing more damage with the knife while restricted at its skill than he'd do with a long sword at master skill? Yeah, now think about what a player with master knife skill can do with the same knife. Every player would seek out that knife, and ignore all long swords or whatever other weapons there are. In a way, the crysknife and tooth of an algolian suntigers are indeed overpowered in SLEX. The former needs to be kept in the player's inventory or it may revert, requiring scrolls of enchant weapon to keep it in working condition, but it's rare to involuntarily drop the knife so this is mostly a non-issue and as a result the crysknife may be too powerful. It also used to be too easily obtainable so I lowered the drop rate of worm teeth. Currently it seems reasonably balanced though; at least I don't see it being used much at all nowadays.
  • No role or race that the player can pick should be so strong that it makes the game too easy. Otherwise, everyone who's "playing to win" would pick that one, making all the hard work I've put into the remaining ones go to waste as they never get played. The monk role and angel race are somewhat guilty in that regard, but as of right now they far from guarantee a win and while the monk may be ultra strong in melee and good at magic, he does lack versatility a bit and may have trouble in certain situations. Angels have been receiving subtle downsides but those don't seem to be crippling enough; some upcoming global changes in the next couple versions may affect the angel race in a way that tones down its overpoweredness though, which would be a good thing, and they're not completely game-breakingly powerful anyway.
  • "Difficulty elements" (for lack of a better term) should have a mechanism that scales their frequency of appearing by the expected effect on game difficulty. That means, the more unfairly difficult a monster is, or the more crippling a trap is on the player's game when triggered, the more rare it should be. For example, let's say we have two level 0 monsters, one of them has a 1d1 shock attack and the other has a 1d1 data delete attack. Shock attacks are slightly annoying, as they will deal damage to a player who doesn't resist shock (or with a low chance, bypass the resistance and damage a resistant player anyway) and have a slight chance of destroying a ring or wand in the player's inventory. Nothing too terribly dangerous. So that monster ("grid bug") is giving a spawn frequency of 20, and will therefore be a common sight in the dungeon. The data delete attack, on the other hand, is the most dangerous and detrimental attack in the entire game; a single hit from it may randomly destroy items from the player's inventory (including stuff like a +7 rustproof Excalibur or a stack of +12 darts, i.e. stuff that can't be replaced), make the player unable to pray for the entire remaining game, reset the player's experience level to 1 and reduce the max HP/Pw by a few hundred in the process, and more similarly game-crippling effects. Being hit by the data delete effect even once can be enough to completely ruin an otherwise promising game, and if it were as common as the previously mentioned shock damage, it would be completely unbalanced. As a result, the monster with the data delete attack ("deleterious bug" - stat-wise completely equivalent to the grid bug but with a data delete attack instead of the shock attack) only has a regular spawn frequency of 1 and also received the uncommon by 2, 3, 5 and 10 flags. This means that not only is the deleterious bug 20 times less likely to be selected compared to the grid bug, it also has to pass a 1 in 2, 1 in 3, 1 in 5 and 1 in 10 chance or it won't be allowed to spawn. In total, it's thus 6000 times less likely to spawn than a grid bug. And that makes it balanced, because while it can still happen that the RNG spawns one, most of the time it won't and the player is thus not constantly in high danger. If one does spawn and hits the player with the attack, it will still be exactly as detrimental, but that's because SLEX is unfair, not unbalanced. Unfair because there's things that can screw over the player through no fault of his own (the deleterious bug could have lurked outside the player's line of sight and gotten a turn when the player rounded a corner). Unbalanced would mean spawning the deleterious bug (and other monsters with the data delete attack) so often that the player would be guaranteed to be hit by it sooner or later and lose the game as a result. Admittedly, it's a fine line, i.e. making a really devastating monster attack too common can very easily destroy game balance, but at least the deleterious bug is sufficiently rare to make this a non-issue.
  • Another example would be the nasty traps. These traps don't reveal themselves and don't give a message when triggered, and quite a bunch of them give annoying or crippling interface screw effects. Many players say they're unbalanced, but they're not; they're unfair. The unfairness comes from the fact that certain mechanisms make it so that the player can't ever have a 100% guarantee to find them in advance, and that's by design. After all, if you can just detect all the traps before you trigger them, why even have them? We'd have ToME's "press X to not die" problem: in that game, trap detection is guaranteed to detect all traps in the radius, so if you always detect traps before entering a new area (and you can do that via rechargeable rods, spells, or the antimagic abilities) and don't play carelessly, you'll never trigger any trap, period. In ToME, that's a good thing, because traps aren't balanced there. ToME has a trap called the speed drain trap, and if you trigger it, a random piece of your equipment has its + to speed permanently reduced, even if it's an artifact, and since every artifact can be generated only once, the loss is permanent and unrecoverable. ToME also has curse weapon and curse armor traps, which will permanently transform the affected item into a worthless cursed item, even if the item used to be an artifact, meaning that this too is a permanent effect. And ToME's trap frequency system makes those three ultra-crippling traps common enough that if you don't detect traps and just suck it up when you trigger one, you will definitely end up triggering enough of these to absolutely trash all your gear to hell and beyond. SLEX's traps, on the other hand, use a similar rarity mechanism as the monsters. Let's take for example the death trap: this trap has a 1 in 20 chance of killing the player instantly when triggered, unless the player has magic resistance, is undead or otherwise resists touch of death. Very evil, and if that trap were common, it would turn the entire game into a crapshoot. But if a random trap is made and the game rolls a death trap, it has to pass an additional 1 in 100 chance to be allowed to actually make one, and as a result, the death trap is very rarely seen outside of a bunch of special levels where they're guaranteed. Those special levels also come late in the game where the player will most probably have at least one source of magic resistance anyway, and likely an amulet of life saving to boot. As a result, the death trap is well balanced since it's very rare for it to actually end the game. If it does happen that a level 5 character dies 2000 turns into the game because a random death trap was spawned and instakilled them, it's unfair, but not unbalanced. The player just had very bad luck. If death traps were so common that you'd have to search 10 times before taking every step or risk a random instadeath, that would be unbalanced. But currently, data collected from all the games that have been played suggests that death traps are fine :)

