George’s Saga: The Angband Connection

George Last time I wrote about how the combat system in GURPS Lite didn’t have the right characteristics for a computer RPG, or at least not for the kind of RPG I have in mind. GURPS Lite is a game in which hit points are limited, each successful hit on an opponent is a major event (and therefore successful hits are rare), and each skill increment makes a big difference (and therefore the total number of skill increments is small).

By contrast, I need a combat system in which there is a wide range of skill levels with small increments, so that a player character can grow slowly and but steadily in skill over the course of the gameā€”and so that the monsters a PC faces can do the same. A table-top RPG might have these characteristics, but there’s no particular reason why it needs to; and so continue to look at other table-top RPGs seemed counter-productive. And as I’d noted earlier, computer RPGs are seldom well-documented, at least in my experience. To find one that is means turning to a free or open-source game; and of those the one I know best is Angband.

Angband is a massive dungeon crawl with roots that go back to the early 1980’s. I first played Angband’s immediate predecessor, Moria, on the college VAX-11/780 around 1983. (I killed an Icky White Thing, and then died of starvation.) Since then I’ve spent countless hours playing Angband or one its variants.

Classic Angband works like this. You begin in a small town, with a variety of shops and a dungeon entrance. Your mission is to work your way down to level 100, there to slay the evil Morgoth. This is extremely difficult to do, and almost never happens. You begin by designing your character, who belongs to a particular race and has a particular class; and then you begin your expeditions into the dungeon. There are many consumables that you need to survive, notably food and torches, many magic items, and of course weapons and armor. You start with basic equipment; everything else you need to find in the dungeon or buy in one of the shops.

The graphics in Angband are extremely simple, but the monster behaviors and the underlying combat model are rather complex. And it so happens that there are spoiler files available for download that go into a surprising amount of detail about how it all works. In fact, they go into much more detail than I’d realized. And it so happens that Angband has exactly the characteristics that I’m looking for. Next time, I’ll talk about them.

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