The interactive fiction roguelike

Category: Design


by Victor Gijsbers

One of the new rogues in Kerkerkruip 10 will be Automatos. He is a giant made of steel by the priests of Nomos, and like that god he is committed to law and order. But Automatos takes his lawfulness a bit too far, into the realm of rigity. Instead of using the normal artificial intelligence routines of Kerkerkruip to decide what action is the best, Automatos follows a short predetermined action sequence. For instance, he might concentrate, dodge, attack, block, concentrate, and attack… and then start again at the beginning. This sequence is adhered to very strictly. Automatos will dodge even if nobody is attacking him, for instance; or will counter your attack with an attack of his own, if this is so scripted.

Without his rigidity, Automatos might be the most fearsome of all level 4 foes. He is tougher and deals more damage than his counterparts. But the rigidity is there, and once the player has found out which script he is following — the exact sequence will vary — she can take advantage of his predictability. Well-used brains will always defeat tons of mindless steel, right? Right?

To make things more interesting, Automatos will lose some of the parts of his cognitive machinery whenever he is struck by a particularly damaging blow. In practice, this means that one ore more actions will fall out of his sequence. So it is possible to have a damaged Automatos who attacks every turn; or, more pathetically, one who never attacks but just dodges and concentrates. Only a hard-hearted fiend like the player character could even contemplate killing such a helpless being.

Simplifying the reaction system

by Victor Gijsbers

The reaction and flow system of Kerkerkruip 9, while certainly better than the old one, wasn’t working exactly as we had hopen. Dodging was almost always better than parrying, because defensive flow was generally better than offensive flow; rolling was rarely used; and blocking, while useful, was also somewhat hard to conceptualise.

For Kerkerkruip 10, we have simplified the reaction and flow system, and so far I like what I see. In the new system, rolling is gone. Dodging and parrying both add one flow, but dodging now transforms all your flow into defensive flow, while parrying transforms it all into offensive flow. Furthermore, any attack you make, whether successful or not, removes all your flow. Blocking gives no flow at all, but gives you a better defense than either of the other two reactions.

As a result of these changes, dodging is now generally better than parrying if you will be attacked again before your next attack; and parrying is generally better than dodging if you will attack before being attacked again. This means that choosing the right reaction is a matter of predicting your own strategy and the behaviour of your enemies. And of course, the exact circumstances also play a role, since your weapon, the opponent’s weapon, and features like the bridge of doom can make either of the two options more or less attractive.

Blocking now is the action you should use when you really don’t want to be hit — you sacrifice additional flow for having a better defense right now. That could be worth it if you are concentrated or low on health.

The new system is simpler and more elegant, and it also seems to deliver more satisfying tactical choices. We need to do more testing, but I suspect we’ll be tweaking this version rather than going back to the old one.

Herm’s weapons

by Victor Gijsbers

In Kerkerkruip 9, the subtle god Herm gifted very pious (9 favour) players the caduceus, a weapon that had a mind-based chance of putting anyone hit by it to sleep. This weapon is quite strong, since putting people to sleep is a very powerful effect. And yet, the caduceus wasn’t really working as the final Herm gift.

A player who has sacrificed most of her powers to the subtle god is a player who has invested in being stealthy. She’ll have a large stealth bonus, and several scrolls of shadows. So what she really needs is a weapon that will allow her to strike from the shadows with maximum impact — or, failing that, something that allows her to attack and remain hidden. The caduceus wasn’t filling those roles. Putting someone to sleep normally only happens after several blows, so normally long after you’ve appeared from the shadows. You’d often be better off using a dagger, or at least a weapon that maximises damage. This meant that it wasn’t really worth increasing your Herm favour to the very high levels.

So, I’ve redesigned Herm’s weapon gift. The caduceus is still in the game, but is now a weapon that may be found lying around in the dungeon. Herm now gifts you a crossbow called Snipe, and gifts it much earlier, at 3 favour.

Crossbows are new, and mark the appearance of reloadable weapons in Kerkerkruip. They were always already part of the underlying ATTACK system, but we didn’t use them in the game. Mechanically, reloadable weapons take several turns (depending on the weapon) to be returned to a state in which they can be used to attack. This means that in general, you’ll use them once during a fight and then switch to another weapon. (For reasons of convenience, reloading outside of combat always takes only one action.)

Snipe is a crossbow with a very long reload time, but it also has the special feature that, with a probability of 10% times your Herm favour, it teleports the person hit by it. This is a very useful effect for stealthy characters, since if your victim is teleported away, it can’t notice you. You will stay hidden even after the attack. With high Herm favour, Snipe will enable you to repeatedly hunt down your quarry, striking from the shadows again and again.

Until the effect fails to trigger, of course, in which case you’d better have a plan B.

New item: armour of thorns

by Victor Gijsbers

In the last weeks, Kerkerkruip has seen quite a bit of technical development. We have adapted our code to Inform’s new verb system; we’ve integrated a suite of automatic tests; we’ve done work that was necessary to make Kerkerkruip accept seeds, which in turn will allow different players to play the same dungeon; and we now have an automatic daily build, which you can find here. (It’s the one with “git” in the name; but be warned, it has very much alpha quality right now.)

But for the general player, news about features that show up in play is perhaps more interesting. So let me tell you about a new item I added to the game today: the epic armour known as the armour of thorns.

Or rather, it is known as that when you first find it. The armour of thorns is a blood magic item, and for 12, 18 and 24 blood it can be upgraded to the armour of nails, the armour of spikes and the armour of spears. At each level, the armour doesn’t so much help to defend you, but harms anyone who damages you in melee combat. The armour of thorns deals 1 damage to the attacker, and this increases to 2, 3 and 4 as the thorns grow into nails, spikes and spears. Obviously, that is quite powerful even at low levels. Dealing 6 to 8 damage is respectable for most monsters, and getting 2 or 3 damage in return makes your attacks between 25% and 50% less effective (in terms of how much it changes the health difference between the two parties).

Most items need to see some testing in play, and this one is no exception. I am particularly concerned that the blood cost might be too high, so that might well get lowered. It will depend on how good the armour of thorns is by itself. But, some good news for the player: there is a 19% chance that this item starts out as the armour of nails, and a 1% chance that it starts out as the armour of spikes. That would certainly be a great find in the dungeon.