There could probably be more stuff added to this paragraph but that's all I can think of for now.

Design principles

Yes, they do actually exist in SLASH'EM Extended - contrary to popular belief, this variant doesn't simply implement every patch that will run, and Amy doesn't put every idea anyone has ever had into the game.

No 100% guarantee to win - If it's possible for a sufficiently skilled player to reach a point where they can be pretty sure they'll win most of the time, we have to fix that by making a bunch of random game-ending things that can happen to them unpredictably and entirely without warning, so that they never know whether they can win or not, no matter how good at the game they are. (Credits go to jonadab for saying this, and it's actually entirely true.)

  • There should always be monsters capable of harming the player in nasty ways; full immunity to the most dangerous monster attacks should be unattainable.
  • There should never be a 100% guarantee to avoid nasty traps; this is achieved by making it so that traps can generate invisible in a way that cannot be made visible no matter what, so if there is an inventoryless trap on a square that randomly happens to be invisible and undetectable, there is no way for the player to avoid it other than dumb luck (i.e. randomly deciding not to step on that square). Also, traps have a difficulty now that is set for each individual trap on generation; deeper in the dungeon this will be higher, and it affects the chances that searching or detection attempts uncover them.

The Consumable/Renewable Principle: When consumable and renewable resources provide similar effects, the effects of the consumable resources should generally be stronger. (quoted from aosdict's design principles)

  • Some spells are just way too strong, e.g. identify or dig. I've weakened many spells that have wands/scrolls/potions with comparable effects, sometimes spectacularly so. And in some cases, the consumables got boosted instead, e.g. knock or wizard lock will only fiddle with locks while the wands of opening and locking can raze or create wall tiles, respectively.
  • Wands have the advantage over scrolls or potions that they can have many charges. In turn, this means that if the effects are exactly the same, e.g. scroll/wand of magic mapping, the wand should probably not generate with too many charges, especially if (like in the case of magic mapping) the effect is very powerful, because otherwise obtaining one such wand and a renewable method of charging will be too powerful. That said, the wand of charging is a rather powerful item, but is balanced by the fact that it can only be recharged once and only provides uncursed charging.

The DevTeam Thinks Of Everything: Provide non-standard behavior in every conceivable situation where the player might expect non-standard behavior. (quoted from aosdict's design principles)

  • This requires a lot of effort, and many cases are only revealed by playtesting and thinking "hmm... I expected something special to happen there".

Not Too Many Unfair Deaths: Instadeath from poison attacks/spikes/what have you should be so rare that you can theoretically play through the entire game and win without having the appropriate resistance. These instadeaths should not be eliminated completely though, so as to keep the incentive to gain the resistance.

  • The wand of death only has a 1 in 5 chance of instakilling the player. Touch of death, poison and even falling into lava or being hit by disintegration without wearing armor are survivable, although sometimes with dire consequences. This means that if the player has life saving, they may sometimes be worse off than if the incident in question were just "instant death but you can lifesafe", but I consider this to be an acceptable tradeoff.

No Interface Screw Deaths: The player should not get instakilled by a single typo (note that deaths related to actual interface screw traps are fully intentional and do not fall under this rule).

  • Accidentally spacebaring out of the prompt when you selected finger of death as the spell you want to cast will never make the spell go in . direction even if that was the one used last.
  • Lava and other perilous types of terrain require a full "yes" to step into. Also, falling into lava without fire resistance is no longer an instadeath unless the player's max HP is very low.
  • Cockatrices and other sources of petrification always give the player 7 turns to cure the condition. To compensate for this, lizard corpses are always used up when eaten, preventing the player from using the same corpse 4 or so times.

No Cyanide Rule: No item should, if use-tested in reasonable circumstances, be game-ending. (quoted from aosdict's design principles)

  • The actual potion of cyanide, imported from Nethack TNG, would make quaff-testing potions a crapshoot, since it would instakill you. I made it do severe HP damage and drain strength instead, so it's still very bad to get this one when testing potions but at least the player can recover from the ill effects.
  • There is a cloak of death, and it can kill the player when being put on, but it's so rare and the instadeath only triggers 5% of the time, meaning that no player would cite that particular cloak as the reason why wear-testing cloaks is dangerous in SLEX. It is dangerous to wear-test them due to the existence of certain other cloak types, but those other types don't instantly end the game when worn. Granted, the cloak of death does directly violate the no cyanide rule, but a magic resistant or undead or otherwise death-resistant player will survive.
  • The scroll of warping used to be a game-ender if the player reads random scrolls early on and gets this one. This made read-testing scrolls very dangerous until warping is identified; in order to avoid it, a player would always have to drop unknown scrolls near monsters, see whether they pick them up, and then damage the monster and see if that makes them read the scroll, because if the monster warps to a random dungeon level it's much less bad than if a XL5 player character is warped to, say, dungeon level 83. It got fixed by changing the scroll to give a "do you want to warp to a random level?" prompt where the player can simply decline if they feel that being warped could end their run.

No Stalling: The player should not be able to keep taking turns indefinitely without making progress in the game. (quoted from aosdict's design principles)

  • Several in-game clocks neatly accomplish this. Monster spawn frequency slowly goes up as time passes, and the minimum level difficulty also goes up over time, so if the player is still procrastinating on dungeon level 1 after 100 000 turns, the effective level difficulty will be 30, i.e. a value that would be about the average level difficulty you'd get when entering Gehennom. This means that the player who farms the first few dungeon levels will eventually see the same high-level monsters that would normally be encountered much deeper in the dungeon.
  • There's a randomized amount of turns for the "ascension turn limit". Going over that limit causes random bad stuff to happen every once in a while, usually annoying status effects like stun or hallu but culminating with random disintegration and destroy armor/weapon effects. And the longer the player procrastinates, the more frequently those bad effects will occur. This means that the player should work towards their goal (i.e. ascension) from the outset, since altar farming for hundreds of thousands of turns may result in running out of time later.
  • Random bad effects can theoretically, with a really low chance, roll the destructive "data delete" effect. In a normal playthrough this will probably never be seen, but a player taking very long to complete the game may have enough instances of such bad effects to eventually roll data delete and be majorly screwed over.

Keystroke Consistency: Entering the same keystrokes should always do the same thing, independent of context. (quoted from aosdict's design principles)

  • When zapping a directional spell, the player expects a direction prompt and will often hit a direction button without a second thought. Vanilla's "You fail to cast the spell correctly" without a means to harmlessly dispel the direction button very egregiously violates this, since I lost count how many times I lost a turn moving into the monster I want to zap my attack spell at, or hitting . when casting healing and the game interpreting it as "wait for one turn". For that reason, a --More-- prompt has been added. It can be turned off, for those players who prefer fiddling with the MSGTYPE option instead.

High Headroom: When the player faces a strategic problem, they are not punished heavily for picking a single suboptimal choice. (quoted from aosdict's design principles)

  • There are a bunch of escape items that were specifically added to the game to make sure "always prevent getting cornered at all costs" isn't the only acceptable strategy. Also, greatly reduced risk of item destruction allows the player to always have an escape item (scroll of phase door, wand of digging, potion of full healing etc.) out in the open without the near guarantee to lose it two or three levels into Gehennom due to the hundreds of fire traps (slight exaggeration but you really can't have a scroll of teleportation out in vanilla Gehennom because you WILL lose it).

Balance through diversity: Instead of painfully trying to fine-tune the balance of every single thing, focus on adding more variety to the game, and nerf or buff obviously unbalanced things appropriately.

  • If an item, trap, monster, artifact, playable role/race etc. turns out to be unbalanced, removing it from the game entirely is the last resort and shall never be done, except in really extreme conditions. In the case of doubt, it's always possible to salvage the idea by making changes to reign in its overpoweredness or alleviate its uselessness. Removal is the tool of the devil!
  • It takes one overpowered item, artifact, spell, playable role/race etc. to destroy game balance and make every player use the thing in question whenever possible. SLEX's angel race kinda does this, as it's widely considered "easy mode" due to its many benefits and few drawbacks. Most of their drawbacks don't really affect the player all that much either. Now of course roles and races don't need to be completely balanced, as they also double as a "difficulty slider" of sorts, i.e. by picking more difficult combos the player can make the game harder, or (most of the time this will be the case) if the player wants to win, they'll use something like angel monk or what have you and just breeze through the game. This is okay, as long as the easy combos don't become game-breakingly powerful; ascending those should still take effort. But on the other hand, the hard combos shouldn't be so unplayably hard that they don't stand a chance at all when they make it to Gehennom. That said, a problematic nastinator evilvariant jelly courier most probably won't even make it to Gehennom in the first place, but hybrid races in particular have the potential to *really* create a challenge, especially if several difficult ones are combined, and I'm certain the aforementioned combo is unwinnable by insanity unless you use TAS tools. But a regular jelly courier without the hybrid races can certainly be viable in Gehennom if he finds the right items and plays diligently.

No one-trick ponies: If the player is capable of waltzing through the entire game using one single strategy on every monster in every battle, it's boring. The player should have to mix tactics and use a variety of skills, weapons, spells etc. depending on the monsters they face.

  • The monk's main strategy is to punch everything until it dies, and the monk's techniques give even more incentive to play them that way. We have a lot of monsters with dangerous passive attacks, but apart from that there's little incentive for the monk to use something other than fists. They do have a bunch of spellcasting and ranged weapon skills though, so at least it's possible to diversify if the player wants to.
  • Melee is basically a cure-all, it (almost) always works, unlike ranged combat (runs out of ammo, and some monsters are hard to hit with missiles), spellcasting (you don't always have mana, and directional spells rarely hit your target if you're stunned, plus confusion basically shuts down spellcasting completely), wands (limited charges) and pets (they tend to die a lot in the later parts of the game when hostile monsters hit harder and survive many rounds of combat with your pet). Not sure how to go about this; giving ranged attacks too much ammo essentially takes away its chief downside, making attack spells too powerful and/or mana regenerate too quickly means that once you have magic missile, finger of death and fireball at your disposal you're an unstoppable killing machine that can kill everything before it even closes to melee distance, making wands infinitely and too easily rechargeable also makes you unstoppable and additionally makes support wands ultra powerful, and buffing pets even more means that once the player obtains a really powerful one, the only remaining threat will probably be a level teleporter. That being said, since every role (including ones meant to be primarily spellcasters, archers or petkeepers) is capable of melee, I guess melee always being "viable" isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Quality And Quantity: A few well-thought-out features are better than a lot of poorly-thought-out features... but a lot of well-thought-out features are even better! (thanks aosdict for the inspiration)

Dungeon overhaul for SLEX

It seems to be possible to make it so that the dungeon can have more than 127 levels in a given game. This commit is my first successful attempt at this, creating a dungeon with over 300 levels, of which more than 200 are special levels, just for testing purposes. Visiting levels with internal IDs greater than 127 works, saving and loading on them works too, and while there might be some subtle bugs I'm fairly certain those can also be ironed out. Long story short, this allows us to greatly expand the size of the dungeon. (As it turns out, it's actually much simpler to make it work; NeroOneTrueKing helpfully pointed out that redefining all xchars as ints neatly fixes the errors that would otherwise happen when having over 127 levels.)

Now SLEX has had the maximum possible amount of dungeon levels for a long time, only because I couldn't figure out how to break the 127 limit; with that issue out of the way now, I want to greatly increase the size of the game by adding more subdungeons and everything. Since the average game length will also increase, I'll have to adjust internal timers like slex's ascension turn limit or the turn counts at which monster respawn speeds up, to ensure that they'll not fire too early. Also, since an ascension will then likely take many more turns than before, all previously established turncounts become meaningless; it won't do any good to compare a 45k turn ascension on the old dungeon with a 100k one on the new, longer dungeon.

The following proposal is more like a scratchpad than a genuine proposal; it will list ideas that I have for overhauling slex's dungeon, not all of which will necessarily be implemented. Since I've already started with the actual implementation, I'll update this document occasionally.

Main Dungeon

Currently, the main dungeon is 72 levels long, with Medusa on 36-39 and the castle on 40, which marks the end of the Dungeons of Doom. Below that is the Valley of the Dead, marking the beginning of Gehennom on 41, and 71 has the vibrating square with 72 being the sanctum. This overhaul shall increase the length of the main dungeon to 100 levels, placing the castle on 50 while Medusa stays at her current depth of 36-39; the levels in between her lair and the castle might get filled with additional special levels. Gehennom will then span levels 51-100, with the vibrating square on 99 and sanctum on 100.

Due to the bigger size of Gehennom, more demon/devil lairs are needed. I'm planning to make all-new ones for a bunch of demons I added, and spawn a few randomly selected ones per game. Also, a few new special levels at certain "key depths" might be added. Plans include a level filled with walls where digging is required at 13, a town-like level at 31, a hard-to-traverse level with permanent interface screws at 55, a full-screen level 70 room at 70 (of course :D), another interface-screwy level at 71 possibly filled with certain nasty traps (or maybe the player will just have certain nasty trap effects permanently while on that level?), and sort of a "destroyed town" at 88, possibly using Orcustown-like code to make the game spawn deserted shops. Maybe also a "roaddoom" level in Gehennom that is basically just a highway with grass on the sides. And a very trappy level in the Dungeons of Doom with killer bees, RMB loss traps, superthings from level 55 and possibly other hazards.

Sheol definitely needs a couple ice/snow-themed levels (yay for having snow terrain now) due to its increased length, too.

Areas required for completion

The player absolutely must visit the Quest and Vlad's Tower to collect the MacGuffins; Rodney's tower and the sanctum are also mandatory but they're in the main dungeon anyway. All the other dungeon branches are entirely optional, although Sheol is where the entrance to Vlad is hidden, which means that by extension Sheol has to be traversed in every game as well. I'm proposing a few additions though.

After beating the Quest and claiming the Bell of Opening (regardless of how the player does this; stealing it from the nemesis should remain a possibility), the player will be able to enter a magic portal that's randomly placed on level 2-6 of the Quest, meaning it cannot be on the start or goal level. This portal will already exist before the quest is complete, but I want to make it so that it can only be entered if the player possessed the Bell of Opening at least once. This portal takes the player to a new branch named "Subquest", which is 10 levels in length and has levels that are basically the same as the regular Quest branch, except minus the leader/nemesis or other quest-specific monsters; they're replaced with random monsters instead. The important part is that no level teleportation is possible on this branch at all. Somewhere on level 6-10 of this branch there will be a yellow staircase that leads to the Bell Cave, which the player will have to enter in order to "imbue" the Bell of Opening; as long as that has not been done, the bell simply won't work when applied. Picking up the bell for the first time must give a very clear message telling the player about it, to ensure that the player will do the new subquest, and possibly the other invocation tools should give similar messages so the player doesn't try to perform the invocation as long as the bell imbuing subquest is incomplete. Entering the Bell Cave will automatically imbue the bell if it was in the player's inventory at that point, but then the player will be placed on a random square in the Bell Cave, which is supposed to be a cave with several graveyards (a bit similar to the Valley of the Dead, perhaps?), and teleportation is not permitted meaning that the player will have to fight their way back out of there.

Moloch's Sanctum will likewise have a new magic portal leading to an area called "Yendorian Tower". The player will have to traverse it before being able to win the game, and for that purpose even clearer messages are needed; any time the player uses an upstair outside of the tower while having the Amulet of Yendor and not having completed the Tower yet, there shall be a full-screen message telling them that they need to do the Yendorian Tower first. The Yendorian Tower will start at dungeon level 100 (equivalent to the depth of the Sanctum) and go up all the way to dungeon level 1, and it has to be filled with special levels to make it interesting. Maybe it will spawn a bunch of demon/devil lairs that have not been spawned in Gehennom due to the randomized selection, too. What the player needs to do here is to find several yellow downstairs somewhere - they should be on a completely random level from 1 to 99, and the player must be holding the Amulet of Yendor when entering them, which will "imbue" it. Once all those branches have been visited, the player will get a message telling them to use the upstair on the regular dungeon level 1 to reach the Planes (the Yendorian Tower itself does not have such a stair, so it cannot be used to skip the actual ascension run). The portal to the Yendorian Tower itself should only work if the player has possessed the Amulet of Yendor at least once. Since it would be very bad if the player then had to walk back all those 100 dungeon levels again, imbuing the Amulet should place the player at the bottom (first) floor of the Yendorian Tower where they can get back to the Sanctum and begin the ascension run. The effect of maxing out the monster spawn rate and having them spawn on the upstairs constantly should trigger only after the player already imbued the amulet. However, Rodney's harassment will already be in effect while the player is traversing the Yendorian Tower. I think it should happen less often as long as the amulet is not fully imbued yet, and maybe the same should be the case for the remaining negative effects caused by carrying the amulet; for example, horizontal teleportation should only be prevented 33% of the time.

rikersan wants to have an elder priest on the topmost Yendorian Tower level, who is entirely optional but probably holds a powerful artifact. If this is implemented, the elder priest should have all the abilities it has in dnethack but also be able to use bisection, vorpal, data delete and ragnarok attacks in melee, and probably also ranged attacks since otherwise it would be too easy. And if the player somehow still manages to kill him, it should probably be a junethack achievement.

Imbuing the amulet should also be a junethack achievement, but imbuing the bell should probably not be one since it's not all that much more work compared to getting the bell in the first place. However, defeating the elder priest should be an achievement. When the player picks up the Amulet of Yendor for the first time and has never lifesaved up to that point, they should be given a 1-up, and imbuing the amulet should give a 1-up as long as the player lifesaved at most once up to that point.

Note from Riker, NOT from amy: elder priest now has some stupid reflection + magic resistance + half phys cloak or something weird and powerful like that. unfortunately, the elder priest has been slexified and now is like 99% gonna crash yer game when he kills you (multiple times). So, yeah, don't do that. --EasterlyIrk (talk) 19:48, 22 March 2018 (UTC)

Comment from Amy: It's true that the elder priest will screw you over even if you have a full ascension kit, at least if you allow him to melee you, but the game should not crash. If it does, REPORT THE ERROR!!! The worst thing you can do is get a crash bug and keep it to yourself, because that way it might never get fixed. GUYS, REPORT CRASH BUGS TO ME --Bluescreenofdeath (talk) 07:55, 23 March 2018 (UTC)

Extra dungeon branches

Mainly a collection of ideas.

  • Illusory Castle - an area where the player is perma-confused, and which spawns a large concentration of nasty monsters, including mind flayers, monsters with psi or insanity attacks etc. The bottom level should have a chance of spawning a boss monster (glass golem, with a huge entourage of other golems) that is like a superpowered mind flayer who can also cause contamination and insanity among other things and probably has a weeping beam and a banishment beam attack, and defeating it gives some sort of artifact helm of telepathy that invokes for identify, as well as permanently halve the cooldown for the secure identify technique for the rest of the game. If the player does not have that technique when the glass golem is killed, they should learn it automatically. In the lower part of this dungeon there should be 50% chance of a special level named "Machine", which has the artifact pair of speed boots "The Boots of the Machine" that gives aggravate monster, confusion resistance, and displays the locations of all golems and all unliving monsters when worn.
  • Void - accessed by a downstair on dlvl98, goes from 99 to 126 and has lots of void rooms, some hellpits and assorted other special rooms, and blocks all means of levelporting and branchporting just like lost soul mode would. Place a boss (Tiksrvzllat) at the bottom of it which would give a junethack achievement and a permanent +1 damage, +5 to-hit and 10% spellcasting failure reduction when defeated. Maybe also some other reward; create a bunch of random artifacts when the boss is killed?
  • Nether Realm - accessed by a downstair somewhere in the void, 30 levels long, spawns lots of special rooms like ironman mode, but with the difference that the monsters in them spawn already awake, lots of nether mist and giant chasms, need to visit the bottommost level before the Void can be completed, maybe also do a tension/nest spawn upon entering each of the levels for the first time?
  • A ZAPM branch consisting of the Space Base, Sewer, Gamma Caves and Mainframe subdungeons, with a boss waiting at the end that will drop an artifact which can be invoked for branchporting?
  • Deep Mines - a branch in the regular dungeon that can appear on dlvl30-49 and is 25 levels long, similar in design to the Gnomish Mines but filled with more and harder monsters, has at least one town but should also have a few other special levels, and a guaranteed cursed stone of magic resistance at the end that might give a Junethack trophy.
  • Some sort of desert that can be accessed by a stair in Gehennom, but I don't know what it should be called, how long it should be, what should be at the end (a boss monster guarding some powerful item I suppose?) etc.
  • Swimming Pool of Hell - a 15-level branch in Gehennom that has 90% chance of replacing all walls with water tunnels, and every floor tile has 10% chance of being replaced with a water tunnel too, lots of diver's paradises and maybe also some swamp rooms, and on the final level there should be lots of treasure (mostly rings and amulets but perhaps also some other stuff) submerged in water tunnels.
  • Hell's Bathroom - a branch (probably short, 3 levels or so) in Gehennom that generates lots of urine lakes and toilets and probably farting monsters. Maybe it should also have a background poison effect that periodically hits the player to deal damage and reduce stats.

About the attempts of various NetHack forks to balance the game and make it harder, and why SLASH'EM Extended succeeds at doing so while others fail

An essay by AmyBSOD

One of the main reasons to make a NetHack fork certainly is that you're bored with the vanilla game, and feel that it's too easy to win, or perhaps more to the point, there are a few narrow strategies that will make you win, so the player basically has to follow a certain "road" that will lead to success with 99% certainty. Once you assembled your ascension kit and have poison resistance, reflection and magic resistance, you've pretty much "won" the game already, and the only way to lose is by personally screwing up. Further precautions can be taken to increase the chance of success even more, e.g. by genociding the nastiest monsters in the game - purple liches (hard to kill, curse your stuff, summon nasties etc.), footrices (with them gone, petrification is virtually a non-threat), semicolons (only appear in a few predetermined areas and can easily be killed with an oilskin cloak, but genociding them means you never need to worry about them again). But, thing is, once your character has the three key in/extrinsics, you're pretty much set. It's just a matter of time until you get to the wand of wishing (unless you completed the set by actually going for the wand of wishing), and then you wish for speed boots, gauntlets of power, a helm of telepathy, or whatever other parts of the ascension kit you didn't already randomly stumble upon.

The slog through Gehennom is thus just that: a long boring slog - since you already have everything you need, there's no incentive to actually explore those levels. You don't absolutely need any crucial items any longer, and you get enough potions of full healing and scrolls of enchant armor just by killing random monsters, so topping off your character isn't a problem either. Heck, if you're really desperate, you could just hang around and farm random monsters to get those consumables. Pudding farming isn't even necessary in vanilla, I've never done it and I could ascend the samurai in my sleep by now. The only threats during the ascension run are Rodney and the Riders, and very theoretically Demogorgon if something summons him but if you kill the major demon lords quickly enough then the chances of that happening are next to none. Everything else you can either cut through like a hot knife cuts through butter, or in the case of the huge clusters of monsters on Moloch's sanctum or the Astral Plane, nullify them completely with a ring of conflict.

So that's where variant developers come in, saying "But if the late game is so easy and boring, we have to make it harder!" And so, variant developers change things. They fiddle with lategame balance, trying to make the game challenging for the experienced players again. Problem is, while the result may be more challenging, it's not really more interesting - Gehennom remains the boring slog.

"But why, Amy? Why are the Heck2 patch levels, Sporkhack's lava caverns, or dnethack's additional demon lairs, not making Gehennom interesting again?"

Well, thing is, once you have a complete ascension kit, you've won the game already. Some variants try to "fix" that problem by reducing the amount of guaranteed wishes you are handed, which may lead to missing ascension kit pieces in Gehennom... but thing is, you're not supposed to be in Gehennom without reflection and magic resistance (and if you are and get killed due to lacking them, it's entirely your fault), and so, in the case of doubt you'll just have to farm random monsters for a longer time until you can finally get hold of those coveted items. Even if it means hanging around at a depth where dragons are just barely in depth to be spawned randomly, and farm them until you get the required color of scales. Or polypile for a source of magic resistance. With enough patience, you will get the necessary kit for Gehennom, and then you've won the game. And it doesn't help when variants add in random difficulty spikes that force you to be alert for certain parts of Gehennom. I'm referring to vorpal jabberwocks in Unnethack of course (which you'd be wise to genocide, since their instakill attack is just so completely out of place considering how you can basically steamroller every other randomly spawned monster type in Un), and Dagon and the elder priest of Moloch in dnethack (which can completely fuck you up even if you're basically stepping on everything else along the way). The latter two cases are even worse, since they're mandatory fights, and their difficulty level and the danger of their attacks is absolutely off the charts while other big bosses like Mammon or the Avatar of Lolth go down easily enough and still others that would otherwise be dangerous like Asmodeus or Pale Night can just be avoided entirely.

And the miscellaneous rule changes that variants do, well, they're not helping much either. Because the problem is that those rule changes are static. Sure, non-wand wishes in Unnethack can only yield crap items that aren't strictly necessary for the ascension kit, wands are never safe from lightning attacks in Nethack Fourk while they are in open inventory, and the blessed scroll of genocide only genocides a single species in Dynahack. All those things make the game harder, but they make the game harder in a predictable way; they're changing the rules of the game, so to speak, and once you've fully spoiled yourself about the changed rules, getting an ascension is no harder than it is in vanilla, you just need to adapt your playing style to the changed rules. Non-wand wishes being crap? Well, just use the (still guaranteed in Un) wand of wishing to get what you need, and if necessary polypile for whatever you're still missing. Wands getting destroyed by the spiteful change of the "wand destruction patch" where nothing (and I repeat, NOTHING) can save your wands from lightning? Well, just carry them in a container all the time, and be prepared to have to waste a turn getting them out whenever you actually want to zap one. Scrolls of genocide being nerfed? Just need to farm for a longer time until you can finally genocide everything that warrants being genocided, and you're good to go. Thing is, just like Vanilla NetHack has been solved ages ago and can be played by the cookie cutter approach to almost-guarantee an ascension (there's of course early game randomness like the gnome with the wand of death or poisoned spiked pits, but that's why you have won only as soon as you're resistant to ray wands, touches of death, and poison instakills), knowing the rules of a variant allows you to use a similar cookie-cutter approach and also ascend almost every game. The rules themselves may be different, but they're still laid out in a way that allows fully spoiled players to ensure victory, hence why I say they're "static".

Gehennom is still a long, boring slog in all of them. Because you're running around with an ascension kit, and few (if any) dangers remain. A fully kitted out player character can fight minotaurs head-on and won't even be dented. It takes outerspace crap like the elder priest of Moloch's cloak-of-magic-resistance-trashing tentacle attack from dnethack, the vorpal jabberwock's bisecting beak in Unnethack, or a samurai reading a scroll of genocide in FIQhack, to kill you, and all of these just feel very "slapped on" (for lack of a better term). It's like the developers just don't know how to make the average gameplay harder, so they resort to adding just a few random difficulty spikes and calling the result "a variant that strives to make the late game of NetHack more challenging". Thing is, you (as a player) need to be fully alert at some very specific places in those variants, while everything else is just the same boredom. Sure, the revamped Gehennom levels might be nice to look at, and I'm absolutely grateful for the work that has been put in by the designers of all the beautiful new demon lairs which I gladly stole for my own variant, SLASH'EM Extended. But in terms of gameplay, they're just as dull as the rest of it, or in cases where the variant developer somehow didn't strip the most obnoxious and bullshit feature of vanilla NetHack (the mysterious force), they can be actually even MORE dull because who wants to trek through a set of long, winding corridors several times during the ascension run where the Wizard of Yendor is literally the only thing that can still pose a danger? As if Asmodeus' fort wasn't annoying ENOUGH in vanilla!

That's where SLASH'EM Extended truly shines amidst all the other variants. Yes, I know, 9 out of 10 readers are laughing their butts off right now, but I'm dead serious. One of the stated design goals of my variant is to make the game harder in a way that makes ascension not guaranteed, no matter how skilled of a player you are. Yes, you read that right: SLASH'EM Extended is not meant to be entirely fair. That does not mean it's not balanced, though. Many players who have asserted that SLASH'EM Extended supposedly wasn't balanced seems to be because they're frustrated that "perfect play" doesn't ensure their victory. Well, let me just reiterate that: SLASH'EM Extended isn't supposed to hand you a guaranteed ascension with "perfect play", because there is no perfect play! While cookie-cutter approaches may exist, the randomness of the game means there's always something that can screw you over. No matter how much you try to overprepare, things can still go wrong. You might hit an invisible teleporting items trap that decides to teleport a crucial piece of your ascension kit out of your inventory on a level with a xorn that will eat said piece. You can get unlucky and have a random elf-lord show up who reads a scroll of destroy armor and randomly gets past your multitude of saving throws to blow up your kick-ass artifact silver dragon scale mail that grants magic resistance on top of the reflection its base item type confers. Or maybe a covetous arch-lich just happens to have the thief egotype, strips you of your only source of reflection, and then reads a cursed scroll of teleportation that he randomly spawned with, forcing you to search the entire dungeon to reclaim the item while you're open to disintegration beams and everything. Things like those will keep you on your toes, combined with lots of new, stronger monsters in Gehennom that ensure you can't steamroller everything just because you have an ascension kit! In fact, vanilla NetHack tops out the monster list with the arch-lich and archon, no other randomly generated monster is more dangerous than those, and archons are rare, don't appear in Gehennom and usually spawn peaceful if you're lawful, while arch-liches are genocidable so you may just choose to never encounter those at all. And few, if any, of the remaining monsters are any threat at all.

You see, NetHack could really benefit from a few really high-level, ungenocidable foes. But they'd have to be varied in type and attack patterns, or you'd just end up with a few "fuck you" monster types that stick out like a sore thumb from the mass of mincemeat that the other monsters are. Unnethack's vorpal jabberwocks are actually a prime example there: if summoned by Rodney or an arch-lich, they can end your otherwise impossible-to-lose game in the blink of an eye, yet all the other monsters in the game are either no threat at all or, at worst, no more threatening than in vanilla, so it's just "genocide it or avoid it at all costs", and that's not very interesting, IMHO. I guess it means wearing an amulet of life saving at all times if you decide to not genocide them, and stocking up on spares, and the net result is that it's a puzzle with few solutions - you either have such a solution or you're doomed. Or, of course, you get lucky and never have one spawn. But what if every monster class, or even just every other one, had one threatening, high-level member? And not all of them were genocidable? It would be a whole different ballgame, I tell you! And SLASH'EM Extended does exactly that, by adding so many monsters that there's always something that can kill you, *if* it gets spawned. Sure, the pokedex will warn you about their attacks, and so you'll usually know what to expect, but there's so many different types of monsters and attacks that you can't ever have full insurance against everything. Maybe a high-level nymph spawns and strips you of your important pieces of equipment in a critical situation. Or an insanely powerful lich that you cannot genocide teleports into your face, spamming highly damaging psybolts, cursing your gear and summoning nasties. Or, you know, a very fast zombie with tons of hit points that keeps making you deathly sick with his melee attack! The possibilities are really endless, and varied, and it's this sort of randomness that makes SLASH'EM Extended's lategame really shine, compared to the dull repetitive boredom that is vanilla and other variants. Sorry, dear developer colleagues. I commend your efforts and I don't want to belittle your variants - you've certainly put lots of hours into making them, and every such variant has at least some features I really like - but if I have to make an absolute comparison of how boring Gehennom is, then I have to say that in my variant it's certainly the least boring by far.

I could probably go on for hours, detailing all the little things and bits of randomness that makes SLASH'EM Extended what it is now, but I think you get the picture. Thing is, I do strive to keep the game balanced, even though it might not look like that at first (or maybe even second, third and fourth) glance. It's not as if you'd trigger a screen-obscuring checkerboard trap every other level. It's not as if scrolls of antimatter in monsters' hands were so common as to ensure the destruction of your entire inventory. And it's not as if having an inventorylessness stone thrown into your inventory was the end of the world. Few of the nasty things I put into the game will kill you outright, there are numerous ways to get rid of bad items, there are ways to detect most of the traps, and you can wait out the nasty ones or even wish for a switcher that will instantly fix all nasty trap effects once applied. I do my best to ensure the game is still playable. But, just one important thing to note: ascension isn't guaranteed. You will need a high frustration tolerance if your goal is to ascend SLASH'EM Extended, and you have to be aware of the fact that you will lose characters to unfair things, including stuff that's completely out of your control. And even then, the plethora of items, spells, techniques, pets etc. that you can gain may see you through in situations where your demise seems inevitable. Remember: Unless you get killed as a phantom ice mage due to a covetous death-ray-resistant Famine one square away from the high altar on the Astral Plane, you haven't suffered from the most frustrating death in existence.

It happened to me. I didn't throw the keyboard through the monitor, cut myself with a knife, or jump off a bridge (reactions listed in increasing order of severeness). Instead, I rolled a throwaway character (problematic transvestite) a few hours later and kept enjoying the game. Sure, I was sad at the loss of that very promising character. But then I realized that it's just the way SLASH'EM Extended works, and why waste my time mourning and biting my nails for days when I could instead be playing again? I just made my peace, accepted that death is a part of the game, and proceeded to get that new character killed off too. :)

Whatever you do, whichever variant you're playing, and however boring Gehennom happens to be for you: have fun playing, and best of luck!

--Bluescreenofdeath (talk) 14:06, 19 June 2017 (UTC)